‘Feminine tosh’ VS ‘Masculine tosh’?

It’s been months since I think about V.S. Naipaul sexist remark about female inferiority both in daily and literature world. But several days ago I read an article about two new books that out this summer seek to rescue Austen by telling us how we ought to read her. And I couldn’t help but remember that silly and awful event. At that time, Naipaul scorned Jane Austen for “her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world,” declaring that no woman, not even Austen, was his literary equal. Than his next infamous remark:

“A woman,” he said, “is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing.” Women at best produce “feminine tosh.”

The first thing that came to my mind is how arrogant & silly that remark is (I’m not a super fan of Austen myself, though I still like her novel; but hei, I’m a woman! Hahaha). It’s like he was saying Chinese write like Chinese, Latin write like Latin, and Western people are better because they are writing like Western people (means other style is a tosh). For me, everything is about taste. If you prefer Asian food to Western, then eat the Asian without insulting the Western one. I would rather observe the Western food and than take some good points there (because despite the dislike, there must still be good points there) to be put in Asian food so it can be better than good. Not to mention that I can bet my money Naipaul can’t write in woman style, especially since he must be to proud to even try it.

As always, I’m proud to be a woman and often wondering why woman could only be called great when she throw aside her feminine side and mimic the masculinity of male. Because in that case, of course man are better. Man in masculinity vs Woman in masculinity seems quite silly for me. Not that I said woman can’t be masculine, everyone has their own taste & style after all. But I think no one should feel shame about become feminine. Not even a man that has feminine taste. They should proud of it, and have no shame on doing (achieving) something great in (by) feminine style (way) anymore.

Ok, come back to the article. It was written by Audrey Bilger who is the Faculty Director of the Center for Writing and Public Discourse and Associate Professor of Literature at Claremont McKenna College. And I have to say it is a good one. She open the article with fact and opinion about Jane Austen. Here she wrote that like it or not, the reality on the ground is that Jane Austen benefits and suffers from being associated with women, and her status as a major writer has been complicated by gender issues since her earliest readers. True enough, further she gave us one example:

Contrast Austen’s fame and fandom with that of Shakespeare. As Deidre Lynch, editor of Janeites: Austen’s Disciples and Devotees, points out: “Shakespeare fans, we should note, can act like fans, parade through Stratford-upon-Avon every April 23 sporting sprigs of rosemary, and not put at risk the plays’ claims to be taken seriously. No one, it seems, feels compelled to take this cult audience to task for their excesses and their failure to blush over them.” Bardolatry does Shakespeare no harm, but Austen’s cult following has, in the eyes of many, branded her as a chick-lit exemplar, a frivolous writer of “feminine tosh.”

Two new books that I mention before are A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me about Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter by William Deresiewicz. Bilger said it is his self-explanatory and I haven’t read it myself. But I think it will be quite interesting since I want to know what Jane Austen’s book look like from man’s point of view. The second is Why Jane Austen? by Rachel Brownstein who asks and attempts to answer her titular question, “Why Jane Austen?”. I haven’t read this one either but I have a feeling I would like the Deresiewicz’s better since the article said even though Brownstein shares Deresiewicz’s humanistic approach, but unlike him, she would rather we stopped talking about gender altogether. Not a bad thing of course. This is what most people see as equal after all. But it will missed my point in the beginning, of how someone can make and do something great by being a woman. Because for me even though pretending there is nothing called ‘woman’ and ‘man’ could help equality, this doesn’t mean there is nothing called ‘woman’ or ‘man’. I think, same as nationality, equality means not doing prejudice because of gender or ethnic, but still proud of the uniqueness that it carries. Maybe in other time and topic, I could prefer Browstein’s. She was, after all, also wrote great book with great thinking, like when she worries that Jane Austen has become such a name brand that no one actually bothers to read her any more: “Familiarity breeds contempt; simplifications trump complexity; writing has driven out reading; Jane-o-mania has gone on too long.”

One other great thing that I get here that when she expresses surprise when a surgeon tells her that literary study is superior to medical research because “art saves lives”. A real remarkable thinking (of surgeon…) I even consider this as my topic for my second year’s SIDANG (session) at college. Maybe I could adjust it a bit with my main topic latter. Haha.

I think you should read the article about how Deresiewicz changed from someone who might have agree with Naipaul’s point about Austen’s inferiority to then calls her as “the woman who would change my life” at the interview for a position as an English professor when the  hiring committee (a woman) asked him, ‘So what’s with you and Jane Austen?’. He also said:

“Like so many guys,” he confides at the outset, “I thought that a good conversation meant holding forth about all the supposedly important things I knew: books, history, politics, whatever … [I]t had never occurred to me to imagine how things might look from someone else’s point of view.” Once he discovers that “[r]eal men weren’t afraid to admit that they still had things to learn — not even from a woman,” he’s well on the way to a happy ending.

He said that he finds Jane Austen with the help of a humanistic professor, one who required “[n]o lists of secondary sources or packets of supplemental reading, no theoretical framework or critical jargon.” “Literary study,” this professor taught him, “was not about learning a secret language or mastering a bag of theoretical tricks. It was not about inventing a new, professional personality, either. It was about getting back in touch with the ways we used to read — the ways people read when they’re reading for fun — but also about intensifying them, making them more thoughtful and deeply informed.”

After his eyes are opened to Austen’s merits, he looks back on the writers whose heroes he had wanted to emulate and finds them wanting by comparison: “[S]he didn’t need to play the same game as the big boys. Her small, feminine game was every bit as good.” Austen, he sees, took her stand in the midst of the everyday; she “understood that what fills our days should fill our hearts, and what fills our hearts should fill our novels.” We’re firmly on “little bit of ivory” turf here, rounded out with the gallant notion that women, because of their limited sphere, have special civilizing powers to tame masculine excesses and make them fit for society. Men should read Austen, according to Deresiewicz, in order to learn “what it means to see and think and talk like a woman,” “what it meant to act like a woman,” and “why it was worthwhile.”

Then he also presents his hard-won life lessons in terms that are fiercely humanistic and practically platitudinous:

Learning to read … means learning to live. Keeping your eyes open when you’re looking at a book is just a way of teaching yourself to keep them open all the time. … Life, if you live it right, keeps surprising you, and the thing that keeps surprising you the most, I now understood, is yourself. … Love, I saw, is a verb, not just a noun — an effort, not just another precious feeling. … Friends, Austen taught me, are the family you choose.

So, like Bilger wrote, his journey of discovery is punctuated by such neatly packaged insights, not, ultimately, about women’s worlds or men’s worlds but a common ground of humanity. And despite some impression that I before I give more weight about being a woman, this is very very true. And I could’t resist to put it here. Hehe

However, again, she wrote about something that Deresiewicz said that had to make us proud of being woman and if our status used wisely, it could bring many advantages.

Deresiewicz, who similarly calls Naipaul a “grumpy old man,” takes a different tack on the woman writer issue, providing a context for why gender matters when we talk about Austen:

What he says about Jane Austen and women writers in general is the biggest cliché, the least original thing you can possibly imagine. People have been saying this, ever since she wrote. Women write about trivial things, women write about narrow things. They’re sentimental.

The fact is that Jane Austen is not only a great writer, she’s a great writer because she was a woman, because instead of going out hunting and shooting and conquering India like the men of her time, she was sitting in a drawing room, watching how people interacted, listening to how they talk. She’s the greatest writer of dialogue in the language, after Shakespeare, because she listened to how people talked.

In Deresiewicz’s approach, feminism coexists with humanism. We can see gender difference as a cultural reality without writing off women (and feminine) as less than fully human.

Here is the link to the Willian Deresiewicz’s book at goodreads:


And here for Rachel Brownstein’s:


Oh, almost forgot. This one for the article:



Obedient Wives Club

I just watched TalkIndonesia at MetroTV, episode 4 Sept, 2011 and one of the topic is something that talked a lot both in Indonesia and International world, Obedient Wives Club. Its motto is to make wives obey their husband in bedroom, every time, if they don’t want them to go to prostitute.

As an educated person, obviously I fell this is ridiculous. Because this insulted both women and men. It’s clear that this suggest an idea that men is any a beast that couldn’t even control their lust so in order to prevent them go to a whore, they need their wife to be a whore herself. Personally, if I have a husband like that (God help me so it won’t happen), I better kick his ass out, or if that’s not an option, let him whore himself with whoever mistress he had so I can do whatever I want.

However, one thing that quite surprising here is that many women join the organization. Here’s come the question, is that what they want or that is because they are lack of education? And seeing the situation, I think the latter is more possible (not that the first impossible). Most of them are either lived in rural area or someone who is so fanatic that made them blind of reality. And it sadden me thinking about someone like that. Before I though women in developing country needs more education, but apparently so does the one that life in developed country. Education and respect (both to themselves and opposite gender) are the biggest problem here. Women, so they respect themselves more, and know they are not a weak creature that doesn’t has right to have opinion and say it. Men so they proud themselves as a gentleman that has enough charisma and ability to love and respect women and made them give themselves to you (rather than (half) forcing it). And they proud themselves also as someone that doesn’t ruled by mere lust and can keep their promise of being faithful. Not blaming their fault to their wives…  I think this way wives could love and respect the husband much more easier.

Discussion of National Insight

Last saturday, 27 November 2010, I went to Gedung Balai Pengelolaan Taman Budaya Jabar to watch “Dialog Wawasan Kebangsaan”. It was quite surprised that the seats were almost full (despite the fact that it was free). Glad to know that Indonesian people had the appreciation to this kind of things. The even was opened by some performances. The first one was from CCLB which sang 3 songs (2 of them,Braga Stone & Lawan, wrote by Iman Soleh). Honestly, I didn’t really like their songs, especially the first one, since they were similar to light rock (well, maybe it’s about taste). Not to mention that the pronunciations were very unclear, that’s why I didn’t really caught what they said (or sang). But what I got from the Lawan was it’s a song to encourage the small people (farmers, fishers, teachers, and drivers) to fight the unfair situations. However, I have to admit that the voice was quite good.

After that, there was an introduction of the sources & the guests. They were Tarman Azzam, Dicky Chandra, Rani Permata, Pa Happy from IPENSI, Rudi Robotika from UNIKOM, and also some representation from PSB (Paguyuban Sapedah Baheula), woman polices, and many more. The host himself was Kang Deden, who made this even together with social ministers.
The second performance was from Karinding Sasaka from Lembang, who brought us 2 songs, the opening song, and Beren or Lamping. Beren talked about the changing of the environments. I actually prefer this one than the first. It’s really amazing that here, in Indonesia, what seems to be simple music instruments, can be so beautiful. And it also very “original”.
Two ex-street singers of “88 kilometers”, also gave their performances. They made the audiences amused by guitar and violin. The first song was western one, and the other one was Indonesia Raya. Here, I released how the music performances really effect their audiences. For every performance, with their own uniqueness, different responses were given. For CCLB, the audiences felt more energy and they could song along with the band and sometime even make little screams. When Karinding Sasaka’s performance, the audience were enjoy the music quietly. And in the third performance, the responses were between CCLB and Karinding Sasaka. Quite calm but with more energy.
After these 3 performances, the audiences were asked to stand up and sang Indonesia Raya with Indonesia’s Flag in front of us. Thus the welcome speeches were given by Nur Soleh and Mr. Suyoto. Mr. Nur Soleh from social minister, mentioned about the disappearance of national identity in Indonesia, especially after reform era. This, he said, was really dangerous because Indonesia has many potentials to fall apart. The territory which is archipelago, the diversity or variety of religions, ethnicities, and cultures, and also the number of regions which are bordering with other countries. Especially for the provinces that were closer to other countries than Indonesia’s central government, lots of them know other’s flag and national songs, than ours. This, he said, because we always treated them as “backyard” not “frontyard” and paid almost no attention to them. And when he went there and asked them whether they want to be other country citizen, they spontaneity and fluently said yes. They saw hope and welfare there. So his conclusion was the one who made Indonesia territory become smaller and smaller was our own government, not other country’s. As for Mr. Suyoto’s speech, it was almost the same as Mr. Nur’s.
Bilik Kreatif Bandung, gave us performance after that. They brought lot’s of “drums” and “sticks”. Their performance was quite unique, since though it seems disorganized and disheveled, in the truth it had its own order, and could amuse audience through that.
A video about the responses of Indonesian people to some questions was played. The first question was “Are you proud to be Indonesian? Why?”. Most of them said they were proud with their own reasons (But none of them said it was because they are Indonesian they can become what they are). For the unproud, one of the reason was because they didn’t feel free, though Indonesia already independent.
The second question was “What do you remember about Indonesia?”. The funny thing is even though most of them said they were proud of Indonesia, but what they remembered about it was desultory, corruptions, disasters (both natural and human made), poverty, lack of accomplishment, debt, and unfairness. Almost none of them mention any good thing.
Then, when the questions “What is nationality for you?” and “What is national insight?”, almost all of them couldn’t answer. What I got from them was they care more about their income than that question (Of course most of the people like that, not just the “small” people). And this also related to the last question, which was “What is your hope for Indonesia?”. Out of crisis, independence, many job opportunities, safeness, prosperous, and the changing in the nation even though there should be a cuts in generation, were their answers.
When the video was finished, then the discussion was started, with Tarman Azzam, Dicky Chandra, Rani Permata, Pa Happy from IPENSI, Rudi Robotika from UNIKOM as sources. Unfortunately, I didn’t watch it until the end, because I had to go home at 9.30pm (the even was until almost 11pm).
The sources were gave their own opinion of what national insight was. The first answer was from Tarman Azzam. He said that it was an understanding of how to live as a nation. As for Nusantara’s insight, it was how to live in one territory (which was Nusantara). He chose America as the example of unity in identity. American people came from many nations, but they just “know” 1 word, which was “America”. Then he mentioned the different of Indonesia’s government and PBB’s point of view. For our government, people can be called as poor, when their income was below 1 dollar a day, but for PBB, wherever you live, when your income was below 2 dollars a day, you were poor. Accordingly, for PBB, there were about 109 millions people who were poor in Indonesia.
The second answer was from Dicky Chandra. He said that the more you know someone, the more love you would fell. This also stand for nation. Thus, he called Indonesia as Ibu Pertiwi and said that no matter how bad our “mother” was, we still had to be proud and love her (he forgot to mention that especially we had “mother” which was far from bad).
Then his wife, Rani Permata, was expected to be the third person answer the question. But before she answered, the host asked her about the experience as the wife of vice regent (bupati?). Then she talk about a woman, named Raden Ayu Lasminingrat who she though should have to be national heroine. She was the one who wrote Carita Erman, Warna Sari I, & Warna Sari II. She also the founder of Kautamaan Istri school. She lived for 105 years. Then some other sources also mentioned that they were trying to make the appropriate person to be national heros, and this year from 10 persons that they suggested, 2 was approved (both from East of Indonesia).
After that, the representation of PSB got his turn. He said that he was disappointed by the people in video who said they were not proud of Indonesia. And he also mentioned how every 10 November, the one who go on a pilgrimage was (or it looked like that) only them (people from PSB). And he also said that it’s better if we didn’t think that sea was separate Indonesia, but unity it.
The fifth answer was came from Mr. Happy, as the representation of IPENSI. He said that we had to have positive thinking through our nation, not just criticizes it. Build a society that has no power with culture.
As for Rudi from UNIKOM, hard work was his start point. And for him, every dream can be reach trough it.

I’m a Special Woman

Several days ago, I read an article titles ‘Helen Castor on Queens and Power’. It’s an interview about powerful woman historical role in politic, especially in Britain. There, she chose several books as the topic of discussion. The first one is a biography of the 12th-century Empress Matilda by Marjorie Chibnall which is (as she said) a wonderful piece of authoritative medieval history. Here she stated, “we often imagine that historical developments are more linear than they really are”. And I have to agree. For me history is always like curve, there had to be time when one civilization reached their golden era where art, beauty, literature, and other knowledge were well known by the people. Then at that time, they were no barbarian anymore and started to leave their military power. Consequently, when people from other civilization that still in the barbaric mind-seat attacked, it was conquered easily. So then the high civilization fall apart, and they have to start again from the bottom. However, the ‘attack’ doesn’t always has to be physical, it could also be concept, particularly religion.

The second book she chose was John Guy’s My Heart Is My Own. This is about an even better known queen, Mary, Queen of Scots. And the third one is the queen of historical biographers, Antonia Fraser, with The Weaker Vessel. Here she told us why she chose this instead of The Warrior Queen, which is much more obviously about queens and power, and is a great book as well. Also then the question lead us to two powerful British women, Margaret Thatcher and Elizabeth I. And I found a beautiful statement that made me have to rethink what I always believe:

People often say, “Well, these problems can be overcome – look at Elizabeth I or Margaret Thatcher.” But what those two women both did was not say, “Women can rule, women can hold power.” They both said, “Yes, OK, most women are pretty feeble, but I am a special woman.”

See what I mean? That sentence really hit me right as a feminist. And here I also adding the interview about a soon-to-be-released book titled Erotic Capital: The Power of Attraction in the Boardroom and the Bedroom by Catherine Hakim. It’s about why women should be using their sex appeal to get ahead. (http://www.slate.com/id/2302762/pagenum/1).

The forth book is Monuments and Maidens by Marina Warner, which is more about the symbolism of women than actual historical figures. Here she was asked about how does this feed into her idea of power. This is her fabulous answer:

What’s so interesting is the way in which, in our culture, female figures become a vessel for abstract ideas. It’s interesting, too, that Antonia Fraser’s book has that word in its title. So the figures of justice, victory and liberty, for example, are all female. And Marina Warner comments in her conclusion that, “Meanings of all kinds flow through the figures of women, and they often do not include who she herself is.” In other words, the difficulty for women is agency; it’s doing something and being an actor in the narrative. Being an abstract embodiment is what women can do much more easily in our culture, which is why I think having queens now works quite well – because monarchs are required to be, rather than to do. But if you go back to the 16th century, monarchs had to rule – and that was where it became much more difficult for women to take that role.

Last book is Ernst Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies, which is all about medieval political theory and explores the idea of the divine right of kings. This time she said about the different between the impression we get from female and male body. “The male body is politically neutral, but the female body is sexualised, whether as sinful Eve or the Virgin Mary. It’s very difficult for a queen, as a woman – who’s constructed after all in biblical terms as the lesser being – to find neutral political ground to stand on.”  Which lead the question to how Elizabeth I dismiss her body as this weak and feeble thing but sometimes she would also harness it in ways that going to bolster her.

Of course at the end we arrived at the question about her latest book, She-Wolves, that tells the stories of the medieval and Tudor queens who ruled England before Elizabeth I. It was selected as one of the books of the year for 2010 in The Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, The Independent, The Financial Times and BBC History Magazine.

I think you can read the rest of the interview by yourself at (http://thebrowser.com/interviews/helen-castor-on-queens-and-power?page=1)