Apr 12 2007

So it goes

Public Galápagos tortoises of Austin. The Galápagos tortoise lives twice as long as Kurt Vonnegut, Jr, who, by the way, wrote a novel called Galapagos in which H. sapiens evolves into a species of tiny-brained cetaceanesques. Tortoises photographed at the sad, so-called Austin Zoo, a sort of repository for unwanted, damaged-looking exotic animals, March 2007.

If I were a “Breaking News and the Fascinating Morsels I Wrapped in Today’s Newspaper Before Throwing It Out” blogger, it might — what with the not posting for days and days — be said of me that I sort of suck . Fortunately, I am not a news blogger. I am a lazy bum. Nobody who is not insane can say that I suck at that.

Thus am I just sufficiently acquainted with today’s most popular blaming issues — the Don Imus Thing, and the Duke Lacrosse Players Development — to be disgusted.

But I am not so out of touch that I didn’t hear about the extinction of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. The news gave me quite a start. The start was followed by a sentimental pang. Some of the pang was for Kurt Vonnegut, Jr, but most of it was for my own lost youth.

I’ll explain about the lost youth pang in a minute.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr is the American author venerated as a visionary for having invented the idea that certain patriarchal customs, particularly war, are absurd.

Of course Vonnegut didn’t really invent the idea; that was Aristophanes, or possibly Hawkeye Pierce. Vonnegut certainly popularized it among prep school proto-intellectuals, though, this spinster aunt included. If you’ll permit me a brief autobiographical interlude, I’ll admit to having been, at a tender young age, uncommonly well-moulded, social-consciousness-wise, by Slaughterhouse-Five et al. Vonnegut was to me, and to all his other fanboys, the voice of counter-culture, the mascot of the Fuck the Establishment religion, the anti-authoritarian authority, a hip, prescient, avuncular, humanitarian figure who, unlike all other adults, got it.

Here is Vonnegut describing Eliot Rosewater describing a Kilgore Trout novel, The Gospel from Outer Space:

It was about a visitor from outer space, shaped very much like a Tralfamadorian, by the way. The visitor from outer space made a serious study of Christianity, to learn, if he could, why Christians found it so easy to be cruel. He concluded that at least part of the trouble was slipshod storytelling in the New Testament. He supposed that the intent of the Gospels was to teach people, among other things, to be merciful, even to the lowest of the low.

But the Gospels actually taught this:

Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn’t well-connected. So it goes.

The flaw in the Christ stories, said the visitor from outer space, was that Christ, who didn’t look like much, was a actually the Son of the Most Powerful Being in the Universe. Readers understood that, so, when they came to the crucifixion, they naturally thought, and Rosewater read out loud again:

Oh, boy — they sure picked the wrong guy to lynch that time!

And that thought had a brother: “There are right people to lynch.” Who? People not well connected. So it goes. [1]

In retrospect, it seems that although Vonnegut got quite a bit of it, he didn’t get all of it. After having gone more or less Vonnegutless for a quarter of a century or so, I recently re-read The Sirens of Titan. I was disillusioned, but not altogether surprised, to perceive a tiresome love-rape at the hub of the melodrama. Then I tapped my chin with a puzzled finger. I found I could not recall a single female Vonnegut character that is not defined by her reproductive relationship to the (male) protagonist. Whereupon I was forced to admit that, like most progressive beneficiaries of male privilege, Vonnegut has a pretty disappointing feminist score.

So it goes.

“So it goes” is the title of this post because whenever the phrase appears in Slaughterhouse-Five, which is often, it harbinges death. In the preceding paragraph I appropriate “so it goes” to mark the demise of a youthful fantasy. You’d think that by the age of 48 all my youthful fantasies would long since have been crushed by the crippling weight of cosmic indifference, but you’d be wrong. The now-dead fantasy to which I allude is this: that, if so examined, surely my childhood hero Kurt Vonnegut would withstand radical feminist critique.

I predict that anyone and their dog who is today acknowledging the death of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr will find irresistible the compulsion to work in a “so it goes” or two.

I blame Kurt Vonnegut, Jr, by the way, for my persistent compulsion to break into Kilgore Troutiness at the drop of a hat.
1. Vonnegut, Jr, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five. From pretty close to the middle of a 30-year-old Dell paperback edition.


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  1. Keeshond

    Jeez, Vonnegut and Phyllis Schlafly are the same age. Why did it have to be him and not her? (Sorry – not feeling charitable today.)

  2. Sniper

    I was about 13 when I started reading Vonnegut, but I stopped cold after “Welcome to Monkey House”. I was just starting to process my own sexual abuse and although I couldn’t at the time say why, reading this story made me sick.

    By all accounts he was a decent guy, but like many decent guys he didn’t get the “women are people” thing. Sigh. So it goes indeed.

  3. Rainbow Girl

    Vonnegut will be sadly missed by me. I posted yesterday here: http://team-rainbowgirl.blogspot.com/2007/04/trapped-in-amber-of-this-moment-kurt.html

    Sometimes I think you can accumulate enough karma points in one aspect of your life, such as writing against war, that it can compensate for areas that are lacking such as gender. I haven’t read Sirens of Titan, however I think my own wish/hope that he’s above the sexism is not exactly rational either.

    That said, I don’t even think Betty Friedan has enough Feminist Karma points to satisfy my stringent requirements. Vonnegut’s female characters may be missing but he does nevertheless show dominant masculinity and its connection to the stupidity of war.

  4. GenderBlank

    My first exposure to Vonnegut was in the movie Back to School with Rodney Dangerfield. I watched that movie about a hundred times one summer when I was young. It probably explains a lot about me.

    Anyway, condolences on the passing of your youthful fantasy. Sadly, many such fantasies meet their ends by not passing the radical feminist critique. I’ve buried several in the backyard, and I’m still pretty youthful. This doesn’t bode well for my future.

  5. Shy Girl

    Agreed on Vonnegut’s not fully grasping the “women are people” thing.

    Although I’m willing to give him points for effort on Circe Berman, and the other women (and girls) who appear in Bluebeard (1987). Evident that he learned a few things about the waging of war on women (both the official and unofficial).

    Maybe too little too late, but it gave me hope.

  6. Bubbasnightmare

    My exposure to Vonnegut is limited to working on a stage production of Happy Birthday, Wanda June, but from that limited perspective, my memories of the man’s work don’t match up with a recent re-read of the playscript.

    For those who don’t know it, two men seek after the same woman. One of them, a solider-of-fortune missing in the jungles for many years, suffers from more than his share of dudeliness. His rival for his ex-wife’s (Penelope–isn’t that clever?) affections, a doctor, turns out to suffer from pretty much the same thing.

    On the surface, it’s another “war is just male-to-male conflict writ large” story. However, rereading the script uncovers details that render the message listless and meaningless. Penelope is the obvious sexual object and “goal” of the rivals, and is described sketchily when at all. In fact, with the exception of Harold Ryan the Hunter, all the characters are 2D and pale.

    And so it goes.

    (Don’t see the movie; it’s even worse. The male-male conflict is blown away by the stroke of the director’s incredibly inept “creativity”.)

  7. Storey

    I think you will be moved by this stirring video tribute to Kurt Vonnegut:


  8. Tracey

    The news gave me quite a start. The start was followed by a sentimental pang. Some of the pang was for Kurt Vonnegut, Jr, but most of it was for my own lost youth.

    I, too, felt a start and pang. I can’t really credit Vonnegut with helping me reach any of the feminist consciousness I now have, (I always sensed that the female characters in his books were complete caricatures) but I could never deny how much his work influenced me in other areas. I had the opportunity to hear him speak at a college last year in February (at which he declared it would be his last public appearance), and aside from promoting his last book, he cracked us all up by saying things like:

    “The difference between Hitler and Bush is that Hitler was elected.”

    “Claiming you are ‘The War President’ is like calling yourself ‘The Syphillis President”.

    “I want you all to know that you will be perfectly safe from terrorists tonight, because I took my shoes off at the airport.”

  9. Twisty

    Storey: “I think you will be moved by this stirring video tribute to Kurt Vonnegut”

    Ha! I was moved all right. Moved into the bathroom to hurl up my tuna-on-rye. Billy Joel! It burns!

  10. Gillian

    Having read Slaughterhouse 5 and Breakfast of Champions, I eagerly read the short story collection including Welcome to the Monkey House. I felt so betrayed. Just like I felt at the end of The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson.

    But Timequake and of course Man Without a Country were good. I’ll just make sure I never read Welcome to the Monkey House again.

  11. TP

    Nothing really stands up well to the harsh light of feminist critique, I have found. I just try not to let it drive me crazy.

    One of my jobs this week was finding movie clips of women influencing men, morally, as a boss, manipulating them, things like that. My clients are going to be exploring how women influence men next week and they want some media to help out.

    I found it mildly annoying how easy it is to find men complaining about women, or lecturing women, or influencing women, and how hard it is to find women influencing men other than flights of fancy.

    A good movie for this? Ghost World. Even though the beauty of the comic was that there was no sad-sack stand-in for the director, Terry Zwigoff, it helped me in my research. I love the girls in this movie, they are so real, so independent yet connected and then, in the course of the narrative, disconnected. Just like life.

    Anyone got any suggestions for me? Specific scenes would be best, if possible.

    I will miss Vonnegut’s voice. He had a beautiful voice, I wish I had heard it more than once.

    I am a walking, talking permanent pang over my own long-lost heavenly youth, and have been so since I was five years old. For such a crappy life, I have loved it more than is really sane to admit.

  12. LouisaMayAlcott

    I read the NYT obit on Kurt today. I think that the telling point about him in terms of the absence of female characters in his otherwise highly creative and imagininative works is this: that his mother committed suicide when he was very young.

    Having read that today, I now perceive his work as a reflection of his own internal world in which the (primary) female is absent, and of his own sense of the absurdity of the male realm in which the absence of female primacy makes all manner of cruelty possible.

    My thanks to Mary Daly, and to Kurt himself, whom I am presently channelling.



  13. LMYC

    The first thing that comes to mind, because I just finished talking about these movies with my mom, is the third of the A&E series “Hornblower” movies.

    Duchess-with-thick-yorkshire-accent convinces Our Hero to allow her to smuggle super-top-secret military communiques out of a dicey situation.

    Movie is called “The Duchess and the Devil.” The scene isn’t more than 15-20 minutes in, I think. They’re on board a French ship that was captured and is being brought back to England to be turned into an English naval vessel, and are themselves captured by the Spanish. Our Hero has the military plans with him and is afraid the Spanish will get their hands on them, Duchess convinces him to let her smuggle them out since, as a member of the aristocracy, she will be searched only perfunctorily and then sent back to England.

    There’s also the odd scene in “Xena” where she talks one or another guy into Turning Good or whatever.

    Try to avoid the “I know you can do it, honey” scenes. They make me ralph.

  14. curiousgyrl

    I just reread Slaughterhouse Five last week–it was the first KV book I ever read when I was 15. I had the same “oh, boy! I didnt notice the sexism” thing, but I also still love him. So it goes.

  15. Sylvanite

    Women influencing men? I dunno – scenes from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” maybe?

    As for Vonnegut – he’s up in heaven now.

    As noted at Pharyngula, Vonnegut thought that would be a hilarious joke to be said of him after death. I read several of Vonnegut’s novels when I was in high school. I remember particularly loving God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. It’s been so long, I no longer remember why. I still have Slaughterhouse Five on the back burner (in a box, really). I am, however, finally reading The Golden Compass. I’m making progress, though I remember some people saying that Lyra becomes sort of limp in the next two novels, which is filling me with some forboding, since I’m enjoying Compass so much.

  16. S-kat

    As much as I love Vonnegut that rape scene in Welcome to the Monkey House has always pissed me off. I reasoned to myself that he was trying to comment on the anti-sex/anti-protection attitudes of Americans, but could only conclude that beliefs such as his that all a woman needs is a good deep dicking to show her how great sex is was exactly what spawned my own anti-sex attitudes.

    There’s nothing like being pressured into sex at age five to make you really hate it the rest of your life. At least I can thank him for illuminating that thought in my head.

  17. Mary2again

    No, No Twisty! You should also give us your thoughts about the Duke Lacross case. Really. Because I can’t be trusted to not spit nails right now, and need someone of your talent to clearly and concisely explain the f’ed-upness of the whole circus.

  18. thebewilderness

    Welcome to the Monkey House was like a three alarm firebell going off for me. In all the years of asking myself, is it me or is it them, nothing illustrated that it was them quite so clearly.

  19. curiousdude

    “and how hard it is to find women influencing men other than flights of fancy.”

    Are you kidding? EVERYTHING a man does is influenced by women. For a single man: What car does a man buy? The car which will help him impress women. What clothes does a man wear? The clothes which will help him impress women. What job does a man have? The job which will help him meet or impress women. Where does a man choose to live? The place which will help him the most in meeting or impressing women. What books does a man read? The books that will make him look smart or sensitive to women. What music does a man listen to? The music that will make him appear sensitive or macho to women (depending on his culture).

    For a man in a committed relationship:
    What car does he drive? The car that her majesty approves. What clothes does he wear? The clothes that her majesty picks out. What job does he have? The job that her majesty approves. Where does he choose to live? Wherever her majesty decides for him to live. Every decision that the man in a committed relationship makes is made with a view to not being nagged too much by her majesty.

    If women did not exist, men would live on the beach, own no car, and pick fruit for their meals. We only do all the things we do in life in order to get a woman to want us or keep a woman wanting us. If it wasn’t for wanting approval of women we would all revert to our lazy, shiftless, unambitious selves.

  20. Spinning Liz

    Busy, busy, busy, is what we Bokononists whisper whenever we think of how complicated and unpredictable the machinery of life really is.

  21. LMYC

    curiousdude, you’re an idiot. The car the guy buys is the one that will make his male buddies think he gets pussy. The job he gets is the one that will make his male buddies think he gets pussy. It’s never what the pussy itself wants, only what will make his buddies think he’s getting lots of it.

    Seriously — who is it likes those stupid cars anyhow, mostly? Guys. They’re the ones cluster around them in the parking lot when one of yall buys one. Not us. You do this shit for one another, we’re just the game pieces you use to keep score.


  22. LouisaMayAlcott

    Egad. I’m glad I never read Welcome to the Monkey House.

    OK, forget KV. (Ellipses deleted.) That was short (35 years) and sweet.

  23. curiousdude

    LMYC, I wasn’t talking about teenagers and the cars they get their dad’s to buy them. I was talking about men with real jobs who have to buy their own cars.

    Are you saying you wouldn’t rather ride around in my Lincoln Towncar than some losers Ford Falcon?

    If you think that adult males care more about what other adult males think of them than what women think of them you don’t know anything about adult males.

  24. Twisty

    I believe I speak for the group, curiousdude, when I say that I don’t give a crap about adult males or what kind of car gets them laid, so shut the fuck up.

  25. mearl

    I’ve never read Vonnegut but I just finished gobbling up Ken Wilbur’s “A Theory of Everything” to see if he has had the same realisations as the radfems. Sadly, this author, who spends at least three books ranting about how technological, medical, cultural and political advances far outrun the interior and spiritual development of the human race, does not once acknowledge the fact that so far the development of the world has been sadly hindered because of the male tendency to ignore the values and wisdom of the female half of the global population. I started out on this book feeling optimistic, but although he gives feminism about three lines of lip service, he’s too busy name-dropping all the male scientists and political figures he’s “working with” to notice that his assessment of things in the world is solely based on the male view and history as it has developed under the male view, and how THIS might be the cause of an “insufficient” way to make policy and run governments.

    To develop a “Theory of Everything” while ignoring feminist theory is, IMO, like working out your left arm until it is the size of your thigh, but allowing the right arm to hang unused and atrophied.

    Here’s a snippet that made me want to laugh, cry, and barf all at once:

    “…the Dalai Lama argues that the most important thing is for us to conduct our lives with love and compassion for others, and that our societies need to develop stronger notion of universal responsibility and of our interdependency. Any number of other spiritual leaders, from Christianity to Judaism to Hinduism, might echo those worthy sentiments.”

    I thought to myself, SPIRITUAL LEADERS? They are notorious for being male, and notorious for their hatred or dismissal of women. Any number of WOMEN on this planet, ecofeminists, feminists, lesbians, mothers, caregivers, teachers, authors, or just the average woman could have told this fucking dolt (and any other bigwig dolt out there spouting off about how he is contributing to the advancement of the human race) as much if he just didn’t have his male blinders up.

    So in conclusion, Twisty, although I digress, I understand completely what you are saying.

  26. Tigs

    I tried to stalk Kurt Vonnegut once. I knew he lived on the upper east side, and I thought maybe if I put together enough Gawker sightings of him that I could zone in on a central location. Alas, I don’t have the sticktoitiveness to actually do something like collate Gawker sightings or to sit still for more than 5 minutes in the stalking process.

    Of the many things I have long loved about Kurt Vonnegut one of the things is the way he expressed love and admiration in his nonfiction essays. Particularly his writing about his brother in ‘Man Without a Country.’ There aren’t all that many portrayals of real love, that isn’t messed up by fucked up power relations of all sorts, and I feel lucky any time I do get to feel that.

    As for his sexism, well sheee–iit, if I stopped liking/loving every man in my life who doesn’t really get it, I’d miss some pretty wonderful people who are pretty amazing in other ways. So, while it’s still not okay, I’m not going to divorce my husband or stop loving Cat’s Cradle.

    Curiousdude, you should stop now. Don’t say you weren’t warned–multiple times if you bothered to read the thing that it says to read before you post.

  27. mearl

    I agree with one part of curiousdude’s knuckleheaded post, and that part would be the last sentence which implies that men as a group are lazy, shiftless and unambitious. Oh, and I wouldn’t ride in either of those cars, especially if he was going to subject me to vapid conversation and idiotic mewlings like the ones he posted. I’d get my own Ford Falcon, thanks.

  28. mearl

    Shit. I just realised I overstepped Twisty’s last word. Sorry, Twisty!

    *ignoring trolls, ignoring trolls!*

  29. TP

    curiousdude is just like any man who hasn’t been able to listen to women like you all for a few years, totally clueless. These are the rationalizations that men use to excuse themselves from feeling like they are doing the patriarchal oppression thing to themselves. Because it is insane for men to act the way they do, and they can’t blame themselves, and they can’t blame the patriarchy, because they think they ARE the fucking patriarchy, so they blame teh pussy.

    Just like the waiter guy who sees a woman being harassed and frightened half to death by a huge muscle man as having all the power; the limitless, uncontrollable lust of a man is provoked not by male privilege gone berserk, but by any object with feminine qualities that happens to float by, as if they were some kind of autonomous beings or something.

    Men are fools to think they buy cars or do anything to please women. They do it because they think, this is what men are supposed to do to impress women, not because it actually impresses women. It’s all to be manly, which men assume means attractive to women.

    The trap of male thinking isn’t very mysterious or deep, it’s just like looking at yourself in the mirror and thinking, that’s what chicks like, man.

  30. curiousdude

    Ya’all are just too funny. All this “deep” psychobabble in response to a toungue in cheek post. Do ya’all feel smart now?

  31. josie my source of most frustration

    TP- Do they have to be movie clips? Because I think that the X-Files and Veronica Mars provide numerous examples of women influencing men. But, alas, they are TV shows.

    And, I will miss Kurt Vonnegut too. Despite not getting it right on women’s issues, he definitely did get it right on labor issues and economic issues. Reading God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater as a youngster caused a major paradigm shift to take place in my young, suburban mind. I’ll always be grateful to him for that.

  32. thebewilderness

    “Ya’all are just too funny. All this “deep” psychobabble in response to a toungue in cheek post. Do ya’all feel smart now?”

    No, we feel about the same as we always feel when suffering fools.

  33. LMYC

    Annoyed that we have to stop and scrape something off our shoe when we were in the middle of an otherwise good conversation.

  34. LMYC

    Mearl — 1964?

    I’m holding out for a Galaxie. Black with a red inset. Fenderskirts, of course. Can’t have a nice uninterrupted design line like that without filling the wheelwells. :-)

    No, I don’t find men with cars to be catnip — I don’t want the man. Just the car, thanks. He’s cordially invited to jump off a bridge.

    Falcons are so cute, though.

  35. Sylvanite

    Sorry about my non-sequitur about The Golden Compass, a novel that is most assuredly not by Kurt Vonnegut.

    Also, I genuinely don’t give a rat’s ass about cars. They’re complex tools intended to get us from point A to point B, preferably not breaking down on the way. I drive a ’98 Metro fer chrissake. My husband is always talking about how his (male) coworkers ragged on him about driving a Ford Tempo. Men are definitely all about impressing each other, and maintaining whatever pecking order they have in their groups.

    And American luxury cars? Ew!

  36. MzNicky

    curiousdude: Child, I realize you don’t understand this, but you’re in over your head here. I’m not sure how you got through security, but your underage i.d. is hereby confiscated, seeing as how you can’t even spell “tongue,” let alone the correct apostrophization for “y’all”. Buh-bye.

  37. Metal Prophet

    Or as the great Daria Morgendorffer once put it: “Can we keep the armor and ditch the knight?”

  38. MzNicky

    Re: Reexamination of old favorite dude writers in light of present-day feminist scrutiny: This happens to me all the time. John Updike? Tom Wolfe? Others I considered awesome back in the ’70s? What embarrassing letdowns with whom I have recently reacquainted myself.

    Thus I no longer go around telling people that “The Three Musketeers” or “Beau Geste” are among the best novels ever written, as I haven’t re-read them since my undergraduate days (30 years ago, for crissake),and who knows what a re-read now might do to my fondness for Dumas and Sir Christopher Wren?

    I don’t even want to think about James Joyce. Hemingway, on the other hand, always was a recognizable tool.

  39. MzNicky

    TP: “Women influencing men” in movies:

    Perhaps there are scenes in “Tootsie” that would be of use. Also, I think of “9 to 5” with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton — the part where they tie up Dabney Coleman and demand better working conditions and less sexism in the office. I also like the scene at the end of “Heartburn” where Meryl Streep shoves a pie into Jack Nicholson’s face. Oh,how I love that scene.

  40. Narya

    I’ll throw “Bull Durham” into the ring for women influencing men.

    As for KV, noone gets everything right. I’d be happy to get as much right as he did, even if not the same things.

    So it goes.

  41. mearl

    LMYC: I like 1969 through 1971. What I’d really love to get my paws on is a 1970 Dodge Charger, black. Or a 1970 Chevelle 454, black with white deck stripes. My dad had a 1970 Dodge Dart Swinger, two-door, in dark green. I loved it. Sorry guys, I couldn’t resist! *Thinking of something to say about Vonnegut*….*mind has turned to dreamy cheese thinking about cars*…Crap, I’ll just tap out for now.

  42. the first born fish

    I happen to love classic cars. My car is more faithful and reliable to me than any man, that’s certain. :P

  43. Bird

    Hemingway fans always seem to be liberal dude English undergrads trying to impress me in university bars once they find out I’m an editor. Somehow they think telling me he’s their “biggest influence” for their novels will overwhelm me with their genius. They really hate it when I respond with jokes about tight masculine prose.

  44. Antelope

    ’40s noir films should give plenty of examples of the manipulative influence of women.

    Sitcoms are overwhelmingly full of those scenes where the wife has a better idea how to handle x, so in the next scene the hubby is pretending it was his own idea. That’s ever so funny that surely it must be in lots of films, too, but I’ll be damned if I can think of one at the moment.

    For an actual title, what leaps to mind is 9 to 5, where Dolly Parton, Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin each have their own style of influencing the awful boss to make an ass of himself.

    What I cannot think of at all is one single scene where a guy follows a woman’s advice because she puts it plainly and he just plain acknowledges that she knows what she’s talking about. If such a scene exists, it’s probably some flick where they put a woman in the scientist-who-foretells-disaster type role that was originally written for a man. Or maybe if it’s sci-fi and she’s psychic.

    Wait! Speaking of sci-fi, there’s always Trinity in the Matrix. So maybe men will in fact listen to women when they’ve just entered a completely alternate version of the world they thought they knew, completely surreal things are happening that she seems to understand, and she has already demonstrated her ability to kick ass. And of course God is female in that movie too. Men will also listen to women if they happen to be God.

    There is a scene in the recent Devil Wears Prada where the evil woman boss undermines a male employee’s dreams and he accepts it as the price he has to pay for being mentored by such a ruthless genius, but of course he’s gay. I can’t imagine them depicting a straight guy taking that attitude.

  45. LMYC

    Mearl, you had me until you said “Dart,” unfortunately. I was stuck with one of those SL/6 monsters for years — GAWD, that thing leaked like a sieve. Those old 225’s run like shit but they do it for 30 years. Argh.

    I love the way men think we want their scabby little dicks because of these cars. That’s why they all look like you shot their dig when you go up to them and tell them, “You’re using the wrong feeler gauge for those lifters, you know.”

    Antelope, that one example I gave was pretty good that way — she convinced Our Hero that she was right just because she was. But you do have to watch the thing all the way to the end to see what happens. I was close to blowing my top before all was well again, but all was indeed well and it’s a lovely little movie.

    I’ve seen more than a few things where the woman is ignored at the peril of the entire cast — usually the mystic old woman says, “Don’t do X,” and they do X because well, there isn’t a movie otherwise, and then we watch them all trying to outrun monsters for 45 minutes.

  46. LMYC

    Shot their DOG, damn it.

  47. Thalia


    Many years ago, I (an otherwise good little straight-A student) took a D in AP English my senior year of high school rather than read The Sun Also Rises over Christmas break like we were assigned. We had already read For Whom the Bell Tolls and I was not wasting my vacation on that asshole, dammit.

    Looking back on it I’m rather surprised, though quite proud, to realize how much of a clue I had at age 17.

  48. Rainbow Girl

    Women influencing men in films? I have four words for you:

    “Snap out of it!”

  49. Sniper

    Re: Reexamination of old favorite dude writers in light of present-day feminist scrutiny: This happens to me all the time. John Updike? Tom Wolfe? Others I considered awesome back in the ’70s? What embarrassing letdowns with whom I have recently reacquainted myself.

    Fay Fucking Weldon.

    I loved Vonnegut when I first read his books and was actually pretty devastated when I read “Monkey House”. I felt betrayed, as only a 14-year-old can. He was a good person. Unfortunately, one can be a good person and still not quite realize that women are human.

  50. Pony

    One of the things I’ve noticed about curiousdude and his ilk; they’re always driving around alone in their boner cars.

  51. Narya

    Speaking again of women influencing men AND Vonnegut, the short story (turned into a TV movie?) “Who Am I This Time?” is relevant.

  52. redhead

    Women influencing men in films:

    ‘Stranger than Fiction,’ where Emma Thompson’s character is literally dictating the events of Will Ferrell’s character’s life. She has the power of life and death over him.

    Also, if TV is acceptable, try Lucille Bluth (the mom) on ‘Arrested Development,’ in pretty much every episode, manipulating her sons.

  53. Rainbow Girl

    I’m going to go ahead and give out the Way To Stay Focused awards to the first six comments on this post, for saying something about Kurt Vonnegut.

  54. Older

    It’s possible that curiousdude is like a lot of other dudes in thinking that he is the measure of dudity. And in thinking he’s onehellovadude.

  55. LMYC


    OMFG! I HAVE TO SEE THAT! I don’t want to see the movie, I just wanna see that scene!

  56. TP

    Now I want to post about cars, too. I still love my old 1962 Rambler that I abandoned back in 1985. Nothing dudely about that middle-class all-aluminum classic. One day I will buy another one and cherish it for the rest of my days.

    I loved my gas-guzzling 1972 Impala, too. It could pass anything on the highway except a gas station.

  57. Frumious B

    I like cars, specifically, I like engines, and I’d like to thank the Patriarchy. If it wasn’t for asshat mechanics taking advantage of my feminine ignorance, I would never have lifted my hood and would have continued to throw money at them. Now I shop for tools and get grease under my nails. It’s like being in grad school again, but without exams. I have a ’93 mustang 4 cylinder, 2.3L. Sometimes I dye my hair burgundy to match the paint job.

  58. norbizness

    I definitely think this place needs a forum. Busy to the third place, indeed.

  59. Anaximander

    More than a few commenters seem to think the ending to “Welcome to the Monkey House” reflected Vonnegut’s actual beliefs. Maybe it did (did he ever comment on it elsewhere?), but considering Vonnegut’s sense of humor, I can’t help but suspect Billy the Poet et al. is a dig at the sexual liberation movement. Vonnegut often mocked things he agreed with, so it seems in character for him to stretch sexual liberation to the point of absurdity. Maybe I give him too much credit.

  60. Miller

    I’m going to say it: you cannot be a good person and a bigot, let alone one whose intolerance is overt and influential. No amount of literary masterpieces or ranches for autistic kids (including “nappy-haired” ones!) can compensate for open endorsement of authoritarianism, regardless if it’s socially legitimized. You (plural) have confused “good” with “normal.” Mind you, we all have absorbed various types of bigotry, but when you choose to defend it whether by willful ignorance, enabling, or blatant support, it’s fucked the hell up! Women and girls are routinely raped and killed because these ideas (female: non-human; evil) enjoy widespread acceptance, and the power-brokers in society (whether in politics, business, or the media) help define these blasted social norms.
    Fuck that shit. There, I said it.

  61. Antelope

    I could swear I read a really moving intro to one of Vonnegut’s books where he talks about how women weren’t seen as human in most fiction through much of his career, and that it’s one of his few regrets that he went along without noticing. Said he wouldn’t change a thing about the anti-war, anti-authority bits, though.

    No idea what book, but I am sure that it was Vonnegut.

    For me, the author I really idealized until looking closer at the women was Hesse, especially Siddhartha and Steppenwolf. The reason it didn’t bug me at first is, of course, because I never identified with any of the female characters, I identified with the people who were doing stuff – even if it was just meditating a lot.

  62. Miller

    Tech question: is my computer the only one with delayed typing? I have a preview on the bottom, but the type shows up seconds after a I pressed the keyboard. Damn it.

  63. Random Lurker

    Movies where women influence men…that’s a tough one. For positive influences I came up with:
    –There’s the scene in Ikiru where the old man complains to his female coworker that he did everything for his son to which she shushes him by pointing out how unfair it is to blame the emptyness of his life on his son as the son never asked the father to sacrifice happyness for him.
    –If you don’t mind Bollywood movies you could probably use the tail end of Ashoka where the death of an ex and the urging of a Buddhist wife convince the hero to renounce violence.
    –There’s the scene in Fargo where the pregnant cop corrects the beat cop who doesn’t realize DLR signifies a dealer plate.
    –More or less all of Harold and Maude is about a woman morally influencing a man. Same with Night of the Iguana.
    –Wasn’t there a scene in the first Star Wars where Leia convinces Han Solo that there’s more to life than money or some such?
    –There’s Dogma where God is a woman, can’t get any more high-ranking than that.
    –Maybe some of the scenes in Cleopatra?
    For negative influences:
    — Lion in Winter, where the queen convinces her children to scheme for the throne
    –Macbeth/Throne of Blood has probably the most famous scene of a woman influencing a man.
    –Ivan the Terrible, where one of Ivan’s enemies convinces her son to seize the throne.
    This puny little list took me an hour to come up with, and it isn’t even that good. All but the scene from Fargo involve moral influence, not a boss correcting a subordinate.

  64. Inverarity

    Macbeth/Throne of Blood has probably the most famous scene of a woman influencing a man.

    Alternatively, Ran (King Lear), with Lady Kaede being far more influential in Kurosawa’s version

  65. Alarming Female

    I just read the Welcome to the Monkey House collection of short stories a couple of months ago, and while the title story did jolt me at the end, I think Anaximander might be onto something. Many of the stories in that collection are timeless. I love Harrison Bergeron.
    Vonnegut was a product of his times, and I’d like to think that, had his body of work been published a few decades later, he may have proved himself more the feminist. Of course, having your mom off herself right before you ship off to Germany to serve in WWII might fuck you up a bit in your dealings with women.

    So it goes–(sly grin)

  66. ripley

    in the first Alien, you get an example of a women whose influence is ignored, so that all the men (and one more dependent woman) die horribly.

    In the second Alien movie (Aliens), you get a woman who influences men (including army men and she a civilian!) through her demonstration that she knows what she’s talking about, and because of her demonstrated competence in her job and in responding to the Aliens

    as you can tell from my handle, I totally love those movies

  67. Scratchy888

    In Dambudzo Marechera’s BLACK SUNLIGHT, Susan, a luminary, influences the protagonist by luring him into an anarchist context and ideology. She is a very powerful occult figure, gateway between the world of waking and the world of dreaming.

  68. Catherine Martell

    Random Lurker:

    If you don’t mind Bollywood movies you could probably use the tail end of Ashoka where the death of an ex and the urging of a Buddhist wife convince the hero to renounce violence.

    Or – perhaps even more pertinently – the bit at the beginning where Asoka’s mother takes a vow of silence to force her headstrong son to do her bidding. You will have to wade through an awful lot of lingering shots of Shah Rukh Khan in a mudbath, preening himself, to get to the bit at the end with the Buddhist wife.

    Lots of Bollywood movies feature the powerful emotionally-blackmailing matriarch. And younger women are often shown as being able to manipulate men with their feminine wiles or, very commonly, their quick wits. It’s a terrible film, but there’s a great scene near the beginning of Bunty aur Bubli where Bubli hoaxes a corrupt bank manager out of his ill-gotten gains by persuading him to invest in a phony investment opportunity. She does flutter her eyelashes a bit, but it’s mainly about her ability to talk a good game.

    Actually, gender in Bollywood is something I could happily base a dissertation on.

    Returning to the West, Dangerous Liaisons is all one giant story of Madame de Merteuil manipulating the Vicomte de Valmont. You’d probably need the scene at the beginning where she tells him to seduce Tourvel, coupled with (spoiler alert!) the scene at the end where she reveals she did it all to get back at him for being an ass. Though she sort of gets a bit defeated too.

    You could pick a few scenes out of Serenity where the deputy captain, Zoe, gives orders to the male crew members. Haven’t watched it for a while, so I’m a bit foggy on which ones. But she is a terrific character.

    There’s also the scene at the end of Labyrinth in which Sarah finally confronts Jareth, the Goblin King:

    Sarah: Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City. For my will is as strong as yours, and my –
    Jareth: Stop! Wait! Look, Sarah, look what I am offering you: your dreams.
    Sarah: My kingdom as great –
    Jareth: I ask for so little. Just let me rule you and you can have everything that you want!
    Sarah: Kingdom as great… damn, I can never remember that line!
    Jareth: Just fear me, love me, do as I say, and I will be your slave!
    Sarah: My kingdom as great… my kingdom as great… You have no power over me. [moment of realisation] You have no power over me!

    Evil Goblin King defeated; girl triumphant; patriarchy blamed and shamed. As a small child I cheered in the cinema. Plus, David Bowie in spandex trousers and frightwig – even more alarming than Shah Rukh Khan in a mudbath.

  69. MzNicky

    LMYC: The movie is “Heartburn,” from around the early 90s? It’s based on Nora Ephron’s novel of the same name, which I understand is a thinly fictionalized account of her marriage to Carl Bernstein (he of Washington Post/Watergate fame). I’m not sure why, but it’s one of my favorite Meryl Streep movies, and not just cuz she pies her fuckward husband at the end.

  70. MzNicky

    Oh, and another influential movie woman kicking male butt: Holly Hunter in “Broadcast News.” She’s magnificent.

  71. Mar Iguana

    “In the Time of the Butterflies,” based on the novel by Julia Alvarez about the lives of the Mirabal sisters who inspired the rebellion against Trujillo, the dictator of the Dominican Republic.

    “Death and the Maiden,” wherein Sigourney Weaver gives her clueless husband and the doctor who tortured her in a South American country (probably Chile) a whole new outlook on life.

    “House of the Spirits,” from the novel by Isabel Allende, in which Meryl Street and Winona Ryder finally make the family patriarch, a wealthy, land-owing, right-winger in Chile ask, “How could I have been so wrong?”

  72. Joolya

    TP: First thing that comes to mind for your project is I, Claudius. Admittedly, it’s mostly Livia getting other people to murder various Roman nobility, often her own relatives, but in such claver ways that she’s kind of awesome.

    I’m sad about Kurt, even though he hadn’t had his feminist consciousness raised. I feel like if he’d been thirty years younger, he might have, though.

  73. Joolya

    (sorry, “clever”.)

  74. Hawise

    No amount of literary masterpieces or ranches for autistic kids (including “nappy-haired” ones!) can compensate for open endorsement of authoritarianism, regardless if it’s socially legitimized.

    Miller- just to be clear Imus’ ranch is for dying children of all races and sexes. The autistic ones are to be cured so that they do not shock normal people. Imus’ whole career is about using vitriol and unsubtle jabs to ensure people fall into line with the patriarchy and that is how he became the beloved of the beltway nabobs. If they are born odd then they must be cured, if they are dying then we can safely celebrate them because they are going away, and if they are broken then try to fix them. All to ensure that the world fits the Imus Ideal.

  75. Joolya

    Maybe “Prime Suspect” where Helen Mirren (not wearing ruffly pink lace dress) routinely corrects her male subordinates? Although the price she pays for being a high-level female police inspector is alcoholism and loneliness …

    This is a good thread! I’m going to be all day thinking of women-influencing-men films and tv shows. Have already begun to categorize (e.g. the “Cassandra” archetype – mystic/scientist tells men things and they ignore her until after disaster – the “Livia” – evil plotting machinations of female who makes men do her dirty work – the “Sitcom Mom” – whose doofus husband fucks everything up until he does it her way, hilarity ensues – and so on.)

  76. Silence

    “The Duchess and the Devil” is perhaps the best Hornblower movie. It’s about the only time Our Hero meets someone who is actually smarter than himself, and it’s a woman.

    I never enjoyed Vonnegut’s writing style, so I confess myself unmoved at his death. But I have to respond to Twisty’s throwaway comment about Aristophanes. Read this guy’s damn plays if you haven’t already. Anyone who calls herself a feminist should know Lysistrata. Of course now I’ll have to re-read it just to see if I can find any intolerable knob-isms in it.

    Good female characters in film: Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine, both based on scripts by British playwright Willy Russel. Both deal with working-class women who realize how constrained their lives are by various factors, including the patriarchy, take steps to change them, and emerge triumphant. Good stuff, although they’re more about women taking charge of their own lives rather than bossing men about.

  77. anuna

    A friend of mine pointed out the Paris Review interview with Vonnegut, here:
    It doesn’t improve his feminist score much, though.
    A quote:
    “INTERVIEWER Let’s talk about the women in your books.
    VONNEGUT There aren’t any. No real women, no love.”

    He then explicates on why he doesn’t like to write about love. An interesting blind spot, there. As if the only reason to include real women would be as love interests. Other than that, there is no reason for us to exist, apparently. It sounds like a big fat patriarchal rationalization to me.

    I’m thinking that at some point in “Battlestar Galactica,” President Roslin must surely have influenced Admiral Adama, but I can’t come up with a specific scene.

  78. Jodie

    It’s funny. I would have sworn that I had read Vonnegut, but apparently I haven’t (I have a hard time remembering author’s names). I think I confused him with RA Lafferty or maybe Theodore Sturgeon.

    And despite a year as an English master’s program candidate, I have managed to go my entire life without reading ANY Hemingway. It’s amazing what you can avoid if you really try.

    Movies where a woman influences a man — how about Kung Fu Hustle? (A movie I just love) There’s the middle aged woman who is the feared authoritarian of the community AND the young woman who, with a simple gesture, reminds the young man who keeps trying to go bad of his humanity.

    And so it goes.

  79. vera

    Whereupon I was forced to admit that, like most progressive beneficiaries of male privilege, Vonnegut has a pretty disappointing feminist score.

    Yup. And such moments of clarity always make me feel a little sick to my stomach, after all these years.

    Being a member of a despised class means, in part, coming to grips with the fact that at some level, even your heroes hate you.

  80. LMYC

    It’s about the only time Our Hero meets someone who is actually smarter than himself, and it’s a woman.

    And she’s immensely cool, at least fifteen years older than he is, and I sear she taught him to tongue-kiss during their clifftop walks. Heh.

    Of course, I’m convinced he went back and practiced his newfound skill with his best friend, but that’s just me.

  81. smmo

    Being a member of a despised class means, in part, coming to grips with the fact that at some level, even your heroes hate you.

    It is exhausting. But not as exhausting as bending over backwards to pretend that they don’t hate you.

  82. LMYC

    Or pretending that they’re “nice guys” and “decent human beings” even though they don’t consider you human.

    There’s so many wonderful people out there who have vaginas, who will consider you a human being. No, not all of them — but it’s like a gazillionth of a percent of males are theoretically capable of it, while a gazillionth of a percent of right-wing women aren’t. That’s not symmetrical.

    In a world where there are so many fantastic, brilliant, incisive, forthright, compassionate women why would anyone bother to settle for a guy who doesn’t see your humanity, oh but he’s a great guy anyhow. That’s what men say about their buddies — he may have slipped a roofie to his date, but he’s a great friend, a real standup guy. He may treat his wife like shit, but he’s a total bud.

    They are praised for the simplest things, and a standard is applied to them that is so low that any woman could get over it without half trying. Would anyone consider a woman who acted like that to be “a wonderful human being” and you’d be losing out by not interacting with her despite her looking down her nose at you?

    WHY do people DO this? I did for a time only because I couldn’t get away from males; my education demanded that I be surrounded with the stupid fuckers, white guys in their 20s as far as the eye could see, Christ. But jeebus! What IS it that makes people so willing to endure this kind of — what’s the word?


    — because they MUST have males in their lives or else the planet will crack in half? WTF is UP with that?!

    I know that it’s rough if you are straight — I certainly find the rare male physically pretty (damned few of them though, most men are ugly bastards). It’s also rough if you want kids, because raising them with two people in the house and with two paychecks is a lot easier. But … argh.

    Why. What IS it about us that we are willing to say things like, “If I held out for men who treated me like a human being, I’d miss out on so many great guys!” with a straight face?

  83. Rebecca

    An op-ed piece in today’s New York Times expresses sentiments remarkably similar to Twisty’s (and my own) regarding Vonnegut’s death, insofar as a reflection on his works evokes one’s youthfully exuberant discovery of the potential of literature to aid in the loss of innocence. The author claims that, “No one nourishes the skepticism of the young like Vonnegut.” While this claim is eulogistically hyperbolic, I concur with the dismay expressed by several posters above when they, and I, reread works that were profoundly influential on our teen-aged selves only to find these works sadly lacking in the perspectives and understandings that we have since gained.
    I prefer, rather than dwelling on the shortcomings of these authors, to use such moments as illustrations of personal growth. How sad it would be if I still read Mark Twain, specifically “Letters From the Earth,” with no more critical eye than I possessed eighteen years ago when that story prompted my first realizations that I was not alone in finding my religious upbringing to be a load of hooey.
    Regarding movie clips, how about Chocolat? I cannot recall a specific scene that best illustrates Viane’s influence on the male townspeople, but perhaps a clip towards the end showing the count’s realization that he is a mean, awful, nasty man would suit your purposes.

  84. hedonistic

    Just checking in to state that, since I’m completely divorced from popular culture I have nothing to contribute. That’s how crazy I am: I can’t shut up, even when I GOTZ NOTHINGS!

    However: Usually overachieving moi DID take an “F” on a 10th grade Humanities test rather than read the Brothers Karamozov. Some things just cannot be borne.

    As for cars: As long as it doesn’t have $%#^& racing stripes I couldn’t give a crap what a man drives. That said, I always find it amusing to see what my first dates are driving since automobile choices say an awful lot about men’s delusions. Meanwhile, I love my Civic Hybrid that gets 42mph.

  85. Clio Bluestocking

    First, I find it fascinating how many of us loved Vonnegut when we were young; but upon reading him when we were older, with a greater feminist consciousness, we became uncomfortable with the way he dealt with women. Some people even mentioned other authors with whom they had that experience. I also think that, sometimes, our memories of something stay in the past, with that past consciousness. When we approach those things again in our maturity, we get a little shock because we are also encountering that younger self, before we were made aware that we were “different” by being female. Yet, still, whatever we saw in Vonnegut at that earlier age, we still value.

    Second, on the movie thingy, “Children of Men” is filled with women influencing the man to do something.

  86. Dot

    At 64, I missed reading Vonnegut in my youth. By the time Slaughterhouse 5 was hot, I was focussing on marriage, working, trying to “fit in,” and protesting the V-war. But when Hawkeye Pierce hit the big screen, I loved it, until the putdowns of nurses happened again, and then again, and all throughout, and when they exposed the “uptight” nurse naked in the shower, my stomach fell deep down, while my husband belly-laughed all the way home. To LMYC, some of us stayed in such marriages because it took a VERY long time for us to rinse out the suds of brainwashes a-la-40s and 50s church and social upbringings. And now, many years later, we are prevailing, and we see the partner in a true light, and sad and fearful if not enlightened, but we are learning to celebrate ourselves and correct the partner, even if he does not enjoy it or understand it. Sometimes, compassion is more appropriate, not revenge, for he was raised as deluded as me. (But I admit, I am often very lonely!)I celebrate the young women here who are aware and honest with themselves.

    RE: movies of women influencing men: The Whale-Rider.

  87. Phoenix

    This is off topic:

    from AOL health section

    “Immature sperm cells have been created from human bone marrow, it has been revealed.

    The breakthrough raises the future possibility of manufacturing sperm that can be used in IVF treatment or to restore fertility to men made sterile by cancer therapy.

    Such applications are still many years away. But scientists hope to grow fully formed sperm cells in as little as three years.

    At the same time they fear that new legislation may bring the work to a halt. The Government’s recent fertility White Paper proposes a ban on using artificially created sperm or eggs in assisted reproduction.

    The research, conducted in Germany, is published in the journal Reproduction: Gamete Biology.

    A team led by Professor Karim Nayernia, from the University of Gottingen, first took bone marrow from male volunteers. From the samples, they isolated mesenchymal stem cells, which have previously been shown to grow into body tissues such as muscle.

    Stem cells are immature cells that can be made to follow different functional pathways.

    Using a form of vitamin A, the scientists coaxed the mesenchymal cells to become primordial germ cells (PGCs) – the first stage in the genesis of sperm.

    Specific genetic markers showed that some PGCs had further developed into more advanced spermatagonial stem cells.

    Under normal circumstances, these cells eventually turn into mature, functional sperm that can fertilise an egg. About 3% of the original bone marrow stem cells were able to reach the point of being spermatagonial cells.”

    This could apply to women as well because of stem cell use. I found it interesting. I do not know how to do links, but if anyone is interested I googled using the words “sperm from bone marrow” and turned up a few articles.

  88. Ana Casian Lakos

    I agree. I always get annoyed when people call Kurt Vonnegut “progressive”
    I mean he was progressive–for men. Everything he stood for was in the interest of oppressed men. (oppressed by war, the establishment, etc.)

    Not once does he touch on the oppression of women, which is significantly more violent, dramatic, drastic, painful.. etc.

    Still, I do feel it as a bit of a loss, that he died…

  89. TP

    Thanks for all the kind and thoughtful suggestions. You people are so great.

    I’ve never been able to understand the first thing about why some people drive Pontiacs and others drive Buicks. They all look like crap to me, though some of them are less ugly than others. Much like typical men. Why women tolerate their crap at all has been a lifelong wonder to me. I’ve always assumed they get it from their culture and upbringing.

    An old friend of mine who was a hairdresser got a glimpse of this when she was doing the hair of some deluded Barbie Doll who only dated fratboy-style misogynists. She asked where all the good men were? Her ability to see beyond the sea of idiots she limited herself to was obvious to anyone but she herself, and IBTP.

    Not that any man on the planet is entirely innocent of misogyny. You’d have to raised in a box not to internalize at least a taste of it. But the poor kid, like far too many women, limited her choices to the very worst of them. My mother never remarried, and looking at the men of her generation, I have always thought it was the wisest thing she could have done.

  90. phio gistic

    I was sad to hear about Vonnegut. But the line above about eventually realizing that even your heroes hate you is making me want to cry even more.
    The adult me has buried lots of authors that I loved as a kid out in the yard because when re-reading critically, I couldn’t escape that hatred. Here’s a sampling, embarrassing as it is that I once-upon-a-time liked these guys: Robert Heinlein, Tom Robbins, Robert Anton Wilson, and Gene Wolfe. (Gene Wolfe was a recent one.) On first readings, I think I just hadn’t realized yet that I was a “girl” and what that meant. Or in my youth I considered myself somehow exempt.

  91. S-kat

    Women influencing men in movies: Harold & Maude and Dogma come to mind.

  92. mearl

    Hell, I can’t really think of any movies where women influence men and don’t get bested, married to the hero or killed. Well, time to start writing novels and learning how to direct!

    One of my favourite movies is “Children of the Century,” a biopic about George Sand. Juliette Binoche is great in this.

  93. B. Dagger Lee

    The Night of the Hunter, 1955, is a really excellent film with an elderly woman and some children as the heroes.

    And Shelley Winters as the usual victim. And so it goes.


  94. vera

    Not entirely off-topic (since Twisty mentioned Imus)

    This column caught my eye:
    Imus might be spark for debate on sexism

    It’s worth a look-see.

  95. Tigs

    Just wrote a whole thing that Firefox decided it couldn’t handle… dammit.

    Anyway. I wrote this whole post that I’m sure a bunch of the group would have lambasted me for as just defending my Nigel.

    But the gist was that— hell. I’m an asshole too.
    I’m a white, American, petit bourgeois, suburban, highly-educated, well-traveled bitch.
    I try really hard to interrogate my own privilege on a daily basis. But I know full well that I am not able to fully understand or act with the humility that a person who was truly ‘enlightened’ would (whatever the hell that means anyway).
    I still call South America ‘down,’ despite several years of Latin American research. I know full well I pull WASP-y Connecticut blue-blood bullshit sometimes. But I don’t mean to, and I try really hard to be cognizant and to not do that, and I really think that’s the most I can ask of any other person. No matter whether that person be male or female.

    Further, I’ve never met a woman who wasn’t hung up on her own privilege in some way.
    Just because we’re all imperfect doesn’t mean we aren’t all we’ve got. I’m going to love who I want to love, and who, as far as I can tell, is working his/her ass off to love me the best he/she can– even with all the fucked up programming.

    I don’t allow people to disrespect me in language, treatment, or outcomes. I call my Nigel out everytime he pulls patriarchal bullshit. Yeah, he benefits from the Patriarchy in a helluva lot of ways that I’m hurt by it, but so do I benefit for all those previously stated status-bearing positions.
    I’m not willing be anti-social just because the whole world is fucked up. Maybe to be a really good radical feminist that’s what you need to be, but somehow I don’t really see where that gets any of us.

    IBTP and Capital and Whiteness and several other superstructures.

  96. smmo

    Another George Sand biopic in which a woman influences men: Impromptu with the incomparable Judy Davis.

  97. Miz Shoes

    Pleased to note that I managed to mark ole Vonnegut’s death without so much as a singular so it goes. I DID use “See the cat? See the cradle?” and the chronosynclastic infindibulum and, predictably, Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.

    I think you make a point, that Vonnegut should be required reading for the young, to teach them to question authority and to embrace independent thought, and to eschew war mongering. But after the flame is lit, Vonnegut can be dispensed with like a burnt-out match.

  98. kiki

    I know that it’s rough if you are straight…

    I am straight and my older sister is gay and we are always going back and forth about the benefits and detriments of our different life situations. We do not agree on everything (we’re sisters after all!), but we certainly respect the choice of the other and despite the challenges, I have never wished for my sister to be straight and I don’t believe that she’s ever wished I were lesbian. We accept (and celebrate)each other as is. I have seen unhealthy people go from lesbian to straight relationships and straight to lesbian, only to repeat the same self destructive behaviors that were present in the previous relationship. No matter where you go; there you are. There are plenty of decent people out there of all kinds and you can search them out or settle for less. We have lived near each other with our partners for almost twenty years, and my children and her children have benefited greatly from the joys and trials of both relationships and from being part of a larger inclusive community that includes many kinds of people and relationships and definitions of family.

    As for cars, they don’t carry shit, gimme a 1963 GMC 1/2 ton long bed any day, otherwise you can’t carry a load of hay or adobes, haul the arc welder to uncle Moises or pick up those tired immigrants wandering the back roads.

  99. Mel

    Sorry I’m chiming in late and beating a dead horse here, but I can’t help writing this post. (I’m only human, forgive me!)

    “If women did not exist, men would live on the beach, own no car, and pick fruit for their meals. We only do all the things we do in life in order to get a woman to want us or keep a woman wanting us. If it wasn’t for wanting approval of women we would all revert to our lazy, shiftless, unambitious selves.”

    AHAHAHAHAHA!! You stupid, fuckin’ idiot!! If women did not exist, neither would YOU, you fuckin’ moron!! It is through the grace of women–and women alone–that you even exist to write your paltry post!

    Oh my god! I’m laughing so hard, I’m crying!!

  100. Patti

    Oh, Livia (again) in the Sopranos – that kind of strong woman with no legitimate power, influencing through sneakiness. I wish they’d explored how she got so twisted by her powerlessness.

    I used to have Darts and Valiants. You would WORK on those cars. Now I have a Volvo and I’m a slave to the dealership and their computer diagnoses thingies.

  101. Liz

    I guess I have been roaming this page for awhile now, and this topic really made me think of something my Feminist Philosophy professor told us. She said how made she was at her professors for telling her not to read Aristotle , Plato, and all those other misogynic philosophers, because really they didn’t care one bit about women, in fact we only have a partial soul according to Aristotle). But they did say some things that are important, and as feminists we can take those things and use them for us and in our contexts. I haven’t read Vonnegut yet, although it is sitting in my bookcase just waiting for me to do so, but I think the important thing for us to do is to read his works, appreciate the things that aren’t misogynic, use and rewrite the stuff he puts out that is for our own good, and use his text to critique his own work and others’ (not just literary works, but policies and other stuff). If we don’t know what the patriarchy is saying that it is pretty hard to defeat it.

  102. Mar Iguana

    “Anyone who calls herself a feminist should know Lysistrata. Of course now I’ll have to re-read it just to see if I can find any intolerable knob-isms in it.” Silence

    Absolutely! The boys have pretty much unanimously loathed and denigrated this play down through the ages. A few years ago, there was a Lysistrata Project (or something like that) where these women were going around the country helping community theaters stage it. I think it’s hilarious. Especially the part where the old women bar all the old farts from getting into the treasury building to get more money to fight the war bankrupting their country. Great stuff.

  103. Violet Socks

    Not once does he touch on the oppression of women, which is significantly more violent, dramatic, drastic, painful.. etc.

    Actually he did. He started out as a sexist, definitely, and I had the same hurtful experience as so many others on this thread — discovering that my childhood hero thought people like me were inferior.

    But Vonnegut evolved. He paid attention to the women’s movement, he analyzed his own fear of women, and tried to move into a more enlightened place. By the time of Galapagos and Bluebeard (mid-8os) he was explicitly trying to express what he understood as a pro-woman point of view.

    In his last years he always used gender-neutral language in his speeches and interviews. He made a point of saying women’s liberation was an excellent thing and about damn time.

    He tried.

  104. Pony

    The Tent Peg by Aritha van Herk. It’s a modern day tale based on Ja-el, who knew from influence!

    “Yael received the fleeing Sisera at the settlement of Heber on the plain of Zaanaim. Yael welcomed him into her tent with apparent hospitality. She ‘gave him butter’ (i.e. ‘lebben’, or curdled milk)’in a lordly dish’. Having drunk the refreshing beverage, he lay down and soon sank into the sleep of the weary. While he lay asleep Yael crept stealthily up to him, holding a tent peg and a mallet. She drove it through his temples with such force that it entered into the ground below. And ‘at her feet he bowed, he fell; where he bowed, there he fell down dead’.

    As a result of the murder of Sisera, God gave the victory to Israel. The praise given to ‘blessed’ Yael in the Bible, is given for her action.”

  105. butter

    @ TP:
    “…clips of women influencing men, morally, as a boss, manipulating them, things like that. My clients are going to be exploring how women influence men next week and they want some media to help out.”

    Omigosh — if you can use TV, how about “Ugly Betty”? Betty (helpmeet), Sofia (hottie), or Claire Meade (mother) influencing Daniel, for the most part.

    Also “Erin Brockovich”, “Jerry Maguire”, or even “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”. Besides being a sheckshy cartoon, Jessica Rabbit has some scathing comments for er… whatsisname, the main character, the detective, y’know.

    Can’t think of many examples from popular media that aren’t about women manipulating men primarily via sexuality, though — the only legitimiate “in” to his attention. Bleh.

    Going to go re-read some Vonnegut and see if it’s as jarring / disappointing as re-reading Heinlein was… Bluebeard sounds promising.

  106. Mandos

    Lysistrata was meant both as protest at war but also “Look at how funny the women are.” It’s hilarious though, I loved it.

    A stronger statement is Euripedes’ play, The Trojan Women. I saw a not very good (honestly, thought I appreciate it more in hindsight) interpretation of it not too long ago, and I was still bawling my eyes out. In that play, the Greek “heroes” are unrelentingly depicted as rapists, and the play is about female solidarity and conflict in the under the background that all the women are under inevitable sentence of rape, from Hecuba, who is designated to Odysseus.

  107. Ron Sullivan

    Damn. Can I just say that it’s a big relief to be among people who know what I’m talking about when I say I felt betrayed when I read “Welcome to the Monkey House”?

    If Vonnegut was satirizing the FreeLuv folks there, he blew it. The narrator’s voice wasn’t quite on key for that.

  108. SusanM

    Violet Socks:

    But Vonnegut evolved. He paid attention to the women’s movement, he analyzed his own fear of women, and tried to move into a more enlightened place. By the time of Galapagos and Bluebeard (mid-8os) he was explicitly trying to express what he understood as a pro-woman point of view.

    In his last years he always used gender-neutral language in his speeches and interviews. He made a point of saying women’s liberation was an excellent thing and about damn time.

    He tried.

    Thank you for this. I never knew too much about him, although I had a vague impression of coolness. The fact that he tried, and eventually got it, is more important to me than that he made some mistakes.

  109. Serpent's Choice

    Indeed, he tried.

    Kurt would be — and was, at times — the first to say that he didn’t understand women. His mother, an early suicide, was the defining woman in his life until well after World War II and his experiences in Dresden, and he spent self-acknowledged years overcoming an innate and very real fear of women. As well, there wasn’t the depth of feminist thought in the 1940s and 1950s that there is today. No one was blaming the patriarchy then.

    Except that he was. I won’t argue that his characters are scions of feminism. Indeed, his women are as advertised in this thread, second-fiddle to the men. But all of his characters are weak; he had said as much himself. Vonnegut isn’t about the characters, which are all just props, really, whether man or woman, human or alien. His writing is about the ideas.

    And those ideas — the senselessness of war, the truth of humanism, the need for kindness in a world of cruelty — those ideas are at the heart of what feminism (radical, advanced, or otherwise) is about. Patriarchy is the greatest granfalloon of them all, and so it seems to me that discarding Vonnegut as an inspiration for feminism because his female characters are marginally more of set-pieces than his male characters is to miss the point of Vonnegut, and perhaps a bit of feminism, entirely.


  110. Pony

    I just live for the posts where men tell me what feminism is.

  111. minnie

    did you know that turtles can breathe with their butts? pretty rad, eh?

  112. thebewilderness

    I did not know that, but I am somehow not surprised.

  113. Mar Iguana

    Did you know that boys can think with either head, just not at the same time? Suuuprise, suuuprise.

  114. Amananta

    Being a sci-fi/fantasy/gamer-geek and inveterate bookworm, I have gone through pretty much this same cycle of enchantment and disillusionment of such popular and intelligent (except when it comes to women!) writers as: Robert Heinlein; Robert Anton Wilson; David Eddings; Stephen King; Aleister Crowley; and many others. So far Neil Gaiman hasn’t really disappointed me, but I’ve been bracing myself for the inevitable.

  115. Therem Harth

    Well, it looks like I’m too late for this thread, but I’m going to have my say anyway.

    Firstly, the two principal examples being discussed above as evidence of Kurt’s patriarchy-enabling are Sirens of Titan (1959) and Welcome to the Monkeyhouse (written before 1960, anthologized much later). As an already rabid Vonnegut fanatic (I was halfway through huffing his then-published works when I read it), Welcome to the Monkeyhouse made me profoundly uncomfortable, and I flatter myself to think that it was for some of the same reasons as those given above. On the other hand, I’ll say that as a teenaged male, I was going to read Sirens of Titan just based on the cover, so ‘guilty’.

    That said, these are some of his earliest works (Player Piano [1952] is also ripe for criticism). Vonnegut was fighting his way into the business by writing what was essentially pulp fiction (or maybe one step up from that). If you look at some of his peers who followed the same path (science-fiction-writer-becomes-all-respectable-like), this early work comes off as pretty typical (much less fucktarded than a lot of contemporary stuff, really).

    While I’m thinking mainly of male authors here, I can’t also but compare him to my other favourite 20th century American novelist, Ursula K. LeGuin. While she never indulged in anything as offensive as the ‘deflowering’ scene in WTMH, nevertheless her Hainish novels (published 1966-1967, seven years after Sirens came out) do have their fair share of stock patriarchal female characters, including the self-sacrificing wife (two of them, actually) in Rocannon’s World, and the faithless concubine in City of Illusions.

    I would argue that Vonnegut’s and LeGuin’s positions at this point in their respective careers were similar in two significant ways: 1) they were in thrall to their audience (entrenchedly-patriarchal male magazine/science-fiction editors); and 2) they had internalized their tropes like good little boys and girls, and just couldn’t help it.

    So to get to the point, I’m with Violet Socks on this one. It’s been a long time since I last read Vonnegut’s novels, and I know I’m probably doing some selective editing, but even so I am sure the comments sell him far short. Yes, there is ample grist for the patriarchy-blaming mill in 50’s Vonnegut, but I don’t think one should use his early work as a pretext to invalidate his life or contributions. Vonnegut evolved, and he’s a big reason that I ended up being the Twisty-fearing creature what I am.

    I only wish I had total off-the-cuff recall of his less famous works, so that I could better come to his defense, but I’m going to give it a try anyway.

    From what I recall, Jailbird is the closest Vonnegut ever gets to doing what he says he never would do (in the Paris Review interview), which is to write a love story. Plot (or a bit of it anyway): the protagonist is male; he is accosted on the street by a homeless woman; she turns out to be someone from his past. It is revealed that she is half-mad — she is in fact immensely rich, and lives with an entirely justified fear that someone will cut off her hands. She and the protagonist keep each other company in the aftermath of their respective lives; he earns her trust in a limited way.

    Again from what I remember, female characters drive the story (which is about economic inequality), and the homeless woman represents the conscience of the work. It’s been fifteen years at least since I read this book, but the scene that sticks in my mind concerns the blistering reaction of the protagonist’s date when he (a well-off young man) tips a waiter at a posh establishment $50 — this being at the height of the Great Depression.

    Returning to the Paris Review interview (published in 1977; Jailbird was published in 1979), and specifically Anuna’s comments.

    INTERVIEWER: Let’s talk about the women in your books.
    VONNEGUT: There aren’t any. No real women, no love.”

    Based partly on this quote, Anuna concludes that Vonnegut’s attitude is one of dismissal — briefly, that women in fiction can only serve as love interests. I respectfully submit that this is a misreading.

    In the interview, Vonnegut goes on to say this:

    “It’s a mechanical problem. So much of what happens in storytelling is mechanical, has to do with the technical problems of how to make a story work. Cowboy stories and policeman stories end in shoot-outs, for example, because shoot-outs are the most reliable mechanisms for making such stories end. There is nothing like death to say what is always such an artificial thing to say: The end. I try to keep deep love out of my stories because, once that particular subject comes up, it is almost impossible to talk about anything else. Readers don’t want to hear about anything else. They go gaga about love. If a lover in a story wins his true love, that’s the end of the tale, even if World War III is about to begin, and the sky is black with flying saucers.”

    Now, as I read this (keeping in mind that the novels he was about to write [Jailbird] and had recently finished [Slapstick (1976), about which more below] have important and atypical female characters), Vonnegut doesn’t have a problem with women, but rather with women as they typically function in mainstream fiction — that is as tools. He is saying that a woman in a romance novel is like a shoot-out in a cowboy novel, not because that’s what women are like, but because that’s how powerful the trope is.

    I won’t speculate about what Vonnegut would have said if pressed along these lines in 1977. Personally, I feel that Jailbird is indeed a love story, just not a hankies-on-platforms love story.

    Slapstick is also a love story, not because there’s a romance in it, but because it’s about love. This is what the female protagonist says about saying ‘I love you’. She says it’s like putting a gun to someone’s head, and asking them to say ‘I love you’ back.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but speaking about love as a manifestation of violence, ownership and coercion doesn’t seem out of place in the comments section of I Blame the Patriarchy.

    One last thing. I don’t know why he says there are no “real” women in his books. It might just be that he thinks readers think ‘real’ women are the ones that ‘real’ men fall in love with. In Slaughterhouse-Five he makes it clear that he’s not going to write about ‘real’ men. As he explains in the book, the subtitle “Children’s Crusade” fulfills the promise he made to the wife of a friend, who didn’t want more children going off to war, and who didn’t want Vonnegut writing another book that they’d turn into a movie starring ‘real’ men like John Wayne or Dana Andrews.

    It might also be that he knew his limitations. He was an all-but-legally divorced male old fart writer, with his Pall Malls, and his breath that smelled like mustard gas and roses, who was interested in science and society. What would he know about writing a romance? What would he know about real women?

    Please forgive for saying so, but I know I feel that way posting here…

  116. LouisaMayAlcott

    Thanks, Therem.

    Your post is a good read.

  117. Quills

    Therem, good post, very thoughtful. I also read the interview you’re referring to. Although, I’m not really sold that he wasn’t implying that women had to serve as love interests. It certainly seemed that way to me. I’d like to believe your optimistic interpretation.

    It’s quite problematic of him to justify himself for not attempting to write half the population as actual fleshed out humans because he didn’t want to write about love. Reverse the genders and the statement is laughable. There is no real men in my books, I didn’t want to write about love. I really wish the interviewer pressed more on that one. Who knows what he would’ve said.

    Still, I was impressed that he straight up said
    ” There aren’t any. No real women, no love.”
    At least he was self aware and willing to admit how flat his female characters were. That in itself, is remarkable.

  1. 13th Carnival of Feminist Science Fiction & Fantasy Fans « Words From The Center, Words From The Edge

    […] -In So it goes, Twisty Farmer at I Blame The Patriarchy discusses the death of Kurt Vonnegut and the fact that while he understood some things, his feminist score still leaves a lot to be desired: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr is the American author venerated as a visionary for having invented the idea that certain patriarchal customs, particularly war, are absurd.Of course Vonnegut didn’t really invent the idea; that was Aristophanes, or possibly Hawkeye Pierce. Vonnegut certainly popularized it among prep school proto-intellectuals, though, this spinster aunt included. […]

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