Monday, May 6, 2013

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed and a RANTY RANT

Tiny Beautiful Things was the best book I read in April- and, to be honest, one of the only books I finished in April. APRIL IS THE CRUELEST MONTH OK LEMME ALONE. I featured the book in Book Riot's Round-Up: TheBest Books We Read in April. For those who don't read the Riot, here's what I said about it:




"I loved Wild when I read it last year, but I hesitated to pick up this collection of pieces from Cheryl’s stint as advice columnist Sugar on The Rumpus. Mostly because I’m not interested in the clichéd platitudes dished out by so many advice columns, and a little bit because I never actually read Cheryl-as-Sugar and was afraid (based on what I’d read in Wild) that this book would be too hippy-dippy for my tastes. INACCURATE. Sugar/Cheryl is a loving hard-ass, the greatest guidance counselor you never had, a maybe-slightly-older-than-you cool aunt who dishes out the hard stuff and then buys you a margarita and a cookie. And yeah, Cheryl can write like a motherfucker."

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IN OTHER NEWS I very angrily DNFd a new book called HomewardBound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, which I thought was going to be a feminist look at the DIY/raising chickens/knitting/canning blog phenomenon that's happening these days. It sort of was that, but was mostly the judgiest thing I've ever read. The author is snide, likening women who work from home as bloggers or Etsy crafters as "Avon ladies" and basically suggesting that if you're a stay at home mother (or a work-at-home mother like all the bloggers she highlights, and of course like I am) you're a bad feminist. As in, if you homeschool, you don't care about improving the public school system, and if you work at home for yourself or stay at home with your kids, you're not out making changes for women in corporate America and therefore you're less than.


The author tries to make the trend of women working from home or staying home with kids a sort of rich person's trend, but all the stay-at-home mothers and work-at-home mothers I personally know do so in large part because they can't get jobs that pay enough to cover child care- myself included. And if women in that situation can improve their financial state by doing something they enjoy doing (like knitting, even if it is icky "women's work") and then selling the shit out of their skills, I say more fucking power to them, and who are we to judge women who are just making the best decisions they can for themselves and their family? And now I've come to love working at home so much that if I was offered a corporate office job I would tell the offerer to shove it- even if that means I'm an icky bad feminist.





Making feminism all about abandoning activities that are "domestic" because they're historically associated with women just makes women who ACTUALLY ENJOY THAT SHIT feel guilty- or worse, makes them feel like they are therefore NOT feminists, even if they actually are. "Well shit, I actually enjoy baking and prefer working for myself- guess I'm not a good enough believer in equal rights." Give me a fucking break.I don't usually get so angsty about books I didn't finish because I don't think it's fair, but I gave this book half its length to stop being so offensive and snooty, and it just didn't happen. So I put it down and baked some cookies because I fucking love cookies and I did it in the middle of the day because I was at home with my kids. And you can pry my feminist card from my cold, dead hands.

NOW this rant is not to say you shouldn't read the book. I disagree with what the author is saying, but the conversation about the affects of the rise of domesticity on feminism is one worth having.

28 comments:

  1. That is SO disappointing. The book is officially off my wish list.

    Last year, I was interviewed about solopreneurship, and the reported was just blown away by the fact that I would turn down a corporate gig if it presented itself to me. I don't have kids yet, but my husband and I have been trying, and I told the reporter that I had created a life for myself where I could continue working while also being home to raise children. Because that's what I want. I don't want to work my way up the ladder. I don't want my income to be the only defining factor in my success.

    Also, I really love baking, dammit.

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    1. Yeah, the author seemed totally unable to accept the idea that blogging about home life could be as "fulfilling" as having a "real job." In fact, she kept using "fulfilling" just like that, in quotes. So snide. I wanted the book to be about the pressure that Pinterest and domestic blogs put on women to be Betty Draper, and it is partially about that, but it's more about how women who choose that path in life are just bored housewives trying to fool themselves into thinking they're working. (Which, to be clear, I think they are working- running a successful, money-making blog, doing the crafts to make the blog interesting, and caring for children- that's all fucking work.)

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  2. Best rant ever.

    For the record, you probably should not read "The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands" by Dr. Laura Schlessinger. It was quite possibly the worst wedding gift ever given to me, if the amount of rage it incurred is an indicator of wedding gift quality.

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    1. Oh, I've read it. In my book, the proper care and feeding of husbands should be titled "You Married a Fucking Idiot Who Can't Do His Own Laundry, Hahaha."

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  3. Cheryl really CAN write like a motherfucker- I just finished Wild and have gone straight onto Tiny Beautiful Things because I needed more, and UGH, so good.

    AND Ugh, that book sounds terrible for all the judging. I remember watching this documentary about feminism and this one woman said 'being a stay-at-home mother isn't about feminism, it's about capitalism' and I was like RIGHT ON, lady! Because I really feel like... Corporate jobs and contributing to THAT world isn't really a thing that everyone should have to aspire to do, and if you can make money doing something you enjoy (even if it is a 'female' task) then... what's the big deal? And also, saying 'female' tasks like that is really gross, but saying that they are bad BECAUSE women have traditionally done them is the least fucking feminist thing I've ever heard.

    Aaaaand, that was my rant! Sorry, I got a bit carried away haha.

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    1. It is about capitalism, I totally agree. I'm not making the decision to be a work at home parent because GENDER ROLES but because my husband has more marketable skills (corporate sales) than I do (writing? ranting?). The author's limited definition of fulfillment (i.e., only possible in corporate America) is confusing to me.

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  4. I just wish women would stop attacking other women all the time about their choices to stay at home or not stay at home or babywear or not babywear or homeschool or not homeschool, blah blah blah. It infuriates me and it helps NO ONE!

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  5. So glas for this ranty rant because I was wanting to read that book and now not so much. I'd rather read a book about why it's feministy to do domestic stuff if you like it and it's good for you and your family. Because I love making things from scratch and if anyone tells me I'm not a feminist because of that, I'll punch them.

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    1. Amen! Cooking isn't a feminist anti-feminist choice in my head- my cooking tastes better than other options, sooo why wouldn't I? I sew my own clothes sometimes because they fit better than store bought- why shouldn't I? Because in the 1930s, women had to do it, so I shouldn't now even though I like to? Doesn't make any fucking sense.

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    2. The author would be SO MAD if she knew that my automatic response to your comment was, "I wish that I could sew." It used to be that to be happy and useful women (read: white, middle-class women) were supposed to stay at home. Now, apparently, we're supposed to do jobs we don't necessarily want. When do we get to choose?! (Answer: right now.)

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    3. I'm with you!!! I love knitting and baking and I wish I could sew, but I'm a terrible housekeeper. I love my outside job but it makes no money, but my husband does. So am I a feminist or not?

      I say, people should do with they like, especially if they make money at it!

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  6. Oo, thank you for clarifying what the tone of her Dear Sugar writing is. That sounds like an advice column I can get behind.

    I'm sorry you hated that book, but damn, that rant. So good.

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  7. I JUST REBLOGGED THAT GIF ON TUMBLR TODAY

    ...ahem.

    *sentences that wouldn't have made sense ten years ago*

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  8. I haven't read any Strayed but I've heard great things about Wild... Adding Tiny Beautiful Things to my list too -- thanks!

    And yup, your rant sounds like what I imagine I would think of that book if I were ever somehow forced into reading it. Feminism is first and foremost about women having the freedom of choice in their lives, so I'd say the author of that book was in fact being anti-feminist (or, at the very least, isn't doing any good for women by attacking those with different aspirations). Blech.

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  9. It's really too bad that so many women are into attacking other women. Wtf?? That makes no sense to me.

    I have homeschooled kids and public school kids. Sometimes I like to cook and sometimes I use the hell out of my microwave. I've been a stay at home mom for years but I'd have no problem working either. (If I could get a job, ha!)

    It would be great if women could make whatever choices they wanted without being judged. BY OTHER WOMEN. Fuck.

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  10. I had someone make snide remarks at me because I choose to wear a lot of dresses with 1950s aesthetics and they were all "myeh do you want to go back to that time and be a servant to your husband and treated like a second class citizen myeh feminism" and I was just stared at them agape. I mean, dude chill, it's a dress, it looks banging with my body shape and it makes me feel good. It doesn't mean I want to go back to those days or that I don't believe in female equality. I also like to wear pink from time to time SO THERE.

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  11. And this is exactly the reason why we end up alienating so many women from the feminist movement...one of many reasons, actually.

    I have been a stay-at-home for five years now, and although I'd love to get at least a part-time job out of the home (just because I need some serious adult interaction at this point), I am not a bad feminist because I stay home. This lady needs to get off her f-ing high horse and stick a sock in it.

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  12. You're ranty rant makes me so sad. I can't believe the mommy wars that were raging when I had my son nearly 17 years ago are still going full force.

    I loved my years as a stay-at-home mom/freelance newspaper writer (it's what writers did before blogs). And I didn't see myself as a wishy-washy wimp who couldn't handle Corporate America - well, sometimes I did, but mostly because of books like Homeward Bound. Most of the time, I saw myself as doing a big ol' end-run around the system. I had to have just as many skills as my friends in corporate jobs, but I got to be my own boss. Sometimes in my jammies.

    I suggest you ignore her and go bake some cookies. You're your own boss, so you can do that whenever you want.

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  13. I ran an Etsy store for about a year and I think I sold 2 scarves. It was hard! I can see why most businesses fail in the first 5 years. It's depressing. In the end, I decided to make scarves just for me, because I like making scarves.

    What bothers me about these kind of "feminist" books is that they're usually written from a privileged POV. Ladies with education and Big Jobs. I want a view from the 99%s. The area I live in has a depressed economy and all I could find when my daughter was small was minimum wage jobs. Being a stay-at-home mom for many women is an economic choice. If authors like this one actually come down off their high horses and do something about the state of childcare and the 70 cents on the dollar less than men make situation instead of sitting up there making judgements, that would be actual helpful feminism.

    And who wouldn't want to be their own boss?! That sounds awesome to me!

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  14. So this is the third time I've been poised to enter this comment; I've been thwarted by either my computer or my hitting the backspace button at the wrong time. Anyhow, I absolutely love this blog, it's one of my favorites. And your rant really stuck with me, because I can't for the life of me figure out what's wrong with women taking something they find fulfilling and being able to make it turn a few bucks. And by doing that, I would imagine that many of these 'working from home' women are learning a ton of skills that could make them really marketable if they do decide (and are NOT pressured into by well-meaning and condescending intellectuals) to enter the workforce. And if these women are finding fulfillment in domesticity, I don't see how it does the feminist movement any favors to say that it's somehow inferior because women like to do such things. Isn't that kind of attitude what early feminists were fighting against?

    Basically, your rant and the book's topic made me puzzle and puzzle till my puzzler was sore. I just hate that this attitude is still an intellectual thing.

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  15. Your kids, your home, your life - do whatever the bleep you want to do. It's the only way you're going to be able to look yourself in the mirror in a few years anyway. Live on, Sister! No regrets.

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  16. I'm halfway through Tiny Beautiful Things right now and I adore it. I don't always agree with Sugar's advice, but DAMN I love the way she dishes it out.

    Also, on the Matchar book? That was one awesome rant. I've wanted to read this one for a while now but I'm rethinking that now. I can't stand the judgy. There is so much awesomeness in feminism and in discussing feminism and women and gender studies--why make time for the judgy? But maybe I'll pick up a copy from the library just for kicks, because I agree with you that the conversation around the role of domesticity on feminism is an important one to have.

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  18. True feminism is about woman having choices and equal opportunities. The minute anyone starts telling me what choice I have to make in order to be a real woman, that person is just as sexist as the original "Make me a sammich, woman!" dude.

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  19. Cheryl Strayed's voice is gorgeous. Beyond gorgeous. Her advice is thoughtful and funny and sad and just so freaking HUMAN. I laughed, I cried. I could not recommend it more. Everyone will find many letters that will really, really speak to them. What a joy. Actually, what a tiny beautiful thing.

    Irene (Visit Emergency Medical Transportation Services)

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