Tuesday, March 15, 2005

On style and the worst line I read today

"You know, I think being a feminist is exactly like being gay."

I am not going to point to the site I pulled this from because my intent is not to insult the author. Want to talk about rhetoric for a moment. Composition. I have reading a lot of Stein lately...

I think it's supposed to be one of those funny-serious statements, something Sarah Vowell might belch out on a sappy-yet-ironic-yet-hip NPR program just before saying something wildly intellectual yet fashionable enough for the twentysomething crowd. Unfortunately, it could just as easily serve as a lead-in to an incredibly crass monologue joke on Letterman or Leno.

In addition, the claim is naive, certainly worthless. Though the identities ar not mutually exclusive, being-feminist is nothing like being-gay. If it were true, then being a gay feminist would simply be redundant. (I could go on.)

--What purpose does it serve to point out these kinds of sentences in our writing? Good question. These kinds of statements are always segues to more important and meaningful narratives. Why, then, do we craft them? I don't know if that is important. But I do believe we should ask: Why not edit them out of our work before we publish it? We write what we write. We only really get down to writing, though, when we revise and edit. How are we encouraged not to revise, not to edit? What purpose does that prohibition serve?

After the claim about feminists and gays, here's what follows:

It's something you can hide as long as you're willing to swallow all sorts of insults all day long till finally you have enough. So much of the stuff women face is just invisible---the way women's bodies get used to sell everything under the sun, the way women are required to starve themselves because we're not allowed to occupy too much space; the ways we get called bitchy when men are just assertive---all that stuff---that when you finally react to it there's a bunch of words that get tossed at you, too. We accept all that stuff and keep ourselves from noticing it, but boy, we sure notice when someone points it out.

Right on. This is substantive. I think it makes feminism appear much too monolithic, but the point "we sure notice when someone points it out" is poignant and worth exploring. The paragraph works to the author's point. I am engaged and genuinely taken. That first bogus claim is nonsense, what follows it makes sense.

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