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…Rene Almeling, a sociologist at Yale, spent four years interviewing sperm and egg donors and the staff who work with them while researching her book Sex Cells: The Medical Market for Eggs and Sperm. She found that egg donors are often encouraged to think about their involvement as giving a gift to another women, while sperm donation is most often framed as an easy job. Most egg donors she spoke to said they didn’t think of themselves as mothers — but sperm donors did tend to think of themselves as fathers. This may be because we have some experience thinking of fatherhood as a distant, genetically defined role, but are less used to dissociating motherhood and pregnancy. Regardless, it’s an interesting window into the ways we reconcile the fertility industry with our notions of family.

–Brooke Jarvis, “Come and get it: how sperm became one of America’s hottest exports

…We need to talk about families, but we also need to talk about sex. We need to talk about mothers, but we cannot ignore the existence and the rights of women who are not mothers.The GOP is waging a “War on Women”, and the Democrats are fighting back – but only on behalf of certain kinds of women.Women-with-children-first framing is politically potent: it humanizes women who use birth control, or patronizes Planned Parenthood. It enables the Democrats to speak about family values (political ground that is usually ceded to the Republicans). And it makes the case for reproductive freedom without having to talk about sex – a subject that apparently makes Americans terribly uncomfortable. It’s far less awkward to talk about families and motherhood, and women who get pregnant through terrible acts of sexual violence, rather than through consensual, orgasmic, sweaty hay-rolling.

It boggles the mind that in a year when we all learned the phrase “transvaginal ultrasound”, we are somehow still uncomfortable talking about why women like me and my friends take the pill. We don’t take it so we can be good mothers, we take it so we can have good sex. There’s nothing wrong with that. And as a party that claims to be fighting for women in this political war, the Democrats need to stop implying that there is. The same goes for the pro-choice advocates – myself included – who are speaking out against Republican encroachments on reproductive freedom.

We should keep talking about mothers of three and about pregnant rape survivors, because those people exist and they need birth control. Their stories are also far more likely to sway people who are on the fence about birth control access than my friends’ tales about casual consensual encounters. But the point that pro-choicers ought to be making is that every woman is entitled to reproductive freedom, regardless of marital status. Every woman, regardless of how many kids she has. Every woman, not just the ones who make for good talking points or political props. Every woman, even the ones who dare – unspeakable though it apparently is – to have pleasurable, non-procreative sex.

–Chloe Angyal, “Sex: The missing term from the contraception and abortion debate

Yes. Yes. Just yes.

I should probably write some insightful analysis reflecting on Angyal’s brilliant points. But you know what I got? Just frustration.

A lot of us ladies wanna have sex and that is reason enough to want access to contraception and abortion. Our reproductive and sexual rights are not conditional on our marital status, if we have experienced sexual violence that resulted in pregnancy, or if we already have kids.

Dunno if reproductive & sexual health and rights will come up in the debates tonight (maybe through a question on if contraception will be covered by insurance) but I’d put money that neither Obama or Romney will be saying the word ‘sex’.

I humbly hope that our attractiveness performs a subversive function. First of all, because without “us” in balaclavas, jumping all over Red Square with guitars, there is no “us” smiling sweetly in the courtroom. You can’t get the latter without the former. Second, because this attractiveness destroys the idiotic stereotype, still extant in Russia, that a feminist is an ugly-ass frustrated harridan. This stereotype is so puke-making that I will deign to be sweet for a little bit in order to destroy it. Though every time I open my mouth, the sweetness goes out the window anyway.

Nadya Tolokonnikova, in response to the question, “Does it bug you as feminists that your global popularity is at least partly based on the fact that you turned out to be, well, easy on the eyes?” (bolding added)

I got a needed smile in the midst of an otherwise somber reflection of how prison has been for Tolokonnikova, Masha Alyokhina, and Katya Samutsevich as they serve their sentence.

To be doing feminist work everyday, to live like a feminist, you have to take women’s lives seriously. It doesn’t mean that you have to think that every woman is an angel or every woman is politically astute — that is not what feminists believe. They believe that you have got to take all kinds of women seriously or you’ll never understand women’s relationships to men, men’s relationships to each other, or men’s relationships to different forms of activism and to governments. Taking women seriously is hard to do because it means you have to listen to women whom most people don’t think of as experts or don’t think of as politically aware, including women who seem to be very domestically confined. That’s been the biggest revelation to me in becoming a feminist — to take all kinds of women seriously so I can understand the world better.

Cynthia Enloe, defining feminism (bolding added)

Take women’s lives seriously: it is simultaneously that simple and that complicated to be a feminist.

For Zipes, the influence of the fairy tale is liberating, subversive, and especially feminist. If “fairy tales came to be contested and marked as pagan, irrelevant, and unreal,” he writes, it is because they gave voice to the powerless—children, women, the poor. Indeed, Zipes shows in The Irresistible Fairy Tale that many women writers contributed to making the fairy tale a standard genre of modern literature: the very term “fairy tale” comes from the contes de fées of Madame d’Aulnoy, published in 1697 and soon translated into English. The name stuck even though most of the stories we think of as fairy tales do not contain any actual fairies: “the term’s usage was a declaration of difference and resistance,” Zipes insists. Several of his chapters deal with the contribution of women writers and artists to the renewal of the fairy-tale form, including the French film director Catherine Breillat, whose film Bluebeard Zipes discusses at length.

In seeing the fairy tale as a mode of subaltern literature, a site of resistance to elite male power and logic, however, Zipes is not exactly swimming against the tide himself. Predictably, he rails against the Disneyfication of fairy tales, lamenting that so many of us now experience Snow White and Cinderella for the first time as bowdlerised cartoons. Tangled, the recent Disney retelling of the Rapunzel story, he describes as “banal,” “inane,” and worse: “the Disney witches are stereotypical products of the Western male gaze and mass-mediated manipulation of the images of women that date back to the Christian church’s demonisation of women.”

Yet many of the new mass-media versions of fairy tales pride themselves on taking their female heroines seriously and granting them personal and even political agency. Take Snow White and the Huntsman, in which Kristen Stewart’s Snow White is less a damsel in distress than a Che Guevara figure, leading a popular uprising against an exploitative Queen. In this film, the seven dwarfs are revolutionary bandits out of Eric Hobsbawm, who turn to violence after losing their jobs as miners, and Snow White leads a cavalry charge wearing a suit of armour. Even the evil queen, played by Charlize Theron, is not a “stereotypical product of the Western male gaze”: on the contrary, the film shows us that her concern for preserving youth and beauty, while pathological, is the only way a woman can gain power in a society ruled by violent men. Seldom has the villain of a fairy tale been a more sympathetic figure.

This way of telling the Snow White story may be tendentious; but then, the modern history of the fairy tale is one of its use and abuse for ideological purposes….

What happens, though, when we approach these tales in their original state—as we find them in Grimm Tales, or Long Ago and Far Away? What if the effect of reading these stories in bulk is actually to highlight their fundamental poverty as narratives?

In fact, fairy tales have a double relationship to poverty. They are poor themselves—in motivation, imagery, description, ambiguity, complexity, everything that makes for literary interest—and they are the products of poverty. This is clear enough from their social and economic premises: they are frequently  tales of hunger and neglect and child abuse. What we remember about Hansel and Gretel is the gingerbread house and the witch in the oven, but it starts out as a portrait of starvation and infanticide: “If we don’t get rid of them, all four of us will starve,” the children’s mother says to their father. “You may as well start planing the wood for our coffins.”

The obvious object of desire, in such dire circumstances, is fabulous wealth, of the kind symbolised by and associated with royalty. That is why there is no intermediate class, in fairy tales, between paupers and kings: this is a world in which actual, gradual advancement is unthinkable, so that one can only move in imagination from the bottom of society to the top. The Grimms’ “The Fisherman and His Wife” offers a wry commentary on the insatiability of this kind of ambition. When the fisherman hooks a magic flounder and lets it go, his wife demands that he return and ask it to grant a wish. First she wishes that her shack could be a cottage, then a mansion, then a palace, then a cathedral. Finally, the wife demands to be turned into God: “I want to cause the sun and the moon to rise. I can’t bear it when I see them rising and I haven’t had anything to do with it. But if I were God, I could make it all happen.” This proves to be a wish too far, and the fish turns their cathedral back into a shack—or, as Pullman literally translates it, “a pisspot.”

More often, the fantasy of advancement works through marriage—as in Cinderella, where the abused servant wins the hand of the prince—or through the discovery of a mistaken identity—the servant turns out to be a prince in hiding. But on a more fundamental level, the object of desire in fairy tales is not just high rank, or sudden wealth, or endless food—as in Jack and the Beanstalk, which conjures a Cockaigne where “the trout, salmon, carp, and other inhabitants of the stream leaped upon the banks.”

Rather, what fairy tales obsessively conjure up is a world of mutability, in which things and people are not immured in their nature. The frog becomes a prince, the wolf becomes a grandmother, the little mermaid becomes a woman, the beast becomes a handsome man, the 12 brothers become a flock of ravens. So much of the appeal of these stories, in a preliterate, premodern culture, must have been simply in their demonstration of the power of words to defy the laws of nature. In this way, the storyteller enacts the magic powers he describes and possesses the wealth he fantasises about.

–Adam Kirsch, “Neverending stories” (bolding & ellipsing added)

In today’s edition of thisistruebutsoisthat, I wrestle with the ‘biological clock’ in women and men.

In describing her new novel, the brilliant Zadie Smith comments on how changes in women’s bodies puts them in closer touch with their mortality, in comparison to men:

I think it’s an enormous power and advantage women have, this understanding of time and mortality. It’s only a shame that we often do everything we can to abandon or deny this natural advantage. I always think of the menopause: what a gift it is to women to have, in their own bodies, this piece of time-keeping which allows them to fully understand, in their bodies, that death is coming. They’re not very good managers of time, men. Men don’t have that – you see so many men heading towards their deaths in utter shock and incomprehension because right until the final moments they thought they were going to be given some kind of reprieve. Or all those powerful men who make terrible fools of themselves in old age with girls a quarter of their age . . . They’re not very good managers of time, men. So it’s an odd thing that in my generation this female advantage has been so submerged. The menopause never spoken of among young women, hidden like a curse. Everybody trying to look and be twenty-eight forever…

Fantastic insight, speaking to the interesting cycles in women’s bodies and how they operate as timekeepers for our lives.

But then a couple of weeks ago I also read that, contrary to popular belief, men also have a fertility drop off in their 30s:

Biologically, both women and men are at ideal baby-making age years before completing a liberal arts degree, before the post-graduate malaise sets in, before they ease into staff designer or assistant editor or bartending jobs, before they select photos for their OkCupid profiles, before they register at Crate & Barrel, before they choose a broker. For men, too, the fertility drop-off begins at age 30 and accelerates at age 35. Now that thirtysomethings are the new twentysomethings and it has become an urban rule of thumb that most dudes aren’t going to opt for Park Slope parenthood much before 40, it’s time to stop associating fertility problems with just high-achieving women and dirty old men.

–Ann Friedman, “The Male Biological Clock

Not sure how to reconcile those two ideas, except that it seems that today we’re all running from death. And also, that our generation has so much to sort out whenever we ‘grow up’…