Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Sheik, a review of the original ‘romance’ novel from 1919

Oh, my dear God. I could go on for hours. I will try keep it short.  Personally? I think the author hated thin, strong-willed women, and she wrote an entire novel to prove that beautiful, independent women really should subjugate themselves to strong, violent men. And I am certainly not a feminist- though after reading this, I may have to rethink that. 

The plot of the book is simple. Powerful man (the Sheik) sees beautiful, independent (and dumb) woman, powerful man kidnaps said dumb woman, powerful man repeatedly rapes said dumb woman with the intent of ‘breaking’ her and then casting her away, powerful man and dumb woman somehow fall in love. Romance? Shudder. Well-written? At some points- but mostly, ick. The reasoning given for the Sheik’s behavior is weak- his Spanish mother was somehow mistreated by her English husband. Sniffle. Let’s go rape a woman to make him feel better.

I am very anti book-censoring, but if I ever feel like burning a book, I will find a thousand copies of this book and build a huge bonfire. 

But... reading this book did make me think. About why a woman would like this kind of story, and find it romantic.  About how this story has impacted women through the decades, and how it has affected the romance market of today.  I see traces of this idea through many novels (hmmm, can we say Twilight?) that are geared towards girls and women: the concept that somehow, a man who loves you will dominate your life and hurt you but hey, that’s ok, because it’s romantic. How many women have stayed in abusive relationships simply because they think somehow their tormentor will eventually reform and fall in love with them?  How many girls have sought out the dangerous man and been terribly hurt because they believed that to be more 'romantic'?  

I also have been comparing it to earlier romances, like the Bronte sister’s and Austen’s novels. The heroines, while in some ways following the traditional path of education and marriage that was acceptable for their time period, also exhibit strong characters and refuse to be mistreated. I simply can’t imagine Elizabeth Bennett meekly apologizing to a man who shot her horse out from under her, as happened in the Sheik.  So it makes me wonder what happened in the hundred years between Austen and the Sheik, and then in the hundred years since the Sheik... is this progress?  I'm sorry, I'll take Jane Eyre any day over this misogynist cesspool.  And the biggest insult is that all this 'romance' is written by women, for women, and of women.

Ugh. I’m still shivering in horror.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

a lovely day of memories; or, why I love my neighborhood, and sometimes even my children

This is the kind of day I hope to look back on when my kids are grown and I need good memories of their childhood.

First I would have to skip the early morning, since it was miserable.  So let’s pretend the day started at 10 a.m., when we walked to the garden... and even though it is August in St. Louis, the breeze was almost too cool for my t-shirt and shorts.

One of our eccentric neighbors was out watering his pretty corner garden. We chatted and he invited me to speak at his garden club. Everyone is suitably impressed with how wonderful our community garden looks and wrongfully attributes that success to my gardening skills. Hah.  It is the mercy of God, people, the mercy of God. I am an infamous (I love that word) plant murderer.  

But I digress. How lovely to speak with an eccentric neighbor on a beautiful summer morning!  We walked on to the garden, where a pleasant young Hindu man requested permission to take pictures for his Wash U architecture class.  Of course I encouraged him; it all felt slightly surreal.

The children then helped me harvest tomatoes and watermelon and zucchini and hot peppers- Malachi commented that it was one of the best days we’ve had at the garden. We left burdened with one of Stuart’s watermelons and a couple pounds of extra tomatoes to gift to the rehab house located on our block.  Carrying a watermelon 5 blocks is always quite an experience! On the way home we noticed several more neighbors leaving the cafe that is preparing to open in a few days. We ascertained they were giving out free samples; how could we resist? More neighbors walked in to help with some work and the children and I all drank our respective lattes and java chip fraps (yum; this is a deliberate plug for the Urban Studio Cafe) and more chatting with neighbors followed. We plan to go back and help them clean up tonight if necessary.

Fresh watermelon, interesting neighbors, free samples... yes, a morning to remember!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

the guilt of a (homeschooling) mother....

David says I need to update. And, as a good wife, I will of course obey my husband (snicker).

I am nervous about starting school this year.  I think a lot of things play into my nervousness: all 4 (four!) of the kids will technically be of school-age, so there will be a lot of attention-juggling. I will be using a couple different curriculums than I’ve used in the past, so that’s another stress, and we are SO SO busy- yet another stress.

But mostly I think my nervousness is due to that perpetual feeling of inadequacy that seems to dominate my role as mother/teacher.  Objectively, I know that my kids are smart (or at least smart-asses), they are maturing well, they are learning, they have friends, blah blah blah.  But emotionally I face continual questions: Are we doing enough? Am I too easy on them? Too hard? Too bitchy? Am I spoiling them? (yes; they think Grandma making them put ice in their warm sodas is pure abuse).

Each year I strive for change, and each year I feel like I end up in the same pattern of disorganization and laziness- I don’t give the kids enough review work. I don’t test them enough (ok, I don’t test them at all). They complain too much about their assignments.   I don’t follow through on things. School is boring, when it could be so much more interesting. I should just unschool. Heck, I should enroll them all in a 'real' school. A boarding school, that is, in Switzerland, where they don’t take crap off nobody.

I find in situations like this that the best thing to do is move forward, plan in one hand and credit card in the other, buy what I need to buy, plan what I need to plan, and remember to roll with the punches rather than trying to perfectly anticipate every trial the year will bring.  Most of my problems come from being too uptight and needing too much control.  The children will learn & grow; I’ll survive; we’ll have good days and bad days; and another year will pass. 

And on days where I have no hope at all... I’ll brew another pot of coffee and cancel school in favor of a good book. Hmmm... makes me wish for a lot of bad days....