Hello my lovely readers! Sorry for the relatively smaller amount of reviews this week. I’ve finished a few books, but didn’t have the time to write up the reviews yet. This just means next week will be full. :-)
I have a relatively serious topic I want to talk about today. You guys know that I take health and the obesity epidemic seriously. One argument that I’ve heard a lot of unhealthy women make is that they put on a ton of weight to avoid men. They weren’t comfortable with the attention, etc… I remember thinking, when I, at the time, was overweight myself, “How bad could it really be?” Turns out…..pretty bad.
Over the last year, I’ve gone from a size 16 to a size 10. Over the last month, I’ve had more encounters with men who feel entitled to my body than I had over the entire two years I was overweight. I know correlation does not necessarily equal causation, but in some cases it does.
I’m a single lady. I date. I go places where single people hang out to try to meet new people. I do what single people in cities do. I dress attractively, because I WANT to, but also because I’ve worked damn HARD for this body, and I’m proud of my work. I’m not saying I’m Miss America, and I wouldn’t want to be, but I definitely look happy and healthy when I go out. Much more so than when I was overweight. I get hit on. I get asked on dates. This also happened when I was overweight. The difference, though, is that now when I dare to say the word no a much higher percentage of them get downright angry at me.
He’ll say something like, “Do you want to go on a date?” I say, “No, thank you.” He says, “WHY?! Think you’re too good for me?!” or “Well you shouldn’t dress that way if you don’t want attention” or “Please, you obviously need a good fucking.” (I am not exaggerating. These all have been spoken or texted or what have you to me).
Worse, though, is I’ll go on a first date. Usually dinner or drinks. I have a nice enough time, but I can tell we wouldn’t work long-term, and I want a relationship at this point in my life. He leans in for a kiss, and I turn my cheek or he asks me for a second date and I say no I don’t think it’ll work out. The reaction generally is, “You owe me, I bought you dinner!” or “How can you possibly know after only one date?!” or “Well, I thought you were ugly anyway.” (That last one, btw, makes zero sense since he ASKED ME OUT TO START WITH).
What really aggravates me about these interactions isn’t their disappointment that I said no. Obviously, that is flattering. What is bothersome is the evident sense of entitlement over MY BODY that they have. I’m pretty and single. They’re available and have a penis, ergo, I must want them or I’m a horrible woman. Since when did my body become the possession of every straight man in the greater Boston area?
Oh yeah, since I started glowing with health.
It’s draining. It’s enough to make me not want to go out some nights. It’s enough to make me want to stick my earbuds in in public and ignore everyone. Of course, I’m me, so I’m not going to do these things. I’m going to keep being my awesome self and feminist hulksmashing the douchebags (verbal smack-down, folks, not a physical one), but. If I didn’t have such a strong personality or had personal issues or WHATEVER I could totally see this being a thing that would make me stop working out, stop eating healthy, stop it all and just hide to protect myself.
Do you see where I’m going here? This misogynistic entitlement to women’s bodies is a poison to our whole society. A POISON. Every time you police a woman’s body or act entitled to her or watch it happen to a woman and not stand up for her, you are essentially watching the cook poison the food and then serve it to the dinner party without saying anything or trying to stop him. It hurts everyone, and it is not ok! It is just as bad as those cultures (that I know Americans judge) that say, “Women need to cover up because they tempt men.” Our cultural impetus is the opposite. “This woman is young and healthy and available ergo I deserve her body.”
No. You. Don’t.
I vow to say something any time I hear this attitude happening, and not just to me. I vow to encourage all women to remember that our bodies are ours and our health is about US and not about THEM. I hope you all will do the same.
Julie Stratford’s father is a retired shipping mogul who now spends his time as an archaeologist in Egypt. He uncovers a tomb that claims to be that of Ramses the Damned, even though his tomb was already found. Everything in the tomb is written in hieroglyphs, Latin, and Greek, and the mummy is accompanied by scrolls claiming that Ramses is immortal, was a lover of Cleopatra, and can and will rise again.
I’m a fan of Anne Rice. Her Vampire Chronicles are a lovely mix of social commentary, lyrical writing, and all the best tropes of genre fiction, so I was excited to stumble upon a cheap copy of The Mummy in the second-hand section of the bookstore. I wanted to love it. I really did. But whereas the Vampire Chronicles contain valid social commentary, this is so stereotypical of mainstream romance a la The Titanic that I was sorely disappointed.
Again, the language is lyrical and gorgeous. Rice without a doubt is incredibly talented at putting together sentences that read like a rich tapestry of old. There is no rushing to get the story out as is so often found in more modern writing. It’s fun to indulge the senses and oneself in the scene.
The plot, though, ohhhh the plot. It’s so mainstream romance it hurts. And yes, I know I read and enjoy (and write) paranormal romance, but the difference is that PNR is oftentimes tongue in cheek. It knows it’s ridiculous and over the top and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s meant to be fun and ridiculous. Rice is being serious here, however, and that’s why the plot bugs me. Let’s look at it for a second, shall we?
Girl is engaged to the perfect guy but she mysteriously does not think she loves him. Girl meets immortal man who is so hot he would be voted hottest man alive every year forever. Girl immediately “falls in love” with immortal guy. Girl ditches perfect guy for immortal guy. Girl and immortal guy have lots of the hot hot sex. Immortal guy causes a series of unfortunate events in pursuit of his ex-lover. Girl insists she still loves guy but cannot forgive him. Girl decides life is pointless without immortal guy. Girl attempts to kill herself. Immortal guy saves her. Girl forgives immortal guy. Girl agrees to become immortal too. Yay happily ever after.
Like….just……there are SO MANY parts of that that piss me the fuck off. So. Many. The main female character (Julie) is a shallow douchebag in spite of claiming to be a modern, progressive woman. She does not “fall in love” with Ramses. She falls in lust with him. He gives her tinglies in all the right places. He ditches her to pursue his ex-lover (Cleopatra). She, at first, rightfully tells him she can’t forgive him for that. But then she TRIES TO OFF HERSELF. OVER A GUY. And the only reason she doesn’t succeed is douchebag saves her. I just….wow. Not a plot I can respect. Not a plot that gives us anything different from the patriarchal rigamarole so often forced upon us. Anne Rice. I am disappointed.
Then there’s the odd eurocentrism at work in the narration. Even though Julie’s father loves Egypt and Ramses is, um, Egyptian, for some reason everything modern and European is what is impressive to everyone. I suppose I could maybe (maybe) forgive that, but then there’s the fact that the elixir that makes people immortal also for some mysterious reason turns their brown eyes blue. So nobody immortal has brown eyes. I don’t think I need to unpack why that’s offensive for you all. I trust you can figure that out for yourselves. Unlike Rice.
So, essentially, The Mummy is a beautifully written book that is destroyed by a kind of offensive, all-too-common plot and Eurocentrism. Even beautiful writing can’t overcome that.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Harvard Books
Moinette is born south of New Orleans to a slave mother as a mulatresse–she is half white and half black. Since her mother’s slave labor consists largely of laundry and also due to her looks, Moinette spends her life serving predominantly within the white homes instead of the fields, which is a dangerous location. She also spends her life striving to be free and to save her family.
This is the first book for the The Real Help reading project I’m co-hosting with Amy (intro post). I do apologize for the late time in the day that my hosting post is arriving. It was raining this week, so I was afraid to bring my kindle with me most places. Anyway. On to discussing Moinette’s life as The Real Help.
The two things that stuck out the most to me were how desperate Moinette was to love no one but her mother (not even her son at first) and also the mental impact being treated as less than human had on her. Moinette repeatedly degrades herself in her mind because of how others treat her. This is what I want to discuss first.
There’s the fact that Moinette is half-white and half-black. She is evidence of the fact that the white males find the black slaves desirable, and that is offensive to everyone involved. For this reason, Moinette faces racism from both black and white people. Early on she is informed that she is different, but not in a human way.
He said he was a horse, at least pure in blood and a useful animal. He said I was a mule, half-breed, and even a mule worked hard. He said I was nothing more than a foolish peacock. (page 5)
Moinette’s identity is always in peril throughout her whole life, because no one wants to admit that sex between the races really happens, even though Moinette’s own existence is evidence of that fact. Additionally, she constantly struggles to feel that she is worth more than an animal. She sees that elderly slaves are literally valued as less than a dish. Imagine what that would do to the self-esteem? We talk a lot in classes in the US about how bad it would be to be owned by someone, but we never talk about the reality of being treated as an animal, as an object. It feels abstract to say, “Oh, imagine what it would feel to be owned by someone.” It is far less abstract to see the mental and emotional strife Moinette goes through in attempting to hold on to her sense of humanity.
Moinette also constantly struggles with the concept of love and who to love and when to love. Something that stuck out to me was how at first she did not love her son. She did not even want her son. This is understandable given that he was the result of rape. Later, though, much of her life focus comes to be on freeing him and saving him. She loves him, yes, but personally I can’t help but notice that her focus on him only comes when she discovers that her mother is missing/gone. It is almost as if she transfers her love for her mother to Jean-Paul and then to the little girls she buys in order to free them at 21. Moinette’s experience with this demonstrates how slavery and inequality is so dehumanizing because it rips apart one of the key aspects that makes for humanity–the ability to make families, whether by blood or by choice. Moinette knows the danger of loving someone. She quite simply states:
I knew my heart was only meat for another animal. (page 107)
Moinette spends the first half of her life striving to be back with her mother where she feels safe and loved. She spends the second half of her life striving to save younger slaves and give them a place where they feel save and loved. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (link) safety is almost at the very bottom. Only the very luckiest slaves even had the first level of physiological needs met. Most never truly felt safe as there was no security of family, which is key to psychiatric stability and sense of self. Even if we ignore the tragedy of Moinette being born a slave, her life is still tragic because she was never given the chance to self-actualize and become the truly amazing person that is clearly inside her throughout the novel because she must spend all her time struggling for the basic needs.
Obviously we also should discuss Moinette’s relationships with white women as we are reading this project to answer to The Help. Moinette has an interesting relationship with white women. She does not love the ones she serves, but she also does not hate them. Moinette is clearly confused as to how to react to these women. The first white woman she served was Cephaline, who was nearly her age and died young. After she dies, Moinette says:
I missed her voice. Her words like embroidery in the air. She didn’t love me. But I had heard her voice all my life. (page 98)
How odd to spend so much of your time near someone, in often intimate situations, to know them truly thoroughly, but to feel no sense of love or camaraderie. Moinette can see some similarities between herself and the white women she serves. Their bodies are somewhat different, yet they both have two breasts and a vagina. Although Moinette recognizes that white women have a bit more freedom, she still sees them as essentially used and hunted by men.
The Men hunted money and sex. The women were hunted and captured, even the white women. (page 230)
Truly with the marriage contracts of the time, a married white woman was not exactly free. Moinette recognizes this, and I believe it adds to her despair. What chance is there for women of any color in this society?
Another theme in the book is how dangerous working in the house is. Working in the cane, no one notices the slave women, but working in the house, suddenly the women get noticed by the men and get used for their bodies sexually. Even if a woman managed to escape being raped, she still felt inferior since she was living in the house and working in the house as a wife, but was not a wife.
Sophia said, “Safer in the cane. Do your work, nobody look. Dangerous in the house.” (page 235)
In close quarters, such as serving in a white household, another whole level of fear and intimidation comes in to play. Although the work is technically easier, the women actually had less control over what happened to their bodies.
Overall I think this book gives an excellent look into the sheer despair of being born a slave in the American south, particularly as a female. Although Moinette strives constantly throughout her life, the things about herself she cannot change–that she was born a slave and biracial–truly largely determine her life path. Although she helps improve the lives of some of those around her, she never truly finds happiness for herself, even when freed. This is something that revisionist narratives of the time often overlook. Simply because someone was freed did not mean that the prejudices and injustices of the society they lived within ceased to exist. Moinette did her best within her world, but even her best and most determined acts were not enough to save her from a life of pain.
- Compare Moinette’s relationship with Cephaline to her relationship with Pelagie. What were the similarities and differences?
- How do you perceive Cephaline and Pelagie? Although they were technically free, do you think they were truly free?
- Why do you believe Moinette had such a close bond with her mother but her son, Jean-Paul, seems to have only had a close bond with Francine?
- How much different do you think Moinette’s life would have been if she’d been born 100% black instead of biracial?
- Do you think Moinette’s life would have been better if she’d managed to stay in the fields instead of working within the house?
- Why do you think the Native Americans were willing to participate in the return of fellow minorities to the ownership of white men?
- Why do you think Moinette never pursued a real relationship with a man?
- How do you see the slave/master relationship within the household reflected in modern households that pay for a live-in maid?
- What do you think the title of the book means/alludes to?