The Week of Lambapalooza

Yesterday was the best day of the year. Our close friends have an annual tradition of throwing a big party for their wide circle of friends and colleagues; the centerpiece of the celebration is a roast lamb (and in recent years a pig as well). For the past five years I have helped with the preparation and roasting of the lamb. We start prepping early in the morning and, after we get the fires going, sit in the sunshine and read and jam to classic rock. And then people begin arriving around 3 PM and the party gets going and the drinks start flowing. 

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Here's what captured my attention this week...

I'm reading: Rebecca Traister's All The Single Ladies, which I'm racing to finish before the Feminist Book Club meets on Tuesday evening at White Whale Bookstore to discuss it (plus I want to return my copy to its owner when I visit her next weekend in Atlanta). This morning I finally finished Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud by Anne Helen Petersen. Petersen devotes each chapter to a prominent woman, from Serena Williams (Too Strong) to Lena Dunham (Too Naked). With each celebrity, Petersen identifies how the controversial aspects of their fame reveals a boundary line between what contemporary American society considers feminine and what it considers unruly. Rather than delivering a single thesis about how misogyny currently operates and what its affect is on women, these case studies show that there are multiple ongoing challenges to the norms and conventions of femininity:

  • What a woman's body should look like (Too Strong; Too Fat; Too Old; Too Pregnant)
  • What a woman's voice, both literal and figurative, should sound like (Too Gross; Too Shrill; Too Loud)
  • How a woman should behave (Too Slutty; Too Queer; Too Naked)

For example, in the chapter on too-pregnant Kim Kardashian, Petersen describes how magazines like Us Weekly and People broke the taboo of printing pictures of pregnant celebrities after their advertisers realized that there was a lot of money to be made by selling products to pregnant women. The way the magazines portrayed pregnancy, however, was as an easy, natural, and transcendent experience in every woman's life. When Kim had preeclampsia, rapid weight gain, and pain during her first pregnancy, Peterson argues she shattered the myth of this "beautiful" life-cycle experience and faced immense public ridicule for not having the typical "cute" baby bump; furthermore, Peterson reminds readers that despite her discomfort Kim refused to wear dowdy maternity clothing and instead walked the Met Gala red carpet in a form-fitting Givenchy gown (albeit one with a bold floral pattern that overwhelmed and obscured her). Kim, in spite of (and because of) being known for her glam put-togetherness, challenged the social conventions of what a woman should look like while gestating a baby. As Petersen argues in the book's conclusion, Kim and the rest of the celebrities she writes about are fundamentally normative--they could not be deviant or unruly otherwise--but that does not minimize the significance of their challenges to the particular standards of femininity that they encounter. 

The case studies are the book's greatest strength and also its primary weakness. Despite insightful analysis of media portrayals of Hillary Clinton as "too shrill," that chapter seemed to drag and I just wanted to move on to another topic. And my favorite chapters, on Nicki Minaj and Jennifer Weiner, ended too quickly and left me wanting a book-length investigation of the topics they explore. Yet the book succeeds, even in the moments you find yourself disengaged, because Peterson consistently reveals fractures in the ways that men and women think about, discuss, perform, and value gender that you had never noticed or questioned before.

I'm listening to: Kanye West's new album, out of curiosity.

I'm watching: "Hard Knock Wife," the new comedy special from Ali Wong. If you enjoyed "Baby Cobra," Wong's first stand-up special on Netflix, you're sure to enjoy this one. The storytelling is less tight--there's no big reveal or punchline at the end of this one--but Wong is more explicitly feminist, calling for policies that protect and benefit new parents.

Enjoy posts like this one? Check out Brisket to read more about what's on my mind--just bring some bread to go with the meal! Right now I have a new video up where I introduce the theme for June: feminist entrepreneurship. I've made the post public, so you do not have to be a patron to view it. 

Brisket Vol. 1, No. 2: On Relieving Anxiety with YouTube

Yesterday I published the second issue of Brisket, a meaty essay of almost 4,000 words that asks (and answers) a hard-hitting question: why in the world are there so many videos on YouTube of people decluttering their stuff, and who the heck is watching them?

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I became completely preoccupied by this question in January, when I realized that I'd been neglecting a very enjoyable book that I was in the middle of reading. Instead of reading every evening before bed, I was watching decluttering videos on YouTube. All I wanted to do at the end of those long winter day was watch one of my favorite beauty YouTubers get rid of old bronzers. 

I've long been a fan of reality TV, and I'm not a particularly discriminating viewer--I'll watch some pretty mindless stuff. But decluttering seemed pretty dumb, even by my usually low standards. So  I began to wonder why, exactly, I kept watching. 

My quest to find an answer led me in some pretty surprising directions. Over the course of my research, I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and several scientific studies about Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR). I did a lot more quantitative research than I expected, in search of YouTube viewership statistics. And I watched a lot of videos of people pretending to brush my hair. 

I now finally know why I love watching decluttering videos--but through this investigation into the genre of YouTube decluttering videos I also came to understand YouTube’s ascendent popularity and gained some insight into how anxious people are spending their free time. This issue of Brisket tackles big questions about changing global economies, anxieties, and aesthetics but never loses focus of the fun and pleasurable spirit of YouTube. After all, that's the essence of Brisket: delicious and nutritious. 

Become a Brisket patron to read this month's essay!