Friday, March 7, 2008

women rock!

So International Women's Day is tomorrow, the 8th of March, and it's a good way to follow up my last post, which was about my grandmother, Isabel. Now, I don't think Granny ever self-identified as a feminist, but she was a strong woman, and stories about women doing well pleased her. Mind you, she was from a different generation, and her advice to me for possible careers often focussed on being a nurse or a teacher, but you do have to place this into context. Born in 1923, Granny was my age (23) in 1946, a totally different era than today.

As I'm a feminist and a general, all-around supporter of women, I've got a nice holiday goodie bag for you in this post! I'm going to tell you about my rise to "national radio superstardom", as well a book I read lately by and for fierce women, which should get you in the mood to celebrate.

First up: how Cosmo and "va-jay-jay" got me on a national radio show! Well, sort of.

I was listening to Q the other day, the national radio show in question. It's hosted by Jian Ghomeshi, who is a fabulous guy from what I can tell, and he's pretty cute to boot, so naturally I'm besotted with him. He hosts the show every weekday from 2 until 3:30, and covers arts, entertainment, culture and other interesting things.

On Tuesday, he was interviewing the playwright Eve Ensler, the woman behind "The Vagina Monologues", as well as V-Day, and I loved the whole interview. I mean, I love a lot of the interviews on Q, and when Jamie Oliver was being interviewed I even had to lie down on the couch because I was so taken by it, but this one, well, this one was right up my alley. Ensler talked about how women's bodies are a battle zone, how being able to say "vagina" in public has increased as a result of her momentous monologues, and spoke about her international work and the lessons she has learned about what war does to women. And then Jian Ghomeshi asked her about the latest Cosmo cover.

I've since been given a copy of the March '08 Cosmo, which features the pop star Rihanna with a smug — or is that seductive? — look on her face, one hand hooked under the strap of her canary-yellow minidress as if to take it off, the other hand pulling the hem of her skirt up her thigh. The dress is already pretty revealing, with a low bustline, and all over the cover are tantalizing story titles like "Sex He Has Alone", "21 Naughty Sex Tips: Tonight, Treat Him To Some Boundary-Pushing Sex That Good Girls Only Dream Of", and the one that made it onto Q: "Your Va-Jay-Jay: Fascinating New Facts About Your Lovely Lady Parts."

It's the use of "Va-jay-jay" that Eve Ensler called "sad". I'm paraphrasing here, but her thoughts on the new buzzword are that it's a kiddie word, like "coochie", something a little kid says, the kind of euphemism that grown women have used for a long time because they were too ashamed or disempowered to stand tall and proud and use the proper term: vagina. Now, she added, if you're in the bedroom with your lover and you want to use that word, it's none of her business — as is anything people do during lovemaking in a safe situation. But using the word on the cover of a magazine, even though it's "hip" and Oprah says it, is like reverting to kiddie talk, and it teaches other women to be ashamed, as well.

Mind you, I don't find it at all surprising. I mean, Cosmo is not exactly the most feminist or empowered publication out there. But I do find it disturbing. This magazine has so much power, and so many women read it, especially young women and girls, that it's teaching a whole new generation that being strong and proud of the word "vagina" is not cool, not colorful and sexy, but "va-jay-jay", well, that's on the cover of a magazine. Sexuality is pushed in our faces on the cover of this magazine, but it's not an empowered sexuality, it's sexuality that can't quite say the right words, that regularly calls women "chicks" and emphasizes "your guy's needs."

Well, I didn't just sit there. I wrote Q a letter. It went like this:

Hello Jian,

Thanks so much for having Eve Ensler on the show Tuesday!

She's so thought-provoking, and I loved her analogy of New Orleans as the "vagina of America".

Her work is timely and necessary, and has deeply affected my growth both as a twenty-something feminist and as a proud owner of a vagina. However, this "new-fangled" feminism is up against a real cultural monolith, as evidenced by the Cosmo cover and everything it symbolizes. Yes, sexual freedom is part of feminism, but so is the strength to call one's "lady bits" by her proper name. Once more, everyone — say it with me: vagina!

I'm a big fan of the show, so please keep up the fantastic work.

Leah Noble
The wilds of Cape Breton

And then, the very next day, Jian Ghomeshi proclaimed my letter the letter-of-the-day. I was pretty dang thrilled hearing his honeyed voice reading my words, and even more so when friends from all over the country sent me messages and emails saying they'd heard the letter on air! Mind you, even though I'm a feminist, I'm also conditioned by my culture and I'm not completely comfortable going "vagina vagina vagina!" on national radio, but hey, I guess someone has to do it. And that someone might as well be me.

So that's the story of how I became a national radio superstar. And no, I don't do autographs.

In the spirit of Women's Day, here is a book I'd recommend racing to the nearest library or bookstore to collect.

"How to Live Alone and Like It", by Marjorie Hillis, was originally published in 1936, and re-bound and published in 2005 by Virago Press (a subsidiary of Time-Warner). This book bills itself as "The Classic Guide for the Single Woman", and when I first picked it up I didn't realize its vintage, and thought it was a modern book, written in the last five years or so. It's small, it looks slick, and I had no real reason to think otherwise. However, once I turned it over and saw "A 1936 Bestseller" written on the back, well, I was doubly intrigued.

In the preface, Lisa Hilton writes,

"Live Alone and Like It is a joyful reminder that feminism wasn't just about hunger strikes and bra burning... Demure though some of the advice might be, as in the chapter on affairs entitled "Will You Or Won't You?" (which concludes, rather darkly, that 'the woman always pays'). Live Alone is nevertheless suffused with a sense of exuberance at the thrilling possibilities then open to women for the first time."

Not to mention, Hillis is quite funny, though practical. Chapter 1, "Solitary Refinement", starts:

"This book is no brief in favor of living alone. Five out of ten of the people who do so can't help themselves, and at least three of the others are irritatingly selfish. But the chances are that at some time in your life, possibly only now and then between husbands, you will find yourself settling down to a solitary existence."

This solitary existence is what Hillis goes on to describe and ultimately, prescribes the methods which will add the most enjoyment to it. A single lady needs to make her own entertainment, needs to realistically visualize herself as happy rather than sad (otherwise other people will see her as gloomy, and then where will she be?), should have several passionate interests, even if on a shoestring, furnish her home to make herself comfortable (again, even if on a budget) and in general, be practical, but also indulge in her favorite pleasures, like a nice comfy bed.

"It is probably true that most people have more fun in bed than anywhere else, and we are not being vulgar. Even going to bed alone can be alluring. There are many times, in fact, when it's by far the most alluring way to go. Whether you agree with this or not, you have to go to bed at least once every twenty-four hours, and you will have to keep right on going as long as you live."

This is the kind of advice that makes perfect sense both in 1936 and in 2008, which is why this snappy little book is a must-read for anyone intending to live alone, or simply "between husbands".

And at the end of the day, even though feminists no longer identify themselves in the public eye by foregoing certain beauty habits, it gives me a certain kind of joy to see Julia Roberts flashing her hairy armpit. May we all see such images more often, and remember that it's normal.

And with that, I wish you a Happy International Women's Day!

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