Women and Men

What a Joke

I was at a play, something important and terribly sad, and at the most gut-wrenching moment of that play’s final scene, a man in the audience laughed. It was not a giggle, or even a chuckle. It was a sharp, barking crack, louder than the prop gun that had been fired moments earlier.

Rather than being rebuffed by fellow theater goers, as one might expect, this one laugh set off the rest of the audience. The entire crowd erupted. Short, muffled giggles at first, but then guffaws, peels, whoops. There were a few stunned faces that mirrored my own, but most people laughed.

After realizing the laughter was not going to cease, the actors mumbled their final lines and rushed off stage. The lights rose. The laughter died. The silence was horrible. No one in the audience could look at one another. No one dared move.

Laughter can be a response to a variety of stimuli, but I want to talk about the kind of laughter that erupts in response to tension. Like hearing an animal sound nearby and freezing, only to laugh when, after some time, nothing appears. Your body tensed, ready to fight or flight, but once the threat was gone, it needed a way to exorcise that tension, and so, you laughed.

Laughter can also be a communal release of societal tension. Ever had someone in a group break an uncomfortable silence with a joke? Probably a self-deprecating one? It’s a social tool to release tension as well.

And here we come to the problem of using “it is/was a joke” in response to allegations of sexual assault. When someone in a public position is accused of sexual assault, there is an immediate social tension: How should we, as the social, respond? And once this tension is created, we become invested in the release of this tension. Most people are not willing to wait in an awkward group silence. We as a culture would rather release the tension a claim of sexual assault gives us than continue to live with it.

Which is why “it was/is a joke” is so wonderfully convenient. Four words. Four words that release us. We don’t have to worry if it happened or the details of how it happened or anything else. We don’t have to sit with it at all. It happened, but it was a joke. Maybe the accuser didn’t find it funny. But hey, some people can’t take a joke.

And here, essentially, is the telling bit of referring to sexual assault as a misconstrued joke. The person who tells the joke gets to say it’s a joke, even if the person they told it to says it was not a joke. In fact, the person who tells the joke gets to say it is a joke even if millions of other people don’t think it is a joke. As long as they can find a few people who agree with them, it gets to count as a joke.

Because we all know that humor is subjective. Some people revel in puns. Others groan at them. Some people love the Three Stooges. Others find them idiotic. What makes us laugh, much more so than what makes us cry, is pretty difficult to nail down.  Which is why sexual predators love to say their predation is a joke. If all humor is subjective, then who’s to say sexual assault isn’t a joke?

There is a basic principle in humor of the benign violation, meaning that humor works by disrupting our concept of how the world normally functions in a way that causes no real harm. Here’s the thing about that construction—we can usually all agree on the first part, but the second? Well, therein lies the, ahem, rub.

To say sexual assault is a joke is to say that the violation of a woman’s body causes no harm. Think of the familiar comedic trope of honking a woman’s breasts, for example. The one we have photographic evidence of Al Franken conducting. The humor works by first making a body part make a noise it does not make, disrupting the natural order of the world. But to then think it is funny, one would have to think that groping a woman’s breasts causes no harm.

As I listened to Al Franken’s resignation speech on the Senate floor I could tell, I could absolutely tell, that he is going to say he considers what he did a joke. And of all the people who can and will bring this defense, a former comedian is one who can bring it most plausibly.

As the social, we have to not care if he genuinely thought he was being funny. We have to not care if all the people around him thought he was being funny. We have to say that accessing another person’s body without permission is never a joke. We have to say that sexual assault is not benign. We are going to have to sit in the uncomfortable tension of not being able to laugh it off.

These women are up there in the spotlight. Many have played their deepest, most vulnerable, sometimes most horrifying tragedies for us all to see. In response, the accused laughs. When he does so, we cannot join. If we laugh, we are agreeing that sexual assault is benign.

And what happens, then, when the lights come-up?


Take My Boyfriend, Please

It’s been awhile, I know. Thing is, I’ve started seeing someone, and I’ve been a little distracted from blog writing.* I guess I’m writing now for the reasons I always do—the need to rant, or explore some thoughts, or to try and articulate an observation. Most of you know that it has been awhile since I’ve been in an actual relationship. Like, I get my leg over on occasion, but an exclusive boyfriend hasn’t happened for a few years. So I guess I’m writing this because while these observations and frustrations are familiar to women who regularly engage in relationships, it is all a little strange to me. Anyway, here it goes.

  • He has. So. Many. Shoes. He probably has upwards of twenty pairs of shoes. He has brown dress shoes and blue dress shoes and black dress shoes and running sneakers and casual sneakers and hiking boots and flip-flops for the gym and flip-flops for home and hiking sandals (what the fuck are hiking sandals?)…. I mean, it is insane. And you know, he’s explained that as a man in his thirties who has lived a varied and full life, he has actually needed all of these shoes, and continues to need all of them pretty regularly. Apparently, he can’t wear brown shoes with a black suit or black shoes with a blue suit, and I’m like, okay, why not just buy one color of suit? And he was like, okay, but he still needs the other shoes because he can’t wear flip flops to a wedding and he can’t wear running shoes to the beach, and he kept going on and on until I was like, whatever, do your thing. I could tell he felt a little hurt, though, so while he was at work, I went and got one of those shoe racks from IKEA and put it together and when he got home he started crying and telling me how much he loved me, and I was like, look, I love all parts of you, even the ridiculous ones, you adorable boy.


  • Okay, when we first got together, I did not mind listening to him bitch about his job, but it’s getting old. I mean, I get it. He gets paid twenty percent less for doing the exact same job as four other guys in the office. He actually does better work, but those guys and the boss were in the same frat, and they play golf together on the weekends, so it doesn’t matter what work he does, he keeps getting passed over for raises and promotions. I mean, that sucks, it really does, but like, grow some ovaries and say something or shut up about it. At least to me. I can only say, “That sucks, I’m so sorry, do you want me to rub your dick?” so many times.


  • He takes so long in the bathroom. I have no idea what he does in there. I mean, he does look good. Like, I really like when we’re out in public and other women give him the once over. I’m like, yeah, I get to hit that anytime I want it. But seriously, there is no way he is spending the entire time brushing his hair. He’s just dawdling. He has a real problem with focus, I think. In fact, the other day I totally proved that all that time was not necessary. I got home and told him we had, like, ten minutes to get to where we needed to go, and so he just threw on a ball cap and we left. And he looked fine. Of course, when I asked if he was okay later that night, he snapped and said he didn’t want to talk about it. You know that tone men get between playoff seasons? I forgot about that in my boyfriend-less years. It’s like you just can’t say or do anything right. I’ve learned to just make sure the house is stocked with beer and martial arts movies and get out of the way.


  • His friends. Oh my God I hate his friends. I did not sign up to date his friends. I don’t understand why I have to spend so much goddamned time around his stupid friends. He claims I have to get along with them because of something about a person’s support systems working together, or some other Men’s Health Magazine bullshit. All I know is that I not only have to hang out with these assholes, I have to pretend to like hanging out with these assholes. I have to listen to them go on and on and on about shit I do not care about at all. And I have to compliment them, but not so much that they think I’m hitting on them. (I mean, there is this one friend who I will totally bang if it doesn’t work out between my boyfriend and I, or if they’re ever drunk and I can convince them to do a three way.) All I want to do after a long day at work is get home, eat dinner, have sex, watch an episode of Miranda, and go to sleep. Instead I have to nod and make little sympathy noises while Robbie talks about how he wishes he was closer to his dad, and Brent gripes about how he isn’t sure he wants to have kids…I mean my God, the endless prattle. But I have a plan. First, I’m going to start talking about how I want more one-on-one time with him. This will make him feel like it’s his choice to stop hanging out with his friends so often. Then I’ll maybe drop hints that I think one of his friends (the hot one, obviously) has a crush on me, and that I don’t feel comfortable hanging around if he’s there. This means I get to dip out of the few remaining friend times, and those friend times will be all strained and weird because my boyfriend will be upset with his hot friend, but he won’t say anything because he will also think it is his fault for being insecure. Eventually, I will have isolated him from his friends almost completely. They’ll start “catching-up” once a month. Then their time be whittled down to the super bowl and bachelor parties, neither of which I am expected to attend. Extra bonus: Once he’s almost entirely reliant on me for human companionship, if he ever thinks of leaving me, he will be so gripped by the fear of being alone that he will stay. Double win for me.
  • Oh, and speaking of bachelor parties, the man has started hinting about marriage. We’re only a few months into this thing and there it is. I mean, he hasn’t said anything directly, but two of his friends just proposed in these big, elaborate ways that they filmed and then got a thousand million likes on Facebook, and he keeps making me watch the videos while staring at my face. I’m like, yeah, okay, I get it. Look, I’m not saying I’ll never settle down, but it just seems like marriage is an outdated system, ya know? It made sense when women couldn’t hold jobs or get credit cards or own a car, but now that I can exist financially independent of a man, why would I bother getting married? It’s just not natural. Sure, men benefit. They get someone to feed them, and wash-up after them, and take care of them when they’re sick. What do women get? It’s old-fashioned, I think. Of course, I’m not going to tell him this. The fact that our future relationship goals differ isn’t my problem. And it’s not like he’s straight-up asked me. If he did, I’d tell him. But if he’s just going to show me proposal videos, then I’m just going to keep smiling and then going about my day. He’ll come around to how I think about things. Or he’ll leave. I mean, he loves me, and by that point he will have invested years in our relationship, and he will no longer have any friends, and he will have passed-up that job opportunity in that awesome town close to his family so he could stay in the area, but in the end, it’s his call.
  •  The last thing is, I mean I hate to say it, but there’s a part of me that feels like I’m settling. He’s so cute and funny and nice, but…I don’t know, I guess my idea of a perfect man is someone really driven and ambitious, but with a job that doesn’t take up too much of his time or energy, and who’s adventurous and spontaneous, but really grounded and family-oriented, and who’s sensitive and emotionally available, but would murder a deer with his bare hands, and who makes me feel safe, but will hold me against a wall and fuck me for half an hour with his giant dick. My boyfriend is great and all, but he’s just not going to fuck me against a wall for half an hour and then offer up his take on whether women in contemporary America are still subjected to the double-bind.


Men. Can’t live with them, can pass the chardonnay.




*I have not started seeing anyone.

Where the Winds of Change Do Not Sweep

When I was in grade school, my teacher sat myself and two boys down to let us know that we had the worst handwriting in the class. She turned to the boys and said something along the lines of, “But that’s okay. You’ll be doctors or professors someday.”

She turned to me and handed me a penmanship book.

This is the story I tell my students when they comment on my ugly handwriting. I explain that part of me developed my current scrawl out of spite, and that I continue to feed off of this nugget of resentment–each  and every slash is a small defiance against the misogyny in which I was raised.

My students are shocked by that story. They consider me to be old, but they still cannot believe that this ever happened to a woman who isn’t, like, ancient.

It’s one of the tamest stories I have. And I would not in any way be surprised to discover that such things were still being said to young girls in schools everywhere. It would especially not surprise me to discover that such things were still being said to young girls in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma is not a progressive place. In case you thought otherwise, please turn your attention to the recent OU Frat video. Or to the state’s consistent ranking as one of the worst states in which to be a woman. Or to pretty much anything that spews from the ignorance hole of Senator Jim Inhoff.

It was surprising, therefore, to discover that prostitution and solicitation are both misdemeanors and are treated equally under Oklahoma law. Pandering (pimping) is the felony.

In many places, for many years, solicitation has been treated as a lesser crime than prostitution. There are several movements currently seeking to end this, including End Demand, which focuses on how this discrepancy in the law has fueled human trafficking.

So it was weird to see that in Oklahoma, at least on the surface, johns and prostitutes are considered equally culpable.

But of course, there is the law, and then there are the people who enforce and interpret the law. You know, like the Ferguson PD or Antonin Scalia. Judges and police and lawyers are often placed under public microscopes. Most people at least know that they exist as part of the justice system, if for no other reason than it might actually be impossible to live in America and not see an episode of Law & Order. It would be like having never seen a McDonalds logo. Or the sky.

But until I read “We Extend Our Condolences” by Brian Ted Jones, published in This Land Press, I had no idea that another piece of the judicial system even existed. This piece is called the Crime Victims Compensation Board (CVCB). For those of you as privileged as myself (thanks again, white skin!), I’ll give a brief overview.

As you might have guessed by the name, CVCBs were established so that crime victims and the families of crime victims are not left in debt due to things like funeral costs, court costs, etc…California created the first program in 1965, and nine states were operating such programs by 1972. Oklahoma, ever on the cutting-edge, established its board in 1982.

It seems like a pretty good thing, all-in-all. The family of a murder victim, for example, shouldn’t go bankrupt from their deceased loved one’s medical bills.

But there are some restrictions on who can receive compensation. I’ve included the full list for Oklahoma in a note below, but it’s typical law stuff: jurisdiction, timeliness, cooperation. The last one, though, is troubling–

  • Compensation that could be awarded to a claimant shall be reduced or denied, depending on the degree of responsibility for the injury or death that is attributable to the victim.

Some people, this says, are responsible for their own pain, even their own deaths, and we are not paying these people.

Okay, as chilling as that thought might be, I guess I can imagine a scenario in which this seems to make sense. Imagine, if you will, a duel between Vince Gill and Garth Brooks.

vince gillgarth brooks


(because this is Oklahoma and because the thought of this cracks me up for some reason)

If Vince Gill challenged Garth Brooks to a duel, then spent time in the hospital after being shot in this duel, it would seem strange to then compensate Vince Gill for the hospital costs he incurred.

To my knowledge, however, this is not the sort of case the CVCB tends to handle.

“We Extend Our Condolences” focuses on the murder of Tiras Johnson, and explains that Tiras Johnson’s mother was denied compensation from the CVCB because of Tiras’s alleged gang activity. The letter his mother received, as Jones represents it, states:

—–On January 17, 2014, Netarsha Johnson, Tiras’s mother, received a letter from the board, explaining that “[a]n award of compensation cannot be made if the victim’s actions contributed to the criminal incident. The incident appears to be gang related and the victim exercised poor judgment by choosing to be a gang member.”—–

“We Extend Our Condolences” focuses on the process by which Tiras was tied to gang activity, then discusses how “gang activity” is often used to deny people of color their compensation in Oklahoma. Read the article. It’s intriguing in the best ways.

And since Jones does an excellent job of focusing on the race problem the CVCB has, I’m going to focus on something revealed in just in a few lines of the article:

—–The family of a male victim received a 50-percent reduction because of his “involvement with a known prostitute,” while a female victim’s eligibility was denied outright on the ground of “prostitution.”—–

I’m drawn back to those two lines. If you know me at all, or have read nearly any post on this blog, you can guess as to why these two lines caught me.

I checked with Jones to make certain that the woman and man mentioned above were victims of homicide. They were. This means that the CVCB denied compensation because they believe the john was partially responsible for his own death, and the prostitute was fully responsible for her own death. Why? Well, because he was a john and she was a prostitute.

The police did not say that these victims were responsible for their own deaths. The DA did not say that these victims were responsible for their own deaths. The court did not say that these victims were responsible for their own deaths. The police and the DA and the court investigated, arrested, and convicted people of their murders. Until the CVCB became part of the process, these two people were victims of homicide.

But the CVCB? The CVCB decided that they were not victims, they were accomplices.

This decision does not seem to align with the Oklahoma laws governing prostitution and solicitation. Prostitution and solicitation are both misdemeanor offenses, remember. And Oklahoma law treats these offenses equally, yet somehow the prostitute was 100% to blame for her own murder, while the john was only 50% to blame. Maybe there were other factors that went into these decisions, but these were the ones cited.

And should there have been other factors? Shouldn’t the same laws apply to the CVCB that apply elsewhere in the justice system?

The justice system is a troubled place. It most often rains its trouble on the vulnerable. Read the DOJ’s Ferguson report. Or talk to any public defender.

Every now and then it gets things right. Once, for instance, it investigated and arrested and prosecuted a person who murdered a prostitute. The police did not shove this case into a drawer because the victim was a prostitute. The attorney did not charge this person with a lesser crime because the victim was a prostitute. The court did not fail to convict because the victim was a prostitute.

But then, somehow, after all that went right, there was yet another piece of the system that said a woman was responsible for her own murder because she was a prostitute. This piece said to a murdered woman’s family that she was an accomplice in her own death.

I would ask how this is possible, but this is a question I don’t remember asking. Growing-up in a place like Oklahoma means that racism and misogyny, along with the abuse of power and the miscarriage of justice that can arise from these forces, have never seemed like tales from days of yore.

I envy the question, “How is this possible?”





There is an appeal process for those denied compensation from the CVCB. However, the first step of this process sends the appellant directly back to the exact same CVCB that denied the claim. Then, if it is denied yet again, the appellant can resort to the court system. I could find nothing on the Oklahoma DA’s website that laid-out exactly how the process would work at this point, probably because this part of the process doesn’t work. What are the odds that the family of a victim denied compensation can afford this kind of drawn-out battle? A battle that is obviously meant to discourage appeals at all, or why would the first step be back to, rather than away from, the very people who first denied the claim?


Full list of conditions that must be met in order to receive compensation from the CVCB of Oklahoma:

  • The crime must have occurred in Oklahoma.
  • The crime must have been reported to law enforcement within 72 hours of the incident. The Board or administrator may find good cause for failure to report within this period. Exceptions are always made for child victims.
  • The claim for compensation must be filed within one (1) year of the crime-related injury of the victim.  The one (1) year deadline may be waived and extended to two (2) years for good cause, and may be extended beyond two (2) years only in child sexual assault cases.  In no event can other claims be extended beyond two (2) years.
  • The claimant is required to fully cooperate with the police, prosecution and other law enforcement entities during the investigation and prosecution of the offender.
  • Compensation shall not be awarded to a claimant if it would benefit the offender or an accomplice, and the claimant must not have been the offender or accomplice.

Dumb Girl Voice

A girl in her early twenties was on the phone to her mother. She wanted her mother to ease her worries over a job interview the next day. This is what I heard from the girl:

“Yeah, I mean, I write okay, but when it comes to interviews, like, I can’t do it. They think I’m dumb when I speak. It’s not, like, what I say. I just have dumb girl voice.”

Dumb. Girl. Voice.

I wish I didn’t know exactly what she was talking about. I wish, heartily, that I myself had not mocked women who speak with this particular pattern of elevated pitch and drawn-out vowels. It’s been far too long since I studied voice to be able to accurately describe exactly what I’m talking about, so here is Louis CK’s impression of it. And here is Iliza Schlesinger with her version of it, starting at the 1:50 mark.

One reason I have mocked this voice is because I thought it a choice. I thought women who chose dumb girl voice wanted to be perceived as dumb, largely because they believed (whether correctly or not) that being dumb is what would attract most men.

I don’t know. I don’t know why I interpret this particular voice as dumb girl voice. I don’t know if women choose this voice, or if it is natural occurrence, or if it is a choice for some women and a natural state for others.

If it is sometimes a choice, well, we all mimic the behaviors of the social groups to which we want to belong, whether that desire is for professional success, community status, romantic love, friendship…. So maybe there are women who note that this voice is the voice used by a social group to which they want to belong (for whatever reasons), and so they adapt their own voice to match this one.

I am no stranger to adapting my voice in order to gain acceptance by certain groups. In its natural state, my pitch sits at a pretty low register. I often joke by calling it my “man voice.” In my daily life, without conscious thought, I raise my pitch most of the time. My voice is more generic this way. Easier to digest. People don’t focus or comment on it, and therefore do not focus or comment on my physical person, which is something I avoid as much as possible. When I don’t make a conscious effort to recapture my natural pitch in the privacy of my own company, I can go weeks, if not months, without actually speaking in my natural pitch.

But I never raise it too high. And this is not only because it would probably hurt, but also because I recognize that lower voices, more masculine voices, tend to garner more respect. This was solidified for me when, while portraying a naïve young girl in a play, I was told that I needed to raise my voice about half an octave or people were going to think my character too mature and intelligent.

After being slammed around in the political realm, Margaret Thatcher worked with a theatrical voice coach to lower her pitch. What we now think of as her natural voice is actually the product of hard work and careful design, a design that sought to portray her as more masculine, and therefore more capable of effective leadership.

If, somehow, one were able to not know anything about either Nico or Taylor Swift, and if, somehow, we were able to record Nico singing Swift’s songs and Swift singing Nico’s songs, I imagine the perception would still be that Nico was a far more complex, interesting, mature, experienced human than Taylor Swift. (Which might or might not be true. The point is that we should be judging on content and style and composition. Not vocal register.)

One could (and many people do) argue that a person’s experience and knowledge and depth is expressed through his or her voice, and that this is why Nico’s voice is lower and richer than Taylor Swift’s voice.

But if we say that deeper voices equal more experience, more knowledge, more maturity….then aren’t we saying that most men are more experienced, more knowledgeable, more mature, than most women? And just to be clear that I am discussing gender more than sex, isn’t this saying that men with effeminate voices are less these things than those with masculine ones?

Look, maybe there are women who adopt Dumb Girl Voice with the intention of being perceived as dumb. Maybe they prefer (for whatever reasons) to be perceived as this.

But what if some people naturally speak in this manner? Or at least in some range near it? What of this young girl I overheard on the phone, who doesn’t think she can get a job because of what she sounds like? Is that on her? Should she, like Margaret Thatcher, train her voice to be something different?

Are we really comfortable saying that people who want to be respected should alter themselves to be more masculine?

When we say Dumb Girl Voice,

what if what we’re really saying is

girl voices are dumb?



End Note:

This post does not in any way explore all of the problems inherent in judging a person’s value and capability based on what we perceive to be inscribed in his or her physical voice. There are issues of class and race and region and a great many others. I hope to get to those at some point as well.

I also want to also discuss how the perception of masculine and feminine voices in written form can lead to either acceptance or dismissal by various groups, though there are people who have written on such things before, and their work is much more thorough and compelling than anything at which I could possibly arrive.

I guess what I am saying is that there is more to say on this matter, and that I hope to add my voice to those saying it.

Also, there is this amazing project called Voicing Gender that everyone interested in such things should check out.

Image taken from here.

To Burn, To Keep

For fifteen days in August, I sublet a room in one of those luxury student housing complexes. This particular one, I believe, caters to the student athletes at the University of Maine.

Creepy? Yes. On everyone’s account.

For the students around me, I was an old woman throwing my mothball and liniment smell into their hormones and Axe Body spray bouquet. For me, I was an adult dropped into the reckless, dirty, CW drama of undergraduate life. It was not an ideal arrangement for anyone. The difference in time schedules was enough to make me feel every bit of the fifteen year gap.

I am now, at the age of thirty-three, a woman who is in her pajamas by 9pm and asleep by 10. I awake at 6 and get to work (whether that is teaching or writing) by 7.

When I was an undergrad? Man. I remember not heading out for the evening until 10. I remember trying to build my class schedule so that I would not have to be awake before noon.

So those two weeks this summer were this strange immersion into a life that I lived once-upon-a-time, but have mostly forgotten. Or maybe it was not an immersion, exactly, since I didn’t try to relive or recreate that experience myself. It was more like being on the other side of one-way aquarium glass.

Which is not to say that I do not think back to my undergraduate days on occasion. But, with time, these thoughts have become kind of amorphous. The parties have blurred into a single night of loud music, cheap liquor, fearless dancing, and dirty rent houses. The shows (I was a theatre major; there’s a chance you didn’t know this about me) have become a fractured miss-mash of backstage and onstage moments. I do think about certain classes and certain professors and certain lessons from these professors, but I have also looked back over my undergraduate transcript and thought, “I took that class? Really?”

The sexual experiences, and the strangely asexual ones, and the ones I wanted so very badly to become sexual that never did. Eating leftover Hideaway pizza at five in the morning in an effort to soak-up the previous twelve hours of vodka&cranberry. My first love, and all the power of that experience, and how he kicked my heart in on a March day in Chicago, and all the power of that experience as well.

But even this event, one so powerful that it set me on a trip to Mexico that Hunter S. Thompson would have cheered, (or at least I thought we made it to Mexico; turns-out I was slurring broken Spanish in a Texas border town). Even this event, so many years removed, makes me think more about how all experiences back then were heightened to a quick-hot, brushfire burn. Everything was possibility—each night, each day, each breath seemed capable of bringing something or someone new, something or someone who could send my future spinning into a million possible directions.

At the age of thirty-three, I have come to a point where my possibilities have begun to narrow. I will probably not write for The Chicago Tribune. I will probably not run for political office. I will probably not learn to play steel guitar.

There is a sadness in this, but also a relief. Then, I felt like I could be anyone. Now, I am someone. If the tingly excitement of not knowing has been dulled, so has the anxiety of it. And much more than literal age, I feel like this knowing has been what has curbed the destructive and reckless behavior that this anxiety produced in me.

I think it produces such behavior in many young people. Almost every night of my fifteen nights in that student housing apartment, I witnessed that behavior. Most nights, right about the time I was curled-up watching PBS, a cheap-liquor-and-bad-decisions party would strike-up. These parties produced many things—property damage and emergency room trips and vomit piles on the sidewalks. They produced a great number of fights. Some of these were verbal, some were physical, most were a combination of both.

This was all familiar. In college, I once watched a guy beat another guy’s face until he was unconscious, his nose a shattered and bloody wreck. When the cops arrived, the guy left standing took off, as he had priors. And those of us who didn’t want to lie to the cops? Pretend we had no idea what had happened? We took off as well.

I once watched a couple scream at one another until the guy threw his girlfriend against a wall, then he complained about the dent her head left, as it would probably cost him his deposit.

I once watched a girl take a baseball bat to a guy’s truck, and then his torso when he tried to stop her.

This is not all I witnessed. There was a great deal of violence mixed-up with the so-called good times. This summer, there were as many fights as there were parties. One of these still echoes.

A girl’s boyfriend kicked her out of the party. He told her she was being crazy. He slammed the door on her face. The girl tried to get back inside. She pounded and scratched and screamed at the door. She began crying. She remained in the stairwell until she caught her breath. She knocked on the door and asked if they could talk. Please, she didn’t understand. Please, if they could just talk. Please, please, please, she didn’t want to lose him. If he would just explain what she’d done, she would never do it again. The door opened. The guy told her to stop bothering him. The door slammed. The people inside laughed. The girl began crying. She cried until she couldn’t. She knocked again.

Rinse. Repeat. For a long time. Most of the rest of the night.

Some nights, my smile a little whiskey-slicked, I knock again. My knocks come in the form of unearthing old artifacts—letters, mix-tapes, emails, ticket stubs, books—and letting those artifacts remind me of what being in love with that person felt like. I also remember the terrible way he loved me, and the terrible way I loved him. The horrible jealousies we both encouraged. The cowardice of which we were both guilty. The being in love part, though, that’s the part that was always good. That’s the part, I know, that this girl was fighting for. The being in love part is what left her bruised and bloodied and humiliated in that stairwell. It has left many of us there.

My hope is that I stopped hearing that girl because that girl stopped knocking. I hope she woke-up in her own bed and had breakfast with a good friend and then went for a long run and then deleted that guy’s number from her phone. This is probably not what happened. But I do hope.

I also hope, however, that as she goes through the things of his she will return or throw away or burn, she will keep at least one thing.

Because while the nights of falling out of love with someone, even someone who does not love us well, are difficult, and we must burn and ravage what we will to get through them, there will be times when she is in love with no one. And those nights are difficult in their own way.

Reasons for Taking Drawing for Beginners


Twenty years in an abusive relationship. Washes of indigo. The fade to yellow. How beautiful the colors of blood beneath skin.

Art sustained. Hasty lines scratched on the backs of grocery receipts and construction paper outlines of small hands.

These lines are all I have now.


My mother died. We tried to write the eulogy. She kept a clean house, was all any of us could say.

I don’t want that to be me.

I want something of my own.


Retired. Widowed. Children away. What is time not spent in the care of others? I am left with only my own voice and it’s forgotten the response.

(loud) Amen?



Nurse. Thirty years. Retired. I do not care to draw people. Must we draw people? I want to draw flowers. Can we draw flowers? I do not like bodies. I do not want to draw bodies. Orchids. Can I draw orchids? Georgia O’Keeffe. I like her. I do not like bodies.


I took art classes my entire life and I loved it and then… (shrugs)

Then husband, kids, work.

(pauses to listen, considers her answer)

Thirty years. I didn’t realize until you asked. It’s been thirty years.


It’s for my kids, ya know? I want some heirlooms for them. Want to give them something to remember me by. I want something of myself left behind.


I want something of myself left behind.

I, myself, want something left behind.

I want myself, something left behind.

I left myself behind.





Image taken from here.

The Nose Picker’s Daughter-Wife

On a flight a few months ago, a woman in the aisle in front of me was reading a book called The Gravedigger’s Daughter. Let me be clear that I have zero issues with the book or its author. I don’t know anything about it, aside from its title.

Which is all I need to know to start cursing.

For fuck’s sake, can we please stop giving books titles that define women by their existence in relation to men?

I mean, come-the-fuck-on, I didn’t even do any real research or spend more than a half hour, and I came-up with this list:

The Shoemaker’s Wife

The Aviator’s Wife

The Headmaster’s Wife

The Traitor’s Wife

The Time Traveler’s Wife

(I also found The Lost Wife and The Silent Wife, but I’m letting these go because while they do still define the character as “wife” they do not specifically state the profession of the husband)

The Calligrapher’s Daughter

The Blood letter’s Daughter

The Baker’s Daughter

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

The Baker’s Daughter

The Hangman’s Daughter

The Merchant’s Daughter

The Frenchman’s Daughters

The Sorcerer’s Daughter

The Mummifier’s Daughter

The Doctor’s Daughter

The Rancher’s Daughter

The Tutor’s Daughter

The Captain’s Daughter

The Ice Captain’s Daughter (I guess she wears a thicker coat)

The Profiler’s Daughter

The Madman’s Daughter

The Ambassador’s Daughter

The Apothecary’s Daughter

The Vampire Hunter’s Daughter

The Vampire Pirate’s Daughter (Hope these two don’t’ meet!)

The Tyrant’s Daughter

The Daughter of the God-King

Oathbreaker’s Daughter

A Daughter of Warwick

An entire series called Gangsta’s Daughter

An entire series called The Hangman’s Daughter

An entire series called The Scavenger’s Daughters

An entire series called The Billionaire’s Daughter

An Entire Series called The Treadwell Academy wherein each book is called something like The Tycoon’s Daughter

An entire series called The Daughters of Lancaster County wherein each book is called something like The Bishop’s Daughter.

Some of these books are young adult and some of these books are literary and some of these books are genre. Regardless, they all follow the pattern of:

 The (Male’s Profession) (Female Relation)

All the words in all of the goddamn English Language to put together for book titles, and yet here we stand. I mean, look, it’s not as if we don’t have a history of great books with such titles, The Bishop’s Wife, The Optimist’s Daughter, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, etc..

But sweet pity that’s a lot of books within the last few years. And I think there are several reasons for this trend (and I’m gonna go ahead and call it a trend).

For starters, there is the popularity of the books The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Memory Keeper’s Daughter.

So part of the reason for this title pattern seems to be a result of publishers wanting to capitalize on the popularity of these books. I understand that there are market forces at play here. I do.

Another factor is that stories traditionally told by and about famous men are currently being re-examined through the eyes of women. The Paris Wife is a fictional take on the romance between Earnest Hemingway and Hadley Richardson. There’s a nonfiction book called The Nazi Officer’s Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust. I think you get what it’s about.

Sweet. Keep-it-up. I dig new perspectives on familiar tales. (I myself am going to get into it about Edith, aka Lot’s Wife, at some point)

I also enjoy when authors take marginal fictional women characters and create whole worlds for them. Ahab’s Wife took a teeny passage from Moby Dick and created a deeply compelling heroine from it.

Let’s be clear, though, one doesn’t have to use this title pattern to write from these perspectives. The Wide Sargasso Sea tells the story of Rochester’s mad wife in Jane Eyre. And Betty Shabazz: A Journey of Strength from Wife to Widow to Heroine isn’t titled Malcolm X’s Wife.

But most of the books I’m talking about aren’t telling us about the women in the lives of famous men, and most are not telling the stories of marginalized fictional women. Most of these books create new fictional worlds, and most of these books feature women as the main characters, and yet these books still carry titles that define the main character by their male relation.

Look, it makes complete sense for some of these books to be titled in this way (The Time Traveler’s Wife, for example). I am not in any way saying any individual book’s title is problematic, nor am I saying that any individual book has an improper title or a derivative one.

I’m talking about the trend. I’ll keep repeating this throughout: I am discussing the trend, not the individual. This distinction between a discussion of the personal/individual verses the group/cultural seems to get lost sometimes. Like when someone says “rape culture” or “culture of misogyny” and people respond with “Not All Men.”

Here’s something else I’m not saying: I am also not saying that I never want any story to be about a character whose male relation is the most formidable force in her life. I’d have to give-up A Doll’s House, for starters, and I’m not willing to do that.

So, sure, title it The Man with an Occupation’s Female Relation.

But if you’ve got a book about a woman, even one who is primarily formed by a male figure, why not give a few other titles a whirl? Just to break out of the pattern?

You could, you know, title it Anna Karenina.

Okay, that one’s taken.

I should probably get to the part where I talk about why this bothers me as much as it does. I guess I’m still working this out (though I’ve been ranting about it for a few years now).

For starters, there’s just the sheer boredom of having so many things titled in the same manner. Remember when Nathan Englander wrote that great story collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank as his way of connecting his stories to Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love?. And then remember when every fucking thing in the goddamn universe started using a variation on this title?

Yeah. It’s like that.

For me it is, at any rate.

And let’s keep in mind, yet again, that I have zero beef with the actual articles I’ve linked to themselves. Some of them, particularly this one, are good (and if you haven’t read the Ta-Nehisi Coates essay to which this one refers, do yourself a favor and get to it).

But do all of these articles need some variation on this title? “What We Talk About When We Talk About Minimalism”? Really?

So, yeah, one reason why The Man with an Occupation’s Female Relation titles bother me is because there are just way too many of them. But maybe I wouldn’t be quite so perturbed by the trend if I didn’t also think it might be one teeny-tiny sign of a cultural idea that women only hold interest/value in as far as they are related to a man.

To me these titles say “Here’s a book about a woman who is interesting/compelling/important because of the occupation of the man in her life.”

We can see this in the rhetoric about the treatment of women that states things like “Hey Fellas, remember she’s someone’s daughter, sister, mother, wife,” or “treat her like you’d treat your own daughter.”

Which is so prevalent that it is still echoed in even the most well-intentioned statements:

Obama women as wives


The idea, as “Men Against Violence” states on the linked site, is “Mentioning her connection 2 others is a good way to engage men.”

No. No it isn’t. Just in case there is any doubt, you can hear a kid in the Stubenville video ask this, and the response from the rapist is “she’s not.”

We desperately need to get to this place in our culture



Now, to bring this back to literary characters and book titles, I’d d say that this trend in book titles echoes that same line of thinking: women are only valuable in their reltionships to men.

I can hear half-a-dozen people firing-up their laptops to ask if I want all women characters to be single orphans.

The thing is, I don’t want all women in books to be any one or two or even three things. I want variety. You know what a list like the one I half-assedly assembled above tells me? Variety might just be a little lacking.

Again, I’m not talking about individual books here; I’m talking about this trend. And lest you think I’m the only person calling this a trend, others have written about this as well.

Two years ago, Emily St. John Mandell wrote a much better piece than mine for The Millions that focused specifically on the “daughter” titles. It includes research and graphs and all kinds of wonderful stuff. If you’re interested in just how all of this really breaks-down, you should check it out.

Alma Katsu also discussed this trend two years ago, having been brought to breaking point (and who could blame her?) by a book called The Sausage Maker’s Wife She includes a re-titling of literature about women using this pattern:

Anna Karenina– The Bureaucrat’s Wife
Tess of the D’Urbervilles– The Peddler’s Daughter
Emma Bovary-The Public Health Official’s Wife
Olive Kitteridge– The Pharmacist’s Wife
Anne of Green Gables– The Farmer’s Adopted Daughter

Slightly less compelling, right?

So it’s been at least two years since people began noticing and publicly commenting on this trend, and yet here we are, still pushing-out these titles in droves. One would think the list of occupations might grow thin. (Which just might be the case, if The Sausage Maker’s Wife is anything to go by)

What to do then? Other than write ranty little blog posts only my friends will read?

I would ask publishers to stop giving books these kinds of titles, but I’m pretty sure if people were tending to buy books with the words “armpit hair” in the title, publishers wouldn’t flinch at releasing book after book with this phrase. Publisher’s don’t give a shit how ridiculous this trend is as long as it sells. It’s not their job. It’s our job as readers.

So maybe what we can do is start talking about this more. The more backlash we gather, the more publishers have to consider how much they are willing to piss-off their readership. (And I contend that anyone who cares enough about books to get pissed-off about their titles makes-up a decent part of most readerships.)

Or maybe this won’t do anything. I don’t know. I just really, really hope that the next few years doesn’t see this trend continue.

The fancy reason is because these titles support the cultural idea that a woman’s worth is reliant on a male relation.

The non-fancy reason is because they are boring the ever-loving-fuck out of me.



Before you think me completely biased (though I most certainly am at least somewhat so), I did try to find titles with “Son” and “Husband” and “Father” in the title. I mean, I used the same bullshit “research” method that I used to find the other list, meaning I typed these words into Amazon and Google and Goodreads like a good little college Freshman. These books do exist, of course, but they do not seem to exist in the numbers that the “Wife” and “Daughter” titles do. Emily St. John Mandell (mentioned above), who did real research, found the same.

And yes, there are books that identify a mother in the occupational role. I’m pretty sure I weeded those out of my list above, but I might have missed a few. It’s far more common for the occupation-holding position to be a male one. Two books with a female in the occupational role that I did find were The Heretic’s Daughter and The Witch’s Daughter, and I would submit that “Heretic” and “Witch” aren’t exactly on-par with “Captain” and “God-King.”


Special Thanks to Brooke O. Sheridan for creating the image I used for this post. She’s just one of the most talented people ever, and such an excellent friend.