Let’s Read Queen of the Tearling: Chapter 11, Part Two

Having pondered her issues over Marguerite, Kelsea is finally holding her royal audience. First up is Andalie’s husband, who has come to claim her as it’s his Biblical right as a husband; Kelsea tells him off for having beaten his wife, and he slinks away.

Then a noblewoman, Lady Andrews, comes up to speak with Kelsea. It turns out that Kelsea stole this noblewoman’s tiara for her crowning. Unsurprisingly, this Lady Andrews is not in a very good mood. Also, Lady Andrews is old. Really old.

She was much older than she’d seemed in the dim light of the throne room, perhaps as old as forty, and her face appeared to have been pulled unnaturally taut. Cosmetic surgery? There were no plastic surgeons in the Tearling, but it was rumored that Mortmesne had revived the practice.

But… but they don’t have plastic. Or antibiotics. How do they have plastic surgery?

Anyway, Lady Andrews has a smoker’s voice, or a drinker’s voice, in case we can’t figure out that she’s an awful human being simply by her age alone. She uses her nasty voice to ask Kelsea what she intends to do about Mortmesne; it turns out that Lady Andrews lives near the border and therefore is very worried about an invasion.

Kelsea isn’t humoring her. Kelsea’s jewel informs her, through a vision, that Lady Andrews locked herself up inside her tower while the Mort came through her territory; she and her guards survived, but everyone else wasn’t as lucky.

Do you have children, Lady Andrews?”

No, Majesty.”

Of course not, Kelsea thought. Children coneived by this woman would only be cannibalized by her womb. She raised her voice. “Then you don’t risk much in the lottery, do you? You have no children, you don’t look strong enough for labor, and you’re really too old to appeal to anyone for sex.”

OOOH SICK BURN, THIS LADY IS OLD AND UGLY AND CHILDLESS AND THEREFORE HAS NO RIGHT TO BE CONCERNED ABOUT IMPENDING GENOCIDE

Lady Andrews is understandably a wee bit upset when Kelsea tells her never to come back to court.

Lady Andrews’s hands had clutched into claws. The nails were long hooks, manicured a bright purple. Deep pockets of red had emerged in the fleshless crescents beneath her eyes […] What does she see when she looks in the mirror? Kelsea wondered.

Ok, this is when I thought that Kelsea would come down hard on Lady Andrews for being a greedy, selfish biddy who spends her money on magical plastic surgery while letting her peasants die in a ditch.

How could a woman who looked so old still place so much importance on being attractive?

Well, that was a surprise. I guess the worst part about Lady Andrews isn’t that she let a bunch of her own people suffer horribly when (presumably) she could have helped them into safety. It’s that she thinks she’s still hot when she’s over the hill.

And for all the anguish that Kelsea’s own refletion had caused her lately, she saw now that there was something far worse than being ugly; being ugly and thinking you were beautiful.

I would have thought that the whole being-responsible-for-masses of people dying-thing would be worse than being ugly, but never mind that. The characters are female, so they don’t need to be judged on their actions, just on their appearances. So feminist.

Lady Andrews may be an old bitch, but she does have a good line in comebacks. I suppose with age, she’s had more time to think about these things.

And what have you to lose, Majesty? You spent your childhood in hiding. Has your name ever gone into the lot? […] In fact, Majesty, you risk less than any of us, don’t you? If she invades again, you merely barricade yourself in your own tower, just as I did. Only your tower is even taller.”

Kelsea has absolutely no answer for this, which is sad, as it’s a legitimate question. Not everyone is going to have access to the safety of a tower or a keep, and those who do are going to have to decide how to share that access without imperiling everyone involved. Johansen attempts to get round the problem it by making the nobles uniformly corrupt, awful people who positively relish murdering peasants, but that’s a con; Kelsea has created a situation that poses a dilemma for even the ideal noble. A lord or lady is sworn to obey their ruler, and the lottery system is inhumane and humiliating. But a lord or lady is also supposed to protect his or her people and property. If obeying the ruler means the total sacrifice of the people and land—and, based on the description of the last Mort invasion and the quality of the Tearling defense, it’s going to be an absolute slaughter—then how should a noble act? Is it right to disobey Kelsea’s orders? If not, how do they decide which people to protect and which people to leave to their fates?

But for Johansen, none of these matters are of any significance, and she signals that by putting the questions in the mouth of an old, ugly woman. Because the value of a woman’s speech is directly linked to her youth and appearance, of course.

Unfortunately for Kelsea, not all of the other nobles attending the audience seem to get that basic fact, and she appears to be losing their support. Why can’t they just forget all their problems and concentrate on how much of a dog this Andrews woman is! Fortunately for Kelsea, one of her guards, Mhurn, was one of Lady Andrews’s villagers, and he calls her out on some of the actual shitty things that she did, like locking out the poor people who attempted to find sanctuary in her household.

I’ve known the Queen barely a month, but I promise you, when the Mort come, she will try to cram the entire Tearling into this Keep, and she won’t care how recently they’ve bathed or how poor they are. She’ll make room for all.”

I hope that Kelsea has enough food for all, because otherwise that’s going to go south pretty quickly. Anyway, Lady Andrews demands the guard be whipped for his insolence, and Kelsea tells her to get the hell out once again. This time, she complies.

In the space of seconds, a thousand tiny lines sprung up in the taut skin of her face.

Yo, I hope you didn’t forget that this lady is old! And therefore bad!

I’m still not done with this chapter, which is really something of a gold mine. There’s some freaky stuff coming up involving child abuse and psychic friends that deserves its own post. Mercedes Lackey would blush, that’s all I can say.

Why Is Edward Heath Being Exposed Now? The Answer May Surprise You (Or Probably Not, I’m Just Posting This Because WTF, Jimmy Savile’s Walls)

Hands up, who here is surprised that Edward Heath has been named as a kiddy fiddler? Boo hiss to him, and all. Of course, this raises the question–he very well might have been, but why bother exposing him now?* Ken Clarke’s in the news for for accusations of approximately the same sort of thing, and he’s inconveniently alive and walking, so that might be one reason. However, there’s another reason I can think of, and while it may not be the primary reason, maybe just a convenient side effect, it is a subject that’s near and dear to every Tory’s heart–property.

Specifically, Edward Heath’s house. Unlike Gary Glitter, with his haunts in the far East, and Jimmy Savile, who seems to have literally lived in Hell House (it had black walls! for fuck’s sake!), Heath lived in a pretty corner of England–a listed Georgian house near Salisbury Cathedral. The house was originally cathedral property and Heath only held the lease, but through some dodgy dealing, he bought the house outright. However, as we all know, Heath had no close family, so after he died, that should have been an end to it.

But Heath left behind a substantial amount of money, and willed most of it towards keeping the house as a shrine to his own achievements. It would be kept as it was when he lived there, and people would trot through and admire his achievements.

Understandably, visitors weren’t beating down the doors to share Heath’s vision. After a series of closures and reopenings, it seemed like the shrine was about to put up the shutters. The property would finally be sold, all the memorabilia cleared out, and the house could revert to its normal function as a residence. However, some last-minute funders stepped in and by late 2013, the museum’s supporters finally had managed to establish the house as a permanent tourist attraction.

Imagine the feelings of the people of the cathedral close. First, Ted had swindled the church out of its rightful due, and now his ghost would squat among them permanently. Forever. Until the last syllable of recorded time.

And imagine the feelings of well-heeled denizens of the property ladder, knowing that that particular attractive rung was off limits, dedicated to storing the personal effects of Ted Heath, of all people. When there could be a family there… your family. (Granted, your family if your family had millions, but still.) If only there was a way to get that house back where it belonged…

But what a reverse! Now the innocuous spot where elderly day-trippers could look at Sir Edward’s piano and yacht paintings has turned into a den of pure kiddy-fiddling evil. Which is sad for all those abused kids, but is the exposure really such a tragedy from the point of view of the aspiring property owner? I suppose they’ll have to break up the contents and sell the house now, to protect the property from vandalism if nothing else. Whatta shame… Don’t run to the estate agent’s too quickly, dears. At least buy some sage first!

* If you’ve read this far, have a reward–this is probably and hopefully the most embarrassing thing I’ll ever admit on this blog, but I’ve read a biography of Edward Heath, and this Mirror rape story accusing Heath of rape doesn’t completely add up. The accuser says that the rape occurred in 1961, in a fancy flat full of yachting-related knickknacks. In 1961, Heath didn’t live anywhere fancy, and he didn’t start sailing until later in the 1960s (Private Eye suggested Heath’s yacht was a public relations exercise to get people to warm to the new, waxen Tory leader). So, unless Heath had a secret early passion for yachts along with his secret passion for kids, and he was borrowing his rich friends’ flats to pick up tricks, the dates are off.

I mean, I don’t want to trash a victim, because memory can be hazy, and it still could all be true. In which case, fuck that dude, once for being a kid rapist and once again for using some presumably unwitting friends’ flat as his pretend home/curio case/junior rape center. He broke ALL THE RULES, and not in a bodacious way, either.

Let’s Read Queen of the Tearling: Chapter 11, Part One

Why has it been so long since I updated this readalong? Well, I’ll admit it: I lost the damn book in my book hoard. What, you don’t have a giant pile of half-read books that can completely conceal a large hardback? It’s just me? Anyway, it’s all good, I guess, because we’re coming up to a real disaster of a chapter here. Gave myself a breather and all. And now I’m back to tackle Chapter 11. Continue reading →

Alice + Freda Forever

Just finished up Alexis Coe’s Alice + Freda Forever. I thought I would really enjoy this book—it got good reviews, and, you know, lesbians! murder! insanity!—but I found it difficult to read (the chronology of events is confusing, and some of the design choices make it difficult to read on a computer) and, worse, it’s oddly patriarchal in its views.*

The historical event behind the book: In 1890s Memphis, Alice Mitchell and Freda Ward, fell in love with each other at school. After Freda moved away, the two made plans to marry—Freda would sneak back to Memphis, Alice would disguise herself as a man, and they would get hitched at their local church. After Freda’s sister discovered their letters, she revealed the plans to Alice’s family and the relationship disintegrated. The heartbroken Alice waited until Freda made a visit to Memphis, then slashed Freda’s throat.

The book covers the girls’ relationship, the murder, and the subsequent insanity proceedings, in which the defense argued that Alice’s same-sex attachment proved that she was out of her mind and not fit for trial. Alice is obviously the more interesting figure of the two, just by virtue of living longer than Freda. But Coe valorizes Alice—a woman who dared to want to escape her mandated future of marriage and motherhood, who would love who she wanted to love, who supposedly screamed “I’m going to do just exactly what I wanted to do, and I don’t care if I do get hung!” as she dashed away from the murder scene. By doing so, Coe whitewashes that Alice’s rebellion against gender roles meant that she took on the worst of what it meant to be a “man,” ultimately leading to her lover’s death.

Alice may have wanted to escape her future as a wife or old maid, dependent on the whims of a man, but she didn’t extend that same freedom to her own lover. By planning on transforming herself into a man, she also planned to transform herself into a patriarch, assuming her rightful power over a wife-to-be. Alice’s letters reflect this view: Freda should be a model wife, a woman who never deceived, who was her spouse’s first and last love, who cooked and sewed buttons for her one and only. Freda enjoyed flirting and dreamed of going on the stage, but after she had promised herself to a future “husband”—whether that husband was male or female—she would have to forsake all others, even before marriage, and confine her dreams to the home. By transgressing those boundaries, Freda became a “bad woman” in Alice’s eyes. As her fiance and the “man” in the relationship, Alice had the right to kill her, a right which she made very clear in her various death threats to Freda, in letters or face to face. When Freda removed herself from Alice’s life, whether by choice or by force, Alice took advantage of her rights and killed her.

Coe’s depiction of Freda reinforces this old pernicious view, that a woman who isn’t fully submissive and loyal deserves to die. Coe describes Freda as “an incorrigible flirt” and states that Freda “callously” wanted to go on the stage despite her engagement. It’s especially troubling because Coe is describing a 17-year-old, barely out of girlhood even by 19th-century standards.

The whole courtship seemed to be a game of youthful dalliance that Freda greatly enjoyed; proposals were like trophies, accolades she enthusiastically accepted without seriously considering what came after. And yet, Freda continuously assured Alice—or rather, Alvin J. Ward, her fiance—that their marriage would inspire fidelity, and she would embrace the virtues of true womanhood. Freda blithely encouraged the transition, never truly grasping the peril the terms of her engagement put her in.

Yeah, no shit, it was a youthful dalliance because Freda was youthful. And she probably didn’t expect that her peril would include her being murdered in the middle of the street. Way to blame the victim, Coe.

I’m being a bit harsh, I guess—it’s not like I don’t enjoy sordid murder stories, I just don’t like sordid murder stories transformed into cri de coeurs for a higher cause. Coe uses the whole affair to argue for the right to same-sex marriage (which, at the time the book was published, was illegal in Tennessee), utterly ignoring what Alice’s treatment of Freda says about the concept of marriage in itself. There have been plenty of committed same-sex partnerships throughout history, partners who uphold our best ideals of Western, modern marriage—a union that reinforces the love between two people. But this particular relationship highlights the dark side of marriage: the idea that partners somehow become each others’ property, and that there’s a “male” power role that somebody has to play. Do same-sex couples now have the same right to destroy their partners as men have over women in heterosexual marriage? Same-sex marriage is now legal in every state, but really… who would want to get married after reading this book? Are you sure that you’re not entering an outmoded institution that oppresses women and all those who have to play the “female” role, the female who must be dutiful at all times, who has to hold up the world but never leave the kitchen? Are you sure that you want to enter this patriarchal death trap? I’m tempted to side with the anarchists of old and declare for free love only.

* Also, there’s some really inept dropping of Foucault bombs, which makes me think that this was somebody’s Women’s Studies 102 final paper before it became a book. Girl, don’t think I don’t know you! With your Madness and Civilization!

Calling All Buffy Watchers!

Confession to make: I never watched much of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Yeah, I know, I know. I have watched some of Marti Noxon’s Unreal, however, and have to wonder–I know there was a big fan backlash against Noxon and season six of Buffy. I assumed that the show just changed a bit and people freaked out, and Noxon tookthe heat for Greatest Male Feminist Ever Joss Whedon, but now I’m curious–did Buffy and company suddenly become really, well, victimized in the sixth season? Because Unreal has possibly the most abject female characters I’ve ever seen.

No, You Will Not Die From Wearing Jeans (Of Shame or Otherwise)

Oh, my lord. Women and our clothes. Jessica Valenti is sad that skinny jeans and high heels and purses pose a danger to her health, and wishes that she can wear comfortable clothes, like her child. But she can’t, because otherwise she’d… well, something bad would happen. So she’ll just keep wearing these clothes and probably die of some sort of jeans-related aneurysm.

Before you freak out, I’m here to tell you that none of these items of clothing are looming threats to your health. If you go to your doctor and ask her what you can do to improve your well-being, the last thing she’s going to tell you is to stop wearing skinny jeans. The clothes that Valenti describes aren’t even particularly uncomfortable, excepting certain types of high heels.*

I’m almost certain that anyone who reads this page will about this type of jeans, but just in case you’ve never put a pair of dangerous skinny jeans onto your own trembling legs, I’ll explain them to you. Maybe really expensive jeans are sewn onto the wearer’s body along with diamonds and pearls, but most jeans brands add some stretchy substance to the denim weave, so the jeans cling to the body (the “skinny” look). They’re pretty comfortable and they’re not especially heavy compared to other denim, which is part of why they’ve stuck around for the last 15 years despite not being universally flattering. Granted, if the jeans are too tight, they can cut into your skin, but that’s not some sort of fashion trend, it means that you bought the wrong size. You cannot injure yourself wearing a pair of jeans unless you deliberately make yourself into a human sausage.

You also cannot injure yourself by wearing a purse, because a purse is literally a container with a fastener on it. I mean, you can injure yourself by carrying too much in your purse, or wearing one with an uncomfortable strap, or by buying a purse with spikes on it. But nobody’s going to come up to you and say, “Woman, if you don’t injure yourself by carrying a purse with spikes stuck on, you are no longer a female but some sort of neuter beast. Begone!” It’s a tool to carry your personal belongings. I don’t know, if you’re a guy, maybe someone will injure your sense of masculinity by calling your purse a “murse” or a “man bag.” Oh, it’s a messenger bag, all right then.

High heels are actually dangerous, if you wear them constantly and if the heels are too high or thin. You also need to practice walking in them at first or if you haven’t worn them for a while. However, if you want some extra height, there are short heels and chunky heels and wedges, so you don’t absolutely have to wear shoes that are difficult to walk in. Or, you know, you can just wear flats. It’s not like the choice is between platform stilettos and Crocs.

OK, OK, I’m taking this too seriously. I get it–constructing your appearance is important, especially for women. The process of making one’s self up is fascinating to study, if it’s slightly less fun to actually live out. (Taken to the extreme it becomes blackly hilarious—“Ladies, you may be dying of cancer, but why can’t you put on some makeup? It’ll make you feel better!” Yeah, I’ll use it to cover up my suppurating tumor, jackass.) Wearing certain outfits sends out certain signals–you have more money, more access to knowledge, an allegiance to this or that community. Add that personal preferences to that—favorite colors, fabrics, and so on—and it gets pretty complicated. I care about this myself, I want to project a certain image and I definitely change it according to my surroundings.

I think what gets me is just how prim Valenti is. She thinks that her clothes will harm her body and yet she still wears them! What would happen to her if she wore flats instead of heels? What would the terrible consequences be? Would her friends and family desert her? I mean, what would happen if Valenti took a backpack to work, instead of a purse? Would her boss come in and say, “You know, you write a good feminist line, but that knapsack makes me despise you as a person. You’re fired!” Would that really happen? I don’t think so (and not just because Valenti probably works from home).

I mean, it’s not like Valenti has to wear some sort of professional uniform, official or understood. She’s not a Hooters waitress or a McDonald’s cashier or a courtroom lawyer. Valenti is a professional feminist at the Guardian, for Christ’s sake. Her entire career as a third-wave feminist is based on promoting the personal freedoms of women and she still can’t wear a pair of flats because making that choice would destroy too much of her worth as a person. What hope is there for the rest of us poor saps?

* You know what item of clothing is dangerous? The thong. What’s the point? Oh, I don’t want people to know I’m wearing underwear, because that’s slutty, but I don’t want to not wear underwear, because that’s slutty too! I’ll compromise and wear a tiny strip of fabric that is designed to irritate every single part of my genitals. Oh, and because the thong’s so tight, it transports all the bacteria from my poop into my abraded vagina! Yay, vaginal pain and yeast infections!

** The skinny jean trend finally seems to be ending—flares are coming back in, which no doubt will lead to tales of women who trip on the hems and die. Overalls are also on trend, deliberately marketed as a grown woman’s version of the comfortable children’s classic.

Bears, Beets, Battlestar Galactica Rage (Six Years On)

A friend and I have been watching Battlestar Galactica for years now, a few episodes every few weeks or months, and it’s finally built up and I need to vent before the pressure makes me explode like a spaceship in a season finale. It’s a tough process—I suppose without the weekly suspense, you have time to think out the plot holes (although Abigail Nussbaum found them in her perceptive essays on the show, penned while the show was still airing). The journey to Earth/wherever has become a frustrating slog, and I suppose we’re still watching it because of the sunk cost fallacy.

Let me give you an example of what I’m dealing with here. Continue reading →