Middlemarch Diary #2, Chapters 14-22

George Eliot, circa 1849

Proceeding apace! After the evocative gothic image of the sanctimonious peaches-and-cream maiden marrying the cadaverous Casaubon, Middlemarch has quickly devolved into a village comedy with all the usual types: the aunt busybody, the congenial parson, the young rake, the dull but earnest suitor. I’m a jaded English Lit major, and have never been a fan of the Marriage Plot, general in 19th century novels, unless there is, say, a madwoman in the attic or an egregious breach of manners, say, someone naked in the drawing room. It’s all too genteel and proper, and I await some grisly murder or monstrous betrayal beneath the scrim of politesse. There was a recent interview with Emma Cline, whose first novel was The Girls, about a Manson-like murderer with a cult of young women. She has recently written a story from the perspective of a Weinstein-like protagonist, and her interviewer suggested there might be something wrong with presenting a predator and criminal in a way that might make him sympathetic. Cline rightly retorted that monsters and madmen are better subjects for stories than the upright and respectable. I agree. Unless, say, the subject is repression itself. I’m thinking of Anita Brookner novels, or The Remains of the Day. There are no hard and fast rules. But are we, with Middlemarch, headed towards Anna Karenina on the train tracks? The Ace of Hearts at the end of Tess of the d’Urbervilles? I know where this is going, I’ve read it already, and every other one of these Marriage Plot books. The women cannot win. 

Except, have you heard of Miss Marjoribanks, by Margaret Oliphant? I hadn’t either, until today’s London Review of Books arrived in the mail and I read this article by Tom Crewe, where he writes:

“The novel tells the story of Miss Marjoribanks, and of her return, after finishing her schooling, to live with her widowed father in Carlingford, where already

preparations and presentiments had taken vague possession of the mind of the town, as has always been observed to be the case before a great revolution, or when a man destined to put his mark on his generation, as the newspapers say, is about to appear. To be sure, it was not a man this time, but Miss Marjoribanks; but the atmosphere thrilled and trembled to the advent of the new luminary all the same.”

Doesn’t this sound good? Read on, that article has choice excerpts. Miss Marjoribanks never gets married! Or does she? I have ordered a copy. Apparently Mrs. Oliphant wrote 98 books, so this may be the start of something I can’t finish. But first, let’s find out what happens to Dorothea Brooke. I have forgotten the details. It’s not looking good for her, let’s all agree. 

And before I go, I quite enjoyed Chapter 13, and the argument between Mr. Vincy and Mr. Bulstrode, with its suppressed insult, insinuation, veiled threat and oblique jabs. So English. Bulstrode is emerging as a villain, a character it gives one pleasure to detest. If the result of all this repression is vicious and amusing banter, and elegant eviscerations, OK OK, I’m along for the ride.

 

 

Middlemarch Diary. Prologue & Chapters 1-14

Middlemarch, like many many-paged books, seems to be a top candidate for lockdown reading these days, 819 pages in my Penguin edition.  I just read the long, dense, and repetitive Absalom, Absalom again, it being timely, given that it is about how great wealth and power requires the exploitation and degradation of women and black people–and by extension, all people of color, children and non-hegemons–but more on that book later. If you’ve decided to read a big book, by all means, leave us a comment and let us know what it is. A few friends of mine turned out to be reading Middlemarch too. Hooray! We will read together.

I’ve already read Middlemarch, though. I read it in college for a Victorian lit class, but I remembered very little about it other than that I’d disliked it. I’d skimmed. And when I read the first 50 pages, I remembered why. Dorothea Brooke’s youth and beauty are extensively described in the opening chapter, as well as her priggishness and sanctimony. She has an admirable desire to live the life of the mind, and learn from brilliant scholars, and this is what leads her to marrying, against the hopes and advice of the surrounding community , the Revered Edward Casaubon. He is about thirty years older than she is, near 50, and his physical repulsiveness and decrepitude is described by her younger sister Celia who struggles to hide her revulsion. He has hair growing from moles on his face. Fortunately she didn’t describe his teeth or his breath, but still it lingers. And this is as far as I got, page 51. I am encouraging myself to continue after this unpromising beginning, though if it develops along gothic lines, well then that’s another thing. But George Eliot, famously, didn’t submit to the 19th century marriage plot so why does Dorothea Brooke?

I was also put off by discouraging passages encouraging defeatist positions on women’s potential and possibility. The prologue extols the admirable qualities and goodness of Saint Theresa, and how so many women are not given the opportunity to fulfill their promise. And what to make of epigraphs such as “Since I can do no good because a woman, Reach constantly at something that is near it” which precedes chapter 1, and casual observations by the characters that even a man’s ignorance is superior to a woman’s intelligence, whose intelligence is downgraded  to “cleverness”, like a dog performing tricks? Again, George Eliot’s anachronistically liberated life could have informed the lives of her characters. Why didn’t it?

So, we have begun. I’m sure to discover what is great about this novel soon. I just haven’t yet.

How to Prevent Domestic Violence

More than 3x as many women have died from domestic violence than soldiers have died in combat. And the most dangerous place for women is their own homes. In a new book, No Visible Bruises, myths of domestic violence are debunked, as well as the myth of its intractability. Because it’s known how to prevent domestic violence, and domestic killings:

Prosecute cases without the victim’s help, as we do murder trials. Treat restraining orders like D.U.I.s and keep them on file, even after they have expired. Train clergy members and doctors to recognize and respond to domestic violence. Promote battering intervention programs. Choking nearly always precedes a homicide attempt; teach police to recognize the signs, and instruct doctors to assess women for traumatic brain injury. And, of course, there is the near-unanimous recommendation from law enforcement and domestic violence advocates: “You want to get rid of homicide?” a retired forensic nurse asks. “Get rid of guns.”

Appalled by Sexism in the Valley? Meet the Tech Bros of Finland

 

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A job search ad by Vincit, a publicly listed tech company reads “A search for Vincit’s twenty-seventh Mikko. And hey: we’re not discriminatory”

 

While Silicon Valley labors to exorcise its bro culture–the widespread egregious behavior, sexist jokes, chauvinism, power plays, harassment and discrimination–you wouldn’t guess where sexism is business as usual. Yes! In the happiest country in the world.

Almost every year Finland wins the happiest country in the world award, and just this week Finland won again. Finland’s people have so much to be proud of: they’re the best educated people in the world, they have national childcare, healthcare and have almost eliminated poverty. Their laws guarantee equal opportunity for men and women. They house their homeless. Both mothers and fathers have equal parental leave and it’s the only country in the world where fathers spend more time with their children than mothers–it’s only 8 minutes, but still! It’s a start.

Nevertheless, their tech industry is full of sexism, bias and chauvinism, which I have experienced first hand. I’m both an outsider and an insider to Finland. I’ve spent the last decade going back and forth between Silicon Valley and Helsinki. Several years ago, I gave a talk at Aalto University for the technology students there, and after my talk I caught the beginning of the next talk by a very famous Finnish tech entrepreneur. “You too can reap the fruits of success as an entrepreneur,” he said. “Here’s some of the things you can get”. And he proceeded to show slides of a sports car, a private plane, and lastly, Netscape founder Jim Clark, in his 70s, in front of a boat, with his 25 year old wife. He pointed out their respective ages. He pointed at the wife.

Things you can get?! I was astonished and looked around so we could all share our outrage. No one met my eye. No one shared my outrage. This was my first experience of sexism as usual. But it was not an isolated case.

When some interns from Finland came to work at my company in the Valley, I was surprised to learn that in Finland it was OK to refer to women as “bitches” and “ho’s”–or maybe they just talked like that when they were in the U.S.? One passed around a magazine he’d worked on, which had quasi-pornographic pictures of more ho’s. Well, it was an internship program after all, there was a lot to learn.  

I noticed other things. I was invited to conferences explicitly because “they needed more women” not because I built great companies. Conference events centered around drinking and gambling, and when I pointed out that women may feel uncomfortable there, the conference organizers shrugged. Here in the Valley many companies have realized drinking is often correlated with harassment, and even assault, and no longer sponsor drinking events.

I found the incomprehension to be almost universal. Shut down, glossed over, and dismissed by Finns up and down the ladder, the conversation had been successfully smothered. When harassment was reported, the responses were oddly toothless. There was a sense of “Nothing to see here folks! Move along!” To my knowledge, no one has been fired, or suffered real consequences for their actions. Maybe everyone’s kept their pants on? The law of numbers says no. While there’s a lot of rah-rah for women, Happy International Women’s Day posts, and photos of the smiling minority of women at the tech companies on the front of every tech company’s web site, underneath it all, lies a strong bias. Finland is in denial.

Sexism reared its ugly head again this week with #ParempiMikko. A publicly traded company, Vincit, advertised that there were 26 men named Mikko working at their company, and they were looking for another Mikko. This is, mind you, a company which came in last in a survey of workplace diversity in Finnish Tech companies with only 11% women employees. So the young women working with the largest tech festival in the Nordics, Slush, spotted the bias and exclusion in the post, and they tweeted about it. The CEO of the company tweeted back at them that if they saw bias there it wasn’t his problem it was theirs–since they were the ones who saw bias there. And when a well-respected tech reporter, Senja Larsen, wrote about it in the business press, the CEO wrote her emails with a threatening tone.

It gets worse. Vincit is known for putting sexist jokes into their press releases, external communications–even in their financial statements. These have been reported by the pressTheir jokes are juvenile. ”Kympin pitäjä” which means “great village” turns into “pimpin kytäjä”  or “pussy place”. The Finnish Stock Exchange criticized them for this, but their response was to tell them to “lighten up a little”. On their quarterly results video they again made some appalling puns: ”surkea töihinottaja” became “obscene blowjob” and refers to the only woman on the management team–the head of HR!–as “cunt babbles”. People in Silicon Valley know that a CEO would be fired for that, but weirdly, nothing happened.

The Vincit CEO calls himself “the leading star of the future of leadership” on his Twitter profile. But he’s a leader who makes sexist jokes, who stands by them when called out, who doesn’t listen to women but dismisses them. The women at the company–which has paid to be entered into “Best Places to Work” type competitions–predictably leapt to its defense. Women have been complicit in maintaining the silence, heading up the HR departments, tweeting their support, covering up and ensuring that nothing is done. This also happens in the Valley and around the world.

So Finnish Tech Industry People, I know it’s tough, since some of your more admirable qualities are tolerance and agreeableness. I know you know that you’ll have to work with these people for the rest of your life in a country of 5.5 million people and an industry of thousands. But it’s important to do something. Treat women better, speak out, stand by and stand up for them. Because we look up to you. You know how to build a just society. You’re the secret leaders of the world.

Next up: Germany

 

Emma Kunz

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Born to a family of weavers in Switzerland, Emma Kunz was a mystic, who would sometimes work on a drawing for 48 hours without interruption. She divined the future using pendulums and though she created a large body of work, and published three books, her artwork was not shown until after her death.

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World Receivers: Georgiana Houghton – Hilma af Klint – Emma Kunz, an examination of the work of three visionary women artists. In the middle of the nineteenth century, in England, Sweden, and Switzerland, respectively, Georgiana Houghton, Hilma af Klint, and Emma Kunz each developed their own abstract pictorial language. Though working completely independently from one another, these three artists shared a desire to make visible the laws of nature, the intellect, and the supernatural.

Though there is an exhibit of her work coming soon to the Serpentine Gallery in London, but I can’t recommend it, since a large part of their funding comes from the felons in the Sackler family, who are responsible for the opiate crisis in the United States, and its plague of death, especially among the poor.

Scouts, Water, Lorena Bobbit

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Scouts. Girls are now formally eligible to form boy scout troops. Not only was the copy editor asleep at their desk, the author did not note the inherent sexism of this odd new eligibility. Why not call both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts “Scouts”? And are there boys clamoring to form girl scout troops? That would show some progress. As it has often been said, equality will have a chance not when girls can be more like boys, but boys can be more like girls.

Water. The state of water in the world in less than 500 words. This will be a big issue in the future if the population continues to grow as projected, and this is a good summary of the regions the problems will arise, and who is getting in front of the issue.

Lorena Bobbit. Of course the real story was not what was emphasized on late night TV–the penis. The real story was about years of marital rape, domestic violence and male entitlement. Did you know John Wayne Bobbit became a porn star after his penis reattachment surgery and was convicted and served time for tying a woman up and repeatedly raping her? All those jokes at Lorena Gallo’s expense are hard to countenance–but an upcoming documentary may set the story straight.

 

The Social Media Transformation of César Sayoc: I disagree

In today’s New York Times, I find an article tracing the evolution of the Trump Supporter’s campaign to kill Democrats from his “normal” Facebook posts, to his “extremist” Twitter account. The article begins:

Until 2016, Cesar Altieri Sayoc Jr.’s life on social media looked unremarkable. On his Facebook page, he posted photos of decadent meals, gym workouts, scantily clad women and sports games — the stereotypical trappings of middle-age masculinity.

This may be common, but it is far from “unremarkable” as reporter Kevin Roose states.  I remarked many things about it. Then a quote from an expert in digital journalism:

“He went from posting pictures of women, real estate, dining and cars to posting pictures of ISIS, guns and people in jail,” said Jonathan Albright, the research director for Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism. “It’s a remarkable change.”

From unremarkable to remarkable. However, here is what I remarked in the first incarnation of Mr. Sayoc’s online persona.  “Scantily clad women” denotes objectification; women as things, not people; decadent meals signal affluence and pleasure; real estate and cars are signs of prestige, money and power. All of these are signs of toxic masculinity, an idea of human relationships as transactional and impersonal, a technocratic bent, and a desire for male domination. These are completely consistent with the Twitter account, the support of Trump, and, eventually, the pipe bombs.

I’d suggest the proper way to frame this article is as a continuum of his offenses, displayed on social media. Just as many mass killers begin with domestic violence, many perverts as peeping toms; just as sexual harassers will forge expense reports, or take credit for other people’s work, the signs of violence are often visible in other actions and evidenced in seemingly minor social media posts online. “Criminal versatility” is common, and criminal tendencies can be read in early prejudices. I see the signs of César Sayoc’s tendencies already writ large on his Facebook page.

What happened in the 70s?

Jyri posted an article on Facebook, Where Inequality Took Root: “In the mid-70’s, we traded in our post-World War II social contract for a new one, where ‘greed is good.'”  This amazing graph shows something big happened in the 1970s to prevent workers from sharing the gains of productivity in the workplace, but the question is, what?

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Jyri conjectures that personal computing may have had something to do with the changes.However, I think that was a small part of the changes going on in the United States at the time. The bigger changes were social.

There was a great deal of change during the 70s in terms of womens’ rights, gay rights, civil rights and also, significantly, immigration. For example, after Hart-Celler was passed, the ethnic makeup of the U.S. changed dramatically, viz, this data from Wikipedia:

“Prior to 1965, the demographics of immigration stood as mostly Europeans; 68 percent of legal immigrants in the 1950s came from Europe and Canada. However, in the years 1971–1991, immigrants from Hispanic and Latin American countries made 47.9 percent of immigrants (with Mexico accounting for 23.7 percent) and immigrants from Asia 35.2 percent. Not only did it change the ethnic makeup of immigration, but it also greatly increased the number of immigrants—immigration constituted 11 percent of the total U.S. population growth between 1960 and 1970, growing to 33 percent from 1970–80, and to 39 percent from 1980–90.”

My mother’s family immigrated from the Philippines to the United States when people from non-European countries were subjected to more stringent requirements than Europeans, and very few were allowed in. They believe they were admitted to the U.S., for example, because they had had a great deal of higher education, and graduate degrees from American universities.

The graph above can tell a thousand stories, and it is hard to point to any single factor. Personal computing may have changed the workplace dramatically, but I think it is likely that the social contract changed because the social construct changed. More women, more minorities, more foreign-born citizens were taking their places in American society and there was a growing sense of threat to entrenched power.

Women’s Eyebrow Fashions

Women in the courts of the T’ang Dynasty (618-907) painted their eyebrows green; the standard of beauty was brows as delicately curved as the antennae of moths. Foreheads were powdered yellow with massicot, a lead oxide, for yellow was the color of vitality.

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There are at least 24 hairstyles mentioned in the poetry, some a foot high, held together by lapis lazuli hairpins, clattering with pearls, with silk flowers and birds of gold perched on the top. As the empire was crumbling, the most popular styles had names such as “Deserting the Family” and “Uprooting the Grove”.

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Yang Kuei-fei, the emperor Hsan Tsung’s beautiful courtesan whose machinations set off a civil war, kept a tiny jade fish in her mouth.

–Eliot Weinberger, Oranges and Peanuts for Sale

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Youth sports are destructive to family life

Soccer KidsI was in a meeting the other day in which we went around the table and introduced ourselves to each other. We were meant to describe our personal, non-work lives, and some people named hobbies, or told about their recent vacations, but 60% or so, when asked what they did outside of work, said they drove their kids to their sports and soccer obligations, and were slaves to their children’s sports schedules.

I’ve found it’s nearly impossible to invite friends with traditionally schooled children to do things spontaneously on weekends– have a picnic or go hiking on a beautiful day, go out for dinner. “Sorry, Tommy’s got baseball” or “Can’t today, Melanie’s soccer practice” is the inevitable reply, Fortunately homeschooled kids seem to do a lot less organized sport and seem less invested in conforming with suburban social expectations. If you live in the suburbs, participation in team sports seems to be all the social activity on offer, for parents and siblings too.

What an astonishing loss of life. Is it worth it to lose all that time with family and friends? The losses are steep. In a post on Mom’s Team, a blog for “Sports Parents”, Jeannette Twomey lists the things her family has missed:

“Over the years, we saw one family activity after another bow its head to youth sports. Dinner at home, reading before bedtime, visits to grandma’s house, household chores, games in the backyard, picnics, weekend jaunts into the countryside, camping trips, school vacations – all casualties of the children’s sports schedule.”

The rest of the family generally bears the brunt of one kid’s involvement in sports. How much lost time together, how many things missed? And why value one kid’s time over the other kids’ time? It boggles the mind.

Generally team sports  are not lifelong sports. You don’t see 50 year old men playing soccer or hockey. Lifelong sports are things like skiing, tennis, dancing, yoga running–70 year olds are still doing these. And the whole family can do them together.