Responses to Our Summer 2018 Issue

No Ambiguity

Setting aside much of Sandra M. Gilbert’s problematic cover article in the summer issue, “In the Labyrinth of #MeToo”), I would like to focus on three paragraphs. In the middle of her piece, soon after describing the rape of an unconscious woman behind a Dumpster that landed Brock Turner so disgustingly light a sentence that the sentencing judge was recently recalled by voters, Gilbert asks,  are “these ambiguous traumas what feminism has actually been about?”

These “ambiguous traumas” led Turner’s victim to write a moving letter that Gilbert ought to read.  Here’s an excerpt: “I can’t sleep alone at night without having a light on, like a five year old, because I have nightmares of being touched where I cannot wake up, I did this thing where I waited until the sun came up and I felt safe enough to sleep. For three months, I went to bed at six o’clock in the morning.” Moving on to answering her own specious question, Gilbert tells us that #MeToo has derailed feminism from its most serious goals, implying that we younger women have been too distracted by our insistence that violent rapists face justice for their offenses to remember that women around the world less privileged than ourselves continue to suffer.

As a young female attorney who manages to write about #MeToo and advocate for the health and well-being of LGBTQ people, particularly bisexual people, low-income bisexual people, and bisexual people of color, I take serious issue with Gilbert’s implication. Does she know about Black Mama’s Bail Out, the national campaign to end cash bail while simultaneously raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to bail black mothers out of jail? Black Mama’s Bail Out was started by young black women and is supported by organizations and individuals across the country. How about the National Network of Abortion Funds? Yamani Hernandez leads this network of more than 100 local organizations working to lower barriers to abortion access for low-income women, women of color, girls, and transgender and gender non-conforming people across the country. Or Third Wave Fund? Third Wave is “an activist fund led by and for women of color, intersex, queer, and trans people under 35 years of age” and is dedicated to raising funds for sex workers. These are only three examples of the incredible work that young women and other young activists are performing across the country. Work to support low-income people, LGBTQ people, people of color, parents, and kids. I am so disappointed to read Gilbert’s article, which ignores the powerful work that younger feminists are doing to change the scope of American social welfare while ignoring the role that older white women played in the 2016 election.

Young feminists like myself can focus on both the unambiguous traumas of rape and sexual assault and the underlying harms that sexism and racism continue to wreak in America and beyond.

Heron Greenesmith, Esq.

I am afraid that the pervasiveness of the hook-up culture, mentioned in Sandra M. Gilbert’s article, is as real a threat to individual autonomy as any egregious gender discrimination, or worse. It ignores the fact that human interactions are messy because humans are messy, and therefore we all need to navigate them carefully, for our own sake and society’s. Communications need not be perfectly explicit, but they need to be adequate. So also do each party’s self-awareness and control—that’s even more important.

We can criticize individuals for acting stupidly, such as students who drink themselves blind, but that does not excuse any invasive act against them. It is wrong to rape someone no matter how they might render themselves vulnerable. Wrong is wrong, even if it exists on both sides, and when the wrongs are different, one does not excuse the other. As for Aziz Ansari’s amazing adventure, Grace had every right to say “thus far and no further.” She had the right to be emotionally foolish, arbitrary, inconsistent, and contradictory, even if we can criticize her consenting actions. Ansari doubtless thought he had lucked into a bit of outrageous fortune. I’m no prude, but he, other men, and women need to understand that if they get that far so quickly, they might have snagged (or revealed) a real problem.

Dan Goldzband
San Diego

The strength of this essay, which I enjoyed, is the interrogation of the #MeToo movement and the juxtaposition of it with what the author suggests are more important feminist concerns. Yet many of these concerns are mostly pop culture clichés. Is overt sexism really the reason for the gender pay gap, and how much evidence is there of a glass ceiling that prevents capable and ambitious women from advancing to the upper levels of work organizations? Indeed, it’s an odd sort of patriarchy that would strive to limit female sexual desire, when it’s just this desire that the patriarchs want.

My sense is that Gilbert’s conclusion—her consideration of art as a reflection of the human condition, with all its foibles—is a dodge that allows her to avoid fully engaging with the issues she raises. I like her lines of thought, but she pulls back after setting up the problem.

Ken Morris
from our website

To hear more from Sandra M. Gilbert, listen to episode #59 of our Smarty Pants podcast: Making the Most of #MeToo.

Turbulent Times

Thank you for Steven L. Isenberg’s essay “Working for Bobby,” which took me back 50 years to flashes of my own memories of the times. My mother worked for Robert F. Kennedy’s campaign in the San Fernando Valley and attended the fateful victory gathering in the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel. It is difficult for those who didn’t live through those turbulent times to realize the magnitude of their influence on our lives. As if surviving the political upheaval and hippie culture and participating in the radical politics at U.C.–Berkeley weren’t enough, I had earlier—at the tender age of 14—been hit by the doubleheader of watching my father suddenly drop dead of a heart attack, two months before the John F. Kennedy
assassination. What a way and time to come of age.

Steven Hendlin
Newport Beach, California

Travels With Peter

I write regarding the piece on Peter Matthiessen (“Force of Nature,” Books Essay).

In 1992, shortly after I joined the faculty at the University of Kansas, we biologists were given money by the university to hold a series of lectures on conservation and biodiversity. We agreed to have three speakers and filled the first two slots easily. The third was difficult—the “usual suspects” all declined, so, having just read his piece on Lake Baikal in The New York Review of Books, I suggested Matthiessen. I found his phone number in the directory, called it, and was amazed that he answered the phone himself. He accepted our offer on the condition that he could extend his stay, so that he could visit Leonard Peltier, who was incarcerated at the nearby Leavenworth federal prison for the killing of two FBI agents in 1975. (Peter’s book In the Spirit of Crazy Horse was inspired by this episode at the Pine Ridge Reservation.)

The other two lectures were held in small spaces in the biology building, but Peter’s took place in a ballroom at the KU Union and drew an overflow crowd. More than just biologists attended. In preparing my introduction, I asked many people to name their favorite Matthiessen book. The answers were so varied that I began to worry that there were two authors writing under that name! I had to transport Peter between the Kansas City International Airport and Lawrence (a real treat for me), and during one drive, he told me something not noted in the article: in order to make a living as an author, he had to write two books about each episode of research, one fiction, one not.

Daphne G. Fautin
Professor emerita, University of Kansas


In the 1950s, when I was growing up, St. Louis was a mixture of municipal generosity and racist southern mindset and practices. Children went to segregated public schools, but African Americans could ride public transportation without having to sit in the back of the bus. Any municipally owned facility—like the public library, Kiel Auditorium, the art museum, and most notably, the Municipal Opera, as it was known back then—was open for blacks to use. For many years, my parents had season tickets to the Muny (“A Century at the Muny,” Arts), and I have happy memories of seeing many of the old warhorses—Brigadoon, Carousel, Of Thee I Sing. Yes, I remember them well. That we could go as a family and sit anywhere we wanted and enjoy the music next to our white neighbors made a powerful impression on me, and I thank the Muny and the city for those memories.

Pauline Merry
Golden Grove, California

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