Friday, January 17, 2014

It's a Jungle Out There

2007, 2008 Seal Press edition
Amanda Marcotte
It's a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments
Original price $13.95, purchase price $6.98
Slightly worn paperback

I'm going to discuss the controversy surrounding this book, because I think it highlights something I noticed about other aspects of the writing.  Marcotte uses the symbol of the jungle to represent the sexism that feminists must battle.  That in itself is troubling, and related to her preference for urban over rural communities.  (Probably the result of her growing up in rural Texas.)  But wait.  What is the definition of a jungle?  "An area of land overgrown with dense forest and tangled vegetation, typically in the tropics."  So trees, right?  Yet almost none of the illustrations at the beginning of the chapters show trees.

Instead they display a busty, scantily clad blonde fighting the dangers of the African plains.  Suffice to say, none of these dangers look like Jerry Falwell or Bill O'Reilly.  They look like wild animals and menacing black natives.  Marcotte and Seal Press apparently didn't see anything wrong with racist imagery in a book promoting feminism, not even after the original cover, of a blonde being abducted by a gorilla, was criticized and withdrawn.  (This edition, she battles a crocodile.)  It's as if they couldn't see the trees for the jungle.  

I could cut Marcotte some slack, since she was young, but it's not as if she was fresh out of college.  She turned 30 that year, making her not much younger than Mary Wollstonecraft publishing A Vindication of the Rights of Woman at 33.  And if Ellerbee, Ivins, and Hightower have taught me anything, it's that left-wing rural Texans are definitely aware of issues surrounding race.  Perhaps the pictures from the '50s comic books about Lorna the Jungle Girl were meant in an ironic, campy way, but that doesn't make them non-racist, no matter how many anti-racist blogs Marcotte mentions.

It's three years since The Midnight Disease, where "blog" had to be defined, but this book is almost equally dated in its excitement over blogging.  As I think I've amply proved over the past couple years, any idiot with an Internet connection can have a blog, and blogs have not turned out any more remarkable than print books, except in the case of speed.  And you can turn a blog into a print book pretty darn quickly anyway.  This book seems to have evolved out of Marcotte's blog, and it shows signs of not being well edited, as in the "pubic" for "public" slip.  (It's still miles better than the editing in Forever Summer though.)

The racism and the giddiness contribute to a carelessness that I haven't seen in a feminist since Germaine Greer, almost 40 years earlier.  Marcotte shares with Greer a blindness to the full history of feminism.  (In Marcotte's case, "riot-grrrl" days are quaint, and the '70s are ancient, while no feminism existed before, say, 1965.)  Also like Greer, Marcotte (whatever mentions of lesbians and women of color she makes) is writing for women like her: white, young, straight, and a bit shallow.  Yes, anal bleaching, purity balls, and Girls Gone Wild manage to be both ridiculous and disgusting, but are they the biggest issues facing modern women?  Marcotte puts them almost on a level with reproductive rights and equal pay.

Still, I laughed at the book a few times.  Like Michael Moore, it's hard to tell how serious she is in some of her suggestions, so, as with Moore, I see this more as "funny politics" than humor per se.  I can't recommend it, but if you come across it, you might enjoy it if you just focus on the text and set your standards low.

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