Tag Archives: women

Book Review: Lasting Treasures by Julie Ellis

This piece contains lots of spoilers.

I wanted to love this book, I really did. I have enjoyed the couple of Julie Ellis novels I’ve read, but this one just tipped the charming/not happening scale a bit far. It has a really strong heroine in Vicky, who escapes the Russian pogroms to build a new life in America, trying to negotiate a difficult family situation and life as a prominent businesswoman. But there are lots of issues in this book that really grated, for example, every time a black servant is given an order, Ellis always points out how they were delighted to do it.

I’d just like to focus on the disability issues for now, though. There are many, not least with the disability-as-punishment trope cropping up at the end when the antagonist of the piece, Vicky’s son, has a stroke and is paralysed. He’s then housed in the cottage in which his mentally ill father shot himself. The very same cottage in which he kept Vicky while pretending she had a mental illness because he didn’t like the direction in which his mother was taking the company. Yep, it’s a bit of an intense novel.

But what I really want to talk about is the characterisation of Anita Roberts. Anita is married to Mark, a man Vicky falls in love with. So, naturally, she has to be a deceptive, evil shrew because that is the way “the other woman” gets sympathy in romance fiction. Except, she’s a wheelchair user, so it gets a lot more… interesting.

At first, Anita is set up as a martyr, the victim of a tragic accident who is doted on by her charming husband. They are a ‘special couple,’ Vicky is given to understand, and Anita is the darling of their social circle. As it turns out, she’s shrewd and conniving. She uses the excuse of the accident to deny her husband sex, even though the doctors said that they could have an ‘almost normal sex life’! It turns out that Anita never really wanted sex before the accident either, and now her horrible cruelty of not wanting sex has been unleashed! How terrible! It couldn’t possibly be the case that Anita doesn’t owe Marc sex, and she has become confident enough in herself to not engage with a sexual life she doesn’t really want. No, indeed. It is all about Marc’s pain and setting up his affair with Vicky. Anita’s not wanting sex gets to be the strange part, gets to be part of her evil scheme against poor Marc.

So, we’ve got the good crip who turns out to be hiding a deeply bitter and nasty nature. That’s old hat. But it was quite something to see that set up with a gendered aspect, too. Anita’s out to disparage Marc’s achievements and interests constantly, and she forces him to do ‘whatever she asks’ because otherwise he’s a terrible husband to his tragically beautiful and “damaged” wife. I suggest we identify a new trope, the Bad Shrewish Crip. The perfect mix of misogyny and ableism, out now at a bookstore near you.

But I really start to grit my teeth when we bring Anita’s Jewishness into it, because she perfectly fits the JAP stereotype. The Jewish American Princess is held to be a nagging, high maintenance woman with expensive taste and no sense of how irritating she is. And Anita is a JAP all over: she pokes fun at Vicky for having been a maid, loves designer clothing, and ends up forcing her husband to move to London as it is the only ‘civilised’ city on Earth. She’s simply set up as the most horrible conglomeration of disability, gender and racial/ethnic/cultural/religion stereotyping I have encountered in quite some time. The Bad Shrewish Jewish Crip, maybe?

So, in short: wanted to like it, feel kind of bad saying this because I like the author, but for goodness’ sake, this was one of the more frustrating reads of my year, and that is really saying something.

Recommended Reading for Friday, 30 April 2010

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Three dancers, dressed in teal and purple, lined up in a row in performance. The front dancer is kneeling, the middle dancer is seated in a wheelchair, and the rear dancer is standing.

From front, Kong Veasna, Kim Sathia and Mao Tipmony performing at the Spotlight festival in Phnom Penh. (Vandy Rattana/Epic Arts Cambodia) (Creative Commons License, Cambodia Trust)

Reminder: Tomorrow is Blogging Against Disablism Day! You can check in at Diary of a Goldfish to see all the submissions (and submit your own work if you are participating). Many, many thanks to The Goldfish for all of the organising work which goes into this.

Mia Mingus at Leaving Evidence: Interdependency (via curate)

Being physically disabled and having mobility needs that are considered “special,” means that I often need people to help me carry things, push my wheelchair, park my car, or lend me an arm to lean on when I walk.   It means that much of my accessibility depends on the person I’m with and the relationship I have with them. Because most accessibility is done through relationships, many disabled people must learn the keen art of maintaining a relationship in order to maintain their level of accessibility.  It is an exhausting task and something that we have had to master and execute seamlessly, in many of the same ways we have all had to master how to navigate and survive white supremacy, heterosexism, our families, economic exploitation, violence and trauma.

Wheelchair Dancer: Arizona’s Immigration Laws

Two questions: what kinds of offenses make people removable? (Note: even the very word choice — removable — makes it sound like you are taking out the trash.) Turns out that besides the biggies, like you know, murder, the case for removability can be built from smaller things such as traffic offenses. Without a warrant? Perhaps that’s one thing if you see a person on the street robbing a bank, but I can see it being used as an excuse to enter homes, to conduct raids, to begin to hunt people down. I can see it being used as a way of legalizing the immigration equivalent of witch hunts.

Tanya M. Luhrmann at the American Journal of Psychiatry: The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease (book review, warning, some problematic word use)

Perhaps the explanation is that it is so morally distressing to confront the costs of human social life. This, after all, was the story of the 1965 Moynihan report—a report that documented the real challenges of African American life in the inner city and was roundly criticized as racist and dismissed. Racial prejudice, after all, is something that readers of a book like this can act on or at least believe they can alter. Deep social inequality that leaves its marks on the body and mind is far more difficult to uproot. There is little doubt, however, that those marks are real.

Kavita Ramdas at TED Talks: Radical women, embracing tradition (video and transcript)

Why is it that women are, on the one hand, viciously oppressed by cultural practices, and yet, at the same time, are the preservers of culture in most societies? Is the hijab or the headscarf a symbol of submission or resistance? When so many women and girls are beaten, raped, maimed, on a daily basis, in the name of all kinds of causes, honor, religion, nationality, what allows women to replant trees, to rebuild societies, to lead radical, non-violent movements for social change?

Denise Grady at the New York Times: Second Opinion: In Reporting Symptoms, Don’t Patients Know Best?

“There is a sensibility among some old-school clinicians that they have a better sense of their patients’ experience than patients do themselves,” Dr. Basch said. “But doctors and nurses bring their own biases to the evaluation. They might say, ‘Mrs. Smith always exaggerates her fatigue — she says 9, but I rate it a 6.’ ”

Kaitlyn at Oh Money Trumpets: Medication for Bipolar Disorder and TV Shows

But with my mood swings, the “alien” idea made more sense. A better metaphor is a switch. A switch is flicked, I get so pissed off. Switched again, I don’t want to do anything. Switched again, back to baseline. No control. Which got a bit annoying, because I’d be mad at somebody. They’d get mad at me for being mad at them for no reason. Then I’d get mad at them for being mad at me when I had no control over the original anger!