“Instead of (and only rarely in addition to) activism, our generation has blog posts.
Sharing our stories and experiences has never been easier, but too often these take the form of what Willis called “documentary confessions” – describing or confessing a problem without explicitly calling for change.”—
On her tumblr Ruth dedicated this to “all the not-nice girls, the train wrecks, and the revolutionaries out there, the tampon-throwers, the shit-kickers, and all the girls who got the swag pumping out their ovaries.”
I was talking about exactly this with a bookseller recently. I don’t shop at Word because ordering from Amazon makes me feel guilty, I shop there because the people who work there have a better idea of whether I’ll like something than an algorithm ever could.
“When Willis writes about a “unified erotic impulse”—a convergence of lust, tenderness, and empathy—it feels revelatory. Of course people want to experience some of the happiest moments of their lives in the arms of partners they care about. The idea of having context-free, emotionless sex to quell a biological urge makes it seem oddly medicinal and perfunctory, the genital equivalent of eating an uncooked potato because you’re that hungry.”—
“I hardly need to describe the joy of reading a jeremiad that doesn’t quite play fair. It’s a sickly joy, but a joy still. Writing one is even more fun: The intoxicating pleasure of knowing that you’re fighting for a just cause makes it easy to ignore collateral damage—the nasty, below-the-belt insult that’s just too clever to cut, the opportunity to pick open an old wound. Willis, too, must have been tempted; after all, she was often right. But as far as I can tell Willis never availed herself of any of what must have been thousands of opportunities to fight dirty. She took the time to acknowledge and understand her opponents—which only makes it more fun to watch as she destroys them, with clinical precision and effortless grace. To find this trait in a cultural critic is rare enough; to find it alongside humor and deep intelligence is, in my reading experience, unprecedented.”—
“My friend who complained that no one had gone negative on No More Nice Girls also wrote me another email: “I gotta say, I don’t really get feminism. Isn’t all of life a struggle of all against all whether you’re a bro or a chick? The whole world is trying to destroy all of us all the time.” He was kidding—kind of—but his “joke” betrays a deeper lie that people like him and people like me let ourselves believe all the time: the lie that 99% of the work of feminism is done, that equal rights and pay and reproductive freedoms have been achieved for every woman everywhere, and so we can sort of rest and chill out and, if we’re so inclined, nitpick about semantics and embroider “fuck the patriarchy” on samplers to sell on Etsy. Reading Ellen Willis is a reminder that we still have such big fish to fry that it might not be worth wasting our time on what, from her vantage point, might have seemed like minnows.”—
“What if we really started taking this seriously—for everyone? Do I hear music?”
These are the last lines of No More Nice Girls, which is not so much a book as an event, a rock tossed in the stream of daily existence that alters its current forever. (Hence the impulse among readers to frame their responses as autobiographies: do religious converts review their revelations?)”—
“Feminism can seem like a terrifying totality, forcing its adherents to see everything through a single warping lens; Willis’ feminism is just the opposite, attempting always to reassert the right of women to live in their bodies however they damn well please. It might mean lesbian separatism or long periods of solitude or, as in her own life, an early marriage and divorce, a long period of solitude, and eventually living with a man and having a child. The point isn’t that you choose as a woman; the point is that a woman is given the full human spectrum of choice. In Willis’ vision, a woman isn’t scared to acknowledge herself, her body, her priorities and desires, and she doesn’t fear being punished for doing so. Her femininity, whatever that means, is an aspect that describes but does not define her.”—
“So long as mothers must depend on the “voluntary commitment” of men who can withdraw it without negotiation at any time, we’re in trouble no matter what we do. After all, there have always been men who abandoned their families. Maybe they used to feel guiltier—noblesse oblige is one of the first things to go when the serfs start getting ungrateful—but as I see it, male guilt and a token will put me on the subway.”—
“The concept of emotional or spiritual survival has an honorable history, but it does invite self-indulgence. In my own case, the worst I ever survived was severe personal and political confusion, the temptation to various sorts of craziness and a couple of bad acid trips. It felt pretty horrendous at the time, and some of it was even dangerous, but Auschwitz it wasn’t.”—
“I mean, what would Ellen Willis have made of prom proposals? The royal wedding (both the British one and Kim Kardashian’s)? The actual legalization of gay marriage? The Sarah Jessica Parker oeuvre? Vera Wang’s career? The Bridezilla series? Cupcakes?”—Emily Books: Re: The Last Unmarried Person In America by Marisa Meltzer. It’s seriously tragic that we can’t know.
“These incidents, along with the casual way Willis writes about them, effortlessly convey what institutionalized sexism was and is like: how it has the potential to poison even the most innocent and well-intentioned encounters. It was unsettling to recognize, in “Escape From New York,” the same vague feeling of guilt and powerlessness that pervades, it seems, every single one of my own interactions with strange men (that is to say, men who are strangers). Perhaps more disconcerting was the realization that an alarming number of my interactions with men I do know leave me with a related sense of guilt: at having been too needy; at having proved inadequate.”—
“The anti-choice movement has the fetus posters, the toddlers in the “My Mommy Chose Life” shirts, the Tim Tebows. On the left, we have anonymous girls who didn’t drop out of high school, who finished college, who were able to afford to feed their existing kids because they didn’t have to carry an unwanted, unplanned pregnancy to term. Each generation of young people, of young women, are further removed, historically and emotionally, from what Patricia Miller dubbed “The Worst of Times,” the pre-Roe calamities of perforated uteri and shame and infection and college roommates who didn’t make it (including Mitt Romney’s own cousin, dead at 21). Ellen Willis, for her part, refers to this time period, which was quite real in her memory, as “forced marriages, illegal abortions, virginity fetishism, sexual guilt and panic and disgrace.”—
“This company spent thousands of dollars flying Shannon and I to LA, to meet with their team and they can’t even remember what we discussed. Nor do they care to. They want me to write something happy go-lucky about how positive our meeting was for women everywhere, and then they want to sign off on it, you know, in case I forget anything.
Well, news fucking flash: that’s not what I’m doing. I said that I would write about what I saw no matter what it was, and the three sentences of that email tell more truth about what went on in this bizarro adventure than anything I saw in that factory or those offices.
I had a couple of websites offer to run this blog, or run the email, but I figured I’d do it here, on my own. I wanted to be able to write what I felt and exactly how I felt it, and let the repercussions of that fall squarely on my shoulders, just in case there are any.
If there’s anything else I could possibly have to say (for I’ve certainly said a lot), it’s that I started this journey on what was a big (ha) joke about perception. The way we see other people defines them for us, more than any other form you can know or interact with a person.
My perception about this company was basically “they know not what they do.” Then I met a lot of them, and it changed to, “they know not what they do, but boy are they trying to fix that.” Now, it’s somewhere along the lines of “how can you possibly not understand what you do?” I hope they figure it out.”—
“The cheap pseudo-redemption of catharsis” is an occupational hazard for anyone with an Internet connection and the inclination to prove themselves to strangers. When you spend a lot of time online, it can begin to feel like everything you consume is produced by someone almost just like you, and in turn, that everything you produce is consumed by people who might as well be your friends. And when this is the case—or even if when just feels that way—there’s little incentive to explain yourself. It’s all too easy to work under the assumption that we all already “get” each other—all too tempting to expect outsized empathy from others. They know I don’t really mean that. They know that I know I should be ashamed, so it’s fine. But there’s merit in presuming that maybe, just maybe, your opinions don’t speak for themselves—that maybe, just maybe, you should work a little bit at defending them.”—