I like to write about feminism, criticism, narrative, the long cultural history of gender and race, and popular culture (usually tv), ideally all at once. I’m very interested in critical hair studies and want to read anything you have written on this important topic.
An archive of my writing at the Los Angeles Review of Books can be found here.
My writing with Sarah Blackwood at Avidly can be found here.
Some samples are below.
Avidly: Mare’s Hair
“In Mare of Easttown, police try to rescue white women from sexual harm; the show narrates the fantasy, entertained by many, that protecting white women is what the police do (whether it indulges or interrogates that fantasy is precisely the question). So to think about Mare of Easttown means to think about how Mare, a police detective, relates to her own white womanhood, of which blond hair is one of mass culture’s most powerful symbols. I called this essay Mare’s Hair but when a friend suggested I call it “Discipline and Pony Tail,” I felt very seen, and also right.”
LARB: Dickinson’s Hair
“What I’m saying is that Dickinson highlights how Emily Dickinson’s decisions about her freedom and its style take place in a context in which women are working, all the time. Specifically, women of color, are working to create the signs of femininity — the beautiful dresses, the meals — against which white women then wonder if they should rebel.”
“But this comfortable version of feminism implies that what the virtuous woman has needed all along is the opportunity to express herself, to have access to political, professional, and economic (all three are often framed as consumer) opportunities. And this version of the story has been built — not coincidentally, but purposefully — to conceal the truth that They Were Her Property looks squarely in the face: that consumer choice and economic power are specifically the tools that white women have long used to procure their political agency at women of color’s expense.”
LARB: A Television of Her Own
“‘Taste is just another name for internalized misogyny,’ a friend and I wrote a few years ago, and Woolf, within her raced limitations, describes the material condition, for how that came to be. In the economy of cultural capital, where critics, artists, and institutions pass the reputation for seriousness back and forth between each other like a line of credit, woman’s lives rarely had the backing to merit anyone’s investment. In the circular logic by which a piece of art becomes serious because a serious critic attends to it, and a critic becomes serious by tending to serious art, the institutions that exist to back the currency always already are predisposed to both privilege and conceal their privileging of the men who founded those institutions.'”
With Sarah Blackwood
“From pettiness to rape threats, obviously the underlying concern of this essay has been how gendered experience shapes criticism. Despite the fact that scholarship has worked for decades to describe how gender enters into criticism, it remains an unresolved question, and we would posit that this may be because the form of criticism itself disallows admission of the emotional experience in which gender most forcefully resides. Claiming that gender is an emotional experience is not at all to deny that is also an embodied, interpretive, and economic one—instead it is to say that all these conditions combine to generate an emotional state, and that often the state of those who fall under the sign “woman,” and who seek to speak about that experience, is one primarily of irritation: not quite a wound, but a rawness. (Perhaps that’s why so many of us spend so much money on salves.)”
“And yet, here I am, sighing deeply and furrowing my brow. I do not want to be the one who has to be nattering on about this episode’s bad gender politics. Because really, it is not on me, it is not on feminism, it is not on feminist criticism, that this show made such bad decisions about gender: it’s not my fault that it put all the fun and pleasure into the plotline about public male heroics and put all the anxiety and frustration into the plotline about private female negotiation. That is fucked up and it puts all of us — critics and viewers too — in the bullshit position of either just sort of going with it for the sake of narrative pleasure or calling the show out on it and then being the feminist killjoys who spoil everyone’s good dragon time. What kind of fucked up choice is that?… It makes feminist criticism feel boring and unpleasant, when it is not: in fact, it’s just masculinist television that is boring and unpleasant.”
“Have you read them all?” a friend recently asked. Yes. The eight Anne of Green Gables books; the three Emily books; Pat, The Story Girl, The Blue Castle. I have read them in trees and in airports and in my mother’s lap and in every bedroom I’ve called mine. My whole life, I have read L.M. Montgomery’s novels like scripture before sleep, opening to random pages to see what familiar phrases of comfort leap out at me. “Scope for imagination.” “Bosom friend.” I feel about Anne of Green Gables like Huck felt about rafts or Proust felt about madeleines or like Virginia Woolf felt about closing her bedroom door: escape, pleasure, self worth. Exquisite in both story and sentence, the Anne books built me as a reader, which is to say: they built me.
Ortberg dismantles Male Genius so effectively that she allows her readers to create an imaginative space outside of male seriousness; this is her appeal. In the space she creates, Male Genius is not so much a powerful symbolic order as a self-involved and bumbling habit, one that we might easily leave by the snack table while we get on with the more serious business of living dynamic creative lives.