December 19, 2017 (Monday)

by Yule Heibel on December 18, 2017

Monday, cold cold morning, commuters racing along the route below me, 7:20a.m., cloudy and thickly overcast skies, perhaps a hint of sunlight far, far beyond, there in those patches where cover has thinned a bit. Restless sleep.

Yesterday, rain pretty much all day (much colder today), W. and I drove to Cambridge to hear Anne Bernays at the Harvard Humanist Hub. Very interesting talk, if somewhat general and broadly historical (autobiographical in parts; she is 86 years old). Bernays was preceded by three speakers / performers: a singer-guitarist-songwriter named only Danielle (iirc) who sang a depressing protest song about Trump’s election, which she compared – simultaneously for shock effect and also somehow in a very trite manner – to being raped. After Danielle sang about being raped, a poet named Erica Anzalone read a powerful poem, Sojourner, about an abortion she’d had at 21, nineteen years ago. I actually could feel tears in my eyes, it resonated that much. Then a young woman named Jenny spoke about women in public life / the public eye, and finally Anne Bernays.

Bernays discussed the norms and mores surrounding her as she came of age, married, had a family, pursued a career, and some of the milestones awakening feminism generally. I should add that she was raised as a feminist, by a feminist (her mother), who nonetheless taught her that in marriage the husband must be / is always right. She talked about interviewing professional women she was writing articles about as they were ironing their husbands’ boxershorts. She bemoaned the return to girliness in voice, a phenomenon she observes too often, almost everywhere. Also vocal fry. Speak clearly, firmly, and authoritatively, she suggested. Not with appended question marks.

I suppose women who speak with question marks are hankering for the speculative – although in utterly the wrong way – and disdain or fear the definitive, the defining, which the authoritative voice suggests. We’ve all been taught – we’re steeped in a culture – that questions boundaries and definitions, that seems to believe in porous relativism. The “upspeak” and “vocal fry” is a kind of karate chop to the back of authoritativeness’s neck. This is how modish philosophy and theory (“death of the author,” e.g.) gets into general culture. After the talk, W. and I left immediately. I didn’t get the sense of being sympatico with the group. Behind us sat a man and a woman who spewed the worst gender nonsense.

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