Reading Habits and the Political

Somewhere around 1970, the phrase “the personal is political” started making the rounds. Carol Hanisch coined the phrase in a paper, but that doesn’t matter here. It’s bloomed out from that.

I say that because I just read this post by Roxane Gay at HTMLGIANT about writing as a woman, and how that’s political. It treads familiar ground, or at least familiar ground to me–writing as a woman tells women’s stories, which break down the masculine metanarrative. She makes some fantastic points, and claims that more women’s stories might serve as a way to check against male-centered policies like the redefinition of rape that almost occurred recently.

But I’m not sure what it means to write women’s stories. It’s not about repopulating the same kinds of stories with women–we don’t need simple gender replacement. There need to be more narratives that are about things that are wholly women’s, and more than that, decentering what it means to do things that are womanly.

Mary Sativa’s Acid Temple Ball does that work, I think. It’s a story about a woman who defies most gender boundaries while also being wholly female — she’s not a woman acting as a man, but a synthetic individual who performs portions of multiple genders. Experimental literature written by women is pretty goddamn boss, too, like Meg Pokrass’ “The Serious Writer and Her Pussy.”

So sure, women that privileges uniquely women’s narratives is good, but my criticism is that these people, the men writing these bills that are completely fucked in the head, don’t read. They watch t.v. They watch Dancing With the Stars. They do not care about reading or watching anything that that puts them out of their comfort zone.

I mean, look at the New York Times bestseller list for this week. Let’s do a quick rundown of things that people like to read about (I’m going from #1 down, in case you want to follow along): murder, child abduction, snipers, murder, the Depression, death, witches, rape, horrifying crimes, chaos, murder, and on and on and on.

The American zeitgeist is not concerned with explanations and the way people work. It is not concerned with complex ideas. It enjoys black-and-white, murder and innocence, and easier times than the ones we currently enjoy. It means that, whatever interesting things bloggers or writers or what have you bring up, most politicians are fucking idiots. They like to read Tom Clancy.

Which brings us to comics. I don’t want to belabor the point, because I say this a lot, but comics have an educational capacity that other bits of literature don’t. People who don’t read books will read comics.

So is there where the personal stories of women can be political? Can comics eventually break into these narratives, destabilize them, decenter men? Probably not. While Carbon Grey isn’t a Wonder Woman comic, it is something that people are going to read, and the gratuitous tits and ass of the comic are just a micro of the macro of the state of popular literature.

The long and short of it is that people won’t change until we change the way that people read, and people aren’t likely to do that. But it is always worth trying.

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