Monday, August 29, 2011

"Look Both Ways" by Jennifer Baumgardner

You may recognize Jennifer Baumgardner, the co-author of "Manifesta." "Manifesta" was great, a basic and in-depth feminist, well, manifesta for young women of the early 00's. I highly recommend it as a primer.

And then "Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics" by Jennifer Baumgardner caught my eye at the library.

I've noticed that the vast majority of nonfiction I read can be divided into two categories: purely objective information and subjective semi-autobiography. Sadly, these two writing styles can be divided between the sexes. Women authors almost always include personal anecdotes and opinions in their nonfiction, while men are more likely to just write the evidence and analysis. "Look Both Ways" really takes the cake - Baumgardner appears to have interviewed only women akin to her class, background, profession, gender expression and urban location. Their stories intermingle with her own - this is not hard journalism, this is a blog. Which is fine! But don't write a 227 page blog of one's opinions and pass it off as "women's studies"!

And then there are all the issues in the book itself. At first, I schlepped through this book to find a few gems of actual information; about halfway through, it became a page-turning hurricane of shock. Many of the "drawbacks" of bisexuality she describes can be remedied by having a spine. A brain wouldn't hurt either.

On page 32, Baumgardner explains her relationship with a man, Steven, and cheating on him with a woman, Amy. She states in very clear terms that her relationship with Steven was just what she always wanted because of her relationship with Amy. By stretching her relationship wants and needs across two people, she was better able to appreciate them both. So what does she do? Dumps Steven! And here I'm stomping on the book, screaming "try polyamory, stupid! POLYAMORY!" Alas, the option of non-monogamy isn't mentioned at all in the entire book.

Page 141: "Women are entering into relationships with men with gay expectations, but they don't know how to actualize those expectations or, sometimes, even acknowledge them. It's part of the paradox of feminism, of feminism's unfinished revolution: women expect equality from their relationships, but not from men." If a woman is in a relationship with a man and she doesn't communicate her expectations she bears the responsibility of her disappointment. And expecting equality in relationships but not from men? Is Baumgardner writing about thinking adults here? She seems to have a pretty low opinion on men in general, but this makes women look contradictory and weak as well.

Page 143, Baumgardner writes about the appeal of a bisexual/lesbian girlfriend to men. The first reason for this, apparently, queer (a term mentioned once in the book) women lack the neediness of straight women. The author herself proved that false: she was very needy in her relationships. The second reason is that a man, who's CLEARLY commitment-phobic, knows that he won't have to commit to a queer woman. This is just insulting to everyone. And the final reason is that queer women tend to be more independent - actually, I really have no argument here. You've read my blog, this isn't news.

Those are all the specific snippets I have lined up. Overall, "Look Both Ways" is insulting. It insults men by calling them inherently misogynistic, emotionally dense, commitment-phobic and insecure. It insults women by calling them needily dependent, always looking for "The One", childlike, and stupid enough to date one of those Neanderthal men while expecting something more syrupy. To be sure, PLENTY of people who fulfill these stereotypes exist - these Breeders (not a sexuality-specific term) are the bane of my existence. Beaumgardner's worldview is so small that these may very well be the only gender roles she knows. How a 40something, bisexual, feminist journalist in NYC could emulate Carrie Bradshaw so well is beyond me.

And it's additionally insulting to pick up a book bearing the subtitle "Bisexual Politics" and to discover "My Repeated Bisexual Mistakes." The one real drawback to bisexuality mentioned in this book is that one's sexuality is perceived as reliant on one's partner. "Oh you're straight now" when dating a man, "oh you're a lesbian now" when dating a woman. So many people don't see bisexuality as a real sexual orientation because their own minds change it based on changing partners. Baumgardner explains this problem...and then implies that the bisexual person feels some kind of guilt?!?!? Guilt for other people's inability to conceptualize fluidity?!? Guilt for not living up to some bisexual role, which apparently doesn't exist because Baumgardner isn't aware of polyamory?!?

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