Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Feminists (Barbara Ehrenreich and Ursula Le Guin) Risk Redirecting the Thrust: in "The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction" and "Stamping Out a Dread Scourge"

Okay, this professor told us we did not need to cite the source (since all of the essays were from the same book and we were all writing papers about the same essays), but now I wish I had. Maybe I will update this sometime soon.

Jessica Mason McFadden
ENG 380 Dr. Balderson - WIU
October 27th 2005

Feminists Risk Redirecting the Thrust

Testosterone, an abundant earthly chemical, fills human bodies with energy and covers them with hair. Like all potent substances, testosterone has the potential to be poisonous; therefore, humans must make responsible choices about how to use their testosterone. Environmental and temperamental factors determine an individual’s relationship with their testosterone. Some humans live peacefully with testosterone, while others act out violently. Too often the media portray the negative behaviors of humans who loose control, rather than show the positive behaviors of humans who manage their impulses without violence.

Modern day prophets—feminist writers—do exist, and they are busy not only analyzing testosterone-related behaviors, but managing them as well. Feminists have found a way to redirect their hormonal energies through their writing; therefore feminist writing is both an outlet and a carrier for testosterone. Testosterone is often the subject of feminist discourse, discourse that challenges oppressive practices with carefully constructed theories, stories, and creative words rather than steroid-pumped muscles and blood-thirsty artillery. Testosterone fuels the feminist fire, as feminism’s nemesis and inspiration. Humans need feminist writing because it moves from brain to paper to reader without stabbing, thrusting, gripping, nudging, or tapping those who cross its path. Feminist writers need testosterone: testosterone provides them with something to write about and with the energy to write. Draining humans of testosterone is not an option, so humans must channel it toward positive ends.

Feminist writers possess a sacred power over testosterone, and they are using it to create good in the world. Barbara Ehrenreich and Ursula Le Guin’s feminist writings are incredible examples of what—in the future—might be called “Testosterone-Redirection Therapy.” Both writers are passionate about their subjects and angry over the ways of the world. Both are highly inspired and driven, and they are driven by testosterone. Not only do they use their brain muscles to produce crisp, poignant sentences; they also use them to produce and connect brilliantly innovative and clever ideas. Their ideas and stylistic devices are fueled by experiences with injustice and inner energy (soul) that erupts into each sentence of their feminist essays. Testosterone is the substance that makes this possible.

Though readers cannot monitor the process by which feminist writing is born into the world, they can study, enjoy, and emulate the rhetorical strategies that comprise the writing. In “Stamping Out a Dread Scourge,” Barbara Ehrenreich employs a satirical style to convey ideas. First, an idea shocks the reader (it’s outrageous, simply outrageous) and then an idea shocks the reader even more (it’s true, I’ll be damned, it’s true). While her ideas are controversial, readers cannot discount them because they are accompanied by facts: real issues, real statements, real statistics. As she reveals in a quote, the ASPRS (American Society for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery) really did try to convince the FDA that small breasts are deformities and should be considered a disease. The fact itself is disturbing, but that alone is not enough. It won’t make people squirm and write letters to the FDA. People need more motivation in order for them to think about the enormity and potential outcomes of such harmful ideas, so she gives the facts and plenty more to her readers. Ehrenreich didn’t equate small breasts with deformities for a creative essay, she found out about the suggestion and her outrage produced an essay.

Ehrenreich took the ASPRS’ statement a step further, expanding the initial idea into an orderly argument. If the ASPRS really believed in their claim and wanted to defend it, they should have made a better argument. Ehrenreich proves that the ASPRS couldn’t logically defend their position by trying to make it for them. For every epidemic that she compared the disease of small breastedness to, she exaggerates the idea by describing aspects of each epidemic. What was at first compared to the flu is later compared to an epidemic. What was at first a medical procedure later becomes a mass movement. Ehrenreich’s comparisons grow more and more outrageous before she stops the tirade and returns to a critical (sane) voice. She describes the condition, “micromastia,” with words that have dramatic associations, such as “tragedy,” “insidious,” and “plague” (154). Dramatic vocabulary is only one of the ways that Ehrenreich creates a blossomed satire from a satirical statement made by the ASPRS. She also assumes a familiarly authoritative voice, a voice much like that of a condescending doctor. She informs the reader that “in the last thirty years, 1.6 million victims have been identified, diagnosed, and cured,” and ends the statement with a little wisdom, “Who says our health system doesn’t work?” (154). The tone of Ehrenreich’s essay is haunting because she blatantly claims that humans do succumb to lunacy—acting on selfish, dishonest, dangerous thoughts. So, it is humorous because it is sarcastic, but it is also scary because it is based on the belief that small breasts are deformities.

When Ehrenreich writes, “The doctors know there are not only obvious forms of micromastia, discernable to the man on the street, but insidious, hidden forms—very well hidden indeed” (154), she conveys multiple messages. Two voices are at work: a cynical Ehrenreich who plays the part of a campaigner for plastic surgery, and a cynical Ehrenreich who is herself and reminds the reader every so often not to fear, that she is still there. Ehrenreich’s sentences vary in style and length. Her comment is graceful because the free modifier prevents the ideas from sprawling. A dash sets the end of the sentence apart, indicating that something is different in the sentence. In this case, the narrator’s tone has changed. Because it is set apart, “very well hidden indeed” implies that the narrator wants the reader to know that she is not buying into her own argument. The comment is also humorous because it exaggerates the ridiculousness of the argument and plays on the image of small (hidden) breasts. Ehrenreich’s essay combines sharp writing skills, a feminist perspective, and a bit of testosterone for fuel.

Although Ursula Le Guin labels her essay “theory,” “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,” like Ehrenreich’s “Stamping Out a Dread Scourge,” is imaginative feminist writing supported by feminist ideologies and theories. Both essays are successful, but each has a distinct style. Le Guin’s sentences are more complex, and certainly more difficult to read aloud than Ehrenreich’s sentences, because they are long and unusually shaped. Her voice is restless, always projecting more images, more ideas. She sneaks words into sentences in unexpected places, for example:

You put as many as you can into your stomach while they are handy, they being the primary container; but what about tomorrow morning when you wake up and it’s cold and raining and wouldn’t it be good to have just a few handfuls of oats to chew on and give little Oom to make her shut up, but how do you get more than one stomachful and one handful home?

Parts of the passage are not parallel; instead, they are distinct, playful, and exciting. Within a sentence, she begins new ideas with new arrangements of words (“they are,” “they being,” “but what,” “it’s cold and raining and wouldn’t it,” “and give,” “but how”). The words don’t always match up, but they form a coherent unit. If Le Guin had broken her sentence into smaller parts, it would have slowed the flow of ideas.

Le Guin doesn’t announce what is coming next with metadiscourse, she simply continues the story. Even though she separates “A leaf a gourd a shell a nut a bag a sling a sack a bottle a pot a box a container. A holder. A recipient” (408) from the preceding sentence, a pause is barely felt. The sentences are run-ons and punctuation is applied sparingly. The lack of punctuation between the items quickens the pace and suggests that the items are truly one universal container. Le Guin changes the pace depending on the subject and the role of her narrative voice. She eases into a topic (or story) and the pace quickens and then she returns to conclusions and new thoughts at a slower pace. When Le Guin explores an idea, the essay flows continuously, hardly allowing the reader to catch a breath. Words seem to push the readers’ eyes across the page, as they push up against the subsequent words. Each sentence flows into the next, bumping it forward into another and then into another. Le Guin’s continuous sentences are exhausting, but she doesn’t loose her readers’ attentions because the story is worth listening to. Why pause for air and loose momentum when the story is so engaging and there are so many stories to tell?

Le Guin’s feminist drive is obvious in her sentences, and ideas (stories about stories). As she sarcastically claims that stories need violent action and heroes, she provides a thoroughly engaging, even mesmerizing, story without heroes or violent actions. Barbara Ehrenreich and Ursula Le Guin confront their readers with relevant issues by confronting them with shocking ideas. A bold, outrageous, brutally honest idea alone isn’t enough; it needs to be written down clearly, uniquely, purposefully. A feminist clenches her fists just as much as any member of the species, but she also knows to open them up, lay her fingers on the keys, and make music with ideas and words. Feminist writers utilize their testosterone for good, and they work against those who abuse their testosterone and perform violent acts. The most successful feminist writers are masters of their words because they are wise: they know their powers; they know that by channeling their ideas into sentences they can produce writing that is constructive and pleasurable.

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