Monday, May 14, 2018

Elizabeth Renzetti's Shrewed is what a feminist sounds like

Elizabeth Renzetti is one of my favourite Globe and Mail journalists: insightful, witty and thought-provoking. She is a welcome feminist antidote to Margaret Wente's cynical, ill-researched and elitist diatribes in the newspaper.
So, I was very much looking forward to her book of articles and essays, Shrewed, which I finally managed to get from the library. And it did not disappoint. Through her anecdotal story-telling of her own experiences and those of others, she gives a good taste of what it's actually like to be a woman in the modern world. I consider it essential reading both for young women and, perhaps even more importantly, men. I recognized some essays, or parts thereof, from her Globe columns, but many more were new to me.
Snippets out of context are never a good guide to a book's content or its style, but maybe you can get some of the flavour of Ms. Renzetti's oeuvre:
  • "One if my classmates waved his hand frantically, desperate to speak his piece on women's reproductive freedom. Let's call him 'Tool' for the sake of brevity."
  • "A journalist who is also an advocate is considered a tainted version of both."
  • "It is one of the great benefits of age: I no longer get chased, groped, whistled at, or told I'm an ungrateful bitch when I refuse to smile."
  • "To suggest that young women should be fearless, that they should neither contain nor admit to fear, is to place yet another unattainable goal tantalizingly out of their reach."
  • "Don't feel you have to engage in the Olympics of one-upmanship that is the modern wedding."
  • " 'Do you want me to do the patch on your chin?' the aesthetician asks. What am I supposed to say? No, please leave the goatee. I'm auditioning for Bearded Lady at the circus later. I nod, and she rips it away with one quick yank."
  • "My mother shrugs the way Baryshnikov danced ... We are a gothic family; subtlety is not our forte."
  • "Technology proceeds at its own pace, untethered to morality, guided by a profit incentive unshared by most and understood by few."
I particularly enjoyed the final chapter, which is Renzetti's imaginary university commencement speech. It is studded with wise and revolutionary advice to graduating young women, and a brief excerpt will have to suffice here:
"Throw away your scale. Stop weighing yourself. Is there ever a reason to know your precise weight? Are you mailing yourself to China? Are you a bag of cocaine? Enjoy your mass, because one day you will be old and as shrivelled as an apple doll, and you will wonder where the rest of you went ... In meetings, speak first and resist the temptation to preface every statement with 'This may have already been brought up...' When a colleague tries to interrupt, hold up a hand and say "I'll be finished making my point shortly, Bob", and try not to picture what he'd look like with a stapler embedded in his forehead."
Shrewed is a good, quick and easy read. I am a hopelessly slow reader, and it still only took me a couple of days. Many of the essays are more serious and earnest than a lot of her newspaper columns, and perhaps Ms. Renzetti's signature acerbic humour did not punctuate the pieces as often as I expected or as I might have liked. But it still did not really disappoint. As t-shirts and baby's onesies from the 2017 Women's March had it: "This is what a feminist looks like".

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