Hannah Gadsby: Nanette

In keeping with my distressing habit of doing the doggy-paddle several years behind any and all pop culture waves, I present you with my latest discovery: the comedy special Nanette, by Hannah Gadsby. It’s from 2017. You’ll find it on Netflix, because they released it in 2018.

In my own defense, it only just received a Creative Arts Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special last month. That’s how I managed to hear any buzz at all about it. And I’m so grateful that I did. I have this interview on PRI’s Studio 360 to thank for that.

Before this, I’d never heard of the Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby. Having seen Nanette, I feel as though calling her a comedian is a bit too simplistic. And if all you’re looking for is a few easy laughs, you might want to look elsewhere.

No. This show makes you think. It makes you laugh. It makes you squirm. It makes you cry. It makes you see the world differently. It has substance and value. If you see no other show, see this one.

The special starts off funny enough. She’s hilarious, actually. And this humor is her way of introducing herself to you. So you’ll listen. So you’ll take note.

But about half way through, the show takes a rather intense turn. It becomes a confession about who she is and how she feels about herself, and why we all should realize how important that is. And then it turns into an education. It demonstrates exactly what it’s like to be inside her skin.

So I leave you with a few quickly written quotes that I jotted down while watching the show for the second time. Out of context, entirely. You should watch the show. But these things should make you blink, at the very least.

This first one made me cheer, because I relate to it so much.

“All my life I’ve been told, ‘Don’t be so sensitive!’ Why is insensitivity something to strive for?”

“You learn from the part of the story you focus on.”

She states that Pablo Picasso had an affair with a 17 year old girl, and suffered from the mental illness of misogyny. And that misogyny should be considered a mental illness because you hate the thing you desire. She also said that Pablo Picasso said, “Each time I leave a woman I should burn her. Destroy the woman and you destroy the past she represents.”

She then goes on a very fascinating rant about art history, and all the unnecessary nude paintings of women, and said that high art turns women into “flesh vases for your dick flowers.” (Harsh, I know. You have to see the special to really get it. But once you do, you can’t forget it.)

She also says, “If I am the only woman in the room, I’m afraid,” and went on to say if you don’t understand that, you aren’t talking to the women in your life. Amen, sister.

But by far the best quote of all from this show is “There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself.”

What a fantastic show. What a profound show. Watch it, then tell me what you think.

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Censorship?

I am on the horns of a moral dilemma. I believe very strongly in free speech and freedom of the press and freedom of expression. Nothing angers me more than a book burning, or a school board that requires teachers to avoid teaching things that are science-based. I am usually the first to read a book if it gets banned.

Because of all the above, it kind of makes me squirm that, ever since I started my Little Free Library, I have been actively participating in censorship. It’s true. I have. And I will probably continue to do so.

Ugh! I’m going to hell in a handbasket.

The way a Little Free Library works is that people can take books and keep them as long as they want. They can return them, too, or they can bring other books. Most things are welcome. But some things I have to remove.

I look at myself as the curator of my library. Just as museums have curators who determine what exhibits they will display and what image their museums shall project to the world, I, too, am in control of the types of messages I put out there in my library. Being a steward is a service that I’ve voluntarily provided, and it is, after all, located on my private property.

But this censorship thing is kind of a slippery slope, and one that I never thought I’d be sliding down. It all started with the pizza flyers that someone stuffed in my library. I’m not here to advertise for local businesses. Those flyers went into the recycle bin, and I didn’t feel bad about it at all.

I also know I wouldn’t feel bad about pitching any pornography, were it to appear. My little library is often used by children. Can you imagine if little Johnny came home with a Penthouse magazine and Mom found out he got it from my box? No. Not appropriate at all.

I also get rid of books that are in poor condition. If the spines are torn off, for example, they get sent to Goodwill. I don’t want to be the dumping ground for everyone’s garbage books. That, and no one will want to take a disintegrating book to read, so it’s just taking up much-needed space. I also get rid of moldy books and ones that reek of cigarette smoke. I don’t want to trigger someone’s asthma. Again, these are situations that don’t feel morally ambiguous to me.

But here’s where it gets a little sticky. I’ve also donated religious books to Goodwill. I’m all for seeking your own spiritual path, but there are other sources for this information. I don’t want to proselytize, either purposely or by accident. It’s just not in my nature. I also know that the people in my neighborhood participate in a wide variety of religions. I don’t want anyone to feel alienated. Maybe I’d include a book on comparative religion, if it wasn’t promoting one philosophy over another. I don’t know.

I’ve also been avoiding putting blatantly political books out there. Mostly the books I’ve come across have been in alignment with my point of view, but if I put those out there, then I’ll have to put out ones I actively disagree with, and that would make me cringe. So, further down the censorship slope I slide.

Since I started my Little Free Library, I’ve met a lot of LFL stewards online. They’ve shared a multitude of moral dilemmas that have made me realize what a complicated task I’ve taken on.

For example, one steward received a children’s book which said, “For Boys Only” on the cover. I don’t think I would include this book in my library. I don’t want to participate in making girls feel as though there are things they cannot do or read.

Another steward discovered a bunch of anti-vax literature in her library. No. No. A thousand times no. I will not actively participate in spreading false information that could potentially lead to death. I refuse. This information has been debunked by the scientific community, so I’m not spreading it. I could not share literature that denies climate change for the very same reason.

Another steward received a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. In a world that is experiencing a shocking escalation in hate crimes, would I want to put that lunatic’s poorly written, hateful ramblings out there? Hell to the no. While I think this is an important book, for researchers and historians and people wanting to learn about hate without being sucked into it themselves, it requires context. I am unable to provide that context, and so it wouldn’t be included in my library.

I’ve had my library for less than two months, and I’ve already come a long way from simply tossing out pizza advertisements. Rest assured, there are plenty of amazing books in there. I get excited every time I look. Reading enlivens me. It’s an adventure.

But here’s what is making me lose sleep: Where do I draw the line? Who am I to sit in judgment? Do I have the right?

What do you think?

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A Different Perspective on Immigration

Recently, I heard someone read the poem “Home” by Warsan Shire. It moved me to the very marrow of my bones. It made me understand, on a level that I never had before, why people come to this country.

The majority of  Americans have been very lucky and have never experienced the feeling that if you stay home, the place you have always lived, then you will surely die. We have never had things explode all around us. We have never lived under the imminent threat of gang rape or abduction or starvation. Most of us know what it is to feel relatively safe.

This poem gives a voice to refugees. It’s a voice that you have never heard before. It’s insight that all of us need to have. Before you say, “Go back to where you come from,” please read this poem.

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Warsan Shire

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Give Handmaid’s Tale a Try

I just watched season three’s finale of The Handmaid’s tale. I was alternatively weeping for joy or holding my husband’s hand in a vise-like grip due to the suspense. It is, without question, the best television series that I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

Everyone I’ve talked to seems to be on one side of the fence or the other about this series. Either they love it and are every bit as obsessed with it as I am, or they have never seen it and don’t want to because it’s got the reputation of being upsetting.

Yes, it can be upsetting. It’s full of rape and mutilation and adversity and violence. It shows what can happen when ruthless fascists take over and think they know what’s best for our society more than we do. It’s the worst-case scenario regarding the subjugation of women. It is about the heartless suppression of the voice of the people and a blatant disregard for human rights at a time when we’re already seeing way too much of that in real life.

But to focus on the darkness is to miss the entire point. That’s not why I watch The Handmaid’s Tale.

I watch it for the triumphs that are so hard-won amongst all that misery. I watch it to remind myself that no matter how bad things get, there will always be those of us who are willing to fight for what is right and never give up. Even while it exposes the ruthlessness of humanity, it also reaffirms my faith in what is good and straight and honest and true. It is an opportunity to celebrate the strength of women against all odds. It also demonstrates just how messy morality can be.

The acting is phenomenal. And the character development is beyond compare. Everyone is full of complex flaws, and I genuinely feel as though I’ve seen more than one person completely lose their mind on this show. And yet they persist.

I’m not going to lie. I also watch The Handmaid’s Tale to bear witness, and to learn what it might take to survive if this nightmare comes to pass. Because sometimes surviving is the greatest triumph of all.

I challenge you to watch at least the first three episodes of this show. If you’re not hooked by then, at least you won’t have to live with regrets. You will at least have had a taste of perfection. And I assure you that each season so far has been even better than the last.

This show is horrible in its excellence. I can’t wait for season four. Best. Show. EVER.

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We Have Always Had Needs

Recently, I stumbled across an article entitled “12th-Century Poem About A Virgin Arguing With Her Vulva Uncovered in Austrian Monastery”. I ask you, how could one not be intrigued? I had to read more.

It seems that this is the oldest known copy of this satire, but it is not the only one that has been found. In it, a woman is debating with her vulva about what attracts men more, it, or the woman’s general physical appearance. (I don’t think that question has been answered definitively, even all these centuries later.)

What fascinates me most about this poem is that there was obviously a frank discussion about sexuality even back in the 12th Century. We seem to hold two contradicting notions in our head: Ancient peoples were devoid of morals and self-control, whereas we are more sophisticated (read: prudish) now. But at the same time, we look back at past history, at least in the European, Christian sense, and tend to believe that humans have become more open, less conservative, over time. Clearly neither theory tells the whole story.

I also remember reading an article (which I can no longer find) about a wooden dildo that was found hidden up inside a fireplace niche in Colonial Williamsburg. Well, the “hidden” aspect of it implies there was a source of shame there, but its existence confirms that people have always had needs, and were willing to get creative to fulfill them.

If you look at art through the centuries, you’ll see that there has always been a fascination with genitalia. Most historians nervously attribute these things to fertility, the need to procreate, and take the sexuality out of it.

Hmph.

According to this article, sex toys have been found that date back 28,000 years. So who’s to say that fertility statues weren’t also used for pleasure and visual titillation? I mean, come on. Most of us appreciate a little stimulation now and again. Do we really think pornography originated in the 1900’s? Do we think the more artistic depictions of all things taboo began with Georgia O’Keefe?

We also seem to want to quash the fact that once upon a time, women were considered powerful by more than just those of us who are woke. (Women can create men inside their own bodies. The reverse cannot ever be claimed. That’s magical.)

This article discusses a variety of artistic depictions of female genitalia, including sculptures of the sacred yoni in Hindu art, Venus figurines that are at least 35,000 years old, and Sheela-na-gig carvings of women with exaggerated vulvas that are found throughout Europe.

Further, Baubo figurines were popular in ancient Greece. They were often depicted as a naked headless body with a female face emerging from the torso, and a vulva on the chin. Hmmm.

In the Palauan archipelago, one could often find Dilukai, or carvings of women with their legs splayed open, above the doors of the houses of the chiefs. These were said to be sacred carvings to ward off evil, and symbolize fertility and spiritual rebirth. But missionaries tried to claim they were there to shame immoral women. (I suspect that what went on in the chief’s house had little to do with lessons in morality.)

It is even said that the Vesica Piscis, an almond-shaped symbol that appears all over the place throughout history, including in the ancient Christian fish symbol, is actually a depiction of the female vaginal source of creation.

Personally, I see no reason to cast shame upon those who believe in the sacred female, nor should we feel shame about the body parts that have allowed all of us to walk upon this earth, nor in the urges that have caused us to make use of said body parts. More power to us all.

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A 12th-century Sheela Na Gig on a Church in Kilpeck, Herefordshire, England

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A Bitter Pill Indeed

I just came across a group that I didn’t even know existed up to this point: The Red Pill Movement. And the more I learned, the more horrified I became. I’m glad it mostly only exists within the confines of Reddit, because if it were a widespread, out there, active thing, it would be the face of the ugliest parts of humanity.

The Red Pill Movement, in essence, is a sexist social club for angry men who feel they’ve been victimized by women and society in general. The consensus seems to be that all women are the same. Apparently we all cheat, we delight in belittling men, we are manipulative, selfish, and cruel to the point of making a sport out of it. We claim to want nice guys who treat us decently, but really we want to be dominated, subjugated, and even (on the more extreme end of the movement) raped.

Huh.

I had no idea that I was supposed to be connected into some waspish man-hating hive mind. I also had no idea that, while hating men, I was also supposed to be longing for them to be even more “manly” toward me. I am also, so the theory goes, so sexually manipulative that I lead men around by the ear lobes, all while truly wanting them to tie me down and transport me back to the 1950’s.

Yeah, that makes sense.

It makes as much sense as believing that all women are inherently awful, and yet spending a great deal of time trying to figure out how to get them to sleep with you, as these Red Pillers do.

The thing that I find most amusing is that these people believe that women can have whomever they want, whereas for men, dating is a struggle, and a smorgasbord of rejection. If we can have whomever we want, why have so many of us suffered through the humiliation of internet dating along with our male counterparts? Why are so many of us lonely, just like our male counterparts?

I’ll tell you why. Life is hard. Love is hard to find. But the only way to find it is to have respect for others as well as respect for yourself. If you are allowing a hate forum like the Red Pill infect your belief system, you’re going to either attract people as damaged as you are, or you’ll be alone. Lead with love for people, not hate.

What truly sickens me is that there’s a subreddit in that group called Red Pill Women, and apparently they talk a lot about being more meek, offering up their vaginas whenever their men want it, and ways to submit to their man’s every desire. It’s the most self-loathing group of women that I’ve ever heard of.

I suspect this group mostly caters to young men who are in that socially awkward stage that all of us suffer through, combined with a mentally unstable group of guys with anger management issues, and the women who love them and don’t think they deserve better treatment. It’s all very sad, really.

Always surround yourself with people who celebrate your abilities and your amazing qualities. Interact with those who want to lift you up and encourage you, not treat you as if you were some mindless scum that shouldn’t think for yourself. And that’s advice not only for the Red Pill Women out there, but the men as well. You’re all being manipulated by the echo chamber of this bitter, misogynistic group. Break free. It can be done.

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The Devil Made Me Do It

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about temptation. I can gaze at my ever-expanding waistline and think about how miserable it makes me, and I can stare at a bag of Tim’s potato chips, feeling helpless, and I know that without a doubt, I’ll be diving head first into that bag of chips sooner or later, waistline be damned. I can resist anything but temptation.

But temptation implies that there’s some outside force acting upon me. It’s sort of a get out of jail free card. It’s not my fault. The devil made me do it. I was tempted by… fill in the blank.

This deferment of responsibility is rooted, I think, in the religious teachings that have been embedded in our culture so deeply that we barely think about them anymore. I passed a church today, and the message on their sign said, “The devil wants us to FALL.”

Many of us are taught that we are weak creatures, prone to sin, and satan is out there, hellbent on making us commit these sins. We must resist. But if we can’t, we should repent and be forgiven.

It’s really rather comforting, having a ready excuse for bad behavior. It’s wonderful to be able to blame everything on some outside source, as if we have no ability to say no. Like we’re puppets on strings. We might be doing the dance, but it’s not our choice.

I have a friend who does not like to watch true crime documentaries, because he doesn’t want those sick ideas put into his head. It’s almost as if he thinks that if he learns the motivations of a serial killer, for example, then he might just become one himself. And, mind you, this is the most decent, stand-up guy I’ve ever met in my life.

Here’s an idea. Just say, “I don’t enjoy true crime documentaries.”

Here’s another idea. Admit that every single food item that I put in my mouth is there because I am choosing to put it there. Every. Single. One.

Here’s yet another idea. Stand up and say, “I chose to start drinking/smoking/doing drugs. Yes, now I’m addicted to this substance, but the process began with a choice I made, and now I can choose to get help and/or change my behavior.”

Granted, you can be tempted by others. But even then, you are choosing to surround yourself with these people. If someone is a bad influence, maybe it’s time to cut that person out of your life, or at the very least, stop participating in his or her negative behavior.

I think it’s time that we grow up as a species, and start taking responsibility for our own actions. It may not be fun. It may not be pretty. We may have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do. But we can do this.

I admit it. I have not seen my last potato chip. But at least I’ll know that the choice is my own, and hopefully I will make a better choice next time. I’m a work in progress. But the work, and the resulting progress or lack thereof, is mine, mine, all mine.

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