TN Read-Along #2 Discussion Thread: Backwards in High Heels
Perfection is boring. Oh my God, it's the dullest thing in the world. Stop trying to achieve it, now. (179)
I tend to avoid books like Backwards in High Heels, assuming that tired passive-aggression about socks on the floor, followed by weak jokes about the medicinal properties of chocolate, will rule the day. I had higher hopes for BiHH, thinking its Britishness would edge it up a bit, and despite its semi-tiresome tendency to prescribe, yes, chocolate and red wine for various ills, I enjoyed the book and can report with relief that it only strayed into International Coffees territory a few times.
Cancelling out the odd sugary or on-the-nose observation are tart bits like referring to a wedding as a "crowd of hats"; the dog swallowing a bee on p. 152; the note that women have to do everything (65), but that everything we do is somehow wrong (157); a recipe for summer soup that sounds fabulous (354); and a straightforward (and rueful) passage on p. 35 about Our Gay Best Friends:
There are two great things that gay men and straight women have in common, and these have nothing to do with Barbra Streisand or interior design. One is that they both want to go to bed with other men, which is a tremendous leveler; the other is that they understand very well what it is to have been reduced to stereotypes for the last many hundreds of years. They know how it feels to be shut out of power, to be pushed to the sidelines. They know all about the assumptions and the sideways looks. There is something deeply and oddly touching about this mutual understanding.
The prose is direct, often deft; I read most of the book in a single sitting, the circumstance in which authorial tics and argument weaknesses make themselves most evident, but it holds up, especially given that Kindersley and Vine almost have to tackle every single Big Issue on the table for contemporary women, and will more or less have to take a position of considered moderation on each. I found myself wishing on occasion that they'd get a little angrier, take more risks with their opinions — but when they did, I got this: "Married men belong to someone else. They have taken vows. Sleeping with them is an act of betrayal and disloyalty and untruth. It is also a grievous act against the sisterhood" (333).
I debated whether or not to object to that passage, knowing it would start an argument, but fuck it: that's horseshit. I do not advise sleeping with married people, because it is excessively complicated and never ends well. "Grievous act against the sisterhood," however, is retrograde nonsense that implies the other woman set a trap for the man, waited for him to bumble into it, and injected him with her slutty poison. It takes responsibility for his vows away from the man who took them in the first place, and turns all women into 1) each other's protectors and 2) straight men's jailors, patrolling the perimeter to contain the horndogs who will obviously stray at the first opportunity. Please. It's 2010.
Listen: some married men will stray at the first opportunity. Those men should not have gotten married or promised fidelity in any other way, and the responsibility for their actions lies with them. Assuming that all married men will fall into the first vagina they walk past like it's some kind of magnetic ravine gives men no credit for morals, honesty, or kindness; and forces women into one of two roles: suspicious put-upon Madon-nag; and selfish home-wrecking whore.
When you blame the other woman, you postpone telling yourself the horrible shitty truth about him, because you think that horrible shitty truth is actually about you — you let yourself get fat, you didn't ask him about work enough times, blah blah whatever it's not your fault and never was, repeat it 'til you get it! If your husband cheated on you, that is his fault and his only — and if you make it her fault, it's because you don't want to make it his fault, because then you might have to hear something awful about yourself, which still won't make it anyone's fault but his.
Women sticking together is great, but not at the expense of personal responsibility, or of directing legitimate fury to the proper target.
Rant over. Good book; funny in spots; got me thinking about a few things. You?
Tags: Sarah Vine Tania Kindersley The TN Read-Along