In an effort to keep better track of what media I ingest, I started keeping a yearly list of all the movies I watch and books I read. My resolution at New Years was simple: read more books than last year, and watch fewer movies. After giving it more thought I added another component to my goal: non-fiction. Last year I read a depressingly small amount, and only three of the books weren't fiction. Clearly, this problem had to be resolved.
   And so: non-fiction of 2013, so far:
  1. The Kitchen Counter Cooking School / Kathleen Flinn - about teaching "real" women how to work wonders in the kitchen.
  2. French Milk / Lucy Knisley - a charming comic-format travelogue of a trip to Paris.
  3. Under the Banner of Heaven / John Krakauer - unsettling account of radical Mormonism. Honestly difficult to read, prepare to feel physically ill if you pick it up.
  4. The Tipping Point / Malcolm Gladwell (abridged) - I was unaware this was abridged when I started it, and was rather disappointed to find out. Read Gladwell if you get the chance.
  5. Bossypants / Tina Fey - best takeaways: "yes, and" and "I don't care if you like it". Well worth your time.
  6. Blink / Malcolm Gladwell - seriously, go find one of Gladwell's books and read it. This one is about "thinking without thinking": first impressions, snap judgements, assumptions, etc.
  7. This Book is Overdue! / Marilyn Johnson - what could go wrong with a book about librarians!? SO MUCH. An interesting chapter about the tension between American libraries and the FBI, overshadowed by a hugely long and boring section about Second Life. It's possible that I was biased by just finishing Blink, Gladwell is a very hard act to follow.
  8. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? / Mindy Kaling - in the same vein as Bossypants. Delightful.
  9. Nurtureshock / Pr Bronson, Ashley Merryman - turns out the "new science of children" is absolutely fascinating.
  10. Enough Room For Joy : Jean Vanier's L'Arche / Bill Clarke - one of the most encouraging books I have ever read.
   (The vast improvement in non-fiction reading is largely due to discovering the audiobooks in the CPL ebook catalouge. Downloading audiobooks directly onto my phone? Yes please. If you have some sort of smart phone or tablet or ebook reader, I highly recommend getting on that train. Free audiobooks and ebooks! At the touch of a button! What's not to love?)

    While I am doing rather well on the literary front, there are still some bad habits I need to mend. NB exhibit A:

    This little pile is some of the books I have started reading this year and never finished. Not pictured are How Did You Get This Number / Sloane Crosley, Jeeves in the Offing / P.G. Wodehouse, Les Miserables / Victor Hugo, and others. It's a bit shameful. I have more than ten books on the go, some of which I haven't cracked for months. I'm working my way through this pile, but sometimes the prospect of a fresh new story is all too attractive. Perhaps I ought to start a book club.



   I have to admit a couple things before I even start this post. The first is that I, like everyone else, am prone to confirmation bias. The second is that I haven't read the entirety of this study about neural responses to images of people in bikinis for myself.

   Since watching Jessica Rey's video about bathing suits, I have been doing a lot of reading and thinking about modesty. First, let's clear two things up:

   1) Rey's video is, at it's heart, an advertisement. Very well thought out and presented, but an advertisement nonetheless. Jessica Rey wants you to buy her swimsuits. Which is okay! It's a very good ad.
   2)  I do not like it at all.

   That second point may come as a surprise. What is there not to like about "revealing my dignity"? While I certainly believe it is important to present myself in a modest and decent manner, I do not think the best way to go about encouraging women to do so is by victim-blaming and fear-mongering.

   Victim-blaming and fear-mongering! No need to be so harsh, right? Let's look at some of the arguments against bikinis presented in the video (nb: there are many more points made in the video, I've chosen to only focus on two):

   1) Your bikini was invented in France and the designer had to hire a stripper to model it, and there was a time that women were kicked off of beaches for wearing bikinis
   3)Your bikini makes men view you as nothing more than an object

    Argument one isn't relevant to my decisions about swimwear, and I could make a list of body parts that have been considered scandalous in the past to back that up but I think I can just say "ankles" and get over it. There was a time that only "loose women" showed off their tantalizing ankles, and just look outside today! Ankles everywhere! What I mean to say is: our ideas of decency don't need to be shaped by what women wore, were made to wear, or were not to wear in the past. (Pants. Bobbed hair. Bare shoulders. Makeup.) Following from there we have a half-hidden second point. This factoid gets tossed into the talk without a seeming purpose: once upon a time, women's bathing suits were measured and if they were too small: no more beach. I think I can safely guarantee that if someone in Victorian times trotted onto the beach in a modest-by-modern-standards swimsuit the reception wouldn't exactly be warm. So am I going to take these things into consideration next time I buy a swimsuit? Definitely not.

   The second argument is demeaning to both men and women; it says that a bikini reduces men to their capricious biology and women to their shameful bodies. As I said: I haven't read the entire study that Jessica refers to in the video, but I can state from reading several commentaries and summaries of it that the only men who did not view women as people but as objects were men who already exhibited high hostile sexism (If you score high on hostile sexism on this test, congratulations, you are more likely to view women as objects). So when I'm told that men think I am a hammer when I wear a bikini, I am not getting the whole picture.

   It's an insidious attitude and one that has no benefit for women or men. Telling women "if you don't cover up men will objectify you" takes the fault from the perpetrator and puts it on the victim. Telling men "you will not be able to see a woman as a person unless she is wearing modest clothes" takes his ability to take his thoughts captive and says "nope, you're an animal".

   Here is where victim-blaming and fear-mongering come in. This is what I have heard many speakers say to me: "if/when you dress immodestly, you are asking to be objectified, discrimiated against, and harassed" and "if/when you dress immodestly, you turn men into lust-filled beasts with no control over themselves". What does that say about men? And what does that say about women? Or victims of harassment or assault? Or our responsibility for our own actions? Or about our free will?

   Do I think that the choices I make, whether they be about clothing or anything else, affect others? Yes. Do I think that each person should still be held responsible for their actions and reactions? Absolutely. Like my mother says: you choose your attitude.

   Our attitudes and biases do not come from outer stimuli, but from what we have learned and accepted and injected into our hearts and minds. People are not born misogynist objectifiers, just like they aren't born racist; they learn these things over time from peers, parents, teachers, the media, and on and on. The primary problem is not that somewhere a woman is wearing a bikini (or a one-piece, or a tankini, or a t-shirt and shorts, or any other combination of clothing), the problem is that somewhere a boy is being taught that women are somehow "less" than he is, that they are objects to be used.