Tag Archives: feminism

Q2: The Brutality of Ballet

As POINTE, CLAW leaps into the world, I thought I might answer some questions posed by readers…

Q2: Is ballet really that competitive?

Yes.

At least at the elite levels it is.

Ballet is very much a metaphor for being female in this society. Little girls take ballet and fall in love with dance and tutus and pink tights and sparkles. As they grow, they are further indoctrinated (yes, I use that word on purpose) into believing that they can become ballerinas. They compete with each other and are brutal on themselves (dieting, purging, starving) all so they can achieve a dream (like being the “perfect” woman).

The dream is actually impossible for all but the smallest fraction of women because of factors completely outside our control: genetics and physiology. As teens, our bodies go wildly out of control (like Dawn’s in POINTE, CLAW) and most of us discover that we will never be “perfect” because that definition is so narrow, but by then, we are so firmly brainwashed that we keep trying to match what we see on stage (or on magazine covers).

As long as women continue to buy into the idea of the “perfect woman,” we will continue to do violence to ourselves and other women. This is POINTE, CLAW.

POINTE, CLAW – a rallying cry

This week Novel Novice, one of my favorite book blogs, posted a really great review of POINTE, CLAW. It’s the kind of review that makes me blush a little but also fist-pump the air because when a reader really gets what you are trying to do as a writer, it feels like victory!

Here’s the whole thing:

A cutting look at the many ways teen girls’ bodies and lives are viewed as objects, Pointe, Claw by Amber J. Keyser is the rallying cry for young women everywhere to stand up and own their voices, their bodies, and their selves.

Steeped in a subtle, barely-there magic realism, Pointe, Claw is at times surreal, at times jarring, but always poignant and relevant. Keyser has written a bold and unforgiving look at the lives of teen girls today, told through the dual narratives of Jessie and Dawn. Connected by a childhood friendship, their stories are both starkly different and eerily similar.

A book that feels more important now than ever before, Pointe, Claw forces the reader to face the reality of life as a young woman today and consider the unique challenges and expectations they/we face on a regular basis. So regular, in fact, that we often forget to question it. Dawn and Jessie forget to question it.

Until they do question it.

Until they break free and start pushing for something more. Pointe, Claw follows these girls on a journey to self awareness, acceptance, strength, and freedom. We see what can happen through the power of grace and self-ownership. It’s only through letting go that these characters can move forward, and it’s a powerful, startling thing to witness.

With barely-there touches of magic realism and superbly wrought prose, Keyser invokes a powerful and unforgiving set of emotions. Regardless of how you feel after reading this book, it will make you feel. And isn’t that the sign of a truly remarkable book?

Fierce Girl, Margaret Atwood, and Me

I love Fierce Girl.

As soon as I saw her, hands on hips, and her chin jutting out toward that bull, I loved her. Yes, I know she is white girl and that’s not intersectional enough for me. Yes, I know she was put there by Big Money and that means they have their own corporate interests at the center.

I love her anyway.

And yes, I know she is called Fearless Girl but I am renaming her.  I am never going to tell my daughter that she should fear less. I am going to tell her to be fierce. I am going to tell myself to be fierce.

These days I often feel small and fragile and powerless, almost like a little girl. Who wouldn’t? We are facing a cabal of rich, powerful, racist, sexist white men, who have their fingers in every pot and their hands grasping at every pussy. They plan to make us sick and poor and weak so they can take everything for themselves.

But Fierce Girl puts her hands on her hips. Fierce Girl juts out her chin. Fierce Girl has no more fucks to give.

When I saw this photo of a white guy in a suit pretending to rape Fierce Girl, I went rage-y.  The woman who took the picture nailed it when she wrote: “Douchebags like this are why we need feminism.”

This week I’ve been working on a series of blog posts for the #SJYALit project (Social Justice YA Literature) at Teen Librarian Tool box. In April, authors Elana K. Arnold, Mindy McGinnis, Isabel Quintero, and  I will be featured in a series about feminism.  I’ve been thinking a lot about why and how I wrote POINTE, CLAW, and why I think it is the book I needed to release at exactly this time in history.

Way before I started writing POINTE, CLAW, I was jotting down nuggets that might find their way into its pages. Things like: men staring at young ballet dancers, vaginal plastic surgery, men’s responses to menstruation, girls kissing each other, friendships that turn into more than friendship, removing dry tampons,  men following girls into the lingerie department, the ways that women can help or hurt each other, the ways in which fathers avoid daughters… The douchebag pretend to rape Fierce girl would have gone on my list.

In a recent article about the upsurge in interest in her 1985 book THE HANDMAID’S TALE, Margaret Atwood discusses a question that she is often asked about the book: Is it a “feminist” novel?

Here’s her answer:

If you mean an ideological tract in which all women are angels and/or so victimized they are incapable of moral choice, no. If you mean a novel in which women are human beings — with all the variety of character and behavior that implies — and are also interesting and important, and what happens to them is crucial to the theme, structure and plot of the book, then yes. In that sense, many books are “feminist.” Why interesting and important? Because women are interesting and important in real life. They are not an afterthought of nature, they are not secondary players in human destiny, and every society has always known that. 

I keep thinking about that first line. Ideological tract. Angels. Victimized to the point of no moral choice. It’s a little weird. Why would I assume that “feminist novel” means any of those things?

Any kind of ideological tract would be a shitty novel from a craft perspective. A novel that presents all women as perfect is, in fact, a reflection of a sexist system that either demonizes women or puts them on a pedestal. A novel with such an oppressive system against women that they can do nothing turns women into mere plot points.

Instead, Atwood goes on to say that novels should present women as human beings. Let that sink in. Sounds a lot like Hillary Clinton saying that women’s rights are human rights. Atwood takes the next step to say that any book which depicts fully-fleshed, complicated, complex female characters with agency could be considered feminist. She goes on to imply (though I wish she had stated it explicitly) that the other necessity of a feminist novel is to explore how these characters push against a system designed for the benefit of men.

I have no doubt that POINTE, CLAW is a feminist novel. The vast majority of the characters, both animal and human, are female. They are mothers and daughters and wives. They are dancers and strippers and home-based business owners and doctors and teachers and students. They are angry and content and complicit and miserable. My goal was to show all the different ways girls and women get boxed in by the expectations of a patriarchal society that has very narrow ideas about what defines a woman.

It’s a rage-y book. It’s a Fierce Girl book. I’d like to take a copy and bludgeon the Douchebag with it. Because I have no more fucks to give.

 

Take up all the space you want

The novel that I’m working on now explores what it means to be in a girl’s body in this world at this time. It’s about control and consent and physicality and wildness. It is also about space. How do we claim it? Fill it? Own it?

Yesterday at the dog park, I had a really upsetting interaction with a woman. Her dog took my dog’s ball, and the woman simply shrugged. “He’s a ball stealer,” she said. “Sorry. I can’t get it back from him.”

What followed (and I’ll spare you the details) was my utter disbelief in her behavior as well as my desire to get my $5 Chuck-It ball back. She ended up swearing at me and yelling at me and saying I was stupid to have an expensive ball for my dog and expecting it back and a whole lot of horrible things. Including telling me that she walked in the park every day and hoped she would never see me again.

Talk about claiming space (and balls that don’t belong to you.)

I walked home shaken (I am not a lover of conflict). She ended up driving up next to me in her truck and holding out the ball. “Here!” she snapped. Apparently her dog gives them back when he gets in the car. I took the ball and continued home.

But the damage was done. I too walk in that park nearly every day. I make two loops and throw the ball for Gilda so she can get good and worn out so that I can write. I use that space daily, and yet my first inclination was to find another place to walk. As I said, I am not a lover of conflict.

How many times has this happened to you? When have you been pushed out of space, emotional or physical, that you have every right to occupy? How many times? I could give you a long list, and I am tired of it.

I’m not saying that we should all turn into narcissistic Trump twins who think that the world was made for us and us alone, but we do not need to shrink. We do not need to cede territory.

So today, when Gilda brings me her ball and tells me it is time to go, we go to the dog park, our park. And if that woman is there, then okay. I can take it. I can even find some empathy for her. It must suck to have your dog be a dick.

It’s a small act of rebellion but I deserve it.

And so does Gilda.

It’s time to talk about sex and virginity and voice

Recently you may have noticed a plethora of posts from me that feature a beautiful book with a canoe on it…

I know, I know!

I’ve been talking a lot about THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN. It’s not every day I get to publish a novel, especially one that is drawn from such a personal and painful place. It’s been humbling and inspiring and amazing to share the book and to hear from readers, and you’ve all been very indulgent of my shameless self-promotion. Thank you!

However, if you are tired of hearing about leeches and portages, you might be excited to know that change is coming…

BIG CHANGE…

Drumroll, please…VW_front

I have a new book coming out on February 2nd and it has nothing to do with canoeing or grief (well, maybe a bit of grief).

THE V-WORD is an anthology of personal essays by women about first-time sexual experiences. The women who have written for this collection are smart and funny and insightful and phenomenally honest. I can not wait to share their stories with you.

silenced terror large
Talking honestly about sex is the best way to help young women find and use their voices in intimate encounters.

Our goal in laying it all out there is to give teens a broad perspective on what real sex is like—sometimes awesome, sometimes not so much. The landscape of sexual experiences is broad, and we hope our experiences will help young women to chart their own course and claim their own sexual agency. After all, they are the ones who should be in charge of this journey.

So you can expect to hear me blabbing for awhile about THE V-WORD. I hope you’ll help me get this book into the hands of readers who need it.  Thank you, my friends!