Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.
Men are bad at expressing emotion.
Most women are bad at math.
In her new book, Gender and Our Brains: How New Neuroscience Explodes the Myths of the Male and Female Minds, Dr. Gina Rippon tears down everything you think you know about the differences between the way men and women think. She does not argue that there are no structural differences between men and women’s brains, but rather that most research showing sex differences in how we think is inherently flawed, or that the differences they find are actually minimal on average. In other words, if there is a fundamental difference that has a real effect on the way men and women think, we have yet to find it.
Rippon breaks down gendered thought myths quite thoroughly, beginning with the earliest searches for proof of women’s inferior brains (dating back to the 1600s) all the way through modern science’s rationalizations. She includes the study of brain structure, the role of hormones on the brain, and searches for answers in psychology.
Review by Tess Tabak
Brett is a hopeless romantic who finds herself middle-aged, washed out with fading looks and her fiery independence dulled by brain damage. Enter Cash, a former drug addict turned born-again Christian. When the two enter into an unlikely, impulsive marriage, the meat of Jennifer Spiegel’s novel, And So We Die, Having First Slept, begins.
You don’t necessarily think of an abusive marriage as grounds for a great romance novel, but Spiegel has such a remarkable talent for capturing characters that it never feels forced. Cash and Brett feel like real people trapped in a dark place, working through their demons together. Where Cash is addictive, sulky and at times violent, Brett has a fierce need to be loved by someone, and a belief both that her value as a woman is fading and that it’s her wifely duty to stand by her man. Though religion is a big part of the narrative, Spiegel doesn’t portray them as Christian monoliths. She explains both characters’ complicated and ever-changing relationship to their faith. Continue reading
“What is a Swamp?”
“A swamp is a type of freshwater wetland that has spongy, muddy land and a lot of water. Many trees and shrubs grow in swamps.”
I sit in our fourth grade classroom’s back row, the class where Sister Mary Bridget, Grammar Nazi and Queen of Land and Water Forms, rules not with an iron fist, but with a rigid pointer. Though a capable student, I rue the day my name appears on her class roster, as her reputation for brutally drilling her students on grammatical and geographic structures terrifies even the most conscientious among us. Structure is what Sister Mary Bridget does best. She begins with structured rows, arranged not according to one’s last name, but according to one’s report card average. Those who score the lowest grades sit closest to the teacher’s desk, within easy reach of her pointer’s tip. Thankfully, I’m seated way in the back nearest the coat closet, a cherished location for both for its obscurity and its expedience. Last seated are first to retrieve their jackets when the final bell rings!
Even from my ironically privileged position, though, I’m not inure to the relentless taunting that those in the front seats endure. Those least likely to dutifully replicate Sister’s blackboard models of perfectly structured sentence diagrams. Those least likely to produce neatly pleated composition book pages containing perfectly scripted definitions of her vaulted land and water forms, ten times over. Those least likely or perhaps least able to comply with her relentless demands for repetition, driven by her zealous conviction that the more often something is said or written, the better it will be remembered.
“Repeat after me,” she ruthlessly chants in a nasal monotone, as she marches between our aisles, her rosary beads swishing against her flowing black gown, her rubber soled oxfords squeaking against the floor tiles.
We rely only on our ears to alert us to Sister’s imminent approach while we affix our eyes to our notebook-scrawled definitions and collectively mimic her intonations: “What is a Swamp?”
“A swamp is a type of freshwater wetland that has spongy, muddy land and a lot of water. Many trees and shrubs grow in swamps.”
“Right, class. Now again…”
Realizing that only perfection will satisfy our teacher, those in the back who find reading easy and elocution painless try our best to compensate for the voices up front who invariably lag behind as they trudge through the words on the page like a swimmer through quicksand. Even while overcompensating, though, we resign ourselves to the moment when one of them will be singled out and forced to stand, face the class, and repeat the phrase as a solo performance, without the benefit of scribbled notes.
I cringe while reciting, knowing that we may forestall, but we can’t avoid the inevitable. It’s only only a matter of time before Larry fumbles his recitation and winds up seated in a garbage pail up front, a stack of uncovered text books (yet another blight on Larry’s soul) stacked in a pile that weighs down his outstretched arms. Poor Larry. To this day, I wonder if he’s figured out the difference between a swamp and a peninsula. Or how to diagram either definition. Or why it matters.
Truthfully, for years, both seemed superfluous to me. Not now, though. Now, when I read the morning news, I realize that despite her penchant for perfection and her ruthless teaching practices, Sister Mary Bridget may have been on to something. In fact, her lessons in geography and grammar may even have proved prescient. I knew little, then, about how useful both would become during my present life, as I desperately attempt to fathom why our deeply flawed, bombastic president holds such sway among his base. I’m not psychic, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Larry voted for Trump and still adores him.
Why? It all comes back to land and water forms and the diagrammed sentence. No, not the four-year sentence many of us are enduring since the Russians co-opted our last presidential election. I’m speaking of the sentence that strategically locates modifiers to accentuate otherwise nondescript nouns. Nouns like swamp. And wall. Nouns that become much more codified when accompanied by seemingly trivial articles: swamp becomes “the” swamp; wall becomes “a” wall. Both are rhetorically strategic distinctions, but also rhetorically suspect. Once swamp becomes exclusive, as in “ the” swamp, most assume it is a specific, fixed target, a destination to be definitively appropriated and conquered. And “a” wall? Its very obscurity ascribes an omniscient animistic quality to a finite material object. Ah, but Sister Mary Bridget would never be fooled by either. She knew then, and her students who paid attention also know that “A swamp is a type of freshwater wetland that has spongy, muddy land and a lot of water. Many trees and shrubs grow in swamps.”
Swamps can’t be definitively drained and they certainly can’t be securely built upon once they’re supposedly conquered. You don’t need to take my word for this; just consider the Everglades if you need a current example of faulty attempts and unintended consequences. As wetlands, swamps are slippery land sources. They’re “spongy,” elusive. They’re also muddy, their contents, obscure. Still, they’re “freshwater” sites, indicating purity, despite their spongy, muddy consistencies. And swamps contain many trees and shrubs, a multitudinous diversity. Simply draining “the” swamp does not preclude or prevent others from emerging and thriving. Anyone who knows her land and water forms and understands the art of the modifier is easily able to recognize a rhetorical lie when it’s uttered. And this one is utterly ridiculous! (Pun intended.)
Draining “the” swamp to eliminate undesirables would be no more effective than building “a” wall for the same purpose. Promising to build “a” wall as protection is fallacious, at best. And prevaricating over other modifiers, such as steel, brick, reinforced, barb-wired, does nothing to authenticate the endeavor. Those of us who know our land and water forms know well that walls are not among them. Walls are manmade, and as such, unnatural. What happens when you construct a wall as an impediment to nature? Nature responds. Wall can do little to ensure safety because nature is all encompassing and cannot be contained merely by a manmade structural device intended to obstruct.
If this obstruction were completely enveloping and unbreachable, it would be modified as the wall, a comprehensive, impenetrable presence. A wall, though, is an inadequate material mass when pitted against forces of nature, one such force being the human heart and its passionate pursuit of freedom. “Where’s there’s a wall,” the passionate of heart might say, “There’s a way.” And the way usually takes the form of yet another modifier, whether it is over, under, around or through.
Devoted students of grammar and geography understand this, so why don’t others?
Not all of us are inclined toward structured academic disciplines such as geography or grammar. Some are more responsive to emotional appeals; others, to cautionary admonishments; still others, to hyperbolic promises that mimic our grandiose notion of “The American Dream,” the most hyperbolic, idyllic fantasy of all, the dream many believe has been damaged, but is still reparable if we drain the swamp and build a wall. Ah, those instigative modifiers To dream is laudable, but to limit the dream to a definitive version (“The”) and to brand and commoditize it as exclusively “American” just perpetuates the myth that residency equates with ownership, while distracting us from the practical reality that dreams, by their very nature, are illusory aspirations. As for the dubious notion of ownership? Who among us is not just passing through the earth we presume to inhabit? It would be much more honest to admit that we are guests on this land who often overstay our welcome or abuse our host’s generosity and benevolence.
It’s no surprise that Sister Mary Bridget’s less academically curious or disciplined students would rely on the accuracy of modifiers, seizing on basic grammatical rules while ignoring their contextual limitations. Humans are habitual creatures. We may not remember what we’ve learned, but we remember well how it felt while we were learning, and fear and shame are powerful motivators. To be forced to sit at the head of the class so that others might bear witness to one’s supposed laziness or ignorance is motivation enough for now-grown classroom outliers who often grow into agitators, clowns or bullies to champion hyperbolic, bombastic, anti-intellectual rants, especially when they’re bolstered by another powerful motivating force, monetary success accrued as a result of predatory behavior.
I’m not claiming that all Trump supporters wear this brand, only that those who do so learned their lessons early and well. They learned to embrace rigidity and authority, even while scorning the system that taught them to comply. They learned to admire bold modifiers, whether they be glittering adornments or inflated words, as these equate with success. Most especially, they learned to vote not necessarily in their own image, but in the image of the dream they believe has been taken from them by those looking for a seat in their classroom; those willing to take any seat, even if it’s right in front of the teacher’s desk. Even if it means daily humiliation. Even if it means living on the poverty line in an unfamiliar land, among people who speak an indecipherable language.
These newly arrived assumed interlopers may not know the definition of swamp, the composition of walls or the relative value of articles used to modify either, but they do know that language matters, even if it’s not their own. And they know enough to avoid dwelling in empty swamps with the snakes who drain them or relying too heavily on a wall that’s bound to crumble. That’s why they come to America, the land of “The” dream that never dies. Isn’t this elusive, unachievable quality the stuff that dreams are made of, after all?
These our actors,
William Shakespeare. The Tempest, Act V, Sc. 1.
When you live in a repressive regime, how do you live with yourself?
Directors Cheryl Fararone and Richard Romagnoli explore this question through two thematically mirrored plays in PTP/NYC’s season this year. Billed as a season of “works that resonate with our cultural and political moment,” Havel: The Passion of Thought and Dogg’s Hamlet/Cahoot’s Macbeth are both comedies that pack a punch. They each have a dark undertone to their otherwise comic plots. (Or vice-versa; the production and text meld mirth and sadness so seamlessly that it seems reductive to choose.) Continue reading
Silence so deep you can hear
that moth combing its antennae.
The trees are asleep on their feet, oblivious.
A single leaf yawns, turns over.
At the hint of a breeze the grass
pulls the bedclothes tighter.
I should mention how the moonlight
looks but I can barely keep my eyes open
so instead I’ll say what it sounds like:
like a dining room in a
long-foreclosed mansion where the finest
china has just been laid out on
the finest tablecloth by the
ghost of the late butler
who nodded off while looking
for the spoons.
The secret joy of the hour
is that anything could happen
and nothing ever does.
Kurt Luchs has poems published or forthcoming in Into the Void, Triggerfish Critical Review, Right Hand Pointing, Roanoke Review, Grey Sparrow Journal, Antiphon, Emrys Journal, and The Sun Magazine, among others, and won the 2017 Bermuda Triangle Poetry Prize. He founded the literary humor site TheBigJewel.com, and has written humor for the New Yorker, the Onion and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, as well as writing comedy for television (Politically Incorrect and the Late Late Show) and radio (American Comedy Network). Sagging Meniscus Press recently published his humor collection, It’s Funny Until Someone Loses an Eye (Then It’s Really Funny), which has been nominated for the Thurber Prize for American Humor. His poetry chapbook, One of These Things Is Not Like the Other, is forthcoming. More of his work, both humor and poetry, can be found at kurtluchs.com.
This poem was first published in Fjords Review.
I try to write very thoughtful reviews about very thoughtful books, and I will, but I’ll let you know right away that Catherine Chung’s The Tenth Muse was excellent. Don’t waste time here, go read it.
Filled with lovely prose, The Tenth Muse manages to remain an intimate story while going through a sweeping history- we encounter many of the major events of the twentieth century through our protagonist Katherine.
The book follows Katherine, a mathematician, from her 1950s childhood through her years of school and work as one of the only women in her field. Her quest to solve the Riemann hypothesis takes us through to the end of her career.
As with most stories relating to women fighting for their piece of the world I was often inspired and then angry. Much like the real-world women of math and science who appear throughout the book (some anecdotally, some make a cameo appearance in the story) Katherine is often punished for being both clever and ambitious. Continue reading
My sister was the only person I knew who took photos at funerals. The snap and whir of her SLR was hard to ignore as it echoed up the aisle from the back of the church. There was never a flash, only the windows offered light to the mourners, but that sound – I’ll never forget it.
She started with strangers, the white-haired shadows we saw shuffling to the church across the road from our house on Sundays. When a hearse crawled along the street and into the carpark, the driver’s face a sombre mask behind the window, she would throw on the black graduation gown that slid easily over anything she was wearing, and grab the camera. An hour later she would return, sighing with relief, like a burden had been lifted. Continue reading