Dispatches from the other side(s) of misogyny: Two book reviews

"What are you doing, studying chauvinism?" my brother asked.

We were visiting our parents for Thanksgiving and he saw the two paperbacks I had been reading simultaneously sitting by the bed. The were Women by Charles Bukowski and He's a stud, she's a slut, and 49 other double standards every woman should know by Jessica Valenti.

My love of Valenti's (bio) work is well-documented. I do, however, approach her material with the knowledge in mind that I am not her target audience.

One thing I really liked about her first full-length offering, Full Frontal Feminism, is that she was reaching for young women, and I think she found them with her voice. She writes personally and informally, and with an educational but not preachy tone.

Like many people, I first came across Valenti's writing through the group blog Feministing, which she founded, edits and co-authors (also, I love when people take nouns and turn them into gerunds, but that's probably just me). Between her and my friend Catherine, I've probably learned more than I learned through most of the first 18 years I was in school – and what I've learned from them is stuff that every guy (especially every white guy) should learn.

I didn't enjoy Double Standards as much as FFF, and some of that had to do with the format: essentially, each chapter is three pages of setting up a problem with examples, and then a one-to-two-paragraph solution on a facing page (the title double standard begins on page 14, and the final one ends on page 213, so the book is faithful to this format throughout).

Some of it is the fact that I'm predisposed to disliking books of lists.

That's not to say I didn't get anything out of it – I definitely did. Valenti points out the discrepancies in health care costs and availability, wage inequality, and double standards in everything from rape culture to the daily makeup-or-no-makeup decision.

I'm very much looking forward to her next offering.

But me being me, I had to be contrarian. Or maybe I just couldn't handle one viewpoint at a time.

So I grabbed a copy of Women.

My enjoyment of Bukowski's work has come much slower, much harder. He has proven through his writing – and his alter-ego recurring main character Henry (Hank) Chinaski – to be an unapologetic, well, pig.

Women chronicles his drunken sexual exploits as a 50-something-year-old writer who drinks heavily at his readings and corresponds with female fans. He is constantly getting laid by women less than half his age, and even wins them over when his drinking leaves him impotent for the night.

His occasional recognition that he is a disgusting human being and his even less frequent moment of remorse do not redeem him, although his closing to this novel makes it clear he disagrees.

So, umm, Josh, you liked this book?

Well, yes, I did, thanks for asking. Bukowski writes plainly, if brutally (if you can't stand to read the words "fuck" and "cunt" repeatedly, skip this one). He hates fame, he hates other writers, he prefers boxing and horse racing, he despises other people (but still admits to loneliness once in a while).

If you're looking to ease into Bukowski, start with Post Office (OK, no one eases in, but still), and be sure to skip his poetry – it's godawful.


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