“Yesterday, I overheard the train conductor say something wonderful…”

Further to reading Mira Schor’s A Decade of Negative Thinking (Duke University Press, 2009), I’ve been ruminating on the fine line between critical thinking and critical thinking—that is, critical thinking in the scholarly sense versus negative thinking. It seems that there is a perception of feminists being bitter and focusing on the negative. Chloe Angyal’s article in yesterday’s Guardian, “You’re not a feminist, but…” talks about young women avoiding calling themselves feminists as a way of “play[ing] nice”. Nice and bitter definitely do not go together.

At the risk of sounding obnoxiously self-referential, some of my own insecurities about sounding like a bitter feminist include a summary of a Laurie Simmons talk, in which I wrote, “…after writing blog post after blog post to contextualize my work in feminist art historical scholarship, will I be seen as an overbearing feminist?” And, after attending a book launch for Susan Anderson, I wrote, “Slinking down in my seat, I felt like the feminist curmudgeon, a stereotype that I detest.”  Reviewing Erin Bolger’s The Happy Baker, I wrote, “Make no mistake: I am not passing negative judgment” and after reading Jeanette Winterson’s Art Objects:  Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery (Vintage International, 1997), I wondered, “Does advocating for change (say, of gender stereotypes) smack of effrontery?”

Yesterday, I overheard the train conductor say something wonderful that eased my insecurities. He was telling a passenger about his grandmother who was whining about having run out of milk. When he made a gentle comment about her complaining, she said, “Honey, Grandma’s not complaining. She’s just explaining.” Everyone howled. Here’s hoping that is what this blog is accomplishing.