Heavy Hangs the Heart is a very short memoir by Taryn Hipp, and published by Sweet Candy Press. Now Taryn Hipp and Sweet Candy Press are both reasonably new to publishing books, having only recently branched out from the world of zine publishing. I was approached by Sage, from Sweet Candy Press, about reviewing the book and was sent a free copy to do so, but as always, I get to write what I want. Taryn is close in age to me but our lives were very different. As such, I feel awkward commenting on her memoir, but I’m going to do it anyway, as respectfully as I can, because the book itself is decent, the author sounds like someone who would be neat to get to know, but some of the issues it brings up are ones that I really wonder about.
The role of the internet in the book is interesting. The author talks about AOL chatrooms, her livejournal account, and her etsy store. The weaknesses of online communities that seem strong stand out to me in her descriptions of livejournal: “I told my livejournal that I thought maybe he was cheating and suddenly everyone seemed to agree, saying they had been afraid to tell me otherwise. I felt like a fool.” The woman involved with her husband was in fact a “livejournal friend” of hers, and she read that woman’s livejournal entries trying to justify cheating with an unnamed married man by the belief that the marriage is over. How a person can think that while reading the wife’s diary I don’t understand, but people go incredible lengths to justify their own actions. Part of what interested me with the mention of the internet is that I think some of the people who spend less time on the internet speak of it as though it were not real, just online, and yet its definitely a part of life, and a part of many people’s stories.
One of the things that stands out for me though is the question of slut-shaming. She writes:
Early in my days in town, after making out with a boy whose name I never got, Elle warned me “don’t hook up with a lot of dudes, you’ll get a reputation.” I knew she didn’t think the double standard was okay, but she had grown up in that town, she was giving me wisdom based on experience watching the small town mentality swallow other women up. I remember thinking that was such bullshit, typical slut-shaming ideology and that I didn’t care. But the thing about small towns is that slut-shaming is a real thing, and reputations can be dangerous, and sometimes it’s as if these small towns get stuck in a time warp where it’s ok for men to do one thing, but not women. My teenage years were spent rallying against just this, but it didn’t seem to matter. The more I ignored what people thought of me, the worse those thoughts became. Not only was a woman doing what she wanted with whomever she wanted, but I had absolutely no regret over it, and that pissed off a lot of people.
The paragraph comes at an introduction to a period of her life dedicated to heavy drinking. I read the paragraph over and I try to think about what it means. It’s hard to see any of her description of that time as empowering or liberating. It doesn’t sound like she was taking control of her own sexuality and her own decisions. Was she really doing what she wanted during that period of alcoholism?
Perhaps this article about “Choice Feminism” helps explain things. It uses a hypothetical example based on the tv show lost to make this point:
If there are only a handful of options available to you, then it’s damn fortunate if you like one, but that doesn’t make it OK that there aren’t more. If your favorite pastimes are dieting, getting shiny hair, and having your legs looked at, hallelujah: You will receive plenty of support in doing the things you like best. But liking your limited options doesn’t mean your choice is free. It’s still constrained — you just happen to be lucky.
Taryn claims to have been doing whatever she wanted to whomever she wanted. It’s hard for me to see her actions as freedom. I see it more as acting out of cultural pressures. Yet is it denying the person’s agency and power to think “poor you, you don’t realize how you’ve being manipulated”? I read about people talking about a “sex-positive” feminism, instead of a feminism that views women as being victims of a hyper-sexualized society in which women are objectified. I probably don’t count as a “sex positive” feminist because, despite a healthy happy marriage and sex life, I still tend to view a lot of what people think of as a freeing as them acting out of oppressive situations.
Taryn expresses frustration with others response to her. Feminism led her to think she shouldn’t be judged for her actions. I don’t like the idea of slut shaming. I like the idea of not judging others for their sexuality and the choices they make. But at the same time that I think shaming a person is wrong, I don’t quite understand the idea of not judging. We all judge. It’s part of thinking. And the whole question makes me think of this post on Thought Catalog about a woman proud of being ‘the other woman’ because she likes that guys find her more sexy and exciting than their wives, and in the comment section there’s a whole ton of people being critical of her – slut shaming, and other people freaking out at people for slut-shaming. She should feel free and proud of her sexuality as destructive as it might be to other people’s relationships, right? Just like Taryn was “doing what she wanted” as an alcoholic? Any shaming is useless, but focusing on the slut shaming as the problem distracts in some ways from the challenges of sexuality and feminism.
I think what I’m getting at is the feeling that there’s still a lot of unanswered questions for feminists. At times people want to use feminism as a license for doing whatever. We should question the way the patriarchy controls women’s sexuality. We shouldn’t condemn a person for her sexuality and her sexual decisions. But at the same time we should question whether actions are destructive or not, and sexual actions shouldn’t magically be excluded from that category. Could some of the people Taryn felt were angry at her for being a woman doing whatever she wanted with whomever she wanted really be concerned about her? Does feminism set people up for unrealistic expectations about what they should or shouldn’t be able to do? Or simply point out that we haven’t yet arrived at the type of world we want to create?
I don’t know. I don’t know at all and this is getting away from the topic of the book itself. I should be writing about the book itself. The memoir lured me in. I read it quite quickly, rereading sections to try to understand it better. At the same time the introduction at the beginning of the book, where it talked about the previous zine, was a bit discouraging since it made it feel like I was jumping into a sequel without having read the first thing. Yet once I got past that little bit, the story is interesting if somewhat unsatisfying. It’s a story. A life. I want in some way to treat it respectfully as the story of an individual, and yet put into the form of words and handed out it becomes also a story for people to think on and question.