Unlike most fictional stories about an American’s experience abroad, the heroine of the Kat Vespucci series doesn’t seek to “find herself” in other countries or to “save” the natives. Rather, wide-eyed, curious Kat is thrown blindly into new experiences with little or no previous knowledge that could distort her observation of history and culture through the eyes of locals.
In the first book, Kat, a native of New Jersey who has never left the U.S., decides to study abroad in Berlin. The first few weeks in the city prove to be a trial through fire as Kat realizes how little she knows about current and past political history in Europe, the world map (she carries a small map of the world around with her for a while since she can’t place the countries of her fellow international students on the globe), the U.S.’s involvement in WWII, and even the workplace culture of the city. The title “Earth to Kat Vespucci” refers to a fellow student’s teasing about her ignorance.
But instead of accepting her continuous foot-in-mouth situations as the inevitable, Kat immerses herself in local culture, reads up on history and politics, and asks her fellow study-abroad students about their lives and experiences. By the end, she could almost pass a cultured Berliner.
This trial through fire and subsequent process of observing and asking questions continues in book two when Kat moves to Taipei after college (and a terrible experience working in pharmaceutical sales) to teach English at the “Happy Pupil Very Excellent the Good English Cram School.” She enters into her adventures, however, with greater maturity and less fear. By moving to a country where she doesn’t speak the language, Kat is forced to take chances and navigate her way through cultural and language barriers largely by herself. Her story of freedom and adventure is intertwined with one of her new love interest and foil, native Zhang Weiming (Wayne), as he struggles against his conservative family’s adherence to marriage traditions.
Some readers may find Kat overly naive or privileged — she clearly doesn’t research the history of a country before moving there, know much about international politics and history, and has a tendency to accept things natives tell her at face value — but with a series that makes the location a character in its own right, she’s the perfect protagonist. Through her astute observations and relationships with locals, Kat lets the locals tell their story as she takes the reader on a smart, vivid tour of Berlin and Taipei and inspires even the most unadventurous to consider traveling abroad.
With a dose of humor and charm paired with her more serious moments, Kat is a likable character who continues to grow through the series. It is clear that she will ultimately evolve to become an intelligent, cultured activist, but she’s not there yet. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing what Kat discovers on her next adventure: this time in China.
[Full disclosure: I received a copy of both books to review for free.]
I’m just being myself. There is not an ounce of me that believes any of that crap that they say. We can’t be feminine and be feminists and be successful? I want to be a fucking feminist and wear a fucking Peter Pan collar. So fucking what?
(THIS. She may sometimes border the line of overly twee, but I love this woman. Any celebrities who are openly feminist? I’ll take them.)
Although I agree with parts of this piece on “hookup culture” by Hanna Rosen (I’m happy to live in a world that, for the most part, offers women sexual freedom equal to that of men), I have to disagree that this culture is key to feminist progress. If that’s true, we haven’t made much headway towards gender equality:
For an upwardly mobile, ambitious young woman, hookups were a way to dip into relationships without disrupting her self-development or schoolwork. Hookups functioned as a “delay tactic,” Armstrong writes, because the immediate priority, for the privileged women at least, was setting themselves up for a career. “If I want to maintain the lifestyle that I’ve grown up with,” one woman told Armstrong, “I have to work. I just don’t see myself being someone who marries young and lives off of some boy’s money.” Or from another woman: “I want to get secure in a city and in a job … I’m not in any hurry at all. As long as I’m married by 30, I’m good.”
The women still had to deal with the old-fashioned burden of protecting their personal reputations, but in the long view, what they really wanted to protect was their future professional reputations. “Rather than struggling to get into relationships,” Armstrong reported, women “had to work to avoid them.” (One woman lied to an interested guy, portraying herself as “extremely conservative” to avoid dating him.) Many did not want a relationship to steal time away from their friendships or studying.
Armstrong and Hamilton had come looking for sexual victims. Instead, at this university, and even more so at other, more prestigious universities they studied, they found the opposite: women who were managing their romantic lives like savvy headhunters. “The ambitious women calculate that having a relationship would be like a four-credit class, and they don’t always have time for it, so instead they opt for a lighter hookup,” Armstrong told me.
The women described boyfriends as “too greedy” and relationships as “too involved.” One woman “with no shortage of admirers” explained, “I know this sounds really pathetic and you probably think I am lying, but there are so many other things going on right now that it’s really not something high up on my list … I know that’s such a lame-ass excuse, but it’s true.” The women wanted to study or hang out with friends or just be “100 percent selfish,” as one said. “I have the rest of my life to devote to a husband or kids…” Some even purposely had what one might think of as fake boyfriends, whom they considered sub–marriage quality, and weren’t genuinely attached to. “He fits my needs now, because I don’t want to get married now,” one said. “I don’t want anyone else to influence what I do after I graduate.”
These college-aged women assume that having a romantic relationship with a man ultimately leads to a 1950s-like world of marriage, children, and giving most of yourself for your partner, like friendships and career aspirations.
We live in 2012.
If that’s the future young women expect, then feminism still has a long way to go. If women don’t seek out and expect partners to encourage and support their ambitions, how can gender equality ever occur?
Judging from these interviews, I’d say hookup culture isn’t progressing feminist ideals by giving heterosexual women more freedom to pursue their goals — it’s merely serving as a “delay tactic,” or respite before women allow men to become the center of their lives.
Thirty-two million people will gain access to health care insurance coverage including sixteen million people who will gain access through Medicaid. What does this mean for individuals with vaginae/uteri? How will this affect our health and healthcare coverage?
(Excerpts taken from a recent Feminist Majority post)
Subsidies to purchase coverage
No Co-Pays or Deductibles for Preventive Care including Birth Control
Discrimination Based on Pre-Existing Conditions Eliminated
Bans Insurers from Dropping Coverage Because of Illness
Mandatory Coverage of Maternity Care and Specific Health Services
Mental Health Parity
Benefits for Older People
Ban on Discrimination against Lower Paid Employees
Addresses National Nursing and Primary Care Physicians Shortage
*Update: I changed the title to reflect how the Affordable Care Act will affect individuals with vaginae/uteri — not just those people who self-identify as women.