Archive Diving: Gender in ‘Main Street’

On the occasion of the 133rd birthday of Sinclair Lewis, Nobel-winning novelist of works like Babbitt, Elmer Gantry, It Can’t Happen Here and Arrowsmith, all of which deal with the tension between rote-loving mainstream society and unique thinking, here is an excerpt from Main Street, which I originally cited in 2011 at the LGBTQ news site Towleroad.

This blurb deals with a small town reaction to a man who doesn’t fit gender norms:

“Mrs. Dyer was bubbling, ‘Oh, have you folks heard about this young fellow that’s just come to town that the boys call ‘Elizabeth’? He’s working in Nat Hicks’s tailor shop. I bet he doesn’t make eighteen a week, but my! isn’t he the perfect lady though! He talks so refined, and oh, the lugs he puts on–belted coat, and pique collar with a gold pin, and socks to match his necktie, and honest–you won’t believe this, but I got it straight–this fellow, you know he’s staying at Mrs. Gurrey’s punk old boarding-house, and they say he asked Mrs. Gurrey if he ought to put on a dress-suit for supper! Imagine! Can you beat that?

‘And him nothing but a Swede tailor–Erik Valborg his name is. But he used to be in a tailor shop in Minneapolis (they do say he’s a smart needle-pusher, at that) and he tries to let on that he’s a regular city fellow. They say he tries to make people think he’s a poet–carries books around and pretends to read ’em. Myrtle Cass says she met him at a dance, and he was mooning around all over the place, and he asked her did she like flowers and poetry and music and everything; he spieled like he was a regular United States Senator; and Myrtle–she’s a devil, that girl, ha! ha!–she kidded him along, and got him going, and honest, what d’you think he said?

‘He said he didn’t find any intellectual companionship in this town. Can you BEAT it? Imagine! And him a Swede tailor! My! And they say he’s the most awful mollycoddle–looks just like a girl. The boys call him ‘Elizabeth,’ and they stop him and ask about the books he lets on to have read, and he goes and tells them, and they take it all in and jolly him terribly, and he never gets onto the fact they’re kidding him. Oh, I think it’s just TOO funny!'”

If you haven’t read this work, or anything by Lewis, I really suggest that you do.

14 Things You Don’t Know About Log Cabins

The log cabin is more complicated than you may think. In fact, I wrote a whole book about it, one beginning with the question, “Why is the log cabin a BFD in the USA?”

You can learn the fully labyrinthine and altogether fascinating answer in said book, The Log Cabin: An Illustrated History. But as you wait for your copy to arrive, here are 14 things you never knew about log cabins, plus two tangentially related factoids, too.

1. No Log Cabins in Plymouth:

We’ve all seen school books and Thanksgiving cards depicting cheery Pilgrims building log cabins, images that cast the structure as the invention of English settlers, as America’s first true home. But that’s all bunk.

The truth of the matter is that English colonists didn’t live in log cabins. They didn’t even know how to make  log cabins. Accustomed to fine brick and frame homes back home, that’s what they built when they got here. Well, not immediately.

First, they slummed it in subterranean dugouts, waiting in the mud until planks could be cut and bricks kiln-fired. It was not a good look… Luckily these ugly bits would be edited out in the centuries ahead.

2. The Swedes and Finns Did It:

So, if the English didn’t bring log cabins to American shores, then who? I guess the sub-header here sort of spoils the beans, but, yes, it was the Swedes and Finns of New Sweden who erected America’s first log cabins. They and their ancestors had been building them for generations, so whipping them together here was simple as pie. But they didn’t make a lasting impression.

New Sweden was so small in population and so short-lived — it fell to the Dutch in 1655 and the land was brought under British rule in 1664 — that it had very little pull in colonial culture at large. Their English and Dutch neighbors weren’t about to copy their homes; Swedish and Finnish log cabins were therefore anomalies in this era, and the structure probably would have faded into oblivion had it not been for the thousands of immigrants who started arriving in the 1700s.

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Gucci v. Gender Inequality: VIDEO

For those of you who think fashion is just vapidity and glitz, I urge you to check out Artsy’s new Gucci-backed video series about gender inequality in the world of art.

In this installment, “Past,” artists Barbara Zucker, Faith Ringgold, Lynn Hershman Leeson and Joan Semmel discusses the barriers they faced coming up in the art world, including Hershman Leeson’s admission that she invented male art critics to create the credentials to find representation. Today she’s one of the most lauded and sought after artists in the world. “Present” and “Future” will be the Artsy/Gucci series’ next installments.

And, PS: this isn’t the first-time Italian luxury brand Gucci has thrown its glamorous and influential weight behind combating gendered imbalance: last year they teamed up with Beyoncé for the “Stand In Formation” initiative against gender inequality, poverty and general injustice.