Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The normcore appeal of Midtown

There was apparently a time, in New York, when everything cool happened below 14th Street. Then came the mallification. These days, whether you're seeking to avoid mall-stores or (as I am, on occasion) looking for the nearest Uniqlo, it hardly matters which part of Manhattan you find yourself in, or indeed whether you're in Manhattan or Edison, NJ.

These days, a fine case could be made for avoiding lower Manhattan. There's the practical case - i.e. Prince and Broadway is even more crowded with frantic shoppers than 34th Street. Also the subjective one - I have to get into the city through Penn Station, and after two hours of complicated travel, there needs to be some reason to add an additional leg to the trip.

But apart from all of that, there's something just more pleasant about Midtown. Busy, yes, but not pretending to be anything other than what it is. In the Village, you're meant to feel that your clothes-shopping is somehow artistic or bohemian. That because whichever chain store is expensive and on a side street, you're doing something different from a mall-shopper. In Midtown, it's straightforwardly corporate. The tall glass buildings don't lie. Midtown feels - pardon the expression - fresh.

All of this points, unavoidably, to normcore. Midtown has it, and SoHo, etc., do not.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Haves, have-nots, and have-somes UPDATED

It's unfortunate, if provocative, timing that Yascha Mounk's op-ed about whether Harvard's letting in enough Asian applicants pops up on the NYT homepage right there alongside the clearly far more important (and, thank goodness, treated as such) coverage of Ferguson. The temptation is great to say all of the things that, let's face it, come to mind - tone-deaf, first-world-problems, etc. At a time when one's sense of perspective will be questioned if one has any sympathy for a brown-but-not-black store owner whose place was looted, this seems maybe not the moment to lament the possibility that an Asian-American kid will have to settle for Dartmouth.

And yet. If the point is calling out or just better understanding racism, Mounk's article contains an important missing piece to the conversation:

As recognized by the Supreme Court, schools have an interest in recruiting a “critical mass” of minority students to obtain “the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.” This justifies, in my view, admissions standards that look favorably on underrepresented groups, like African-Americans and Latinos. But it can neither explain nor justify why a student of Chinese, Korean or Indian descent is so much less likely to be admitted than a white one. 
Conservatives point to Harvard’s emphasis on enrolling African-Americans (currently 12 percent of freshmen) and Hispanics (13 percent) but overlook preferences for children of alumni (about 12 percent of students) and recruited athletes (around 13 percent). The real problem is that, in a meritocratic system, whites would be a minority — and Harvard just isn’t comfortable with that.
This is more or less what I'm always saying re: Stuyvesant. I've also said similar re: Europe and Jews, but I see that Mounk has said it better.

A dynamic exists where there are those in power, those being oppressed, and then some intermediary group basically created by the powerful. The intermediaries will then serve as stand-ins for the powerful. They don't seem to be in the middle. They seem all-powerful. And then those actually in power can, in turn, seem to be helping the oppressed when they bash the intermediaries... even though they're only doing so in order to defend their own position. Those on the bottom of whichever hierarchy are kept down.

As for who would function as an intermediary... it depends. Jews, Asians, Lena Dunham - it varies according to context.


Another way to put it, that also ties this in with something David Schraub was just writing about: It's not that intermediaries' marginalization should be equated with that of those at the bottom of the hierarchy. (Which is to say, it's not that an Asian kid dealing with college admissions is in the same situation as a black one dealing with a racist cop.) Rather, it's that intermediaries, as I define this category, are more than just people with some intermediate level of (for lack of a better term) privilege. They're not some sort of ethnic equivalent of middle-income. They serve a specific function.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Observations from a day of menswear-shopping

-Men's clothing stores have exactly the same impact on me as the theme music to "Frasier" or "The Bob Newhart Show," which is to say, I feel an urgent need to fall asleep. Something about Banana Republic especially, although it was in the more upbeat Topman that I finally collapsed onto what was, I think, some kind of display lamp, but rectangular, and thus vaguely bench-like. Maybe the drab horribleness is particular to the US, where the idea is that masculinity is asserted by dressing in a way that suggests that one finds clothes-shopping torturous?

-What happened to lower Broadway as a tourist destination for French people? Where was the c'est pas cher brigade, with their bursting shopping bags full of relatively inexpensive Adidas? Probably something to do with the euro's relationship to the dollar.

-When the Yelp reviews of a bagel place say the bagels will be tiny and expensive, they will be both of those things. It's not often that I've regretted walking a couple short blocks out of the way for a bagel, but... let's just say the hipsters didn't need to reinvent bagels. The supposedly inauthentic, puffier bagels of Bagel Bob's and so forth are far, far better than what Nolita's offering. (Yes, yes, "and the portions were tiny." But they were!)

Pinterest-based pseudoscience

When I was a little girl, I don't recall having ever given any thought to my future wedding. Now, this wasn't because I was preoccupied with saving the world or science fairs or anything useful. Nor was I defying gender norms. I was plenty interested in boys and moderately interested in clothes, but weddings? No. I don't think that interest ever set in, even though the desire to get married eventually did.

But this is, allegedly, a thing - this having dreamt of one's wedding since girlhood. So I was curious to read Abby Ellin's Styles piece about the phenomenon. That, and the article's premise was an interesting one. That is, it might have gone in an interesting direction. It is strange that despite a great deal of female economic independence, despite a culture where premarital sex is far from taboo, despite a whole host of developments, the dynamics around marriage remain so gendered. Not the trappings, because that's just... trappings. The actual decision-making parts. The male proposal remains precisely because the default assumption is that a woman always wants to get married. Which is, indeed, curious.

Alas, because Styles, there's no such investigation. The evidence that women dream of princess weddings seems limited to the existence of women who take an interest in weddings prior to having found a groom. But... isn't that just kind of an aesthetic thing? So some women make Pinterest boards for as-yet-to-be-scheduled weddings. I have Pinterest boards full of clothing I can't necessarily afford, but think looks cool - does that point to something fraught? To some kind of delusion or agony? More to the point: I can't figure out how all this virtual flower-arranging lead to the following conclusion:

Dr. Markey also believes the wedding is the “biological imperative” made manifest. “Women tend to be more selective when picking a mate and have a greater desire for monogamy and a stable relationship than men,” he said. “Thus, they are more likely to dream of a wedding, which symbolizes this desire.”
Never mind that the latest science on this is apparently that women are less suited to monogamy than men, and that women's alleged lack of interest in sex in middle age is due to their being bored with their partners. Which would, if anything, suggest that women's greater interest in weddings is precisely due to their being symbols of a new relationship.

I did, however, get a kick out of this:
Sue Johnson, a clinical psychologist and author of “Love Sense,” finds this mentality worrisome. Women are planning the show before the script is written and “before the leading man shows up,” she said. She understands the desire for companionship. Marriage, she said, “speaks to our longing for connection and our fear of aloneness.” But, she added, the emphasis on weddings and marriage is also somewhat dangerous. “In North America, we’ve made progress,” she said. “Hillary Clinton might be the first female president, but a woman still wants this badge of legitimacy that she is wanted and desired by a man.”
Hillary Clinton. A woman who's accomplished plenty, yes, but whose name we know because she was married to a president. At first I thought that this was Johnson's point, but then I reread the paragraph and I'm maybe 95% sure it's not.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

My impractical Japanese kitchen implement privilege is showing

-I'm now the proud owner of something called Yamaga Nabe Kuronuri, which I will use to make hot-pot. The question is how to clean it. I more or less know, from what the woman in the store translated for me, how not to ruin it (i.e. don't put it in the dishwasher, and make sure it's dry after use), but apart from that, it's anyone's guess. The device is apparently best for a table-top burner, which is also a thing that exists, but because I have some restraint (and don't want to burn down my apartment), I'll be using it on one of the stovetop burners. How that will work for the fondue aspect of things, I can't say. I guess either standing and dipping, or sitting and accepting that things may be a little more al dente than ideal. But whatever! It's gorgeous.

-There may, at some point, be an earth-shattering post about how I reconcile a distaste for YPIS ("your privilege is showing"; see also the tag) with a belief that subtle forms of bigotry matter, and aren't just the invention of the hypersensitive. The short version is that I don't think YPIS is even about people in marginalized groups feeling offended and speaking out. The real YPIS happens when someone in a position of relative power thinks they stand to gain by calling out a gaffe, real or imagined. When the calling-out takes on a life of its own. Also when the goal is making an individual feel terrible, and not changing society. Basically, I have a grand theory of how the left and the right are talking past each other, but a) it's not quite there yet, and b) not sure WWPD's the place for it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Someone somewhere had shared an article called "Just ignore my kid's meltdown - please," and I thought, OK, another one to keep track of for the parental-overshare files. But no! That's not what it is at all! Exactly all that we learn about Bethany Mandel's child is that he or she is four months old and has been on an airplane. And that, even by my stringent standards, doesn't constitute parental overshare.

A headline writer took some liberties, it seems, and referenced an entirely theoretical tantrum.  If anything, it's an anti-overshare piece. Mandel's real beef is with the people who observe a child they don't know mid-tantrum and decide to film it. But that headline got that way because - I suspect - overshare sells. I mean, I clicked on this thing because that's what I thought it was, although in my defense, I keep track of that genre with the end goal of stopping it. I was pleased to see it was something else.

Note: I'm not Googling the author to see if she's parentally-overshared elsewhere. What interests me is the headline implying overshare where there is none.

What also interests me, though, is her bio: "Bethany Mandel, a New Jersey-based stay-at-home mom, writes on politics and culture." Now, we all get to identify as we see fit, and I'm not the bio-police. But it would seem that if you write on politics and culture, even if you're doing so from your home, and even if you're multitasking that with bringing up your children, you could, if you wanted to, use something like "writer" or "journalist." Would a man who writes about lofty topics and has also reproduced define himself in this way?

It could also be a time-ratio thing, of course, although "writes" suggests this isn't her first attempt. But what struck me about it was mostly that I'd just been reading a different piece, one by a male writer, the gist of which was that because literary agents don't like his manuscript, the marketplace will only accept drivel. And as I was reading that one, all I could think was how incredibly unlikely it was that a woman would have that level of confidence. A woman would think the problem was that her writing was drivel. I've even heard rumors of women who have literary agents, who persist in the belief that their writing is drivel. But then again, if said dude is correct about the marketplace, it would kind of have to be!

Monday, November 17, 2014

A post unrelated to shirts

Rather than dwell on the scandals of the social-media moment,* I'm going to revisit a topic I wrote about in 2004. Yes, matzo. Specifically, the question of matzo marketing. Recently I was listening to Dan Pashman's podcast about matzo, which is very much about matzo as a year-round food. One interesting tidbit was that religious Jews are apparently less concerned with matzo flavor-purity than are secular Jews. According to a guest expert, secular Jews think it's not kosher-in-the-colloquial-sense to have flavored matzos, whereas observant Jews will have... whatever is the matzo equivalent of a blueberry bagel, as long as it's kosher-in-the-religious-sense. Also intriguing, if not so surprising, given the year-round availability of matzo in regular supermarkets: lots of people agree that it's a better cracker than that which is sold as crackers.

But I was also struck by Pashman's intro, which consisted of this... almost apology for taking on a Judeo-centric culinary topic. I get that part of it is because he's introducing a Southern Baptist matzo-producer, but he also seems genuinely concerned that he'll have listeners who will be like, 'ugh, what's this Jew doing, telling us about all of this Jew food we don't care about!' That intro reminded me of nothing more than intros to monographs I read in grad school, where the author explains that a book about French Jews is really one about France, apologizing for having dared broach such a particular subject... as though it were possible to write an academic text of that sort that covered France generally. And I kept wondering, would Lynne Rosetto Kasper apologize for an item on Italian-American cuisine? I mean, maybe she does this and I don't notice it? Somehow, though, I doubt it. There's something specifically Jewish, I think, in this fear, this overcompensation for being thought to think we're "chosen." And I mean no disrespect to Pashman - I'm sure I do this as well. I doubt if being aware of it much helps.

Anyway, I'm also remarking on this because: matzo brei! Now that's a food with which to alienate Gentiles, as well as, alas, some Jews.

*OK, one final, personal note: For all the talk of TBTB and so forth, in my own, day-to-day life, I'm surrounded by scientists, most of whom are men, and all of whom dress much better than I do. I think it may relate to their being European. Or just to the number of items in my closet splattered from matzo-brei preparation.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Naked Rufus UPDATED

As I sat contemplating the Mark Zuckerberg shirt story from every which angle, another whole shirts-and-sexism scandal was underway. So much so that "shirtgate" refers to something else!

In all (humorless) seriousness, I'm probably too late to the #gate on this one. The man has already apologized. The woman who called out his wardrobe choice is already getting threats. I'd known about the comet landing for a while before hearing anything about the outfit.

That said, there's a TBTB angle here, for sure. Not a literal hygiene issue, but... that sense in which a man gets to be a mad genius, too brilliant to follow even the broadest outlines of social convention when it comes to dress. But TBTB doesn't quite cover it. It falls more into a different framework: the notion that women are killjoys. Now, some individual women (and - you guessed it - some men) are killjoys, but that's not the issue. What I'm describing is something more like... Men will say that women are uptight, when the freedom men are asking for is one that women don't enjoy. Depending which men, the next step might involve men saying that it's just not in women's nature to want whatever it is.

I realize I'm being vague, but the "issue" could be anything on the spectrum from ogling to - to keep with the Dan Savage motif - "monogamish." Men will call women prudes, when what these women are actually protesting (albeit discreetly) is that whichever freedom is only being demanded for men. And men won't see this, either because it will be inconceivable to them that women would want equivalent freedoms, or because - and ding, ding, ding, this explains the level of anger among some Twitter-types - it's far too threatening to imagine that women might want the same things as men. Men would rather the issue be that women are humorless scolds than for the alternative interpretation to be true.

As for women's nature, we know that no woman would even think to own a scantily-clad-men shirt. Except, wait a moment. I'm a woman, and guess what? I own such a shirt! (Google "Rufus Wainwright" and "Marc Jacobs.") I'd forgotten about this shirt precisely because it's not a thing that one can wear. Certainly not to, like, work (well, maybe to some work...). I bought it many years ago, as a collector's item or home decor, not as clothing.

So! Maybe I do have a new angle on #shirtgate, after all. I say yes to the inappropriate shirts, but make the privilege gender-neutral, and not limited to rocket scientists. The cost-per-wear on Naked Rufus is abysmal, and it's time for that shirt to... come out of the closet seems the thing to type, but I believe that, technically speaking, that shirt is in a drawer.


The #gate continues, and I'm starting to think there's a YPIS angle as well. While it's absolutely reasonable that the idiotic shirt should be called out, the problem is what happens when the entire world seems to be calling something relatively trivial out in unison.

The question remains, however, what options exist that don't amount to a pile-on. Everyone's commenting simultaneously, and each of the individual comments are measured... but then what happens is, minor annoyance times however many thousand ends up sounding like OUTRAGE. While it could well be the case that obliviously wearing a sexy-women shirt at an important press conference is the very definition of unchecked privilege, the eternal YPIS problem is that privilege-checking has a way of quickly becoming bullying.

That said... I think there's a big difference between pile-ons whose inspiration is an ordinary citizen observed mid-misstep, and a public figure of some kind. This scientist is maybe borderline-public-figure, but let me put it like this: If he had, say, worn the shirt to some departmental meeting, and a photo of him wearing it had leaked, and that had been the inspiration for all manner of tweets and think-pieces, then yes, that would have been a problem. The shirt would have still been a mistake, but a social-media calling-out would have been a far greater one. That would have been bullying. But it's not as if this shirt-wearing were surreptitiously brought into the public record. 

Also: Hadley Freeman sums everything up nicely, as usual. And I will of course be tracking down this book about public shaming that she speaks of...

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Outsourced overshare UPDATED

When discussing parental overshare, I tend to draw a line between articles written by the parent and those by a journalist unrelated to the child in question. A reporter isn't claiming to know the child better than anyone else does, or to love the child. Nor is the reporter putting his or her own parenting skills up for discussion. The end result may still be that a child's lowest moments are Googleable later on, but there isn't the same kind of exploitation going on. And there isn't that same sense, for readers, that the information provided is the absolute truth about the child. There's some kind of wall surrounding the family that the journalist isn't allowed past.

So I'm not sure what to make of this:

Often filling his worksheets with scribbles of frowning faces, Matthias barely made it through kindergarten. Then the disaster of science camp made Ms. Kendle fear first grade even more, leading her back to Dr. Diller’s office in mid-July, more desperate than the year before. (She permitted Dr. Diller to record their conversation for this article.) The doctor floated an option: adding Risperdal, which has shown promise in tempering disruptive behavior in some children.
By "this" I mean the ethically-momentous aside about how this child's doctor's appointment came to be recorded (and photographed!) for a national publication. This mother isn't writing the piece herself, but it's her decision that's allowing doctor-patient confidentiality to be abandoned, in favor (presumably) of some possible greater good that might come from addressing the question of pediatric psychiatric medication, a good that can apparently only be achieved if the child is abundantly identifiable.

Which... leads to a not-all-that-out-there slippery-slope question. We don't hear whether the child agreed to any of this, but he's six. At what age is a kid too old for a parent to unilaterally permit such a thing? A "child" is, after all, anyone under 18. Could the parent of a high school senior, in conjunction with a journalist, give that 17-year-old's doctor permission to record an appointment?


And this, from the very same paper, might give parents considering sharing their children's psychiatric visits with a reporter some pause. Turns out that disclosing a mental health condition can get a person fired! Which, unfair as it may be, might be a reason not to reveal a condition your kid has in a newspaper. Disclosure of anything for which the word "disclosure" is appropriate has to be left up to the individual. Disclosing stuff about your kid means your kid, as an adult, won't have a choice either way.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Further thoughts on Mark Zuckerberg's undershirts

We're all aware of the argument: Given that women in [name a country with a terrible human rights record] are subject to [name an extreme form of deprivation or violence], women in the West have no right to complain about anything. Feminism, in this understanding, is a zero-sum game. Except that that's never the point - the point is to dismiss feminist concerns, not to get feminists to change their priorities.

In a piece that vaguely gestures in that direction, Sally Kohn defends Lena Dunham from her from-the-left detractors (conveniently allowing TNR to illustrate the piece in the way that all lifestyle articles must be illustrated, i.e. with a photo of Dunham), yet objects to those who - ahem - called Mark Zuckerberg's gray-t-shirt comments sexist:

Seriously? Zuckerberg did not explicitly—or, I'd argue, implicitly—contrast himself with women, but merely stated that he finds fashion concerns to be "silly" and "frivolous." If anything, he was referring to his fellow male tech CEOs, like Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and his Prada suits; after all, only 6 percent of Silicon Valley CEOs are female. But in criticizing Zuckerberg, Davis and Krupnick relied on a stereotype that he himself did not—that only women care about clothes—and perhaps even reinforced that stereotype in sounding the feminist alarm.
Kohn cites "the risk of feminist overreach." As she sees it, feminist scolds are out to get poor (intentional, intentional...) Mark Zuckerberg and his noble rejection of Prada:
[I]f feminism becomes like the boy who cried wolf—if girls, and women, cry sexism too readily and often—America will stop listening. The minute feminism becomes hypercritical and humorless, it becomes too easy for the mainstream to dismiss our more valid complaints. And let’s be honest, it’s kind of refreshing for feminism to be at the cool kids’ table of society at the moment, fraught and confining though it might sometimes be. Does anyone really want to return to the period of sidelined, shrill feminism?
And so the game is given away. No one who describes any era of feminism as "shrill" - indeed, no one who uses the word "shrill" - is arguing from any kind of pro-feminist position. Now, it's totally fine (if a bit contradictory) for anti-feminist women to write opinion articles. But Kohn is claiming to be criticizing the movement from within, so as to save it from itself. Which seems a bit disingenuous, but who knows. Kohn's basically right about Dunhamgate. Maybe an editor added "shrill"...

What interests me here more than the feminism angle, though, is the crying-wolf one. It's not crying wolf to cite less-than-extreme examples of bigotry, assuming you do so in a way that acknowledges their non-extreme nature. As I've said so very many times, it ought to be possible to call out anti-Semitism that falls short of death camps. So, too, with sexism. That NYMag piece was prominently tagged "casual sexism," for goodness sake! Neither item Kohn cites in any way attempts to suggest that Zuckerberg himself is a particular threat to women. Rather, his comments say something about our culture, and point to a very real reason that women (and others with stereotypically feminine interests) end up dismissed as unserious.

Now, if you're going to write about something - anything - it's a weak rhetorical strategy to open with a big disclaimer about how well aware you are that there are more important things in the world than what you're about to say. That does pose a challenge for those who seek to highlight things that are -bad-but-not-that-bad. Commenting at all has a way of seeming to be overstating the case. I was attempting to address something along these lines, as it happens, in my post about the strudel-commenting stranger. My point there was certainly not that the biggest menace to women today is the possibility that you'll get unsolicited comments about your afternoon cake. Rather, I was trying to convey that there are certain day-to-day... specificities about being female that set women back. And I intentionally don't use the term "microaggression," because for whatever reason, it has a way of coming across as overstating whichever case.


Via Antonia Noori Farzan, yes, "trolling" is the best way to describe this Observer story about the trouble it is for "'kids [...] somewhere between their mid 20s and their 40s, in some cases even older" who want their parents to buy them luxury apartments in Brooklyn. Their problem isn't that their parents are refusing to buy them apartments. It's that Brooklyn's too scruffy, as far as the parents are concerned. Not only is this the firstest worldest of non-problems, but it's framed as service journalism for the not-so-young adults in question:

And for those trying to convince their families to lend a hand, letting them see you take some knocks in the marketplace can be helpful. “Even when children are well established professionals with high income of their own, I see parents buying for them,” Ms. Sewtz, the Douglas Elliman broker, told the Observer. “Often, the child will be competing against cash buyers. And the parents see: Oh, again you lost out on a bidding war. Again you lost out. Hardly any parent sets out from the beginning and says, ‘Let me just buy you a mansion for three million dollars.’”
Well done, then,  Chris Pomorski! You've managed to far outshine Gwyneth-and-crew, whose "Gift Guide" includes a $4,739 gold... juicer, of course. Or does it? Which is the better trollerie - being knowingly out-of-touch (even turning one's out-of-touch-ness into a brand), or engaging in Styles-style rhetoric?

Thursday, November 13, 2014


In a recent interview with HR maven Victoria Humphrey, Leonard Lopate broaches the contentious topic of unpaid interning. To which she, the purported employment expert, replies, "I guess I wasn't aware it was controversial." Off to a great start!

Lopate then explains about how some workers aren't keen on the whole not-getting-paid thing, but adds a not-so-surprising-for-media caveat: "In our field, it's the only way we find out whether somebody would be a good fit for us." Indeed, there appear to be two different tracks by which one can work for free for his show. (As best as I can tell, there's either volunteering or interning, the latter of which includes Metrocard fare.)

Lopate doesn't elaborate on why employee assessment a) can't be done through an application-and-interview process, or b) why, if a trial period is needed, it has to be unpaid. Low-paid is something one can work with. (I should know - I've been working with variants of it for some time now.) Unpaid is trickier to budget. The person being tried out doesn't magically lack living expenses, and if it turns out you're not "a good fit for" whichever industry, the time you spent working in it would be fairly useless but for the pay. It's not like a degree, which can be somewhat transferrable. But if all you have from a gig is the line on your resume, and that's not even a field you're entering, what's the use? (OK, fine, there's some use, in that it's better than nothing, but from the studies I've seen, it doesn't appear that "unpaid" is actually that much more helpful than "blank.")

Humphrey responds, "Oh yes, OK, now I understand," although it's clear from what follows that she hasn't the foggiest. She points out that unpaid internships can make someone more employable, which... are we going to expect her to be up on the research that says this isn't necessarily the case, she who's as good as never heard of the internship question until the past week or so? "It isn't like you're being forced, right?" No, not right, unless you're not counting coercion as a kind of forcing, but anyway. She continues: "I just don't understand why there would be any kind of quote unquote complaining about that from the intern's end. If you don't want to be an unpaid intern then go get a job." Lopate then says, "Well, if you can," to which she responds, "Yeah, I know, well, that's kind of my point, yeah." Yeah. But, I mean, what was she going to say, this workplace expert to whom it was news that unpaid work is controversial?

As best as I can tell, in the most generous interpretation, her "point" was that those losers who can't or won't get a job should be grateful for the opportunity to enjoy the sheer proximity to office life, which could - who knows? - trick down into some kind of money-providing job, at some point in the future. But my real concern here isn't this HR expert I'd never heard of before, but this seemingly left-wing radio host I've been listening to for ages. (Which is, I learned from this program, more than can be said for some people applying to work for him; for pay or not, I don't recall.) Why, Leonard Lopate, do you require unpaid labor to assess candidates? Don't you see how that essentially implies interns from rich families? And how that, in turn, impacts the coverage? (I, as someone who listens to the show regularly, could totally elaborate.) And that it's unfair even to kids from rich families, whose work is also work, and also deserves compensation (and no, subway fare isn't compensation)? Why is it that, in making the seemingly simple claim that work deserves pay, I end up to the left of the left? And what does it say that equivalent employers who present content to the right of what Lopate does are willing to pay at least something to their lowest-level employees?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"My full-time, unpaid, job is managing my appetite, and in between that I write for the Guardian."

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett sums up weight-think:

“You have an eating disorder,” some readers of my blog informed me, and I felt affronted. An unhealthy relationship with food, maybe; perhaps even disordered eating. But an eating disorder? I don’t think so. I am a healthy weight, as are many of the women who contacted me to describe their own struggles, their food obsessions, flaws and feelings of being just “too much”. This is despite these women having made significant real-world achievements: a PhD in astrophysics, two beautiful children, a successful career, a loving partner. This is despite, for many of them, being slim. Slimmer than me. 
There are undoubtedly those who will say that, in the midst of an obesity crisis, “skinny bitches” feeling fat is the least of society’s problems. I can sympathise with that viewpoint. It is how I feel when I speak to those who are thinner than me. “What’s your problem?” I think. “I would love to be that thin.”
I know I have been socialised to compete with other women – to size them up, to envy those who are slimmer – but I believe their suffering is as valid as mine, and that body image problems can manifest themselves even when, from the outside, you’re seen to embody the media-approved feminine ideal.
Yes. It's weight-think - and not some kind of ambient request to vary our shirt color - is the extra-added pressure on women in our society, holding us back from greatness, or just optimal enjoyment of our lives.

As for what to do about it, there are two possible ways to go. One is to raise awareness of the sheer ubiquity of this issue, which - and this is what Cosslett keeps hinting at - is wrongly assumed to impact only the small percentage of women with full-on eating disorders, or the especially vapid-and-vain. What a little digging reveals is that even the women you'd least expect will, say, get a diet Coke, and then drop other cues that amount to, huh, even she worries about this. Women who come across as serious, and who give back to the community. Women who've never been fat. Women who, by all other markers, don't appear to give a damn about their looks.

If we demolished the myth that women who care about their weight and think about this far, far more than the typical man does are some kind of aberration, perhaps progress would follow. Acknowledge the problem! Stop the dithering about how #notallwomen care about their looks, or the largely irrelevant asides about how some women are naturally thin, as if naturally thin women are somehow immune to a) worrying they'll get fat, or b) wanting to be even thinner than "nature" made them?

The trouble with that route is that it has a way of making the problem worse. Think the supposedly empowering blog posts denouncing thigh gaps, illustrated like so. (There were definitely some years in my 20s when I'd have as good as forgotten women's magazines existed if it weren't for Jezebel inviting its readers to summon outrage about them.) While weight-think hangs out in the back of women's minds, it's not always in the front. Certain triggers - fashion mags, protests about fashion mags, conversations with a friend who's thinner than you are but used to be thinner still and thinks you want to hear about it... - can ramp up the background noise.

So the second option is to suggest tuning out that sort of noise as much as possible. Cancel your subscription to the magazines that make a big deal of it every time they feature a woman with any body fat whatsoever. Hang out a bit less with that friend, or change the subject when she starts on it. Let weight-think fade into the background. It can resurface unexpectedly, even in women who think they've outgrown it. But you absolutely can control how present these triggers are in your life, and, to some extent, in that of your kids. Stop treating weight-think as an essential truth of the female experience, and it'll stop being one!

Awareness-raising and tuning-out, then, can seem mutually exclusive. And maybe to some extent they are. But there's got to be some way to reconcile the two, as they're both critical to getting rid of weight-think once and for all.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

When sloppiness signals seriousness

A week or so ago, I ended up in a fairly intense (offline) discussion of too-brilliant-to-bathe, a term I coined, but a concept that others in-and-married-to-academia are also familiar with. For the uninitiated: TBTB is the phenomenon by which a man is able to demonstrate his intellectual superiority through his lack of effort in the grooming realm. A man who's been so busy thinking Great Thoughts that he simply hasn't had time to get a haircut in the last two years, or a new shirt in the last decade. Central to the theory of TBTB is that this laxity is an intentional part of self-presentation. As in, it's partly that men have an easier time getting away with looking sloppy, but it's also that sloppiness signals seriousness. For men. White men, mostly, but not exclusively. The sloppiness will help a man's reputation, help spread the word that he's so very lost in thought that he - unlike his colleagues in crisp new Patagonia or whatever academics who do spend time and money on their clothing might wear - can't spare the moment it would take to not dress in tweedy rags.

A variant of TBTB, however, is the man who's too brilliant to own more than one outfit. These men - whom we're now hearing about because Mark Zuckerberg apparently owns a lot of gray t-shirts - by all accounts make time to bathe, but their sartorial limitations hold the key to their great works. Allison P. Davis quotes Zuckerberg:

"I’m in this really lucky position where I get to wake up every day and help serve more than a billion people. And I’d feel I’m not doing my job if I spent any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life."
Davis cries sexism, and rightly so. Jess Cartner-Morley also gets it:
Grey marl is a sartorial humblebrag. It’s everyman and yet classy at the same time. (For instance, if you are in a posh hotel gym, the proportion of grey marl T-shirts will be much higher than in a municipal leisure centre. Fact.) Note that when Zuckerberg talks about other men who wear the same clothes every day, the comparisons he draws are Steve Jobs and President Obama. An ego like that has no need of bling.

What's funny to me about all of this is that ... I also wear a gray t-shirt nearly every day. I may shake it up with a white or black t-shirt, but that's about it. Not because there are billions of people requiring my guidance, but because I gravitate to these shirts, and thus seem to have acquired enough of them to last a laundry cycle.

More generally, though, uniform-dressing is plenty common among women as well, at least among women who aren't required to look a particular way for their jobs. (Blogging and dissertating, both very gray-t-shirt-compatible.) Actually, forget that caveat - a moment of internet-research tells me that Joan Rivers was a uniform-dresser. Brad Pitt's ex and current, both also uniform-wearers. Lots of people do this, including men and women, fashion-conscious and not, brilliant and otherwise. It's only held up a mark of genius when a Great Man does it. When a woman does, it's... that she's thrifty, or that she knows what works with her body/her coloring. So it's not quite like TBTB, in that men and women both uniform-dress. The difference is more in the reception.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Catcalling and power

At 31, I'm ten years past 21, an age that still doesn't sound, to me, all that young. I've lost whichever youthful-and-vulnerable quality leads men to approach women in public spaces to tell them to smile. But it's not over till it's over, or something. I was recently at a coffee shop with my husband, when an older man (of the Caucasian persuasion, I'll note, for intersectionality purposes; he also looked well-to-do, which I know really narrows it down in this part of NJ) started, and basically didn't stop, discussing my choice to decline the whipped cream that comes with the apple strudel. He began by loudly admonishing the waitstaff for "forgetting" my cream, and then when I confirmed that I hadn't wanted it in the first place (saying this more to the server than this guy, but it's a small place), he kept offering me some cream he hadn't finished. I told him I don't like whipped cream, and got to hear extensively about why I'm wrong, why it's delicious, why this particular whipped cream was unusually delicious, and so on. I got another round of this quite a while later, as my husband and I got up to leave.

Now, I have no idea whether this man intended any of this as flirtatious. I didn't feel at all sexually threatened by any of it, just a bit imposed-upon while trying to revise this academic article I'd been working on for, oh, about a year, and had to get done over the weekend. If I'd been alone, it might have been otherwise, but the fact that I was not makes me think this wasn't a hitting-on situation. What struck me was that the chances that a man's food choices would be up for public discussion are basically nil. What a woman's eating, or not eating, is eternally the business of strangers.

Part of it is the whole women-and-weight thing. Never mind that I hadn't exactly ordered the diet platter (strudel and a by all accounts whole-milk cappuccino!), but I guess rejecting whipped cream because of not liking its taste is inconceivable. I must have been depriving myself of some pleasure, and it was this man's business that I enjoy some cream, perhaps his cream. But it's more centrally a matter of personal space, of approachability, of this sense that a woman is a person who, by virtue of being a woman, invites nosy inquiry.

And that's really the essential. Not every woman is chased down the street by men who find her beautiful. And not every public-space encounter can be rounded up to something as ominous-sounding as rape culture. But if we're looking for some common-denominator The Female Experience, it could well involve something having to do with men thinking they're entitled to personal and mildly squirm-inducing banter. I don't think this man was a terrible person, or doing something horribly offensive. What I think this interaction demonstrates is just the baseline difference between public space for men and for women.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

What is "liberal" parenting?

Miss Self-Important brings our attention to an egregious example of parental overshare, but of the variant where the parent’s the one who comes across as looking ridiculous. It's a piece about so-called liberal parenting, although I'm having trouble sorting out what that is, seeing as today's coastal elite liberal types are supposedly helicopter parents, while the let-the-kids-be sorts are the throwbacks. Liberal parenting has been in the news, what with the National Review accusing Lena Dunham’s parents of child abuse through excessive liberalism. But let’s turn instead to some historical examples of liberal parenting. Not 17th century pamphlet. 20th-century sitcom:

Two examples come to mind immediately. The first – in the order of coming to mind, not chronologically – is 1990s Britcom “Absolutely Fabulous.” Has there ever been a more liberal parent than Edina Monsoon? But she ends up with a daughter like Saffy. Saffy’s not politically conservative – if anything, she’s a better leftist than Edina, calling out her mother’s various rich-hippie hypocrisies – but she’s super-serious, sensible, buttoned-up. It’s precisely because Edina’s useless in that area that Saffy figured out, at a young age, how to deal with all that's practical. A typical Saffy move will be explaining to Edina, whose alimony's being cut off, how to buy milk at a supermarket. (Edina would have otherwise had it delivered from an upscale department store, which is apparently a thing that can be done in England.)

Next up is the more subtle pairing of Phyllis and Bess on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Phyllis’s thing is that she’s a liberal-and-liberated woman. She has a Master’s degree and myriad artistic and philanthropic involvements. She’s also a housewife, on a show that centers around a woman with a high-powered career. When Phyllis, Rhoda, and Mary are together, Phyllis’s progressive credentials are a kind of running joke. Because it’s the 1970s, Phyllis is into a kind of liberal parenting that seems very… 1970s. She has Bess call her “Phyllis,” and has a deeply-researched parenting philosophy, complete with many books she in one early episode heaves at Mary, who’s babysitting.

Bess's upbringing is in some respects really jarring today. When the time comes for a birds-and-bees discussion, poor Bess comes to Mary and explains that while Phyllis had told her about sex, she didn’t say anything about love. This is a problem because Bess’s boyfriend (she and – presumably – the off-screen boyfriend are 10 or 11 at the time) says he loves her, and she’s afraid that saying she loves him back will mean she has to sleep with him. Mary, who’s the mix of horrified and amused that the audience is meant to be (and might have been in the 1970s; I had trouble getting past horrified.)

There’s also the great episode where Rhoda’s mother - under the influence of Phyllis - suddenly tries out liberal parenting… on a 30ish Rhoda. She decides she's going to be Rhoda's "friend," and announces she's not wearing a bra. Rhoda is aghast.

In any case, Bess, like Saffy, has a good head on her shoulders. She’s not uptight like Saffy (she laughs at Rhoda’s jokes, and plays poker with Mr. Grant), but is several notches more reasonable than Phyllis. The Phyllis-Bess dynamic is a less farcical version of the Edina-Saffy one, but is overall the same idea. The major difference is that Phyllis's liberal parenting is of the hyperinvolved variety. Phyllis has time on her hands, and turns Bess into a project (see the episode where she decides that Bess should write a book, and sits down to write it herself). Edina, meanwhile, is off being a libertine and leaves Saffy to her own devices.

But I'm left wondering: What’s the relationship between liberal parenting and liberal politics? It seems at best a really limited one. Here, we might turn to a different (and far inferior) sitcom, “Family Ties,” where the ex-hippie parents have to contend with their Reagan-loving kid, played by Michael J. Fox (not to mention the mall-and-boy-crazy Mallory). The parents – and perhaps it’s key that in this case, there are two of them (Phyllis is married to the eternally offscreen Lars) – do impose rules. The Michael J. Fox character’s conservatism is a rebellion against his parents’ politics, but not their parenting.

But more to the point, as Heather Havrilesky, Emily Matchar, and others keep pointing out, the new supermom fixation on feeding kids home-farmed everything isn't really one way or the other, politically. Those who embrace it tend to see themselves as being on the left (anti-corporate, etc.), but are also rejecting the basic tenets of what it means to be a feminist, namely the need for a woman to be able to support herself financially, and to have an identity that isn't just relational. "Liberal" parenting today is neither a) permissive, nor b) feminist. And sitcoms have turned my brain into too much mush to sort that paradox out.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

I sleep all night and I work all day

The infinite source of fascinating material that is Facebook points me to a story about the "lumbersexual." This phrase that someone is trying to make happen refers to heritage-chic as worn by heterosexual men. It doesn't quite work, because a) the lumberjack look isn't unexpected on a straight or masculine-end-of-the-spectrum man, thus the Lumberjack Song, and b) as someone pointed out on that same Facebook thread, the look is already kind of passé.

So-last-season though it may be, I absolutely gravitate towards the look. Although as I envision it when, ahem, wearing it, it's not so much "lumberjack" as "lumberjack as interpreted by a hip man or woman in Tokyo." This is a look. I know this because of Japanese Instagram, those two weeks in Japan, and the existence of such things as "Shibuya" boots by an American rugged-boot company and Uniqlo flannel. (Also: Muji flannel.) It's a level of cultural appropriation and androgyny I don't think I have the semiotics skills to make sense of, but it's a look, and one that's - unsurprisingly - compatible with living in a muddy, woodsy part of 'merica. I might on some level wish I dressed like a super-chic, ultra-feminine woman in Tokyo or Milan or something, but it just wouldn't work.

On that note, let me announce that I've finally tracked down The Boots. By which I mean brown leather Alpine hiking boots with red laces. Specifically, these are what finally ended up working out. They're all kinds of fabulous, and would probably look that much more so in Japan.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Strange bedfellows UPDATED

Something odd has happened online recently. An allegiance of conservative rabble-rousers and... black feminists? I suppose, upon reflection, it's not that strange, because if you think in terms of common enemies, there's the White Lady. Gwyneth? No - the other one. Yes, that's right, Lena Dunham, whose fame the National Review wants to hate-cash-in on, and whose work is already hate-consumed plenty from the left. This is, Google tells me, not new - way back in 2013, this very "common ground" was already being cited.

I do, rest assured, have a grand theory of all of this, but I don't waste grand theories on mere blog posts. (Actually, I do that all the time, but I'm trying not to!)


Still saving the grand theory, but in the mean time, see also Kay Hymowitz (and other conservatives) discovering "privilege" in the wake of the catcalling-video controversy. Underprivileged men of color become all of a sudden so sympathetic to the right when these men are the (perceived) antagonists of the young-Hillary demographic.

Monday, November 03, 2014


Has it ever happened to you that you've made far too much dumpling filling to fit in the dumpling wrappers you've purchased? Because I've dealt with this so often, this time I got the ratio close to correct. But not quite. I didn't want to waste the remaining filling (a mix of extra-firm tofu, bok choy, scallion, garlic, ginger, mirin, sesame oil, soy sauce, and potato starch), but couldn't think what I'd possibly use it for if I put it away in the fridge.

Then came the epiphany! I remembered that Cooking With Dog had recently shown how to make homemade wrappers. What ensued was not, however, that recipe. I instead emptied the small amount of all-purpose flour left in the flour container into a bowl, and then added (cold) tap water from the sink, mixing a bit along the way, until the consistency seemed right. I (very briefly) kneaded the result, then divided it up into pieces to roll out with a rolling pin. Seeing as I'd run out of flour, I used potato starch on the cutting board. The from-scratch wrappers were not exactly circular, and were far thicker than the prepackaged Mitsuwa variety (which seemed, in turn, much thinner than the thin-ish ones from Hmart).

And... oddly enough, the frantically-homemade wrappers worked! I'm sure the Cooking With Dog way is better - and am still meaning to try it out - but between the filling, the deliciousness-making process (steamed-then-fried), and the dipping sauce (an elaborate step involving pouring soy sauce into a small bowl), it's possible that I wouldn't have noticed that much of a difference.

Privilege doesn't pay the bills, Installment # 532

When I saw the title, "How I Got Rejected From a Job at the Container Store," I immediately assumed that the associated article would be a personal essay by someone who finds it inconceivable that a store wouldn't just hire everyone who applies. I don't know why that's where my mind went - and not to any number of other reasons someone might have not gotten a job - but that's what happened.

In a sense, Deborah Copaken's article takes that one step further. Copaken comes across as having felt herself entitled to a job at the store, and is stunned when the titular rejection occurs:

Because seriously, if an Emmy-award-winning, New York Times bestselling author and Harvard grad cannot land a job as a greeter at The Container Store—or anywhere else for that matter, hard as I tried—we are all doomed.
She seems under the impression, in other words, that one would expect the Container Store to put resumes like hers on the top of the pile. When, alas, those are exactly the kind of qualifications you wouldn't want to bring up while looking for a retail position. As Ester Bloom points out, dropping a euphemistic-Boston may repel certain employers, but even without the Harvard angle, it's clear where this approach might fail. If anything about your application suggests you think you deserve a pat on the back for swallowing your pride and applying to a certain position, no matter the sector, you probably won't get the job. And if you are, as the imperfect term has it, overqualified, whoever's doing the hiring is bound to think you think you're too good for the job (which, if you're referring to the job ad itself as "spam," you probably do), and that you'll quit the moment something else becomes available, which is, from an employer's perspective, a reasonable concern.

I say all of this, however, not to chastise Copaken, but rather because these details actually show the importance of her article. As she makes perfectly clear, she needed a job like the one this retail establishment was advertising. She - a single mother and breast cancer patient! - needed money and health insurance, things that ambient privilege does not provide. She may not have known how to get a job along these lines, but that was posing a real problem for her. She wasn't playing at being scrappy, or - as Barbara Ehrenreich once did - posing as a working-class worker in order to write about doing so. She was - as she explains it - genuinely in-between gigs, and as glamorous as those gigs do sound, she was suffering from some not especially first-world problems in the interim.

The thing to which Copaken feels entitled is the ability to support her family and pay for her own much-needed health care. And is that so unreasonable? Bloom has it right when she gives as the article's first takeaway, "Even with the improvements made possible by Obamacare, our for-profit, tied-to-employment health insurance system is a horse poop cupcake topped with FML sprinkles." That's the major point here - and these are issues for the state, not The Container Store, to address. And that, to me, is the essential. Sure, we can fault Copaken for sounding naive, but naive people also have living expenses. That she evidently comes from the class that hasn't a clue about such things didn't spare her from needing to be clued-in. And even if she had been a savvier Container Store applicant, there's no reason to think she'd have been picked from among the hundreds who probably applied.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Stories of the weekend

-The buried lede here is that looks matter in dating, for men and women alike. (As in, nearly all people, regardless of gender, eliminate most of the human population on the basis of looks alone, before even considering such things as personality, kindness, accomplishments, etc. - "looks matter" doesn't mean looks can typically cancel out deficiencies in other areas.) So it's kind of amusing to see comments along the lines of, 'duh, men are visual creatures.' This would be a relevant point to make if Tinder involved women's photos and men's CVs, but, as I understand it, it does not.

-Pretty much everything I could possibly say about the Hollaback! video controversy is on WWPD already in one way or another, but the most relevant post is probably this one. Other repeating-myself points include the fact that street harassment is - as some seem to get - about power. (Thus why a plain-looking 14-year-old girl may find herself bothered far more often than a reasonably attractive 20-year-old woman.) I also continue to think the feminist focus on catcalls is... a bit like the feminist focus on issues like how young and thin fashion models tend to be. These are absolutely real problems, but they're also photogenic ones. Along with the more productive awareness-raising they accomplish, they provoke something that might be called concern-ogling. Depending how the coverage plays out, it can end up reinforcing the idea that to be female is to be young, beautiful, and the recipient of a continuous, admiring male gaze.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Susan Sontag's "Top Shelf"

Sometimes a preexisting tag demands a blog post. Sometimes that's hardly the half of it.

Susan Sontag shopped at Sephora. She was on their mailing list.

The verdict in at least two articles noting this fact is that Sontag was "just like us." As a haver-of-loyalty-points myself, I can't disagree.

I suppose one way to look at this is that it's a let-down, that the Beauty Myth impacts even lady-geniuses, holding them back from the great heights only available to too-brilliant-to-bathe men (via). (Now adding the other necessary tags for this post). That's not how I look at it. I see it as definitive confirmation that conventional femininity in no way precludes being an intellectual heavyweight.

And yes, as it happens, the holographic nail polish I ordered just arrived, and looks excellent.

Sunday, October 26, 2014


Allow me an unpopular opinion: There's nothing wrong with buying your dog a Halloween costume. Note: I have no plans to do so - it's not for personal reasons that I say this. (Bisou only wears couture; if she can't have that, which she can't, it's a rain/snow coat or nothing at all.) But... how exactly is it ethically different to put money towards a pet's costume than towards, say, home decor? We're not meant to be outraged at the throw-pillow industry. Why do pet outfits inspire such furor? Why do they inspire the whole that-money-could-be-spent-on-something-noble narrative?

Presumably it's for a few different reasons. One being the tremendous (and, I suspect, largely baseless) fear that people are confusing their pets for human children. This behavior is meant to represent the ultimate in decadence. While - to repeat - I don't think there are too many pet owners who sincerely view their pets as human beings, the notion that we would do so taps into various anxieties. The birthrate! Narcissism! Facebook-employee moms defrosting their eggs as a retirement present!

Another is, paradoxically, the same as the outrage inspired by parents who put their babies or toddlers in designer clothing. As if that's somehow spoiling the kid, when it's clearly about what the parents want to see. (Again: the throw-pillow analogy. Not that the child is a throw-pillow. But the choice of attire for the child too young to have an opinion... The Baby Versace jumpsuit or whatever is the throw-pillow.) As if certain outfits are somehow too fancy for a dog, as if they are, you know, for the dog.

But then there's the really obvious objection, which points to the dogs-are-roll-in-the-mud-animals vs. dogs-are-domesticated-pets divide. There are people under the impression that it's dog abuse to interfere with a dog's... dogginess, or something. That even interventions that in no way harm a dog - i.e. putting a silly-looking outfit on said dog - will somehow humiliate the creature. This is the attitude that would shudder at the hyperstylized photos that make up much (but not all) of Japanese poodle Instagram. When, I mean... why can't the very same dog be both? Why not a run in the woods and then some posing for a photo? One of the things you're supposed to do with a dog is train him/her/it to sit on command.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

When the cat's away

My husband's in Germany. Given that I don't have jetlag, and that I can look forward to things being open (well, open-ish) on Sunday, seems I'm not. I'm spending the evening:

-Feeling guilty about any time not writing.
-Preparing the pumpkin purchased weeks ago for use as various food-type ingredients - puree for future (tomorrow?) use in muffins, and seeds for... if history is any guide, eating all at once because fresh-roasted pumpkin seeds are delicious, then feeling kinda queasy and wondering what could possibly have caused this.
-Ordering a salad spinner... plus holographic nail polish because free shipping and shiny.
-Having a Twitter conversation about Knausgaard and fiction vs memoir.
-Rewatching some "Mary Tyler Moore Show," after a recent attempt at moving beyond old sitcoms led to a Netflix choice that started out this interesting Japanese movie, but suddenly morphed into something that would shock even Dan Savage. (Not graphic, just weird.)
-Having contrarian thoughts re: the proposed Mercer County plastic-bag tax, but then wondering if the fact that I always reuse these at least once might not be statistically significant.
-Watching Bisou play with her new, squirrel-sized toy rabbit. (I'd mostly come to realize dog toys are a waste of money, dog-toy-material, etc., given that tennis balls, old clothes, etc., are just as fascinating, but the temptation was just too great to see how she'd react to something that looks like the rodents she's so fixated on. I'd kind of figured she wouldn't much care - that these are toys meant to look rodent-like to the dog's owner, but that without the scent, she wouldn't be interested. How wrong I was!)

Friday, October 24, 2014

The American Art of making a mess of one's apartment

Question of the century: If it's presented as a "Japanese Art," will I find the prospect of cleaning the apartment appealing? That's probably the most fun it can be made to sound, "it" being sorting through a pile of books, magazines, bags, jackets, and, I notice, an umbrella all on a small table that's ostensibly for keys and a book or two. So thank you, Marie Kondo, for the inspiration. 

But if I think in terms of "'the [Japanese] tradition of folding,'" as expert Leonard Koren puts it, who knows? Maybe the pile of clothes on top of the bedroom drawers will not only leave that pile and find homes in the drawers in which they belong? "'Folding is deep and pervasive in Japanese culture,'" adds the expert. I choose to interpret this to mean that I'm excused from folding stuff, seeing as it falls outside my cultural tradition. It would be cultural appropriation to clean these surfaces! 

In all seriousness, though, I totally agree with Kondo's overall philosophy, as Penelope Green describes it. "Discard everything that does not 'spark joy,' after thanking the objects that are getting the heave-ho for their service; and do not buy organizing equipment — your home already has all the storage you need." That's basically what I already do. I don't go through stuff as often as I should (see above), but when I do, I'm not one for keeping things for sentimental reasons. I'm very much OK with thinking fondly of the times I wore an outfit in college, then bringing it to the thrift store if it's not something I'd ever really wear.

Some in the snarkfest comments to Green's article are saying that if they had to love all their clothes, they'd have none left. But doing so is actually kind of possible, and doesn't mean chucking everything that isn't formalwear. To give some examples from my (fascinating) life, I'm very enthusiastic about some socks from Muji, which are, yes, just socks, but I'm quite happy with them. Also with some t-shirts from Everlane. And, I mean, this fleece. Such logo-less simplicity! Zip pockets! And not baggy around the midsection, as is so often the case with fleece! If you're sufficiently enthusiastic about your, err, basics ("basic," such a loaded word) when you buy them, you may find that you can sustain that enthusiasm until - or, as is the case with those Petit Bateau Breton-striped shirts, long past - the point at which they're too worn-out to wear.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On learning where my car comes from UPDATED

I'm maybe halfway (or one NJ Transit round-trip) through The Accidental Office Lady, Laura Kriska's account of being an American woman who, through a complicated series of events, ends up pouring tea for Japanese Honda executives. I've (still) never seen Mad Men, but I assume it's something like that, only the 1980s, and there's some Japanese version of Jon Hamm who has yet to appear in the book, or who appears only in my as-yet-to-be-written fan fiction version.

But back to the book that does exist: So far, so fascinating. My one observation would be that much of what strikes Kriska as particular to Japanese corporate culture seems like it could very well come from her being at what is essentially her first post-college job. Work is not like school - just ask Doctor Cleveland. The shock of going from an environment where someone with an Ivy League PhD (and that will be the case at any college these days) cares what you think about complicated intellectual ideas to doing whatever a boss deems useful (and whatever that is, it probably won't be hearing what you think about Aristotle... unless you go to grad school, which - as per Doctor Cleveland's post - only delays the inevitable) is famously jarring even for those who don't move to Japan. How much of what she describes comes from being an individualistic American, and how much is just recent-college-grad blues? How much is culture clash and how much just office politics?

Whatever the case, nothing so far has been described that hasn't made me wish I could go back in time and make whichever life choices might have led to being sent to work in corporate Tokyo after college (but not too much after - 25 sounds like the limit; as a married 31-year-old, I'm thinking this ship has sailed). I could stand to know how to make proper tea, and I suspect that the much-complained-about polyester office-lady uniforms of the 1980s were far more chic than anything I've ever owned.


Guess I'd actually almost finished the book yesterday. In any case, finished it now. How interesting it would be for people who don't half-wish that they too had moved to Japan to work for a car company after college, I couldn't say. But I enjoyed it.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mitsuwa once more

Going to Mitsuwa is like taking a mini-trip to Japan. (Or so I must tell myself - it's three hours of driving and nearly $20 in tolls to get there and back!) It's not just a supermarket, but also a (somewhat hit-or-miss; udon was better than rice bowl, and yes, I may have inadvertently ordered two lunches) food hall; a bookstore; a whose-apartment-wouldn't-benefit-from-hanging-Japanese-fabrics store, with a housewares annex; and all sorts of skin- and haircare products whose exact purpose I'll only ever learn if the time comes that I have time to take a Japanese class.

Because I have some restraint, after yesterday's trip, I ended up only with an American woman's memoir of working for Honda in Japan; a bilingual cookbook (chosen after much deliberation; so many excellent cookbook options, not to even get into the cooking implements); some hair-product refills; and assorted groceries that may or may not have survived the hour-and-a-half drive back. There are some jumbo scallions currently taking up the better part of the refrigerator, but according to this cookbook they're needed in basically everything. And I'm trying to teach myself to like mushrooms; I'm thinking very pretty Japanese ones are the way to go.

(I'm also far too tired after a busy week-and-weekend to prepare any of this, and about to eat a mountain of pasta arrabiata. In principle I'll feel otherwise during the week.)

Now, a brief word on that which wasn't purchased:

-If they'd had poodle yukatas, that might have also happened (unlike some of her Japanese Instagram friends, Bisou's wardrobe is limited to a Lands End jacket and a Santorum-like sweater-vest she chewed some holes in), so it's probably for the best that they did not.

-Where was the frozen yuba??? But by the time I was looking for it, the makings for a 12-course kaiseki meal were already in the cart, so I didn't end up thoroughly investigating (i.e. asking someone at the store).

-I go back and forth on clay pots - I like the idea of at-home hot-pot (and would presumably also use this same pot for not-Japanese versions of the same), but would, realistically, be doing this on the stovetop, and not investing in a full table-top set-up anytime soon. The question is in part whether stovetop cooking would promptly ruin these pots, but also whether there's much fun in hot-pot if you have to stand, or to just eat the stuff at the table (i.e. on a trivet) once it's cooked. Perhaps the cookbook will enlighten...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Quotes from the anonymous

One of the things about long-term blogging is that I can see an article about transgender students at women's colleges; think, I remember blogging about that topic!; and then find that I did... in 2005, in college, in a post written a) shortly before I'd met anyone (I knew to be) trans, and b) long before trans awareness had entered the mainstream. And, unsurprisingly, it's not the post I'd write today. (Presumably in 2023, everything in this post will seem similarly out-of-date and out-of-it.)

Anyway, what's great about Ruth Padawer's article is that she addresses why there'd be transmen at a women's college in the first place - something that may seem confusing if you don't stop and think about it, or haven't gathered the relevant anecdotal evidence. But here's how it seems to go: Masculine-leaning 17-year-old girls who haven't quite come out (perhaps even to themselves) as trans are applying as female applicants, and are going to gravitate to colleges known to be accepting of gender-non-conforming women. But then once they pass a certain threshold on the gender-identity spectrum, they have to either transfer or ask for the school to change for them. And... if this were just a rare occurrence, one might say, so be it, but because transmen especially gravitate to these colleges, the schools must address this.

And then there's this confusing problem of... what's the progressive approach? This isn't like the radical feminists who find themselves behind the times when they refuse to accept transwomen as women. The female students opposed to having transmen classmates at women's college are doing so precisely because they understand these classmates to be men. If they said, by all means, stay put, it's not as if you're real men, wouldn't that be worse? But if they say their classmates can stay and be accepted as men, the door opens for cisgender men to attend. Maybe. A policy of letting anyone who identified as female upon applying finish their degree seems the only sensitive way to go.

Here, though, is where things get interesting:

Many Wellesley students, including some who are uncomfortable having trans men on campus, say that academically eligible trans women should be admitted, regardless of the gender on their application documents. 
Others are wary of opening Wellesley’s doors too quickly — including one of Wellesley’s trans men, who asked not to be named because he knew how unpopular his stance would be. He said that Wellesley should accept only trans women who have begun sex-changing medical treatment or have legally changed their names or sex on their driver’s licenses or birth certificates. “I know that’s a lot to ask of an 18-year-old just applying to college,” he said, “but at the same time, Wellesley needs to maintain its integrity as a safe space for women. What if someone who is male-bodied comes here genuinely identified as female, and then decides after a year or two that they identify as male — and wants to stay at Wellesley? How’s that different from admitting a biological male who identifies as a man? Trans men are a different case; we were raised female, we know what it’s like to be treated as females and we have been discriminated against as females. We get what life has been like for women.”
Yes, I can very well see why the student in question wouldn't have wanted to attach his name to this. College students, though, as I can attest, say the darndest things.


Also interesting: Another for the endless-childhood files, and perhaps the parental overshare ones as well. (In this, Randye Hoder refers to - and, I can only imagine, embarrasses - an adult child, but has evidently shown less restraint in the past.) Also a state-of-journalism angle - we learn that a recent college grad who's "an editorial assistant at a well-respected magazine" is a) receiving parental financial support after college, and b) the child of someone whose "articles have appeared in The New York Times, Time, the Los Angeles Times, and Slate."

I think this piece does that thing that journalist-types call burying the lede. The story is not about children of rich parents staying dependent for longer. It's about the mess that's out there for those without rich parents. It's yet another case of privilege being acknowledged but not even slightly grappled with. Here's what Hoder provides:
Extending financial help to one’s children in this way is, of course, a luxury. Many of my friends—as well as my husband and I—are upper-middle-class, and more than a few in our circle are one-percenters. The majority of Americans simply can’t afford to help their children to the degree that we are fortunate enough to be able to.
And - and I'm starting to think I'm part of the problem, showcasing what could well be clickbait, pitchfork-bait content - we learn both that the author treats her daughter to the odd "mani-pedi" and that the author's got this friend...
Another friend, whose 23-year-old works for a wealth management firm and earns a mid-five-figure salary, says she and her husband still pay their daughter’s car and health insurance and have kept her on the family’s cell phone plan. 
“She makes a good salary, but rent and expenses are high,” the mom says, adding that her daughter’s job requires that she look professional. “She has to dress well, get her nails done, and drive a reasonably nice car. 
Ms. Another Friend, too, chooses not to be named.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Affirmative consent, sitcom edition

The Mindy Project season premiere may well be the first time female heterosexuality was depicted on television. Wait, what could I possibly mean? Aren't virtually all the women on TV straight? Perhaps so, but they're basically always objects of male sexuality, in one way or another. Even Sex And The City - there, there was so much focus on looking perfect (despite the tremendous tragedy of crossing the threshold of 35) so as to get a high-status mate. Mr. Big... I mean, separate from my subjective indifference to Chris Noth, there's the fact that Carrie was always interested in being rescued by a car-and-driver, and a Big without those trappings clearly wouldn't have been of interest. There wasn't a whole lot of... female gaze, I suppose, with the exception of Samantha, who was always sort of a hollering-at-Chippendales joke of a character. And her lust had to be presented as mutually exclusive with any interest in a relationship - something never expected of men.

But TV changed when Mindy, at the end of the episode, put on her nerdy-but-not-hipster glasses to get a better look. A look at what, well, go check out Hulu, or, if you don't care about context, click here. But the gaze is definitively in the female-looking-at-male direction. Female vanity in no way enters into the scene. There's no desire-to-be-thought-beautiful. That's not the fantasy. This has been the case for a while on The Mindy Project - thus the way that every episode finds an excuse to have two hot guys in a "fight" of some kind. But that's a bit too subtle - it's possible for male viewers to take that in as slapstick, without catching on to the fact that it's the same, for the equivalent audience, as if two hot women were in an equivalent tumble. This was... quite a bit more straightforward.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

This post contains too many italics

The most articulate response I can summon to Ted Scheinman's claim below (via) is: This again?

High-scoring students at top colleges who pursue doctorates in the humanities have already capitulated to manifold compromises: instead of earning small fortunes at consultancies, we sign a six-year contract to live on or around the poverty line while our teaching, writing, and research busies us for roughly 12 hours a day.
I got a lot out of grad school personally and intellectually, and all the usual disclaimers. But. If I had imagined, for even a glimmer of a moment, that "small fortunes" or "consultancies" were options for me, I might not have signed up. Yet I think Scheinman's talking about people like me. I guess "high" and "top" are relative, but "honors" and "UChicago" might count, and I vaguely recall that I'm someone who does well on standardized tests, but it's been so long, I don't remember the details.

But... while I absolutely had college classmates who went on to that sort of path, it's not as if each individual elite-college student sits there and ponders a choice. My choices - not just my inclinations - had left me with the choices I did have, but these were not choices made senior year of college, for the most part. I was on the track to something-poorly-compensated-involving-writing long before graduation. There was nothing I could offer a consultancy (such things as... knowing what one was, or how to even find out about jobs at one) when I graduated. If I'd been a completely different person, with a different major or substantially different coursework, sure. But, alas. I combed the Idealist listings - successfully, because 2005. Then I rejoiced and headed to grad school (and - how 2005-2006 - took a pay cut!) when I learned I'd be paid to read books.

I suppose it's different at the really elite schools, and do have a Facebook friend who periodically mentions being a humanities major who went the get-paid-a-lot route and seems confused about why others wouldn't do the same, and I want to be like, because we didn't all go to college where you did!, but then I figure maybe I'm wrong, and anyone who did go somewhere super-duper-elite probably knows more about this than I do. (Scheinman also says something about impostor syndrome.) But I doubt if it's that different, certainly post-2008.

Monday, October 06, 2014

A glutinous post

According to South Park, gluten is very dangerous. Josh Modell criticizes South Park for being late on the gluten game, but wait! Jane Brody's column today is on "a real condition called non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or NCGS." Of course Brody has to specify that it's "real," because the default assumption is that non-celiac gluten avoidance relates to the tendency of pasta's deliciousness to prevent those Zara jeans from closing comfortably.

Anyway, it's a tough one. It seems likely that a) this is a thing, or to use the scientific term, "real," while b) dieting is also real, and the wish to lose 15 pounds discreetly is more common than gluten insensitivity of any kind. As a 21st-century American in the demographic for this, I can say I've at the very least met gluten-avoiders who fall into all three categories (that is, celiac; not-celiac-but-medical; and trendy-and-dieting). There's a danger in under-diagnosis, but also one in normalizing the treatment of common food items as poison in the general population. I mean, of course it's (kind of) good for the few who can't eat gluten that avoiding it has become trendy, but by the same token, if every population that either can't or won't eat an ingredient had such luck, there'd be nothing left. And then there's that other set of people - "orthorexia" may be the official term, but there are plenty who are... whatever the equivalent is of what gluten insensitivity is compared to celiac - who suffer disproportionately from these societal notions.

What would be ideal, then, is if the coverage of whichever sensitivity or intolerance would be done in such a way as to raise awareness that this condition is out there, without inviting readers to assume, by default, that whatever it is is no longer to be considered food, because Science. Personally, I have no idea how this could be done, but it would be great if it somehow happened.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

A "bookish" roundup

I was frequenting this brunch place in town, not because I like brunch, but because that bread. It's this odd mix of fluffy and wholesome, with all the grains and such I like, and none of the ones I just sort of tolerate. I figured it came either from the place or, more likely, from some special Central European bakery, perhaps a wholesaler, I'd have no access to. And... today I discovered said bread at Wegmans. $5 a (huge) loaf, or $3 for half, but still a better deal than the $13 (now $15) for the brunch. There are also soft pretzels that look... familiar, but those I haven't tasted to confirm. 

It's quite possible (I have my reasons to suspect) that everything the place sells comes from Wegmans, which is on the one hand disillusioning, but on the other... I mean, eating out always means a markup. They probably don't want customers to know their stuff comes from the supermarket, but they, I don't know, curate it? I'd have never found this bread otherwise, and it's amazing. ("Seven Grain Bread," for those in Wegmans territory.) And it's on the whole a good thing for me personally that I can recreate the meal I so enjoy. But this may well spell the end of a briefly-revived stint as someone who does brunch.


So I was trying to cross the street just now with my husband and our dog, and we were at a crosswalk without traffic lights. It wasn't particularly dark out yet. There was a car coming, but quite far, and on a 25mph road, so I stepped into the road - I think we all did? - and made the 'we're crossing' gesture. The car slowed down in a way that indicated the driver saw us, then sped up, only to more abruptly stop once we were definitively in the crosswalk. As the driver passed, he shouted a sarcastic, "You're welcome!" from his SUV, as if he'd done us the biggest favor in the world, allowing us to cross where you're supposed to, the way you're supposed to. And... I know I'm newish at driving culture, but is this a thing? You're supposed to thank cars that allow you to cross in a residential area, in a crosswalk?  

When I'm driving, I stop for pedestrians (without making a thing of it! they have the right of way!) and sometimes get a gesture of appreciation, but by no means usually, and I by no means expect one. I suppose maybe it's weird when a pedestrian thanks the driver who stopped first, but not the one on the opposite side of the road, but I've had this happen exactly once, and lost exactly no sleep over it. So, to be clear, this guy was in the wrong, correct?


A guy I think I went to college with (name sounds familiar, don't know if I'd ever met him, had no preexisting opinion of him, but it's a huge school) wrote this week's Modern Love. It reminded me of a novel I read not that long ago, so much so that I kept wanting to congratulate the female author on creating such a convincing heterosexual male protagonist. 

Anyway, what interests me is this:
I was amazed to have gotten this far. As my friends were sick of hearing, it made no sense to me that a gorgeous woman in her early 20s who spoke four languages and had lived on three continents was spending her Saturdays with me, a 31-year-old bookish type from Pittsburgh.
“How old are you?” one asked, which put our substantial age difference — something we had not yet talked about — suddenly under a spotlight.
(You can tell this is someone from UChicago because of the "bookish type" self-description.)

Anyway, a pairing of "31" and "early 20s" doesn't seem all that outrageous, although there's often a life-stage difference between 20 and 24, one far greater than between 24 and 31. I would say something about how you never see 31-year-old women with several-years-younger men, until I remembered several couples I'm friends with who fit that pattern.

What struck me, then, was how much of a thing it is, for a 31-year-old man, to be dating a younger-but-not-indecently-so woman. This isn't just, for him, a thing that happens once you're an adult, and are socializing with people who weren't necessarily in kindergarten the same year you were. It's part of her value. It's not enough that she's beautiful - she's a catch because of her not-31-ness. And yes, this absolutely did strike me because I, too, am 31. I'm surprised-but-not-really that even men as young as 31 would find same-age women excessively ancient. That a woman of legal age could be, in some meaningful sense, a younger woman to someone 31.

So I've watched some "Millionaire Matchmaker" in my day (and so I nominate myself for the alumni award for Least Bookish Type, literature PhD notwithstanding), and there, the men of course want younger women, but this will be for one of two (stated) reasons. One is that it hits them at a haggard 57-ish that they'd like kids. The other is that they just prefer women under 25, 30, 19, whatever, which is the trickier issue. These same men will also claim they want to settle down. (Yes, I understand that it's probably semi-scripted and actually an interwoven series of ads for cupcake and flower companies.) One put it... best?... when he said his perfect woman would be 29 and three quarters forever. The late-middle-aged man in question looked like a cross between Eric Cartman and Donald Trump.

It seems, in other words, a gamble to be appreciated for your youth. For your beauty... well, beauty may fade, but is more subjective. A man might cease to find a woman beautiful without her having changed in appearance, or might continue to be attracted to her because he still sees her as she looked when they met. But a man who settles down with a woman because she's such a great distance from the age at which he thinks women cease to be interesting... I mean, she will, barring unforeseen disaster, turn that age.