Saturday, July 26, 2014

Euphemistic humility

Thank you, thank you, Doctor Cleveland*:

There is nothing a snobbish Ivy Leaguer likes better than putting down the Ivy League. It's an easy way to signal that you are above your own Ivy League school and the privilege it confers -- all a big humbug that your superior perspective sees right through -- while holding on to every last scrap of that privilege. It allows you to position yourself as not only 1. better than people who didn't get into Harvard, Princeton, or Yale, but 2. the benevolent champion of those little people who didn't get in and also 3. better than everyone else who did get into your school and who, unlike you, need to take the place seriously.
This is more or less what I was thinking, but unable to articulate, when I read that Deresiewicz piece, but also Reihan's takedown of Stuyvesant. These essays are always a way to announce that you made whichever cut, while at the same time... just read Doctor Cleveland. It's a little different when it refers to a high school - there, the provincial nature of the concern can outweigh the rest, and most of the readership didn't even have the chance to not get into the school in question, so there's maybe more tuning-out than resentment - but the principle's the same. Whenever these debates arise, what happens is, the only people qualified to speak are those who went to whichever school (which even Doctor Cleveland can't avoid, but somehow this is much easier to take from a pseudonym, esp. one making the better argument), alums of which are already having their voices heard plenty. These articles inspire immense, intense interest from fellow alums, but not a whole heck of a lot from everyone else. Not because "everyone else" is too busy drooling in the vague direction of a Kardashian show to read The New Republic, but because reading about the fate of schools you didn't attend is never that interesting.

Which is... fine. If the graduates of schools both fancy and schmancy want to have an insular conversation about euphemistic-whichever-location, that's perfectly reasonable. But maybe classify these stories as "lifestyle" and not "education." It's not that they never delve into big-picture questions about the educational system, or that there's never any reason to look at how it goes in the top 0.0001% of any hierarchy. It's just that the bulk of this Very Important Conversation is of the small-potato variety.

*This bit was spot-on as well: "Public colleges, and the students at public colleges, are merely rhetorically convenient symbols for him."

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Friday night unlikely to inspire a pop song UPDATED

Bus to the train to the other train to the shuttle. Lags almost each step of the way. It's almost as if I don't really live in greater New York, is what I start to think on such occasions. Princeton's a suburb, but one where you need to sign up years (!) in advance to be able to get a parking spot at the train station, and where overnight parking is permit-only regardless. It's certainly suburban, but what exactly is it a suburb of? Philadelphia radio works here better than NY radio, which maybe tells us something.

So yes, slightly tired, even though none of this was today, even though I just had a jumbo cappuccino* at the (fabulous) Viennese coffee shop in town. Commenters who believe my linking to a story about French anti-Semitism makes me a fascist (!!!) can expect snippier and shorter responses than the usual graphomaniacal graciousness to which they've grown accustomed. (And, uh, no further responses. Tapped out when it comes to that sort of thing.) Great ambitions for the evening include remembering where I parked, driving home, walking my supermodel dog, and... that's probably it.

*Caffeine, wonder drug. I tend to forget, because the coffee I make at home, no matter the method, no matter the beans, never seems to have much of it. Meanwhile, thanks to the hugeness of this outside-coffee, I finally figured out this thing I've been trying to write, finally. And no, I'm not referring to this somewhat phoned-in blog post.


So the evening ended up more exciting than planned - I ran into some astrophysicists and ended up seeing Saturn through a telescope. And before that, parking someone I don't normally park led me to pass by the... Japanese language school of Princeton. I had no idea such a thing existed, but now know its fees (not bad!), when the intro class meets, and when I'd need to have signed up by. Technically Dutch is first on the new-languages priorities list, but there's the small matter of it not being taught anywhere outside the countries where it's spoken. (I exaggerate, but slightly.) Also of being able to get by in Belgium in English or French, whereas if I ever do make it back to Japan...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Poodle privilege

My mother took Bisou for a walk in Central Park this morning, and Bisou - fresh off NJ Transit - was, it seems, 'discovered,' in the way that sometimes happens to waifish Estonian 13-year-olds. Which is to say, she made her modeling debut. For a big-name Italian magazine, it seems. No spoilers, but let's just say there's photographic evidence. Pictures of Bisou with a human model and what may very well be next season's it-bag. This really happened. As for whether it will appear, for this we have to wait until September.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

For the farmer's market love-haters among my readers

While assembling my beige, too-tired-to-cook dinner of rice and defrosted (prepackaged) yuba (with scallion, mainly for aesthetics, and with the packet of whatever the sauce was that came with the yuba poured on top), I noticed that the local farmer's market had posted to Facebook (yes, I follow them on Facebook) about a produce recall affecting NJ supermarkets such as Wegmans, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods. In other words, my fruit! An unsearchable PDF would tell me what this means for my apricots, or, rather, since I'm planning to eat those apricots, what to expect for the next 24-48 hours. (Upon closer examination, I see that apricots are in the clear. And thank goodness for that.)

Anyway! The point of this story was actually the farmer's market's takeaway: "We can't stress enough the importance of knowing your farmer." Because, the implication goes, a farmer's market couldn't possibly sell contaminated fruit

And, I mean, I like this farmer's market. I follow them on Facebook! I "like" them and everything! But this seems a bit ridiculous as a way to promote the weekly event. Especially considering that anyone wishing to eat fruit more than a month out of the year is, in this region, shopping at the supermarket. If the farmer's market really believed you're poisoning yourself if you shop elsewhere, maybe they want to find a way to be open every month of the year, even if that means a single stand selling a single turnip.

Monday, July 21, 2014


A month or so ago, I bought sneakers. I love these sneakers. I'm wearing them right now. They're not only the best-fitting shoes I've ever owned, ever, but they're super chic.

Or so I thought. Think. Everyone else, however, has been... less enthusiastic. After holding forth on their fabulousness to my nearest and dearest, I've heard a variety of frank assessments, all adding up to, they make me look like a badly-dressed teenager. And I was starting to think those around me had a point. (Not that this in any way stopped me wearing them.)

Well! I noticed some sneakers with a familiar silhouette on Pinterest. Pinned onto (into?) the shopping cart of one... Garance Doré. Yes, that Garance Doré. The one who dates The Sartorialist. And, as anyone who follows such things knows, Sart is way harsh about such matters.

Now I'm just waiting for a prominent fashion blogger with a discerning beau to endorse the unflattering-but-comfortable, possibly-tempura-splattered linen pants I recently got for $25 at J.Crew.


This, as the kids used to say. Writers writing about writing not paying. Shall I join in? Places I've written for as a freelancer tend to pay between $50 and $100 an article. This can be parlayed into other things, and something is absolutely better than nothing (which is what my first regular post-college writing gig paid, back when I was too naive to know one was meant to ask for payment), and it's probably a different story for people who establish themselves on staff various places and then switch to freelance (I'm thinking of someone like Jessica Grose)... but it does say something about the viability of full-time freelancing as a career.

What the article unfortunately doesn't mention is how what "writing" consists of has changed. Yes, if you wanted to be a poet or novelist, this was always going to be a struggle if you didn't come from money or hit it big with something you wrote while still in high school. But now, anything however tangentially related to publishing or journalism likely won't pay. I do repeat myself on this, but it's important: The day job has become, for many, an unpaid, no-insurance-providing "dream job." Work that isn't particularly artistic (sorry but that first episode of "Girls"...) is somehow The Arts.

I could try to analyze this further - is this about places marketing themselves cleverly in order to get clerical work done for free? - but I want to make the most of this enormous stamp-card mocha and get some other writing done.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

In ascending order of seriousness

-Because all roads lead to Sunrise Mart, I now have nigari tofu coagulant. In liquid form, because that was what they had. Not sure what that'll mean for the recipe, but this is on.

Only the essentials. (Wall of DeCecco not pictured.)

-NJ Transit has basically given up for the summer. They seem to have put all their resources into keeping the train refrigerator-cold, and exactly none into such things as having trains match up with other trains, or arrive at something like the time indicated. I think this may be my first time experiencing "As a New Jersey taxpayer..." thoughts, but there it is.

-I don't do Middle East on social media. (By which I mean, Facebook or Twitter.) I observe. I read what friends and journalists and such post, and am definitely getting a wide range of at the very least Jewish opinion, ranging from the Israel-was-a-bad-idea-in-the-first-place perspective (yes, there are Jews who think this - maybe worth noting if you're hoisting up a placard against The Jews) to it's-all-Hamas's-fault (gosh, not all, but even if that were the case, these deaths are plenty upsetting), and, thank goodness, lots in between. I do plan to write on this at some point, but not in 140-character bursts. I don't think my views on this lend themselves to sound bytes (I do go on), and my reaction to the situation is more sadness than outrage, and it's the latter that's expected in such forums. If you're not outraged, you can't possibly care, or something. If I did enter a thread, I could probably summon some outrage, although depending whose thread, it could be in any which direction. (Well, not any.) And I'm not an amateur military strategist, which is the other approach that seems to lend itself to social-media weighing-in on such topics.

But I did pass along the Tablet stories about the French synagogue attacks, because that's sort of my beat, and because... ugh. One way to think of it: Let's say you believe Israel is 100% in the wrong, and get all Godwin about it. How does that justify attacks on French Jews? Ah, but they may support Israel! They may have family there! Think for a moment about where this logic leads. Oh right: stuff like internment camps. Was Japan on the right side of WWII? Not so much. Did that justify internment of Japanese-Americans? No, it did not. And no, it's not a perfect analogy obviously, for so many reasons, but I think the connection is clear.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Groceries are complicated

-I need something called "nigari tofu coagulant." After watching the latest and most compelling Cooking with Dog, where Chef and Francis Host of the Show prepare soft tofu from scratch and top it with scallions, ginger, and bonito flakes... actually, even just once seeing such a video existed, I realized I'm obviously going to be doing this. It's only a matter of time. Well, of time, and of finding this ingredient in a quantity not advertised as allowing one to make 100 pounds of tofu. Where the proper sort of soy milk will come from is its own question. One I've answered before, that time I made yuba, but I'd rather avoid DIY on that part if possible.

-Caryatis, you'll be so proud! I bought eggs at a farmers market and totally checked them for cracks. The farmer or farmer-stand-in selling the eggs didn't seem even a little bit offended.

-I'm not going to defend this, but I'm one of those people who gets two different kinds of olive oil, the regular one for cooking, and the more expensive one for drizzling. I'm not sure I can taste a difference, but I tell myself I can, and even if it's just the pretty bottle, there are surely worse forms of self-deception, and clearly I'm not going through much of the fancy one. I have no brand loyalty in this area, and choose based on which pretty bottle is on sale at a given time. One or another always will be, and the brands seem to rotate quite frequently, rarely being ones I have any familiarity with. This evening, doing so, I was hit by a wave of cynicism: How on earth do I know that the bottle going for $11 (say) is really normally $20? Of course, if it's all the culinary placebo effect anyway...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

In un-defense of Princeton in summer

-Because nothing happens in Princeton, and extra-nothing happens in the summer, the local news has taken to posting photos (well, a photo) of relatively minor (no apparent injuries) car accidents in the area, including of the individuals involved. I was not involved, nor do I know these people; this is an online-shaming question. It's not exactly unethical to post a photo of this, but is it necessary? Is it news? It's at any rate still up on Facebook but down from Twitter - maybe there are some legal or ethical issues here apart from being me being squicked out by that sort of thing.

OK, there's a slight personal angle, which is that I'm sort of convinced that someone's going to take one of those viral "bad parking" videos of me, given how long it can take for me to get into a spot.

-More flooding! While an excuse to not go running is semi-welcome, it would be nice to be able to properly walk a certain dog, as vs. taking her out in the snippets of time when it's not feeling too apocalyptic.

-If I were a 20-year-old model who looked great regardless, I might do one of those "ugly selfies" to convey just how terrible my hair looks in this weather. You will instead just have to take my word for it.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

In defense of Princeton in summer

-It's not as bad as it might be. And low expectations have a way of being exceeded. I mean, my husband's away, as are most of my friends. It's hot and humid, and my hair looks awful. It's tick season for humans and dogs, so the woods are, if not out altogether, substantially less appealing. Expectations were really, really low.

-Everything's on sale. At least everything in Princeton I might want to buy, which admittedly isn't much. But I just got discounted coffee beans from Rojo's at a pop-up (!) in Urban Outfitters and then, for $25, the pair of $70 linen pants I'd long been admiring at J.Crew, thereby filling the summer-clothing-other-than-shorts-or-nightgown gap in my wardrobe. (While I'm by no means a 000 at that store, I can extrapolate from their vanity sizing why such a size would be necessary.) But J.Crew at sub-Uniqlo prices, with tremendous selection... let's just say whatever shtetl peddler-type lives within me returned atavistically at this discovery.

-No one's around. Which is sort of bleak when it comes to Bisou-walking (if easier to handle after a week in Manhattan), but sort of fabulous when it comes to driving and parking.

Excessive loyalty

I thought I'd organized my wallet and gone through stuff on the entryway table. Wrong I was. The loyalty card situation is out of control. Sharing partly to entertain the easily entertained, partly for my own "records", as I attempt to divide into NY and Princeton piles, and to prioritize each:

-One card to the new Viennese café in town, Café Vienna, indicating my one visit there thus far.
-One stamp card for Chelsea Thai.
-One for Bent Spoon, schmancy ice cream, and principle source of amusement in town.
-Two for Rojo's, a local coffee mini-chain.
-Surprisingly, only three for Small World, the default coffee shop in town.
-One for Joe, NY and Philadelphia (never been in the latter) coffee mini-chain.
-Three for Stumptown (one for beans, two for drinks.)
-I must have once bought underwear at frou-frou-in-a-good-way Journelle, because I have a stamp card indicating as much. Unlikely to do so the 11 additional times needed for free underwear.
-One Paris Baguette bread-specific stamp card. I do like their bread, and must keep this in mind for the next trip to Edison.
-Two cards for Murray's Cheese, indicating that I've bought cheese as well as grilled cheese there.
-A card with one stamp from Kaffe 1668, the very expensive but chic café near-ish to where I lived a while ago in Battery Park City. Chances I'd be in that area looking for coffee enough to merit this card are slim.
-Two from NYU-area favorite Third Rail. Miss that place!
-One from Commune, the fabulous and reasonably-priced Japanese salon in Williamsburg where I get my hair cut.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Probably the most WWPD post ever

-Parental overshare for profit.

-So much YPIS: A woman - sorry, a "white lady" - was middle/upper-middle class, until some life events happened, and she was all of a sudden poor. A turn of events led to her picking up food stamps in a Mercedes, thereby outdoing a certain food-stamps applicant from a while back, whose only crime had been spending $1.50 on a coffee she might have made at home or skipped entirely. But the Mercedes-ness and whiteness of all of this seems to have caused controversy. Presumably because of the broke vs. poor obsession - as in, it's seen as so terribly offensive to claim poverty when you're merely broke that people who honest-to-goodness once had some money and now don't end up somehow getting classified as "broke," as if the cultural capital from having once been not-poor can fix everything.

-Tara Metal seems to have had just the same experience I did upon seeing an image of Jenny Slate. I saw an ad for "Obvious Child" on the subway and thought, huh, so that's what's meant by seeing faces that look like yours. My only disagreement with Metal is over the need to explain that this was the experience of women who "may be Jewish, or Italian, or just blessed with slightly unruly strands that cannot be dyed lighter or made straight without a significant amount of sturm and drang." While it's absolutely true that white people of various ethnicities (including super-Anglo - see British actor Daniel Hill, the oddly attractive villain on "Waiting For God") can have not-so-"white" hair, this has particular significance to people for whom that hair texture has political significance. I know that there's this compulsion, if you're Jewish, to make a point of not being parochial, to explain that whatever you're talking about doesn't just apply to Jews. And... hair politics certainly don't just apply to Jews, but I'm not aware of other ethnic whites having this concern. An Italian-American woman might straighten her hair, but is it understood to be about wanting to look less Italian?

-Miss Self-Important and I may have different politics, but we definitely agree on the fundamental issue re: elite high schools, namely that, as she puts it, "when a school becomes 'too Asian,' we immediately complain that it is not black or Hispanic enough." The "we" being society, not MSI and me, neither of whom are arguing this. My pet theory is this: Some offspring of rich white families regress to the mean (see the second item here, actually...), and this produces tremendous anxiety in rich-white-land. It's not guaranteed that those from any but the most established families will do just fine in the end. But! No one wants to say, outright, that the mediocre offspring of the rich deserve better. It sounds so much nicer to complain about meritocracy on behalf of the poor or underrepresented minorities.

City dog

Since I didn't feel like being the last (wo)man standing in Princeton, Bisou and I have taken a trip to see what the bumper stickers would call her grandparents. (Hadley Freeman would maybe agree?) This isn't her first experience of being a city dog, but it's my first seeing her as one for more than, say, an afternoon. Thoughts thus far are below.


-If you have a fluffy little dog, you will have to converse with every other person walking a fluffy little dog. Given the area, that is a *lot* of people. Women of a certain age, but not exclusively. And... it's kind of nice! They say that people are friendlier in the country/suburbs than the city, but the thing is, there are actually people around in the city, so even if a smaller % of them are chatty, there's so much more chatting going on. Plus, being on my home turf, I must give off a vibe of familiarity. Even to socialite-seeming women! Who are oddly not put off by my choice of years-old Gap-nightgown-as-dress. Maybe it's the vaguely-Chanel-looking thrift store bag I'm using until my regular bag is repaired, but you'd think these would be exactly the women who'd know what's what in that department.

-A far, far longer walk is feasible when there's actually stuff to see. With all due respect to nature. The deers, etc., are great, but relatively infrequent. Whereas glamorous Italian tourists (who don't talk to me, obvs) are pretty much everywhere here.

-Thanks to those first two, headphones are not needed. I'm way behind in my podcasts, and thus extra-prepared for NJ Transit being useless.

-No ticks!


-There's so, so much on city streets for a dog to surreptitiously ingest. I'd like to think so far, so good, but who can say?

-The dog run is a nice idea and all, but walking Bisou to the run, as vs. driving her there, means she's exhausted by the time we get there. And while I'm sure Bisou wouldn't be the first poodle to ride the crosstown bus...

-A country dog has certain... requirements, having to do with the need for a patch of grass.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

What lurks beyond the bagel shop

Lawrenceville, which I previously knew as the boarding school next to the so-so bagel shop we'd go to before discovering the far superior one in the Montgomery shopping center, is apparently more than just a bagel-adjacent landmark. It's also the most expensive high school in the nation. And - I learned from Jezebel and Twitter - it's the site of the race-and-privilege scandal of the moment. The student body president - black, female, and gay - had to step down after taking to the Instagram to make fun of the douchier elements of the white, male, and straight student population. If I had a thesis-driven sort of argument to make about this, I'd pitch and fast. As it stands, too scattered for that. So:

-This part of NJ is maybe not the least racist place ever. Even I, someone female and paler than most, have seen firsthand how young black men are questioned by the police, how black men of all ages are avoided and hassled on the train. If this is what I'm seeing, I'd imagine there's more I'm not seeing. There's also preppy culture, which is hard to explain, but which goes beyond whatever's experienced at any particular private school or college in the area. It's so white that even white people notice the whiteness. Friends even whiter than I am (being, as regular readers know, pale but ethnic) have pointed this out.

-Private schools are weird. They can end up this odd mix of rich white kids (getting in through the usual rich-white-person channels) and poor non-white kids (getting in through some mix of intellect, hard work, and having adults around devoted to their education), in some kind of tremendous exaggeration of society at large. As in, "white" becomes associated with wealth, "black" with poverty, in a way that far exceeds the situation at a regular public school. (From Buzzfeed: "Lawrenceville students say racial and class divides — which frequently work in tandem because minority students often come to boarding schools through scholarship organizations [...]." So it went at my private elementary-and-middle school in New York.) The numbers may say "diversity," but the reality can be something more complicated.

-The specific black, female student at the center of the controversy, the student-body president who had to step down after mocking douche-bro classmates on Instagram, was not on scholarship. Commenter Pronetolaughter, if you're reading, this begins to get at how "privilege" as a term can fail where "racism" succeeds at conveying a problem. As the half of the internet that's already weighed in on this has noted, if you're at an elite high school that costs $53k a year, certainly if you're not there on scholarship, you have just a touch of unearned advantage. As in, you're richer and probably better-connected than most. But! That doesn't mean you're not also the victim of some other sort of oppression - in this case, racism. Confederate flags, insistence that she didn't really win the election, and other racist incidents cited in the Buzzfeed piece suggest that the young woman in question had good reason to be fed up.

-But oh, social media! It's bad judgment - if entirely age-appropriate bad judgment - to have an Instagram mocking your classmates, particularly if you want to lead your classmates. Back in the day, the mocking of entitled douche-bro classmates happened, sure, but in private. Buzzfeed reports that this wasn't even the student's first blip of this nature - she'd already been in trouble for pot photos (real, and forwarded by someone trying to sabotage her) and racist tweets (invented by someone trying to sabotage her). If someone's out to get you - perhaps because you're a black lesbian in a position of power in a traditionalist environment? - then you, whoever you are, certainly if you're high school aged, have probably left incriminating dribs and drabs all over the internet and even if you have not, they can be created.

-The Jezebels are arguing about reverse racism - is it a thing? The usual argument - that you can't be racist against a group with more power in society than you have - is mostly right, but not entirely. For example: anti-Semites believe Jews to be more powerful than they are. That's how that form of racism works. For another example: one group may have more power than another in society at large, but not in, say, a particular community. It doesn't seem impossible that the only white kid at a high school would have a tough time. But yes, in usual situations, it holds. And here, I suppose I'm not entirely sure why this is being cited as an example of anti-white anything. What this young woman was mocking was a subculture, not a race. Is the idea that a white person mocking a black subculture would come across as racist? Perhaps, but this is exactly where the power-imbalance thing enters into it. No one thinks all white people are douchey lacrosse players (with all due respect to non-douchey lacrosse players), whereas conflation of minority groups with equivalent subcultures is definitely a thing. (I guarantee that every American Jewish woman has, whether she knows it or not, been called a JAP, no matter how hippie-dippie her routine.) But more to the point, she was making fun of white people who fly Confederate flags, in the North at that. Regardless of where one stands on it being possible or not to be racist against white people, I don't think you can be racist for mocking certain white people's racism.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Not a thing to wear

This morning I did what had to be done and dropped maybe half the contents of my closet off at the closest thrift shop. There are two consignment boutiques closer by (one too intimidatingly pretentious for me to have ever been inside), but if there was ever a moment to even attempt consignment with these items, it was over five years ago at least. Most of what was in there seemed late-college-era at the newest, with a little bit from the interviews-and-job I had between college and grad school. Including one truly hideous pinstriped flared pantsuit (!) from Express, a tag still on the jacket, indicating not that I hadn't worn it, nor even that I was sneakily planning to wear then return it (it wasn't even a price tag, just something identifying the item), but rather that my attention to detail in that area in 2006 was somewhat lacking. Needless to say, there was stitching still left where it shouldn't have been in the suit I wore for a kind of important interview in 2005. Oh well.

The hope with this organization-fest was that I'd discover all the great stuff I already owned and not need to shop. That I would, as the cringe-inducing saying goes, 'shop my closet.' With the exception of one Uniqlo mini-ish skirt of recent-ish vintage, that did not happen. The reality is, the wearable, reasonably-well-fitting clothing I own is precisely the stuff I already wear. The other stuff was all sort of terrible, but for so many different reasons. Much of it had to do with details - button size, flared-ness of sleeves and pant legs - that make clothing look dated after a decade. But there were also all the items that never quite fit but were a nice color or print or something, which is maybe easier to get away with at 19 than 30. And then, of course, was the stuff that was just stained or worn out. But the main takeaway was that it took me ages to develop a sense (chaotic as it may be) of personal style. Whatever was in evidence in the items bought prior to, say, 25, it wasn't that.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


When does adulthood begin? There are the articles regularly placing it older and older, according to the latest neuroscience. The 'the human brain only stops developing at' articles, according to which I, at the tail end of 30, am probably too young to be making any major life decisions.

But the real ambiguity is the one surrounding college students. We've decided that they're too old to live at home but too young to pay their own way. If 60% of 20-somethings and early-30-somethings are getting financial help from their parents (how I read the relevant, startling paragraph), that's not a phenomenon that can be dismissed as impacting only the rich. Certainly if you consider that those not receiving help are probably clustered mostly on the older end of that range. The way the economy is now structured, it's unlikely that a 20-year-old, especially one in school, is entirely financially independent. That exceptions exist, or that many managed this in a different economy, is a distraction.

But we still have this notion of 18 as adult. And it's this tension that leads to messes like the one described in this week's Social Qs:

I am the mother of a 20-year-old college student who is still on our family health insurance plan. I was confused about a benefit statement we received regarding her visit to the gynecologist. The insurance company told me the charge was for fitting her with a diaphragm. I am not sure if this is correct, but my husband and I disagree whether it’s appropriate to discuss it with her. Thoughts?
Philip Galanes answers the question in a way that almost makes sense, until you remember that the child in question is 20:
Of course you should talk to her! What are you waiting for — your daughter to hit menopause? If you suspect the bill is incorrect because your 20-year-old is not having sex, let me assure you that you are probably wrong (statistically speaking). And whether your daughter likes it or not, it is your job as a parent, along with her father, to insist on a running dialogue about her emotional and psychological readiness for all kinds of adult activities she is on the verge of undertaking — including sex. 
As with many important talks, this one may be squirmy to start. So, whichever of you is better at intimate chatting should sidle into her bedroom one night, and ask her sweetly about her love life: “Anyone special?” And no matter what your personal views of premarital sex, let her know that you just want to help her make the right decision — for her. Feel free to wax poetic about waiting for true love, but for God’s sake, make sure she knows that a diaphragm will not protect her from sexually-transmitted diseases. Now, get to work, Mom!
A 20-year-old looking for contraception is, one would hope, informed enough to know which forms do and don't prevent STDs. If she's gone to a doctor for said contraception, seemingly the doctor would also discuss this with her. 20 seems sort of ancient to be learning the facts of life. A conversation about this with one's 10-year-old might be "squirmy," but with one's 20-year-old, it's squirmy in the same way as it would be squirmy for any adult to discuss any other adult relative's sex life. A 20-year-old should feel comfortable going to her parents in a time of crisis, but what, in this case, is the crisis? This seems like a case of an adult behaving sensibly.

More to the point: isn't doctor-patient confidentiality supposed to be a thing? Again, maybe there would be some emergency situation where that would have to be breached, but does a 20-year-old getting contraception count as such?

But it's the parents' insurance! They are paying for the diaphragm, so they have the right to... what, exactly? It *is* an awkward situation. It's now appropriate (says the government!) to stay on one's parents health insurance until 26, as well as quite possible to be employed without benefits. So the health information of generally functional 25-year-olds is open information for their parents. Should the parents happen to be writers of overshare (and who isn't these days), they're thus free to spill not only anonymously, to advice columnists, but in any public forum they desire. 'My Millenial Child Has Herpes,' coming soon to a magazine cover near you. But back to the matter at hand: 20 is at one and the same time too old to ask for a parent's permission (or owe an explanation!) for something so private as contraception, and too young to deal with this truly independently.

The answer I always lean to, for this sort of thing, is the one that will rile my libertarian readers: get the state involved. For people of limbo age, in higher education or the lowest, most precarious rungs of employment, basic living expenses and health insurance should come from the government. The parents (and non-parent adults) are still paying, yes, but in tax dollars. This would apply not to children, but to those in whichever age range we determine is both definitively adult and realistically tough to be 100% self-supporting at in our economy. Maybe 18-22, maybe 18-25. This would accomplish two things. First, it would level the playing field at a time in people's lives where this is especially key, but also especially possible to address. (An equal playing field within the childhood home is, for obvious reasons, more complicated.) Second, it would take away the awkwardness around children owing not just society but their parents specific behaviors as adults. Because it's not exactly that the 20-year-old's mother is wrong to want to pry, but that society should be structured in such a way that this would be considered outrageous.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Expectations exceeded UPDATED

To those who may be interested (Kei, Commenter Petey), the moment finally came: I drove to Mitsuwa! And back! While I get that driving from Central NJ to Northern NJ doesn't sound especially momentous, this was my first time on the NJ Turnpike, or any toll road for that matter. It was also my first experience of steep-hill driving, in either Edgewater or Fort Lee, whatever town it was between the road and the store. 

I'd been slightly worried that this would be like my last Japanese-supermarket excursion, to one in the Philadelphia suburbs, which turned out to be nice enough but a glorified convenience store, and which was only worth it in the end because of some good French bakeries nearby. Not so this time around! Mitsuwa is basically a suburban-NJ-sized Japanese supermarket/food hall, combined with a drug store, a few housewares sections, and a food court. A really cheap one, I should add - bowls of excellent noodle soup (kitsune udon) for about $5. It was a bit of sensory overload - I could have spent five hours in the soap-and-shampoo section alone! - but sort of manageable. 

Upon arrival.

UPDATE: Ducklings (not goslings - thanks Caryatis!) and Manhattan right outside the store.

More sponges.

The drive back. Near the Secaucus train station. So far north!

It was kind of incredible, I suppose, because it felt like being back in the very stores where I so wanted to buy stuff in Japan, except everything was identified in a script I could read (not necessarily explained or translated, but transliterated), and, more importantly, we were there with a trunk-having car. Lots was even on sale. And yes, a predictably enormous bag of sushi rice, a comically huge bottle of cooking sake, and other such items are now in our apartment. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014


I can't say I think of myself as a social conservative. On all the usual checklist items (same-sex marriage, premarital sex, contraception, abortion...), my stance would make it difficult for me to, say, vote Republican. And I wouldn't exactly classify myself as on the puritanical left, either. But I may have clutched some metaphorical pearls when reading the Prudie letter and response about wedding etiquette around plus-ones for the person with whom a guest is having an affair. A woman's "partner" happens to be a married man with young children - married-married, not even separated - and she's miffed that her partner hasn't been invited to her sister's wedding. While the sister sounds interesting as well - a thrice-married born-again Christian - this seems kind of irrelevant. Is society really so evolved that wedding hosts must include plus-ones who are, in theory, attending other weddings as their own spouses' plus-ones as well? And not even in a polyamorous sense, but in an adulterous one?

The idea, in this case, is that the wife has refused to have sex with the husband for five years, and is fine with him seeing another woman. These seem like kind of classic things a man looking to have an affair would claim, but Prudie goes with taking the letter-writer at her word. So, rather than giving the no-nonsense, telling-it-like-it-is answer one might expect (namely, this man isn't your "partner," but you're an old-school Other Woman bound to get hurt), Prudie gives her blessing to the relationship, on the grounds that if these things are true, the man is justified in looking elsewhere. No discussion of just what a major "if" that is!

But even if so, even if the man and his "partner" aren't doing anything wrong, why exactly does the man need to be the woman's date to weddings? Isn't the idea with the man staying married to his wife, despite her no longer being his real "partner," that they're maintaining a public façade of still being together? Doesn't the whole 'for the children' bit fall apart, not when the man sleeps with someone else (unless that someone else gets pregnant), but when dad is showing up at public events as a different woman's date? Why can't that sort of thing wait until the day comes (which it probably won't) when he actually leaves the one woman and full-on takes up with the other?

Where am I going with this? Where I'm going with this is, it's been my sense for a while now that a certain amount of old-timey, boys-will-be-boys behavior has been recategorized as the sort of thing that progressives - feminists! - must support. While I do think progressives must support consenting-adults-type choices insofar as, it's not progressive to suggest that the cops march in and bust the dude for adultery, is it really necessary, just because this is being presented with up-to-date terminology like "partner," to celebrate scenarios like the one described?

My raw facialist says hi

-Must find this book.

-I have combed the internet and found the best blog-comment of all time: "I like the idea of making yourself get dressed every morning and putting on makeup." It's in response to some (very sensible, if tough to follow) advice on working from home, but it has a certain out-of-context hilarity.

-ITG never ceases to amaze. It turns out there's such a thing as a "raw facialist." As someone who's in more of the 'should I get this spider bite confirmed by a dermatologist or just let it be?' persuasion, I don't think I'm the audience for it, but I'm also not entirely sure what it is. I'm not sure what it means (in the G-rated sense) when someone says they've gotten a facial, either. Are they normally cooked?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Articles of the hot and humid day

-Apparently that thing I'd always had a sneaking suspicion about - that making it in the writing world is easier if your friends happen to be writers - is true.

-I think the technical, journalistic classification for the following link is wut.

-The scientist village where I live is not open to the public, I think, who knows. But there are always tourists coming by to look at it, photograph it, and... I can't quite figure out what they hope to see. Einstein doesn't work here anymore. The scholars who do are on their computers or at their notebooks in their offices. There's nothing to see, and tourists aren't allowed inside the buildings to see it. That doesn't stop them from trying. Sometimes, walking my dog in the area, I feel as if I'm part of some kind of real-life Big Bang Theory fantasy tour, in which I play the disheveled brunette Penny.

But that's nothing! As Shulem Deen explains, the Hasids of Williamsburg have become a tourist attraction. And the poor tourists are disappointed when the anthropological exhibition they've come to observe fails to greet them with the appropriate small-town friendliness. As Deen notes, the tourist whining about this happens to be a middle-aged man, who was trying to make eye contact with women and, more disturbingly, little girls. That they were squicked out and avoided him seems very much unrelated to their being Hasids, and very much about them being sensible female city-dwellers. Deen also notes that there are plenty of legitimate criticisms of the Hasidic community, but that the failure of their eight-year-old girls to smile at male tourists isn't one of them.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Fabulous small purchases*

-A mouse for my "broken computer" which was really just a reasonably-functional if aging computer with a broken trackpad. $15 rather than $1,000 or whatever a computer is these days. Thanks to commenter FarFromBreton for pointing me to Staples, which had been right there all the time.

-A $20 Uniqlo dress (now possibly cheaper still) that solves the easy-to-wear formal-ish dress conundrum.

-One Montreal-style cinnamon-raisin bagel in Philadelphia - the owner (?) threw in a sesame as well. At $2 a bagel this was not the deal of the century, but I did enjoy both bagels and am thus not complaining.

*Apologies to Joseph Epstein.

When "powerful words" fail

By the end of grad school, I was able to convey what my dissertation was about in anything from a sentence to nearly 500 pages. This is a potentially useful skill, but doesn't seem to carry over to Twitter, where, whenever I get into anything like a serious discussion, my first impulse is to move it off Twitter, either to email or just... anywhere, online or off, without a 140-character limit. So, @pronetolaughter, my reply to your recent tweets is here.

For readers who are not @pronetolaughter (whom I take to be a WWPD reader, because of the apparent response to something I'd written here), the issue was whether there's any advantage to using "racism" rather than "privilege" to discuss systematic unfairness based on race. @pronetolaughter argues that people don't react well to being called racist (true!), and that this is where the term "privilege" comes in - as a gentler (correct me if I'm misunderstanding) way to convey this point. @pronetolaughter also seems to be arguing, if between the lines (and again, feel free to correct), that because I question the efficacy of certain terms in calling out racism, sexism, etc., it's because I, deep down, support racism, sexism, and so forth, and am infiltrating anti-bigotry conversations to spread that message. Well, that's not it, I'm afraid.

My thinking, then, is basically this: The "powerful words" @pronetolaughter criticizes me for trying to get rid of are indeed powerful, but possibly too powerful, such that they're perceived of as overshooting the mark. I'm reminded of a course I once took, where the professor referred to various forms of subtle oppression experienced by marginalized groups (not in the U.S.) as "violences," a "violence" being anything bad, not merely anything violent. I think this may have just been the terminology of whichever subfield this was, but in any case, I found it confusing. I got the general idea - microaggression, more or less - but something about the term seemed forced. Yes, there are non-physical forms of violence, but to call everything bad "violence" ends up making it more difficult to discuss violence-violence, and makes it easier to dismiss non-violent, small-scale forms of oppression. While there is indeed a continuum between calling a black person "articulate" and purchasing a black person as a slave, or between a disproportionate obsession with Israel's flaws vs. that of any other country and holding Nazi sympathies, or between staring a bit too long at a woman on the subway and raping a woman...

I guess where I'm going with this is, you want terms that convey the entire spectrum, and that don't hone in on the worst-case-scenario. As much as it's a powerful argument to point out how low-level bigotry relates to more serious offenses, it them becomes far too easy to brush aside the lower-level stuff as not really counting because it's so plainly not the higher-level stuff. It's become just about impossible to discuss low-level anti-Jewish bigotry because "anti-Semitism" has become too powerful to use.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The explanatory power of "rape culture"

Rachel Hills makes the case for the term "rape culture," and lays out the best explanation I've seen for what's meant by the expression. If I remain skeptical, it's not that I'm skeptical of any of the phenomena Rachel discusses. She refers to "[a] culture that doesn’t take women’s 'no's seriously. That assumes that a 'no' is just the first step in a negotiation, rather than a statement of resolve," and yes, that's a very real problem. As is the persistent belief that "date rape" isn't quite rape. She's right that all of these factors are interrelated. The rom-com idea of male pursuit as a good thing ends up encouraging mating rituals that discourage female consent.

My skepticism, then, is really just with whether it makes sense to use the word that refers to the most extreme manifestation of a problem to describe all manifestations. Maybe my wariness comes from the fact that a popular conflation of anti-Semitism with Nazi anti-Semitism makes it near-impossible to discuss relatively minor forms of the phenomenon without seeming hysterical. (As always, The Onion...) But even without resorting to analogies... I guess my thinking here is, using the expression "rape culture" ends up alienating not just those who remain unconvinced by the items Rachel lists, but also those who see all of these as real concerns, but already have a meaning in mind of what "rape" means, namely sex without consent. As in, I can't imagine I'm the only one who gets it, but who remains unconvinced that this term helps others do so. And I'm not sure the best strategy for convincing the unconvinced is one that involves convincing them to use and accept a term that seems, barring extensive explanation, to be overshooting the mark. It works if the unconvinced are prepared to sit through explanations, but my guess is that, unfortunately, they're not.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

In search of fries and mouse

-Mick Jagger's new lady is younger than I am. Eep.

-Shake Shack got rid of the crinkle-cut pre-frozen fries that were the reason I went to Shake Shack for my occasional fast-food needs, and replaced them with something vile that looks like high-end-restaurant fries but tastes like cold raw potatoes, or did today in Philadelphia. Why???

-For future reference: if you have a practical question about something really mundane, even if you happen to be a heterosexual woman sitting with your husband, even if your celebrity crushes are all dark-haired men from the 1990s who aren't what they once were but then again who is, don't go up to a modelesque blond woman in a coffee shop. I saw this woman using a wireless mouse with her laptop, and as I happen to be in the market for just that item (I haven't been able to click on anything properly for weeks), I thought I'd ask her where she got hers, seeing as she was using it with a computer similar to my own, and the search I'd done thus far led me to mice (?) too close in price to a new computer. But her response was a kind of like, why is someone talking to me in a coffee shop again, which, upon seeing what she looked like (I'd noticed her mouse!), I don't find hard to believe. Even the not-so-modelesque have this experience in coffee shops - I can only imagine. So what I learned was that she got her mouse "online." The search continues.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Hyper-personal statements

Frank Bruni addresses a topic near and dear to my heart: the fact that college admissions essays are overshare basically by design. "The essay is where our admissions frenzy and our gratuitously confessional ethos meet," he writes, not inaccurately. Or, to (sorry!) quote my own piece, "Even students not the least bit inclined to confessional writing are asked to spill to strangers (and to parents who may be reading the thing over). You’re invited to show your truest self by sharing a story you might normally reserve for close friends."

But that's how it has to be - how can you demonstrate 'obstacles overcome' without spilling re: what the obstacles were? And you have to have overcome obstacles to be an impressive applicant - otherwise you're an example of privilege rather than merit, the sum of all the good fortune you've experienced (even if that fortune was something like having poor but devoted immigrant parents), as versus someone entirely self-made (at 17). It can't just be that a nice-enough home life and good-enough teachers crossed with sufficient raw intelligence brought you where you are today. It has to be that those As were despite some kind of profound difficulties. Not every 4.0 is equal. Students know this, as do the more involved parents. Keeping secrets no longer feels like an option.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Baby animals vs. croissants

As it happens, three friends of mine are currently visiting Paris. Three that I can think of offhand - Facebook could probably alert me to more (French grad school will do that), and I'm not counting those who live there. I'm what would be called, on "The Only Way Is Essex," jeal. (David Lebovitz, you're not helping.)

But whatever, it's fine! There are good things about where I am, too! For instance, this Bisou-sized fawn.

The pesky problem of words having meanings

"Recommended for you," said The Nation, and right they were: another "privilege" article. Mychal Denzel Smith addresses the oft-heard complaint about the expression "white privilege," namely that there are poor white people. Are they privileged?

Yes, Smith argues, they are, because the government treats poor blacks and whites differently: "Yes, you can be poor and white and still benefit from white supremacy. That’s what privilege is." 

While I agree with the essential, I'd have gone with something like, 'That's what racism is.' The problem with calling out issues like this with the word "privilege" is that the defensive response is built into the word itself. A poor white person from Appalachia doesn't come from privilege, isn't dripping with privilege, etc. Some of the balking at the expression "white privilege" is thus coming not from people who deny that racism continues to exist, but rather from people who aren't comfortable calling poor people, any poor people, "privileged." I'm thus not sure that using the term is the best strategy for raising awareness of these issues - it's sound in terms of theory - yes, absolutely, poor whites hold structural advantage over poor blacks in this country - but then there's the pesky problem of, "privileged" already has a meaning in everyday language, and what it means is "rich." That said, if it helps victims of racism conceptualize their situation and react, maybe?

So, too, with "rape culture." Like "privilege," I've used it, but ambivalently. Because "rape" already has a definition, and because it's difficult enough to get across that non-consensual sex between people with a preexisting relationship also counts, I'm wary of using the term to replace others - misogyny, sexism - that also convey a culture that marginalizes women. On the one hand, it gets across that there's a continuum, that these things (from ogling to rape) are all related. On the other, it can seem (to those of a less theoretical persuasion) to be a case of conflating mere annoyances with assault. 

Again, it seems like maybe "rape culture" helps women understand these issues amongst ourselves, but that once we try to explain sexism to men and use that expression, we're inviting a not-unreasonable sort of defensiveness. Again, from men who might perfectly well agree that sexism exists, but who have their doubts as to whether rape is really the issue every time (say) an older male professor makes an inappropriate remark to a female grad student at a conference.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Faculty advisors

UChicago's in the news all the time! Is this what comes of having up and become a super-elite college? First there's Katie Dries of Jezebel, reporting on the school's issues with sexual assault on campus. (Upsetting but not, I must admit, surprising.) Then there's Dan Savage getting accused of a "hate crime" by a language-policing student. While I have, I promise, oh so many thoughts on all of this, here's the part of Savage's post that jumped out at me for personal reasons:

But I do want to quote one piece at The Maroon—which has written numerous pieces about my alleged "hate crime," the demand by QUIP for an apology from the IOP (which the IOP, to its credit, refused to cough up) and QUIP's demand that the IOP promise to "censor" all future IOP guests who might use "hate speech" (not gonna happen, says IOP)—all without bothering to contact me for my side of the story. (That's not how we do journalism out here in the real world,Maroon. Please consult your faculty advisors. You do have faculty advisors, right?) 
In my time at the Maroon, I don't remember there being faculty advisors. Faculty who wanted to publish articles in the Maroon and got in a tizzy if not permitted to do so, yes, that would happen. (It was like, guys, send your thing to a real newspaper and they'll probably publish it! Not so for us undergrads!) But advisors? It's not a university with a journalism school or program, so I'm not sure where these advisors would be coming from. The Maroon wasn't a class or an apprenticeship. It was (although I suspect this has changed) a smoke-filled, hamburger-grease-coated basement office where the blind led the blind.

In any case, as someone with some insights into how that paper is (well, was) run, my first guess was, they didn't contact Savage because they didn't think in a million years he'd get back to them. It's one thing to aggressively interview school administrators, but visiting famous speakers? People an undergrad wouldn't think could possibly care what's written about them in the school paper? But now I see they did manage to get a statement from the other famous speaker, so, who knows.

A normal body

One day, perhaps, it will be possible to discuss body-image issues without this layer of hypersensitivity such that saying anything, absolutely anything, even anything empowering, is impossible. That day hasn't come. Jezebel and Jezebel-commenters find it problematic that a beauty-pageant contestant's body is being described as "normal." There's no such thing as a normal body, you guys! This is thin-shaming of the other contestants! Or wait, this woman is more thin than fat - so it's fat-shaming! 99.99999% of women could never be as thin as this Miss Indiana!

But what are we to call a body that - while not exactly like that of all women (no body is!) - gives the impression of being... realistic? Of being the plausible result of a healthy-enough lifestyle and no cosmetic surgery? (Without having any idea, of course, how this particular woman came to look as she does - the question is the message her build sends.) Precisely because so many women are built give-or-take like this woman, celebrating her in a bathing suit ends up not just flattering the great many women who kind of look like her, but also suggests... that even though we're looking at her in a bikini, she's been selected for something other than having attained (or been genetically gifted with) a freak-of-nature-in-a-good-way physique.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Bloggingheads, shorts

Readers of WWPD might be interested in watching me talk with Conor Friedersdorf for just over 67 minutes on a variety of topics, among them parental overshare. As it so happened, the latest truly egregious example of that phenomenon appeared after we recorded: a Slate piece in which the mother of a then-sixth-grader (this was in 2012) defends her daughter's right to wear some particular pair of shorts to school.

School dress codes are a perfectly legitimate topic for an article, and one I'd be happy to see addressed more often. By all means, discuss when they constitute slut-shaming, and when they're just about teaching children of both sexes to dress in a way that'll allow them to be taken seriously. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that I'm not a fan of school dress codes, for reasons I've explained earlier. (I do wonder, if the idea with uniforms is to shield girls from inappropriate male attention, who had the brilliant idea to make pleated miniskirts the uniform of choice. My recollection of being that age and having that uniform is that it didn't help matters.)

But! Why exactly must Slate's readership (2,400 comments - comments! - thus far) be presented with a photo of the child in the shorts in question? The idea being, clearly, that Slate readers are invited to give the photo a good examination and then provide their thoughts on whether or not the shorts are too short, whether or not the very young girl wearing them looks kinda skanky. Which... the commenters do. Obviously. This could have been anticipated. Surely it was anticipated, although whether it was anticipated that commenters would go into exactly what about the cut of the shorts made them revealing, in vaguely obscene terms, is anyone's guess. The mother's actual argument made sense. But why - why???? - would you subject your child to this?

Sunday, June 08, 2014


Another for the how-did-I-just-find-this files: Bento Monogatari, a Belgian (Flemish) short film about a woman who becomes obsessed with Japanese culture, cooking in particular, and inflicts this on her husband who prefers cheese sandwiches (and nice-looking young men in their underwear). The wife even watches "Cooking With Dog" at one point! You see Francis!

Given the themes this movie addresses, it seems as if it were created from some kind of algorithm designed to find me the movie of my dreams. That said, it wasn't the best movie I'd ever seen. The homoerotic subplot is maybe done in too generic of a 'this is a European art film' way, and the bit in the synopsis about how the wife is making all this Japanese food to save her marriage doesn't really come through at all. What comes through is that she's super into everything Japanese, including looking like a Japanese teenager, which isn't a look that comes naturally to a middle-aged Flemish woman.

(Flashback to the great joy I experienced upon finally seeing those teen clothing stores in Harajuku... only to remember that what works on a 15-year-old looks odd, not cute, on someone twice that age. A realization that saved some yen, but still.)

In other Japanese-cooking news, I recently met a Japanese woman who cooks bagels from scratch at home. Grass is always greener and all that.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Very important thoughts of the morning

-In the past week, I've spoken French while driving; read (part of!) Kafka's The Castle; and gone running at 7:30am. All of these because of peer pressure. I'm starting to think my friends are not just lovely people I enjoy spending time with, but good influences. (Otherwise it would be singing along to Bastille while driving, reading one of those contemporary novels that inevitably ends up being set in Brooklyn even if I hadn't realized this when choosing it, and running later in the day or not at all.)

-Into The Gloss has taken a refreshing step away from reminding us that Parisian women are effortlessly chic to ask readers about their hometown beauty looks. The way the post is framed, I was worried that what they're looking for was a bunch of 'where I come from, everyone's tacky and conformist, unlike in NY/Paris/London where I live now, now that I work in/want to work in Fashion', but the results are far more varied.

-Jezebel kind of gets but kind of misses the point of "You Did Not Eat That." And oh, the comments. I have my doubts about "thin-shaming," and I say this as someone who has, yes, been thin-shamed. I mean, it's a thing if you're thinner than is generally considered attractive, unhappy about this, yet constantly being accused of having dieted to get to that build. I'm sure that does get frustrating. But when we-the-merely-not-fat stand accused of "anorexia," or listen to (mock) disbelief that we eat carbs, are we actually insulted, really? I mean, beyond the way it's insulting for your body to be commented on no matter what? It's more woman-shaming than thin-shaming, if anything, because one doesn't leave such an interaction (at least I don't) thinking life would be easier if one were a different size. One just leaves feeling sort of gross in a generic leave-me-alone sort of way, and extra-gross if it happens in a professional context.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

"[W]e further codify the idea of women as sexual objects"

Found on Twitter: a confessional essay making more or less the point I made earlier: boys/men aren't the only ones who experience unrequited love. Women and girls, too, can go through long (sometimes lifelong) stretches of unpopularity with the opposite sex. (Obviously gay men and women can also get rebuffed, but that's not so relevant here. Or maybe it is - that also serves as a reminder that there's nothing uniquely hetero-male about romantic disappointment.) Anyway, Lux Alptraum gets at the essential:

Because the problem is this: when we ignore the existence of awkward girls, of the female nerds, losers, and geeks who are just as befuddled by sex and dating, we further codify the idea of women as sexual objects. The notion that all women can get effortlessly laid, if only they open their legs, reduces the reality of female experience, transforming women from complicated individuals to the vessels for male sexual desire lusted after by Elliot Rodger and his ilk, and further fueling the misogynistic rage that leads men like Rodger to feel justified in their anger and actions.
I'll just add - repeating myself from that other post - that this is really the danger of sharing only stories of harassment, of deflecting unwanted male advances, of jealous ex-boyfriends, of leering strangers. Yes, those stories should be shared. But if that's all that's shared, it just reiterates this narrative of women as magical creatures who don't know what it's like to have one's affections repeatedly go unreciprocated. Discuss rape culture, yes, but not in a vacuum sort of a way that assumes women's only challenge in the romantic sphere is unwanted attention from men. It's quite a bit more - as Alptraum says - "complicated" than that.

OK, I'll add one more thing as well, to get into why it's so complicated. The particularity of the female version of unpopular adolescence is that you can be of no interest to the boys in your class, or the boys you like, and be just generally not considered particularly attractive, while at the very same time, you'll be subject to copious leering, catcalling, etc. from creeps on the street. That sort of harassment isn't about admiring female beauty at its peak, or any such nonsense, but about intimidating the most easily intimidated, which is to say girls aged, say, 10-16. So there will be this weird thing where you're spending half the time silently mooning over the boys who like someone else, and the other half getting told "You've been spending too much time on your knees!" by strange men who feel the need to remark in an obscene way on your Rollerblading scabs. Ah, middle school in the 1990s.

Point being, this is, I think, why people get confused. It seems as if all-the-women (#YesAllWomen) must constantly deflect male attention. And it's true in a sense, but not in the sense of attention a woman would possibly interpret as a viable romantic or sexual prospect. Not least because this attention is so often aimed at girls too young to be looking for relationships in the late-teens-and-older sense of the term.

Monday, June 02, 2014


-When first learning the rules of the road, I remember thinking of the dotted lines that allow one to pass on a two-lane road as... something you're supposed to know, but not information I'd ever have occasion to do anything with. It just seemed implausible that I'd ever choose driving into oncoming traffic over waiting patiently behind the slow-moving car in front of me. The idea that I'd ever have the skills to identify a situation where passing would be both safe and appropriate struck me as so farfetched as to not even think about it. Then today, there was this construction vehicle going like three miles an hour on a 45 mph country road, filled with some kind of mud or dirt or something that I wasn't super keen on driving right behind. Pondering this seemingly futile situation, I then remembered the phenomenon of passing zones. I wasn't in one, until a little bit later, I was. I could see far ahead that nothing was coming, and, as if I were an entirely different person, I passed the truck.

-As a white-ish person with unusual amounts of experience feeling out-of-place for not looking East Asian (Stuyvesant,* Japan, H-Mart...), I've sometimes wondered whether anyone ever gets surgery to look more Asian and less white. Not that I'm signing up for cosmetic surgery of any kind, thanks, but as a matter of curiosity. So I guess I'm obliged to link to the story of a very white, blond man who's surgically transformed himself into what he believes to be a Korean man. The results are surprisingly... something? I'm not sure he ends up looking Korean (we'd need to bring him to Edison and see what language they use to address him at the BBQ place), but... you'd expect someone who'd done this to emerge looking terrible. Not, to be clear, that actual Korean men look terrible, but surgical ambitions this radical tend to leave people looking sort of generically... operated-upon. He, in my highly scientific opinion, does not. If he looks a bit unusual in some of the photos, it seems to be more of a makeup issue than a surgery one.

*Sorry! Euphemistic Chambers Street.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

When women are refused

"When Women Refuse" is incredibly important and, I suspect, really hits home for most of us. If anything's "triggering," it's that Tumblr, but nevertheless, it's good that this sort of thing is now being made so public.

But another story worth telling alongside that one is that of the young women who are themselves the rejected party, ala "Tiny Furniture." I keep reading about how women just don't get how lonely it is for some men, from men who aren't of course defending violence, but who are empathizing with, I suppose, undateability. This, they're claiming, is a uniquely male experience. But, as it happens, some women, some girls, do get this. Many people of both sexes experience this, some for longer than others. Is the pressure worse for men? Probably not - there's the assumption that "woman"=desired, so women who are not that, but would like to be, aren't exactly thrilled.

Why does this get ignored? Either the assumption is that even unattractive women have their pick of men (the whole 'any woman could get laid at any time' theory), or unattractive women simply don't register in people's minds when the subject is sex or romance. "Women," it can seem, are being defined as that subset of women whose rejection has so saddened lonely men. Even among the not-at-all-murderous, 'nobody loves me' tends to mean 'nobody sufficiently attractive' does.

What's different, though, is that the young woman who fails to get dudes - or the dudes she finds attractive - will at most complain that society unfairly judges women who look the way she does (assuming her looks enter into this), but that's as "entitled" as it gets. She'll rarely direct her fury at the men who've rejected her. She'll aim it at herself, most likely. It's not that girls and women in this situation aren't miserable. It's that they've been socialized to accept rejection as final. There's no narrative saying that a plain-looking woman who persists will eventually get the guy. (Even attractive women who do just fine in the dating world generally are socialized to accept 'not interested,' to round up 'super busy' to 'not interested,' and so forth from individual men who aren't into them, but they're presumably not harboring any broader resentments). While this sort of socialization is kind of crap in other areas of life, in love, it's the only way to go.

Of course, another part of what prevents girls and women from going all rom-com on their futile crushes is that even the plain-looking get harassed, cat-called, intimidated, etc. Even a woman who can't find the sorts of dates, relationships, or hook-ups someone might reasonably seek out may well be subject to creepiness-and-more from random men or even those in her circle. And knowing how awful it is to be on the receiving end of that could well be part of what prevents women who've been repeatedly rejected from entering a whirlwind of entitlement.

A typical WWPD assortment

-Alexa Chung shares her beauty routine. Read it, enjoy it. The thing to remember, though, going in, is that she looks like Alexa Chung and you don't. Remember this (, Phoebe,) when you're tempted to buy whatever it is she recommends.

-The Onion explains anti-Semitism in a brilliant but hard-to-read article. It's what I've been saying since forever - because we so associate "anti-Semitism" with "Nazism," Jews who call out relatively minor anti-Jewish acts are deemed hysterical. "Anti-Semitism" ends up seeming like a misnomer or overreaction unless genocide is involved.

-First-world-problems-sounding, but hear me out: the eggs from the farmers market (different stands) have a tendency to be sort of... broken. The eggs you can pay more for with the implied assurance that the chickens weren't too miserable end up costing more still, once you realize you can't actually use several of them. The explanation's simple enough - the way the farmers market works, it's all about conviviality and, more than that, trusting, honoring, the farmer. Or at any rate the person selling the farm-goods, who's standing in for the farmer. It wouldn't be done to check the eggs for cracks as one would at a supermarket. The dynamic is such that you feel you should shoulder the cost of any eggs that "nature" happened to crack of its own accord. Why should the small-scale farmer, so burdened already, bear that burden as well? Granted, I suspect the answer is just for me to be a bit more assertive at the moment of sale, and that the farmer/farmer-stand-in would be fine with it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Answer me these

-Why did jury duty email me last night to say I "MUST" show up today, only to lead me back to the jury duty website I'd already visited, which continues to inform me that "no jurors" should show up today? Much anxiety and quadruple-checking and Facebook-posting later, it seems like I'm merely on call for jury duty for the rest of the week, that the email was some automated thing reminding me that today's the start of my possible jury duty. The "MUST," I think, referred to the need for me to show up unless otherwise stated. Otherwise was stated. I think.

-I understand the general 'be fully clothed' principle of the thing, but why are "t-shirts" among the items not allowed to be worn at NJ jury duty? If they want office-wear from the general public, maybe they should be prepared to shell out more than $5 a day, which I think even at H&M doesn't go much further than a t-shirt.

-Why didn't I think to do this interview? Or try, at least.

-What, dare I ask, is this?:

Spotted in the sponge (?) section of Sunrise Mart. Is it angry or happy? What makes it German? Why did I not think to take Japanese in high school?

-Will it be possible to recreate this yakitori recipe under non-barbecue circumstances? Charcoal-grilled over the weekend, it was pretty much the best thing I've ever eaten. Would the oven - I'm thinking the broiler - suffice?

"Styles" peak outrage

Women are now getting cosmetic surgery for the express purpose of looking good in their engagement-ring hand-selfies! All women? No. Lots of women? No. A bunch of the author's friends? No. Two women. The Style section tracked down a sum total of two women got their hands altered (presumably both hands - symmetry and all that) so as to show off their rings. Actually, not even two - one is simply planning to do so. The rest is inferred: many women wear engagement rings (true), and of those, a good number take photos and post them to social media (also true). Meanwhile, cosmetic surgeons and dermatologists can be tracked down who'll confirm that hands are part of the human body, and thus that there are people willing to spend money to have these parts somehow improved. It's therefore possible that we've got a hand-selfie-surgery epidemic on our, uh, hands, but not all that likely.

That said, this was - and Miss Self-Important, I want your thoughts - the perfect Styles story. Engagement rings themselves, as a topic, elicit tremendous class-and-gender outrage. The cost! The ethics of diamonds! The problematic sexism of the "tradition" if we can even call it that, invented as it was by DeBeers, which has been written about a ton but which you, foolish woman distracted by shiny objects, probably somehow missed! The resentment of women who want these rings but don't have them! The assumption that all women want one! The lemme-see-the-ring that follows engagement! The implication that this isn't enthusiasm for a friend or colleague's news but rather an attempt to figure out how much money her dude has or is willing to spend on her!

But this latest story brings all that outrage and crosses it with existing fury about cosmetic surgery. The ring-oriented hand-lift - invented though it may be - is like an extreme version of painting the nail of your ring finger to highlight the rock. It's so infuriating that it might even manage to rile women who do wear engagement rings and aren't losing sleep over said rings being problematic. So much outrage! So much that there hardly needs to be a trend of women doing this. I mean, it's nice that they found the one woman who did, but really, it wasn't necessary. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Further thoughts on "off"

There is, on the one hand, mental illness, which is an umbrella term for various illnesses. These are unfairly stigmatized; physical illnesses, too, are unfairly stigmatized, something that seems to get lost in these conversations, but mental ones could well be more so, so the calls to stop the stigmatization of mental illness are reasonable. There's on the other hand "mental illness," which is the retroactive determination that anyone who commits a terrible crime is (or, if the crime, as they so often do, involves their own death, was) suffering from a condition of some kind. I don't even mean the 'to kill a bunch of people, you'd have to be crazy!' line, let alone 'people who do such things are sick', where "crazy" and "sick" aren't used medically/sympathetically. I mean that we're meant to grasp for any trace of a reason (apart from: guns, and yes, I'm aware that this latest incident included knife violence) that any such incident has occurred, and to provide a retroactive rounded-up diagnosis.

So here's my question: Isn't it further stigmatizing mental illness to cry "let's talk about mental illness!" every time someone commits a massacre? As in, further associating mental illness with murderousness or a kind of off-ness that may be exhibited by someone with a diagnosis, but that's altogether its own thing? And in this particular case, not only was the guy from a rich and well-connected family and being thoroughly looked-after psychologically, but the diagnosis they'd come up with was... high-functioning Asperger's and (although this may be redundant) trouble making friends. Gosh. Him and who knows how many millions of other young men, men who aren't particularly violent.

But this is all there is to cling to, right? The other purported non-illness factors floating around are each one more ridiculous than the next: divorced parents, the trauma of being biracial, and having made it to the ripe old age of 19 (he was 22 when he committed this crime, but apparently began planning it three years prior) without finding a girlfriend. These are none of them reasons someone would go and kill a bunch of people. Surely if these are the reasons, his violent reaction to ordinary life circumstances (coupled with what seems to have been extraordinary socioeconomic advantage) suggests insanity of some kind. But insanity-as-in-illness, or insanity in the colloquial sense of "off"? Or have we now decided that these are one and the same, and that everything once thought "evil" is merely an illness same as any other, and our sadness should be as much over the lack of a proper diagnosis as over the tragedy that ensued?

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The straw family of privilege

Reading UChicago senior Lynda Lopez's Maroon op-ed about being a first-generation college student, I was struck by two things. First, that before even reading it, I had an intuitive (and anecdotal) sense that her argument would be sound, i.e. that low-income and first-generation students have a tougher time of it, and that, to put bluntly what she put delicately, rich kids can be assholes.

Second, though, was that nearly all of Lopez's examples of things rich kids did effortlessly but that she struggled with are ones that everyone struggles with. Despite my parents' extensive educations, despite going to an elite public high school and a fancy private school K-8, despite all of this copious ambient fanciness (albeit not the tutoring or helicoptering; I'm too old to be of that generation), I, too "didn’t know how to ask professors or TAs for help or how to pick the right classes." My high school workload also wasn't comparable with that of college, nor was it at all the same sort of work expected. I never really figured out how to write a Sosc paper.

Anyway, my point, to be clear, isn't that she and I entered college on a level playing field. Rather, it's that we quite clearly did not, but not for many of the reasons she gives. The more relevant factors - which she also discusses - would be things like the ability to pay for college or figure out financial aid, the sense that you simply must graduate from college, and the feeling that you personally don't belong, something quite different from thinking that college life is overwhelming and new and impossible, which, again, just about everybody experiences.

But I find this often in discussions of privilege, that there's a sort of assumed experience that constitutes "privilege," thought to be shared by all who aren't not privileged. Intellectual discussions at the dinner table. Family connections with which to get a job. In-depth life-planning conversations with parents and other unearned mentors. Everything made easier every step of the way. While this sort of family does - as much as one can ever tell - seem to exist, it's not the uniform experience it's been made out to be. Most of the rich-kids-at-college did not, I suspect, have that childhood.

To re-reiterate, my point certainly isn't that all backgrounds are one, or that everything's subjective so socioeconomic class doesn't matter. Nor is it that I'd expect this particular author to know that this isn't how it goes. Rather, it's that those trying to sort out these issues to find remedies should be clear on exactly what it is that does matter, at where the unfairness does come from.