Sunday, February 07, 2010

Old and New

-Almost finished Old New Land. Fascinating stuff - more on it later. Post-orals leisure reading is all about the books it would be assumed someone with my interests would have read, but that somehow I hadn't gotten to yet, priority going to books someone has, at one point or another, been shocked I haven't read. (Next up: Foucault on sexuality.) The line between work and leisure, when work means reading on the topic of your choice, will be the subject of another post.

-NYT trend-piece alert: A campus that's 55% female makes it altogether impossible for women to find decent boyfriends? The fact that a slight tilt in one direction appears to anyone as making a college 'all-girls' reminds me of claims that a neighborhood with a tiny but nevertheless new minority population is now 'swarming' with members of said group. Are schools with just over 50% men viewed as all-male? That said, a genuine all-female environment can lead to an idolization of males that's just the opposite of what such places are meant to instill. My complaint is with the 55%-means-no-men angle. 55% lets whichever percentage of 19-year-old girls would date older men anyway do so, while allowing the rest of the campus heteros to pair off however campus culture permits.

-Speaking of man-woman relations, why is the comments section of a certain DC 'game' blog with that car-wreck-can't-look-away quality a Jew-bashing extravaganza?

I know, I know! 1) The obvious: once people get into 'we're all anonymous, so down with P.C.!' mode, it's a short trip from misogyny to bigotry of all kinds, because everyone, if so inclined, is a rich, tall, straight, white male on the Internet. 2) The slightly less obvious: 'game', at least on that site, is about cultivating a sense of victimhood among a population that has experienced a loss of relative privilege. Even if the posts themselves tend to be misogynistic first and reactionary mostly by implication, the overall tone is one of nostalgia for an Old Order, the good old days when they knew their place. Back when women were in the kitchen, men were men, and Jews hunched-over peddlers. Now they control the government and media! 3) The least obvious and most paranoid: the popular view of Jewish women - spread in part, initially, by some Jewish men - as ugly, pushy, frigid man-haters makes it especially straightforward for someone who has it in for women already to denounce Jewish women in particular. Hmm.

-And once more: I was with Jessica Grose in her take-down of Lori 'Settle' Gottlieb, until, after correctly taking Gottlieb to task for assuming female journalists can only write what their emotions dictate, she... brings up her emotional stance towards the topic at hand, explaining, "In reality, my piece was not written because of personal problems with marriage (I'm engaged)." First off, women (and men) might have issues regarding marriage for all kinds of reasons, whether they're single, married, or affianced. But more to the point - why stoop to Gottlieb's level? If what Grose is arguing is that hers was a just-the-facts refutation of Gottlieb's claim, it shouldn't matter what's going on in her own romantic life.

If you're writing on anything remotely girly, and you're a woman, it's only a matter of time till you start getting the 'but you think this because you're so obviously single/coupled/fat/thin' response, from those who may not even have this information about you. While I see nothing wrong with mentioning the personal if that's what you were doing anyway, the absolute worst reason to fess up is because it's been demanded. The answer to 'you think X because you can't get a man' isn't 'lookie-here, ring,' it's... either no response at all, or a clearer reiteration of whatever the point was in the first place.


Britta said...

The more I read (about) Lori Gottlieb, the less respect I have for her. I read her Atlantic article (though not her book, obviously), and have two main complaints. First, she seems to vacillate between two arguments, one which is mildly repulsive, and one which is so obvious that it is amazing she would feel the need to write it at all. Whatever is going on here, it seems like a woman with major issues who is projecting them on the world at large (aka, other professional women). The second is her unprofessional lashing out at any person who writes a critical review.

Her Atlantic article seemed to be saying, "I dumped men I wish I hadn't, and now I'm a harried single mother (by choice), but I wish I had someone legally obligated to help me with the kid, even if he is gay or physically repulsive." She then projects her post-partum depression desperation on to all women. Of course, when women pushed back, pointing out that a loveless marriage with someone you dislike is worse than being single, and that women are not dead to the world at age 40, she responded that her actual point was "not to break up with someone who is basically a perfect partner for not being tall, dark, and handsome and giving you butterflies all the time." That is basically the same thing most women learn by high school, or at least by the end of college, and most people call "marrying someone who is good husband material" finding a mate, not settling. Of course, somehow this author managed to reach 40 before realizing it, so assumes that the rest of us are so shallow as to not date men based on their name (true story!).

Secondly, when people respond to her book with anything--logic, reasoning, statistics, empirical evidence not gained from watching 90s TV shows or interviewing their friends, she basically calls them all desperate potential-spinsters in denial. I agree with you Phoebe, Jessica Grose should not have to (or feel the need to) justify her argument with reference to her marital status--it adds nothing to her point, and seems kind of regressive and unfeminist, as well as slightly unprofessional. I also understand why she wanted to--she was personally attacked by Lori Gottlieb. She should have taken the high road, and instead acted defensively, but it is hard when someone basically calls you a deluded spinster in the making.

So...apparently I save my longest rants for when I need to procrastinate from my most difficult readings, so I should probably be focusing on that, and not on taking down Lori Gottlieb.

Phoebe said...


Gottlieb lost me once she offered Madame Bovary as an example of settling being a good idea. There's not a novel I can think of that's more about what a bad idea it is for a woman to marry a man she's lukewarm about. (OK, it could be read as being about the dangers of having a romantic take on marriage, but this is a more sophisticated reading, one that, if it was Gottlieb's, she ought to have elaborated.)

(Note how I incorporate readings from my field into taking down the Gottlieb piece! But she makes it too easy.)

"She should have taken the high road, and instead acted defensively, but it is hard when someone basically calls you a deluded spinster in the making."

This is actually a tough question. I could see responding as she did had this been on a personal blog, but when writing on Slate, it would have been more powerful to just stand her ground. But even on this lowly blog, I try not to indulge the various 'you think this because you're like X in some way I somehow know despite this not being a part of your life you write about' comments, because it sort of helps one's case not to do so. If an argument can only be made using information about the writer that's pure speculation, it's both weak and inappropriate. Had Grose not mentioned being engaged, would Slate readers have really taken this to mean that Gottlieb was right about Grose being single and bitter? Unfortunately yes, some might have come to this conclusion, if she responded without responding to that particular accusation. So perhaps the best response, in this case, would have been none at all.

Matt said...

I certainly don't endorse all of it (maybe not any of it- I haven't given it enough thought and probably won't) but on the possible importance of gender ratios in college this was interesting:

Phoebe said...


That post implies that we'd be equally alarmed if a school went 60% male, which I'd doubt. But also, the article and the post ignore that colleges are not bubbles, at least not for women - straight female undergrads finding themselves in the majority can date grad students/men already in the workforce, while male sophomores are, by tradition, kind of limited to their female classmates. Whatever grad-undergrad taboo may exist (and there's basically none, assuming no one's anyone else's student), the one against a college student dating a high school student (assuming the relationship did not begin when both were in high school) is immense.

Matt said...

Yes- it's that sort of thing that keeps me from endorsing all of it, though I think there may be something to it. (Older people dating younger, for example, is limited by the inconvenience caused by drinking age and the like, and dating w/in the college is not only easier -you don't hardly have to look to find the people- but you already have things to talk about, you likely have a similar class background, etc. So, I'd be surprised if there were not _some_ dynamic like this, even if it seems likely to be over-stated in the article, maybe by quite a bit.)

Belle Lettre said...

Lori Gottlieb is batshit insane.

Phoebe said...


So much depends on the campus. In a big city, or a school with a big grad school, undergrads can easily meet people outside their classes. At a liberal arts college, agreed that the coeds probably don't date the janitors, and may not meet too many other non-students. Not sure how much drinking age, which is so spottily enforced, makes a difference, and if it does, it could well be a motivation for the over-18-but-under-21 set to pair off with those just a bit older.


I'll have to have a listen, but agreed.