Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween weekend recap

-I got my official credentials as a feminist: a link from a post at Feministe, which is evidently a big deal.

-Jo and I had a lovely dinner with friends of ours here, a rare night not spent chasing Bisou around the living room.

-But we did not attend the intriguing-sounding astrophysicist Halloween party, on account of a snowstorm that made it impossible to bike out of the driveway, let alone to the far end of town. I'm not entirely sure where Saturday went. I think I slept through much of it. Of course this would happen, that the first year of my life I'm spending in a place where you need a car, before I've even had a chance to get a new learner's permit, weather is such that as early as October, the bike's as good as useless. 

-Waahmbulence averted, it got slightly warmer on Sunday. Biking conditions having improved, yesterday we had a truly excellent meal here. Pea shoots and a noodle soup with bean curd puffs, one of those "vegetarian" meals where you can kind of taste that all the flavors are coming from not-so-vegetarian origins, so good thing I don't claim to be a vegetarian. (Nor, for that matter, did the menu claim these dishes were anything of the kind.) It was all so very, very delicious, and I'm sure had nothing to do with the fact that it was freezing out and we'd biked far to get there.

-I made croissants, except that they were more like brioches in croissant-ish form, using this as a rough guide. Not the recipe's fault - I thought I could improvise. With recipes like this, you can't. Then last night I had a nightmare of sorts, that I was in Paris for a few hours and unable to find Le Boulanger des Invalides Jocteur.

 -I cleaned out (am at this very moment on Monday morning cleaning out) my wallet. There seems to be a theme: coffee loyalty-stamp cards, library cards, Paris bus tickets (sniff sniff), things that have long since expired. (Theme being, I am an ancient graduate student.) Am dividing into piles: irrelevant b/c Europe, irrelevant-ish b/c New York, relevant b/c NJ- or Bisou-related. Mystified by a bus transfer from 1994, not that it's not my bus transfer (I remember 1994) but I got this wallet in New Brooklyn during my Recent College Grad years, so that's two reasons 1994 doesn't add up. Maybe I can laminate it and wear it as a brooch ironically and 1990s-style. Tavi, can you hear me?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Action shot of the day

Plans to bike into town for dinner and a Halloween party may be off. But it looks like we'll keep busy.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I, for one, welcome our Uniqlo overlords

All that junky clothing sold as "fast fashion" to Westerners, maybe labeled "designed in L.A./Paris/Japan," but made in China. It all falls apart after one wash.

Except that it doesn't. If you don't treat your "fast fashion" purchases - stuff from H&M, Zara, what Brits I believe refer to as "high street" chains - as disposable, you don't generally have to dispose of them quickly. That famous European emphasis on "quality" we hear so much about doesn't mean they're buying stuff made in Italy or better-constructed or who knows. They're buying the same crap as we are, but hanging it up carefully in their closets, not piling it onto a chair for their miniature poodle to use as chew toys. When it comes to much of what renders clothing unwearable - stains, too tight, too loose - has nothing to do with construction. And in terms of durability, this is where the very cheap and very expensive come full circle -- the dainty silk-chiffon blouse will hold up (to a determined miniature poodle) no better than the synthetic version from H&M. With few exceptions (handbags, shoes) whatever it is won't last for years - or you won't wear it for years, unless out of economic necessity in which case you'll do so if it's from Prada or Kmart. Unless you want to wear it for years, in which case it will last that long. I have, as I've mentioned here in the past when this topic has come up, clothing from the junkiest of chains that is plenty old and that looks fine.

Alexandra Jacobs (sadly not Mike Albo or Cintra Wilson - why did they have to leave???) Critical Shopped at the new flagship Uniqlo, and this is what she found:

A white Heattech shirt, meanwhile, made me look like a bratwurst. The much-anticipated tingle never materialized, but I did see a split at the elbow-skin, a discovery corresponding with some early adopters’ criticisms that Uniqlo’s fabrics do not stand up to repeated wear. I would counter that perhaps the most modern attitude toward these garments of the future, the logical descendants of 1960s paper dresses, is to watch nonchalantly in real time as they biodegrade right off your body. (If you can’t wait that long, the company also has a recycling program.) As with so much these days — jobs, relationships — one just can’t get too attached.
I've seen the Heattech shirts on the rack, and could predict the bratwurst effect before even having to try one on. But at a crazed opening of a new chain store, does it really say anything so profound that one garment was less than 100%? What I think is, Alexandra Jacobs wanted to find evidence that stuff from a cheap store like this is poorly-made. Do reviewers of high-end boutiques even look for tears in the stuff? I'm thinking not.

Meanwhile, I do feel a bit ridiculous coming to the chain's defense. It has as of late taken over New York, advertised on every available surface in Manhattan, and even brought its tempting presence to a spot so very close to Penn Station that even if I avoid the one on Lower Broadway on my trips back to NYU... Susan "OWS" Sarandon is in their ads, which identify her as "actor" and "mother," leading me to wonder why it's not socially acceptable to call her an "actress," yet why not just call her a "parent," leading me to think maybe I misdirect some of these gender-analytic skillz from time to time. Uniqlo doesn't need me. They don't need me to point out that cashmere sweaters are about $50 at the 34th Street branch. They don't, but there you go. They don't pay me, but maybe they should.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Faux-scarcity and is this stew I'm cooking ready yet???

Stop the presses: I think Jessica Grose has a point. But with the caveat that yes, her latest, about how frustrating it is to have to wait to get seated at trendy New York restaurants with her husband and their many cool friends who are constantly inviting them out for dinner, dinners they can presumably well afford but ugh the wait is sooo long, is yet another addition to this genre. It may even define the genre. But it's at least not about spending a lot for a shirt, or having, at around age 30, married a dude.

And I think there's a nugget within this latest piece that's applicable even to those with less fabulous existences, whose lives do not include jaunty jogs through DUMBO, namely: if you're someone who gets crabby when hungry, this is something you will live with your whole life. It's a blood-sugar thing, not related to whether one does appreciate food (like yours truly) or not (like Grose). People who don't experience this don't get it, and assume it's overgrown-spoiled-child behavior. When in fact, while the behavior can be controlled, the sensation cannot. Some of us experience hunger as cranky, as in we don't even know we're hungry, until all of a sudden we get kind of annoyed about something petty. We can, as functional, self-aware adults, not express this annoyance (at least around those outside our immediate families), but it's there. In any survival-of-the-fittest situation, we would not fare well, which is why it surprises me that Grose and I, presumably both of an ethnicity often historically required to be "fittest" to escape pogroms and such, ended up stuck with this trait.

Along with that nugget, another potential nugget, something that was barely alluded to in the article but would have added to it tremendously: the whole thing with the lines is marketing. Inaccessibility is basically how places in NY (and, as I will get to in a moment, beyond) sell themselves. This can be done via unmarked entrances (announcing themselves only, in the case of one place I remember walking by, with that letter grade the health department now puts in the window of every restaurant), by spreading the word that only the very glamorous will get a table, or by making sure there's a line. Other variants of this: hiring waitstaff whose main purpose is making all customers feel old, square and suburban. Putting up a list of "rules" patrons must follow, once mainly a fixture of independent coffee shops, now popular in restaurants as well. (And yes, I consider Dos Toros a restaurant.) Making sure the prices vastly exceed what one would expect given the decor, because if a burger costs $20 in this dump, it must taste amazing! All of this points to the phenomenon we at WWPD know to call hipsters-make-your-food.

And we, the food-lovers, buy into it, even if Grose, food-indifferent, does not. We think we're above it, but we're intrigued when a sushi place has its own version of the Ten Commandments at the entrance and, once seated, you get a menu with a somewhat different edit of the same list. (And no, this was not in NY.) We think that the pizza at Artichoke must be worth the wait, and even after waiting the wait and learning that no, it's not so wonderful, we still notice that a new branch opened near campus, and think that maybe we will use one of our precious few opportunities to dine in NY now that we don't live there anymore on a slice, because wasn't Artichoke supposed to be something? We wanted desperately to try Locanda Verde when we lived within walking (well, hiking) distance of it, and our desperation only increased when we were revealed time and again not to be cool (or forward-thinking) enough to get a table. It's faux-scarcity, kind of like how Amy Chua tried to raise her kids as if they were poor immigrants, even when they were neither poor nor immigrants. Powerful stuff.

If this trickery works, it's in part because so many of us are profoundly affected by our appetites, and remember as the best meal we've eaten recently the one we ate when we'd missed the previous meal and gone running that morning. Some of us are so set on the idea of preferring food quality to atmosphere that a hopeless atmosphere actually fools us into thinking food tastes better.*

Grose must really not care about food, to be immune to this manipulation. To accept it as manipulation and reject it would be something else, but to find it only comprehensible in this really abstract sense why restaurants have long waits - "if you’re a hot spot, you can serve more customers when you’re not reserving tables, and it always looks good to have a line" - suggests a genuine absence of interest in one of the five senses. Grose merely accepts at face value that her friends appreciate good food. While a real cynic would say that her friends are hipster foodies - "sheep," as commenters put it - and get on line for the sake of being on a line with others dressed ironically, I think it's more about this trickery.

But is it trickery, or rather, does that matter? Given that we're talking about a multifaceted sensory experience, what's the difference if we think we think the food is superlative, and if the food actually is?

*There are, however, limits. Today at the Whole Foods café area, the room adjacent to the tables was holding a staff training meeting. It was easy enough, what with the big glass doors, to see in. The lecture including things like, "True or false: [Disgusting pest the likes of which the mere thought of can induce nausea] manifests itself in [disgusting way you wouldn't have imagined]." I might have accepted the soft pretzel's weird aftertaste, but not after that.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Against "naturally fat" UPDATED, TWICE!

As all Daily Mail readers know, there are certain... categories of article that must appear on every online front page, generally having to do with the (pasty) female body. Some celebrity must look "worryingly thin." Some step-daughter of a B-list celebrity or obscure British aristocrat must be drugged-out in some capacity. There will be shocking revelations about 50-year-old A-list celebrities with cellulite.

Another such category is "skinny woman eats." This is not, let me be clear, like when emaciated models explain that they live on cheeseburgers. No, it's when a woman who is slim-to-average is revealed to eat normal food. Or suspected of doing so. As an on-the-small-side but still too-big-to-be-a-dancer-model-gymnast-ingenue-actress sort myself, no I don't find it strange that a woman could eat tacos or bread and not require a crane to get out of her house, which is, let's face it, what the paper's implying. Why should we be shocked that women of unremarkable proportions have unremarkable diets? (OK, Sofia Vergara's proportions are remarkable, but not in a way that suggests she abstains from tacos.)

If this were merely an issue of tabloids being tabloids, we'd need to segue here into a discussion of what, if anything, these articles tell us about the society in which they emerge. But that level of analysis isn't where we need to go first, because I suspect that most women have experienced just-a-salad-ism. The assumption, that is, that the default for women who care even an average amount about their looks is lettuce-only. Maybe celery. But god forbid carbs. The expression, 'ooh, I'm so bad' may be summoned if a bagel really must be consumed.

I remember this from my long-ago office-worker days, but also from more recently, when a woman behind me on line to pay at the City Bakery in NY, a woman of about my own dimensions, started oohing and ahhing at the cookies (I'd just ordered one, but was experiencing guilt... because the thing cost $3), and then told me that it was OK for me to get a cookie, because I'd gotten less at the salad bar (which is not all salads) than she had. And I wanted to be like, look, the salad bar price here is nearly twice what it is at Whole Foods (because it's basically a restaurant with a salad-bar theme), and if I weren't feeling like such a grad student, if I hadn't just paid $33 round-trip plus Metrocards to get to NY in the first place, if I weren't carefully measuring what I put on my plate so that it would add up to under $6, I'd have gone with a trough. A trough and a cookie. I wanted to tell her, it's OK for me not to be neurotic about food, at least no more than the minimum legal requirement for women who grew up in the part of Manhattan I did. But I had a meeting with a professor that was more urgent than lecturing a random stranger on Body Image 101, so off I went, cookie in hand and, as I approached the meeting, mouth.

But this - the pathologization, tabooification, let me think of a real word... "stigmatization" is not quite what I'm looking for,  of utterly unremarkable food consumption, assuming the one chowing down is a woman - is a problem for so many reasons, such as:

-It's yet another way in which the female body is defined as forever in need of improvement. Near-inevitable features of postadolescents (hips, cellulite, "curves" anywhere but on the chest) defined as "problem areas." Even thin women - thin women especially - are expected to carefully monitor their weight. Women do not have the luxury of looking in the mirror, noting that they don't have a weight problem (let alone that they do and don't care), and not worrying about their bodies. All women must assume they are "naturally fat," as it were, that consumption of such indulgences as breakfast, lunch, and dinner... that this will probably happen most of the time, but that we should feel bad about it. So there's on the one hand the pressure on women who are actually heavy, or who would be but for very strict diet-and-exercise programs. And on the other, the fact that there's not a woman in our society who hasn't been told that she's on the verge of entering that marginalized caste if she orders the linguine.

-It encourages annoying behavior, more specifically, claims of "natural" thinness. More specifically, it encourages someone who eats a bowl of pasta almost every night for dinner, yet is not overweight, to claim a really fast metabolism. When, if you think about it, if you're eating three meals a day, not snacking, not a nervous eater, and not unusually-metabolism'd in either direction, you may not be thin in the sense that if the Daily Mail took a picture of you in swimsuit from the back, there'd be nothing for them to snark at, but it's not so strange that you wouldn't be heavy. I mean, it's not strange that there'd be variation - different women, like different men, would be different sizes on a "normal" diet. Given that up until very recently, very few people anywhere were obese, and I'm not talking about just times/places of extreme deprivation, it seems unlikely that the "natural" set point for virtually all women is "fat," unless we're defining as "fat" anyone the Daily Mail wouldn't call "worryingly thin." But what ends up happening is, women who choose to eat "normally" end up seeming as though they wish to flaunt some kind of metabolic privilege. And sometimes there are women who do wish to do just that, and who point at their having had a sandwich for lunch as evidence that despite eating like "the guys," they maintain their dainty feminine physiques. Argh.

-It ends up, paradoxically, contributing to obesity or, if you prefer, ill health, neurotic weight issues. 'Just a salad' is inevitably followed by 'just an entire desk-drawer full of Skittles.' I know, I worked in an office. Whereas a normal-food lunch - and I'm not even talking Michael Pollan, Real Food, whole grains, "good" fats, but just something like a slice or two of pizza or a sandwich - has at least a fighting chance of keeping you full until dinner. But real food at lunch is something men do. And, maybe the much-maligned Euro-fetishizing food movement does have something to each us here. In parts of Italy (not to mention Frahnce), you'll see thin women eating normal lunches, because yogurt-as-lunch never really caught on. Presumably the normal lunch does something to prevent bingeing later, or a metabolism slowing down, or what do I know, I'm in the humanities. But I'm pro-lunch.

-Finally, I'm going to tie in the Rhoda Morgenstern, Grace Adler, and Liz Lemon question: what's with all the slim sitcom stars portrayed as "cows"? What, other than misogyny? Other than the fact that female characters who are fat are typically portrayed, confusingly enough, by thin actresses? The hint of truth is that women who eat meals yet are not obese are, if not to the extent or in the same way as women who are actually large, seen as transgressing norms of femininity. Unapologetic meal-consumption is seen as a statement that one is not living every moment in fear of becoming fat. Horrors! So with these characters, there's on the one hand an element of realism (slim women do eat food), and on the other ample opportunities for apology.


Via Scott Lemieux, oh-so-sound advice from a publication called "Good": go on one of those BS juice fasts. Because it's good to starve yourself, at least if you're a woman. (Men have important things to do and aren't bothering being Good.) It's part of a series that is, I suspect, intended to discredit every Lululemon-and-Whole-Foods-going type for all eternity. A day without chemicals? Watching lentils sprout in a mason jar? Watching organic/sustainable paint dry? Some targets are just too easy.


Today I had the good fortune to have a million practical things to do in NY, and because of peculiarities of the shuttle schedule, I ended up on an early train, which meant flan. Next to me were two undergrads from the nearby college. Much discussion about how "bad" they are. Hard drugs? The notorious hook-up culture? Nah. One of them has a "sweet tooth." So does the other. They continued for some time about how awful it is that they eat the junk their guy friends keep around. These young women are bad. As a perceptive reader may have guessed, what they were not was overweight. This is, needless to say, not the preferred background accompaniment to flan-consumption, but so it goes. (The preferred accompaniment is, one is outside, in gorgeous weather, in Paris, with one's poodle).

Monday, October 24, 2011

"Outside the classroom"

This can't possibly be the first, or last, celebration of the college dropout. Like, did you know that the guy from Facebook, and Bill Gates, they never got their diplomas? Michael Ellsberg, Brown '99, has written the latest installment of 'Let's take this bit of trivia about a few who got lucky and at any rate had spent some time at elite colleges and project that onto a national population for whom dropping out would realistically mean video games and not entrepreneurship but you never know, right?' And the nugget of truth is that there are people who go to college because they're middle- or upper-class and that's what's done, but who'd be better-suited to some other endeavor. The catch is that this alternative might be lucrative and (to use the catchphrase) "job-creating," but it also might be low-level and food-service. It might be folding shirts at the Gap, or driving a cab. In other words, the controversial-ish platitude about how college isn't for everyone doesn't amount to, 'but fear not, a glamorous life awaits the drop-out.' The alternatives to college are (as conservative critics of academia sometimes sniff) often enough 'noble' pursuits (the plumber is always a favorite), but there will be a tradeoff in status and (often if not always) income. Unless what you do instead of finish college is found Facebook. But someone already did that.

So that's one problem. Another is that "college" isn't just about the coursework, something I'd think is obvious, but that Ellsberg completely ignores: "[V]ery few start-ups get off the ground without a wide, vibrant network of advisers and mentors, potential customers and clients, quality vendors and valuable talent to employ. You don’t learn how to network crouched over a desk studying for multiple-choice exams. You learn it outside the classroom, talking to fellow human beings face-to-face." Fine. But who are you meeting "outside the classroom" at Harvard, as versus "outside the classroom" at a community college in your hometown? Who are you meeting "outside the classroom" if you're not attending any school whatsoever, but are working at your local Target?

The point of college - college as social-mobility-promotor, as future-employment-boost - has never been just about grades and scores. Grades and scores are what get you into college. But elite universities in the U.S. aren't like European ones where you just show up for class (or just show up for exams) and otherwise are not connected to any college "community." After getting through how most jobs are filled via connections and so forth, Ellsberg explains,

In this informal job market, the academic requirements listed in job ads tend to be highly negotiable, and far less important than real-world results and the enthusiasm of the personal referral. Classroom skills may put you at an advantage in the formal market, but in the informal market, street-smart skills and real-world networking are infinitely more important.
Fine. But college is where this networking first happens. And that's really, really important if you're trying to break into a career for which you have no family connections. If you do that networking in the first semester and drop out, and find that you're the next Zuckerberg, if you're the exception and you know it, great. But if you don't go to college in the first place? I saw the Facebook movie, and I have my doubts that there'd be Facebook if Zuckerberg had stopped his education at high school.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

"Let's not rush into things": The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the idea of progress

After making sure Bisou had had enough exercise to prevent her from going nuts at home, I found myself incapable of doing much last night other than curling up with the sleepy poodle in front of the computer-as-TV.  But plucky, "spunky" Mary Richards proved more compelling than expected, and it was only during the third episode that I fell asleep definitively. Today I caught up a bit more. But this is in no way a post about the entire series, let alone its many spinoffs, even if I've probably seen much (most?) of this at some point in my I promise oh so intellectual life thus far. I'm only counting the last 24 hours.

And, if I'd had to pick a term for what I expected from the show, it would have been: "dated." I expected the show to feel dated, but I wasn't sure in what capacity. The clothes and hairstyles would look early-1970s, that much I imagined and was readily confirmed. (And I want Mary's nude-colored low-but-not-kitten-heeled pumps. And most of her dresses, Rhoda's dresses...) But the gender norms, that kind of thing, I imagined would seem different. But different how? More progressive or less?

The answer is, alas, both and neither. The second-wave-feminism sense that a woman doesn't need a man is combined with the ever-present sense among the characters who, after all, did not spring to earth in 1970, but had grown up in the postwar years, and who are still under immense pressure to get married. They're also living at a time when "married" still meant (in principle, and often enough) chucking one's identity for that of one's husband, when it meant no longer having a career. This is the "married" that the women of my mother's generation and older warn the women of my generation and younger about, the one that accounts for the younger end of the window-of-opportunity, for 20-something women and teenage girls being warned against getting too serious with a guy because think of your education! your career! The idea hadn't yet caught on, and perhaps given social norms for male expectations couldn't yet have caught on, that one could be a heterosexual woman in a long-haul relationship and have that not be the only aspect of one's identity, that one could be married and also work, etc.

But enough of that. Back to the show.

The basic premise, the sob story that brought protagonist Mary Richards, 30, back to Minneapolis (from I'm not sure where? did I maybe nap more than I care to admit?), is that her boyfriend of two years had promised they'd get married when he was done with medical school, but then, upon graduation, said to her, "Why rush into things?" Imagine, an upper-middle-class couple, with one still in school, not marrying after two years! (Yes, I'm thinking of the most-recently-announced-on-my-Facebook-feed engagement - a college friend will be marrying a guy she started dating senior year. Most such announcements are along those lines.) But it's more than that. Mary wasn't simply dead set on a ring, or else. Mary was effectively dumped. But it's more than that. She was dumped not because sometimes people in relationships change their minds, but because (cue Caitlin Flanagan, Kay Hymowitz, etc., etc.) the social contract had broken down. Good men, nice men, boring men, Charles Bovary-ish doctors from Minnesota, even, no longer felt they had to marry the nice girls they were with. Cows giving away their milk for free and all that. The women, meanwhile, were screwed. Or not. Is Mary happy to be 30 and single? Pretty much! And her married but same-age friend Phyllis doesn't seem so delighted with her own situation. But Mary also feels she must lament the fact, often with her same-age and also-single friend Rhoda. (More on Rhoda later, of course.)

There are some pitch-perfect observations about gender and dating that are not dated in the least. In the second episode, Mary - feeling especially 30 and desperate, and at the behest Rhoda - goes out with a guy she'd dumped years before, because he'd been too into her, too clingy, too enthusiastic. And, after dude spends the evening going on and on about how beautiful she is, what a good cook she is (and, as is noted, she hasn't cooked anything!) and otherwise praising her incessantly, he brings up marriage. Where you are primed to think this is going is, he's the just-as-bad opposite of her commitment-phobe ex. But no! Dude then starts agonizing - as though Mary had been the one to bring up marriage, when she had in fact been trying to get rid of him before they'd even met up - about how he needs his freedom. He keeps insisting that she desperately wants to marry him, apologizing that he can't be that man for her. All the while she's assuring him that it's just fine he doesn't want to marry her. According to my anecdata, this dynamic exists to this day - men starting from the assumption that all women want marriage ASAP, and that any women willing to spend an evening with them are hoping and praying for marriage ASAP with them. Men giving entirely unsolicited monologues about how they need their independence, to women who were hardly trying to take that independence away from them, but merely trying to slip away politely from a bad date.

As with "Sex and the City" (sorry, sorry), there's a bit of fantasy going on in terms of how much male attention a 30-year-old woman receives on a day-to-day basis. While I'm not with the evo-psych crowd re: it being physically impossible for a man to be romantically interested in any woman old enough not to pose as bait on "To Catch a Predator," I think it's fair to say (and I know Britta will disagree, but that's what comments are for!) that the kind of male-gaze attention one gets from strangers walking down the street peaks at maybe 14 or 15 (and thank god), and that having a seemingly never-ending supply of available partners is something that's true (for men and women alike) only, if ever, while still in school. Part of this is because TV is TV, sitcoms are sitcoms. As was notoriously the case on "Seinfeld," new characters need to be brought in somehow, and dates, if the leads are single, are the obvious choice, even if that means ridiculously unrealistic social lives for not especially glamorous 30-somethings. And with TV as well as movies, there's always this ambiguity about how physically attractive we're meant to think the character is, as versus the actress portraying her. So if a date tells Mary she's beautiful, are we supposed to think he's saying Mary Tyler Moore the actress is attractive, in which case tell us something we don't know, or that Mary Richards, a charming everywoman, has caught this man's eye? But I don't think 1970, 1995, 2011, changes things.

Oh, Rhoda Morgenstern! I guess that after George Costanza, Liz Lemon, and (in biographical respects only) Penny from "Big Bang Theory," she's the TV character I most identify with, thus confirming my suspicions that I belong to an earlier generation of NY Jews, and was born too late. (I did have a grandfather born in the Pale of Settlement in the 19th century, which may help explain this.) But the self-deprecation about her weight is grating as all get-out, because she's thin, if not quite as thin as Mary who looks, in "Daily Mail" terms, "worryingly thin." This is a problem on "30 Rock" as well, and one I will discuss more in another, no doubt also-too-long, post. The word "Jew" has yet to come up, but even though Valerie Harper, the actress who played Rhoda is, famously and contrary to what one might imagine, not Jewish, it's there. And fundamental to her dynamic with Mary. And to be discussed in painstaking detail another time.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bisou grows up

It's been a busy time for Bisou. She got the last of her vaccines (till boosters, that is), tried lox for the first time, checked up on her application to a nearby college, and marched back and forth on and around Nassau St. on her hind legs. She got a bed, which she most of the time, contrary to all our expectations, treats as a bed, not a giant chew toy. She got serenaded in Russian by a woman in a kerchief walking a very sweet Yorkie. Good times for Bisou, that's for sure.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Profound thoughts of the day UPDATED

-Why is it easier to concentrate in a loud coffee shop than an almost-quiet library where someone probably seated quite far away is very faintly whistling? (I'm thinking spousal library privileges do not extend to shushing. But ask me again in an hour.) But I'm not entirely sure what conditions are best for 1820s conversionist literature. I wish the narrator would stop describing this "Esther" as "l'intéressante Juive" when there is truly nothing interesting about her. She's young, pretty, and has converted to Catholicism after having the profound thought that, if the king and the majority of the French people are Catholic, gosh darn it Christianity must be better than Judaism. The only interesting thing about her is that she's not named "Rachel" or "Rebecca." Otherwise, no. I'm now reading more about the "toilettes" of different women. Life must have been complicated before Sephora. If Esther and Edouard the ex-cad aristocrat don't get together soon, and I've been plodding through this for nothing, I will not be pleased.


Well, one interesting thing is that her conversion seems to be taking place at the Paris church in whose place I got engaged. I wonder if Poilane was around in those days...

-"You can never go wrong with recipe that involves a stick of butter and a cup of sugar simmering and baking over the course of an hour. That is just a fundamental principle of LIFE!" - Kei, telling it like it is. My recent variants of that - lemon pound cake, brownies, cranberry muffins - have left zilch to be desired.

-Car-sharing, nice idea, frustrating concept. (No, I still can't drive, but luckily they teach driving in Belgium.) You have this car for a set number of hours, some of which of course involve taking little Bisou to the vet, then have to find a way to use the remaining time - all of it, but not a minute more - to the fullest. No driving around to get to know Central NJ. No trying that ravioli place technically within the town's borders but in the opposite direction of Practical. 17 boxes of DeCecco, some massive amount of dishwasher detergent, etc., later, and we still had just exactly enough time left for Whole Foods, in another of Route 1's infinite strips-of-strip-mawl, which, sorry Wegman's, has a proper butcher area. (And sorry Whole Foods, but you are dreary. And your strip mall has nothing else.) Enough to get meat at Whole Foods, but not enough to actually get the stuff out of the car in time to return it. We had to first put everything into the driveway. But it went beautifully. Not a moment of car-time was wasted.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I don't care how many times I come across this expression in my research, but reading about a woman "à sa toilette" will always summon the wrong image.

Speaking of, French vs. American approaches to beauty, on the voyeuristically-spectacular Into The Gloss, the blog that tells you what glamorous women keep in their medicine cabinets. Count me as Team America on this one - it's a bit frightening what an unlimited budget and access to the Parisian parapharmacie amounts to. I mean, the French actress whose stuff it is looks lovely, as she no doubt would with or without ten thousand clear solutions that only allude to purported benefits - you will look "fresher," more "luminous." AKA, you will have spent 15-20 euros on water that smells vaguely like soap. (Confession: after a summer-plus-semester of temptation, I gave in, and if I indeed wore eyeliner to dissertate, walk Bisou, dissertate, socialize with scientists, I'd have some fine La Roche-Posay to remove it with.)

But Katie Gallagher - a fashion designer I once saw on the street in New York - looks amazing (the ITG photo doesn't do her justice), and has the right idea - choose a strange-yet-beautiful hair color, make sure eyeliner is visible but not raccoon-like, keep any kind of makeup that's about painting skin to look like skin to a minimum, and the world does not end if you fall asleep with your makeup on.

Meanwhile, my own toilette is somewhat lacking, because of course the day there's a Dinner is also the day the hot water went off at 9am. While I was plenty awake well before that, I'd been so busy with Bisou's toilette-in-the-modern-sense that I'd forgotten about the water until it was trop tard. If it doesn't go back on soon, I must follow Gallagher's lead re: hair-washing, despite myself. I am officially not brilliant enough to bathe.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dear Bisou

What I'd ask her if I could:

When you get into that mood, the one where you run back and forth with fury, making that "chhh" sound that's neither a bark nor a growl, what is it you want? This no longer seems to signal a need to "go," nor does giving you long walks (i.e. enough exercise) seem to prevent it. Every day, maybe twice a day, a few minutes each time. What does it mean?

Do you get enough exercise? Are the "long" walks you take 2-3 times a day, plus roaming around the apartment, an apartment that seems big, at least, coming from a NYC studio, long enough? Is this why you come back in and want to eat Gary Shteyngart books off the lowest shelf?

Or do we wear you out? To and from Nassau St. is a bit much for us, and you're a tiny poodle. You seemed to enjoy this, but were you secretly being dog-abused by this walk and not telling us?

How do you keep getting out of your crate, however we secure the latch? Would anything convince you to want to be in the crate, for any even negligible length of time?

Is there a water bowl you wouldn't overturn? Do you, Bisou, plan on asking the powers that be how they feel about getting one welded somehow to the floor of the kitchen?

Do you really think you'd like kale-and-red-onion salad? Why do I think you wouldn't be begging for it if you knew what it was?

Do you like meeting other dogs? Would anything persuade you to more than tolerate this activity?

If we got you a bed, would you promptly tear it up, pee on it, worse? What percent chance is there that you'd just curl up in it adorably?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


I was just pointed, via Facebook, to a PHD Comics post that might be the very definition of up my alley. For the link-following-averse, it's called "Academic Dress Code," and is sketches of six academic "types," not unlike the "types" I used to research in the 1840s illustrated compendium "Les Français peints par eux-mêmes." In other words, folks, follow the link, because I'm hopeless at describing images. (All I remember from art history in college is that the TA pronounced "focus" "fuckus.") It's designed as a graph, going to "less formal:" people donning, from left to right, a tux, a graduation robe, a business suit, a sports jacket and khakis, pajamas, and rags. I was specifically asked for a gendered reading, and believe it or not I'd already found the comic and gender-read it in my head earlier today, so this shouldn't take too long.

Two of the six images are of women. Not in and of itself a disaster, unless you're of the board-game-commercial, Benetton-ad school of thought, and believe that every single image must be demographically representative. All are white, which is worth addressing, I think, but to properly address that would veer off into intersectionality beyond what I can handle this close to 11pm and on Bisou Standard Time. Of the two women, one is in a graduation robe and you can barely make out that it's supposed to be a woman - a hint of skirt at the bottom is a giveaway. The only unequivocal woman is a grad student in PJs clutching a pillow. OMG guys, grad school is sooo stressful!

Then there are the men. One is in a tux winning the Nobel Prize. Another dons a regular business suit, but is crossed out because academics don't own suits, because they of course never need to attend weddings, funerals, anything outside of academia. A third is the "Smart Academic," who is an impressive cartoon rendition of every man of Assistant Professor age I see around Princeton, saw around Hyde Park. Yup, that's what they wear. What do their female equivalents wear? Who cares, because where are they? They had babies or lost confidence or who knows a few years back, while still in PJs, and have long since become SAHMs, middle-school teachers, dabblers. No one in the lineup appears in any even marginal sense fashion-or-style-conscious. God forbid!

But the final entry - "Hobo-chic" - is the reason I had to post on this. He's the very definition of "too brilliant to bathe," a Nobel winner, "leader in his field," who can dress as he does because he's that important. (He's the only one represented whose skin isn't pasty-pink, but I'm going to assume this is meant to indicate dirt, not that the "hobo" is of color.) A female version of this is inconceivable.

Add all this up, and the issue, gender-wise, is a bit more than women making up only a third of the academics depicted in what is, after all, one cartoon. This is dangerous territory I'm entering into here, I realize, because it will elicit the inevitable, 'but don't you get that this is satire, you humorless feminist?' response, when... yes, of course I do, of course I know "Piled Higher and Deeper." I'm a grad student! What it's satirizing is academia, and this particular installment may be ostensibly poking fun at the geeky unfashionable world of academia - no sharp "douche" suits for us! - it's also, between the lines and I suspect inadvertently, reinforcing the ideas: that the word "professor" should summon the image of a man, that geniuses must be male, that competent profs must be male, that the academics who might otherwise have high-paid jobs are men, and that confidently-displayed (but fully-clothed! maybe even fashionably-clothed!) female bodies have no place in academia.

Evo-psych, Anonymous, and other bloggery

Someone must have linked to Freddie's post that links here, or something, but as of recently the trickle of arrivals from there has become a horde. Thank you for telling me, Sitemeter. Freddie or anyone else - where are they arriving from? Please tell me this isn't a "game" blog...

One commenter there, going by the distinctive handle, "Anonymous," has an explanation for the "window of opportunity": While we don't know whether Anonymous goes by Mr., Mrs, Miss, Ms., or something else entirely, we can rest assured that Anonymous is a dude:
Nothing is going to make men attracted to women based on their accomplishments instead of their youth, just like nothing is going to make women attracted to men based on their youth instead of their accomplishments. That's one area where evolutionary psychology seems undeniable (certainly more predictable than much we call science). The problem of women going immediately from "too young to marry" to "too old to marry" is a simple one. The "too young to marry" folks are mostly engaging in a pleasant fantasy involving a complex mix of ideology, nostalgia, and sentimentality. The "too old to marry" people have cruel reality on their side. It would make far more sense for women to marry in their early 20s and develop a career in their 30s than vice versa. Their value in the marriage market drops far more precipitously than their ability to attend graduate school, start a business, etc. When you treat a 20 percent improvement to your career prospects as a goal ahead of a 80 percent increase in your marriage prospects the outcome is, yes, predictable.
Science! No, better than science! Good use of "simple" to describe a phenomenon that's anything but. I choose to discuss this comment not, of course, because of the reputation of its author, but because it represents, alas, what a lot of men think.

Given the extent to which couples these days form between men and women of the same age, all of whom are presumably choosing among potentials also in their cohort, the appeal of 23-year-old women to 45-year-old men is largely irrelevant. Ah, but the 23-year-old men are not ready for marriage! They're man-children, and young women will see the light! Thing is, nor - contrary to popular opinion - are the 23-year-old women at that life stage, which is why the couples that form at 23 only marry at, say, 30. That Mr. 45 is all stability and let's get married next week is not interesting to 23-year-old women. Even if he's Dr. 45, JD, PhD. If he's Mick Jagger  (well, a young Jagger at this point), fine. Otherwise, not interesting.

And Anonymous has missed what the "window of opportunity" is about, if he thinks "cruel reality" or indeed any evo-psych "reality" enters into it. The "too old" end of the window is not about women wishing they'd married while they still had a chance. It's not about biological clocks, because - and this is pretty radical, I know - women whose number one concern is having a baby, but who could give or take the dude, are able, these days, to have a baby without a dude. It's about women reaching a certain age, conveniently forgetting that they're happy single, or at any rate happier than they'd have been if they'd settled for some dude they dumped ten years prior because they weren't into him, and - expectation-script buzzing in the back of their minds - thinking they should be lamenting The Man-Shortage, when in fact they still have potential dudes (because, see above, even the men their age who might prefer 20 aren't getting 20), but fundamentally when it comes down to it don't want a dude.

So that's the "window-of-opportunity" angle. But where the comment really loses me, but also where it most represents views one sees all the time, is in its insistence that men and women are looking for radically different things in a partner. The fact that couples tend to be well-matched in terms of looks and "accomplishments" would seem to be all we'd need to know. You'd think.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The ABCs of ABDs

Well this, sent out just now to my department by one of my classmates, sure made for a nice study break, as it were, from attempting to figure out this process. Before addressing the rest, to the Chronicle commenter who insists that no PhD in any field ought to take more than five years, any thoughts on variations in required coursework? Required teaching, which can range from full-time-job-plus to zilch? The having of the bebes? Or that part of why some students are in their 15th year and going strong is that they've taken the Candidate B message to heart, and don't think they can be taken seriously as candidates until they've basically become professors (books published, numerous courses taught and designed) while still ABD, meaning, they did not spend years one through 14 marinating in coffee shops, which in some cases is kind of how it went? As someone who's already past the point of anything like 15 years being a possibility for me, it's not in my personal interest to defend that route, but let's remember that "dedication" can't be measured so easily.

As for the rest, I obviously don't have any answers here. But that doesn't stop me from having thoughts!

It seems that often enough, when one hears of students who took only five years in the humanities getting jobs, this is because they're coming from super-prestigious programs that get everyone out in five years, that don't require teaching, and that pay enough so that students in them are not working a bunch of jobs on the side. Correlation, causation, and all that.

And! Isn't it possible that what makes a Candidate B so wonderful isn't just the more voluminous CV, but also the years of experience applying for academic jobs? In which case Candidate A needs to go on the job market, even if unlikely to get anywhere that year, simply in order to become Candidate B later on? Some of the process is familiar to anyone who worked between college and grad school, or even during college, but much of it is its own animal.

Also worth pondering (while you sit in the coffee shop where you've been "getting your PhD" for the past few decades): there's something extraordinary, if you step back and think about it, about the fact that someone with a five-year post-college track record - this in addition to the presumed four years of undergrad in the same topic - can be measured only for "potential" or "promise." It's hard to imagine an equivalent in any other field. In Europe, you get a law degree while an undergrad, and have by whichever age been working as a lawyer since forever. Even a very, very, very advanced grad student has never been a member of a university's permanent faculty, has never confronted those dynamics and politics, and as such is also going to be a gamble.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

It's complicated

I've been following the story of the college instructor who fell into conflict with a student in her class, possibly but not definitively related to her inability to properly deal with his stutter. His side, hers.

Nothing about the story's straightforward, which is, I suppose, what makes it compelling. On the one hand, it's about college. On the other, the professor in question is an adjunct who stopped, years ago, at an MA, and the student a tenth-grader taking her community-college class, factors that could make the interaction closer to something that would go on in a high school.

More interestingly: On the one hand, it's about disability. Without announcing to the class exactly what a student suffers from (and see Flavia on this), a good instructor must both accomodate behavior that will seem unusual to the rest of the class, and make the class work for other students as well. This is not something that's yet come up in classes I've taught, but in one I took, there was a (male) student I can only guess was somewhere high-functioning on the autism/Asperger's spectrum, whose blurting included loud, really projected belching. The (female) instructor was in every sense a pro, and dealt with it beautifully, and the other students, all or nearly all grad students from various fields who'd already taught classes themselves, were not going to have the confused reaction a more typical class might have had. College students are not going to necessarily know how to differentiate between Asperger's and awkward/entitled. I mean, I couldn't, either, from a medical perspective, but once you've logged a certain number of hours in classrooms, once you've logged a certain number in life, you start to be sensitive to at least the possibility that someone behaving strangely maybe can't help it. And a stutter, unlike Asperger's (although some online are noting that these two often go hand in hand), will be obvious as something not readily controlled, even to other high school students.

On the other, in cases like these, there's a gender component - a possible "mansplaining" angle. But can someone whose inappropriate timing and choice of words stems from a diagnosed disorder "mansplain"? Seems doubtful. To semi-address Flavia's question, while there will always be "mean girls" and mean boys who live to make fun of "weird," there's another possibility in cases like these that only becomes clear when you take gender into account. However nerdy and eccentric, and even (to a degree - search for "Asperger's" and "girls" for the ample literature on this) whether technically on a spectrum or not, girls are expected to be social and act "normal." Contrary to popular belief, this does not come naturally to all girls. The penalties for behaving strangely and looking unkempt are simply much higher for girls than they are for boys.

Meanwhile, there's a space for boys who come across as somehow different, but are maybe (or maybe not even) especially good at math, or even especially knowledgeable about something else. They may be bullied (and Dan Savage has discussed how his straight-but-nerdy brother was bullied more than he was for being gay-but-not-so-nerdy), this should not be ignored. But under certain circumstances, by certain teachers, often by parents, extreme geekiness in boys is interpreted as a sign that underneath the messy, unwashed hair lies the brain of an Einstein. A girl whose natural inclinations are along these lines will shampoo, condition, and blow-dry. A theoretical female student in Flavia's class may be someone who'd be a "that guy," a "too-brilliant-to-bathe," had she been born male, but she doesn't have the option. She may on some level resent male students she interprets as falling into this category, without considering the possibility that they have a disability, noticing only that they're viewed as budding geniuses. She may even herself have the very same disability, but have learned to compensate for it while quite young, maybe even never to have been diagnosed, because that can apparently happen with girls. Point being, whatever his personal struggles, "that guy" may irritate male classmates, but could well be the object of envy for some female ones, and may inspire something along those lines in female instructors, many of whom are, of course, grown-up geeky girls.

The problem remains, as Flavia notes, that an instructor can never announce to the class which students are merely "that guy," and which should be dealt with with utmost sensitivity because they've been diagnosed and are suffering. Nor, given the ambiguity of diagnosis, do we ever know for certain that various "that guy" students aren't undiagnosed cases, nor that over-diagnosis hasn't so labelled male students who might be better classified as "too brilliant to bathe." And sometimes, as with the boy with the stutter, a student may both have a diagnosis and feel entitled to participate in a lecture class on account of being young, on account of having been home-schooled, etc. Confusing! Are we all sufficiently confused?

So my own approach, if I ever confront something like this in class, would be to model myself after the instructor who dealt so smoothly with the belching student. Be so blasé that students follow your lead. Keep your calm, and be respectful, but without an over-the-top, 'Look, I'm being respectful of the badly-behaved student' attitude. Acknowledge all blurting/over-participating students sometimes but not quite as much as they'd like. Before the semester is even under way, make some general remarks about the need for everyone to get a chance to speak or, if it's a lecture, about how much speaking is appropriate, both so that no one feels individually picked on, and to pre-reassure the rest of the class that non-blurted remarks will get heard, too.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Excessive universalism

Imagine an article about "black hair" that never once used the terms "black" or "African-American." Well that's my take on this personal essay about whether or not the author should get a nose job. I mean, it took extensive research to find out that the author is Jewish, something she obviously goes to great lengths to keep secret. I mean, Jennifer Aniston, really? This would be like a black woman writing about hair-texture politics and using Nicole Kidman or Andie friggin' MacDowell as an example of that struggle. "So maybe I should get the operation [to fix an apparently genuinely deviated septum] but not get my nose reshaped. If seems nobler somehow. A boon for feminism, or for noses. Something." Taffy Brodesser-Akner, I don't know you, but I suspect you know perfectly well what that "something" is, and feminism, though not irrelevant (intersectionality!), is tangential. And of course I did the Google Image search - not that you asked for my opinion, except insofar as you wrote about your nasal self-image in the NYT Style section, your nose looks just fine.

Trustafarian self-hatred

Are you by any chance trying to summarize your dissertation for several audiences, in several different formats, and finding yourself taking "breaks" to do reading for your dissertation, which seems like great, carefree fun by comparison? Looking for something genuinely procrastinatory? Look no further. Occupy Wall Street is not just the 99%. The 1% have, as the Daily Mail sneered, joined in. Via two different Facebookers' links, one endorsing it, one half-mocking.

My impressions:

-Of course it's possible to protest in solidarity against an injustice from which you, personally, benefit. Men can be feminists, whites anti-racists, straights for same-sex marriage (from which straights don't lose, precisely, except insofar as heterosexual privilege is diminished). But something feels off about the approach. Is it that the signs look an awful lot like beggars' signs, even if they're ostensibly the kind of sign one would hold up at a protest? That this, combined with street-urchin-chic, makes it seem like it's about rich kids playing at poor, even if that's not what's going on? Maybe someone behind the scenes could have instructed them to dress up for these photos, like when they do the interview segments on the "Real Housewives" and all of a sudden every woman is all modern-day Marie Antoinette'd-out.

-I'm somewhat more convinced by the self-maders asking to be taxed more than by those who were born into wealth, buy their clothes at thrift stores, have no idea what it's like to actually need money (and not even just in the poverty sense, also in the more quotidian I-must-work-or-else-no-income one), and feel ashamed at the unfairness of life, from which they've passively benefitted. The adage (is it indeed an adage?) about how people who say they don't care about money have always had it by the bucket-full makes it hard to care what children of immense financial privilege think about the possibility of higher taxes. Are they even aware that they pay taxes? Aren't teams of money-managers and accountants handling this for them?

-There's also something about the whole thing that reminds me very much of the nine years I spent at private school. There was, first off, the sense of relative poverty (Grew up solidly upper-middle-class? You probably did not find $3 million waiting for you when you turned 21. Or 22...), but this, whatever.  It's more that the super-rich have - as I remember from elementary and middle school, and as this reminds - a tendency to think of everything other than their own situations as tragic. Anyone who's ever had money concerns at all, which is to say anyone who works for a living, might as well be presented by a teary Sally Struthers. This tendency might look like a harsh critique of capitalism, but it's not that. It's more like a failure to understand that while there is such a thing as dire poverty, people who are merely not rich are not crying themselves to sleep about it every night. The middle classes might not be as robust as they once were, but there are Americans outside the 1% who do indeed have health insurance. (Often crappy health insurance, but anyway.) Sometimes people who are not millionaires even do things like buy tinted moisturizer at Sephora only to bring it home and not know quite what to do with it.

-There's quite a bit of confidence among these 1%ers that they will never be anything but comfortable. But don't trust-funds get blown through all the time? Or is it just that kids with trust-funds who favor pre-owned flannel, not new cars and cocaine, don't make a dent in their piles of cash, no matter how many backpacking trips they take, how many hostels per city? And aren't there offspring of wealthy parents out there whose parents would possibly help them out in an emergency, but who past some age (18, college graduation) are on their own? Are they still "1%" because of having attended only expensive schools, having had tutors, having lived in nice neighborhoods, etc.? Am I just incredibly naive, and massively underestimating the amount of family money floating around?

-I guess it's admirable that these 1%ers are not doing what I half-suspect I'd do if I found myself with a few mil to toss around, which is going to Paris without grad school paying for any of it, buying an apartment next to the Boulanger des Invalides, and using whatever was left over on pastries, books, and Bichons.

23 is young

Tavi Gevinson's new online mag for teen girls - or for nostalgic adult women? - has a piece by a 23-year-old "kiss virgin" named Rachael. The essay is ostensibly about how it's OK to be single, and that people shouldn't judge, which is to say, it has the same valid if uncontroversial point as the Atlantic cover story. Only here, the author's 23, and can't reflect on a series of failed relationships, because she hasn't had any. Rachael's speaking to an audience primed to see 23 as ancient, but that's still young enough that she might lead a very conventional romantic life, meeting a first partner at 24, settling down at 30, etc. I've spent enough time at geeky schools to know that it in no way dooms a person to lifelong celibacy if they made it allll the way through high school and even college without anything much going on in that area. Like Dan Savage recently advised a 23-year-old gay man in much the same boat as Rachael, 23 is not that old. Not for gay men who only came out at 22, and not for geeky sorts, regardless of gender/sexual orientation.

(Rachael, who is theoretically open to men and women - twice the fun! - is perhaps something more like interested in neither, far closer, on the calls-to-Savage spectrum, to the callers who identify asexual to those who say they're bi. For the time being, at least. Savage would probably say she's just not prepared to admit she's a lesbian. Me, I have no idea where she'll end up. 23 is young.)

That said, what struck me was the author's assessment of why young women and teen girls want boyfriends, namely, that it's about peer pressure, fitting in: "If you took your cues from pop culture, you’d think the sole purpose of high school was hooking up. If you’re not dating the coolest, hottest boy in school, you’re a loser, and if you’re not dating (or trying to date) anyone, you’re not just a loser. You don’t exist."

Perhaps this is how it looks to someone who "do[es]n’t really get crushes." But to those - again, gender is irrelevant, as is sexual orientation - who get through high school by having crushes, for whom this is a big part of being that age, it seems very off. (Not unrelated, but not directly relevant here.) One need only consider the number of crushes that form on inappropriate, uncool targets - the math teacher, the weird goth kid - crushes that, even if they may affirm heterosexuality, would in no way raise anyone's social status, and if anything quite the contrary. Even assuming we're talking straight girls only, it's not all quarterbacks and brooding James Franco look-alikes behind the bleachers. It's hardly the same thing to have embarrassing crushes on members of the opposite sex as to be gay, 15, and closeted. But it's not as though hetero crushing is one great big public celebration of normalcy, either. Some crushes, even ones on same-age, opposite-sex classmates, can't be openly admitted.

Which brings us to something I've mentioned here before: that oh-so-grating phenomenon of young straight women claiming to be gay men trapped in women's bodies actually comes from a place of reasonable. Young women are popularly assumed to be desperate for boyfriends, boyfriends who can soon enough become fiancés, husbands, fathers. (This is why window-of-opportunity-enforcers are forever warning young women not to settle down. It's assumed they want to do so, more than anything, and need to reminded of such things as "graduate school.") While this may be true of many women at 25, 30, it's not so often the case at 15, 20.

All attraction anyone female has for anyone male is assumed to be the desire for a conventional life, when sometimes - often, very often if we're talking 18-year-olds, but often enough with 30-year-olds, etc. - it's really about the desire for a dude. Lust, curiosity, etc. Not the search for a prom date, for husband material. In our society, this unfettered attraction-to-men is associated with gay men, not straight women, ergo, straight women who experience it don't think the obvious - that this is how it goes for women with their entirely typical wiring - but that they must be aberrations, "queer," etc.

Rachael probably does feel genuine frustration with a world that assumes young people want romance, but ends up misrepresenting the majority, reinforcing the idea that female attraction is about wanting to fit in with peers. "I’m not saying that it’s wrong to make dating a high priority in your life—if you’re having fun, great!," she writes, as though the goal is dinner and a movie in the company of someone who will raise one's status in the eyes of one's own girlfriends. Often enough, that's so incredibly far from what's going on when a teen girl has a crush.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The window's jammed

Among the many wish-I'd-thought-of-it words of wisdom Dan Savage has had to offer is, when someone calls or writes in to tell of a string of failed relationships that all failed for the same reason, he'll explain that the problem isn't "young Southern women" or "gay men in cities," but that each of us is the common factor in all our relationships.

I take it, given the venue, the links from Slate and Jezebel, and the addition of History and Statistics to what is otherwise a mix of tired cliché (women don't much care what men look like! men like their women young!) and Gottlieb-lite anecdotal experience, that Kate Bolick's Atlantic essay, "All the Single Ladies," is the new cover story we're all to ponder at our dinner parties, Tiger Mom-style.

And... not really? The author, though a woman, alas, experienced (and appears still to experience) re: some now long since ex-boyfriend what George Costanza did re: Susan - bored and a wandering eye while with the person, selective memory for good times only once broken up.  This... happens? Not sure what else the message is, but of course it happens. To men and to women. Revisionist history of seriously flawed relationships (and the flaw could be, you didn't want to be in a relationship, yet there you were - it doesn't have to be, s/he was bad news). Once you identify the problem, the revisionist history may cease. Otherwise? Maybe try pitching it to the Atlantic?

Meanwhile, Bolick's "spotty anecdotal findings have revealed that, yes, in many cases, the more successful a man is (or thinks he is), the less interested he is in commitment." This... sounds spotty and anecdotal? Like another way of saying that people who think they can do better often end relationships? Because it's not as though super-successful professionals don't have spouses. The men, at least, seem to have wives. Generally just one wife each, though.

The takeaway is ostensibly that The Family has evolved, and that it should be OK for women to be single, and even to be single and ambivalent. So, not exactly a super-revolutionary, change-the-way-we-think-about-this-issue argument. But from a window-of-opportunity perspective the piece is a gold mine.

Bolick went from being told (by her mother) not to settle down, to hearing from friends, at 28, that the clock's a'ticking. In college, she and her female friends "took for granted that we’d spend our 20s finding ourselves, whatever that meant, and save marriage for after we’d finished graduate school and launched our careers, which of course would happen at the magical age of 30. That we would marry, and that there would always be men we wanted to marry, we took on faith."

That, right there, is the window of opportunity problem. Girls and young women are discouraged (from a feminist perspective) from even having boyfriends, then all of a sudden, at some juncture determined by one's (allegedly still feminist) set, one is determined on the cusp of too-old, and then, if no engagement is announced within two minutes of that juncture, a too-old can be declared. If you're 16-21 (say), it's, don't make your mother's/grandmother's mistakes! If you're 21-25, maybe think about finding a husband, but you're also too young, so maybe not? 25-30, where's that husband? 30 and up? Missed that boat.

Meanwhile, of course people meet at 15, at 45 (although hopefully not at 15 and 45 respectively!) and things work out. The window of opportunity merely governs expectations. Right, right, no one intelligent cares what others think, but this isn't even on such an explicit/conscious level. Women really do go, and quickly, from feeling "too young" to feeling "too old." Part of me wishes this had been her point, but then what would be my great tirade about Women and Relationships Today to start pitching around if I ever finish the tremendous mountain of tour d'ivoire before me?


I first started following Occupy Wall Street for the same reason I paid attention to the DSK debacle - it was local news. Granted, Wall Street's a famous street to put it mildly, and next to a famous site where there was a certain terrorist attack, but it's also smack dab in the middle of a really boring residential neighborhood, one I lived in until quite recently. Nothing happens in-and-around Battery Park City, but when anything does (hurricanes, presidential visits, not to mention tragic attacks that change the course of international relations) it's huge. OWS now looks like it qualifies.

And... I'm not sure what to make of it. It's generally not my thing - as longtime readers would have guessed - to fully sign on to any list of views intended to encompass the entire right or left, even if I generally lean more towards the latter. Or to think it's inherently wonderful to skip school to go protest something - maybe first be clear what you're protesting? But in the case of OWS, most of the demands make sense, and some are quite urgent.

This Daily Mail story, meanwhile, and yes, I understand it's the Daily Mail, takes away whatever urge I might have had to suspect that the entire thing is a bunch of rich kids without office jobs (b/c too young or too hip-and-rich) playing at being hippies, because it so overshoots the mark. I mean, "designer" jeans might be used and have cost $10, private-college students are often enough not paying the full ticket price, and I don't know what their problem is with that girl's "trendy knitwear," aka she's young and wearing a nondescript sweater. And wow, students who own laptops! Someone really needs to sit down the British paper and explain about loans, credit cards, and the fact that even if some of these kids are genuinely so trust-funded and one-percentish that they're not even going to be impacted by a bleak job market after graduation, they might still protest in solidarity.

And David Brooks's column on OWS... reminded me why Adbusters was ringing a bell, but didn't really resolve what one should do if one is simultaneously Jewish and put off by the massive income disparity in America. Populism is dangerous and not something we at WWPD generally go for, but so too is anti-populism so strong that its message is, the people should put up with absolutely anything.

And there's going to be a hint of anti-Semitism tangentially related to everything on the left or the right, so as much as Brooks ought to have my anti-anti-Semitic backing on this one, not entirely. Going by Facebook, my Jewish (as in, active in Jewish stuff) friends are if anything disproportionately involved in/excited about what's happening downtown (well, up north, as I type from the woods). It doesn't seem, thus far, that the "1%," the "nefarious elite" Brooks thinks is being unfairly maligned, is being conflated with "Jews" by anyone other than this one nutcase who's been mentioned, of course, all over these Internets.

So if I still lived there, would I be joining the crowd? I wouldn't rule it out. There's something about living amidst the bankers while not being one that can make, if not the entire city, then much of it, feel inaccessible, or at least not intended for you. But the dudes in the pale-blue button-downs enjoying happy-hour next to the Financial Center aren't all of it. There are also the rents propped up by the number of young and not-so-young adults whose parents will pay $3,000 a month and up to make sure their kids never, not even for that post-college year, have to live on a street in Prospect Heights where cops get shot (a phenomenon that has its way of trickling down to it costing $3,000 a month to live on a street in Prospect Heights where just a few years back, cops got shot). These tend not to be young people who work in finance. They may wear old-looking clothes and don't outright announce that this is their set-up, but if you're renting and this is not your set-up, you confront it anyhow, when as an adult with a salary the broker asks if he can call up your mother. Because if you're young, white, and do something other than i-banking, your parents surely pay your rent.

The city, in other words, struck me sometimes as being divided between the openly arrogant finance-types, on the one hand, and on the other, the what, me privileged? crowd of discreetly trust-funded sorts with cool-sounding jobs and endless funds for doing things in the evenings that do not involve the rehydration of dry pasta and maybe a sub-$10 bottle of wine, for special occasions. (The term we're looking for here: hipsters.) And this was my impression as someone privileged enough not to need college loans, lucky enough to have been employed (if we're calling funded grad school employment) during stretches when many were not, wise enough - maybe? - not to have gone to a grad school that would have meant taking out loans. So whatever rage I might feel on behalf of myself is slight compared with what I do on behalf of others.

I don't know how much this extends to other cities, in particular those now also under "occupation," but when simple things like living in a studio apartment, getting dinner or drinks out somewhere that looks casual, going to the movies, etc. start to seem out-of-reach for anyone without a finance job or family money, the city starts to lose its appeal. Of course, ask me again when I'm on the supermarket shuttle this afternoon, living that carless life in the 'burbs.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Plan A

Is there something beyond Quote of the Day? How about Quote of the entire period from the time I first considered grad school (i.e. senior year of college) to the present?

Every single female academic I have ever talked to about tenure has admitted to having a back-up plan. If I don’t get tenure, I’ll be okay because I can stay at home with the kids. I can go back to school. I can get back into my art. I can write. I can consult. If we’re going to all have these back-up plans (which, true to our impostor syndrome, are often better-defined than our actual plan to tenure) why not put it to good use? Live our lives, do our jobs the way we think they should be done, and try to get tenure that way. We already know what we’ll do if it doesn’t work. -Kate Clancy. (Via.)
As I've discussed here before, one huge difference between men and women in grad school is that men often - and women never - arrive having known since they were toddlers (whose mothers were confident in their sons' futures as Great Men) that they would one day be highly esteemed and most distinguished Professors. I mean, there are guys who know this in high school and college, then don't get into grad school. But some do, and it doesn't matter if they have twelve incompletes and put off scheduling their exams till Year 14: they are the future of intellectual inquiry. That's just how it is.

Women in grad school, meanwhile, once they get over being amazed at having gotten in in the first place, will explain that they could always teach high school, go to law school. Women won't, in my experience, outright say that they could always stay home, explore hobbies, or otherwise fill their days without monetary compensation, but part of this comes from the fact that early in grad school, when the Plan B's are first being hatched, there are not as many husbands-let-alone-children in the picture as there are at the stage Clancy's talking about. But whether the back-up plans are more or less stereotypically feminine than the particular doctoral degree being sought, the fact remains that women discuss alternatives, while men will become professors, whether or not that ultimately works out for them. Ultimately, if the goal is staying in the profession for which you were trained, the men may have the right idea, although the mess of shattered egos this leaves, when it's really not the end of the world to end up with a Plan B, no doubt hits men harder than women.

There are several things in the rest of Clancy's piece I don't fully agree with. I'm not sure what's to be gained by mentioning one's tendency to burst into tears. And having the capacity to turn off one's non-work-self and switch on one's work-self, like having a dose of stoicism, isn't bowing to the patriarchy, but reasonable. It's not that one should have no outside life, but that it's important to show you have that work vs. not-work line drawn. The danger in not doing so is either that you come across as someone more interested in hobbies than work, or, conversely, that you end up tailoring (or painstakingly describing) your free time to fit what you think is expected of you, what you think would make you look better.

And as appealing as it is to think that blog-fame (stuff like, uh, occasional links from Andrew Sullivan) could somehow translate into a qualification (as opposed to a drawback) for getting tenure, there are some good reasons why even those of whom this might benefit wouldn't want to go down that poorly-lit road. (I'll settle for, writing daily anyway makes dissertating go more smoothly, and for having powers-that-be understand how very, very little time and energy blogging actually uses up.) But whatever the essay's drawbacks, that ending is something all female grad students need to hear.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Brooklyn Berkeley Alice Waters Recession Parenting Grow-Your-Own NOW WITH LINK, PROGRESS!

The NYT has hit yet another jackpot. A divorced mother in Brooklyn, but from Berkeley originally, decides that the correct response to being a freelance writer in an age of this not being a viable source of income isn't to demand child support while looking for some dull yet reliable office-job route to earning an income, or even signing on as the token older barista at the local coffeehouse. No, it's making everything she and the kids eat from scratch. And she was onto something! Now she has a book out about this, and, as we see, an article in the Times.

First, the petty-but-pertinent: I don't know where Susan Gregory Thomas was doing her grocery shopping, but an Eli's health loaf for $10? Fancy cereal for $14 a box? I know my New York schlepping, and this is just bizarre. The only possible explanation is hyperbole to make the point about how aloof she once was. That bread is totally $5 or maybe some places $6 a loaf, which is still expensive enough to feel embarrassed about buying it, even if it holds up remarkably well (years, quite possibly) in the freezer. And non-store-brand cereal at Whole Foods in NY is, what, $4-something? Again, not cheap, but the $14 variety had better include some cruelty-free foie gras.

Now, the practical: even shopping only at whichever store was nearest (even, yes, Whole Foods), she could have bought a bunch of rice and dry pasta, supplemented that with a mix of cheap and less-cheap ingredients, tossed in some peanut butter, and problem solved.

Or not, because the problem, if I understand correctly, was: how to eat at Al Di La, but at home and without much money for groceries. In other words, how to be at the cutting edge of yuppie cuisine, without the yuppie income. How to deal with a massive (David Brooks, apologies) status-income disequilibrium.

And I sympathize, to a point. I'm trying to eat like someone with access to NY levels of food variety, if not any spectacular income, while out in the woods of NJ with limited access to groceries, period. It takes up some but not all of my time. Cookbook/memoir contracts welcome. I even have a title and everything.

But this is like the part of Vérité I'm at in my current reread - this nice bourgeois family is flat broke but really concerned with making sure their clothing is clean because otherwise OMG the neighbors might find out, which would be a problem on account of the neighbors are already ticked off because this family's on the wrong side of the novel's version of the Dreyfus Affair. I mean, can't someone who's lost their money kind of turn this off? Does there really need to be homemade ricotta?

OK, probably not - once you've accepted certain items as definitive of "food," it can be tough to all of a sudden eat like someone with utterly different life experiences from yours. It probably would have been more difficult for the author to have hauled her family to the nearest McDonalds than it was for her to start raising her own chickens.

What's off, then, is that the intended takeaway here is that see, it is possible to eat like a fine, upstanding yuppie, even without the cash. Take that, people who claim to be too poor to eat Chez Panisse-style every night! When it is possible to do so, assuming you have all the time and Brooklyn garden space in the world, and when you're the class you are and would not find it acceptable to eat otherwise. So all the commenters explaining how this article doesn't speak to the single mother who lives in the projects and works two jobs are right, but not for the right reason. The issue isn't so much the author's time and space, or even cultural knowledge - knowing what all these ingredients are and so forth. Rather, it's that she was as hooked on Food Movement-approved meals as others are on Burger King and the like.

Meanwhile, the message ought to be that devoting all one's time and energy to eating as though one had lots of money is, while possible, not heroic and actually kind of a waste of resources. But there's the complicating factor of, she got a book published about her experiences.

"Is this the right room for an argument?"

Withywindle defends the male know-it-all.

And he's wrong on the Internet! Let me blog-demolish his argument:

Aside from all that ... the ideal is argument, the presentation of non-trivial truth claims, in a conversational tone that invites further argument rather than seeking to end it. Explainering seems an excess of this virtue; the namby-pamby refusal to engage in reasoned argument an insufficiency; I prefer an excess to an insufficiency, especially in this weeny age.
Argumentation, debate, all lovely. But that's not what "Explainering" is. If Withywindle had been able to get past the fact that Solnit's on the left and threw in a few gratuitous jabs at her political opponents - something I don't think Withywindle can claim never to do wrt his political opponents - he might have caught that this is not at all what Solnit's talking about.

"Explainering" is if a woman is the world expert in some area, and a guy who's read one article - one! or less! - on the matter brings it up with her in a tone that makes clear he's confident she doesn't really know anything about it. He may ask her some idiotically trivial detail about it in order to put her on the defensive, to make sure that he's in the position of power. He's not doing diddly squat to further knowledge, or even to further intellectual masturbation. He's just revealing himself incapable of interacting with a woman as her inferior - when he would, in an equivalent situation with a male expert, defer. (It's also what happens when two individuals, both of unremarkable intelligence/expertise, get to talking, and the man, neither the woman's intellectual superior nor inferior, uses his body language and tone to talk down to the woman and do what he can to make her feel like a child.)

Women on the receiving end of this variant of B.S. are in a lose-lose situation. Anything that reads as defensiveness causes Dude to spiral into a web of assumptions - no doubt Ms. Expert here just got where she is because of affirmative action for women, because she slept with the real expert, Mr. Expert, or because Mr. Experts generally wish they could get into her pants and keep her career going with that goal in mind. And saying something like, 'Actually, I won a MacArthur for my work on that very topic' will, to Dude, read as defensiveness. Then there's the option of letting him think he's made a Very Good Point, and addressing it - this ends up being the way to go, getting-through-the-day-wise, but it's sinking to Dude's level, accepting what Mr. Expert wouldn't have to accept, because he'd be allowed to declare himself Expert without anyone think he was protesting too much.

Then there's the rest of Withywindle's post, which seems a bit much coming from someone who blog-interacts with plenty of argumentative "Goilz":
Yeah, it [debating/arguing a point] is a game, and maybe boys do enjoy it more. I think sometimes Da Boyz realize it is a game, when Da Goilz do not; Deze Goilz recoil from what they take as serious, when it is not. And other Goilz, like my interlocutor, know it's a game, and simply choose not to play. But then, some of Da Boyz don't realize it's a game either, and play for keeps, with all their puny and unwarranted self-respect at stake--and enough of them that this makes playing the game unpleasant. Ad utrumque training helps so much.  
Gendered male? Why, yes, the point is to practice asserting "You should go to bed with me" or "You should marry me", in so confident a tone of self-evident fact that the Word becomes Fact. Opinionating, therefore, is a male puberty ritual that too often calcifies into habit. And given the survival of Explainering types, the practice must have positive effects for reproductive survival. Oh, if only we reproduced by sporulation, conversation would be so much more pleasant.
Again, lose-lose. If I point out the wrongness of this, I'm either a) declaring myself not a real woman (on account of liking to argue points and having committed the gender-inverting act that was being opinion editor of the UChicago student paper; on account of thinking it's not only totally OK by me and not infrequently done in our society for women to propose sex/sometimes even marriage to men; on account of quoting from "Monty Python" and not even one of the movies in the post title - no amount of Zappos shoe-ogling will counteract this!), or b) being a flustered, defensive, humorless woman who's all like this like totally offends me as a feminist, waah, how unfair.

So instead, I'll just mention the inconsistency here, which is that Withywindle is on the one hand annoyed that women aren't more argumentative, and on the other declaring that sexual tension itself derives from a more fundamental difference from which come the divergent attitudes towards pontificating in college op-ed pages. The only way to reconcile these is to say that his point is that men are the superior sex, forced, by the unfortunate fact that they by and large prefer women to men romantically, to interact with those bores.

Meh. There are - and fear not, female readers who've yet to locate any - men out there, some of whom are exceptionally Expert, who do not "Explainer" at women. If you find one, and you find him good-looking, and he doesn't, I don't know, have a history of torturing animals or anything, he's probably all right.

Of course, if getting talked down to does it for you, as Dan Savage would say, you need a partner with whom you're compatible. Withywindle's post can even be refuted from a traditional-roles standpoint. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that many women like being with men more knowledgeable than themselves. Let's say this is a dynamic that - due to nature or nurture, for better or for worse, because feminism has yet to destroy it or because it's just part of the beautiful framework of permanent and essential gender differences, take your pick - has stuck. The problem with the condescending, know-it-all stance is that it's not about knowledge or persuasiveness, but about creating the illusion of superiority. As with other male attempts at creating illusions of superiority, born out of their own insecurity, they may snag the occasional insecure woman, but there will be a whole lot of women seeing through it. A woman who does, in fact, know quite a bit will not swoon for a man who pretends to know more, even if she might for a man who actually did.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Casa Della Bisou

Conveniently located for my new abode, there's a charming, if rustic, Italian restaurant. It serves homemade pizza and now, homemade fresh pasta. Also a version of the NYT sautéed artichoke dish I love-hated in principle here. Pesto, arrabbiata, and more basic tomato sauces, yup. The restaurant sometimes switches gears and does sushi (well, maki) or stir-fry, and occasionally veers off into desserts - on recent visits, I have sampled the lemon pound cake and the cranberry muffins. Or in the other direction - dinosaur kale, shallot, and ricotta salata salad; quinoa; grilled vegetables. It's best, however, when it sticks with classic Italian.

The restaurant I'm referring to is, of course, my kitchen. Human resourcefulness being what it is, the ability to cook that came out of being a picky eater, that evolved with time as I began wanting more variety than a grad-student budget would allow for via restaurants in NY, has reached some kind of apex now that supermarkets (including Wegman's of the remarkably cheap family pack of baby artichokes), but not restaurants, are accessible by shuttle. Or, restaurants are, technically, insofar as town is accessible, but not at dinner time. 

It's reached the point that I could totally have my own Italian cooking show on the Food Network, assuming they allow the odd obscenity to slip when something happens like an oven mitt partially melts onto a pizza stone.

This may all change, however, now that my husband and I both have bikes. It is now theoretically possible for us to be in town, at night, at the same time, without a walk that would take so long that we'd have to bring a dog that can't walk that far, yet that is now too big for the Paris Hilton handbag approach. This is major. And not even all that theoretical. We just ate in a restaurant that has not one but two lists of rules, lists that are not fully in sync, and that put hipster coffee shops to shame. It was wonderful, and I'm not being even a little bit sarcastic. Civilization! Here, the only rule is that Bisou is not allowed to confuse her water bowl with a toy and flip it over, thus drenching the floor of the kitchen, thus creating an obstacle to the smooth operation of this Italian restaurant I'm trying to keep afloat but not literally

Anyway, now that I've dug myself into this gender-stereotyped corner, let me move from food to clothes. Let me be blunt: my bike is hideous, and the helmet matches the bike. This bothers me. Not because I think anyone who sees me cares - first of all, does anyone see me, other than the drivers who come this close to running me over every time I go out? Just because I prefer, aesthetically, not necessarily for an outfit to match, but for it to all come together. A Breton-striped shirt with green "skinny" cargoes and a chambray button-down-as-jacket, perhaps. I'll think about which shoes - oxfords? - work with it, and which - loafers? - don't. I'll think about which of my two non-ancient lipsticks I alternate between would go best. I will, even here, where everyone's thoughts are far more Advanced, and no one, let me repeat, no one is thinking about clothes. It's not time-consuming for me at all, I'm not sitting around contemplating this, it's just something that operates on a barely-conscious level, leading me to opt for the shirt three down in the drawer, not just the one on top. 

But when I combine this assortment - or anything I might wear - with a red-in-a-bad-way mountain bike (for which mountains? what was I thinking?) and matching red helmet, it starts to seem like I should really just give up entirely and switch to the top-of-the-clean-pile method of getting dressed. The only outfit I came up with that kind of made it work was one of those L.L. Bean chunky sweaters, Levi's not-too-dark jeans, and Converse - a kind of Americana look that would not have gone well with a superchic Dutch-style bike, anyhow. But I don't necessarily want to dress like Wally from "Leave it to Beaver" every day.