Thursday, January 31, 2013

Almost finished I promise

OK, so I'm mostly done investigating my own navel, i.e. discussing the response to my parental overshare post. But, two things.

Thing one: There are parenting-bloggers who defend what they do by saying that they don't share naked photos of their kids. Well that's something. And toilet-training-blogging is a thing, complete with day-by-day accounts and photos of the poor child in his underwear. (On what I think is a high-profile blog?) No link, because ugh.

Thing two: They read me in Canada!

Office hours UPDATED

For the record, I did not write that letter (third and final) to Jezebel's new friendship advice columnist, Sara Benincasa. But there is some overlap to my own experience. Granted, I live two hours from the city (an hour at least of train-time, but once you add getting to the train, then getting from Penn Station anywhere else...), not 20 minutes, but it sure does a number on the social life to move somewhere where seeing friends requires serious planning. There's far less play-it-by-ear for me now that NJ Transit is involved.

While I also enjoy hearing Dan Savage's advice to polyamorous centaur fetishists or whatever, in this case, I read Benincasa's response in the hope of actually finding out what one is supposed to do in this situation. Practical and entertaining!

As for the advice, I'm not sure. Some yes, some no. The whole thing about finding out who your true friends are, I mean, fair enough, but the point of having friends isn't just Lifelong Friendship, but also having people to go do stuff with. Losing friends-of-convenience without gaining new friends-of-convenience can also be annoying.

The bit about how some city-folk won't visit you in the country, yes, I suppose, although I personally have been bad about taking people at their word when they say they do want to come visit me in the woods. Those who have done so seem to have enjoyed it. But overall, expecting anything like a 50-50 arrangement of whose locale you hang out in is unrealistic. (Although 20 minutes? Eh.)

And the "office hours" advice... how to put this? First off, this "friend Baratunde" is a legitimate famous-person, so no wonder "[h]e was visiting a city for a short period of time and knew that he didn't have the time to see all his friends individually." But I've seen not-famous people do this as well - periodically my Facebook newsfeed will include an invite to a bar where a long-lost acquaintance is "holding court" or however it's expressed. In any case, the problem the letter-writer gave wasn't that she's so popular that every time she goes into the city, she simply hasn't the time to grace all of her many friends with her presence. It's not that she's offending Friend C by having only seen Friends A and B. No, her problem is that she's out of the loop. If she's at brunch, and has no specific plans to see specific friends, she'd better be fine with brunching alone.

Oh, and yoga, etc., this is entirely appropriate advice that's easier said than done, but must be said all the same, as it's the only answer.


Read some of the comments. Yes, as many point out, a "20-minute drive" means nothing to urbanites without cars. Lots of places are geographically near each other but super far with public transportation (see: Williamsburg and Park Slope). But it's not entirely clear why the letter-writer, who presumably has one herself, can't go into the city later at night.

As for the commenters who find it devastatingly simple to make friends at any age, and who are all, what's wrong with you if you don't share that experience... I do wonder how such a lack of empathy would be consistent with such alleged popularity (except in the middle-school sense, in which "popularity" = nastiness). Is it really so hard to imagine how certain life situations can make it more difficult to make friends? Or that, while there are some people who make friends instantly wherever they are, this isn't everyone's experience?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Adulthood Studies: how do you buy pants?

I've decided I don't have a problem with leggings, or even leggings-as-pants (despite having once received 15 minutes of fame for complaining about the style). No, my problem is with the legging-ification of all women's pants, and British readers, I mean "pants" in the American sense. They are now all stretch pants. Jeans, yes, but other styles as well. I checked, and my corduroys are stretch. They are not legging-ish at all, and yet, 2% stretch. Because these corduroys are on the ancient side (but not that ancient - they're from the post-spandex era), the spandex bit has ceased to function, making them baggy in precisely the most unflattering way possible.

I understand why this is meant to be a good thing - women's clothes are expected to fit just so, yet human beings' weight/shape tends to fluctuate. And the stretch-jeans will, at least when new, fit perfectly. But... I don't want to wear leggings all the time. Or if I'm going to do that, I might as well throw in the proverbial towel and get a really nice pair at the Lululemon in town, and wear those to all occasions, formal and informal. Leggings that aren't pretending to be regular pants, these I respect. But I want some regular pants that wouldn't inspire theoretical Daily Mail reporters to write that I'm flaunting my curves. I don't want to hide my form, I just want normal pants, like men get to wear, and like women got to wear until polyester-and-spandex had to be woven into absolutely everything. And this did once exist! I can't find a full-length image, but the ones Teri Hatcher wears on "Seinfeld" - very flattering, not "mom jeans," but definitively pre-jeggings. (Wears? Wore. I might be stuck in what was apparently 1993. 20 years ago. Yikes.)

And yes, I've tried the men's department. Despite being short, there are lots of men's jeans in my size - something to do with women having longer legs, and perhaps with waist sizes for men being less vanity-based than for women (and also: the lack of stretch). And... actual men's jeans are not like "boyfriend" jeans for women, but designed to flaunt - or at least comfortably contain - that which cisgender women haven't got. If you are such a woman and you've had luck with men's jeans, more power to you (and do tell me where), but the one's I've run across might ostensibly fit, but I wouldn't want to leave the house like that.

This quest, this eternal quest, has led to some possibilities. A.P.C. proved useless, but whatever these are, I tried them on in a store in Philadelphia, and the very moment I cease to be horrified by $112 jeans with $9.50 shipping, maybe? (Must I, god forbid, drive to Philadelphia? On the highway? And parallel park when I get there? Avoiding this is worth $9.50, right?) These (via) sure look spectacular, but are they, and if so, at $225, would I even want to know? For the most part, though, the search leads either to mom-jeans (which I did order last year, and which are now a perfectly adequate pair of cutoffs) - and these days even those mostly seem to have stretch - or to some kind of patriotic cult of denim. These jeans will not only be Made in the U.S.A. (and all-cotton jeans seem to be, as a rule) but compatible with "concealed carry," which, no thanks.

What my great-grandmother wouldn't have recognized as Brooklyn

Despite living in oddly-rural suburban NJ, and having had to dodge a live turkey while driving a couple days ago, I feel very connected to Brooklyns Old and New. Both of my parents grew up in the borough. I moved there for several years, right after college (cliché! sorry!), and I'm distantly related to a certain pair of artisanal-chocolate entrepreneurs who've won over, among others, at least two national editions of Vogue. (See also Slide 7 here).

One thing I've long noticed, but have trouble putting my finger on, is the way that Brooklyn-the-idea has become a kind of New York for people who otherwise hate New York. Who'd find it all too crass and competitive, or too diverse, too busy, too life just moves so fast. Young white people, but not ethnic whites from the region. White people from "Real America," not necessarily "Red America," but not suburbs of the city.

"Brooklyn" as an aesthetic has come to mean heritage-chic, or Americana-chic, this rustic, no-artificial-fibers, nothing-your-great-grandmother-wouldn't-have-recognized-as-food mentality. (Manhattan even has a Brooklyn-themed bar.) Nineteenth-century-ish vests and facial hair. Homesteader, pioneer low-maintenance-ness. Kale, rutabaga, and turnips. There's also Europhilia, and an influx of Western European tourists and expats, making Brooklyn (parts of it) almost an extension of that hipper, quieter, northern part of the Marais.

I am, as the expression goes, not hating, just saying. As I've said repeatedly, I'm a big fan of hipster cuisine. I miss the Greenmarkets, the coffee shops with chipper-yet-judgmental baristas. If I ever get over my pathological fear of spending more than $30 on jeans, I'm totally buying these. It's amusing to me, as someone who grew up in Manhattan, thinking of Brooklyn as vaguely dangerous and not remotely glamorous (although, by late high school, Brooklyn and my impression of it had changed), that it's now such a thing. But I'm part of the "thing," or was, back in the days when I'd get a martini at Soda on Vanderbilt.

What I find unsettling, I suppose, is the veneer of authenticity. It's all about being really authentically American, or maybe British or French (via). It's the embrace (aesthetically) of these identities through which Brooklyn's own earlier residents (non-whites, ethnic whites) were traditionally excluded. It's nostalgia not even for preppy or the era of quotas and Jim Crow, but something earlier still, a simpler time when these questions weren't even being asked. Now it's all about under-spiced food with self-farmed ingredients.

Meanwhile I certainly don't think those who participate in heritage-chic are themselves more likely than anyone else to be racist, or are participating with sinister motivations. "Hipster racism" may well be out there, but I'm not sure that's what this is. I don't know what it means that Brooklyn is the home of heritage-chic, but I must learn. Which is exactly why I'm having trouble putting my finger on my argument here; also why you, the WWPD audience, are getting this post before I've even tried to pitch this idea anywhere.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Mansplaining and Impostor Syndrome

There is an academia-specific mansplaining-anecdote blog. If you are female, feminist, procrastinating, or the trifecta, there goes your day.

Personally, though, I've been lucky in that I've never been mansplained to by anyone at my own graduate university. But I have experienced this on other occasions, in the form of being quizzed about basic facts having to do with my area of research, in this kind of role-switching thing wherein the mansplainer is now the expert and I'm the pupil who must prove she isn't a complete fraud. (Thus impostor syndrome, no?) Oh, and plenty of times in college, but I happened to attend a school which, though wonderful in many ways, has a bit of a 'that-guy' problem.

The problem I always find with mansplaining-anecdote genre is that these must inevitably be stories of triumph, or at least after-the-fact triumph. Of knowing you were right, of not doubting yourself in the least, but of having been talked down to by ignorant dude. When in fact, to get at what's really problematic about mansplaining, you need this other angle, the part where the recipient of mansplanation doubts her own abilities, questions her own authority. The thing is, few among us, men or women, are entirely competent all the time. Yet in my experience, women are vastly more likely to think being less than 100% means not being good enough to hold whichever position.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The squickiness of contraception

Ross Douthat, I'm confused. Sure, a belief that a fetus is a baby is not necessarily inconsistent with the belief that a woman should be able to have a job (such as, for example, Anti-Abortion Activist). But isn't there an elephant in the room, namely the relationship between women's ability to control their fertility (thus "Planned Parenthood") and their ability to succeed professionally? And if you're going to say that abortion can't be a part of said planning, because abortion is murder (and while I don't believe abortion is murder, I believe in taking those who say they do at their word, i.e. respecting that they - unless they give some indication otherwise - believe this), don't you need to be somewhat vehemently in favor of contraception? Like, pill-plus-condom-every-time contraception for all women not prepared to bear (and likely raise) a child? 

Douthat (dropping the second-person pretense) doesn't mention contraception. If women are going to be equal to men in the workforce and not have abortions, maybe we want to name the brilliant set of devices that can make this possible. Is the ideal, then, that women will nobly pursue professional goals and never ever ever have sex with men, including the men they may well be married to? Which, while it no doubt describes some individual women's trajectories (there are women who can take or leave - or absolutely don't want - sex with men), sure isn't going to work for most. Nor, given the existence of effective contraception, is there any reason that those who don't follow a value system that demands near-total celibacy should be encouraged to do so. 

Because this is why you get liberals claiming that "pro-life" is about controlling female sexuality (and, inferring from that, about keeping women in the kitchen).* If the anti-abortion movement really just opposed abortion, and favored a whatever-it-takes approach (i.e. if you're going to have heterosexual intercourse, which you almost certainly are, and don't want as many children as this could produce in your lifetime, which you almost certainly don't, you must use contraception when not looking to have a kid, or bear the consequences), then Douthat might have a case. Instead, the "pro-life" side is upset that sex has been separated from reproduction, which cuts against a culture-of-life or some such. It's not that everyone who opposes abortion also opposes contraception. It's that there's still a sense from those who are most vocally worked-up about abortion that contraception is suspect, squicky, something the other side supports, and at any rate not something to promote. Their shaming focuses not on irresponsible use of contraception (not that shaming would be the best approach, but anyway), but on the seeking out of contraception in the first place, the lurid announcement to everyone else at the Walgreens that you intend to have non-procreative sex.

*This isn't all of it. There's also the question of abortion in cases of rape, and of fetuses with severe abnormalities. And of what a woman should do who has taken every precaution and still gotten pregnant. But this is still an awful lot of it.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Maybe she was born in Maybelline UPDATED

I've been against "natural" beauty since forever, but this is not a post about that. It's a post about how 'celebrities not wearing makeup' are always wearing makeup. I mean, Keira Knightley is a beautiful woman, but I'm quite positive no one was ever born with eyeliner plus a subtle smokey eye.


A commenter successfully persuades me that Knightley was actually born looking as though she has sultry eye-makeup on. Seems her brother was as well. It's a crazy world.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Lena-not-Dunham UPDATED

Caity Weaver of Gawker has written a hilarious but essentially mistaken take-down of a NYT real-estate-section profile of some parents buying a one-bedroom apartment "for" (and I'll get to why the quotes are necessary) their 26-year-old daughter who's a college graduate with a job and everything. The young woman's crime - compounded by the fact that she shares a first name with a certain Ms. Dunham - is being a brat. In Weaver's reading, that is.

I didn't see a link to the piece itself in the Gawker post, but highly advanced research skills brought me to it. A key detail jumped out at me: "Her parents take over the bedroom when they visit." This is not this Lena's home, but her parents'. Not just in some abstract sense, in which money is power, and if they've paid for it, it's theirs. In a very literal one, namely that if she wants to have an overnight visitor, heck, if she wants to sleep in her own bed, that may not be an option. This is something above and beyond parents visiting. And as jealous as we all might be of OMG-one-bedroom-apartment-in-the-West-Village (not that one-bedroom barrack-apartments in New Jersey don't have their charms - and anyway, my dream is a townhouse in the West Village, thank you very much), this is a price of sorts. So there's this and whichever anti-motivational impact this sort of thing may - doesn't always, but may - have on a person.

The time may have come to stop looking at the phenomenon of parents "helping" their ever-older offspring as a wonderful thing for them to do if they can afford it. It's like I keep saying re: unpaid internships - rather than looking at it as, how unfortunate that not everyone has the option of working for free, we should see it as unfortunate that even many college-educated adults with previous office experience are now expected to do so. Reactions to tales like these aren't so much "class warfare," as the Gawker commentariat puts it, as a sense of pride on the part of those who made their own way, whose parents maybe couldn't but also maybe could have afforded to do something like this.

My point, then, is not that the rich are paradoxically less advantaged - if anything, the era of eternal parental assistance, in which the alternatives are rare cases of self-made swimming and a whole lot of sinking, makes having rich-and-"helpful" parents more important than ever. It's that we need a new way of thinking about a culture in which dependence (generally discreet, generally not profiled in the Times) goes on for as long as it now does. This culture is bad for the "kids" not getting help and for the ones getting it. And lord knows it hasn't done wonders for NYC real estate.


So, via the Gawker comments, there's yet another angle here, one that's been in the back of my own mind about this topic for ages, but that I was reluctant to bring up, because it seemed maybe gratuitously provincial. But no, so here goes: anti-Semitic misogyny. There's one comment that's just kind of bafflingly anti-Jewish (although I think I can unpack it - Brooklyn is haute-hipster-Americana created by rich white kids not from the NYC area, whereas Manhattan necessitates local connections, local roots, or something?), and another that calls out Chelsea of all neighborhoods as having "sprouted into a Jewish American Princess haven," thereby missing the demographic that the area's boutiques are aiming for. And this with a Lena we have no reason to think is Jewish! A full analysis of the relationship between YPIS and JAP-o-phobia must wait, and may never come, but is stirring in my head, at least.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Today in misguided nostalgia

-For the good old days before abortion was legal. There's a welcome cameo from Katha Pollitt in the comments. She says it all better than I could have.

-For arranged marriage: Love matches cease to be lust matches after X weeks of dating, or X years of marriage, at which point it's all just companionate anyway. So why all the fuss about chemistry? Why not just marry whomever? Why not an especially vibrant basil plant? (Goes the argument.)

If Pollitt intervened here as well, I missed it, so WWPD you shall have: While physical attraction may not matter to quite the same extent further into a relationship, there is probably a bare minimum that needs to be met for intimacy (as in sex, but also as in sitting across from someone at the breakfast table) to be appealing/tolerable rather than revolting/oppressive. Even if looks change with time, which they will, there will at least always be the memory of the person one once found so attractive, or so one sometimes hears from the old-and-happily-married. Marriages between Styles-demographic sorts (well-educated, mid-20s-and-older) are apparently quite stable, so divorce-rate panic seems misplaced. Clearly the fact that infatuation tends to wane does not doom the relationships that begin in that manner. It could well be, quite the contrary, and that marriages that began as a hook-up or fling are more stable than those that formed by the calm, rational decision of all parties tangentially/financially involved. But because love-marriage societies also tend to allow those who are unhappy the freedom to divorce (as commenters do point out), looking at which marriages "last" won't be of much use.

Sharing is caring

Normally, when I write something formal, and often informal as well, I include counterarguments. But when writing that post on parental overshare, I had trouble doing so, because I couldn't quite come up with what the arguments were in favor of the practice. All I could think of was that because the genre is dominated by women (but, as with all traditionally-female topics - see also: food - taken more seriously when the author is a man), it's seen as empowering to women that this option is out there. But otherwise? The argument seemed to be that there's a market for it, and that writers who have stories to tell about their kids are in great supply. Because parental overshare had so long run unopposed, there had hardly been occasion to defend it from any detractors. It wasn't clear to me what, precisely, I was arguing against.

But my post, if it did nothing else, led a bunch of writers and bloggers who share widely about their kids to speak up in defense of what they do. And it's actually been quite interesting to see the reasons they give, reasons I wouldn't have necessarily anticipated. It hasn't led me to believe it's ethically acceptable to write in this way about your own identifiable kid, even if that kid is 17-and-a-half and positively begging you to do so. Nor do I think any criticism of a parent's write to share would likely meet with anything but defensiveness from those most deeply invested (not necessarily financially) in this type of writing; even if I'd somehow anticipated these counterarguments and woven them all concisely into my post, I expect parenting-writers wouldn't have been thrilled. But reading over the response gives me a better sense of where these writers are coming from, and how better to approach the topic if I indeed have reason to approach it in the future.

So, from what I gather, the defense of parental overshare, complete with counter-counterarguments where necessary:

-By writing anonymously/pseudonymously about a difficult topic, you reinforce the idea that this topic can't be discussed in polite company. One of the Atlantic commenters wrote, "How does your argument differ from one that would demand the parents of a rape victim remain silent for no better reason than other people may consider the victim damaged goods in the future?" (Another responded, "It's up to a rape victim - not her parents, not her boyfriend, not her siblings, not her employer, not anyone - to decide whether she wants her story out there," saving me the trouble.)

But what's interesting here is the "remain silent." Is it silence to refrain from writing in the national press about your child? Which is, alas, how some appear to have interpreted what I wrote. Obviously parents have the right - obligation, even! - to seek help for their kids, be it medical, legal, etc., and obviously this means using the child's real name and explaining the details of whichever problem. What I was suggesting wasn't some kind of vow of silence on the part of parents, but rather that parents refrain from publishing private details about their kids. Which leads me to the next counterargument...

-Parents should be able to do everything within their power to advocate for their children. And if that means telling the entire English-speaking world about your child's weight concerns or undiagnosable off-ness, so be it.

Once again, however, I'm left wondering why getting help for your kid would require consciousness-raising on a national scale, in which your child's identity is revealed. I kind of understand why use of real names is thought to be of greater comfort to other families, who will read whichever article/memoir and find it reassuring that a family willing to be identified is talking about the same concern they have. (Somehow seeing one's troubles represented in fiction is no longer sufficient.) But best-case-scenario, this would seem to be sacrificing the one child's right to privacy, such that even if the kid gets whichever help he/she needs for the original problem, there's now a new problem.

-Parenting can be lonely, and stay-at-home parents especially can feel isolated, whether or not their children have special needs. The internet provides a sense of community. Being able to share is a lifeline for parents.

This strikes me as altogether reasonable. But once more, I fail to see why "mommy-blogging" (loosely-defined, and including daddy-blogging) necessitates a) using real/full names, and b) involving the national press/a published memoir. What's wrong with anonymous forums, blogs, or emailing friends? There isn't some kind of stark choice between Luddite isolation and going on a NYT blog to share your kid's troubles.

-Sharing is sharing, and there's no difference between pseudonymous, fictional, and confessional, given that it all points back to the same true story. While this notion is mildly horrifying to a literature grad student trained in being super-clear that a character isn't a real person, even if it's a protagonist who shares a first and last name with the author, I can kind of see this point. Lots of "fiction" is thinly-veiled ranting, and the names behind pseudonyms can get revealed. Similarly, children's stories could go public if an email ends up in the wrong hands, or if a parent inept at or sloppy with privacy settings writes something that gets picked up by one of the big gossip blogs.

But surely there is a difference between a story about a child that could theoretically reach the wrong audience, and one that is presenting itself as objective fact to be shared with a mass audience? Or is this my literature-grad-student bias speaking?

-Children don't have privacy.

This I'd be more inclined to accept from the "reputations" angle, if not the "relationship with parents one" - a child can definitely be humiliated. But is it true that anything said about anybody under 18 is magically struck from their record? Aren't children and adolescents constantly being told that anything they put on Facebook, anything they text, is headed straight to college admissions offices? If your father wrote a memoir about how you were a pot dealer from ages 13-15, this remains on the record forever. It seems clear enough that even if the law doesn't quite know how to protect it, common sense dictates that children do have privacy.

-There is a right to tell one's own life story, which almost by definition includes details of others' lives as well. Everyone has a story. It's snobbish and sexist to deny ordinary moms this right.

-Memoir is Art.

-The perennial 'lighten up!' argument, which by natural law must appear when anyone criticizes anything. So what if you write about your kid throwing a tantrum? There are bigger problems in the world, and the kid will get over it, or go to therapy, no big deal.

And, I believe that covers it. But I am, I suppose, collecting these, so if anyone thinks of others...

Monday, January 21, 2013

How I stopped worrying and learned to function in suburbia

Thus far this weekend, Bisou has had one long woods-walk and one all-out woods-and-boulders hike. And her usual walks, because - permit a poodle-parent overshare - the canine digestive tract stops for no man. I also drove alone for the first time ever to the supermarket and back, and then to town and back. The most difficult aspect of solo driving is solo getting out of a parking spot when there's another car waiting to get in (I still think of them as cars, albeit cars with emotions, but not people driving) and a bunch more lined up behind, without someone else explaining when to go straight back, back, now start turning the wheel. So far so good, which I think means I can no longer claim I don't know how to drive.

Which is for the best, because I want to go back to Cranbury, NJ, to go back to the fabulous used-book store, and to check out the closed-on-Mondays consignment shop next to it, and the closed-on-Mondays coffee shop across the street. (None of this was MLK Day-specific. The town really is just closed on Mondays, except for the bookstore, which is instead closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.) The car-and-ability-to-use-it really seems to be the difference between my being happy living here and baffled-urbanite-dom. It really wasn't New York snobbery, I promise, even though I wondered myself at first. I just couldn't go anywhere - not to the supermarket, not to anything beyond town, and even town was a production. While I could, in the pre-car phase, speak to the particularities of life as a trailing, dissertating spouse, and the effect that being in a "housewife" role, however superficially, can have on one's productivity, at least at first (ahem), I couldn't say much about what it's actually like to live in Princeton.

And it turns out, disappointingly, that I'm not one of those New Yorkers who could only ever possibly survive within X yards of Zabars. Or perhaps not disappointingly, given the bankers' playground I've left behind. Not sure what it says about the place I last lived that the Princeton Whole Foods strikes me as a relaxed, down-to-earth environment.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The millionth thing you've read about Lena Dunham and privilege

The new "Sex and the City," in case you missed that.

Lena Dunham explains it all. Not as in explains it all to us - that too - but her mere existence now represents an entire conversation about class, young-people-today, body-image, etc., etc. There's Dunham, looking at us as we read on Jezebel about how we can read in The Nation about the difference between broke and poor. I promise I have thoughts on this as well (and the short version is, it's gotten very popular these days to define as "broke" a great many people who are poor), but for the mean time, Lena Dunham. Or a Dunham alter ego? It hardly matters - her immediately recognizable face announces Privilege, summons fury, yes, but a very particular kind of fury, namely YPIS. Someone on Twitter called "the Frenemy" put it best: "Lena Dunham only won because her dad is a Golden Globe."

So what is she, then? A decadent anti-hero? A George Costanza for our times, who represents the worst in all of us, our worst fears? (That a wide-ranging commentariat has seen us naked and isn't impressed, and that we come across as entitled.) Given that the near-entirety of mainstream show business is white people with family connections, we might also ask why someone whose connections aren't even in show business, and who, while white, lacks the specific kind of whiteness-privileged possessed by Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Kate Hudson, and whichever other famous-daughters-of-famous-people, namely fitting the most conventional beauty standards possible... why such an individual inspires such YPIS. Is the problem that Dunham presents herself as ordinary? Is it somehow offensive to audiences that she doesn't acknowledge her native-New-Yorker privilege by getting her hair done at Bergdorf's? Why is she, of all performer-creators, the one asked and asked again to step aside on behalf of someone more deserving?

I might take this even further, and consider how critiques of systematic unfairness often end up punishing relatively powerful intermediaries rather than those in the positions of greatest power. This happens with NYC schools - however valid both questions may be to investigate, it's much easier to ask why elite public schools are predominantly (lower-?) middle-class and Asian than to ask why private schools serve wealthy white families. Similarly, someone like Dunham, whose status is more precarious, who frankly wasn't born into stardom, just posher circumstances than most, is easier to pick on than someone like Kate Hudson. (Paltrow, with her lifestyle-empress aspirations, is another matter.) And yes, I do get the sense that people consider it unfair that a young woman got so successful so fast for reasons other than her physical desirability. (Not that she's undesirable, just that her talent/self-promotional ability seems more the issue.) There's this sense that there's a natural order of things - of course rich white kids go to the actual fanciest schools, and of course the pretty daughters of movie stars are box-office sensations. These things we just accept. But when someone shakes things up from the middle, or upper-middle, there we can unleash whichever populist outrage.

The above are most decidedly not my fully-formed thoughts on this. But if my musings inspire musings of your own, comment away.

The navigation of Zabars

Some posts here really just exist because I saw something that so perfectly fit one of the preexisting tags. Between (on "Navigating Zabars") "You have to start with the olives, go to the nut section, the fish counter. They have the best, freshest fish, produced by the most skilled artisans. I watch them. The sculpture work is phenomenal to me — the joy of watching a nova being cut by these artisans," and "The TV stays off for months at a time. I barely know how to turn it on," I think the necessity is clear enough in this case.

Friday, January 18, 2013

When the hottest German is a Jew

So Guy de Maupassant and Paul Bourget not only share space in my dissertation, but also had the same Russian-Jewish lover. The rest of the afternoon will be spent reading the entire book someone has written about Maupassant's apparently vibrant and Judeo-centric love life. From the other reading I've done on this topic, I'm picturing something like "Portnoy's Complaint," but the other way around.

Well, Germany's having its own belle Juive moment. Jezebel cries sexism, which is on the one hand fair, and on the other, there's a bit more to this story, perhaps? It's kind of amazing, given that less than a century ago, a somewhat influential political party in Germany hosted a genocide largely based on the idea that Jews were hideous, that a Jewish woman - and a Jewish woman who does not look like Bar Refaeli, but like half the girls I went to high school with - is winning a desirability contest there among female politicians. Not sure what to conclude from this, so we're going to stick with "kind of amazing."

On the stairs to Susan Ross's apartment

The revisionist history of a love life, as told by a woman of a certain age, has perhaps grown into a genre in its own right. Or maybe not - there was Lori Gottlieb, and now, in the Daily Mail, there's Karen Cross, and I think a third example (and I know there are more) needs to pop into my head (or the comments) before a genre can be declared.*

Cross, you see, is 42 and tragically, tragically alone. Sure, she's often in a relationship, and sure, her career and life otherwise is fabulous. But she'll never be a mom, or mum, I should say, given the context. What she regrets is that she didn't marry the man she was engaged to at 19. Let me repeat: at 19. But she was with him for eight more years, and what do I know of what "engaged" meant in Essex over 20 years ago (only that engagement is taken lightly on "The Only Way Is Essex," which seems irrelevant). She started dating a guy at 17, had little in common with him at, what, 27, and moved on. Years later, if I have the chronology right, she was annoyed that her ex's new girlfriend didn't want her so present in his life, but nevertheless "didn't want [him] back."

The ending struck me as familiar:

Now I can only look back and admonish my selfish, younger self. When I visit friends and family back in our home town, I can't help but hope I'll bump into Matthew. I'd like to think I'd say sorry. That I will always be there for him. But I wouldn't be surprised if he turned his back on me and kept walking. 
This is totally the movie "Young Adult"! Which can't be our third example on account of it's fictitious.

Cross at least acknowledges that maybe this high school sweetheart wasn't so great for her, but figures, "If only I'd stayed with [him], we'd almost certainly be married with children." How can she know? Maybe he'd have left her? Which is always the problem with revisionist histories of this nature - just because one party was the dumper doesn't mean that a year down the line, assuming a continued crummy relationship, the roles wouldn't have been reversed.

But the possibility that Mr. Pushover would have split isn't the main reason I find these revisionist histories so troubling. It's more that you have to trust your 19-, and 27-year-old selves to have made decisions that made sense given all the information you had available at the time. While a younger woman isn't as keenly aware of fertility's limitations, or of the scientific fact that no man has ever been attracted to a woman over 22 (sarcasm!), it's when you're actually in whichever failing relationship that you see it for what it is. The further you get from any relationship, romantic or otherwise, the more someone becomes what they are on paper. Questions like, why didn't I stay better friends with X can generally be answered by grabbing a drink with that person and finding you have nothing to say to each other. It's not even about 'the one' - if you left 'a good thing', maybe it wasn't as good as you remember?

And as with all profound life experiences, there is the appropriate "Seinfeld" reference: where George wishes he could get back together with Susan, gets all mopey about this, convinces her he's changed, and then you see him back with her, climbing the steps to her apartment, with precisely the look of misery Jerry told him he'd had on those stairs back when they were first a couple.

Oh, and the other reason these revisionist histories are a problem is that they never quite convince that the woman isn't happy with her life as it is. That this isn't just some script many women feel compelled to recite. If she'd wanted kids so badly (and at 42, she still may have them, biologically or otherwise), if this had been her priority, she'd likely have had them, with or without this or any other dude. I'll buy that most everyone, no matter their life choices, could wonder 'what if,' but wondering is different from regretting, and these narratives have a way of saying 'I let the conventional life of my dreams slip away' while conveying, 'Non, je ne regrette rien.'

*As overshares go, Cross's is not all that objectionable - the only children discussed are theoretical, and because they aren't family, it would be tough to prove that any one boyfriend was the one being discussed here. The only identifiable real-person potentially humiliated is the author.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Coffee politics

Remember the young woman so privileged she was applying for food stamps? The detail readers honed in on was the $1.50 coffee-shop coffee the author mentions drinking at the top of the piece. Search the page for "coffee" and you see the rage in the comments. There's a whole genre of condescending financial advice geared at The Youth, telling them that coffee out adds up. Why is it always coffee? Let's unpack that one author's cup of coffee's significance, and that of coffee and class more generally, setting aside the question of where coffee itself comes from and that whole set of labor concerns:

-Telling a broke middle-class person to give up lattes is, as we established in this thread, very much like telling a legitimately-poor one to exchange fast-food for lentils. It's ignoring that this purchase is a pleasure as well as a convenience. And you just get the sense that part of the tsk-tsking does come from the fact that advice-givers are uncomfortable with whichever caste enjoying themselves, or having the audacity to believe their time has value.

-Britta brought this up in the earlier thread, but it also bears repeating: Debt changes everything. As does parental assistance. And the economy is such that you can perfectly well be college-educated, employed in an office-job, and not earning enough to live on in your locale. If you're starting from negative $, it's less obvious what 'living within your means' means than if you're budgeting a salary. Does it mean not a cent other than what's needed to maintain your nutritional requirements and look reasonable at a job interview?

-No one needs coffee. Yet coffee isn't bad for you, either. That might make us think it would seem less decadent than the obvious comparisons (alcohol, tobacco, non-diet soda), but if anything, that coffee's only sinful in its gratuitousness makes it the most appealing target for anti-decadence crusaders. There's this kind of noble, respectable quality to actual self-destruction, like you're a devil-may-care libertarian relic of the hard-living days. (Maybe less so with jumbo soda, but even there there's the nanny-state concern.) That whichever self-destructive products cost money is secondary. But there's nothing hardcore and stick-it-to-the-man about foamy espresso drinks.

-Someone who thinks $1.50 coffee is cheap probably comes from a wealthy family, or at least not a truly destitute one. A coffee at a coffee shop will, in my experience, nowadays cost $2 in posher areas, far more in a restaurant, but maybe still less from a cart/deli, and definitely much less at home. A couple relevant facts about YPIS: 1) a speaker who identifies as privileged, who acknowledges privilege, basically invites accusations of privilege, and 2) one easy route to a quick YPIS is to hear someone refer to X as 'not that expensive,' and to be like, dude, if you think X isn't absolutely the most expensive thing ever, your privilege is showing.

-The classic job of the otherwise-unemployable humanities BA is barista. We associate coffee shops with underachieving middle-class white kids, friends' children who by all accounts should have real office-jobs by now. This (see footnote here) helps explain why baristas make at least minimum wage and still get these odd sympathy/solidarity tips. But it also tells us part of why coffee, that fueler of productivity, is seen as a slacker beverage. If you're on the coffee shop and not headed to the office, that changes everything.

-The fetishization of coffee exemplifies the food thing. Something ordinary is now artisanal, and vastly more expensive. And the food thing is what's wrong with young people today.

-Someone who can hardly afford $1.50 for coffee - brace yourselves for this - is actually not doing so great financially. I would go so far as to say that if you are a college-educated, coffee-drinking adult and weighing the pros and cons of this purchase for reasons other than whatever joy you get from thrift, this is indicative of a larger problem, one that coffee-or-not won't solve. While privilege is multifaceted, and includes race, able-bodiedness, level of education, and intangibles like which class you come across as, it would seem, if we take our liberal-arts-grad hats off for a moment, that someone out of school who's scraping together a buck fifty for a coffee is not privileged. Maybe even really, really not privileged.

-What readers are reacting to, the ones who are horrified that an unemployed person would spend $1.50 in a coffee shop, is that the indulgence in question is so painfully middle-class. It's a future-oriented indulgence that won't impair your ability to mesh with a white-collar office environment. But there's also the schadenfreude, the element of watching the mighty tumble, or simply regression to the mean. As in, look at her, with her middle-class trappings, thinking she's so fancy all the while not being able to afford groceries. And it's also just so depressing, if you're unemployable, and your great pleasure is this thing intended to make office-workers more productive on too little sleep.

Anachronistic fashion-victimhood

Are you a woman (or a man)? Do you wear your hair somewhere between your chin and shoulders? With bangs? You are, without knowing it, imitating a haircut given to model Karlie Kloss several months ago. Kloss, whose hair is bafflingly described in the Styles piece as "dark," is "already a fashion world veteran at age 20," whereas you are nothing of the kind. Maybe your hair has been in this style on and off since you can remember, the main obstacle being that hair grows and however chic this looks, it requires getting haircuts more often than twice a year. Never mind that - you are imitating Ms. Kloss, on account of she's a famous model and you're not. Even if you've been rocking "The Karlie" since before Karlie was born.

But do not despair! You can likely rest assured that your hairdresser isn't about to be quoted in the Style section, period, which means he won't be saying of you, “'I gave her a personality by cutting it.'”

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cheapness made easy

Ever since Kei invented the idea of a "wanty list," I've used this concept in my own life and spending-or-lack-thereof. At any given time, there's a list in my head of things all of which I'd own if money were no object, but it's kind of more fun staggering them according to my budget (or so we tell ourselves). But even more fun is when a pricey, unrealistic wanty proves undesirable upon in-person examination. Such was the case recently when I decided to see once and for all if A.P.C. jeans are as fabulous as they say. (I did once have a $5 thrifted pair, but they weren't the style I wanted, and at any rate long ago succumbed to the inevitable shredded-inappropriately problem of preowned pants.) 

What instigated this latest revival-of-wanty was, I'd tried on these, also all-cotton, deemed them almost perfect, and started wondering if almost-perfect exists for $112, maybe perfect costs $185. All of this, to be clear, was highly theoretical, what with the actual jeans I wear being a $30 pair from Uniqlo and another $30 pair from Levi's, neither of them purchased within the past year or close. But eh, I've stopped growing, and if I were to find the perfect pair, maybe I'd... try to find them on eBay or something. $185 is almost comically too much for pants. $112 comes close, but these at least claim some labor superiority to the $30 variety to which I'd grown accustomed. 

But what if these A.P.C. ones were the most beautiful jeans ever? I had the compulsion not so much to buy said pants as to know. So I was running errands on campus and figured what they heck. I entered A.P.C., said hello to the guard (because this is Designer) and the various gamine and gamin store employees, making my way to the back of the store, where I confirmed that I was interested in "denim." I first heard the sales pitch for the denim, but had come in knowing what I wanted to see, and off to the dressing room I went. But before this even got to the point of, a) will I fit into these, and b) if so, will they do me any favors, I couldn't help but notice that they were made out of some incredibly thick canvas-type material, like a sail or tarp or something, such that they could basically stand upright on their own. I maybe half-tried them on, before deciding that even if I could get into them and they looked amazing (both unlikely, although sizing up may have dealt with the former), they were just awful. Pretty but awful. Fine, jeans are better if not all-out stretch pants, but they shouldn't be of a texture more suited to the Arms and Armor Division at the Met. 

And I was thrilled. OK, pleased. No $185 jeans, not now, not at some unspecified date three years from now. I not only can't afford them but don't want them. This freed up a slot for another longtime wanty: holographic nail polish.

Consider the nerve hit

How timely! The notorious "Vogue mom" is back, selling a memoir about putting her 7-year-old on a diet. (To the nitpickers: At least I think that's what the memoir is about - I haven't read it and don't have plans to do so.) From a NYT parenting-blog post that also appeared yesterday:

KJ Dell'Antonia: Can we get the elephant in the room out of the way first? I think a lot of my readers will want me to ask you why you would write an entire book about a subject that’s so personal to your daughter. 
Dara-Lynn Weiss: I felt like this was something she should be proud of. This was an enormous accomplishment for her. The book is a celebration of her. Why would she ever need to feel bad for being a part of it? And I thought it was an important story to tell.
Weiss goes on to confuse criticism of her parenting decisions regarding her daughter's weight with ones of her decision to publicize them. When it could perfectly well be that she was on the one hand right to intervene (or that those who haven't been in that situation on either side can't really say) and on the other, wrong to write about it for a mass audience. One commenter takes that approach: "I don't think Bea's story should have become a public essay and now a book, but I'm 100% in favor of how her mother handled this." And another: "It's all great—a mom helping her kid lose weight—but why does everything have to become a blog or book deal?"

This is a tale for Bea to tell, when (if) Bea is ready to tell it and not her mother.
Personally I would be horrified if my mother published *any* kind of book about me--even if it was about sports activities or successfully overcoming a challenge. Perhaps Bea was consulted and gave her blessing, though I am not sure what 8- or 9-year-old understands how a memoir or biography can follow one through life.

I do think that the message, if the writer deemed it an important one, can be brought to the wider world without sacrificing her daughter's privacy--one can use pseudonyms or other kinds of anonymity. I hope Ms Weiss makes sure to keep her desire to publish stories that are not her own in balance with her young daughter's inability to understand how having her name and story all over the Internet and on bookshelves might affect her in a few years.
Another commenter, meanwhile, points out a practical problem with parenting-memoir-as-success-story, namely that when the kid's still a kid, the story isn't over. What if this miracle weight loss isn't sustainable? I know, a radical thought, because everyone who goes from fat to thin stays that way. But especially with a girl who hasn't yet hit puberty, it seems odd to announce a body transformation as a fait accompli.

Yet another commenter - at long last! - addresses the temptation to sell one's kids' stories, expressing an admirable amount of concern, especially given that the kids in question are apparently now adults:
For me, the issue here is not what Weiss did, which all sounds very reasonable and on target [...]. The issue is one's motivation in writing about one's child, which is something that I struggle with as well. It has been my lifelong dream to publish something, but I have never had any success. My kids are a RICH source of narrative material; I could very easily turn aspects of our lives together into something that might well be marketable.
And another responds, and it's like, I have your answer!
I wish KJ would bring this topic up more often here in Motherlode. I know she tried to approach it with that recent column by the writer who "pulled a knife" on her mother -- but the sensationalistic detail about the knife and the author's notoriety for having previously written elsewhere in the Times about some sort of fetish sidetracked the conversation and ultimately obscured the point she was trying to make.
Precisely, precisely, precisely! Keenan's post was great, but there was too much Keenan-specific material distracting readers. This commenter and I both used the verb "obscure," even! (Had this commenter seen the post? The date-stamp makes this not impossible.) But more importantly, yes, the time has come to question the ethics of selling your kids' story. Which is, to repeat, a separate question from whether the parenting depicted or promoted in a story is worth emulating. Also to repeat myself ever-so-slightly: the issue isn't whether parents have the right to seek medical care for their kids, or to confide in friends and family about their private concerns. It's not that parents should suffer in silence. It's that the alternative to "silence" isn't Vogue.

Anyway. There's also, unsurprisingly a defense of overshare: a child's feelings must be sacrificed for the greater cause of The Conversation:
Most people need to chill. Worry a little less about how Bea is going to react when she's a teenager - I'm sure she'll address her feelings with her mother and her therapist - and focus more on the conversation about childhood obesity. Then we might actually get somewhere.
Isn't this "conversation" more about high-fructose corn syrup and kids not being allowed to play outside because stranger-danger, and less about individual struggles? Isn't any approach to childhood obesity that involves being a glamorous Vogue writer with the resources that implies not all that widely applicable? But I digress.

Another defense of the approach basically says that if you can't point to the specific kid it happened to, it didn't happen:
I am someone who would/does ignore all those advice-givers/"professionals" with anonymous "Jane Doe" stories and go straight for the first-person account. Anyone can lie and make up a patient. But I know Ms. Weiss isn't lying about her experience with Bea because her name gives the story authenticity. That's why I prefer first-person parenting resources.
As though people never lie about their own memoirs? Have we learned nothing?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

On writing for those outside my immediate family

So, I have a post about parental overshare at The Atlantic, on The Sexes, which is their gender section. Woohoo! I'm going to use this post here at WWPD to address various concerns:

-Re: worried WWPD readers, yes, one is paid for such things.

-Re: Alysia Abbott, who called my argument "provocative but weak," because all memoir involves telling others' secrets, I'm going to have to concur with my editor(s?) that my point was that writing about your own children is different because 1) he or she is a minor, and 2) he or she is your minor, with the very specific power dynamics that entails. Parents know more about their kids (kids not knowing how to properly self-censor, kids not knowing what's the difference between public and private or which off-hand remarks would have huge significance in the adult world, kids having their medical care dealt with by their parents) than adults normally do about other adults. They are also relied upon to protect their children and their children's privacy.

But as it happens, yes, I find all overshare (by which I mean other-people's-dirty-laundry-memoir-or-blogging) somewhat problematic. The Well blog's "fat dad" series is an example that jumps out. All overshare asks that readers only weigh in to celebrate the author, because anything else would be mean to this real person, whose skin is thin (even if massively famous and influential) and whose feelings would be hurt if we didn't speak in terms of 'courage.' (WWPD readers know that for all the first-person you get here, my loved ones' dirty laundry doesn't enter into it. Everything I self-censor here will get radically transformed and channeled into WWPD: The Novel.) I cringe when I read plenty of no-children-harmed confessional writing.
But another adult a) can maybe defend himself, and b) is assumed to have his own take on whichever events, unless he's consented to this version, which he can, because he's an adult. (Also, as Jillian Keenan pointed out, the law is different for adults.) When an author writes about an ex, say, we assume the ex has his own take. While it's nice that Abbott was glad her own father wrote about her, and went on to write about him, we can't assume that a) because not every child minds, it's OK, or that b) every child written about without consenting to it - and they can't consent - will later have a platform for setting the record straight.

-Re: John Schwartz, who tweeted, "are you really suggesting I wrote my book so I could get 'parenting accolades from strangers?' Really? Have you read it?", I'll give the long version of what I attempted to tweet in reply. My first reaction to seeing that tweet was the predictable impostor-syndrome one: OMG he's so right, I totally shouldn't have written that post without poring over his oeuvre. Then I thought about it for a moment and remembered that I'd never claimed to have read the book, and made no arguments that depended on my having done so. I was reacting to the Terry Gross interview with Schwartz and his wife, which itself spilled plenty of details about their son, and which I definitely did listen to. Also some reviews. All of which made it clear-beyond-a-reasonable-doubt that this is a memoir about a real-life identifiable child's homosexuality and suicide attempt, one written in the parent's real name and that just happened to get the author, a writer, some fawning press. These facts are not in dispute. Unless there's a conspiracy to misrepresent the book's general point, and the publisher is even in on it. It's also clear from that interview that Schwartz's son was involved in the project, supports it, and wrote part of the book.

I'm not entirely sure Schwartz's tweet doesn't support my thesis that parent-memoirists a) are self-promoting, and b) want to hear how selfless they are, but ego and caring about your kids aren't mutually exclusive. I don't think it's right to write about your kid's suicide attempt using real names, I don't think a kid can possibly know what it will mean down the line for others to know this about him, and I also am happy to believe much of Schwartz's motivation in writing this book was to help other families like his. Parental overshare can be well-intentioned and about making parents look good. What would the book have lost, for example, had it been anonymous? Are we really to believe that the problem with this is that an anonymous version wouldn't have properly attacked the stigma of this situation, and that that was all? What I was "suggesting" wasn't that this was the only or even the main motivation, just that it might have entered into it.

What I take away from this back-and-forth, and it is actually quite useful, is that in the future, I will be abundantly, painfully, spelled-out clear which documents I'm reacting to. As in, if I could redo the post there, I'd describe Schwartz as having given an interview about his son, and mention as an aside that a likely-related memoir apparently exists, and it was on the occasion of that publication that he was giving this interview. And if this had been a longer article, sure, maybe I'd also read and discuss the content of the memoir. But I'm also quite happy with the post as it stands.

-Not everyone is, however. Re: the Atlantic commenter who wrote:

I implore Ms. Bovy to please overshare with us--namely, what exactly qualifies her to a) piece together this rather loose, selective argument, b) to conflate Liz Long's misguidedly sensationalist blog post with Beth Boyle Machlan's beautifully rendered and respectful essay, and c) borrow from all respective sources here with a lack of appreciation for or obligation to context? This is all very much half-baked and I expect more from The Atlantic, frankly.
My vast experience reading women's/gender/lifestyle articles made me expect things of this nature (the "I expect more"), as does my argument about parental overshare, namely that it's just about impossible to question parents' right to write poignant, lovely, sensitive, touching essays in which they demonstrate what wonderful people they are. My argument was precisely that parental overshare cuts across a wide range of contexts. What unites it is that a real-life identifiable child is discussed in ways that no one would ever write about someone who wasn't their child, at least without permission, and more on what that means in a moment. Re: Machlan, though, this is an easy one. She narrated for us her kid's therapy session! How is that "respectful"? I can hardly think of what would be less respectful.

-Thinking about this topic more, I'm starting to wonder if maybe the parental-overshares where the parents 'get their kids' consent', where maybe the kids even help write/promote the book, are worse than the humiliation-potential variety. If the kid hasn't 'approved,' then we can assume the kid is silently disputing the facts, coming up with his own narrative. It's like the kids dressed up in "Obama" or "Romney" gear - props for the parents' own ideas. Or even worse - lots of kids might consent to being written about precisely because the glory of being in the press themselves is appealing in the short term.

-Oh, and on the wild off-chance that I publish anything again, now that I've crossed the notorious Parental-Overshare Lobby, don't expect a full WWPD overanalysis of the experience. By then I hope to have the confidence in such matters that I don't feel compelled to explain myself and just generally apologize for having entered the public discourse.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Adventure is relative

Oh the adrenaline: my first-ever solo drive, following a long accompanied drive this morning, which included Route 1 as well as what would have to be New Jersey's narrowest road intended for cars. Which went fine, but I'd avoid that road in the future. Anyway, this was a short loop, yes, but with a jogger, some other cars, and an emeritus professor and his wife strolling around all relaxed, not knowing the full significance of the car passing them by, being driven by an adult woman who by all accounts ought to have been driving for more than a decade. 15 mph, but no lane line, almost no sidewalk: challenge met.

It seems unreal that I'd be capable of actually getting myself to town/the supermarket on my own, whenever I damn well please. Like getting around in a city, only worse for the environment. Until I get to town, park (in the lot, obvs), get a coffee at Small World, get back in the car, and return, I don't believe I count as knowing how to drive, but I think that ought to happen soon. I might just make it after all.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

What is wrong with French people re: same-sex marriage?*

Frahnce. You instituted civil marriage before everyone else, thus giving me a dissertation topic. Your appeal to gay men is well-established, as the many straight female former French majors can attest. What, exactly, is your problem with same-sex marriage? You realize, Frahnce, that this makes you less sophisticated and European than Iowa. Or - perhaps a bigger dig to many French, than Belgium.

*I'm sure there's an answer to this, but I'm much better about browsing the French press when I'm also teaching and looking for material to bring to class. Also, I know that this is a problem not with all French people, but merely with far more than makes sense.

The NYT endorses your cappuccino habit

As you certainly know, I believe you should drink as many lattes as you can stomach. More accurately: I find cheapness-advice that urges you, Young Person, to cut out macchiatos to be condescending and ridiculous. If you want/need to spend less, the first luxury to skip is whatever isn't giving you much pleasure. If that's getting coffee out, fair enough, but you probably like getting coffee out, thus why you wait in line to do so.*

Well! Via Facebook, there's an op-ed by Helaine Olen providing a sound economic explanation (i.e. not what you were getting from WWPD) for why "expensive cappuccinos" will not be your economic downfall. More accurately: for why you are in such a sink-hole that these are merely expensive caffeinated drops in the bucket.

*I have, as you also know, a theory that coffee and food, but especially coffee, tastes better if prepared by a what-is-the-PC-term-for-hipster-when-you-don't-mean-anything-negative-by-it. My life's ambition is to get a flat white from this man.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Ladies' night

We at WWPD are familiar with the arguments against straight women going to gay bars. These, however, assume that the bars in question are for gay men. Jezebel has now reposted what I think is a rant about straight women popping up at lesbian bars.

This I'm having trouble wrapping my head around. Is this a thing? Groups of straight women, unaccompanied by lesbian or bisexual female friends, just showing up at lesbian bars/lesbian nights at gay bars? Not because they happened upon the establishment - and who among us hasn't, in our more social youth, ended up at a bar geared to a sexual orientation or gender not our own, because it was a bar and it was there, not cared once we noticed if we even did, had a drink or two, and moved along - but because they sought this out? Isn't the idea with gay bars that women believe they can escape being hit on? Wouldn't a bar where everyone likes women (as vs. a straight bar, where maybe half do and half don't) defeat the purpose? Isn't it more likely that a gaggle of girly-girls who've sought out a bar for gay women are gay women, but just femme gay women, or - if ill-at-ease - semi-closeted/newly-out?

Jew-fro politics

Philip Galanes, whose interviews on Leonard Lopate and such have gotten me through many a poodle-walk, addresses the Jew-fro. A man who used the term to describe another man's hair in an old photo, and was accused of racism and insensitivity asks, "if Afro is not racist, why is Jew-fro?"

Galanes first harkens back to his own Jew-fro'd youth, in a way that makes it clear he considers the natural hair of a Jewish-looking Jewish-person hideous and shameful. Unless it's been properly gelled. Which brings up the eternal challenge of "natural" hair: hair can be "natural" even if greatly altered, assuming the artifice doesn't cross whichever culturally-significant line. Galanes then returns to the letter-writer's quandary, and speculates that if not everyone present was Jewish, non-Jews might simply not feel comfortable using the term. He almost seems to get the point, when he references Chris Rock's documentary "Good Hair," and notes that it also matters what the hair of the letter-writer himself consists of.

All of this, though, misses the real reason why Jew-fro and Afro aren't the same. Jews, all right-thinking people insist, are not a race. While this is sometimes brought up in multicultural, anti-racist terms - there are black Jews! Asian Jews! - what it really means is, Jews - the Ashkenazi Jews who make up the majority of Jews in the U.S., along with the many Sephardic Jews of European origin, along with the Israeli Jews who are some mix - are white. What it really means is, anyone who dares question that Jews in fact look indistinguishable from Swedes is a racist.

There is apparently  - and others would know more about this than I do, so the usual correct-me-if-I'm-wrong - some ignorance among the uninitiated regarding hair-relaxer as used by black women - i.e., apparently there exist non-black individuals who have seen only black women with straightened hair and black men with very short hair or shaved heads, and therefore assume that people of sub-Saharan African ancestry have naturally straight hair. But I'm going to hazard a guess that this is not such a common misperception. The particulars of black women's hair-straightening might be mysterious to most who are not themselves black women, but it's not this great secret (unless it is?) that black women with straight hair typically got there with some artifice.

Meanwhile, Jews are white, remember? So it kind of is this great secret that Jewish women with straight hair often-but-not-always straighten their hair. It's an easily-kept secret, given that a) there are some ethnically-Ashkenazi individuals with naturally straight hair, b) the non-"white" quality of most Jews' hair isn't apparent at lengths of typical men's haircuts, and c) with long hair, the straightening needed to smooth down typical "Jewish" hair isn't chemical relaxers, but heat styling, i.e. hairdryers and/or flat-irons. This makes jumping in the pool problematic, but means there are no special hair appointments.

If all of this is making you uncomfortable, it's because we are not to speak of Jews as having racial traits. Either because this is somehow giving support to the Nazis (as if acknowledging that Jews might look quasi-identifiable is advocating that Jews be rounded up and killed for this) or because it's seen as questioning the Jewish authenticity of ethnic minorities within the Jewish-as-in-the-religion community. The term "Jew-fro" bluntly acknowledges Jewish racial difference, and ties it in with black racial difference. It acknowledges that a Jewish man with long, brushed-out hair might well look something other than white. (Or: it racializes a trait found just as often, or nearly, among white non-Jews, whose poufy hair in old photos is just curly hair, nothing "-fro.") This, in turn, reveals that long-haired Jewish women, too, would have Jew-fros were it not for artifice, although I'll accept that I'm forcing a gender angle here. The main issue is that using "Jew-fro" is effectively calling Jews a non-white race.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Confessions of a woods-hermit

-We're all going to get the super-flu. Even those of us who got flu shots months ago. I'm going to make use of the lack of commute and the fact that my husband (who works with other people, as opposed to writes a dissertation on the couch) is away, and hermit it up a storm for the next few days. I'm not usually so germophobic, but I've read that this thing puts you out for three weeks. No thanks. Problem: groceries. Solution: the apocalypse mac'n'cheese I bought when holed up because of Sandy.

-Hermit-workout of running with poodle in the woods was, predictably, not quite enough exercise for the twelve-pound animal, but probably too much for the significantly larger one. Listened to Tom Ashbrook interview a bunch of people about online dating and monogamy. Racy and easy-to-follow enough to make me almost forget that I was jogging. I wanted desperately to give a history-of-marriage and common-sense lesson to the guy who called in and said internet dating is a problem because it messes with "natural selection," but pre-recorded public-radio podcasts don't have that function.

-Best Styles story ever: outrageously expensive clothing specially designed for sitting and doing nothing. Lululemon is described in it as the "relatively affordable" option, which will be my only hint as to how expensive we're talking. OK, never mind, can't resist: Donna Karan's selling sweatpants for $995. Of course, stories like this always impact readers (this reader) in the same way: first it's all, 'but who would spend a thousand dollars on sweatpants?' which quickly transitions to 'so maybe I'm not unreasonable for considering buying myself properly-fitting jeans that cost more than $100 as a reward for having passed my road test.' Considering, and this is very much contingent on my leaving the woods and trying said jeans on.

-I know I was going to boycott Into The Gloss, what with its borderline-pro-ana turn, but then they go and have a "top shelf" with a Hemingway heiress who says the following: "I’ve never used deodorant; my mother doesn’t use it, either. I don’t smell, so I don’t want to use anything. And sometimes my B.O. is kind of floral, I don’t know why. [Laughs]." It takes all my restraint not to speculate on this woman's self-awareness regarding the odor of her other bodily excretions.

In which I attempt to break free from my own unpaid internship with WWPD Industries

Having completed one of my New Year's resolutions, it's of course time to get moving on the rest. The dissertation plods along, but is in that lull that happens when you get to a document you know would be enough material to submit, but there's just a bit more that would improve it, and that your committee probably expects, so you keep going, but without the same terror as can occur when you're starting with a blank page. And yeah, I still eat a lot of pasta, not too worried about it.

Which leaves pitching articles. If you have suggestions for how to go about this, please comment, and if you've offered suggestions in the past and I've been all, 'but my dissertation,' expect to hear from me soon. I'm past the barrier of getting demoralized if I send something somewhere, quasi-solicited, and never hear back, so this isn't a matter of wanting to know how not to fear rejection. I'm thinking strategy. 

What motivates me, in part, is that there keep being articles in prominent places that are totally posts I've written here. I don't have any reason to think these writers have seen my posts - I can conclude only that these were good ideas more than one of us came up with around the same time. The latest: the neurosis Facebook invented, in the words of Joyce Wadler in the Style section

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Cultural references for the new adult driver

Here's what I've come up with, off the top of my head. Please add more in the comments!

-"Clueless." The ultimate driving-fail movie, so we will forgive it being about teenagers. There's Cher's painful road test, a scene that teaches an all-important lesson: don't daydream about Paul Rudd while driving. Then there's Dionne's accidental turn onto the freeway, which so perfectly captures the terror of merging onto a highway. That scene is Route 1, although the terror lessens each time. And of course, there's Tai's flawlessly-scripted-and-delivered insult to Cher: "You're a virgin who can't drive." It's that line, that moment, that makes this actually kind of an adult-driver movie. Cher's friends have all of a sudden lost their virginities and gotten licenses, leaving her behind.

-An episode of "The Mindy Project," described here, in which a macho gynecologist finally passes the written part of the test, only to outdo Cher in road-test ineptitude. Impressive visuals. The way he ultimately passes is kind of creepy, but, uh, it's a comedy! Or something.

-Arg, the dimwitted sidekick on British reality show "The Only Way Is Essex," fails his driving theory test, and his normally sweet girlfriend can't restrain her laughter. There's also Harry's lesson, but because Harry's like twelve and clearly new to driving, it lacks the pathos of Arg's scene.

-Katha Pollitt's essay, "Learning to Drive." This essay is, alas, the reason I'm wary of pitching my own tale of this, given that it's been done so well already. She covers the feminist angle, the New Yorker's ambivalence about driving one, the having first failed two road tests one, and, and this is key, the specific pang of being asked if you have the license yet, once you've told someone you're trying for one. I'd tell it all quite differently, but my biography might just be too close to Pollitt's, down to some very particular details, for the world to need another such piece of writing. The only aspect of my process that I think gives it specificity, that adds precision to my particular humiliation, is that I learned how to maneuver on a loop called Einstein Drive. As in, did you forget to signal again, Einstein? (Never mind that Einstein himself apparently never learned to drive.)

Un verre de vin, s'il vous plaît.

Think of the children. Specifically the 18-year-olds given wine on a class trip to France, with their parents' permission. To Paris, where I'm going to guess none of them were driving. But the school - in New York, a city that effectively has no drinking age, and where private-school kids are having a lot more than a special-occasion glass of wine - has a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol on school trips. I get that Europe is inherently racy, what with the European men all around, but was this really a reason to fire the teacher?

As someone who has taught French to many 18-year-olds, I've always found it a challenge how to bring up the role of wine in French culture (and "Je vais prendre un verre de vin" is in every college-level French textbook, unless BYU makes a special one), while at the same time maintaining the premise that my students (many of whom are over 21, but I can never tell which) wouldn't know a verre of vin if it were right in front of them. The underlying assumption is that they're learning this for possible trips to/study-abroad in France or Quebec, where they're almost definitely of-age, and where they can decide if they agree that white wine goes with fish or whatever. I'm always incredibly clear with my students that they are not to bring wine to class, even if it is French Cuisine Day (also a cultural point to bring up, if it happens to be a morning class - even in Frahnce, wine is not served with breakfast!), and have never had any problems. But the idea that the 21 rule would somehow extend to a place where teenagers pick up wine for their families at the supermarket is probably something that wouldn't even occur to most French instructors at the college level. It must be all the more baffling for those who weren't raised in the States themselves.

Does the fact that these 18-year-old "children" were in high school make it different? Liability-wise, perhaps - it does tell us something that parental consent was sought in the first place. But legally, a 20-year-old college junior is as much a child in the eyes of U.S. alcohol policy as a high school student, and an 18-year-old, in contexts not having to do with drinking, is legally an adult. In any case, it's good to hear this teacher found employment elsewhere in the city.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

"When the body isn’t working on breaking down and assimilating food, it works on repairing itself," and other bad advice on the internet UPDATED

"The fact that, thanks to favorable genetics, I can eat and drink mostly everything and still stay on the slim side is a blessing and a curse."

This might sound first-world-problem-ish, humble-braggy, especially when you consider the sentence before it: "New York City is a dinner society—think of how many restaurants are in a single block. You can have dinner with a different friend at a different restaurant every day of the week [...]." Yes, very glam. But I hear what Emily Weiss is saying. If you get no immediate social disapproval for your size, there's not much incentive to eat well, other than this nebulous 'for health reasons.' I mean, tell this to someone who can't fit into clothes at the Gap, and they will have every right to present you with the world's most petite violin. But as non-problems go, it's not entirely ridiculous.

But I'm disappointed in "Into The Gloss," my online guilty pleasure, the place with the gorgeous photography of ordinary objects, where fashion-world celebs put their well-pedicured feet in their mouths after telling you which skin serums they use, after this latest post. Inspired by one of said women, Weiss, who runs the site, who admits she's already slim, and who includes a photo of herself in underpants (see, there's something in this post for the boys as well) to prove it, goes to a spa in Italy where they feed you 600 calories a day. This is, for the unacquainted, eating one small meal a day. As if the answer to too many cheeseburgers isn't, I don't know, a burger without the cheese and salad instead of fries, but rather a fashionable detour into anorexia.

And it's not Weiss I'm worried about - she seems like an adult woman with her life together, and she insists that the experience has taught her "everything in moderation." It's the readers - including, going by the comments, some very young ones - who will interpret this as not so much moderation as thinsporation. (The post is a thinly-disguised ad for the spa, as per the note at the end: "Accommodations provided by Espace Henri Chenot, thank God, because otherwise it would have been hella expensive." Indeed, few adolescent readers are likely to sign up, but this approach  to diet is definitely being promoted.) How else could you interpret something like this:

When the body isn’t working on breaking down and assimilating food, it works on repairing itself, and what’s funny is that this can actually hurt: my hips were sore one morning, my lower back, another. “You’re eliminating the toxins,” my new best friend, Jennifer, the acupuncturist, explained, sending electro-currents into pressure points in my foot. [Emphasis mine.]
It's probably inevitable, given their audience, that fashion publications, online and off, will dabble in health, and that "health" will be a euphemism for thinness. If this takes the form of cheery recipes, that's great and good-inspirational, like ITG's recent suggestion to put avocado on toast, which I totally followed, avocados being on sale at Whole Foods, and which I did not take as advice to eat less than I would otherwise. If a fashion blog wants to give me ideas for what to do with Swiss chard, for when that goes on sale, fine by me.

But a line is crossed when you go from 'eat more vegetables and get off the couch' - sensible, theoretically weight-neutral advice - to blueprints for eating disorders. This has come up before on ITG and elsewhere in the fashion blogosphere, a world that had such potential to dodge the fashion-mag trap of being glossed-up diet advice. And again, this isn't even so much diet advice - problematic, but some, one might argue, could benefit - as how-not-to-eat advice. Bad advice if you are significantly overweight, bad and extra nutty advice if you're not. The notion that the body "works on repairing itself" when not fed is not all that much better, from a feminist perspective, than "the body has ways of shutting that whole thing down" - it's just that the damage, in this case, is self-inflicted.


The glamorous, their evenings are just like ours (and we are waiting to properly celebrate the driver's license until our husband gets back to town): Weiss herself responded to my blog-comment, which basically quoted back to her the thing about the body repairing itself and asked why this was not a fad diet, something Weiss speaks out against in that same post. Her answer is that this relates to the body repairing itself when it sleeps, and she adds that she's not a nutritionist, and I shouldn't have shut that tab, since it would take forever to reload, what with all the images and the strength of this apartment's internet connection, but if yours is stronger, go read for yourself.

I mean, maybe? A French-Studies grad student knows as much about what happens to cells during sleep as a beauty blogger, so I don't think either of us are citing the relevant scientific literature. Anyway, I suppose the problem was that my comment didn't address head-on what the problem was - the perils of being overly concise. It's not that it's a fad diet, so much as that it's a starvation diet. While Science may show some benefits to this, the dangers of starvation are reasonably well-documented.