Sometimes a preexisting tag demands a blog post. Sometimes that's hardly the half of it.
Susan Sontag shopped at Sephora. She was on their mailing list.
The verdict in at least two articles noting this fact is that Sontag was "just like us." As a haver-of-loyalty-points myself, I can't disagree.
I suppose one way to look at this is that it's a let-down, that the Beauty Myth impacts even lady-geniuses, holding them back from the great heights only available to too-brilliant-to-bathe men (via). (Now adding the other necessary tags for this post). That's not how I look at it. I see it as definitive confirmation that conventional femininity in no way precludes being an intellectual heavyweight.
And yes, as it happens, the holographic nail polish I ordered just arrived, and looks excellent.
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Sometimes a preexisting tag demands a blog post. Sometimes that's hardly the half of it.
Sunday, October 26, 2014
Allow me an unpopular opinion: There's nothing wrong with buying your dog a Halloween costume. Note: I have no plans to do so - it's not for personal reasons that I say this. (Bisou only wears couture; if she can't have that, which she can't, it's a rain/snow coat or nothing at all.) But... how exactly is it ethically different to put money towards a pet's costume than towards, say, home decor? We're not meant to be outraged at the throw-pillow industry. Why do pet outfits inspire such furor? Why do they inspire the whole that-money-could-be-spent-on-something-noble narrative?
Presumably it's for a few different reasons. One being the tremendous (and, I suspect, largely baseless) fear that people are confusing their pets for human children. This behavior is meant to represent the ultimate in decadence. While - to repeat - I don't think there are too many pet owners who sincerely view their pets as human beings, the notion that we would do so taps into various anxieties. The birthrate! Narcissism! Facebook-employee moms defrosting their eggs as a retirement present!
Another is, paradoxically, the same as the outrage inspired by parents who put their babies or toddlers in designer clothing. As if that's somehow spoiling the kid, when it's clearly about what the parents want to see. (Again: the throw-pillow analogy. Not that the child is a throw-pillow. But the choice of attire for the child too young to have an opinion... The Baby Versace jumpsuit or whatever is the throw-pillow.) As if certain outfits are somehow too fancy for a dog, as if they are, you know, for the dog.
But then there's the really obvious objection, which points to the dogs-are-roll-in-the-mud-animals vs. dogs-are-domesticated-pets divide. There are people under the impression that it's dog abuse to interfere with a dog's... dogginess, or something. That even interventions that in no way harm a dog - i.e. putting a silly-looking outfit on said dog - will somehow humiliate the creature. This is the attitude that would shudder at the hyperstylized photos that make up much (but not all) of Japanese poodle Instagram. When, I mean... why can't the very same dog be both? Why not a run in the woods and then some posing for a photo? One of the things you're supposed to do with a dog is train him/her/it to sit on command.
Saturday, October 25, 2014
My husband's in Germany. Given that I don't have jetlag, and that I can look forward to things being open (well, open-ish) on Sunday, seems I'm not. I'm spending the evening:
-Feeling guilty about any time not writing.
-Preparing the pumpkin purchased weeks ago for use as various food-type ingredients - puree for future (tomorrow?) use in muffins, and seeds for... if history is any guide, eating all at once because fresh-roasted pumpkin seeds are delicious, then feeling kinda queasy and wondering what could possibly have caused this.
-Ordering a salad spinner... plus holographic nail polish because free shipping and shiny.
-Having a Twitter conversation about Knausgaard and fiction vs memoir.
-Rewatching some "Mary Tyler Moore Show," after a recent attempt at moving beyond old sitcoms led to a Netflix choice that started out this interesting Japanese movie, but suddenly morphed into something that would shock even Dan Savage. (Not graphic, just weird.)
-Having contrarian thoughts re: the proposed Mercer County plastic-bag tax, but then wondering if the fact that I always reuse these at least once might not be statistically significant.
-Watching Bisou play with her new, squirrel-sized toy rabbit. (I'd mostly come to realize dog toys are a waste of money, dog-toy-material, etc., given that tennis balls, old clothes, etc., are just as fascinating, but the temptation was just too great to see how she'd react to something that looks like the rodents she's so fixated on. I'd kind of figured she wouldn't much care - that these are toys meant to look rodent-like to the dog's owner, but that without the scent, she wouldn't be interested. How wrong I was!)
Friday, October 24, 2014
Question of the century: If it's presented as a "Japanese Art," will I find the prospect of cleaning the apartment appealing? That's probably the most fun it can be made to sound, "it" being sorting through a pile of books, magazines, bags, jackets, and, I notice, an umbrella all on a small table that's ostensibly for keys and a book or two. So thank you, Marie Kondo, for the inspiration.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
I'm maybe halfway (or one NJ Transit round-trip) through The Accidental Office Lady, Laura Kriska's account of being an American woman who, through a complicated series of events, ends up pouring tea for Japanese Honda executives. I've (still) never seen Mad Men, but I assume it's something like that, only the 1980s, and there's some Japanese version of Jon Hamm who has yet to appear in the book, or who appears only in my as-yet-to-be-written fan fiction version.
But back to the book that does exist: So far, so fascinating. My one observation would be that much of what strikes Kriska as particular to Japanese corporate culture seems like it could very well come from her being at what is essentially her first post-college job. Work is not like school - just ask Doctor Cleveland. The shock of going from an environment where someone with an Ivy League PhD (and that will be the case at any college these days) cares what you think about complicated intellectual ideas to doing whatever a boss deems useful (and whatever that is, it probably won't be hearing what you think about Aristotle... unless you go to grad school, which - as per Doctor Cleveland's post - only delays the inevitable) is famously jarring even for those who don't move to Japan. How much of what she describes comes from being an individualistic American, and how much is just recent-college-grad blues? How much is culture clash and how much just office politics?
Whatever the case, nothing so far has been described that hasn't made me wish I could go back in time and make whichever life choices might have led to being sent to work in corporate Tokyo after college (but not too much after - 25 sounds like the limit; as a married 31-year-old, I'm thinking this ship has sailed). I could stand to know how to make proper tea, and I suspect that the much-complained-about polyester office-lady uniforms of the 1980s were far more chic than anything I've ever owned.
Guess I'd actually almost finished the book yesterday. In any case, finished it now. How interesting it would be for people who don't half-wish that they too had moved to Japan to work for a car company after college, I couldn't say. But I enjoyed it.
Sunday, October 19, 2014
Going to Mitsuwa is like taking a mini-trip to Japan. (Or so I must tell myself - it's three hours of driving and nearly $20 in tolls to get there and back!) It's not just a supermarket, but also a (somewhat hit-or-miss; udon was better than rice bowl, and yes, I may have inadvertently ordered two lunches) food hall; a bookstore; a whose-apartment-wouldn't-benefit-from-hanging-Japanese-fabrics store, with a housewares annex; and all sorts of skin- and haircare products whose exact purpose I'll only ever learn if the time comes that I have time to take a Japanese class.
Because I have some restraint, after yesterday's trip, I ended up only with an American woman's memoir of working for Honda in Japan; a bilingual cookbook (chosen after much deliberation; so many excellent cookbook options, not to even get into the cooking implements); some hair-product refills; and assorted groceries that may or may not have survived the hour-and-a-half drive back. There are some jumbo scallions currently taking up the better part of the refrigerator, but according to this cookbook they're needed in basically everything. And I'm trying to teach myself to like mushrooms; I'm thinking very pretty Japanese ones are the way to go.
(I'm also far too tired after a busy week-and-weekend to prepare any of this, and about to eat a mountain of pasta arrabiata. In principle I'll feel otherwise during the week.)
Now, a brief word on that which wasn't purchased:
-If they'd had poodle yukatas, that might have also happened (unlike some of her Japanese Instagram friends, Bisou's wardrobe is limited to a Lands End jacket and a Santorum-like sweater-vest she chewed some holes in), so it's probably for the best that they did not.
-Where was the frozen yuba??? But by the time I was looking for it, the makings for a 12-course kaiseki meal were already in the cart, so I didn't end up thoroughly investigating (i.e. asking someone at the store).
-I go back and forth on clay pots - I like the idea of at-home hot-pot (and would presumably also use this same pot for not-Japanese versions of the same), but would, realistically, be doing this on the stovetop, and not investing in a full table-top set-up anytime soon. The question is in part whether stovetop cooking would promptly ruin these pots, but also whether there's much fun in hot-pot if you have to stand, or to just eat the stuff at the table (i.e. on a trivet) once it's cooked. Perhaps the cookbook will enlighten...
Posted by Phoebe Maltz Bovy at Sunday, October 19, 2014
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
One of the things about long-term blogging is that I can see an article about transgender students at women's colleges; think, I remember blogging about that topic!; and then find that I did... in 2005, in college, in a post written a) shortly before I'd met anyone (I knew to be) trans, and b) long before trans awareness had entered the mainstream. And, unsurprisingly, it's not the post I'd write today. (Presumably in 2023, everything in this post will seem similarly out-of-date and out-of-it.)
Anyway, what's great about Ruth Padawer's article is that she addresses why there'd be transmen at a women's college in the first place - something that may seem confusing if you don't stop and think about it, or haven't gathered the relevant anecdotal evidence. But here's how it seems to go: Masculine-leaning 17-year-old girls who haven't quite come out (perhaps even to themselves) as trans are applying as female applicants, and are going to gravitate to colleges known to be accepting of gender-non-conforming women. But then once they pass a certain threshold on the gender-identity spectrum, they have to either transfer or ask for the school to change for them. And... if this were just a rare occurrence, one might say, so be it, but because transmen especially gravitate to these colleges, the schools must address this.
And then there's this confusing problem of... what's the progressive approach? This isn't like the radical feminists who find themselves behind the times when they refuse to accept transwomen as women. The female students opposed to having transmen classmates at women's college are doing so precisely because they understand these classmates to be men. If they said, by all means, stay put, it's not as if you're real men, wouldn't that be worse? But if they say their classmates can stay and be accepted as men, the door opens for cisgender men to attend. Maybe. A policy of letting anyone who identified as female upon applying finish their degree seems the only sensitive way to go.
Here, though, is where things get interesting:
Many Wellesley students, including some who are uncomfortable having trans men on campus, say that academically eligible trans women should be admitted, regardless of the gender on their application documents.
Others are wary of opening Wellesley’s doors too quickly — including one of Wellesley’s trans men, who asked not to be named because he knew how unpopular his stance would be. He said that Wellesley should accept only trans women who have begun sex-changing medical treatment or have legally changed their names or sex on their driver’s licenses or birth certificates. “I know that’s a lot to ask of an 18-year-old just applying to college,” he said, “but at the same time, Wellesley needs to maintain its integrity as a safe space for women. What if someone who is male-bodied comes here genuinely identified as female, and then decides after a year or two that they identify as male — and wants to stay at Wellesley? How’s that different from admitting a biological male who identifies as a man? Trans men are a different case; we were raised female, we know what it’s like to be treated as females and we have been discriminated against as females. We get what life has been like for women.”Yes, I can very well see why the student in question wouldn't have wanted to attach his name to this. College students, though, as I can attest, say the darndest things.
Also interesting: Another for the endless-childhood files, and perhaps the parental overshare ones as well. (In this, Randye Hoder refers to - and, I can only imagine, embarrasses - an adult child, but has evidently shown less restraint in the past.) Also a state-of-journalism angle - we learn that a recent college grad who's "an editorial assistant at a well-respected magazine" is a) receiving parental financial support after college, and b) the child of someone whose "articles have appeared in The New York Times, Time, the Los Angeles Times, and Slate."
I think this piece does that thing that journalist-types call burying the lede. The story is not about children of rich parents staying dependent for longer. It's about the mess that's out there for those without rich parents. It's yet another case of privilege being acknowledged but not even slightly grappled with. Here's what Hoder provides:
Extending financial help to one’s children in this way is, of course, a luxury. Many of my friends—as well as my husband and I—are upper-middle-class, and more than a few in our circle are one-percenters. The majority of Americans simply can’t afford to help their children to the degree that we are fortunate enough to be able to.And - and I'm starting to think I'm part of the problem, showcasing what could well be clickbait, pitchfork-bait content - we learn both that the author treats her daughter to the odd "mani-pedi" and that the author's got this friend...
Another friend, whose 23-year-old works for a wealth management firm and earns a mid-five-figure salary, says she and her husband still pay their daughter’s car and health insurance and have kept her on the family’s cell phone plan.
“She makes a good salary, but rent and expenses are high,” the mom says, adding that her daughter’s job requires that she look professional. “She has to dress well, get her nails done, and drive a reasonably nice car.Ms. Another Friend, too, chooses not to be named.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
The Mindy Project season premiere may well be the first time female heterosexuality was depicted on television. Wait, what could I possibly mean? Aren't virtually all the women on TV straight? Perhaps so, but they're basically always objects of male sexuality, in one way or another. Even Sex And The City - there, there was so much focus on looking perfect (despite the tremendous tragedy of crossing the threshold of 35) so as to get a high-status mate. Mr. Big... I mean, separate from my subjective indifference to Chris Noth, there's the fact that Carrie was always interested in being rescued by a car-and-driver, and a Big without those trappings clearly wouldn't have been of interest. There wasn't a whole lot of... female gaze, I suppose, with the exception of Samantha, who was always sort of a hollering-at-Chippendales joke of a character. And her lust had to be presented as mutually exclusive with any interest in a relationship - something never expected of men.
But TV changed when Mindy, at the end of the episode, put on her nerdy-but-not-hipster glasses to get a better look. A look at what, well, go check out Hulu, or, if you don't care about context, click here. But the gaze is definitively in the female-looking-at-male direction. Female vanity in no way enters into the scene. There's no desire-to-be-thought-beautiful. That's not the fantasy. This has been the case for a while on The Mindy Project - thus the way that every episode finds an excuse to have two hot guys in a "fight" of some kind. But that's a bit too subtle - it's possible for male viewers to take that in as slapstick, without catching on to the fact that it's the same, for the equivalent audience, as if two hot women were in an equivalent tumble. This was... quite a bit more straightforward.
Tuesday, October 07, 2014
High-scoring students at top colleges who pursue doctorates in the humanities have already capitulated to manifold compromises: instead of earning small fortunes at consultancies, we sign a six-year contract to live on or around the poverty line while our teaching, writing, and research busies us for roughly 12 hours a day.I got a lot out of grad school personally and intellectually, and all the usual disclaimers. But. If I had imagined, for even a glimmer of a moment, that "small fortunes" or "consultancies" were options for me, I might not have signed up. Yet I think Scheinman's talking about people like me. I guess "high" and "top" are relative, but "honors" and "UChicago" might count, and I vaguely recall that I'm someone who does well on standardized tests, but it's been so long, I don't remember the details.
But... while I absolutely had college classmates who went on to that sort of path, it's not as if each individual elite-college student sits there and ponders a choice. My choices - not just my inclinations - had left me with the choices I did have, but these were not choices made senior year of college, for the most part. I was on the track to something-poorly-compensated-involving-writing long before graduation. There was nothing I could offer a consultancy (such things as... knowing what one was, or how to even find out about jobs at one) when I graduated. If I'd been a completely different person, with a different major or substantially different coursework, sure. But, alas. I combed the Idealist listings - successfully, because 2005. Then I rejoiced and headed to grad school (and - how 2005-2006 - took a pay cut!) when I learned I'd be paid to read books.
I suppose it's different at the really elite schools, and do have a Facebook friend who periodically mentions being a humanities major who went the get-paid-a-lot route and seems confused about why others wouldn't do the same, and I want to be like, because we didn't all go to college where you did!, but then I figure maybe I'm wrong, and anyone who did go somewhere super-duper-elite probably knows more about this than I do. (Scheinman also says something about impostor syndrome.) But I doubt if it's that different, certainly post-2008.
Posted by Phoebe Maltz Bovy at Tuesday, October 07, 2014
Monday, October 06, 2014
According to South Park, gluten is very dangerous. Josh Modell criticizes South Park for being late on the gluten game, but wait! Jane Brody's column today is on "a real condition called non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or NCGS." Of course Brody has to specify that it's "real," because the default assumption is that non-celiac gluten avoidance relates to the tendency of pasta's deliciousness to prevent those Zara jeans from closing comfortably.
Anyway, it's a tough one. It seems likely that a) this is a thing, or to use the scientific term, "real," while b) dieting is also real, and the wish to lose 15 pounds discreetly is more common than gluten insensitivity of any kind. As a 21st-century American in the demographic for this, I can say I've at the very least met gluten-avoiders who fall into all three categories (that is, celiac; not-celiac-but-medical; and trendy-and-dieting). There's a danger in under-diagnosis, but also one in normalizing the treatment of common food items as poison in the general population. I mean, of course it's (kind of) good for the few who can't eat gluten that avoiding it has become trendy, but by the same token, if every population that either can't or won't eat an ingredient had such luck, there'd be nothing left. And then there's that other set of people - "orthorexia" may be the official term, but there are plenty who are... whatever the equivalent is of what gluten insensitivity is compared to celiac - who suffer disproportionately from these societal notions.
What would be ideal, then, is if the coverage of whichever sensitivity or intolerance would be done in such a way as to raise awareness that this condition is out there, without inviting readers to assume, by default, that whatever it is is no longer to be considered food, because Science. Personally, I have no idea how this could be done, but it would be great if it somehow happened.
Sunday, October 05, 2014
Anyway, what interests me is this:
I was amazed to have gotten this far. As my friends were sick of hearing, it made no sense to me that a gorgeous woman in her early 20s who spoke four languages and had lived on three continents was spending her Saturdays with me, a 31-year-old bookish type from Pittsburgh.And:
“How old are you?” one asked, which put our substantial age difference — something we had not yet talked about — suddenly under a spotlight.(You can tell this is someone from UChicago because of the "bookish type" self-description.)
Anyway, a pairing of "31" and "early 20s" doesn't seem all that outrageous, although there's often a life-stage difference between 20 and 24, one far greater than between 24 and 31. I would say something about how you never see 31-year-old women with several-years-younger men, until I remembered several couples I'm friends with who fit that pattern.
What struck me, then, was how much of a thing it is, for a 31-year-old man, to be dating a younger-but-not-indecently-so woman. This isn't just, for him, a thing that happens once you're an adult, and are socializing with people who weren't necessarily in kindergarten the same year you were. It's part of her value. It's not enough that she's beautiful - she's a catch because of her not-31-ness. And yes, this absolutely did strike me because I, too, am 31. I'm surprised-but-not-really that even men as young as 31 would find same-age women excessively ancient. That a woman of legal age could be, in some meaningful sense, a younger woman to someone 31.
So I've watched some "Millionaire Matchmaker" in my day (and so I nominate myself for the alumni award for Least Bookish Type, literature PhD notwithstanding), and there, the men of course want younger women, but this will be for one of two (stated) reasons. One is that it hits them at a haggard 57-ish that they'd like kids. The other is that they just prefer women under 25, 30, 19, whatever, which is the trickier issue. These same men will also claim they want to settle down. (Yes, I understand that it's probably semi-scripted and actually an interwoven series of ads for cupcake and flower companies.) One put it... best?... when he said his perfect woman would be 29 and three quarters forever. The late-middle-aged man in question looked like a cross between Eric Cartman and Donald Trump.
It seems, in other words, a gamble to be appreciated for your youth. For your beauty... well, beauty may fade, but is more subjective. A man might cease to find a woman beautiful without her having changed in appearance, or might continue to be attracted to her because he still sees her as she looked when they met. But a man who settles down with a woman because she's such a great distance from the age at which he thinks women cease to be interesting... I mean, she will, barring unforeseen disaster, turn that age.
Thursday, October 02, 2014
Yes, I've seen the latest in fauxbivalence. My cohort is leaving the age of wedding fauxbivalence, and moving on to the early-middle-aged question of fauxbivalence within marriage. Or: Nona Willis Aronowitz remains fauxbivalent. Whatever the case, old age.
If this piece irritated me less than her wedding fauxbivalence one, it was partly because it totally does give people a different impression of you if you mention a spouse. It makes you seem like someone who'd prefer to stay home watching Netflix than going out, which (may be true but) is - and this I can attest - a slight impediment to making new friends, at least for a time, if you marry earlier than your peers. It's temporary, of course, but it's a thing. So if she was just saying that saying "husband" makes you seem old and conservative, well, it does. First-world-problems, but problems all the same.
Mostly, though, it was because at least with this piece, there was some concrete reason why Aronowitz wouldn't want to be thought "married." With the wedding, it seemed to be about aesthetics; here, there's a buried lede: "we are allowed to hook up with other people when one of us is out of town." Oh! That really is a different sort of "married" than is generally assumed. For all the talk of "monogamish," a ring or a reference to a spouse typically signals that someone is not available, so if you are, how on earth would you convey that? If, then, she'd left it at, it's awkward to say you're married when you're in an open marriage, fair enough. I bet it is!
But no! She doesn't leave it at that. She takes it in an appropriative direction, talking about "code-switching" and "respectability politics," as if her struggles as an open-married, by-all-accounts-straight white woman "philosophically opposed to what traditional marriage means" have something to do with those of African-Americans. And gay people - her plight is also like theirs. Or something. And then it came back to me why fauxbivalence bothered me in the first place: It's the conflation of one's own quirkiness (or quirks of the progressive subculture one was born into) with marginalization.