Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Venerable magazine reveals: women are like so

I'm not sure if Simon Rich's recent "Shouts and Murmurs" is offensive to women who work in fashion, but if you remove "who work in fashion," it strikes me as a reasonable - the reasonable - interpretation. Oh, yes, of course, it's in fact witty commentary on the kind of men who think they are more important than everyone else, who inevitably find themselves with women in the fluffy-and-low-paid-yet-respectable-and-readily-ditchable-upon-marriage professions. It's not meant to be demeaning to those women, or to women generally, but as a gently self-deprecating (this "Simon" being a dude, and New Yorker writer) jab at the kind of men who see themselves as Big Deals. It's skewering that attitude, not celebrating it, and only a humorless feminist - only an intellectual-lightweight woman, oxymoron alert! - would miss that level of nuance. The essay is a riff on God's creation of the universe, but God has this pest of a girlfriend who demands attention, and is into stuff like clothes and bitching about other women. But God has important work to do! A dynamic that might strike you as familiar from life, or perhaps from "I Love Lucy."

Read the delightful romp of an essay alongside the same issue's (subscribers-only) fiction, and you may find yourself wondering how the New Yorker came to devote its January 9th issue to the pressing issue of Men's Rights. John Lanchester's story about a banker (the protagonist Is The One Percent, it's so timely!) with a wife who's spoiled, parasitic, lazy, vindictive, entitled... you get the idea. He's expecting a huge bonus, she's expecting him to get this huge bonus, he doesn't because 'in these economic times' it's not happening, etc. Ah, but the story is in fact a searing critique of capitalism! Capitalism gets critiqued, whereas Woman isn't so much critiqued as dismissed outright. A frivolous, unpleasant nothing. The wife craves the finer things in life, and who complains that her husband doesn't get how hard it is to order around servants all day. Ah, but you want fiction to challenge, this is a story, and it's missing the point if you read it with an eye for the PC! To which I'd respond, if the New Yorker copied and pasted a long-ish rant from a misogynistic blogger, tightened up the language, and ran that, calling it fiction, would we give that the "art" out?

This could be the segue to other thoughts on feminism. On how the shift towards referring to "spouses" when what's really meant is "wives" both does and doesn't help matters. On how the feminist issue for upper-middle-class give-or-take sorts these days is less that women are kept from reaching great heights and more that women are spared, for better or worse, the sense that doing so is the only option.

But I will let you ponder this yourselves, and will instead add something entirely unrelated, tied to the above only in that this is also from stuff I read travelling to and from Tucson. Isaac Bashevis Singer's The Manor, which turned out to be such busman's-holiday in terms of the ol' diss., as well as too short to fill the amount of flight time I needed it for, includes a reference to a Jewish child in late-nineteenth-century Poland owning - get this - a pony.

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