Tuesday, February 28, 2012

On meat-eating and dog-ownership

I may have been pushed over the edge, if not into squeamishness veganism, than at least squeamishness quasi-vegetarianism, on Saturday. After spending the day tending to a very lamb-like poodle,* and spending twice as much on dealing with said poodle's ear infection (an apparent by-product of grooming - damned if you do, damned if you don't) than on a week's worth of groceries at Whole Foods, it was the employee dinner-and-dance party at my husband's postdoc, and I'd signed up for the rack of lamb. This was, at one point, the dish I would always get if price were not an issue. The lamb was well-prepared but especially... lamb-y. I've been taking the need to brush and comb Bisou daily very seriously. Meticulously. Every square-inch of poodle must be thoroughly examined. This much poodle-time is making my once-favorite meat seem kind of unappealing. Ever since we got her, we've been hearing how much she resembles "a little lamb," but with her current hairstyle she's more lamb-like than ever.

So today, for lunch, I made seitan. Not made seitan, because I hope to make something of the afternoon, but stir-fried the allegedly dog-food-like "strips" from Westsoy, "imported" from my most recent trip to the Fairway. Verdict? Not dog-food-like at all! Bisou's interest in this fake meat certainly pales in comparison to her fuss over the real thing. (She napped right through its preparation and consumption, this from a dog who so much as sees me reach for an apple or banana and goes nuts.) Because this is what was in the fridge, I mixed in a chopped carrot, bell pepper, and some lacinato kale. Because I did this all a bit too last-minute for rice, rice paper it was. It was like something out of GOOP. Perhaps a little too virtuous, a distant remove from my ideal lunch, which would be a wheel of unpasteurized Camembert. But at least as un-poodle-like as could be.

"How could you eat lamb? But be sure to save me a piece if you do."

*How, then, do vegetarians - squeamishness vegetarians especially - deal with feeding pets? Some of Bisou's meat consumption is in the form of highly-processed chicken, but she's also wild about these marrow bones prepared in some special way for dogs. We sort of forget this is on the floor until someone comes over and notes how gruesome it looks. And I get that there are some on the extreme end of the animal-rights spectrum who say it's wrong to have pets - even adopted ones - in the first place. It's the non-extreme positions I'm curious about.

Monday, February 27, 2012

How hook-up culture saved bourgeois marriage

Julian Sanchez is completely right to bring neoconservatism into the discussion of whether conservatives who want traditionalism from the masses are just fine and dandy with a more anything-goes value system among elites. I knew there was some branch of conservatism that held that different things held for elites and the rest, but I'd forgotten which one.

I'm not sure I agree with him, though, that social conservatives hide their true agenda when it comes to their stance on the Sexual Revolution's impact on the lower/working classes. I mean, there are different registers, and what's in a book geared at conservative intellectuals isn't what Santorum's going to holler at a rally. But the underlying principles are basically the same. Their line is ostensibly what this commenter says: that premarital sex (and homosexuality) represent decay wherever they're found, but that those with enough money and enough keeping them future-oriented, they're insulated from the ill effects. Social conservatives have long been in a tizzy about the so-called "hook-up culture," whose natural home is the liberal, residential four-year college, not an especially blue-collar environment. And anecdotal evidence from well-educated and socially-conservative acquaintances suggests that the judgment is not directed only at Those People There, but also at their own socially-liberal peers. As in, in my unmarried days (which, having been married for less than a year, would have been most of my days), I remember getting a decent amount of unsolicited advice about what ought not happen prior to marriage, the importance of marrying ASAP, etc. Frequently, I might add, by those who were not exactly living up to that standard themselves.

If there's hypocrisy, if there's - put another way - inconsistency, because personal hypocrisy's something else, it's in the new social-conservative demand that elites preach their lifestyle. A lifestyle they aren't, well, practicing. How are the fancy and schmancy to "preach" a particular means to an end, if they themselves required quite a different means to get there? I will need to read Coming Apart (how convenient!) to see how the man himself phrases it. As in, does he gloss over the decade-plus of premarital goings-on in that caste? I somehow doubt his answer is what mine would be - that the norm of not even considering getting pregnant until you intend to get pregnant ought to extend to segments of the population not planning on a decade of post-grad education, and that this means Pill plus condoms or similar, and not merely in some abstract sense 'access to' contraception, but frank discussions of its necessity. But we shall see.

40 of 3,295

Like the unpaid internship, the question of why Stuyvesant doesn't have more than a handful of black students gets raised every so often, and yet the problem seems to get worse. This time, NYT reporter Fernanda Santos tells the larger story through that of Rudi-Ann Miller, one of the school's few black students. The article is misleading in places - much of what Miller experiences is just Stuyvesant and not particular to being black. The long commute, for example. The overall nameless, nothing-but-a-number atmosphere. But the statistics are jarring, and the broader points hold. The piece is being shared, albeit without much comment, among the trillion of my high school classmates who are active on Facebook. What does it all mean?

My immediate and insufficiently-thought-through thoughts below:

-Just to properly situate myself in this discussion, I'm definitely on the side of thinking it's a problem that Stuyvesant barely has any black or Latino students. A problem, if nothing else, because this isn't about PC-types criticizing just-how-it-is, but because, as this article demonstrates, kids from certain schools and communities are never even offered the test, never even aware of the test, of the schools it could get them into, etc. Also, you know, legacies of slavery and all that, with the twist that the "overrepresented" groups are not exactly Mayflower descendants, and have some bad-if-not-as-bad legacies of their own.

-Speaking of, I also find it plenty unnerving that this is presented as that there are too many Asian and Asian-American students. Just as it's not the fault of black kids if they didn't even know about the test, it's not evidence of some kind of cabal that Asian immigrants learned of it while still in Asia. And, as an aside, there's nothing like four years of predominantly-Asian-and-Asian-American high school to banish whatever notions one may have had about the kids themselves being especially studious. There's something that goes on in Asian immigrant communities or families that gets a lot of kids passing the test, but Americanization is Americanization, and just like my own people, Ashkenazi Jews, did before them, once arrived, they slack and delinquentize like everyone else.

-If it were up to me, I'd go with the extensive-outreach-to-middle-schools-if-not-elementary-schools method, but not the scrap-the-test one. Interviews and essays might achieve racial balance, but it would so radically change the makeup of the student body in ways that have zilch to do with race. It's hard to say exactly what the test accomplishes, but I could say easily enough what not using grades, interviews, or letters of recommendation does. The student body was incredibly diverse as students, from creative-but-not-diligent slackers to the incredibly driven. And in terms of who's ultimately done well, it's such a mix. I think the school is a more interesting place for not being uniformly composed of teacher's-pet-types. Also, when the only factor is a test, you can always say, how unfair, it's just a performance on one stupid test this one day. And that is, to a certain extent, correct. Whereas once it's holistic, it's not that you didn't get in, but that you weren't good enough. Basically, I'd much rather if they just decided to admit the top scorers of each race, or to give underrepresented applicants an automatic however-many-point boost, than to see a Whole Person approach take hold. Especially when the applicants are, let's remember, thirteen years old, and I'm not entirely sure what there is to assess holistically when it comes to middle schoolers, who are, however delightful they as individuals were or will be, kind of... difficult.

-So, awareness-raising about the existence of the test, yes, there needs to be much more of that. I suspect, though, that too much is made about the power of prep courses. I don't know how many students take them, or what miracles they offer, but my hunch is this angle has been overstated, even if it's a hunch based on anecdote. Maybe I got in because of ambient upper-middle-class-white-person-with-educated-parents privilege and ambient unfairness, but I didn't take a course or have a tutor or, for that matter, even want to go to Stuyvesant, although once I got in I came around. Coming from a private school might have helped, or not, because the acceptance rate from the private middle school I applied from wasn't amazing (of the few students who applied, which I'll get to in a moment), and I was definitely less prepared for the math-science end of things than many kids from regular public schools. The feeder schools were public schools, but only certain public schools, in a city where rich parents send their kids to private school. In other words, there's of course all kinds of unfairness behind who does and doesn't get in, but I don't think it's as straightforward as well-off parents buying their kids' way in.

-The science high schools are their own bizarre quasi-meritocratic entity, but not the bastion of privilege we're meant to see them as. Poor black and Latino students don't apply, but neither do rich white kids. Stuyvesant is about social advancement, and is of virtually no interest to those already at the top. When I applied, maybe six of my classmates (out of 60) also did, and two of us got in. It is, in other words, hardly automatic that well-off white people get in (and of course, those of us taking the test in the first place skewed a whole lot more middle-class than the rest of our classmates). It's incredibly unlikely for families of immense privilege to even want to send their kids to the school. As in, I got sniffs of disgust/pity that I was transferring to a public school, either because my classmates didn't know what Stuyvesant was, or because it was public which trumped the rest. And it was public - it's a huge school with no personal attention, no hand-holding, no finishing-school-ness.

-The science high schools are presented as the home of New York's fancy and schmancy, when there's this substantial network of private schools (and boarding schools!) whose contribution to the general unfairness of life is a wee bit greater than that of a school which is, if nothing else, economically diverse. Which private schools - with their mix of super-rich, UMC, and poor-but-brilliant - are not. Yes, $750 for a prep course to enter a free high school is a lot of money for some families, but compare that with $40,000 a year. At Stuyvesant, maybe half my homeroom was on free lunch. At Spence, my classmates thought I was poor because my family doesn't have a house in the Hamptons. Perspective.

-The fact that rich white kids who don't need it aren't applying doesn't make it somehow OK that poor kids of color who do need it aren't applying or aren't getting in. But the way this issue is always presented is reminiscent of the way, at various points in history, Jews were used as stand-ins for royalty/rich oppressors of peasants, because Jews were, after all, easier to take on than the real elites. An intermediary, a scapegoat. Along the same lines, here, one sees lower-middle and middle-class Asians/Asian-Americans used as a stand-in for 'coastal elites', when it would seem that the real folks in power (which is to say, the rich and white, of whom, these days, of course some are Jews) are left off the hook.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Un-trendy Pendleton

Bisou's maniacal barking alerted me that my much-anticipated all-cotton jeans had arrived. Remarkably, they fit. A pair of jeans I ordered off the Internet. I should win some kind of award for having a realistic sense of my own dimensions, because I was going not only by the size, but also the shape. They are a tiny bit... how shall I put this... not a style I'd suggest for someone single and hitting the bars. Unless it were 1992. But they're utterly basic, not only non-stretch but non-streak. Something between a "mom" jean and a cowboy variety. What these want to be. Baggier around the knees than I'd imagined, because they really are straight-leg, not "straight-leg" as in leggings. (One final thought on "jeggings" before I retire the topic: I'm thinking yet another part of their appeal is that stretchy pants look awfully "skinny" prior to putting your legs into them.) I think this new pair looks good with a Breton-striped shirt, but then again I think those improve absolutely everything.

(On the off-chance that my husband is reading this, I swear I won't wear this get-up to the Midwinter Party, tempting as that is.)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The talk, the walk

Says David Brooks: "People in the educated class talk like social progressives and behave like traditionalists."

One hears variations of this all the time these days, in reference to the family-arrangement divide between working-class and white-collar communities. The usual social-conservative take here is that "elites" claim that anything goes, while keeping it an open secret that they're not really making the most of everything the Sexual Revolution theoretically allows. 

And I think this has some truth to it - if one were to go by the calls and letters Dan Savage receives, one might imagine modern adulthood among the college-educated to be one giant pool of potential sexual partners shuffling, polyamorously arranging themselves, and so forth. When in fact, most (over 25, at least) are after a monogamous, married commitment with an opposite-sex partner. This also, I believe, gets at the window-of-opportunity problem - young women, at least in the "elite"-broadly-defined, genuinely believe they're supposed to embrace anything-goes-ness, only to suddenly discover, at (say) 25, that they're actually no less expected than were previous generations to find a man, and quick, before they're menopausal, a state we all know arrives at 30 on the dot. Biological fact. There's on the one hand a world of infinite possibility, on the other, not so much. It's understandable that this split makes it more difficult for "elites" to be anything but blasé about, for example, high rates of out-of-wedlock births, even while keeping their own rates way down.

But something doesn't add up. Isabel Archer, in her response to Charles Murray's new book, Coming Apart, gets at what that something is:
[T]here is a long section in which Murray encourages the elites to "preach what they practice." That is, Murray notices that people in his elite groups are more likely to stay married longer, less likely to bear children out of wedlock, and so on. Yet these same people are, according to him, overly shy about condemning illegitimacy and divorce as kind of bad. I'm with him, sort of. I do want elites (and everyone else) to preach why these behaviors are good. But I do want Murray to recognize that the gospel that he would like elites to preach looks very different from most contemporary varieties of social conservatism. It is common for members of Murray's Belmont class to enjoy not-particularly-risky varieties of premarital sex (e.g. within well-established relationships and with use of contraception.) It is also generally common within this class to treat gay relationships as on an equal footing with heterosexual ones. Yet both of these practices draw jeremiads from many contemporary socially conservative politicians.
Yes and yes. Why do these "elite" marriages work? First, because those entering into them - including the precious innocent lovely sweet darling straight-A-student goody-two-shoe tastefully-dressed ladies among them - are sexually active from, say, 18 until marriage at 28. Not necessarily super-active, but not, shall we say, "saving" themselves for marriage. Even if they stay "pure" in high school, they're sleeping with people in college, sleeping with people after college, sleeping with - and living with - their eventual spouses prior to getting married or engaged. Like Léon Blum said back in the day, and before the Pill even made this route plausible, the way to make marriages stable is to make sure that men and women alike have explored other options before settling down. And the person with whom one is to eventually settle down ought to be premaritally explored as well, not for the sake of libertinism, but for that marriage to succeed.

Second, because if same-sex relationships are socially-accepted and (ideally) can and are expected to culminate in marriage, this promotes stability in a variety of ways. It makes gays themselves less promiscuous/eternal bachelor-ish, this most seem to understand. But it also takes a small but significant minority of sub-optimal potential spouses out of the straight dating pool. Sub-optimal, that is, as heterosexual spouses. Perfectly fine as homosexual spouses. A man who makes a commitment to a woman and might one day prefer another woman isn't in quite the same situation as a man who commits to a woman knowing full well he can never be attracted to *any* woman. It is beneficial to "traditional" marriage to keep those whose inclinations lie elsewhere from entering opposite-sex marriages. And given that gays, like straights, tend to want the rest of what goes with marriage (stability, the possibility of raising kids), a good way to keep Elton John from marrying your daughter is to allow - no, encourage - him to marry another dude.

Thus the problem with the now-standard social-conservative line about how admirable today's "elites" are in their behavior, how decadent in their rhetoric, is that the stability in the upper- and upper-middle classes actually results from an extensive embrace of the possibilities the Sexual Revolution allows. If "elites" are to be all patronizing-like, they'd have to do things like tell Those People There not to even consider having sex outside marriage without proper contraception, and not to think of sending Junior to de-gayification camp.

The theoretical, pseudo-nostalgic alternative social conservatives embrace - where homosexuality is repressed, contraception shunned - first and foremost smacks of an attempt to return toothpaste to its proverbial tube. But if it were feasible, all it would mean is the development of a new dichotomy (or, rather, an extension of an existing one), in which conservative elites would know perfectly well amongst themselves that contraception and acceptance of same-sex relationships are actually conducive to stability and success, and would behave according to those rules themselves, but god forbid The Masses catch on.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Dog and man

The Ayelet Waldman of poodle owners

Before I gave any particular thought to poodles, I assumed that they could either be topiaried - which they probably wouldn't appreciate - or left like normal dogs. Leonard Lopate said something along those lines in a recent show about Westminster, and I suspect this is what the uninitiated typically imagine. Once knowing I would be getting a poodle, I imagined I'd want it to be fluffy, messy, and scraggly-looking, like the various bichons, poodles, and mutts of Paris. Not filthy or neglected, but not overly-shorn. Little, so little, did I know.

Poodle fur (technically "hair") - or at least this poodle's fur - is a mix of incredibly kinky and incredibly fine, combining in a way that one rarely sees on humans, and that is at any rate quite unlike my own thick, frizz-prone hair. We'd been going about our business, brushing Bisou a few times a week, not the once a day the breeder had recommended, but not thinking much of it, and being not so diligent about the post-brushing combing sessions. The breeder had also recommended weekly baths for a poodle, which seemed to be far more than any other source advised, and I figured the brushing advice, like the washing advice, was for poodles with more glamorous existences than romps through the woods. And the vet had advised daily canine tooth-brushing. And the trainer had advised, in addition to her daily walks, "running" her for a long time with a frisbee, something that would go much more smoothly if she'd learn "fetch." It had begun to seem that if we followed all the necessary upkeep for both Bisou and ourselves, that would well fill 24 hours, seven days a week.

But her fur just kept expanding. We kept thinking that some week when we took her to obedience class, we'd also get her groomed again, but week after week, other activities (including poodle-maintenance-related) got in the way.

All was well until I started to notice mats. The way poodle fur works, these form almost at the skin, and you don't see it happening, and you can even near-fully brush out the poodle, have this amazingly fluffy beast, and underneath, bad news. The mats don't feel all that different from skin, so you can think you're doing everything right, and yet.

All of a sudden, I felt myself going from a reliable dog co-owner - two or three long walks plus more going out each day, obedience class, toys, treats, cuddling, playing, reusable produce bags as well as a purchased supply just in case, everything medically sorted, and a not insubstantial if ultimately inadequate amount of brushing - to an utter failure at dog-rearing.

In a desperate attempt to get the brush through Bisou's hair, I cut out some mats, brushed more thoroughly, yet kept finding more places I couldn't get the brush through. So off to the groomer, and off - unsurprisingly - with a good amount of Bisou's fluff. The matts weren't that impressive, as the poodle beneath was just fine, but still, to be avoided.

Very much in a never-again frame of mind, I have already twice brushed out the results of yesterday's shearing extravaganza. She will not tangle! But there wasn't much to detangle, just the puffs of her head and tail, and a lot of "brushing" where the fur is very short, so she's used to the comb-against-skin sensation. The comb, it seems, is essential. As is the regular grooming. I may not have been to a hair salon since August, but I'm not a poodle, so no harm done.

Bisou now looks remarkably like the first Google Image hit for "lamb," which is going to put a damper on the one dish that stands between me and lacto-ovo vegetarianism.

"If liberalism is the religion of secularized American Jews, is it possible that illiberalism will become the religion of greater numbers of secularized French Jews?"

I of course read historian Robert Zaretsky's article about the rightward shift of French Jewry with great interest. Zaretsky makes a key point, noting that French Jews today come from different parts of the world than do American Jews, have different histories and cultural traditions, and thus vote differently. If you're voting for Sarkozy for a convoluted mix of reasons it would require a class on French colonialism in North Africa to understand, you're not in quite the same situation as an Ashkenazi-American Commentary/Weekly Standard reader.

Zaretsky looks at how French Jews differ from American ones, but not at how Sarkozy differs from, for example, Santorum. And the difference there is huge. What I kept waiting to see, and never did, was something about the role of religion in all of this. The right, in the States, is all about Christianity. Even American Jews who aren't that socially liberal, who aren't that concerned with social issues, can't help but notice that social conservatives are laying on the this-is-a-Christian-country rather thick. The "Real America" rhetoric has a nifty way of canceling out any (mistaken, in my opinion that I will not further go into in this post, but that I've gone into elsewhere) sense that it's better for Israel to vote Republican.

With France... I know we're accustomed to thinking of the extreme-right as the home of anti-Semitism, but the reality is somewhat more complicated. I suspect that even many American-Jewish Republicans would be horrified to imagine European Jews voting for their countries' right-wing parties, because, you know, Nazis. These same folks would probably be horrified to imagine that Jews live in Europe, period. And if this all sounds straw-mannish, it's because I'm not citing individual conversations that arise whenever I tell people I study French.

If there's good reason for French Jews to be wary of the right, it's not as if the left has an unblemished record, good-for-the-Jews-wise. Anti-Semitism in France originated on the left (mid-19th-C socialists not lurving those Rothschilds, and not understanding until the Dreyfus Affair, if ever, that hating Jews-as-such wasn't the answer), and the particular anti-Semitism everyone has in mind - the strains that led up to Vichy - had roots all over the place. If you're French and voting for a political strain that kinda-sorta comes out of the Resistance, but that is also center-right, you're not exactly casting your vote for neo-Nazism.

That background is for WWPD readers, who may not be as neck-deep in all this as I am, although I'll confess to being much more familiar this month with 1840s and perhaps even medieval European Jews than with the contemporary political climate. I'm 150% sure Zaretsky, a professor in this area, knows what I do and far more about the difference between what "left" and "right" mean and have meant in the States vs. France. The question, then, is why he doesn't include that point in his article.

My best guess is that, this being in the Forward, he's looking at this in terms of Jews' historical attraction to the left, coming out of social-justice concerns. He's less interested (not entirely uninterested, but less) in the tendency of some but not other right-wing (and, as I've mentioned, left-wing) traditions to be utterly inhospitable to Jews.

Aside from where the essay appears, there's his closing question: "If liberalism is the religion of secularized American Jews, is it possible that illiberalism will become the religion of greater numbers of secularized French Jews?" This is, I suppose, about a left-right economic divide, in which case Sarkozy and Santorum probably are a bit closer than one might otherwise think.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What are women's jeans for?

I know you've all been waiting for an update on my quest for all-cotton women's jeans. It continues, on and off. I've ordered some online (free shipping both ways...), but am not optimistic.

While I had not initially articulated it in these terms, I've come to realize - ever since moving to the woods and not periodically replenishing on lower Broadway - that the problem with spandex/stretch in jeans is that it gets fried over time in the wash, and is thus responsible for this effect. The low-rise-ness comes from the fact that whichever material allows the jeans to look perfect in the store will, after X washes, deteriorate and cease to cover all they were meant to cover. You're left, in other words, with just the cotton, and the illusion of having lost weight, even if your non-stretch clothing items and recent rediscovery of Haagen Daaz tell a different tale. So not only is this crap material (in my opinion) the reason the dye just slides off today's oh-so-flattering dark-denim skinny-jean, but it also explains the ubiquity of low-rise, even on wearers of jeans that were not sold as such.

Above and beyond my own quest, I started getting really curious if 100% cotton women's jeans exist. I clicked on various styles from different brands to see fabric content, making a point not to bother with styles with "skinny" or "legging" in the name. And the verdict is: stretch is as ubiquitous as high-fructose corn syrup, and much in the same way - there where you expect it, but also where you don't. Old Navy, which has the most all-cotton options I've found, nevertheless puts heaps of polyester as well as stretch in its most basic style. L.L. Bean sells several all-cotton versions of the "mom," as well as one attractive variant that's plenty synthetic. A classic look from Wrangler has spandex, as do virtually all from Levi's. (One gorgeous pair is all-cotton but goes for $178, at which point you might as well go to A.P.C.)

There are many good explanations for how all denim marketed at women came to be stretchy. Factors such as the dropping cost of spandex and the desire of consumers not to feel fat - automatic vanity sizing, so much so that the reviews of all-cotton Old Navy jeans include remarks about how they're sized too small. We've come to expect stretch, so we have no real concept of what any pants size ought to feel like.

There's also the near-impossibility of finding clothes that fit properly at chain stores, which is where everyone - rich, poor, in-between - shops, paired with the continued societal insistence that things fit properly. Add 2% spandex and (until they're worn out) your jeans look made-to-measure. The necessity becomes all the more obvious when you try on pants that don't have stretch, but that are no less mass-produced. They look... wrong, in a way one is not used to anymore. They bring us back to an era when pants were sometimes unflattering, and when one might discover that pants bought three months ago no longer close.

While I have not taken this as far as bringing pants from the 1990s to the lab, my sense is that the ubiquity of stretch in women's jeans is a result of the circa-2004 trend of premium jeans. These were the $200 pairs, typically with distinctive stitching on the back pockets. Often, and differentiating themselves from the designer jeans of earlier eras, they did look massively better than the ones that came before, better shades of denim, better fit, and at the ready to be styled with a pair of heels and a sequined tank top, the going-out uniform of that era. They probably also fell apart in the wash, but they looked good in a way that the flared Mudds, Levi's, or (remember those?) Jnco's did not. Then, understandably, cheaper brands switched over to the "premium" look, using more/darker dye and increasingly more stretch, until a pair of black leggings could be defined as jeans. There is now virtually no non-premium-inspired alternative. Even "classic" jeans have stretch.

So the pros of stretch are obvious. Until the jeans fall apart, you have that once-elusive garment: a made-to-measure pair of jeans, and in an ego-flattering size, at that. And if spandex isn't as eco-friendly as cotton, you're at least not needing to buy new pairs every time your own size shifts ever-so-slightly. Also, of course, a budgetary advantage. That problem from days of yore - jeans digging into your waist and cutting off circulation when you sit down - is not such an issue when spandex is involved.

But why, if stretch is so wonderful, is it ubiquitous in women's jeans, but just about unheard-of in men's? Men's jeans, except in styles aimed at would-be Mick Jaggers, are typically 100% cotton. They look like... jeans. The way jeans used to look. And yet you don't hear men complaining that it's impossible to find a decent pair of them.

A seemingly pointless question that points to something far greater: why are women's jeans 2% spandex, men's 0%? Why is the gender difference in denim - that is, the reason for a woman to buy women's jeans, a man men's - an issue not of length and crotch-roominess, but stretch?

One possibility is that women want to believe they're a size six, while there's no male equivalent to this desire. Another, that it's expected women will buy new jeans every five minutes regardless, so there's no need to promise durability. Yes, stretch=junk, "premium" be damned, but women love shopping, so why not sell them junk?

The most likely explanation, however, is that women are expected to wear body-con everything, whereas men are penalized for doing so. Men do not have problems finding "jeans that fit," because there's no expectation that a pair of mass-produced denim pants will fit like made-to-order riding breeches. For men's jeans to fit, they need to be big enough to close, small enough not to fall down. And they hardly even need to fit - belts can hold up jeans that are too big, and beer-bellies can most certainly pour over pairs that are too small. For this reason, the only women's jeans at a non-horrendous price point to lack stretch are called "boyfriend jeans," although let it be known that "boyfriend" can become "sexy boyfriend" only with the addition of 2% spandex.

So it's progress, in a sense, that women's jeans are now at least comfortable. It's still expected that they be skin-tight, but at least now, there's less of an expectation that we ought to shape our own bodies to fit into the pants, now that the pants stretch to fit our bodies. (Soup commercials be damned.) Form-fitting no longer means circulation-destroying.

But ideally... what do we want here? Men also in jeggings? In principle, I support this sort of thing, but in practice, I remember the ubiquity of the men-in-tights look among Parisian joggers, and I don't think we want a shift in this direction. Narrow pants, yes, super-spandex, no. I suppose I'd rather see a shift in the other direction, with a redefinition of what it means for women's jeans to "fit." Something like "boyfriend" jeans, but without the more-offensive-the-more-you-think-about-it name.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The fact remains

Reading the Forward, the following quote, from an expert in this area, jumped out: "'[T]he fact that 20% of Germans have anti-Semitic attitudes does not necessarily mean the remaining 80% do not also harbor anti-Semitic attitudes.'" I should have prefaced this with, I recently began receiving the Forward, unsolicited, and was feeling kind of profiled, until I learned that it is in fact a gift from my parents. In any case, the quote left me lost in time and place. Was this the 1840s French-Jewish press? The 1970s British-Jewish? What could make for a more classic line in a Jewish newspaper than something about the possibility of 100% of Germans being anti-Semites?


Yes, yes, I confess I'm a parochial if exiled New Yorker, but would it really be that different, in this day and age, to be Jewish in Minnesota than in Germany? This story about an American-Jewish hockey player whose German citizenship - via reparations - led to his presence on a German hockey team is at any rate possible evidence that those Düsseldorf ads worked. And gosh, the nose anecdote.

But are young American Jews really that wary of Germany? I suppose it's different if your very presence in Germany relates to the Holocaust, but overall? My impressions are no doubt skewed, because a) American Jews I've met who live some or all of the time in Germany are academics and thus not wearing a uniform with the German flag or otherwise representing Germany, and b) I know far too much about the unsavory history of other European countries to be unnerved in Germany but not, say, Paris, where the plaques commemorating all the children rounded up in various schools have a way of making the 21st-century croissant-to-ballet-flat-hopping somewhat less carefree. Of course, the nightmares that I - a child of parents who didn't believe in waiting until I was 'old enough' to learn the gory details, and now, an adult who can't remember a time when I hadn't known them - had throughout my childhood never involved Céline and Drieu la Rochelle chasing me through Europe.

Making sandwiches, obvs

Sometimes, a college freshman whose far-right conservatism has not yet been honed into something palatable to mainstream audiences - or who's more contrarian than conservative - will decide that the entire campus wants to hear what he (always he) thinks about the world. Somewhere at the intersection of naive and overconfident (forgivable, for a smart kid used to being a Big Deal in high school) lies a certain type of right-wing writing by the very young. This is by no means what all young conservatives write, and it's not that there aren't left-wing variants. But it's this certain way of not hearing the tone of one's own voice, of mistaking misogyny and racism for courageous anti-PC argumentation. Of thinking, 'Hey, what if I were to say that women aren't as good as men! Now wouldn't that get everyone riled up! It must be that I'm hitting a nerve! Yes, an affirmative-action bake sale sounds like a wonderful idea!'

What's baffling, then, is that James Poulos is not a college freshman. How, given that he's not 17 or 18 and about to get some real-world 'splainin' from a barely-more-informed 19-year-old opinion editor, do we explain the existence of his article, "What Are Women For?," which positively drips of that genre? What, then, are we to make of his response to his critics, one that begins with the cringe-inducing assertion, "The wave of anger and condemnation that has come from some quarters is dramatic evidence that the column’s central contention is right"? I won't generalize from this essay's example and claim it gives us insights into what men are for, but it sure gives me flashbacks to my days as "Viewpoints" editor at the college paper. 

The problem begins with the headline, which is not merely a provocative title chosen perhaps by his editors, but within - and indeed, the gist of - the piece itself. If Poulos had simply asked, "What is gender for?," and concluded that its purpose is for men to invent things, for women to scrub toilets, division of labor and all that, no one would have cared. I mean, no one would have read it. The content is the usual conserva-rant something-or-other, much 'The Liberals are like so' without much substantiation. (For example, was the liberal response to Cynthia Nixon's "choice" quote unsympathetic? Not entirely.) Just... opaque, in a way that really reminds me of those "Viewpoints" days. We are, alas, living in a uniquely decadent age, hell, handbasket, wimmin, etc., etc., except he doesn't spell it out, but that's what's between the lines. If it weren't for the title, the bloggers Ned Resnikoff mentions wouldn't have linked to it, I wouldn't have found it via his blog, and so on.

But Poulos instead asked what women are for, and that question is a mess whatever the conclusion, even if the conclusion were more Grrl Power and less June Cleaver. It takes as a starting point that male is normal, default, while female is different, Other, etc. The mindset that speaks of on the one hand lawyers, and on the other, women lawyers or, for bonus reactionary points, girl lawyers. Even if whatever Poulos was driving at (and more on that in a moment) was all kinds of wonderful, the set-up is so bad that one simply must read on.

The concept is a problem not merely because it's unapologetically (proudly, mistaking-contrarianism-for-insightfulness-ly) sexist, but also because it completely misses that the place of men in American society today is plenty up for discussion. It's something conservatives are even quite worked up about. What is masculinity? What is fatherhood? Why have men, anyway? Do we even need 'em anymoreEven for super-duper-conservatives, gender is not and long hasn't been a "woman" question.

But Poulos begins, all high-culture-like, "In a simpler time Sigmund Freud struggled to understand what women want. Today the significant battle is over what women are for." But it isn't. If anything, the culture wars have for some time now been about men. It's no longer up for debate whether it's a good thing that women work outside the home. The question is whether men are also gainfully employed, or prepared to be stay-at-home dads. To even claim to be discussing "gender" by looking at the role of women - and from the assumption that men are currently involved in Great Work - suggests such a complete aloofness from the broader conversation that, again, it's hard to believe we're reading an established-ish conservative opinion writer.

The conclusion Poulos arrives at is, I suppose, anti-PC and contrarian for insisting on an essentialized womanhood, although it's not entirely clear what the point might be. We have two options: celebrate his courage for saying what virtually no one thinks anymore (because it's wrong; bring on the contrarians who think the earth is flat), or get into a feminist huff and prove his point by not agreeing with him. (I can think of certain advantages to having that level of confidence, but certain disadvantages as well.)

I will instead take a third route, let's call it a textual analysis approach. What is his argument? What, class, do we make of this passage?
Ironically, one of the best places to look for a way out of the impasse is the strain of left feminism that insists an inherently unique female “voice” actually exists. That’s a claim about nature. Much good would come from a broader recognition that women have a privileged relationship with the natural world. That’s a relationship which must receive its social due — if masculinity in its inherent and imitative varieties (including imitation by quasi-feminized males of quasi-masculinized females!) is not to conquer the world.
-"Ironically," OK, with him so far - it's ironic that the author of a conserva-rant is directing readers to liberals, feminists.

-What "strain," though, is he referring to? Specific authors? Publications? Scholars? Activists? Maybe such a "strain" exists, but the wording is such that one is meant to understand that if only one were informed, were in the know, the relevant authors and school would be obvious. It's not obvious to me.

-Poulos's message is that social decay comes down to our refusal to acknowledge that "women have a privileged relationship with the natural world." Sounds serious! But what on earth does this mean. Women are more 'earthy'? Women require Tampax? Women enjoy the natural bacteria found in yogurt? Women shun artifice? Women prefer to live in the country? Unclear, or more likely, intentionally opaque and ambiguous. It's a way of saying 'wimmin makes the babies' but sounding sophisticated. I think. It's my best guess, but I'm too busy rolling around in the mud to be sure. (OK, from his follow-up - "Relative to men, women have a naturally privileged relationship with the process of creating and recreating human life." - this assumption is confirmed, although that doesn't change its absence from the original article.) So let's proceed to the next sentence.

-What the "social due" bit is, my best guess is, if we are to assume "nature"=baby-making, Poulos wants society-or-the-government to limit contraception-and-or-abortion-and-or-choices-women-might-make-that-don't-involve-being-pregnant-whenever-possible. Maybe? Or to celebrate fecundity? Which means what, in policy or even abstract terms? It's tough to argue against Poulos's demand that women be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, because if that's the best possible interpretation of what he might be driving at, it's not spelled out.

From the response-to-critics installment, I think Poulos is being courageous and telling it like it is by letting us know that women, and not men, are capable of giving birth. In which case perhaps I had it all wrong - this isn't Contrarian College Freshman, it's incredulous seventh grader after first day of health class.

But it isn't. What it is is a demand for what either are or are not incredibly frightening policy changes directed at embracing the female reproductive capacity. The opacity is meant to read as Thoughtful Conservative, but is ultimately more unsettling than if there were an actual agenda, actually spelled out.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Out-of-context quote of the day

"Father Landry aimed his cellphone camera at one of the men and 'snapped a photo of his derriere,' he said. 'Because it’s exactly what I’m trying to do.'"

Friday, February 17, 2012

"Not gay bars, Ma. Zabar's."*

Every so often, I have to go to the Zabar's cheese department. Forces beyond my control compel it. When it was something I theoretically had access to, as in, when I lived a bus or subway ride away from it, I don't think I properly appreciated it. Now, it's a quasi-religious pilgrimage, involving hours upon hours of transportation, and not really justifiable unless I'm in the city for some other reason. It's far enough from where I usually need/want to go in NY that it basically means throwing up my hands and accepting that I will be that woman carrying cheese across state lines, devoting an entire afternoon to figuring out how many jumbo containers of Amora mustard can be comfortably carried on the subway, two trains, and a 30-minute nature walk. (The answer, I've learned the hard way, is one, if I intend to carry - sorry, shlep - back anything else as well.)

On some level, I realize this is a waste of precious time in the city, and that even if I now live in the woods, there is a comparable establishment a mere 40-minute bike ride away. But the prices are significantly higher, and more to the point, there isn't that sense of infinite possibility, just a carefully-curated cheese selection and a bunch of relocated Europeans who can't believe their luck, finding this in a New Jersey strip mall. (There are, however, at both establishments, agitated local women several times my age and strength, prepared to shove.) For a place that's famous, touristy, and gourmet, the prices in the cheese section of Zabar's (if not the rest of the store) are startlingly low. A kid in a candy shop, except not a kid (in the frank words of my grandmother's cleaning woman earlier in the day, "28 is not young"), and while there is indeed candy just past the cheese, it just seems redundant.

I restrained myself, shopping-wise, insofar as I didn't get the $7.29 tiny piece of aged goat cheese (Chabichou, and it looked amazing), or didn't, in that I ended up with three different kinds of cheese, making that a grand total of eight varieties currently in the cheese drawer. Already had: Mozzarella (for pizza, doesn't count!), Pecorino, Ricotta Salata, the smallest possible but still embarrassingly pricey wedge of Humboldt Fog, Passendale. Now added: Valdeon (a Spanish blue cheese I'd never tried before), Camembert, and smoked mozzarella bocconcini. These, concerned reader(s), are not the entire contents of my kitchen. There are also fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, and in the case of more tomatoes than is reasonable, canned), as well as pantries full of pasta and dried legumes. But the cheese collection is by far the most impressive, so much so that it almost seems as if I should be hosting an academic reception, as opposed to merely stuffing my face. But it's a truly impressive array. Where's my Into The Gloss?

*Apologies to "The Nanny."

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"'It's going to feel like up north now.'"

These are words I never thought I'd read: "University of Chicago bought the former Borders bookstore at 1539 E. 53rd St. in Hyde Park. Trendy clothing chain Akira will set up shop in the space this fall." Consider my mind blown: I think it means that these shoes will soon be available for purchase in Hyde Park, Chicago. Yes, the neighborhood around the University of Chicago. I have just learned (via) that Hyde Park - yes, that Hyde Park - is undergoing some kind of transformation, and is on the verge of becoming... pleasant. Yes, gentrification, yes, how tragic for the U of C brand, that the neighborhood will now god forbid include options beyond bookstores and Walgreens. (I now live somewhere where the only store worth going to is a bookstore, but for quite the opposite reason. There is a Kate Spade, a Lilly Pulitzer, a lacrosse-gear shop...) I mean, OMG shoes! Shiny, space-age shoes! You could go admire them on a study break (even if it's too cold and icy to wear them)! And with this, expect applications for Paris study abroad to drop exponentially.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day assortment

-Seems about right. Perfect poodle-face.

-Did you see "Midnight in Paris," mostly fall for its charm, but feel like maybe something wasn't sitting right? See Richard Rushfeld on "the muse/harpy polarity."

-Yes. No.

-A very good reason to get a car already. (Flan!)

-Always with the kale.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Shabbat Shalom indeed

WWPD would not be WWPD if I did not set aside the latest JStor find for a moment to share with you, my readers, something that hits upon all WWPD themes all at once: women's fashion, male beauty, Israeli secularism, and, of course, public transportation. Via Gawker (which brings us to the slightly-NSFW version here), an Israeli fashion spread and making-of video, inspired by - and aimed at critiquing - the women-on-bus issues happening in ultra-Orthodox areas in Israel and beyond, with women being forced to sit in the back, and all that misogyny. The spread involves a female model in very pretty dresses, surrounded by a pack of lustful, chiseled, ex-IDF-type male models, mostly clean-shaven but in quasi-Hasidic garb, in one case with just the satin coat. Well why the heck not! It's for a good cause!

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Des Français

Sometimes, from the ol' mailing list, I wonder if being an American getting a degree in French is a bit like if I, a "cis" woman, were to get a degree in the experience of maleness. I can learn about it, I can admire it aesthetically, but I'm not going to be it. The job postings - not academic jobs, of course, but part-time, extra-money work - is almost inevitably for someone French. People whose four-year-olds need to learn être from an authentic French person who can, working overtime, also tell Mom how not to get fat. Or something. I have no idea. Here's the latest.

La boutique [fancy Parisian macaron shop that recently opened on Madison near all those Ralph Lifshitz stores] souhaite recruter des Français (exclusivement, pour la "French touch") qui chercheraient un emploi dans la vente ou dans la restauration (ouverture prochaine d'une deuxième boutique à Manhattan, avec une partie restauration).
Emphasis in the original.

Is this even legal? (Is it like Hooters insisting on busty and young? You're more of a performer than a cashier?) Do I even care? Practically speaking, no - I'm not about to spend $33 round-trip on the train to sell macarons to socialites for what I can only imagine is minimum wage. But it interests me (and, fine, irritates me, but doesn't surprise me) that Frenchness is such a thing that it's evidently more marketable than having, for example, an MA-plus in French literature and history. Although being an American with an ambivalent inferiority complex about not being French is plenty marketable. To be continued...

Today in effortless

Into the Gloss outdoes itself. Says today's "Top Shelf" participant:

"[...] I’ve always been pretty low-maintenance with beauty. I’m from England—Cambridgeshire, it’s in the countryside."

[Mentions several luxe skin products.] Sample sentence: "And then I use Valmont cream, which is my favorite, favorite stuff. That I find either find in Paris, or at the Four Seasons here [in New York]."

But that's skin care. Presumably this woman stops there. No makeup?

"I’m not very precious with my makeup."

[Mentions a long list of cosmetics, including two YSL, two Dolce and Gabbana, one Chanel, one Armani.]

A simple country girl, really. Not like us Manhattan-born-and-raised who... I'm not even sure what would outdo this short of the Joan Rivers approach

More pickitarianism

Brian Moylan admits he hates cheese. Because it's Gawker, the commenters are a) uniformly anonymous, and b) expected to shun sincerity, so lots admit that they too hate cheese, or bananas, or chocolate, or (a popular one) puppies. Most have no qualms with confessing to pickiness, but it is still very much a confession. But it doesn't take long for the predictable response to pop up:

Really ? really? You're not able to take a piece of Cheddar off a Burger, or a sandwich or pick the cheese out of a salad ? Now consider for a second people with real problems, like Diabetics (Type1), which cannot eat sugar which is hidden in all kinds of foods, or people with peanut allergies, where it's enough to have been processed on the same assembly line as other products. And these people go to the hospital/die when they eat those things, and you're complaining about the taste of cheese ? There are always people with bigger issues than yourself, and the people who complain about sugar or peanuts, should think about people in Somalia where water is not a given.
This article would have been a great place to talk about the billions of Lactose intolerant people who don't get to choose if they like cheese or not. It'd bee cool to talk about people who have food allergies that might kill them like peanuts or shellfish. Or other digestion allergies like being allergic to gluten. I get indignent anger towards food products that sicken you (Im looking at you mayo) but at least you have the choice to eat them or not. It wont kill you or make you sick. If you were starving and all you had was cheese you probably wouldn't die. Just saying.
And, as was inevitable.


Pickiness of a different stripe: Dan Savage's latest terrain (just when you think he's covered it all!) is the world of certain bisexuals (see also the latest podcast) who claim that they are only romantically attracted to members of the opposite sex, but only physically so to members of the same. Sounds like yet another newly-announced category that sounds odd at first but what can we do but accept whatever consenting adults come up with... or is it more like "ex-gay," without the proselytizing bit? Certainly with the podcast complaint, from a (ex-?) Mormon 21-year-old guy thinking of marrying his overweight female best friend, a woman only attracted to gay men, because, although he's exclusively attracted to men, he feels he gets along better with women... certainly this guy is gay and.... a special kind of closeted that he may well prefer to remain with his entire life, but closeted nonetheless.


Not that I'd know it from here in the woods with the scientists, but it's apparently Fashion Week again in NY, offering up opportunities to think NYFW means something isn't safe for work (and maybe it isn't!), and, just as reliably, the usual hubbub over how thin and young the models are. I think I've already explained why it is I think models look like that in the first place, so instead of repeating myself, I'll direct you to the CW reality show, "Remodeled," of which I've seen two partial episodes.

"Remodeled" is about a guy - in no way modelesque himself - whose personality is identical to the bad mohel from the "bris" episode of "Seinfeld," the one who coulda been a butcher like his brothah, but who is in fact a do-you-know-who-I-am modeling agent. The premise, which makes about as much sense as "ANTM," is that there are evidently agencies across the U.S. that aspire to represent high-fashion models, and dude will help them reach this goal.

Anyway. One agency, in Orlando, had made the serious error of representing models who were old. How old? 20, 23, and in one horrifying, decrepit case, 28. I can't remember now if dude was throwing a fit because the models weren't 15 or because they weren't 16, but either way, it would seem that the issue is less the difference between allowing 15-year-olds versus 16-year-olds on the runways, and more that in this industry, 17 is over the hill. So dude helps them go out into the streets to scout "kids" (this is the word he repeats incessantly - "kids" - because some of the models are male), and what they're looking for, with the women, is the youngest, thinnest, tallest they can find. (One who was 5'8" and a half had some nerve, daring to think she could enter that profession.)

Even if, in some implausible best-case scenario, models had to be 18, had organized for their rights in some capacity, there still wouldn't be many 'hags' of 22 or 'cows' of 120 lbs. on the runways, and thus from the consumer (of stuff, of media images) end, things would be about the same.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Speaking of...

How timely! Fresh in my inbox, an email forwarded to my department proposing what could only be described as the job Elaine does for Mr. Pitt. The list emails are a great source of valuable info. and, alas, inadvertent entertainment, as with the recent request, by an agent, for a tutor, presumably for an unnamed celebrity, where if you wanted the job, you needed to send your resume with a photo attached. There are also sometimes demoralizing requests for babysitters (good to know these ABD skills add up to a job one can perfectly well take in middle school), but those are at least paid positions.

Which brings us to this latest. It comes from a Writer, one I'd never heard of, but who will have you know that he's a big deal. After three paragraphs of bio, he gets to the point:

I won't burden you with a list of the various other literary projects I'm involved in, but I hope it's obvious that I have plenty of potential duties for an assistant. It is essential that an intern be a native speaker of French who is capable of helping me when I write directly in that language. This would be an internship of several hours a week, rather than a paid position, offering interesting experience dealing with people and activities in the literary world of two cultures. Hopefully, it could count toward academic credit.
"Hopefully," heh. And I don't for a moment doubt that this "position" will receive multiple applications, if not from my own department, then from wherever else it's being advertised.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Between Penny and Sheldon

Much like Isabel (who, as seems relevant for the content of this post, I "know" only via blog), I've been following the Asperger's stories as they appear, from the perspective of someone who reads these things and thinks, uh oh! And then remembers: no, not really. We all of us feel special and different and unique and all that fun stuff, and those of us with concrete evidence to support it (consider your standardized-test-score to gregariousness ratio) can't help but wonder.

But this is what I've concluded, anecdotally of course:

-There is definitely a thing, whether we're calling it Asperger's, mild autism, or something else, that explains a certain type of behavior that anyone who's taught, anyone who's been a student, certainly anyone who's spent time in nerdy environments will recognize as being more-than-nerdy, more-than-awkward. It's if anything more obvious in a geeky milieu that this thing is not simply awkwardness, because there's so much run-of-the-mill awkwardness around. People with the capacity for speech, but not for holding a regular conversation. I can think offhand of two kids in my high school class (one boy, one girl) who fit the bill. And then there were the Magic kids, the mathiest of the math kids, the debate kids, etc. Many would have been outcasts at a normal high school, and had that distinctive know-it-all speech pattern, but they were (and are, I suspect) functioning just fine if not far better than fine. I can think offhand of maybe two kids at my high school who didn't fit this, and they were these upbeat blond girls on the soccer team who were always kind of mysterious, like they'd been dropped in from a New England prep school and weren't entirely sure what to make of their surroundings.

-So there's another thing, a type of person who, when introduced to the 40 peers with whom they'll be sharing a Birthright Israel bus for the next ten days, or the 35 other kids in their gym class, will prefer to be alone or to gravitate to one or two like-minded sorts. There will be a requisite libertarian phase. Do you mostly prefer staying in to going out, but sometimes you do get stir-crazy? Do you attract friends who are snarky and/or good at math? Do you have a blog that isn't devoted to posting cute outfit pics? This is the Daria-Sheldon spectrum, and if you're on it, you know who you are, and I have my doubts that this sort of person is any more deserving of a medical diagnosis than someone who's incredibly outgoing and up on the Kardashians. There are entire milieus of people like this, and if you're like this and you find yourself in one, bingo. You won't suddenly want to go out every night, but nor will you feel that only a couple of people get you.

Personally, I'm something of a hybrid between this second thing and no thing in this regard whatsoever. If I'm around a bunch of Pennies, I'm a Sheldon who can pass as a Penny but who, given a Jane, will be a Daria. But if I'm surrounded by Sheldons (which is where I'm most comfortable), I'm aware of my Penny-like nature, my VIP status at Zappos. If we're defining "the spectrum" to begin with Penny and end with Sheldon, I'm on it. But if it starts with Sheldon and ends with severe mental disability, not so much. The question that I (and all the other NYT readers, no doubt) keep coming back to is whether "Sheldon" is a medical condition, or simply a personality type with its plusses and minuses like all the others.

The 'ship has sailed UPDATED

Every so often, we must remember the unpaid interns. Accustomed to working for no pay as students (albeit working for themselves), it's an easy leap to working for no pay to benefit an organization. Accustomed to coming out behind financially (it's increasingly difficult for full-time students with jobs on the side to pay for their own tuition and living expenses, and extra good luck to kids who want to do this but whose FAFSA indicates well-off parents), what's one more setback? What I wrote in 2006, consider it repeated. Again.

While there are all kinds of fairness issues, legal issues, and so on, it would seem that an obvious problem with the unpaid internship is that it claims to be a "learning experience" in a way that a regular job presumably is not, when one of the most important workplace skills, if not the most important, is the money part. It's how to budget your paycheck. It's how to factor in what a job (or career path) pays when deciding if you want to pursue it. It's trying to get a raise or - more relevant for the college-student employee - negotiating to get paid at all by a boss who knows perfectly well you'd be easy enough to exploit, and that you don't need-need the money the way a 40-year-old does, or do but don't know how to complain, and won't make a fuss. It's your welcome into the grown-up world of bureaucracy and keeping tax forms in the right file folders. It's knowing that if you want to spend $3 of those $10 you earned that past hour on a happy-hour beer, that's your call, and you don't have to ask permission.

The whole unpaid thing, meanwhile, doesn't merely neglect to teach skills about money and the workplace. It ends up teaching something else, namely that it's crass and getting-ahead-of-yourself to demand any pay at all for your labor. That someone would have to be incredibly entitled not to simply appreciate having been given the opportunity to interact with the office staff in the form of  making copies and fetching them coffee. It teaches that if you want to get ahead, you have to show that you love your job and aren't in it for the money, and the way to do that is to take money entirely out of the equation. Meanwhile, the tough skill to hone is how to show your commitment to your job while also standing up for yourself financially.

As for socioeconomic unfairness, the usual charge made against unpaid internships, it seems that these positions by and large lead (if they lead anywhere, which they often don't) to mostly-low-paid professions (non-profits, journalism, publishing), and/or ones that were all about wealth and connections anyway, and now it's just that more obvious early on. As to the specific question launching the debate: Are fashion internships unfair? If we were to locate the "fair" in that industry, it would extend no further than the often-also-unpaid models' complexion. If it's tough for a poor kid to start working at Vogue, it's also tough for any kid who isn't a big-name heiress. Yes, a certain number of entry-level or administrative jobs in these fields have disappeared, and yes, this is irritating to those of us who'd have been interested in such work after college, but did not see working for no pay as an option. But college students looking to enter the upper-middle class through the usual channels (law, finance, medicine, engineering) might end up with plenty of student-loan debt, but are not yet, as far as I know, part of the unpaid-coffee-fetching system. I'm not sure how much the issue we should be concerned with here is social mobility, or, conversely, how much those concerned with social mobility should worry about the existence of unpaid internships.

Of course, one danger is that unpaid internships have begun to seep into the world beyond glamorous stints in the major cities. This is both the now-notorious "internship" that involves, say, flipping burgers or throwing oil-filled rubber balls out of Jerry's apartment (or, good grief, work as a real estate broker), and, more abstractly, the extension of the idea that unpaid labor is acceptable to populations not currently taking unpaid internships. Another is the whole "two Americas" argument - it used to be something of an equalizer that all young people took crap jobs for pocket money, and now, not so much. Yet another is the whole extension-of-childhood conundrum - it's already assumed that parents who can will pay for college, which, in turn, defines "college-age" as still childhood, even if some young adults that age are financially independent. Especially once unpaid internships reach over into the recent-grad population, cue the when-will-they-ever-marry-and-settle-down complaints. If you're old enough to work, are indeed working, and your parents still pay for everything (or would if they could), that's an interesting new life stage right there.


I was just drawn into a Facebook back-and-forth about what I'd written in Gothamist, and someone (not sure the etiquette of linking to stuff on Facebook, so will make grammatical choices that "deny agency" as they say in academia, whoever they are) brought up a counterargument worth addressing, which I will paraphrase: What if interns provide some service to the (for-profit, for simplicity's sake) organizations where they work, but do not contribute enough to the bottom line to merit their hiring at the minimum wage? (I'm going to hazard a guess that this isn't always the case, but my interlocutor works in magazine journalism, and seems to have more first-hand experience.) If this is an apprenticeship, why can't an employer use this period as an extended job interview, and only hire those who will help the company succeed?

One answer would be that if five interns produce the work of one admin, the company should forget about the fun and glamour of having the fresh-faced and unpaid in their offices and hire one experienced but probably not even all that high-paid employee to do the job. But the problem here is that by definition, some employment will always be entry-level, untested. The apprenticeship surely has its place. One option, then, would be to have a separate, internship-specific minimum wage (which I'd think is what already exists in some capacity when an internship comes with a stipend?), such that work is acknowledged, as is the intermediary nature of this type of work.

What also came out of this exchange, and the one below in the comments, is the importance of thinking of internships in terms of where interns actually end up. Much is made, in academia, of the fact that there are more grad students than (permanent academic) jobs. If you look at the ratio of funded grad students to jobs, it's probably less dire, but still grim. But at least this is time spent with some income, with health insurance. With unpaid internships - which individually take much less time than grad programs, but which, in a field like journalism, can become a string of unpaid stints lasting for years - there's both the uncertainty about what's on the other end and the continued full reliance on parents/loans/outside jobs. It would seem that if all internships paid at least something, there'd be fewer internships, but still plenty more internships than jobs.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Raising Johan and François

Miss Self-Important alerted me to something "combining amy chua with skinny frenchwomen," so I had to look, and before even knowing what it was, to kick myself for having not thought of it. What it is is another WSJ attack, by a Real Mom, on American parenting. (America being, let's be clear, defined as a caricatured version of Park Slope and Berkeley.) But this time, we're to emulate not Chinese moms, but French ones. There's even a video where the author, Pamela Druckerman, a woman who's been living in Frahnce for a decade, wears a beret, as if to announce that she knows this is a gimmick and has no intention of breaking character until the gimmick goes platinum.

(I defy anyone familiar with the RHONY not to look at the photo accompanying the article, with the three blond, baffled-looking kids in berets, and not immediately think of Alex and Simon, Johan and François, and the quest of one American woman and one Australian man to raise French children in New York. Druckerman's husband is British, close enough. Druckerman, however, has a background in comedy. She's in on the joke.)

This concept is of course all kinds of brilliant: a certain type of (book-buying) American women is preoccupied with parenting and with being more French. Why not combine the two?

Part of me knows, on some level, that my familiarity with France is one day going to have to be channeled into a book of this variety, one that takes the following for granted: Everything not America is Europe. All of Europe is France. France is Paris, and Paris is that bit of the city between the St. Germain Monoprix and the Bon Marché. That which wouldn't be readily observed by Americans on a five-day vacation can be assumed not to exist. My entry into this genre will be a parody take called "Why French Women Are Better Than You, You Vache: A Francophilic Guide to Self-Hatred," but this is but one parody manuscript of many in the works at WWPD Industries.

In all seriousness, some of what Druckerman says about French eating is true, in my experience, in France beyond Paris; in Belgium; possibly everywhere that isn't the U.S.. It's not true that picky eating is uniquely American and magically eliminated with "French" parenting, but the idea that there are specific times to eat, and beyond that, specific foods that can be eaten at specific times, is a place where Americans find ourselves the odd ones out. (It seems strange to The Europeans that if I happen to have baked something - brownies, lemon pound cake, whatever - I see this as a perfectly acceptable breakfast, and that if I'm hungry at 5pm, or 10, that's when I'll have dinner.)

While my Americanness in this area has never caused me any real problems,* I can see how, on a population level, limiting food in this way would have some tangible benefits (less obesity-related illness, more self-control, etc.). On the other hand, cultural rules like these strike me as being part of an exclusionary system more broadly, and if they happen to be useful in certain isolated ways, they serve to make newcomers and even not-so-newcomers feel unwelcome. And that's kind of the gist of the argument. Druckerman says that French parenting - not just eating - works better because everyone does things the same way - there aren't competing ideas of (or parenting books about) how to do things right. This is less stressful, she claims. Perhaps, but rigidly enforced homogeneity is plenty stressful for outsiders as well as dissenters.

And this is the flaw with the whole Be More French genre - Frenchwomen-as-in-rich-Parisians may look chic, but they're all dressed identically to one another. You can either bemoan the fact that everyone around you (in suburban NJ, to give a purely theoretical example) would be out-of-place at the organic market on Raspail, or you can be grateful for the diversity of options.

Oh, and are French children better-behaved? No. They are, however, more elegantly dressed. If there isn't "kid food" in France-as-in-posh-Paris, nor is there kid clothing. Tiny children are dressed like precious dolls from the nineteenth century, and then around early adolescence, boys and girls alike are dressed indistinguishably from their adult equivalents. For better or worse, they do not spend a decade or even so much as a week experimenting with hipster/goth/punk, etc. Thus the city's lack of neon hair dye. This parenting guide is going to be a bestseller in no time.

*I can't write about this without mentioning the "trough" incident - when I said to a group of European acquaintances from a bunch of different countries, who were discussing American versus European eating habits that me personally, I eat out of a trough... and met with knowing nods. Part of this was a language issue (sarcasm being a tough tone to convey, "trough" a bit agricultural), but I also think it struck those present that it was totally plausible that this was how I took my meals. I could provide so many more anecdotes along these lines, but I've long noticed that the idea that Americans are fat and lazy is so ingrained that they have essentially nothing to do with whether any particular American is either.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Inherently inaccurate

Dan Savage really does seem hung up on this idea that women have the capacity to be attracted to the person, regardless of gender. He got an angry letter from a lesbian teen whose parents showed her Savage saying this to tell her she's not meaningfully "out" as anything, because she could just as easily go for a dude.

Says our teen lesbian:

Newsflash, Dan: I've never been into dudes. Like, ever. Always known it, from back when I prayed to God when playing spin the bottle it would land on my girl friends and not one of the guys. So some girls might like to swap and change, but others don't.
Yup. And guess how many more girls growing up have passionate, not necessarily romantic as in flowers-and-chocolates crushes on boys, and only boys, and could describe this in ways that would strike a gay man as entirely familiar? What this girl is describing is real. But it also extends to her heterosexual sisters.

Is Savage convinced? Not quite:
But the fact is, however, that female sexuality is more fluid than male sexuality. That isn't to erase anyone's lesbianism, and it doesn't prove that there are not lesbian women out there who are solids, not fluids, who were "born this way" and always will be this way. There most certainly are.
A "fact" that he has derived, it seems, from having had some female friends who once identified but no longer identify as lesbians. Savage's exchange with this teen is kind of painful to read, because the girl (understandably for a gay kid!) is star-struck that Savage even answered her at all, and totally backtracks on her criticisms. Reasonable, given the circumstances, but frustrating.

Andrew Sullivan has also weighed in (via here, via PG), in reference to the now-notorious Nixon quote about her lesbianism being a "choice":
My own view is that female sexuality is inherently [emphasis mine] more fluid than male sexuality, and that lesbians and bisexual women, because they are less fixated on crude physical signals for arousal, have more of a choice than men, gay or straight, in their choice of loved ones. I think this is about the difference between lesbian identity and gay male identity.
Presumably Simon Doonan will be the next to offer an opinion, one that will make what Sullivan and Savage had to say seem positively tame.

Anyway. My hunch is that male sexuality is more fluid than commonly thought, but not infinitely so, that female sexuality is far less than Savage, Sullivan, and popular culture would assume, and that most of us humans really are only substantially attracted to those of one gender.

It's easy enough to explain how we came to the notion of female easygoingness in this area, without resorting to "inherent" flexibility. For one thing, homophobia is stronger against gay men than against lesbians. This makes it it possible for more gay and bisexual women to be open about their desires. It also means that women who are not attracted to other women are sometimes willing to engage in female-female intimacy, for the sake of college experimentation, or - sorry - to please a man. Oh, so the other thing: men - straight, bi, gay - are viewed as having the right to demand partners to whom they're sexually attracted, whereas women are not. If a woman can't demand a hot guy, perhaps she can't demand a guy, period.

Both of these tell us much about pragmatic discrepancy discussed in this somewhat racier (text, but NSFW) Savage Love post about straight couples on the prowl. Savage always presents this scenario as though more straight couples with this hobby unanimously 'prefer' picking up a woman to picking up a man. When it would seem that with straight couples, the man would prefer a woman, the woman a man. Some combination of male uneasiness with male homosexuality and female socialization to be agreeable makes one version of this infinitely more plausible.

And it's not just uneasiness coming from men - a man isn't going to fear that a woman being OK with (or even enthusiastic about) the one scenario is a lesbian, while a woman will totally assume that, if her dude so much as grudgingly agrees to the corresponding scenario, he's about to flee to Chelsea and do crazy things like buy new socks when the old ones fall apart. It's as good as inconceivable that dude would go along with the extra-dude out of the very heterosexual desire to please a woman, because women are presumed to be passive in straight relationships. Anything that occurs, occurs because the man wants it to, so if this occurs, next stop is the proverbial sock store.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

But who Irons his shirts?

Just as the daughters of famous people are invariably classified as "models," so it goes with the sons. A failure in the fight against nepotism is a victory in the battle to celebrate male beauty. Or something. Meet Jeremy Irons's son. Jeremy Irons he's not, although he'd probably have a broader appeal. Now we know what skin products he uses, and (could they have driven this point home any more thoroughly?) that he's straight. I can't decide if we should consider this sort of thing progress.

"Can you name this NASCAR champion?"

Gawker points us to a Charles Murray (-inspired?) quiz that, in 20 questions, tells you how Real American you are, a kind of conserva-rants twist on Bourdieu. The questions are tilted so as not to take into account wealth or income (and as I've asked on WWPD on multiple occasions, if you're not mining your cultural capital for some tangible benefit, what good is it doing you? potential energy of sorts, in the form of brie.). They're about consumption in such a way that if your answer isn't 'not iceberg, arugula,' but 'no lettuce at all, Fritos,' you count as a Fancy American, because you think you're too good for iceberg.

But behold, because this was an easy-to-produce blog-post, my results:

1) Have you ever worked on a factory floor?

No. It would seem the better question would be whether, in an earlier generation, this is a job you might have had, but now you're unemployed/underemployed. Isn't one of the issues the country is facing that these jobs have gone overseas? My father worked on one for I believe exactly one day, and I can think of one honest-to-goodness current factory worker in my somewhat-extended family. But as with all such jobs, there's a difference between having done X as a young person, and doing X as an adult. Which brings us to...

2) Have you ever held a job that caused a part of your body to hurt at the end of the day?

I know, The Fancies are meant to answer "no" to this. But, yes.

3) Have you seen last year's mega-hit movie, "Transformers: Dark of the Moon"?

No - I only watch art films at the local cinema. Actually, I could recite the plot of maybe 30 different episodes of "Two and a Half Men," and keep checking Hulu for the latest "The Millionaire Matchmaker," but don't like going to the movies, mainstream or otherwise, because of the whole popcorn thing.

4) Can you name this NASCAR champion?

Of course not, I'm from New York. Once, in Arizona, for of all things an academic conference about French history, I was assumed to be a Nascar fan, which might count for something. (Whiteness, presumably.)

5) In the past five years, have you been fishing or hunting?

If this were an "ever" there'd be a yes re: fishing. I have, however, gone jogging and walked a miniature poodle many times recently through areas marked "No hunting," and aside from academic housing everything around here is mansions, which suggests that The Fancies do, in fact, hunt. But the answer here, for me, is no.

6) Do you have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian?

Does having a good friend who grew up evangelical count? Of course it doesn't. Next!

7) During the past year, have you stocked your own fridge with domestic mass-market beer?

Hipsters have, Mormons and Muslims haven't. I win the pretentious Ashkenazi award for having stocked my fridge with exactly six Belgian beers shortly after moving in, and either five or all six are still in there. What we do use is our SodaStream. I give up, I've failed already. But, but, I'm a well-educated Fancy! I can't fail a test!

8) Do you now have a close friend with whom you have strong and wide-ranging political disagreement?

Yeah, probably, although this depends how "close" and how "wide-ranging" we're talking. I went to UChicago, with the libertarians, and since high school, I've been the token "Republican" (center-left Democrat) in leftier social sets. But if your answer on this one amounts to 'I'm a nerdy contrarian who likes to argue about ideas,' going by the essence of what Murray is asking, you have to put "no."

9) Have you eaten at an Applebee's, TGI Friday's, or Outback Steakhouse in the past year?

Gosh. Have I eaten in a restaurant in the last year? Year, OK, yes, but last several months? I live in the woods. We cook at home. It's incredibly elitist and sophisticated, especially on the nights frozen tortellini is involved.

10) Have you or your spouse ever bought a pickup truck?

Similar answer to the one above. Neither of us has ever bought a car. Whether this makes us fancy or cheap is another question.

11) Have you ever attended a Kiwanis or Rotary Club meeting, or a gathering at a union local?

No, but I've been to some lovely events at the 92nd Street Y, such as the talk by BHL.

12) Have you ever participated in a parade that did not involve global warming, gay rights, or a war protest?

Does an Israel Day Parade count? I think I was in one with my Hebrew school class as a kid.

13) Since leaving school, have you worn a uniform as part of your job?

The post-college coffee-making stint required a special shirt with the name of the establishment (catering, as it did, more to yuppies than hipsters), so this would be a yes. But what's this "since leaving school"? I haven't left school.

14) Have you ever ridden on a Greyhound or Trailways bus?

Bolt Bus? Megabus? I also suspect I was on buses as a kid, and have no recollection of which company ran them. So let's give this answer as, 'no, I was chauffeured across the country by Niles the butler.'

15) Did you ever watch an "Oprah" show all the way through?

This is a ridiculous question, as anyone who's ever been home sick, and with a TV connection, can answer "yes, an 'Oprah' marathon." Although I do remember that this was on when I got home from school, and that 10th grade was not my most productive year. I feel as though I'd get better Realness points for admitting the amount of "Designing Women" I consumed in those days, even if that show did have a vaguely Democratic tinge. But we're going to have to go with, "yes."

16) Did you or your spouse ever serve in the armed forces?

OK, Charles Murray, I give up. My husband is from socialist, good-bread-having, nicely-dressed-man-producing Western Europe. He did not serve in the Belgian army, and I'm not even entirely sure if there is a Belgian army. As for me, I seriously considering the IDF and somehow ending up in French grad school. Not only no points here. Negative points here. Minus five.

17) Did you grow up in a family in which the chief breadwinner was not in a managerial position or high-prestige occupation (defined as dentist, physician, architect, attorney, engineer, scientist, or college professor)?

Nope. I bet this question comes as a relief to those whose childhood bread was won at places like Vogue or Chanel. Not that these families eat carbs.

18) Have you ever lived for at least a year as an adult in an American neighborhood in which the majority of your nearest 50 neighbors probably did not have college degrees?

I have no idea. Probably? Prospect Heights, 2005-2007? Currently, my nearest 50 neighbors are super-elite scientists and their families. There's probably no pocket of 50 people in the country more highly-educated than this locale. My ABD status is mildly shameful. Need I go on to Question 19?

19) Have you ever had a close friend who could seldom get better than Cs in high school even if he or she tried hard?

How would any adult possibly know this about friends met after high school? I know that as a teacher, I'm never sure whether a C student - or any student, for that matter - is trying hard, because I can't know what goes on once they leave the class. If this is a question about whether you yourself went to a public high school, why was it phrased in this roundabout way? I suspect my answer is yes, because I did go to a school that was totally OK with giving low grades, and I had friends across the academic spectrum. But even if this is technically "yes," going by the spirit of what I think Murray is asking, it's a "no."

20) During the last month, have you voluntarily hung out with people who were smoking cigarettes?

See Question 7, about domestic beer. This is about age so much that the class element makes no sense unless one controls for age. In any college or recent-grad setting, however elite, lots of people smoke. With a bunch of well-educated 40-year-olds, not as much. During the last month, I haven't much "hung out," what with the whole cloistered thing, so this hasn't come up. So I must once again give the Fancy answer: no.


What this amounts to is, as with other "Real America" diversions, a lumping-together of a variety of people who don't really have anything particular in common, other than not being (a public intellectual or politician's fantasy of) a white, working-class, evangelical Midwesterner - truly wealthy sorts in liberal enclaves; PhDs raising families in West Virginia because that's where there was an academic job; anyone of any economic class/education level from the Northeast; anyone who isn't white. Oh wait, these people all tend to vote Democrat. But wouldn't it be nifty to construct this category such that anyone who falls into it counts as an "elite"? And isn't it convenient that super-WASPy old-timey Republican sorts may grow up on Park Ave., but have the exposure to good ol' country living that comes with having a second home (or fifth!) and thus know all about hunting and Walmart?