Thursday, February 28, 2013

"'Another gem'" UPDATED

Do your teach (at any level)? Do your friends teach? If so, half of your Facebook feed probably consists of anecdotes from class, cute snippets of kids' assignments, and examples of the more entitled emails sent by college students. The students in question are rarely (never, in my experience) named or readily identifiable, but it always struck me as iffy to share this type of info at all. On the one hand, the stories can be comforting to fellow teachers, the threads useful forums for advice, and yes, all of it can be immensely entertaining. On the other, students will find it. If you're in the class, certainly if you're the kid in question, you'll know.

So my inclination had always been to keep this sort of thing (and anything even quasi-confidential - I don't understand or trust the privacy settings, making me something of a paranoid curmudgeon, but anyway) offline. And then official policy in my department became that one could not share such stuff on Facebook, which struck me as reasonable. Everyone's qualms are different (and mine, given my feelings on parental overshare, are probably higher than most), so it's best if institutions have a policy.

On that note: An admissions officer at Penn just lost her job, seemingly over having made fun of parts of applicants' essays on Facebook. It's unclear what Penn's policy/her division's policy was on this, but it seems like the employee may not have seen these excerpts as breaching confidentiality, if the kids' names were not provided, and if the kids were not really identifiable. As much as I see this as problematic, it's not obvious everyone would (again, given the ample Facebook-newsfeed evidence), so yes, there need to be policies, clear ones, because common sense doesn't cover it.


And now, the second Facebook professional overshare of the day, this one also, strangely, related to circumcision. Lest you think discussion of male genitalia and its surgical modification is some facet of our modern TMI society, let me just say that a lot of the 19th C material I've had to go through for my dissertation involves matter-of-fact references to men getting circumcised, or references to them being or not being thus. To be circumcised (in this context) meant to be Jewish; when a non-Jewish man became Jewish, what would have to happen was not necessarily just alluded to.

Monday, February 25, 2013

I had one more beauty-post in me yet!

-Autumn is back at The Beheld, I'm back just at WWPD. That was an exciting guest-blogging stint, and I'm so grateful to Autumn for the opportunity. And she's spot-on to bring up the "Girls" beauty-disparity kerfuffle. I didn't, on account of I'm still getting through Season 1, but I haven't been avoiding spoilers, and this was absolutely the beauty story of the moment.

-Sometimes a middle-aged man approaches a very young (13, maybe 14-year-old) girl to photograph her:

I first met [him] when I was in, like, 8th grade, and it was my first year at Coachella. I was just walking around with my friend and her older sister. Usually there are a bunch of photographers there always pulling people aside for fashion blogs or something— they’re always taking pictures. And I guess there was this photographer that pulled me over and he was like, ‘Oh, can I take a couple pictures of you?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, sure, why not?’ And after he gave me a card and walked away [...]
Adorbs! Not creepy, like the male street attention plain-looking middle-school girls such as myself received on a constant basis at that age. Because, you see, this was fashion, and the middle-aged dude in question was a famous fashion designer. This woman - sorry, girl, she's now 17 - is not underage. She's art.

-A final thought on women-and-male-beauty, before I retreat back into other projects entirely unrelated to this admittedly compelling topic: I agreed to let the Huffington Post reprint my already-controversial "too brilliant to bathe" post... realizing, as I did, that that post only really made sense in conjunction with my earlier post on male beauty. I hadn't wanted to repeat myself, but for things to work as stand-alone documents, sometimes doing so is useful. And... writing these posts, and reading the (coherent) responses, has left me with a more precise sense of what it is, exactly, that I'm arguing.

So. When I say that male looks should/do matter to women, what I mean is not that men had better race over to the gym. Nor do I think the problem is one of 'leagues' - that is, of women dating men obviously less attractive than they are, as in others would be able to see it. As a rule (and Autumn's post I link to above also discusses this), people tend to pair off long-term with those similar to themselves. Supermodels with supermodels, and so on down. Ordinary-looking men who believe they're entitled to supermodels are rightly mocked, as are conventionally-bad-looking/badly-groomed men who contend that on account of being "nice guys," they're owed attention from pretty girls-next-door.

But! We tend to respect that men will only be with women who appeal to them physically, and that most men will be attracted to a certain number of the women within their own 'league.' As one commenter at the Huffington Post expressed it (and I'd anticipated this argument at The Beheld), there's this sense that for relations to be physically possible, a man needs to find a woman attractive, but not vice versa. (This commenter helpfully explained to me the mechanics of heterosexual intercourse, thereby ending that mystery. Thanks guy!) That friction and imagination can make things possible ... this is I guess not immediately obvious. Regardless, whether considered in graphic or abstract terms, there is a popular belief that men need to be physically attracted to their partners, but that women have the capacity to come around. That female sexuality is basically about being looked at, so if the person admiring you does nothing for you, admired is admired, and that's good enough. (To those inclined to be skeptical of such assertions-of-the-obvious, Google "men are visual.")

There are a great many benefits to acknowledging that male looks matter. Most obviously, the joy of being with someone one is attracted to is substantial, even if contrarians will point out that not everyone cares about this, that some people are asexual, etc., etc. Oh, and one can also add that perhaps men themselves want to hear they're attractive. As it stands, men benefit from rarely being judged entirely on their looks, but the vast majority of men who are not perfume-ad models may be interested to hear that they're gorgeous to someone. This isn't about the what-goes-around-comes-around revenge of women judging men negatively. It's mostly about women judging men positively. But yes, some acknowledgement that women are looking, too, would probably involve a little more grooming-type effort on the part of men. Ideally not 24/7 effort of the sort unfortunately demanded of women, although moisturizer-marketing aside, I don't believe that's imminent.

But there are less-obvious benefits as well. Specifically, the rom-com/pick-up-artist notion that any man can persuade any woman to get involved with him romantically rests on the idea that no 'no' is ever definitive. The reason women tend not to pursue men in this way is in part that women assume 'no' means this man is not physically attracted and won't come around, or even if he did, who'd want to be with someone who didn't find her beautiful? If men understood that women, too, divide the world into physically-appealing-enough-to-be-a-possibility and no-thanks - and if women, meanwhile, refused to go on 'he's a nice guy' dates, or to go through the charade of not being physically attracted to guys they are physically attracted to, as though this would be some radical gender-role reversal and would amount to coming on to strong - then this might put a dent in the kind of quasi-creepy pursuit many women must contend with.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Bringing glamor to the woods

Below, three recent or recent-ish things I bought but did not need:

-Galaxy-print leggings. At long last! And $20! Which might seem like a lot for what are effectively multicolored tights, but I promise, it's a great deal for this sort of thing, if it's what you're set on. Which, as you all know, I have been since forever. But not quite enough to send off for the pricey version from Australia.

-Neon-pink lipstick. A more recent and somewhat less challenging to track down wanty. (Didn't exist at Sephora, which was ultimately for the best, as MAC is ever so slightly cheaper than those brands.) I was mostly inspired by this Sartorialist photo - a bright-pink lip, a bit of blush, and (contrary to my usual approach) mascara (or nothing) rather than eyeliner. It just seemed like, yes, this is the look. The bare-face-bright-lip combo is one that usually seems better in theory (or looks better on someone else), but this seemed like a pared-down, everyday version that does not require the wearer to be a stunning Lithuanian, while at the same time, a bit more out-there and unexpected than a basic red. To be determined - haven't actually tried it on yet. If it makes me look either stunning or Lithuanian, you, WWPD readers, will be the first to hear about it.

-Iridescent-glitter nail polish. The best of these is apparently a discontinued Chanel, but such is life. It's fabulous and holographic in the right light, but like all glitter polishes, refuses to ever entirely come off. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

"Bitches be crazy"

A while ago, I mentioned that Simon Rich had written one heck of a misogynistic humor essay for the New Yorker. The well-known problem with misogyny intended as humor is that there's no way to call it out without learning that one is a humorless feminist for not laughing along. More on that in a moment. In any case, I'd kind of forgotten about this, until I was out walking Bisou, listening to this week's live-taped Savage Lovecast. Special guest, Simon Rich. Reading one of the stories from his new collection. And which one? The very same one as had been in the magazine, the one about God having a girlfriend. She works in fashion, she's gossipy, needy, diet-crazed, and doesn't like it when he works late at his job, which is creating the world in six days, and thus kind of a big deal. But she's all, why don't you spend more time with meeeee, because that's how the ladies get, y'know? A stale set-up, with an original conceit. But because that's how it goes when one walks a dog in the middle of nowhere, I kept listening.

Anyway, re: laughing along, I probably did some of that, but I'm fully capable of laughing if put in front of an old episode of "Two and a Half Men." The bad-sitcom chuckle. Put me on an airplane and the bar drops lower still. Because of this character flaw, I can laugh at a joke about how women enjoy "lo-cal yogurt," just not in the same way as I laughed when Sarah Haskins mocked the yogurt-as-woman-feed phenomenon.

(This is all of it a separate phenomenon from appreciating great art that happens to have been created by a bigot, or that expresses bigoted views, an issue that itself needs to be divided between an understanding that everyone from back-in-the-day would fail at modern-day political correctness and a possibly different standard for that which is contemporary/recent. Rich is obviously talented, but this is not the kind of literature where that sort of thing applies. Contemporary literature where you are compelled to at least temporarily overlook bigotry, to me, means some kind of new insights or style or something. I could go on, but will save that line of going-on for my dissertation.)

This was my typically longwinded way of saying that there was that story, on a podcast ostensibly about being at the cutting edge of gender-and-sexuality awareness. Which seemed just odd. A term like 'heteronormative' doesn't even begin to describe the piece. And yet, not odd - very much of a piece with Savage's frequent portrayal of women as prim or naive killjoys. Savage reacted to the story/essay thing by asking Rich if, after reading this story (part of an anthology dedicated to said girlfriend), the author's girlfriend still performs oral sex on him. (Savage-speak for, 'she hasn't left you yet?') As in, Savage got that it was insulting, but what he did with that knowledge perhaps wasn't so helpful.

The podcast also included the usual advice component, and near the end, there was a question from a woman who knew she was a lesbian but wanted a second kid, and wondered if it was OK to stick around with her husband and only come out after having said child. Easy answer: no. But Savage answered instead with some enthusiastic, "Bitches be crazy," adding that when "bitches" want a baby, they're crazier still.

Here, I'm afraid my ridiculously low bar for finding something bad-sitcom amusing wasn't even met. I may have cringed slightly on account of Savage's painful attempt at sounding young and hip (even if he was possibly riffing off a Stephen Colbert routine?), or his ironic pose as a straight-guy misogynist, which we of course know is hilarious because Savage is gay and enlightened and does so much good (and he does!). Was it supposed to be OK within the context of a live performance that included a female dominatrix demonstrating something that must have made more sense not in podcast form? Whatever it was about, the "bitches be crazy" ending was just gross. But yes, it fit with the choice to have Rich read "Center of the Universe."

More thoughts on what this all means soon, perhaps, when the haze of the head-cold lifts, or bring yours to the comments.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Recent scientific findings

-Underage drinkers enjoy beer.

-Otherwise lovely women were horrible people in middle school.

-Ballerinas are pretty.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The case against "too-brilliant-to-bathe"

My guest-post at The Beheld on "too brilliant to bathe" was far more controversial than I'd imagined it would be, which is to say I did not imagine it would be controversial in the least. The following issues have appeared in the comments. I've responded there as well, but because TBTB is one of the persistent motifs here at WWPD, I figured a roundup might be of interest.

 -What about race? Is TBTB just for white men? (One commenter asks, another, at the post's other location, assumes I assume this.) If I'd ignored race, it was because when one bases one's observations on anecdotal evidence, one tends to focus on what has occurred in one's own experience, and in my experience, TBTB is definitively male but not definitively white. The examples I have in mind when I think of TBTB are not exclusively white. But there's a childhood version of this where a kid who's a mess at school is taken for a genius, and lo and behold the kid in question is, I suspect, probably most often a white boy. So, sure, race enters into it.

 -TBTB doesn't actually exist, because in the fields where genius clusters (French Studies is sadly not named), all that matters is your ideas. Here, I'd respond (and did respond) by saying that there's on the one hand a situation (a utopia?) in which appearance really doesn't matter, and on the other a reality of certain fields celebrating the shabby. While this doesn't necessarily exclude shabby-looking women (although there is pressure on them as women, if not as scientists/mathematicians/philosophers not to look shabby, so there's a problem stemming from this), it does exclude women on the whole, or girls, really, who will perceive 'field X encourages the wearing of rags' to mean 'field X discourages women.' It's one thing if being a successful genius female mathematician doesn't require tasteful pink nail polish, which is lovely and liberating for women who'd rather not be bothered, but another entirely if women who feel most comfortable wearing the stuff are not taken seriously if they do.

 -What about the unfairness of having to bathe for both sexes? My feeling is, if I may summarize, that we-as-a-society are too focused on the prettiness of women, but insufficiently focused on the prettiness of men. While beauty is subjective, hygiene and presentability are far less so. A bit of effort is a nice gesture. A requirement of 24/7 effort, oppressive.

Overall, though, the weakness of my TBTB hypothesis (allow me to argue against myself) does indeed come from the fact that beauty is subjective. If we see a bunch of self-styled shabby-genius men, not all of whom are wealthy, with women who just happen to be conventionally attractive and reasonably intelligent, who's to say these women aren't with these men for their looks? Just because wouldn't be drawn to the ogre look doesn't mean some young woman who's a dead-ringer for a young Brooke Shields is not. Maybe the problem is that men care about what others think re: their partners' looks, and would actually be attracted to TBTB women if only this were socially acceptable. Maybe this isn't at all about male entitlement, but is actually oppression of men. Who on earth knows. This is why, as long as TBTB rests on casual observation, it will never be an entirely convincing case.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Manhattan: because I'd never make it as a farmer

-New Brooklyn continues to represent aspirational farming by non-ethnic white people. On that front, we have Swedish Brooklyn obsession, and the expansion of already-suburban New Brooklyn to actual suburbs. (Brooklyn, in case you were concerned, has yet to reach Princeton. Although we are getting a farm-to-table restaurant, and already have a cheerily Park Slope-ish coffee shop.)

-Yesterday, in the tragically non-hip borough of Manhattan, a really long-standing wanty was achieved: galaxy-print leggings. These, I believe, so $20, and the price had thus far been the obstacle. The price I paid, however, was that these leggings were being sold in a store on lower Broadway that I'd have never entered had I not seen them in the window. A store for tween girls and/or club kids, the overlap's substantial. The overlap with what I wear, not so substantial, and limited, I suspect, to these particular leggings. In any case, there were several dressing rooms, each of which contained a clown-car's worth of the popular girls at that age, accompanied by a really enthusiastic mom of one or more of them, who kept bringing her daughter/all the girls more stuff to try on, seemingly unsolicited. It appeared they'd come into the city for this, and had unofficially rented the store for a coming-of-age celebration of some kind. I couldn't decide if the problem was that they were taking forever or if it was that I was shopping at a store whose shopping bag bears the slogan, "Girls Only." But the leggings themselves (to be worn as tights, thank-you-very-much) are spectacular.

-Soba-ya continues to be the center of the universe. Not only because for $14, you can get a "mini" lunch special that's a sashimi bowl, a bowl of handmade-soba-noodle soup (neither "mini"), and various extras (or, for less $, a more sensible amount of food), and it will be all of it amazing, two of the best lunches you've ever eaten, and for the price of a hamburger in Princeton, but also because there, eating alone at the counter with book-and-phone, as I sometimes would to treat myself after an especially long week, was a punk legend/literary sensation.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Today in judge-a-woman

I kind of loved Liz McDaniel's account of working as a temp at a bridal mag, just after being dumped by a fiancé. A darkly amusing premise, and well-told. It's a great first-person account, in part because the secrets of everyone but the author are left out. We know a dude left her, but not who he is, nor why things ended. If there's mockery, it's very much directed inward.

The NYT commenters, on the other hand, are up in arms. First off, why is this in the paper of record? (Why, I want to know, do opponents of lifestyle articles keep acting as though the one they've just arrived at is the paper's very first piece on something other than Mideast strife?) Then there are those who simply can't handle that a woman wouldn't express ambivalence (fauxbivalence) at the very idea of a wedding in the first place. This, eh. Just because this wouldn't be for you (and it wasn't for me, either - I got married at City Hall, in a short, white-ish dress from a non-bridal department store) doesn't mean anyone it is for doesn't deserve happiness. The author appears to be from the South. I don't know much about the South, but it is my understanding (correct me if I'm wrong) that elaborate, "traditional" weddings just might be a bigger deal in South Carolina than among the Zabars set.

But then there are the really judgmental commenters, who accuse McDaniel of caring about the wedding, not the marriage. There's even this insinuation that she had it coming, getting dumped. A reiteration of the tired trope that a woman must show her worthiness of marriage by proving her utter indifference to the institution, especially to its trappings.

As for her not discussing the marriage,  it never happened, did it? We might assume that the author was very deeply mourning what must have been quite a close relationship, but maybe did not want to share the details of that with the paper. (As we know from Dan Savage, or common sense, the reason may have been very personal.) And what this job was reminding her of would not have been her ex's quirks, but the trappings of the wedding that never was. The details are there not to show that the author fetishized The Wedding, but because they show just how planned everything was, just how late in the game she got dumped. How is this not poignant? Do we need to translate this to something a hipper reader would understand? Like, imagine if she got dumped, and then a piece of bubble wrap reminded her of the dress she'd planned on crafting for herself for the casual backyard wedding she was going to have, that was going to be catered by the local taco place. Wouldn't that have counted?

Thursday, February 14, 2013


I think Instapundit did a close reading of my post about unpaid internships.


Because the topic has interested me for so long, after writing about gender and unpaid internships for a wider audience, I did take a close-ish look at the comments, and have reflected on some of them here. Not, this time around, to apologize for having dared say my piece before a mass audience. I'm getting used to the scale of this, but am curious to see others' reactions. I haven't quite kept up with all of them, but there is one point I believe must be addressed:

Many feel that I missed the big picture, namely that unpaid internships are unfair to those from poorer families. (That they're often illegal fails to compel, because then you'll get libertarian sorts arguing that if these arrangements are voluntary, it's the law that's the problem.) While the general unfairness of life for those from poorer families is a point worth repeating, this is not the strongest case against unpaid internships. Against the ridiculous cost of going to college, yes - that very much is the rich getting richer, given that it still helps to go to college (and then some) to get a job, given the difference between graduating with and without debt. Against unpaid internships, no.

So it's not that I forgot to mention this, or that I don't think poor kids getting screwed over is an important social-justice issue. Indeed, as I say in the post, these internships are not of much use in helping you get a job. I'm not convinced that unpaid internships are this great destroyer of social mobility. Social mobility's lousy for other reasons.

Are they needed to break into specific high-influence fields? (This post is in part a longer response to Caryatis's comment here.) They're certainly perceived of in that way, and obviously there are individuals who believe that the connections they made and skills they learned at unpaid internships got them a paying job in their desired area. It obviously sucks to feel that you're missing out on an opportunity, even if in truth, employers only care about proper work experience, and may even prefer candidates who had real builds-character jobs. (I don't believe I've personally been held back by not having ever had an unpaid internship, but who knows - maybe if I'd had one I'd now control the media.) But I think we forget - and this I also mention - that many who had a chic internship and then got a chic job had connections in the first place. I'd like to see (or do?) some research on how many paying entry-level jobs in journalism/publishing/etc. go to ex-unpaid-interns, on how many people with positions of power at these orgs started as unpaid interns.

But also, compensation for work is not something one is only owed if one would be out on the street without it. That's the housewife connection. The gender angle. It's wrong to not pay a female employee, or not pay her properly, because she's got a husband who earns enough for the family. It's extra-wrong not to pay a female employee because she might not need to work to eat, and this is just being assumed on account of she's female, and lo and behold, she's not even married in the first place, or she is and her husband is an aspiring basket-weaver. But once paying women less/nothing becomes the norm, it becomes more difficult for any woman to get paid properly for her work.

What's bizarre is that this continues, only now the assumption is more that the parents/loans of a young woman will foot the bill. And... this does end up screwing over those who don't have some other source of cash. But it's not all fun and games for those who are working unpaid and still able to eat. Being channeled into a path where economic self-sufficiency always seems within reach, but never is, isn't a fluffy non-problem, even if there's a roof over your head, even if you're living in splendor. It's this odd quasi-intersectionality, a branch of misogyny that's about hating "rich girls," but that extends to girls, women, who aren't even rich.

Happy Valentine's Day?

-Do you have an engagement ring? Madeleine Davies of Jezebel probably hates you, but you may be an exception, or maybe your ring isn't as big as all that. Cue the responses: Suggestions that Davies must be jealous of women whose hands sparkle. Proud announcements that one's own ring is ethical, an heirloom, a crusty ponytail band. One really amazing complaint from a woman who unselfconsciously complains that her (ethical, she assures) ring is too big and unwieldy.

-Did you change your name when you got married? Jessica Grose of Slate did, except you may remember her as Jessica Grose - she still uses her maiden name professionally. She has invited you to use the Slate comments to tell her why she's a disgrace to feminism. (See also: why, the larger the audience I'm writing for, the less I say about myself. For any audience, I'm careful only to reveal what I'd be fine with the whole world knowing, and yes, that includes Facebook, but I'm reluctant to actively solicit comments on my life choices from quite so many strangers. If that distinction makes sense.)

-Are you a man? Do you ever approach women with romantic intent? Freddie asked for my opinion on a short film about a man pursuing a woman, and on the issues it brings up. And... I watched it, but it didn't make me think 'street harassment.' If anything, what was off-putting was that the man was entirely active, the woman entirely passive. Definitely interested, but exclusively the pursued. What Freddie writes here, and I'd emphasize that last bit, seems reasonable:

For me, it seems as though the current reality of street harassment, the culture of rape, and assumed privilege of heterosexual men to approach any women makes it clear that we need to be far more careful about approaching strangers, and to require far more in the way of demonstrations of attraction before we decide to talk to women we don't know, particularly when they're alone. Perhaps that means that women who are interested in being approached will have to be somewhat more demonstrative of that in this future culture.
I'd go further and say that we'd need to come around to the idea of women not just announcing approachability, but also approaching men. It's what I was getting at here - it's somehow both unacceptable for men to pursue women (creepy!) and for women to pursue men (desperate!) If he liked you, you'd know! Except if he let you know, he'd be sketchy! How does anyone ever get together? (Alcohol?)

In all seriousness, it simply doesn't work to have a culture of men not inadvertently bothering women who aren't interested in them and one of women playing "The Rules"-esque games. (Rape is another story, and is of course inexcusable regardless of game-playing or lack thereof. Same with stalking, harassment, etc. I'm talking about interest clumsily expressed, obliviousness, things of that nature.) As it stands, there's so much pressure on women to seem indifferent to the men they like that it no doubt can be confusing for men to know when a woman is interested. The whole hard-to-get thing is so ingrained that a woman's complete and utter lack of interest can be interpreted by an optimistic dude as an elaborate mating dance.

Let me repeat: this is not about women asking to be harassed. That's not it at all. It's about how the expectation of female passivity - the expectation that a woman will never actively want anything - is incompatible with it being abundantly clear when a woman isn't interested in a man, so that the flirtation or asking-out or whatever can come to a halt. And if it were more socially-acceptable for women to pursue, a man not keen on expressing unreciprocated interest would have the option of only ever accepting others' invitations.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Bitter baristas, disgraced designers, and unpaid interns

-There exists a blog entirely made up of the nasty thoughts a barista (well, ex-barista) has about his customers (seemingly written in real time). Even the customers who do seemingly innocuous things like order decaf or soy milk. It's not as clever as it could be, but if you're someone who appreciates being judged unfavorably by the person making your cappuccino, you'll get a kick out of it.

-Galliano-the-Hasid-gate. This is so my beat, but I'm late to it, and have nothing to add other than that it sure is something that Galliano dresses like a Hasidic Jew, and that Abe Foxman has no idea what he's talking about.

-Oh, and then this just happened! My thing about gender and unpaid internships is out there for all to see.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The wedding not dreamed of since one was a little girl

On today's Savage Lovecast, Dan advises a mother (who's anonymous - this is not a post about parental-overshare) who thinks her 11-year-old daughter might be a lesbian. In the course of their conversation, Dan decides that the girl is a lesbian, and there's this neat aha moment where the expert convinces the parent of the truth right before her eyes. And... while I'm totally on board with Dan's advice on how to raise children who might or might not be gay (i.e. all children) to feel as though either is great, I'm not at all convinced that this girl is gay. For one thing, there's no mention whatsoever of the girl being interested in other girls, which, if there were, would be something of a giveaway. Why, then, do we think she's gay?

-She has announced she doesn't want to marry or have kids.
-She's closer with her father.
-She's bullied for something (unclear what precisely), but is the "queen" of the mostly-male alternative crowd.
-She's sarcastic.

She is, in other words, a Daria. A Liz Lemon. A brain rather than a princess. What I'm getting at is, when a boy shuns conventional masculinity, this might tell us more about his burgeoning identity than when a girl shuns conventional femininity, because much of conventional femininity is kind of unappealing to anyone with half a brain. She might turn out to be a lesbian, and it's great that her mother wants to be prepared should that be the case, but the odds are against.

As the owner of exactly half a brain, this has, at any rate, been my experience. Frilly clothes, squealing enthusiastically or being passive, 'just a salad for me', who needs all that? And I say this as someone who was never a tomboy. Just not a girly-girl. I mean, I'm not not sarcastic (heh), and boots like these (and not those dreadful Louboutins) are at the tippy-top of my curent wanty list, but... yeah.

(You can read more of my musings on male beauty here or here - how's that for discreetly-segued self-promotion?)

But back to this eleven-year-old. She doesn't want to marry or have kids - this is Exhibit A? In our culture, there is this huge pressure on girls to dream of adult female "desire" (i.e. for a husband, kids, a well-decorated home), to act out wedding scenarios, so that as adults, they can go on "Say Yes to the Dress" and talk about the wedding they've dreamed of since they were a little girl, and how if this one dress has an empire waist but not a sweetheart neckline, the dream shall never come true. Well, not all women who grow up and happily marry a man were the kind of girls who dreamed of weddings.

Indeed, the trappings and scripts of conventional female heterosexuality can be repellent not just to women who like women, but also to women who do quite straightforwardly like men, who will be expected to want not a man, but My Big Day. (This totally came up on the Lena Dunham "Fresh Air" interview that I listened to on the previous poodle outing.) It can all seem like a mockery of what one is experiencing, thus - as I've said approximately 10,000 times on WWPD, why many straight women claim, half-joking, to be gay men trapped in women's bodies.

Or, the short version: there are so many reasons a girl of eleven might find womanhood and what it seems to entail off-putting that have nothing to do with being on the LGBTQ spectrum that this seems a bit of a leap, in a way that it might not if the parent of an eleven-year-old boy came to the equivalent conclusion.

Monday, February 11, 2013

On avocados, elsewhere

Autumn Whitefield-Madrano has kindly invited me to guest-blog at "The Beheld" (here and here) this week and next. WWPD is, as you know, all over the place thematically, but expect my posts over there to be more strictly centered around themes of beauty and feminism. My first post is about Gwyneth Paltrow's fears of avocado over-consumption.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

14, 29

Tonight, Rufus Wainwright himself graced us, the rural 'burbs next to the famous university, with his presence. There was a very elderly crowd, which was not quite what I expected for a Rufus concert, but exactly what I expected for the venue. The evening began with a previously unannounced Wainwright sister who wasn't Martha, who Wikipedia tells me* attended the same high school and college as Lena Dunham. She first played a song, then introduced herself, and yeah, perhaps the word "nepotism" came to mind (as did the possibility that there are an infinite supply of musical Wainwrights), but she was actually quite good. She made it abundantly clear that she was well aware no one had come to see her, that everyone wanted Rufus or at the very least the sister they had heard of, whose talent had already been verified. And this kind of dragged on, with songs broken up by questions getting solicited from the audience. And the audience for the most part didn't have any, although this one guy wanted to know what her favorite Rufus song was, and then her second-favorite. She promised Rufus was imminent.

And then, Rufus! In a velvet-looking blazer, with a huge, vaguely holographic brooch, a massive scarf that was more winter-wear than accent piece, and what I believe were hiking boots. Appropriate for the terrain, I should know. His hair was short, but, like, Rufus-short, so still scruffy.

Oh, and there was music as well. He sang a bunch of songs at the piano and guitar, complained about a cold sore, forgot much of his own oeuvre mid-performance, seemed at various points on the cusp of a nervous breakdown, complained in possibly offensive terms that "Gangnam Style" was the reason his latest album never hit it big (which, fan as I am of "Out of the Game," no), and then made like he was done when he wasn't really done, as is done.

He then returned, in much stronger form, and "The Art Teacher," sigh. A song about male beauty, sung from the perspective of a woman, but by a gay man. I will spare you the 10,000 words I could toss off on that and just say that it's a lovely song. (Also "April Fools" - hearing it will always make me feel 14-ish, which is all the stranger a feeling the older one gets.) "Going to a Town" felt oddly out-of-date, very much a song of the Bush II presidency, certainly not of second-term Obama, but he sure performed it well. And "Hallelujah," a little treat for the not-as-Rufus-enamored in the audience.

And, Rufus will always be Rufus. Even if he's forgotten his own songs. Rufus is early high school, and as Jennifer Senior told us, that time stays with us forever.

*Also from the Wikipedia sink-hole: Loudon, and thus Rufus as well, are descended from Peter Stuyvesant. My mind is blown. Suddenly, everything makes sense.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013


Slate has a story from a man who's a stay-at-home husband. Not dad, just husband. His now-wife got her PhD and (it can happen! though I wonder in what field, but could not find out in the requisite ten seconds of Googling so, so much for that) got a high-paid job elsewhere, so he came with, and kind of fell into house-husband-ness.

And, the response from commenters is... not so positive. Either dude is looking to be dumped (because every woman needs a man at least as ambitious as she is), or he's living the dream (which must also involve pot and video games), or he's simply not a man, or he's unemployed and pretending like there's more to it. Or - alas - he's taken to task for not devoting himself to charity. (We don't know that he doesn't volunteer, but it's not in the article.)

As for me, I think it's great. There are super-driven women, and things will go far more smoothly if there are male partners-of-women prepared to be the less ambitious party, rather than if every ambitious woman demands a still more professionally successful man. Granted, for income as well as sanity, less-ambitious partners-of-both-sexes are generally going to have some kind of job outside the home (which might well be from home, which is something else). We've reached a day and age in which it's considered bizarre for a woman to not work on account of being married, unless there are kids. But arrangements like these basically need to happen for women to have better representation in any number of fields, particularly those requiring frequent relocation. If more such couples existed, if we got that 'the less ambitious one' didn't always have to be the woman... yes, that seems like the way to go. Even if most often that person is likely to be the woman, due to whichever social conventions, difficult pregnancies, etc. But the idea is it shouldn't have to be the woman.

My only caveat would be that clearly dude isn't so entirely lacking in get-up-and-go, so content with just being a stay-at-home spouse, given that he's gone and written an article about this for a major publication.

"[W]hen the privacy at stake belongs to that writer’s teenage children, the equation is different"

To put parental overshare into perspective, it's useful to remember how we-as-a-society treat other forms of overshare. Such as: a gynecologist complaining about a patient on Facebook. But not naming the patient or providing identifying information. Apparently a gray area rule-breaking-wise, and still being investigated.

It's easy enough to see this and think (as I do as well) that ethically if nothing else, a doctor shouldn't be writing even this much about a patient on Facebook in the first place. Yet the (well-received, it appears) NYT Magazine cover story this week includes a child's (unusual) full name, photos of mother and son, and a confession from the author, early on in the piece, that when her son was three, "I already thought of him, in the way that parents tend to categorize their children even as we tell ourselves we shouldn’t, as a little clingy and not especially athletic." And then however many words on this boy's medical problems. This is celebrated - how brave of the mom to come forth and all that.

Meanwhile, the NYT Parenting blog appears to be rethinking this topic. I know that lead blogger KJ Dell'Antonia saw my post, although I or course can't know if it had any impact. Dell'Antonia prefaces a "Motherlode" post about a teenager's self-harm with the following disclaimer:

To protect his family’s privacy, the author of this essay has asked that his name be withheld, and because of the sensitive, but important, nature of the subject, I’ve agreed. This is the first anonymous post since I’ve taken over here at Motherlode, and I expect such contributions to be rare. Even when an issue is delicate, a writer who wants to be heard on a topic should be willing to speak publicly. 
But when the privacy at stake belongs to that writer’s teenage children, the equation is different, and in order to hear directly from a parent dealing with cutting, I’ve chosen to allow this parent to speak for himself, but without a byline.
There's a lot to unpack. First, it's definitely progress that an editor has seen it as possible for a parents to write about difficult topics - and to make other parents in the same situation feel less alone - without an actual child being identified. I can't remember having ever seen a child's privacy acknowledged in something like this - maybe there will be anonymity to protect a parent from shame, but the kid? This is new, and most welcome.

But I don't totally follow Dell'Antonia's distinction between this story, and the others for which she'd insist on a byline. Is it because these are "teenage children" and not toddlers? Because they might Google themselves this week, as opposed to in five or ten years?

Once the issue of children's privacy is put on the table, violations of it become up for discussion, in a way they wouldn't be had the subject never been raised. A commenter writes:
I disagree with this: 
"Even when an issue is delicate, a writer who wants to be heard on a topic should be willing to speak publicly." 
A parent's first responsibility is to protect his or her children. If you have verified the identity of the contributor, readers of this column do not need to know who the family is, and the family should not be required to divulge private information to the world - and their neighbors, co-workers, etc.
Once it's clear that such items can be anonymous, it starts to seem bizarre that any of them are not.

The thrill of the hunt

Sample sales. I grew up with them, and then, as an adult, basically lost track of them. Yes, it's possible to buy high-quality clothing for less, if you take a small-ish size and if you aren't put off by going to the Penn Station neighborhood without a train to catch (the sales tend to be up a flight of stairs on West 36th Street). And these days, it's even possible to do so without having been let in on the secret - i.e. there's the internet, with multiple blogs dedicated to this very pursuit, steering the uninitiated away from the now-ubiquitous "sample sale" signs in front of things that are probably not sample sales. 

But then Uniqlo came along, providing the same service but none of the hassle of discounted Theory or French Connection. That, and when I'm not teaching, I have very little reason to wear anything other than this especially comfortable pair of Target sweatpants. That, that, and for when I do dress up (i.e. not sweatpants), my tastes are very particular, and more likely to involve extensive online searches for a specific item (most recently: a red cashmere "French man" scarf) than the joy of knowing that something once $300 is now going for $50. Not, of course, that I'm immune to such a joy. I'm only human. 

But what I can't figure out is flying from Chicago to New York, and then heading to Long Island, and not just Long Island but somewhere sufficiently inconvenient to the LIRR that a special shuttle-bus is needed (sounds familiar!) and booking a hotel, all this to attend a sample sale. Lululemon, to be precise.  What is the discount on leggings that would possibly make this worthwhile? Especially given the limit on items-purchased? Wouldn't you be better-off (since the hotel in an obscure part of Long Island suggests this isn't being somehow combined with a broader trip to NYC) just going to a Lululemon in Chicago and buying the things you actually want (which are never at a sample sale) full-priced? Or is this like asking why someone would hunt, rather than purchase meat at the supermarket?

Monday, February 04, 2013

Philadelphia food guide-in-progress

Philadelphia holds certain entirely subjective advantages over New York. The former can be driven to in not much time, with no tolls, and with fairly straightforward (often free) parking. The latter requires a mess of expensive and inconvenient train travel from one of two stations neither of which is near where I live, and there are at least four compelling reasons why driving there doesn't make sense. And in Philadelphia, there's no chance I'll end up at the same places I went to in high school.

This post will be a list of best-ofs, and to-tries, in the food category because why not. Suggestions welcome.


-Nam Phuong. If there's Vietnamese food this good in NYC, I'd never found it.

-The croissants at Artisan Boulanger Patisserie, which is apparently moving.


-9th Street Italian Market. The Reading one was all kinds of disappointing (unless you like gelatinous Amish pudding, and I say this as someone not interested in the desserts of my own heritage, either), but this one I've seen in passing, and it sure looked promising.

-Maido, a Japanese supermarket in the Philadelphia suburbs.

And more.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Weekend excitement

From the newspaper:

-The awfulness of Penn Station is difficult to convey, but Lawrence Downes has done a fine job of it.

-One step forward, two steps back: parents are urged to tone down their bragging about their kids... and to do so by adding caveats, ala, "My son is on the honor roll (but still wets his bed)."

-When does a civil-rights issue get classified as "Styles"? When the rights-seekers in question are gay and French.

From the Whole Foods:

From my spam folder:

-"No risk Natalie Portman." Is there any other kind?

Friday, February 01, 2013

On writing something unlikely to infuriate mommy-bloggers

If WWPD is not enough of my ramblings, you can read more elsewhere. Whichever powers-that-be choose photos for such things happened to choose one of Tina Fey as Liz Lemon, meaning it looks like a picture of me, but a) I don't wear glasses, and b) my wedding dress looked nothing like that. (Neither did Liz Lemon's, as I recall - this was some other episode.)

Thoughts of the morning-loosely-defined

-Ed Koch, whom I felt fondly towards (the first mayor I remember, and one with a striking physical resemblance - correct me if I'm wrong, relatives who read this - to my maternal grandfather), but whom I'm apparently not supposed to remember fondly a) because he was more center/contrarian-left than left-left, b) because he messed up wrt AIDS, c) because he advised Jews not to vote for a politician who'd made at least one famous anti-Semitic remark (from the NYT obit; unclear why this was a problem - Koch seems to have alienated black New Yorkers in other ways, which I'd be curious to hear more about, but this one seems an odd thing to criticize him for), and d) because he never came out, which is assuming he was, in fact, in.

-The car I saw being pulled over by the police down the street. Who knew the police ever came here? I wonder what that was about? (If I had to guess, it was about the 15mph speed limit that none of the cars follow.)

-How Bisou responded to my leaving her (for a minute! in the other room! at her sleepy hour!) by yanking down a glass of iced coffee from the table, one that was I suppose sitting on a paper towel, one that had some pumpkin muffin on it, and I'd forgotten that when Bisou can smell a trace of food, this miniature poodle becomes seven feet tall and can reach anything. She's fine, and the apartment's vacuumed, but ugh.

-How sometimes I have so many tabs open and worry I'll copy and paste the wrong one into the wrong thing. Like, instead of linking to some op-ed, I'll share the jeans I'm thinking of buying, or the episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show I was watching last night.

-How Obama denounced the Holocaust (yes, very controversial), and a National Review writer, Eliana Johnson, found a way to object. And the rest of the internet tries, fails, to make sense of the, uh, senseless. Johnson at first seems to be defending Nazism, but then, on closer reading (as well as, consider the source) appears to be claiming that because Obama didn't condemn the Holocaust in exactly the same language the author would have used, the president is basically a Nazi sympathizer. At first I thought maybe, buried in some of the most profound nonsense I'd seen in a long time, was a point I do agree with, one I even made here at WWPD: anti-Semitism, including the Holocaust, is far too often discussed as if it were a natural disaster. But no. This wasn't what Obama was saying - if anything, the aha! moment Johnson gives us, where we learn that Obama used "senseless" to describe Benghazi and the Holocaust, tells us that he uses the term as a synonym for "bad." Which, well, yes.