Friday, June 28, 2013


Is there some kind of equivalence - as Britta suggests - between taking one's husband's name and being a housewife? Anecdotal evidence - along with n-of-one evidence - says these two things aren't all that related. Common sense says they must be somewhat related. I've never heard of a survey addressing this - Withywindle, holder of the survey information, care to return as a commenter?

I don't think it's necessarily unfair to assume people are announcing something with their symbolic choices. But does name-change make this announcement? There are a lot of things going on here. The choice to take a husband's name and the one to stay home (possibly after having more than one kid) might be happening a long time apart. People change, circumstances change. Also: a woman who takes her husband's name, people will say, what if the marriage ends? Well, what if it does? She's left with a different last name than she used to have, and she can change it back if she likes. Or not, if she prefers/has professionally established herself with the new one.

But I find that there's a certain type of feminism (not all feminism! I consider myself a feminist! and my intention is not to pick on Britta, whom I do generally agree with on such matters) that is too trappings-focused, in a way that ends up rewarding cultural capital (or not even that - more like, being of a certain subculture) than it does actual paths taken. Referring to a husband or wife as a "spouse," or having unconventional wedding jewelry or none at all, these things may point to an egalitarian marriage. Or they may simply announce a socialization in a certain milieu that just does things like this, but at the end of the day, it's Archie and Edith in their household. Whereas in other milieus, a big white wedding dress and being Mrs. Husband is the way it goes, but in no way means one cannot also be a high-powered professional.

If anything, perhaps this works like "organic" - women who feel they've already made their feminist statements by keeping their names, not wearing makeup, saying hell-no to a diamond (of any provenance), calling their husband their "partner"... obviously such women often are super-committed to egalitarian marriage. But other such women may feel that they've already done their part, announced where they stand, refused to identify as housewives, and then that's enough. The financial underpinnings - which are tougher to sort out in many respects - can remain altogether traditional.

Which makes me think of yet another 1970s sitcom reference: the episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show where eternally-offscreen Lars has an off-screen affair with Sue Ann Nivens, "The Happy Homemaker," a kind of proto-Martha Stewart host of a TV show aimed at housewives. Sue Ann is all sweetness on set, but a ruthless businessperson once the cameras stop rolling. Lars's wife, Phyllis, did take her husband's name (they would have married before second-wave feminism), but sees herself as a thoroughly modern woman, with cultural interests, and complete ineptitude in the kitchen. Her image - her clothing, her demeanor - is pure 1970s. Sue Ann: pure 1950s. All of which leads Mary and Rhoda (who need no introduction) to spell out what was on the audience's mind: one would totally imagine man cheating on Sue Ann with Phyllis. The idea being, Sue Ann seems to embody the old-time wife who's gotten the old-time bad deal from the patriarchy. But the financial underpinnings matter more. Sue Ann's an independent career woman with a casual approach to sex (the actress: Betty White), whereas Phyllis, despite dressing like a more chic version of Mary or Rhoda, is much closer to what Sue Ann represents.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

"That was way harsh, Tai": a response to a no-holds-barred manifesto I somewhat agree with

Flavia has a guest post from one of her readers, a claim that there is indeed an "opt-out revolution," as it's been put elsewhere. The guest-post is, in "Clueless" parlance, "way harsh, Tai," towards women with Ivy League degrees of not-such-distant vintage (spotted at the writer's husband's 25th reunion) who do not work for pay. It's also super compelling and getting a great discussion going. The letter-writer, who implicitly acknowledges the anecdotal nature of her evidence, finds that women with fancy degrees (Ivy college, graduate degrees) are staying home to raise large families. If it's their 25th college reunion, that makes them 47, give or take. So it's unlikely, though not impossible in that milieu, that they're staying home with very young children, let alone physically recovering from pregnancy. They're staying home with older children, it seems.

Which is interesting, sure. Do their husbands encourage this (as Flavia says in the comments, the status-symbol phenomenon, or for less sinister if still upsetting from a feminist perspective reasons) or merely tolerate it? How much of this is choice and how much is, as the author hints at one point, something more bleak - a kind of internalized misogyny holding back women with great potential? The danger of choice feminism is that we risk not considering that very real phenomenon as a possibility. Is there any positive to an arrangement where one parent stays home, if we make it more of a gender-neutral option? Could be, but as long as it's not gender-neutral, we must go on having this conversation.

And a useful conversation it is. But it's a message that would have come across more strongly had the author not held herself up as a shining example of adherence to feminist ideals, of general together-ness. She writes, as an example of why two-working-parent families are better, "When our child was small, we could afford excellent in-home care and also save for hir education. We don't have to debate whether or not we can afford camp, music lessons, or orthodontia. We can!"

Eh, not everybody can. Another family - even Ivy-educated - may have calculated that if the lower-paid partner (often the woman) worked outside the home, this wouldn't pay for childcare for multiple children. Now, maybe that's short-sighted - maybe the woman should keep working as an investment in her future career-and-salary - but it's still a different situation.

Also this: "Maybe it's my background as a scholarship kid who always assumed she'd work her whole life, but I've never seen the world of work as a faceless enemy," and "[...] I've managed to work my way into a decent position, and I have hopes that new opportunities might open up for me in the future."

Is that a frank assessment of good life choices, good character, or a kind of boasting that fails to take into account the role that luck plays in all of our lives? Maybe a bit of both, and I say this as someone who's probably also done my share of good-life-choices humblebrag without intending to. I mean, it's good to think your own choices are consistent with your own values. And there's also some genuine humility in there, so perhaps I'm being unfair. But it just seems like, if you're talking individual cases, maybe there were not-so-cheery reasons these women stopped working, and it wasn't all about being bad feminists. Like the anonymous commenter at Flavia's says, certain things can go wrong in the reproductive process that disproportionately impact the one with the uterus.

Anyway, it seems clear enough that children of the middle-class-broadly-defined who weren't Chua-parented aren't done any favors if told that they won't always have to work no matter what. Because they will. Children of the super-ridiculously-rich, no, and by all means let them pursue careers as unpaid fashion assistants. But if you're of the set risking impoverishment if a husband leaves, someone's done a number on you if they gave you the impression you don't really need to work.

-Like Withywindle, who linked to some data about this there, I do think a j'accuse on the topic of elite women opting out kind of does call for numbers, if it's making sweeping claims, and not just questioning the choice on an individual level. Unless the reunion published a book with what everyone's up to (which can happen) and is basing this on something larger, it could be that the author simply ran into an unrepresentative group. I wonder if the women the author met really don't work for pay at all, or if the author's rounding down their less-ambitious or from-home jobs to 'housewife'. Or even if - if these were just women met briefly at a social function - some of these women do have powerful careers, but in a social/reunion setting for whatever reason choose to identify first and foremost as "moms." Which would also be interesting, but which would be quite different.

-We really do need to be sure these are women who might have had illustrious careers, but then decided against. "Elite" isn't a monolith. Nor does 'graduate-educated' mean 'employable in the professions.' See Emily Matchar. See my Second-After-Sartre theory. While women who become high-powered executives tend to come from a certain part of society, it's not accurate to look at everyone with an MA in Medieval Tapestry as a potential Sandberg or Slaughter who opted out. This doesn't mean women don't self-sabotage along the way, closing off various opportunities open to those at their universities, of their social class. It only means that said self-sabotage has often happened long before any husband-and-babies entered the picture.

-In response to: "Is it just me, or is the unemployed spouse and large (3-5 children) family back with a vengeance among the economic elite?": These women are/were home with a million kids, presumably over the span of many years, unless quadruplets. They weren't idle. They weren't "unemployed" really. They didn't opt out of doing things with the day.

-Re: "Why aren't women who drop out of the paid workforce being treated for depression, or at least urged to get counseling before they go?": Unemployment has been known to relate to depression, as, they say, has stay-at-home parenting. I suppose I don't love the way "depression" here is used almost interchangeably with making the wrong life choices. (OK, so there's this: "If you are educated for and capable of a decent job, the disinclination to work should be seen as a symptom of an underlying problem, not a lifestyle 'choice.'" But in context, it reads as if the letter-writer doesn't think these women are depressed, just foolish.) If these women really are depressed - and perhaps so - then this is upsetting, not a reason to chastise them for their failure to adhere to feminist principles. We may then want to look at what it is in the culture - the "beauty myth"? something in the water? - that's led them to that state. We'd want to investigate correlation and causation. We'd sooner view these women as victims of social norms than as bad feminists or spoiled housewives.

-If you're going to have a post that asks what message it sends to daughters if mom doesn't work, you also need to address the argument that kids are better off if one parent stays home. Once the think-of-the-children angle enters into it, once you're arguing that other people are bad parents, you do open yourself up to the same accusation. And as much as I personally think working-for-pay is important, I'd have to say, there are far worse things a parent can do to a kid than stay home and look after him/her.

-Having an egalitarian, 50-50 marriage, but basing this entirely on work-for-pay, seems like a dangerous road to go down, even if both partners work. Two spouses rarely have the exact same salary or work-hours at all times. It matters, in terms of power balance, if one spouse isn't and could virtually never be economically self-sufficient, i.e. if that person could never, if need be, leave. But do we really think the hedge-fund-manager plus nursery-school-teacher marriages a) are typically 50-50 household-chore-wise, or b) need to be in order to be egalitarian in the internal-power-balance sense? 

-Refreshing anecdotal evidence time! I know of quite a few women who divorced at a certain age and promptly went back to (a more practical version of) school and, in at least one case, went on to out-earn the ex-husband. This is going to be easier for women who already have a college degree, and who are relatively young (40-ish, say) when all this happens, but it's been done. I mean, there's always air-conditioner-repair school, even for the happily-married. It never hurts.

A false sense of accomplishment

For about a day recently, I had nothing to do.* Nothing. On a weekday. Sure, I could have summoned something - there are always footnotes to format, new projects to begin. But the best I could come up with was an apartment-organizing marathon. And a nap. Also some running.

This comes up in Jamie Quatro's essay on running: "delusions of grandeur: visions of the Self at moments of glory." I've never experienced this as anything quite so specific as what she describes. It's more that everything worrying me - whichever insecurities I'm experiencing - vanish. But beyond that, there's also this sense, while running, that I'm being productive, and once the run is over, that I've accomplished something. (Hank Azaria describes something similar in his Marc Maron interview.)

In reality, neither of these things are the case. Running is nice and all, but I walk a good amount (a hyperactive dog demands this), and I possess adequate amounts of no-doctor-would-call-me-overweight-except-maybe-we-could-find-one-with-that-view-on-the-Upper-East-Side privilege. Any time spent running probably should be spent doing something else. Honestly, given my ambitions, blogging is a more productive use of my time than running loops through this tick-filled idyll. Running beats anxiety, but so too does a glass of red wine with dinner, which, given the tick situation (can you tell I'm reading that New Yorker article?) might be the healthier choice. Whatever marginal, only-I-would-ever-notice-it aesthetic benefit comes from running is zilch compared with what could be accomplished if I more regularly remembered to style my hair and put on eyeliner. And running reduces the likelihood of primping, enforcing a kind of low-maintenanceness-by-default.

But the appeal of running for me kind of does come down to that sense of accomplishment. Therefore my commitment to running probably correlates inversely with my overall sense of getting things done. Which is weird, right? Runners are so often these hyper-accomplished people. I can't figure it out. All I know is, if I ever announce plans to run a race longer than, say, six miles, or a jog longer than, say, nine, it might be time for some kind of towel-throwing-in intervention.

*Rest assured, various edits later, I have plenty to do.


After the notorious $89 bra got a hole in it - this before I'd even washed it! and not even somewhere where it might have been pulling! just bad construction (Made in France, I had such high hopes) - I'm extra-reluctant to "invest" in things that can snag. Similarly, I "invested" in a pair of not-the-absolute-cheapest white canvas sneakers (Superga, because those fit and the Converse didn't, even though I liked the Converse more), with the goal not so much to keep them pristine as to have them not full-on drenched in filth. Shortly thereafter, an incident with an especially poodle-friendly (and unfenced/unleashed) golden retriever took care of that. I now have a greenish-brown pair of sneakers. Inevitable, but still, sooner than expected.

The combination of dog-adventures, ubiquitous mud in the "with-it city" I live in, and my capacity to ruin a garment just by looking at it, suggests it's time to go the navy-potato-sack route of head-to-toe denim.

But I'm kind of obsessed with the idea of a Romanian peasant blouse. A white one with blue embroidery. Like Suzanne Pleshette wears on this one episode of "The Bob Newhart Show." Very 1970s. Cultural appropriation? I'm going to say that as someone of 1/4 impoverished-Romanian ancestry (Jewish, but not sure how that impacts the blouse situation - plus the current likeliest contender ships from Israel), I'm if anything culturally appropriating when not wearing such a shirt. However, a shirt along those lines has the impressive potential both to snag and to acquire every stain imaginable. This will now need to be mulled over for a few months, as is my way.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Why you should study nuclear engineering at UMich

If you're reading WWPD, chances are you know more about constitutional law than I do. You may even have been cited in the dissent. So yes, very pleased with the DOMA decision, but no, not able to explain its particulars to you above and beyond what you already know. There are, it appears, other places on the internet doing this.

What's more in my area: the arrival of transparency to graduate study. First, as Flavia told us, was the Ph.D. Placement Project. Now, see also GradPay, which seeks to answer the other question on everybody's mind: What's normal for grad-student pay?

This may seem a silly thing to concern one's self with, because surely college seniors/recent grads are rational actors, comparing options as vs. cost-of-living in different locales, and examining their own financial situations. What matters isn't what's normal, but whether this will do.

But there's an aspect of grad pay that tells you how competitive your program is, and how desired you are by that program. Just because you can swing it (perhaps with the help of independent funds) doesn't mean you should. Depending what it is you hope to get out of it.

I'll also repeat my usual spiel on this, which is that in my experience, if you're of the set who need to support themselves financially, but not anyone else, there's a sense in which any pay 'to read books' seems like a ton if what you were used to was paying to read books (or parents/loans paying on your behalf), and hoping that whichever side jobs would make a dent in that cost. If you're still thinking along the lines of woohoo, a scholarship!, if you're in the mindset of only needing a tiny little room somewhere and a roof over your head, the fact that your tuition is paid and you're getting money above and beyond that can seem like, how on earth would you be anything but eternally grateful? And then a few years down the line, the thrill of $10k or whatever (I exaggerate. As you'll see if you go to GradPay!) may drop substantially.

One thing that could be useful, with GradPay, is to know the cost of living in these places, and the (subsidized?) housing situation. NYU grad students often make what would be solidly middle-class salaries elsewhere, but there's that pesky requirement - at least during coursework and teaching - to live in or very near New York. Another: lots of grad-student funding comes from additional patched-together fellowships, summer funding, and such, above and beyond the stipend. How much of that students have access to varies school by school, I'd imagine, so there are situations where grad students making as much as $40k who, on paper, seem to be making $20k. (Try explaining situations along those lines to a rental agent, though, who will indeed view the stipend as the salary, because anything else may not be guaranteed in a contract.) Another: health insurance? Not all grad students are under 26 and on their parents' health insurance. But this is certainly a start.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Fisher in a barrel

The time has come to start revising Madame la Dissertation. (Not that that's how you say it in French. That's just what she's called.) I have two pitchers in the fridge: one of cold-brewed iced coffee, and one of matcha iced tea. Both homemade and delicious. And I'm digging around looking for diet Coke, because a task of this nature requires the hard stuff.

So let us turn away from my own undercaffeinated/underaspartamed state, and towards the wider world.

This Jezebel post calling out the white privilege of Abigail Fisher is making the rounds. (Not the first "open letter" to Fisher making that point, let it be known.) And... there are fish, you see, and sometimes they're collected in barrels. (Pickled herring? Why are they in a barrel?) If one wishes to shoot one of these fish, one does not need to be a particularly skilled marksperson. I mean, if you're going to make a federal case of something literally...

Normally, when there's an internet-wide pile-on against someone whose crime is being mediocre given whichever advantages, I have some sympathy, because man, that has to sting. There's often a sense - barring, even, any expression of entitlement, let alone federal-case-level entitlement - that those who have whichever advantages and don't excel are somehow terrible people who should be ashamed of themselves. When the reality might be that the face obstacles, all right, but they're things like not being that gifted academically, or not actually caring whether they get into an elite college. And the comments about Fisher's looks (not so much at Jezebel as on the entire rest of the internet), please. Would she have been more entitled to a slot at UT had she been more Olivia Wilde-esque? (Are her PR people keeping her less glam and be-eyeliner'd than she might be because it conveys an image of a serious scholar?)

But is Fisher really oblivious to her whiteness? (Also, is she instigating all of this, or merely consenting to have it instigated on her behalf? She was mighty young when all of this started.) This is one of these things where, whatever you think of the broader issue she represents, her story seems tailor-made to bring about this exact kind of outrage. If she'd been in the top 10% of her high school class, problem solved. It just seems like, if there's any white person around who's gotten an earful already about how whiteness puts her at an advantage, it's Fisher. And it's not a message she cares to receive. Of all people, she just doesn't strike me as someone who cares if her privilege is showing.

Fiction is better, Part V

A 21-year-old woman in the UK, Tamara Roper, recently arrived home from college, wrote a letter to her parents, explaining that she's a grown-up. Wrote it for the Guardian, though, and the newspaper opened this up for comments.

And... I'm glad that the summer I spent back home after graduating from college and before getting a job-and-apartment is not one I'd captured for all eternity. It's a stressful time for everybody. For parents, because they're used to their kid being out of the house, and what if their kid never gets a job? For the kid too, though, because they've gotten used to living as an adult, and then must face the harsh reality that without the means to pay rent and living expenses (the massively self-sufficient, who not only worked during school but fully supported themselves, may well not move back home), it was all kind of a fake adulthood, after all.

Everyone reverts to the old ways - the parents to the parents of an eight-year-old, and the 20-something "child" to the 13-year-old who resents being treated like an eight-year-old. Adult children in this situation - and if I felt this in 2-3 months, I'd imagine it only gets more pronounced - know they're a burden, and that they should be all serenity, gratitude, and helpfulness. But there's something about that situation that brings out the inner entitled adolescent.

And then comes the thud of a realization (at least if you live in NYC and move in certain circles) that many of the 'independent self-sufficient adults' to whom you're comparing yourself are just people whose parents are paying their rent. (Insert "Girls" reference here.) But then you're the brat for having moved back home after graduation, and not directly into an apartment of your own. Gah! Did I mention that all of this is about 2-3 months, several years ago?

Anyway, if you begin with the reactions to this other young woman's letter, you'd think the letter consisted of diva-like demands that the fridge be stocked with her favorites, the house cleared when she wishes to entertain. You'd think it was a letter to her parents requesting they raise her allowance so she can buy the Louboutins she's had her eye on.

Instead, it's an intended-as-humorous description of the experiences she's had as a student that have made her a different person (well, brought her to a different life stage) than she was when she last lived at home. She expresses her own intent not to be a petulant sulking brat, and asks that in exchange, they not preemptively treat her as one.

Between the lines, it's clear she's embarrassed about her situation. She doesn't spell out the financial details (or really much in the way of biographical details - this isn't quite overshare), only that she wishes she could contribute "more" (suggesting she is contributing some), and that she'll do her best not to run up utility bills. "I hate having to ask you for lifts," she writes, which might sound entitled, and might be just that, depending the level of chauffeuring we're talking. But it sounds like it's an area without much public transportation, and asking for lifts is plenty less entitled than asking for a car.

Does Roper come across as young? Yes. There's the old adage about how protesting that one is a grown-up is the quickest way to seem childish. And it does seem kind of adolescent to not want to tell your parents, or anyone you may be living with, the bare-bones details about your evening plans. And the bit about it being culture shock to return to "suburbia," sure, it does seem a bit like, what, should her parents have moved to a hipper area so she'd feel more at ease? It's not, in other words, that the letter can't be read as immature and entitled. It's just that the overall impression it gives is of a young adult with a certain (dark) sense of humor about what's bound do be an awkward situation.

But oh, the commenters. They have never seen such entitlement. Roper should be on her hands and knees thanking her parents for their hospitality. She should be grateful her parents remain married to each other. That they care about her enough to ask where she's going at night. Some people don't have loving, caring parents who even could welcome them back home. How about that!

And, I don't know. A line here and there about gratitude might have helped placate the commenters, but  it would have detracted from the precise experience the letter conveys. An adult who returns home after X years of real independence will get that this is their parents' - or parent's - place. But if you're a student who's just graduated, you only know this place as home, and you've never known anything else as such. If you're 14, it doesn't occur to you to be grateful for the roof over your head, except in some abstract way that one may be grateful not to be homeless. You feel entitled to being housed by your parents because you are entitled to this. I remember it taking a moment to sink in, at 21, that I was in someone else's home, and not my own. Which is, again, why I'm glad I never thought to write up my feelings in that moment for a mass audience.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Naked men and French pastries

-Daniel Bergner, whose book I still need to track down, is soliciting information from women about whether they find naked men attractive:

How important is the visual to you? How does it play out in your sexual life? Is it essential? Peripheral? Do you bring home the visual turn-ons of the day when you get into bed with your partner? If the visual is important to you, is your partner aware of this? As always, please write from personal experience and be as specific and honest as possible, but stop short of pornographic.
This is, if nothing else, one heck of a writing assignment. How exactly does one talk about not merely "the visual" (which is nice and abstract) but the sexiness of naked people without this veering into X-rated territory? What could one possibly say, other than something that sounds like a description of a painting in a museum? It seems as though anything frank one could say on this topic would risk titillating, no matter the intention. As much as it would be great to get rid of the myth that straight women merely tolerate naked men in exchange for the social role of girlfriend or wife, it doesn't really seem like collected PG-13 anecdotal evidence would get us there.

-The NYT food-writer whose specialty is lentil-based cardboard (recipes that sound like they'd be great if whichever ostentatiously removed full-fat ingredient or animal-products were brought back in) has revealed a secret life as a pastry-cookbook ghost-writer. At least one vegan is furious. But in a sense, this kind of adds up. One of the rules of healthy eating is that anything's OK as long as it's French. White flour ceases to be poison when it goes by the name farine de blé. That's either because within the context of a traditional French diet, croissants seem not to pose a problem or because all of this is really about demonstrating class status with food choices. Or perhaps a bit of both.

 -A conversation between Dan Savage and Andrew Sullivan. Highly recommended. All the more so if you have a day "off" that you've devoted to turning the "study" in your apartment from messy-adolescent-bedroom to space-work-could-actually-happen-in. Makes the time fly.

When they got to the part about female desire being different, though, I tried not to preemptively wince. Were we really about to hear two men explain that women are like so? Because it started to seem to be going in that direction. And it wasn't even that they're gay - I'd heard both make this argument in the past.

As it happened, we only heard one do this. Sullivan asked Savage to agree that there are differences between men and women, suggesting that one would have to be all kinds of politically-correct (and not a tell-it-like-it-is libertarian) to dispute this, and Savage kind of agreed, but kind of laughed this off, agreeing vehemently that "gay men are men." But when Sullivan tried to insist that women are set on monogamy, whereas men inherently crave variety, Savage was like, no, that's not what the new studies are saying. And to his credit, Sullivan responded that this was the first he'd heard of it, but didn't insist that these studies were wrong, and did indeed seem open to the idea that social construction plays into what we think female sexuality consists of.

But what struck me was what Sullivan's claim that in heterosexual relationships, men are fine with cheating, but women are not, would imply. It would imply that, while women object to men straying, men do not object to women doing the same. Which contradicts not so much what gender-is-a-construction types may believe about women's vibrant and varied sexuality, but also what's been popular-to-the-point-of-stale cliché for ages: that (many but not all) women accepting that 'men have needs', while (many but thankfully not all) men are jealous and possessive. It would seem that these gender-normative men who are fine and dandy with fooling around are happy to do so themselves. That that's the "open" they favor.

So this may not be that much about women being like so after all. Men, as a rule, appear to have a different expectation of fidelity from female partners than from male ones. Is this because, on some primal level, babies? Is it because of popular assumptions that women would only stray if they intend to leave - that their betrayal is by definition emotional betrayal? The patriarchy (she says, burning her bra, so as to further rile the bra-fit sub-Reddit)? Whatever it is, it does sort of seem the missing piece.

A while ago

-A while ago, I asked whether job ads could specify that they needed a native French speaker, as opposed to someone who can speak fluent French. I think we have our answer.

-A similarly long while ago, I noticed that Despaña (look at me with my effortless keyboard shortcuts), a Spanish grocery in SoHo, was opening a branch on Nassau Street of all places. I've long thought that Princeton was begging for a branch of Le Pain Quotidien (not that that's the most amazing place on earth, but it seemed a good fit), but this... I'd have never even thought to hope. The sign was up, but first I could find nothing about it online. Then there was some evidence of something stirring, but it wasn't open. Then it was, but with hardly any stock.

Then finally, the moment arrived: cheese! So much cheese! There weren't prices on any of it - either because the place is new or because it's Princeton - but I did the have-to-ask asking, and the prices seemed quite reasonable (as well as significantly lower than Whole Foods - amazing for a gourmet shop in town).

Now I'm just waiting for a Sunrise Mart. It could happen!

-An even longer while ago, everyone was obsessed with the Delia*s catalogue. I don't think I ever ordered anything from it, but I must have wanted to. Think age 10 or 11. I hadn't realized it was a store, but there it was, at a mall my husband and I had gone out of the way to in search of a power cord. A mall-mall, not like the strip-malls and occasional dingy indoor ones where we live. A real indoor one, snazzy and potentially appealing to teenagers.

Delia*s, though, had one flaw: juniors sizing. Which is not vanity-based - more like tweens-inflicting-body-image-issues-on-one-another-sizing-based. Which, fine, I'm not the target audience. But not fine once it emerged that the only galaxy-print skirt left was in an XS. I'm a lot of things, but one thing I'm not is a juniors XS.

On our way out, we saw this giant poster (for scale, note the size of the door-accessibility button), because it's impossible to go to an authentic Jersey mall and not be in the 1980s.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The anti-Paula Deen

Bisou's preparations for squirrel tempura.

"Cooking With Dog" is the new "Into The Gloss" in the WWPD-sphere. Rather than going out and buying things Emily Weiss recommends (or, more to the point, going to the hair salon in Jersey whose expertise is the Republican Candidate's Wife look with a picture of Weiss), I'm now completely under the cult-like influence of Francis and the unnamed Chef. Who is Chef? A small, pretty Japanese woman of indeterminate age. Or maybe this could be determined, if one spent more time looking at her, and less time transfixed by the combination of Japanese meal preparation and World's Calmest Dog (yippy breed category).

Anyway, anything Chef cooks, I want to cook. Which means, alas, that any only-in-Japan cooking implement she uses, I want. And thanks to the newfangled whosawhatsit of online shopping, paired with the fact that none of these things are expensive, it could all be mine. I've lost interest in whichever luminous makeup the minimalist French socialites are wearing, but it's taking all my restraint not to buy a suribachi mortar, a yakitori grill. Whatever that cage-like device was she used to grill fish. Kombu and bonito flakes - that was easy enough (NYU should have just direct-deposited all those years to Sunrise Mart), although I still haven't made dashi. Still in search of a skimmer to remove the foam, although I have no idea what the foam is, nor why one must get rid of it.

Between the deep-fryer I recently bought my husband and the rice-cooker my parents recently surprised us with, we may not have counter-space, but counter-space is overrated. We could, in theory, have all the tempura rice bowls we want.

Thus far, I've only tried the rice-and-non-fried-stuff (specifically, hand rolls). And my respect for Chef is greater than ever, because no food makes my miniature gray poodle lose it like Japanese food. In different variations. I can't figure it out. Is it that she associates soy sauce with chicken, after being given (note the passive voice - I will admit nothing) lots of chicken that had been marinated in that sauce? Is it the nori, and its admitted resemblance in smell and texture to certain aquatic not-for-human-consumption dog treats? After plenty of exercise, and at an hour when she usually naps, Bisou gets one whiff of anything Japanese and flips into hyper mode. How does Chef manage it, or does Francis only lose it when she makes, say, pasta with pesto? The lure of the exotic, exotic being relative?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Science proves Rufus good-looking

So there's a new book out explaining that women experience sexual desire, much of it being lust for men. As someone who's been saying this to skeptical audiences since forever (that would be 2004, folks, the year WWPD was born), I suppose I ought to be unequivocally thrilled that Science now backs this up. Elaine Blair writes in her NYT review:

[Daniel Bergner] sets this tour of contemporary sex research against one particular shibboleth: the notion that women are naturally less libidinous than men, “hard-wired” to want babies and emotional connection but not necessarily sex itself.
Gah! Finally, someone points this out! Finally, there no longer need to be individual women popping up here and there to say that they feel like gay men trapped in women's bodies - but not in a transgender sense, just in a gosh-men-are-pretty one. Some men. Keanu Reeves comes to mind. And to take this to an ever-more-unattainable level: Rufus. Finally, women's desire for men (and yes, obviously, some women only desire women, and some are asexual, and that's fine too) need not be treated as perversion or immaturity. (Teen girls can think guys are hot. Women somehow can't think the same of men.)

And yet. I mean, I'll read it, I'll pitch responses to it once I've read it and can therefore respond. It does sound pretty great.

But there's something about the mere fact of the existence of such a book that reminds me of when NYT food writer David Tanis told readers that it's OK to eat out-of-season asparagus, something ordinary shoppers had already been doing, given the asparagus in stores. An imperfect analogy, fine. But I guess what I mean is, there's something kind of strange - mansplaining even if not intended as such - about learning that a man is out there with a book explaining that which women's wiring has been telling us since we were 16, 12, or 8 years old. (What it means to like boys/men - or girls/women - will of course vary according to how old you are, but lots of us know long before middle school. I can remember who some of my celebrity crushes were from that era, but I'm not saying.)

I'm having trouble articulating this. Because it's really not that I think the book itself sounds mansplainish. Not at all. It's just that perhaps on some level, I'd have preferred it if a woman had written this book, and if it were sufficient authority to hear this message from a woman.

Unpaid internships and downward mobility

So I have at long last read Ross Perlin's Intern Nation. What took me so long? Part of it was grad school's way of preventing me from keeping up with new non-fiction. Part was simply that Perlin, who I think says in the book he began researching the topic in 2008 (the book itself only came out last year), is not the one who alerted me to this issue. I was complaining about entry-level internships in 2006, for Gothamist which, I might add, allowed me to submit that post for exposure, but there was never any talk of compensation. I'm not sure it would have even occurred to me to ask (even though I knew the editor from school! what was I thinking?), which is its own sinkhole of a conversation.

But back to Perlin: I didn't have that uh-oh-what-if-someone-had-this-idea-before-I-did panic that can get me to a book or article ASAP. I didn't feel that I'd stepped on his turf, as it were. (Nor, of course, do I think he stepped on mine - ever since there have been unpaid internships, there have been people noting that this is perhaps not terribly fair. And slavery was abolished before any of us were born.) But I want to write more on this, and must get whatever education on it there is.

So Intern Nation is clearly the reference for this topic. Stats, yes, but also the full scope of the issue: the law (and with the lawsuits these days, that's important as background), the international scene, and the classification of burger-flipping jobs as "internships."

Its greatest strength - apart from collecting all that material in one place - is that it shouts from the rooftops that much - not all, but much - that's called an "internship" is a complete joke: "Bosses" in no position to offer you paid work or useful training, who aren't anything more than individuals wanting free personal assistance (Perlin of course references the "Kramerica" episode of "Seinfeld"), or who don't even know you're there (and alerting them to your presence would be too uppity and entitled) and thus can't give you a reference.

The pervasive belief that "internship" means something that leads to white-collar work leads young people and their parents to sacrifice in order to make this happen, yet to what end?

Which is what I still can't figure out after reading the book. Are unpaid interns on this separate and tough-to-exit track, amassing qualifications for ever-snazzier... unpaid internships, but self-defining as people not suited for compensated work? Do employers with actual jobs on offer - the ones who, as has been much-remarked-upon, demand three years' experience for entry-level - actually consider unpaid internships "experience"? Reports there are mixed.

It does start to look like a lot of unpaid internships exist in fields where you don't need them to get an entry-level job. And from Perlin's research, it kind of does look like connections can often get the fancier young people a never-ending series of internships but not a paying job. As in, just because there are unpaid hotel-housekeeping internships (thanks Moebius Stripper!) doesn't mean the field of hotel housekeeping has closed off to those who go straight to applying for jobs.

From what I've seen - including in Perlin's own book! - it seems entirely possible that unpaid internships are if anything an engine of downward social mobility, sending certain children of rich or middle-class families onto a dead-end track, yet not driving the entire economy to a halt, so clearly someone's working for pay.

The one counterargument I find (somewhat) persuasive is that they tilt certain fields (several of which were already that way, though) towards the rich. Regular journalism: not always thus. Government work: probably also not always thus. With both of these, a socioeconomic shift really is a big deal, and needs to be among the central arguments against unpaid internships. But fashion magazines? Art galleries? Publishing? Non-profits?

What could be happening - and commenter Fourtinefork may want to weigh in - is that the "trust-fund job" is something to which those from middle-class homes now aspire to - and the traditional "pin-money" jobs are now ones women (and some men) who fully expect to be self-supporting now take - but the Golden Age when one could support one's self on these incomes never was. There's a big difference between unpaid and underpaid in terms of self-worth, but maybe less so in terms of upward mobility.

On changing the culture

Because the thread was getting unwieldy, I'm going to address Miss Self-Important's question, "[W]hat could grad programs concretely do to acknowledge the fact of non-academic employment?," in a post of its own. (In my initial response to her, I came up with a weak 'they could change the culture', but now I'm on my second coffee of the day.)

What they could do, at meetings for admitted students and at the beginning of grad school itself - perhaps even in materials sent out to prospective applicants - is offer up the facts about what those in the program do on the other end. How many have tenure-track jobs, and how does that compare to other departments. How many have jobs. What those jobs are, and whether they in any way relate to the training (or the credential). With, fine, whichever allowances for the fact that a certain number of people end up being stay-at-home parents, and that includes people with MBAs.

It wouldn't have to be some kind of tragic thing that would send everyone screaming in the other direction. It couldn't be, because otherwise programs wouldn't go in for it, but it also wouldn't need to be. Obviously lots of people do go to grad school knowing the odds of TT employment, and do so because they have a Plan B (or different Plan A) in mind. This is largely information people can - but often don't - seek out and get on their own. What this would bring would be transparency. It wouldn't be a dark secret that some graduates found meaningful work, but not as professors, or altogether outside academia.

What I remember of that period, though, was a great deal of attention paid to the fellowships themselves, some to opportunities to do research abroad, that sort of thing, but next to nothing about the other side. The moment of disillusion for me came when I looked up where someone who'd done a dissertation on a topic closely related to mine at one of the Euphemistic universities had ended up. And the answer seemed to be: unemployed. Was it nervous-breakdown-flameout unemployed? I couldn't tell, and thus didn't know how concerned to be. This is where transparency would be most appreciated.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Revival of the fittest

What's hip these days? Sure, I alternate between Target sweatpants and J.Crew outlet-store shorts, but I keep up. I do. I don't know why I do, but there it is.

The current look, it seems, is 1990s revival. But that's not specific enough. It's early Elaine Benes crossed with the kids from "Kids"/the boys from my Hebrew school and, later, high school who used to drink 40s and smoke pot on stoops on the Upper West Side. Why has it come to this? It just has. That's what now looks current.

Exhibit A: Emily Weiss. The dress, the shoes. This Frenchwoman, because if a Frenchwoman in 2013 dresses like a 15-year-old Jewish skater kid circa 1995, we must take note. Also: whatever this was about.

Exhibit B: Garance Doré, who basically tells us: this is what's in fashion.

Exhibit C: the persistence of Chloe Sevigny as a style icon.

We could probably blame Isabel Marant as well - in the public eye what with a (forthcoming? so-last-season?) xH&M collection. But all I know about Marant is that a) some 90-euro but otherwise ordinary white t-shirt a friend and I had fun mocking in Paris was a Marant, and b) she's responsible for the resurgence of the wedge sneaker. I imagine Isabel Marant involves some kind of nouveaux JNCOs, but could be way off.

What this does mean, though, is, florals and Converse. No more premium denim, as that wasn't invented until circa 2003. Adidas Sambas, apparently, as someone fashiony I follow on Pinterest has declared. It's not preppy, but it's not really subcultural, either. It's the Gap from before the chain tried to offer more than basics. It's borrowed-from-the-boys, but not menswear-chic. To keep from veering over into cross-dressing - which is nice and all, but not generally Fashion, which merely plays at bending rules - this can be feminized either with a long floral Elaine dress or, more troublingly, with a crop-top. These are back, it seems.

The convenient thing about this trend for me is that I'm not sure I ever did get past 1998-ish in my own style. It's not that I haven't shopped since then, but what I'm drawn to in stores probably is typically that which I'd have been drawn to at whichever formative age. So maybe it's just that the tastemakers are give or take my age, and these outfits say 'the cool kids three grades ahead of me' to them as well.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Quote of the day

"Our [unpaid] interns are learning how to [...] blog [...]."

WWPD Industries can do one better. We will graciously allow you to pay us to teach you how to blog. An unpaid internship is more prestigious than a lowly paying job, so surely this arrangement is better still. Your first task: sort out the tax situation of such an arrangement. Your second: think of more posts for WWPD that will infuriate sub-communities (?) on Reddit, thereby driving up traffic, thereby permitting us to "hire" more paying interns. 

In exchange, we will direct you to a website called Blogger, and will teach you html so rudimentary that you could never in a million years put that as a skill on your resume.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Your don't-go of the evening

Because what's a day without at least three bleak articles about academia, grad-student-Facebook-land has now brought me to this piece about the difficulties of getting a PhD and job in the humanities without outside support. UChicago doctoral candidate David Mihalyfy writes:

Spousal income, a parent-owned condo, a trust fund – no matter which, these necessities increasingly make a humanities Ph.D. less of a career path and more of a leisure pursuit for those with financial stability from elsewhere, even for students at top institutions.
It's one of the rare trustafarian exposés that remembers that sometimes - strange as it may seem - 30-year-olds (40-year-olds) are married. That the invisible extra source of income of someone ancient might be a spouse, and not mom and dad. Far too often, articles about the broke and humanitiesish suggest that it's this upper-middle-class thing to support one's kids financially until said kids themselves reach retirement age. And, eh, I don't think it's quite gotten to that point.

Further, similarly scattered thoughts below:

-Is marriage to someone who earns more than a grad student does privilege in the same way as having rich parents? I mean, it's pretty equally unearned advantage, or at least irrelevant advantage, but it doesn't necessarily indicate that "Despite rare exceptions, our humanities professors will come from wealthier backgrounds." I mean, a grad student whose spouse is a plumber or schoolteacher is at an advantage. It hardly needs to be Wall Street.

Now, it certainly doesn't say anything good about a career path if you need a decade of outside support to get started. It doesn't seem like the way to get the best candidates for anything. It's still wildly unfair. But if the concern is social mobility into academia, and the socioeconomic class of resulting humanities profs, spousal support would be less of an issue.

-In order to succeed on the academic job market, what you need on your CV are fellowships. Grants. Scholarships. Awards. These things tend to come with money. Needing money - being someone for whom $500, say, isn't just a night on the town - is an awfully big motivator to shoot for these, or at least I found it to be. If something is your job, you may well be more likely to treat it as one. Those who approach grad school as dabblers (no matter the source of outside income) and don't apply for extra (or any) funding may well have more time to publish, but they may have gaps in other key areas.

-Being married/partnered as a grad student isn't necessarily a career advantage. It does seem to up the odds that one will have kids. And as great a thing as marriage to a high-powered hot-shot (or anyone with a job, really) can be in terms of allowing some - like a woman mentioned in the piece - to avoid grueling perma-adjuncting, often enough, a spouse with a decent salary isn't going to want to move to Outer Mongolia (selected due to its current non-existence; no offense intended to Mongolians generally, nor to the Mongolian family who used to be my neighbors in particular) with you when that's the place that has the only tenure-track job in Medieval Tapestry Studies.

Nor will the grad-student spouse necessarily think Outer Mongolia and a far lower family income (and what about when Outer Mongolia deems you unworthy of tenure?) beats not-Outer-Mongolia and high school teaching/non-profit work/library work/from-scratch housespousery/retraining-in-air-conditioner-repair/there's-always-law-school. Don't let anyone stand between you and your dreams! But god forbid you should have found a partner before age 35, and that that person should also have dreams, and that that person's dreams pay more and in a better location. The best you - a purely theoretical you - can hope for is that in the course of grad school, you realize your dream may not have been Professor of Medieval Tapestry Studies after all.

(There isn't a two-body problem, generally, when parents or a trust fund are the source of whichever cushion. Although I don't think the first of the helicoptered generation is old enough yet for grad school.)

-Did you think I was going to let this go without a gender angle? No such luck. It seems possible that being partnered helps men but not women. While - given, if nothing else, the fact that men tend to earn more than women - women with husbands (because most couples are opposite-sex) may have a better shot at avoiding garret starvation, women may also have more trouble than men when it comes to getting a spouse to move wherever a job happens to be. A single man, meanwhile, will lack whichever Stable Adult With Family aura that apparently benefits married men - and not married women - on the job market, academic or otherwise.

First world, problems

-Confirming what everybody already imagined, what we had all already observed. But there are always other challenges to meet. For example, one may cook all of one's family's meals from scratch.

-Are food aversions really limited to "the west, where there is no shortage of foods to happily loathe without risk of malnutrition"? Religious food restrictions are certainly not, as I somehow think has come up on WWPD in the past.


Monday, June 17, 2013

Student scrappiness as class signifier

A little while back, the NYT ran an exposé about today's spoiled college students. How spoiled? So spoiled that in anticipation of beginning their freshman year, they bought shower caddies at Target. Sorry, their parents bought them stuff at Target. So fancy! Also: so schmancy.

I had trouble reacting with appropriate horror to these trips to big-box stores, given the scale of the cost of college and the drop in a bucket this represents. Also given how unremarkable if not modest this kind of spending would be if done by adults for themselves or their under-18 children. People buy towels and stuff. Curtains are now sometimes a part of "stuff"? Yeah, fine, not when I was that age, but so it goes.

But a shrug was clearly not the response one was meant to have. Which, to some extent, fair enough. I mean, outrage - or at least annoyance - seems a fair response if your parents weren't able or willing to put a cent towards shower caddies, upon realizing that your roommate's parents had gone all out. Still, it seemed a bit disingenuous for a NYT lifestyle article. There are no doubt kids being shipped off with $300 shower gel. Was this the best target for generalized rage?

It's for whatever reason easier to rage at more middle-class decadence. Maybe because that's meant to signal a generational shift - this might be kids-these-days, in a way that the schmanciest 0.01% are not. Or maybe it's because there's a certain amount of respect granted to those who spend gobs, but not at a place as shabby as Target, because that's supposed to be chic. It's that second possibility that concerns me.


We now meet the similarly fancy and schmancy students of the University of Missouri, Columbia, who live in "luxury" apartments. What is luxury, though, in this context? Luxury is, these are apartments, not dorms. They actually cost less than the dorms, but are nicer. Key paragraph commenters seem not all that keen on reading:

The monthly rates for the modern units in Columbia generally start at $700 per student for a spot in an apartment, about twice the cost of older housing in the area. Yet they are on par with the price of on-campus housing, which equates to about $1,000 a month per bed, meals included.
So this does sound kind of steep either way. (Dorm food: world's biggest rip-off, unless Alice Waters is somehow involved.) Fascinating, really, that people are paying more to live in Missouri off-campus housing, however luxurious, than one could not that long ago to live in Greater Park Slope.

These apartments are "luxury," though, because they have flat-screen TVs, instead of professors giving lectures. Which is... apparently something we're to believe is a normal thing that happens in a dorm? I went to a somewhat intellectual college (understatement) and lived in its dorms. No one was giving any lectures, unless you count the occasional midnight mansplaining among the undergrads.

"Luxury," though, seems to be mostly code for things that weren't ubiquitous back in the day, but have become so. Or things that didn't exist, period. College students today are mighty luxurious with their smartphones, but note the lack of record players, records/tapes/CDs, video cameras, regular cameras, address books... Similarly, various accoutrements of an earlier age that haven't been replaced with smartphones are also obsolete. How much formalwear are students bringing to college, for example, and no, we don't just get to compare this with whichever peak of hippieishness from the 1970s.

The article inspired what might well be the most mean-spirited comment in newspaper comment history. One college student is interviewed and explains that she's covering some of the cost of living in one of these evil luxury buildings herself, and is not - as the journalist clearly wants to portray her as - a brat. Which gets this response:
Ironic that the bearer of such an infamously aspirational, tacky and upwardly-mobile-stock-broker-fave name as "Courtney" would dispute the notion that student residents of these upscale off-campus resize denies are entitled and spoiled jerks. 
And when she says "I wouldn't say I'm spoiled by any means," methinks the lady doth protest too much.

Further complicating things from an amateur-sociology perspective: there are a) the dorms, which sound like the biggest rip-off, but which have some kind of implied academic atmosphere, and b) the new "luxury" housing, with their "stainless steel appliances, granite countertops and balconies," but there is also c) the Niedermeyer Building, which is apparently old, quaint, and in far better taste than dorms with their own tanning salons. The Niedermeyer Building - furnished, one imagines, by Karl Farbman himself - is clearly for a better class of person. A recent grad who lives there refers to Option B as "mass-produced, soulless luxury." So is it that some students are too poor for in-house tanning, or that some are sufficiently lowbrow as to seek this out? (Both?)

And another commenter has this to say:
My own kids go to top colleges and stay in dorms that are austere and basic. [....] I'd be interested in finding out if there is a direct inverse relationship between the status of the college academically and the luxury housing and other perks they feel compelled to offer. If you are secure in your status, you don't need bells and whistles.
Never mind that it's not the college offering all this. But this commenter may have a point. Student scrappiness is its own class signifier - sometimes the result of a badly-funded school with working-class students, but sometimes the very height of posh. (If you want to make this international, check out the dorms at Sartre's alma mater in Paris.) Maybe those raging against the One Percent would want to look somewhere other than at state-school kids in Missouri, granite-countertop-having or otherwise.

Friday, June 14, 2013

People are trying to sell you things: notes from a potato-sack communist

I know, such a strange assertion, but bear with me. If you are a woman, people are really trying to sell you things. Apologies to Sarah Haskins, Naomi Wolf, and the many others who've pointed this out, but somehow the message remains controversial. Oh, not in the abstract, but when you break it down to the individual things being sold. There, otherwise sensible women (and I include myself in this criticism) will insist this one item is universal necessity.

There's one approach to the selling-of-things that trumps the rest, which is a quasi-sanctimonious necessity argument often centered on pseudo-health. As in:

-Are you taking care of your skin? Not sunscreen, or something prescribed by a dermatologist for an actual condition. Serums, lotions, and individual creams for the left eye and right. It's unacceptable to come to the conclusion that the best paraben-free serum in a BPA-free container is no serum at all, because that doesn't cost anything. It simply isn't done to determine that while your skin does not look airbrushed, while you look the age you are, you have no particular issue that needs addressing, and leave it be. You need products. But expensive ones - you need to take care of yourself!

-Is your hair healthy? Not as in, does the condition of your hair reflect overall well-being and a healthy lifestyle. As in, do you have split ends? Dry, over-processed hair? And what if you do? What if this in no way detracts from your life? Unacceptable. Hair needs to be healthy, because healthy is not negotiable. You do not simply look best if you get regular trims. (Sigh, true.) You need these (says a hairdresser, says a women's mag). The world will end if you go more than six weeks between.

(Hair - this is the one where I'm guilty. Ever since discovering The Expensive Japanese Hair Products, I find it impossible to imagine why anyone hasn't put $20 towards a bottle of 100% tsubaki oil. And the Shiseido Japan hair mask. I have already led one friend and one relative down this path - perhaps some blog-readers as well. That and eyeliner. You don't wear eyeliner? What are you thinking?)

-Would you look better-in-a-conventional-sense if you lost a few pounds? Unless you're the ballerina/pole-dancer (ex-?) girlfriend of the exiled guy who, as has been established, looks just like a certain political-science professor (it's uncanny!), chances are the answer is yes. And even if it's not - even if you'd look sunken and heroin-chic-in-a-bad-way if you lost an ounce (and how nice for you!), we so equate weight-loss with beautification in our society that aesthetic reality is beside the point. It is thus inconceivable that you wouldn't at least consider a cleanse. What, you're OK being a healthy (which is its own conversation) but not stunning weight? You've clearly failed to take into account all the toxins in your system, 'toxins' of course not being a euphemism for 'extra 5-10 pounds from pasta non-avoidance.'

-And finally.... yes, there are women who are wearing the wrong size bra (and does the bra kerfuffle ever continue - re: the Observer piece, nice to see that skepticism and gullibility/vanity coexist in others as well) who are physically uncomfortable because of it. This is real! I take your word for it! There are also, however, women not in pain from their current, self-sized bras, or who are most comfortable in no bra at all. This is a problem from a marketing perspective. So it needs to be that ill-fitting bras are causing back injury even in women whose backs feel just fine. It needs to be that properly-fitting bras are improperly-fitting if they haven't been properly fitted. There needs to be some quasi-medical reason why, if you're not hoisting 'em up to what coincidentally happens to be the aesthetically optimal level, on a daily basis, and doing so with a device that's $50 or more, you will in fact die in a gutter of ill-fitting-bra-induced infection.

Anyway. I do not - as you might be thinking - approach this all from the perspective of a potato-sack-advocating communist. Just because someone is trying to sell you something doesn't mean that the thing in question won't work wonders. Flattering bras are flattering! Dewy skin is dewy! (OK, I do oppose weight-think.) What I'm asking is that we be alert to - and skeptical of - these necessity arguments. Just because some women simply must have/do X doesn't mean you are in the same situation with respect to that particular step in the primping process. And people who are telling you that you simply must are, quite often, trying to sell you something. So just... keep that in mind.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Parental overshare: the children's revenge

The end of parental overshare may be afoot. And it has nothing to do with my attempts to get a campaign going to stop it. No, the credit goes to children themselves, who are apparently oversharing about their parents. The BBC Woman's Hour podcast (better than the title suggests) had a segment about technology in the home. It was mostly about children being spoiled entitled Young People Today with their gadgety whosawhatsits that presumably their parents bought for them.

But it was also about what happens when children post about their parents. Specifically, one kid went on the social media and wrote something like, 'you know your parents are alcoholics when the buy a wine refrigerator.' The implication on the program being that the parents are of course not actually alcoholics - which, well, maybe they are, probably they aren't, but either way, the parents won't want this online, even in jest. Think of their reputations!

It's also, in tone, exactly the sort of thing parental overshare usually consists of - an anecdote meant to amuse peers (not generally a newspaper audience, if a kid's the author), without a thought given to how the subject of the anecdote might feel.

Some connection was made on the show to parents oversharing about their kids, including one mother of a presumably adult child posting a photo of her daughter with a hangover and no makeup on. (A dry country, the UK, it appears.) The emphasis was on how kids don't know what is and is not appropriate to reveal, but the takeaway seemed to be that through their concern about their own reputations, parents come to recognize their children's privacy. A father said that he and his family made a pact not to write about one another without prior permission (and yes, yes, I'm skeptical of getting children's 'permission' for this sort of thing), and the first to break the pact was... the dad, who then had to pay a fine. The shoe on the other foot and all that. This is it - this is how the message will get across.

On being young and with-it

To the people who keep referring to the traitor-hero exile who looks just like the political-science prof... to the people who keep referring to dude as "a young kid" and the like, I thank you. He is 29. I am 29. 29, so young! Practically a child! The approach of 30 brings with it the list-of-things-I-will-now-hope-to-have-done-by-35-which-just-doesn't-sound-as-impressive. (Also decrepitude, but we women get used to being told we're over the hill from drinking-age on, so that I'm not so worried about.) So please, keep calling Snowden a little boy. For my sake.

Also flattering: I'm reading Joseph Epstein's Snobbery: the American version, and loving his enthusiasm for the University of Chicago, which he attended. I must drop my college's name more often. (Less fond of his take on American Francophiles, and on Americans who marry Europeans - but whevs, if you marry a Belgian, and buy that person a deep-fryer as an anniversary gift-that-keeps-on-giving, you get Belgian fries, at home, so it's Epstein's loss.)

But more surprising - and thus more flattering - is his insistence, in chapter after chapter, that there's some cachet to living in Princeton, New Jersey. Not to being affiliated with Princeton University - that's not hard to imagine. But with just living there. Not there, here. Princeton, according to Epstein, is one of a handful of "with-it" American cities. Right there on page 229 (or just in the version available at the Princeton Public Library?) It's... I hadn't even realized it was a city. What about the deer? The ticks? The turtles? But we are soon going to get a second independent coffee shop, which is something. And we do have better sushi than New York - not sure how that came to be, but there it is. And the beer-ice-cream. Could be worse.

When (cis) men can get pregnant, we'll talk

In this crazy world we live in, there are, we have now learned, female men's-rights activists. I read Laurie Schrage's op-ed on my phone, thus avoiding the pull of the comments. I tried to look at her suggestion - that men who do not consent to co-parenting shouldn't owe child-support - with an open mind, but kept coming up variations of the same problem: some counterargument or neglected angle would occur to me, and would swing me that much further back to my - and the law's - default. It's impossible not to feel for a man who oopsed his way into a lifelong obligation. But does it follow that such a man should be spared the consequences?

-The in-your-face obvious: no one forces a man to have the kind of sex with a woman that can lead to the conception of a child. Or: if he was forced (unusual but possible), then we might say that in such circumstances, he can ask for nothing to do with any potential offspring, and the court can grant that. And what exactly are men being asked to do? Are they being forced to marry the woman they've impregnated, and not sleep with anyone else, till death do they part? To take meaningful responsibility for their offspring? To parent? Not so much.

-Is it appropriate/sensible/ethical for men having casual sex to assume that the women they are having sex with would get an abortion? By 'assume' I don't mean, assume that a woman who says she would is telling the truth. I mean 'assume' in the absence of any information. And while adoption is also a possibility, the woman who has been carrying the fetus for X months might start to consider it her child, and find herself not so prepared to give it up.

-If men have not default consented to co-parent, what do we then do if a man wants nothing more than to co-parent the just-conceived fetus now residing in a woman who wants nothing to do with him or it? He also hasn't consented to an abortion. Which does get tricky. If men who favor consequence-free sex have these rights, presumably so too do men who think every last one of their sperm is sacred.

-Schrage assumes two possibilities - a man who falls more or less ass-backward into lo and behold, he has impregnated a woman whose name he hardly knows, and a man who started out as a co-parent but has bailed. Meanwhile, the more likely situation is, I suspect, that a man is the boyfriend, if not in the super-serious, 50-something-couple-who-both-went-to-Berkeley-and-live-on-the-Upper-West-Side-and-have-been-together-30-years-and-have-three-kids-but-don't-believe-in-marriage sense, still in a sense that rings serious to the parties involved. A case where man and woman alike are making assumptions - she that he's going to stick around, he that all of this isn't really going to interfere with his life several months down the line.

-The benefit of the current system, from a feminist perspective, is that it shifts some of the risks of sex from women to men, bringing the potential burden on sex faced by men somewhere closer to that which sex will always place on women. But not all that close. That women risk pregnancy with every heterosexual encounter - not to mention a greater threat of STDs, for whichever anatomical reasons; not to mention rape - is not likely to change, and does make women-on-the-whole more wary of casual sex than men-on-the-whole. (Thereby making it tough to establish whether baseline women want this sort of thing any less than men do - and yes I know there's a new book on that very question.) A woman can (in theory) decide not to bear a child, but once pregnant, she can't opt to pretend the whole thing never happened. Even women who don't think abortion is murder aren't generally so blasé about getting them. Is it, as Schrage contends, basically slut-shaming men to ask that they too remember that sex of a certain sort can produce a child?

The law, then, is perhaps less about what happens when paternity is contested - to the father, the mother, or the kid, and you have to figure that messy situations are messy - and more about sending a message to men who have not yet gotten into this situation. Which is only 'shaming' if it assumes that men have the right to consequence-free sex. Which is why 'men's rights' has such a great name, I suppose.

-A woman who consents to bearing and keeping a child doesn't consent to whatever trouble that child gives her (or draining, expensive, and tragic illnesses and disabilities that child might come to suffer from) at 3 or 8 or 15. But we assume because she had the kid, well, this is her problem. Why, then, do we not assume that because a man had the sort of sex that has been historically known on rare occasions to make a baby he has not in this same way quasi-consented to any possible outcome?

OK, someone's-wrong-on-the-internet brigade, what am I missing?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A walk down memory lane

I did some work for my undergraduate university, and the tax form required info about whether I'd been employed there before (yup) and when (huh?). You know how everyone makes a big deal about children who go to college and don't even know how to do their own laundry? Well, that you figure out after one red item goes into the whites, problem solved. So you have some pink towels. As a parent, what I would teach my children is to keep meticulous records of what work you do for whom, on which exact days, and what you were paid for it, and do so starting from the age at which this doesn't even seem relevant. (Here's one problem being an unpaid intern solves.)

Email tends to answer such questions, but I only got gmail in, what, 2004? And all email from my undergraduate account (including a couple from someone who's now a NYT columnist! waa!) is now in the abyss. Or [insert predictable NSA joke here]. Whatever.

Anyway, while this information is surely also in tax forms I don't have in front of me/in my apartment, period, I figured that it was probably elsewhere as well. Like, say, in an old resume. But what I needed to find was the information about my book-shelving job. This is something I had apparently removed from the resume fairly early on in my post-college job search, and had evidently not passed along to grad-school recommenders. Probably at the advice of the career office, although in retrospect, maybe I ought to have kept it on. Did my contributions to the Chicago Criterion (does that even still exist?) merit a whole line?

Searching, searching, then, found it! It was in a resume, but one I'd prepared especially for... Petit Bateau, the French t-shirt store. I had evidently applied to work there in 2005, and a great many other places along those lines that I'm almost entirely sure never got back to me. Things were evidently not so rosy pre-recession, either.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Quote of the day UPDATED

"I'm not as thin privileged as I used to be." - a Savage Love commenter.

Found this via an unrelated search, but it does remind me that the Reddit thread inspired by/ranting against/providing copious traffic to (thanks guys! I should rile people about undergarments more often - maybe then the blog-ads I forget are even there would amount to something) my earlier post on bra-fit includes a debate about whether or not I have "thin privilege." The only information I'd provided in that post was that I lack gamine-privilege - what, you hadn't heard of gamine-privilege? Let me educate you: It's the privilege to go out in a camisole. To be menswear-chic. My point being that my skepticism about the bra-fit industry did not come from being a woman to whom none of this marketing was directed in the first place. And I left it at that - no details, no... dimensions - because that's the WWPD way.

Anyway, one participant says that I said that I'm not thin (but that I could very well be fat and privilege-oblivious - good to know!), but another is like, no way, she never said that, she is thin. 

But alas, I failed to do the thing one must in such conversations - provide accurate, up-to-date full-body photos, and the complete roster of measurements (weight, BMI, waist size, cup size, etc.). One must situate one's self. But one neglected to do so. So it must remain speculation.

The Reddit-users were forced to Google-image-search, from which they have determined - bizarrely - that they know what I currently look like. The photos that produces are not terribly revealing, but even if they were full-on bikini-and-calipers - and if one makes any reference to one's build, one owes the internet bikini-and-calipers - they're from a good long while ago, back when I lived in cities and, like, went out places. Who knows what I look like now.

(OK, of my three readers, at least two are probably people I know and am actively in touch with in real life. They may have some idea. And Obama - surely he knows all. Meanwhile there isn't much, mirror-wise, in this apartment, so I myself am not entirely sure.)

Which is really the problem with looks-privilege-talk on the internet. Well, one of them. Another is that using "privilege" in reference to looks suggests a dichotomy like the (ever-increasing!) one that exists wrt class/income. People who say they're 'middle-class' are often in denial in one way or the other. But most of us are within normal limits when it comes to looks. 'Middle', as it were. And looks are subjective in a way that wealth is not. (Yes, relative wealth is important, but either you can afford housing/healthcare/kids' education/some fun stuff or you cannot.) Exceedingly few of us either benefit from the advantages of being gorgeous or suffer from the effects of being unusually plain. 

With socioeconomic privilege (also known as "privilege"), people can be evasive, but there's generally an answer. With looks... there's self-reporting subjectivity. As in, I could tell you that I'm basically Gisele, but that would not make it true. Self-esteem as vs. what others see. (The proverbial model-who-still-thinks-she's-a-gawky-loser.)

Also important: whether someone is or is not photogenic. Whether a photo has been doctored. Whether - if no photo - what sounds on paper like conventional beauty amounts to the same in person. A 'leggy blonde' might or might not be Claudia-Schiffer-esque.

Of course, if beauty privilege exists within the online world, not just in reference to off-line, then one really could just have a blog, no photos, claiming to be a beautiful woman, and somehow benefit from this entirely constructed identity. Stranger things have happened. 

Oh, and in anticipation of the inevitable response: thin privilege is real, as in the advantages of being not-fat are real, and especially key for women. Thin privilege plus white privilege means when there's an empty seat next to you on public transportation, someone takes it immediately

But thin privilege isn't identical to beauty privilege, so even if a thin woman goes through life not knowing what heavier women deal with (that is, if she's never been fat - something people on these internets seem quite ready to assume), she may still know perfectly well what it's like to be bullied for one's physical appearance, to be rejected romantically time and again (and remember, the default assumption in our society is that girls and young women receive a constant barrage of offers). 

Finally, it's come up here before whether privilege is something that can be acquired - i.e. the working-class Harvard grad. (Some say yes - I prefer to call earned privilege 'advantage,' so as to distinguish it from unearned.) But there's a related question, which is whether what matters more is what one has now, or what one had at some formative time. This could apply re: looks or wealth/status, but the whole earned/unearned issue never quite applies with the former. I remember some study a while back, showing that men's income correlated with their height, but not their current height, their height at 16. Something like that might well be true for women and weight, or just women and looks.

On an unrelated note, somewhere on Facebook is a picture of me at 12 or 13. My name isn't anywhere on it, and I'm not tagged. And I'm fine with that.


As usual, Autumn had the answer all along.

Fiction is better, Part IV

Motherlode, the NYT's not-so-gender-neutrally-named parenting blog (but hey, it's honest), posted an essay by a woman whose approach to substance-use-and-abuse and parenting much resembled that of a different author's approach to birth control. As in, this poor woman seems to be doing, and have done, virtually everything wrong. Ah, but "wrong" is so judgmental. What's a better term - ill-advisedly?

The mother reacted to her son's pot use in eighth grade by drug-testing him on a regular basis. (Parental overshare? Kind of - we have her real name - but the son's now technically of age.) She believed - against all evidence, including her own son spelling this out - that her son's high school friends consumed no substances whatsoever. Except she must not have believed this, what with the drug testing. Nothing quite adds up.

Her approach - and an ex-husband's cocaine addiction (the boy's father?) could well enter into this - is rather black-and-white. Either a child is 'good' and squeaky-clean, or 'bad' and strung out on absolutely everything. Which is... I've heard of this sort of attitude, but it's foreign to my own experience. I went to high school with lots of immigrants/children of immigrants, and there was no sense that being an A student and good kid was incompatible with, at the very least, consumption of alcohol and tobacco. Underage, sure, but try explaining this to someone who just arrived from Belarus.

Anyway, the mother here agrees to let her son - now 18 - host a party in their house. To say that she doesn't entirely trust him might be an understatement:

The Facebook invitations stated in capital letters, “No drugs, no alcohol.” I hired security guards to search bags and patrol the grounds. I posted “no smoking” signs and photos comparing pink, healthy lungs with blackened, petrified lungs. I placed a few car-crash pictures on tables to highlight the fallacy of invincibility.
She... what? I can understand (and would support) not allowing smoking inside a house, but with a bunch of teenagers who aren't even your children, eh, it's kind of up to them what they do when not in your house. But more to the point, this just sounds more haunted-house/after-school special than party decor. Morbid, inappropriate, and just weird.

As the essay's title had already revealed, all these measures did nothing whatsoever to prevent this from turning into a rager - the sort of rager that kind of does require a house with "grounds." The lesson this mother says she learns - that one should not host a party for teenagers - suggests she's perhaps missed the point.

As one might imagine, the comments are soon bursting with what was this woman doing? reactions. Also following the script, the mother responds - in the comments, alas:
I wrote this essay hoping (again naively?) that other parents would learn from my mistakes. I expected, and deserved, harsh judgment about the party, but I did not expect to be personally attacked on the subject of my parenting. The commenters make sweeping judgments based on a thin 800 word image of me and my son.
On the one hand, how on earth wasn't she expecting this outcome? On the other, it does sting when people say nasty things about you on the internet, even if you did kind of open yourself up to it. Might it have stung less if the author had at least chosen a pseudonym? Might it have been less about the honor of her family at stake? Could be.

On trying to stay un-exploded in New Jersey

A bomb threat on the Princeton campus, it seems. I'm choosing to believe that where I live doesn't count - not that bombs are capable of knowing which institutes are or are not affiliated with the university, but I'm opting to think the danger of me driving a poodle somewhere complicated and highway-requiring (my husband being away on astrophysics business) outweighs the chances a non-nuclear (I'd imagine!) bomb would go off on the now-evacuated not-that-distant-but-still-pretty-distant campus. Also that any mini-road-trip I might take would ultimately be more about procrastination than about safety - got lots of work that can be done from right here in the apartment.

I woke up to this, and to a reminder that my library books from the university library are almost due. Perhaps I get an extension.

Monday, June 10, 2013

"[A] health-food-store simpleton"

Via Will Baude, a vegan... restaurant review? Treatise? Is a high-end meal inherently unvegan? I haven't been to Next, in any incarnation, but I have been to one of the Chicago vegan establishments Kevin Warwick approves of. I ordered wrong - the most wrong I have ever ordered, to this day. Vegan paella. Not good, not good at all.

Warwick's review is basically like if the old-time health-food store reviewed Whole Foods. There's what vegetarianism/veganism once was, and there's what it's become. Recently, at a restaurant in town, a woman very much of the ladies-who-lunch style informed the waiter that she was a vegan. This veganism did not conflict with the largest diamond ring I had ever seen (overheard conversation and other clues suggest its authenticity) and, more to the point, a gargantuan logoed designer leather handbag.

Now, I'm not saying that this woman shouldn't be a vegan - for all I know it was doctor's orders, for all I know Louis Vuitton handbags exist in remarkably leather-like sustainable hemp. But as David Brooks told us in 2001, and has only become more true since, what was once 'hippie' has now become a class marker for elites. Which presumably inspires ambivalence in hippies. (Hipsters being some mix of the two categories.) On the one hand, it ought to be a good thing if haute cuisine means celebrating vegetables. On the other, if you were vegan before it was cool, or if you're vegan because you don't care about what's chic (I mean, indirectly because of this - if you're an earnest sort concerned with animals, not trends), I see how a vegan $225 tasting menu might grate.

And maybe Warwick has a point. If veganism is a social-justice movement (as some contend), then maybe a feast that screams '1%' doesn't sit right? But is that a restaurant review? Dude had the chance to eat a meal many would be thrilled to try, and comes across as altogether ungrateful for the experience.

Or does he? This is something I've long thought about high-end dining, but basically, food can only be so good. Is the best $300 dinner really 100x better than the best $3 slice of pizza? And isn't 80% of how much we enjoy a meal simply a function of how hungry we happen to be when eating it? While $300 is... steep, I suspect I'm not alone in having been at some dinner or other where the only socially-acceptable thing to say about the food, on account of its cost, was that it was truly the most amazing food ever made. But you're sitting there and thinking - as Warwick does - that a taco would be preferable.

Of course, I also tend to think this is why I'd make a terrible restaurant critic. (My reviews would be something like, 'I really enjoyed this dinner, because I'd gone running that morning and had had a light lunch. I wasn't too thrilled about the inclusion of zucchini, because it's not my favorite, but it seemed like zucchini that someone who liked zucchini would have enjoyed.') So there's that.

But my initial reaction - the one I posted to Facebook and that's currently being read by Obama, who's like, wow, Phoebe, you are slow on the uptake, was that an item on a $225 tasting menu is called "douchi." But then I Googled this and it's just a Chinese ingredient. Not some kind of surreptitious and altogether self-defeating class warfare on the part of an upscale restaurant. Alas.