Monday, June 30, 2014

Not a thing to wear

This morning I did what had to be done and dropped maybe half the contents of my closet off at the closest thrift shop. There are two consignment boutiques closer by (one too intimidatingly pretentious for me to have ever been inside), but if there was ever a moment to even attempt consignment with these items, it was over five years ago at least. Most of what was in there seemed late-college-era at the newest, with a little bit from the interviews-and-job I had between college and grad school. Including one truly hideous pinstriped flared pantsuit (!) from Express, a tag still on the jacket, indicating not that I hadn't worn it, nor even that I was sneakily planning to wear then return it (it wasn't even a price tag, just something identifying the item), but rather that my attention to detail in that area in 2006 was somewhat lacking. Needless to say, there was stitching still left where it shouldn't have been in the suit I wore for a kind of important interview in 2005. Oh well.

The hope with this organization-fest was that I'd discover all the great stuff I already owned and not need to shop. That I would, as the cringe-inducing saying goes, 'shop my closet.' With the exception of one Uniqlo mini-ish skirt of recent-ish vintage, that did not happen. The reality is, the wearable, reasonably-well-fitting clothing I own is precisely the stuff I already wear. The other stuff was all sort of terrible, but for so many different reasons. Much of it had to do with details - button size, flared-ness of sleeves and pant legs - that make clothing look dated after a decade. But there were also all the items that never quite fit but were a nice color or print or something, which is maybe easier to get away with at 19 than 30. And then, of course, was the stuff that was just stained or worn out. But the main takeaway was that it took me ages to develop a sense (chaotic as it may be) of personal style. Whatever was in evidence in the items bought prior to, say, 25, it wasn't that.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


When does adulthood begin? There are the articles regularly placing it older and older, according to the latest neuroscience. The 'the human brain only stops developing at' articles, according to which I, at the tail end of 30, am probably too young to be making any major life decisions.

But the real ambiguity is the one surrounding college students. We've decided that they're too old to live at home but too young to pay their own way. If 60% of 20-somethings and early-30-somethings are getting financial help from their parents (how I read the relevant, startling paragraph), that's not a phenomenon that can be dismissed as impacting only the rich. Certainly if you consider that those not receiving help are probably clustered mostly on the older end of that range. The way the economy is now structured, it's unlikely that a 20-year-old, especially one in school, is entirely financially independent. That exceptions exist, or that many managed this in a different economy, is a distraction.

But we still have this notion of 18 as adult. And it's this tension that leads to messes like the one described in this week's Social Qs:

I am the mother of a 20-year-old college student who is still on our family health insurance plan. I was confused about a benefit statement we received regarding her visit to the gynecologist. The insurance company told me the charge was for fitting her with a diaphragm. I am not sure if this is correct, but my husband and I disagree whether it’s appropriate to discuss it with her. Thoughts?
Philip Galanes answers the question in a way that almost makes sense, until you remember that the child in question is 20:
Of course you should talk to her! What are you waiting for — your daughter to hit menopause? If you suspect the bill is incorrect because your 20-year-old is not having sex, let me assure you that you are probably wrong (statistically speaking). And whether your daughter likes it or not, it is your job as a parent, along with her father, to insist on a running dialogue about her emotional and psychological readiness for all kinds of adult activities she is on the verge of undertaking — including sex. 
As with many important talks, this one may be squirmy to start. So, whichever of you is better at intimate chatting should sidle into her bedroom one night, and ask her sweetly about her love life: “Anyone special?” And no matter what your personal views of premarital sex, let her know that you just want to help her make the right decision — for her. Feel free to wax poetic about waiting for true love, but for God’s sake, make sure she knows that a diaphragm will not protect her from sexually-transmitted diseases. Now, get to work, Mom!
A 20-year-old looking for contraception is, one would hope, informed enough to know which forms do and don't prevent STDs. If she's gone to a doctor for said contraception, seemingly the doctor would also discuss this with her. 20 seems sort of ancient to be learning the facts of life. A conversation about this with one's 10-year-old might be "squirmy," but with one's 20-year-old, it's squirmy in the same way as it would be squirmy for any adult to discuss any other adult relative's sex life. A 20-year-old should feel comfortable going to her parents in a time of crisis, but what, in this case, is the crisis? This seems like a case of an adult behaving sensibly.

More to the point: isn't doctor-patient confidentiality supposed to be a thing? Again, maybe there would be some emergency situation where that would have to be breached, but does a 20-year-old getting contraception count as such?

But it's the parents' insurance! They are paying for the diaphragm, so they have the right to... what, exactly? It *is* an awkward situation. It's now appropriate (says the government!) to stay on one's parents health insurance until 26, as well as quite possible to be employed without benefits. So the health information of generally functional 25-year-olds is open information for their parents. Should the parents happen to be writers of overshare (and who isn't these days), they're thus free to spill not only anonymously, to advice columnists, but in any public forum they desire. 'My Millenial Child Has Herpes,' coming soon to a magazine cover near you. But back to the matter at hand: 20 is at one and the same time too old to ask for a parent's permission (or owe an explanation!) for something so private as contraception, and too young to deal with this truly independently.

The answer I always lean to, for this sort of thing, is the one that will rile my libertarian readers: get the state involved. For people of limbo age, in higher education or the lowest, most precarious rungs of employment, basic living expenses and health insurance should come from the government. The parents (and non-parent adults) are still paying, yes, but in tax dollars. This would apply not to children, but to those in whichever age range we determine is both definitively adult and realistically tough to be 100% self-supporting at in our economy. Maybe 18-22, maybe 18-25. This would accomplish two things. First, it would level the playing field at a time in people's lives where this is especially key, but also especially possible to address. (An equal playing field within the childhood home is, for obvious reasons, more complicated.) Second, it would take away the awkwardness around children owing not just society but their parents specific behaviors as adults. Because it's not exactly that the 20-year-old's mother is wrong to want to pry, but that society should be structured in such a way that this would be considered outrageous.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Expectations exceeded UPDATED

To those who may be interested (Kei, Commenter Petey), the moment finally came: I drove to Mitsuwa! And back! While I get that driving from Central NJ to Northern NJ doesn't sound especially momentous, this was my first time on the NJ Turnpike, or any toll road for that matter. It was also my first experience of steep-hill driving, in either Edgewater or Fort Lee, whatever town it was between the road and the store. 

I'd been slightly worried that this would be like my last Japanese-supermarket excursion, to one in the Philadelphia suburbs, which turned out to be nice enough but a glorified convenience store, and which was only worth it in the end because of some good French bakeries nearby. Not so this time around! Mitsuwa is basically a suburban-NJ-sized Japanese supermarket/food hall, combined with a drug store, a few housewares sections, and a food court. A really cheap one, I should add - bowls of excellent noodle soup (kitsune udon) for about $5. It was a bit of sensory overload - I could have spent five hours in the soap-and-shampoo section alone! - but sort of manageable. 

Upon arrival.

UPDATE: Ducklings (not goslings - thanks Caryatis!) and Manhattan right outside the store.

More sponges.

The drive back. Near the Secaucus train station. So far north!

It was kind of incredible, I suppose, because it felt like being back in the very stores where I so wanted to buy stuff in Japan, except everything was identified in a script I could read (not necessarily explained or translated, but transliterated), and, more importantly, we were there with a trunk-having car. Lots was even on sale. And yes, a predictably enormous bag of sushi rice, a comically huge bottle of cooking sake, and other such items are now in our apartment. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014


I can't say I think of myself as a social conservative. On all the usual checklist items (same-sex marriage, premarital sex, contraception, abortion...), my stance would make it difficult for me to, say, vote Republican. And I wouldn't exactly classify myself as on the puritanical left, either. But I may have clutched some metaphorical pearls when reading the Prudie letter and response about wedding etiquette around plus-ones for the person with whom a guest is having an affair. A woman's "partner" happens to be a married man with young children - married-married, not even separated - and she's miffed that her partner hasn't been invited to her sister's wedding. While the sister sounds interesting as well - a thrice-married born-again Christian - this seems kind of irrelevant. Is society really so evolved that wedding hosts must include plus-ones who are, in theory, attending other weddings as their own spouses' plus-ones as well? And not even in a polyamorous sense, but in an adulterous one?

The idea, in this case, is that the wife has refused to have sex with the husband for five years, and is fine with him seeing another woman. These seem like kind of classic things a man looking to have an affair would claim, but Prudie goes with taking the letter-writer at her word. So, rather than giving the no-nonsense, telling-it-like-it-is answer one might expect (namely, this man isn't your "partner," but you're an old-school Other Woman bound to get hurt), Prudie gives her blessing to the relationship, on the grounds that if these things are true, the man is justified in looking elsewhere. No discussion of just what a major "if" that is!

But even if so, even if the man and his "partner" aren't doing anything wrong, why exactly does the man need to be the woman's date to weddings? Isn't the idea with the man staying married to his wife, despite her no longer being his real "partner," that they're maintaining a public façade of still being together? Doesn't the whole 'for the children' bit fall apart, not when the man sleeps with someone else (unless that someone else gets pregnant), but when dad is showing up at public events as a different woman's date? Why can't that sort of thing wait until the day comes (which it probably won't) when he actually leaves the one woman and full-on takes up with the other?

Where am I going with this? Where I'm going with this is, it's been my sense for a while now that a certain amount of old-timey, boys-will-be-boys behavior has been recategorized as the sort of thing that progressives - feminists! - must support. While I do think progressives must support consenting-adults-type choices insofar as, it's not progressive to suggest that the cops march in and bust the dude for adultery, is it really necessary, just because this is being presented with up-to-date terminology like "partner," to celebrate scenarios like the one described?

My raw facialist says hi

-Must find this book.

-I have combed the internet and found the best blog-comment of all time: "I like the idea of making yourself get dressed every morning and putting on makeup." It's in response to some (very sensible, if tough to follow) advice on working from home, but it has a certain out-of-context hilarity.

-ITG never ceases to amaze. It turns out there's such a thing as a "raw facialist." As someone who's in more of the 'should I get this spider bite confirmed by a dermatologist or just let it be?' persuasion, I don't think I'm the audience for it, but I'm also not entirely sure what it is. I'm not sure what it means (in the G-rated sense) when someone says they've gotten a facial, either. Are they normally cooked?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Articles of the hot and humid day

-Apparently that thing I'd always had a sneaking suspicion about - that making it in the writing world is easier if your friends happen to be writers - is true.

-I think the technical, journalistic classification for the following link is wut.

-The scientist village where I live is not open to the public, I think, who knows. But there are always tourists coming by to look at it, photograph it, and... I can't quite figure out what they hope to see. Einstein doesn't work here anymore. The scholars who do are on their computers or at their notebooks in their offices. There's nothing to see, and tourists aren't allowed inside the buildings to see it. That doesn't stop them from trying. Sometimes, walking my dog in the area, I feel as if I'm part of some kind of real-life Big Bang Theory fantasy tour, in which I play the disheveled brunette Penny.

But that's nothing! As Shulem Deen explains, the Hasids of Williamsburg have become a tourist attraction. And the poor tourists are disappointed when the anthropological exhibition they've come to observe fails to greet them with the appropriate small-town friendliness. As Deen notes, the tourist whining about this happens to be a middle-aged man, who was trying to make eye contact with women and, more disturbingly, little girls. That they were squicked out and avoided him seems very much unrelated to their being Hasids, and very much about them being sensible female city-dwellers. Deen also notes that there are plenty of legitimate criticisms of the Hasidic community, but that the failure of their eight-year-old girls to smile at male tourists isn't one of them.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Fabulous small purchases*

-A mouse for my "broken computer" which was really just a reasonably-functional if aging computer with a broken trackpad. $15 rather than $1,000 or whatever a computer is these days. Thanks to commenter FarFromBreton for pointing me to Staples, which had been right there all the time.

-A $20 Uniqlo dress (now possibly cheaper still) that solves the easy-to-wear formal-ish dress conundrum.

-One Montreal-style cinnamon-raisin bagel in Philadelphia - the owner (?) threw in a sesame as well. At $2 a bagel this was not the deal of the century, but I did enjoy both bagels and am thus not complaining.

*Apologies to Joseph Epstein.

When "powerful words" fail

By the end of grad school, I was able to convey what my dissertation was about in anything from a sentence to nearly 500 pages. This is a potentially useful skill, but doesn't seem to carry over to Twitter, where, whenever I get into anything like a serious discussion, my first impulse is to move it off Twitter, either to email or just... anywhere, online or off, without a 140-character limit. So, @pronetolaughter, my reply to your recent tweets is here.

For readers who are not @pronetolaughter (whom I take to be a WWPD reader, because of the apparent response to something I'd written here), the issue was whether there's any advantage to using "racism" rather than "privilege" to discuss systematic unfairness based on race. @pronetolaughter argues that people don't react well to being called racist (true!), and that this is where the term "privilege" comes in - as a gentler (correct me if I'm misunderstanding) way to convey this point. @pronetolaughter also seems to be arguing, if between the lines (and again, feel free to correct), that because I question the efficacy of certain terms in calling out racism, sexism, etc., it's because I, deep down, support racism, sexism, and so forth, and am infiltrating anti-bigotry conversations to spread that message. Well, that's not it, I'm afraid.

My thinking, then, is basically this: The "powerful words" @pronetolaughter criticizes me for trying to get rid of are indeed powerful, but possibly too powerful, such that they're perceived of as overshooting the mark. I'm reminded of a course I once took, where the professor referred to various forms of subtle oppression experienced by marginalized groups (not in the U.S.) as "violences," a "violence" being anything bad, not merely anything violent. I think this may have just been the terminology of whichever subfield this was, but in any case, I found it confusing. I got the general idea - microaggression, more or less - but something about the term seemed forced. Yes, there are non-physical forms of violence, but to call everything bad "violence" ends up making it more difficult to discuss violence-violence, and makes it easier to dismiss non-violent, small-scale forms of oppression. While there is indeed a continuum between calling a black person "articulate" and purchasing a black person as a slave, or between a disproportionate obsession with Israel's flaws vs. that of any other country and holding Nazi sympathies, or between staring a bit too long at a woman on the subway and raping a woman...

I guess where I'm going with this is, you want terms that convey the entire spectrum, and that don't hone in on the worst-case-scenario. As much as it's a powerful argument to point out how low-level bigotry relates to more serious offenses, it them becomes far too easy to brush aside the lower-level stuff as not really counting because it's so plainly not the higher-level stuff. It's become just about impossible to discuss low-level anti-Jewish bigotry because "anti-Semitism" has become too powerful to use.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The explanatory power of "rape culture"

Rachel Hills makes the case for the term "rape culture," and lays out the best explanation I've seen for what's meant by the expression. If I remain skeptical, it's not that I'm skeptical of any of the phenomena Rachel discusses. She refers to "[a] culture that doesn’t take women’s 'no's seriously. That assumes that a 'no' is just the first step in a negotiation, rather than a statement of resolve," and yes, that's a very real problem. As is the persistent belief that "date rape" isn't quite rape. She's right that all of these factors are interrelated. The rom-com idea of male pursuit as a good thing ends up encouraging mating rituals that discourage female consent.

My skepticism, then, is really just with whether it makes sense to use the word that refers to the most extreme manifestation of a problem to describe all manifestations. Maybe my wariness comes from the fact that a popular conflation of anti-Semitism with Nazi anti-Semitism makes it near-impossible to discuss relatively minor forms of the phenomenon without seeming hysterical. (As always, The Onion...) But even without resorting to analogies... I guess my thinking here is, using the expression "rape culture" ends up alienating not just those who remain unconvinced by the items Rachel lists, but also those who see all of these as real concerns, but already have a meaning in mind of what "rape" means, namely sex without consent. As in, I can't imagine I'm the only one who gets it, but who remains unconvinced that this term helps others do so. And I'm not sure the best strategy for convincing the unconvinced is one that involves convincing them to use and accept a term that seems, barring extensive explanation, to be overshooting the mark. It works if the unconvinced are prepared to sit through explanations, but my guess is that, unfortunately, they're not.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

In search of fries and mouse

-Mick Jagger's new lady is younger than I am. Eep.

-Shake Shack got rid of the crinkle-cut pre-frozen fries that were the reason I went to Shake Shack for my occasional fast-food needs, and replaced them with something vile that looks like high-end-restaurant fries but tastes like cold raw potatoes, or did today in Philadelphia. Why???

-For future reference: if you have a practical question about something really mundane, even if you happen to be a heterosexual woman sitting with your husband, even if your celebrity crushes are all dark-haired men from the 1990s who aren't what they once were but then again who is, don't go up to a modelesque blond woman in a coffee shop. I saw this woman using a wireless mouse with her laptop, and as I happen to be in the market for just that item (I haven't been able to click on anything properly for weeks), I thought I'd ask her where she got hers, seeing as she was using it with a computer similar to my own, and the search I'd done thus far led me to mice (?) too close in price to a new computer. But her response was a kind of like, why is someone talking to me in a coffee shop again, which, upon seeing what she looked like (I'd noticed her mouse!), I don't find hard to believe. Even the not-so-modelesque have this experience in coffee shops - I can only imagine. So what I learned was that she got her mouse "online." The search continues.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Hyper-personal statements

Frank Bruni addresses a topic near and dear to my heart: the fact that college admissions essays are overshare basically by design. "The essay is where our admissions frenzy and our gratuitously confessional ethos meet," he writes, not inaccurately. Or, to (sorry!) quote my own piece, "Even students not the least bit inclined to confessional writing are asked to spill to strangers (and to parents who may be reading the thing over). You’re invited to show your truest self by sharing a story you might normally reserve for close friends."

But that's how it has to be - how can you demonstrate 'obstacles overcome' without spilling re: what the obstacles were? And you have to have overcome obstacles to be an impressive applicant - otherwise you're an example of privilege rather than merit, the sum of all the good fortune you've experienced (even if that fortune was something like having poor but devoted immigrant parents), as versus someone entirely self-made (at 17). It can't just be that a nice-enough home life and good-enough teachers crossed with sufficient raw intelligence brought you where you are today. It has to be that those As were despite some kind of profound difficulties. Not every 4.0 is equal. Students know this, as do the more involved parents. Keeping secrets no longer feels like an option.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Baby animals vs. croissants

As it happens, three friends of mine are currently visiting Paris. Three that I can think of offhand - Facebook could probably alert me to more (French grad school will do that), and I'm not counting those who live there. I'm what would be called, on "The Only Way Is Essex," jeal. (David Lebovitz, you're not helping.)

But whatever, it's fine! There are good things about where I am, too! For instance, this Bisou-sized fawn.

The pesky problem of words having meanings

"Recommended for you," said The Nation, and right they were: another "privilege" article. Mychal Denzel Smith addresses the oft-heard complaint about the expression "white privilege," namely that there are poor white people. Are they privileged?

Yes, Smith argues, they are, because the government treats poor blacks and whites differently: "Yes, you can be poor and white and still benefit from white supremacy. That’s what privilege is." 

While I agree with the essential, I'd have gone with something like, 'That's what racism is.' The problem with calling out issues like this with the word "privilege" is that the defensive response is built into the word itself. A poor white person from Appalachia doesn't come from privilege, isn't dripping with privilege, etc. Some of the balking at the expression "white privilege" is thus coming not from people who deny that racism continues to exist, but rather from people who aren't comfortable calling poor people, any poor people, "privileged." I'm thus not sure that using the term is the best strategy for raising awareness of these issues - it's sound in terms of theory - yes, absolutely, poor whites hold structural advantage over poor blacks in this country - but then there's the pesky problem of, "privileged" already has a meaning in everyday language, and what it means is "rich." That said, if it helps victims of racism conceptualize their situation and react, maybe?

So, too, with "rape culture." Like "privilege," I've used it, but ambivalently. Because "rape" already has a definition, and because it's difficult enough to get across that non-consensual sex between people with a preexisting relationship also counts, I'm wary of using the term to replace others - misogyny, sexism - that also convey a culture that marginalizes women. On the one hand, it gets across that there's a continuum, that these things (from ogling to rape) are all related. On the other, it can seem (to those of a less theoretical persuasion) to be a case of conflating mere annoyances with assault. 

Again, it seems like maybe "rape culture" helps women understand these issues amongst ourselves, but that once we try to explain sexism to men and use that expression, we're inviting a not-unreasonable sort of defensiveness. Again, from men who might perfectly well agree that sexism exists, but who have their doubts as to whether rape is really the issue every time (say) an older male professor makes an inappropriate remark to a female grad student at a conference.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Faculty advisors

UChicago's in the news all the time! Is this what comes of having up and become a super-elite college? First there's Katie Dries of Jezebel, reporting on the school's issues with sexual assault on campus. (Upsetting but not, I must admit, surprising.) Then there's Dan Savage getting accused of a "hate crime" by a language-policing student. While I have, I promise, oh so many thoughts on all of this, here's the part of Savage's post that jumped out at me for personal reasons:

But I do want to quote one piece at The Maroon—which has written numerous pieces about my alleged "hate crime," the demand by QUIP for an apology from the IOP (which the IOP, to its credit, refused to cough up) and QUIP's demand that the IOP promise to "censor" all future IOP guests who might use "hate speech" (not gonna happen, says IOP)—all without bothering to contact me for my side of the story. (That's not how we do journalism out here in the real world,Maroon. Please consult your faculty advisors. You do have faculty advisors, right?) 
In my time at the Maroon, I don't remember there being faculty advisors. Faculty who wanted to publish articles in the Maroon and got in a tizzy if not permitted to do so, yes, that would happen. (It was like, guys, send your thing to a real newspaper and they'll probably publish it! Not so for us undergrads!) But advisors? It's not a university with a journalism school or program, so I'm not sure where these advisors would be coming from. The Maroon wasn't a class or an apprenticeship. It was (although I suspect this has changed) a smoke-filled, hamburger-grease-coated basement office where the blind led the blind.

In any case, as someone with some insights into how that paper is (well, was) run, my first guess was, they didn't contact Savage because they didn't think in a million years he'd get back to them. It's one thing to aggressively interview school administrators, but visiting famous speakers? People an undergrad wouldn't think could possibly care what's written about them in the school paper? But now I see they did manage to get a statement from the other famous speaker, so, who knows.

A normal body

One day, perhaps, it will be possible to discuss body-image issues without this layer of hypersensitivity such that saying anything, absolutely anything, even anything empowering, is impossible. That day hasn't come. Jezebel and Jezebel-commenters find it problematic that a beauty-pageant contestant's body is being described as "normal." There's no such thing as a normal body, you guys! This is thin-shaming of the other contestants! Or wait, this woman is more thin than fat - so it's fat-shaming! 99.99999% of women could never be as thin as this Miss Indiana!

But what are we to call a body that - while not exactly like that of all women (no body is!) - gives the impression of being... realistic? Of being the plausible result of a healthy-enough lifestyle and no cosmetic surgery? (Without having any idea, of course, how this particular woman came to look as she does - the question is the message her build sends.) Precisely because so many women are built give-or-take like this woman, celebrating her in a bathing suit ends up not just flattering the great many women who kind of look like her, but also suggests... that even though we're looking at her in a bikini, she's been selected for something other than having attained (or been genetically gifted with) a freak-of-nature-in-a-good-way physique.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Bloggingheads, shorts

Readers of WWPD might be interested in watching me talk with Conor Friedersdorf for just over 67 minutes on a variety of topics, among them parental overshare. As it so happened, the latest truly egregious example of that phenomenon appeared after we recorded: a Slate piece in which the mother of a then-sixth-grader (this was in 2012) defends her daughter's right to wear some particular pair of shorts to school.

School dress codes are a perfectly legitimate topic for an article, and one I'd be happy to see addressed more often. By all means, discuss when they constitute slut-shaming, and when they're just about teaching children of both sexes to dress in a way that'll allow them to be taken seriously. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that I'm not a fan of school dress codes, for reasons I've explained earlier. (I do wonder, if the idea with uniforms is to shield girls from inappropriate male attention, who had the brilliant idea to make pleated miniskirts the uniform of choice. My recollection of being that age and having that uniform is that it didn't help matters.)

But! Why exactly must Slate's readership (2,400 comments - comments! - thus far) be presented with a photo of the child in the shorts in question? The idea being, clearly, that Slate readers are invited to give the photo a good examination and then provide their thoughts on whether or not the shorts are too short, whether or not the very young girl wearing them looks kinda skanky. Which... the commenters do. Obviously. This could have been anticipated. Surely it was anticipated, although whether it was anticipated that commenters would go into exactly what about the cut of the shorts made them revealing, in vaguely obscene terms, is anyone's guess. The mother's actual argument made sense. But why - why???? - would you subject your child to this?

Sunday, June 08, 2014


Another for the how-did-I-just-find-this files: Bento Monogatari, a Belgian (Flemish) short film about a woman who becomes obsessed with Japanese culture, cooking in particular, and inflicts this on her husband who prefers cheese sandwiches (and nice-looking young men in their underwear). The wife even watches "Cooking With Dog" at one point! You see Francis!

Given the themes this movie addresses, it seems as if it were created from some kind of algorithm designed to find me the movie of my dreams. That said, it wasn't the best movie I'd ever seen. The homoerotic subplot is maybe done in too generic of a 'this is a European art film' way, and the bit in the synopsis about how the wife is making all this Japanese food to save her marriage doesn't really come through at all. What comes through is that she's super into everything Japanese, including looking like a Japanese teenager, which isn't a look that comes naturally to a middle-aged Flemish woman.

(Flashback to the great joy I experienced upon finally seeing those teen clothing stores in Harajuku... only to remember that what works on a 15-year-old looks odd, not cute, on someone twice that age. A realization that saved some yen, but still.)

In other Japanese-cooking news, I recently met a Japanese woman who cooks bagels from scratch at home. Grass is always greener and all that.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Very important thoughts of the morning

-In the past week, I've spoken French while driving; read (part of!) Kafka's The Castle; and gone running at 7:30am. All of these because of peer pressure. I'm starting to think my friends are not just lovely people I enjoy spending time with, but good influences. (Otherwise it would be singing along to Bastille while driving, reading one of those contemporary novels that inevitably ends up being set in Brooklyn even if I hadn't realized this when choosing it, and running later in the day or not at all.)

-Into The Gloss has taken a refreshing step away from reminding us that Parisian women are effortlessly chic to ask readers about their hometown beauty looks. The way the post is framed, I was worried that what they're looking for was a bunch of 'where I come from, everyone's tacky and conformist, unlike in NY/Paris/London where I live now, now that I work in/want to work in Fashion', but the results are far more varied.

-Jezebel kind of gets but kind of misses the point of "You Did Not Eat That." And oh, the comments. I have my doubts about "thin-shaming," and I say this as someone who has, yes, been thin-shamed. I mean, it's a thing if you're thinner than is generally considered attractive, unhappy about this, yet constantly being accused of having dieted to get to that build. I'm sure that does get frustrating. But when we-the-merely-not-fat stand accused of "anorexia," or listen to (mock) disbelief that we eat carbs, are we actually insulted, really? I mean, beyond the way it's insulting for your body to be commented on no matter what? It's more woman-shaming than thin-shaming, if anything, because one doesn't leave such an interaction (at least I don't) thinking life would be easier if one were a different size. One just leaves feeling sort of gross in a generic leave-me-alone sort of way, and extra-gross if it happens in a professional context.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

"[W]e further codify the idea of women as sexual objects"

Found on Twitter: a confessional essay making more or less the point I made earlier: boys/men aren't the only ones who experience unrequited love. Women and girls, too, can go through long (sometimes lifelong) stretches of unpopularity with the opposite sex. (Obviously gay men and women can also get rebuffed, but that's not so relevant here. Or maybe it is - that also serves as a reminder that there's nothing uniquely hetero-male about romantic disappointment.) Anyway, Lux Alptraum gets at the essential:

Because the problem is this: when we ignore the existence of awkward girls, of the female nerds, losers, and geeks who are just as befuddled by sex and dating, we further codify the idea of women as sexual objects. The notion that all women can get effortlessly laid, if only they open their legs, reduces the reality of female experience, transforming women from complicated individuals to the vessels for male sexual desire lusted after by Elliot Rodger and his ilk, and further fueling the misogynistic rage that leads men like Rodger to feel justified in their anger and actions.
I'll just add - repeating myself from that other post - that this is really the danger of sharing only stories of harassment, of deflecting unwanted male advances, of jealous ex-boyfriends, of leering strangers. Yes, those stories should be shared. But if that's all that's shared, it just reiterates this narrative of women as magical creatures who don't know what it's like to have one's affections repeatedly go unreciprocated. Discuss rape culture, yes, but not in a vacuum sort of a way that assumes women's only challenge in the romantic sphere is unwanted attention from men. It's quite a bit more - as Alptraum says - "complicated" than that.

OK, I'll add one more thing as well, to get into why it's so complicated. The particularity of the female version of unpopular adolescence is that you can be of no interest to the boys in your class, or the boys you like, and be just generally not considered particularly attractive, while at the very same time, you'll be subject to copious leering, catcalling, etc. from creeps on the street. That sort of harassment isn't about admiring female beauty at its peak, or any such nonsense, but about intimidating the most easily intimidated, which is to say girls aged, say, 10-16. So there will be this weird thing where you're spending half the time silently mooning over the boys who like someone else, and the other half getting told "You've been spending too much time on your knees!" by strange men who feel the need to remark in an obscene way on your Rollerblading scabs. Ah, middle school in the 1990s.

Point being, this is, I think, why people get confused. It seems as if all-the-women (#YesAllWomen) must constantly deflect male attention. And it's true in a sense, but not in the sense of attention a woman would possibly interpret as a viable romantic or sexual prospect. Not least because this attention is so often aimed at girls too young to be looking for relationships in the late-teens-and-older sense of the term.

Monday, June 02, 2014


-When first learning the rules of the road, I remember thinking of the dotted lines that allow one to pass on a two-lane road as... something you're supposed to know, but not information I'd ever have occasion to do anything with. It just seemed implausible that I'd ever choose driving into oncoming traffic over waiting patiently behind the slow-moving car in front of me. The idea that I'd ever have the skills to identify a situation where passing would be both safe and appropriate struck me as so farfetched as to not even think about it. Then today, there was this construction vehicle going like three miles an hour on a 45 mph country road, filled with some kind of mud or dirt or something that I wasn't super keen on driving right behind. Pondering this seemingly futile situation, I then remembered the phenomenon of passing zones. I wasn't in one, until a little bit later, I was. I could see far ahead that nothing was coming, and, as if I were an entirely different person, I passed the truck.

-As a white-ish person with unusual amounts of experience feeling out-of-place for not looking East Asian (Stuyvesant,* Japan, H-Mart...), I've sometimes wondered whether anyone ever gets surgery to look more Asian and less white. Not that I'm signing up for cosmetic surgery of any kind, thanks, but as a matter of curiosity. So I guess I'm obliged to link to the story of a very white, blond man who's surgically transformed himself into what he believes to be a Korean man. The results are surprisingly... something? I'm not sure he ends up looking Korean (we'd need to bring him to Edison and see what language they use to address him at the BBQ place), but... you'd expect someone who'd done this to emerge looking terrible. Not, to be clear, that actual Korean men look terrible, but surgical ambitions this radical tend to leave people looking sort of generically... operated-upon. He, in my highly scientific opinion, does not. If he looks a bit unusual in some of the photos, it seems to be more of a makeup issue than a surgery one.

*Sorry! Euphemistic Chambers Street.