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Archive for August, 2010

Did you hear the one about funny feminists?

Check the repartee between New York Times columnist Gail Collins and writer Stacy Schiff, author of the forthcoming “Cleopatra: A Life”, in Wednesday’s Opinionator column.  They wax feminist about everything from Mama Grizzlies to Manolos, and give us a chuckle or two along the way.   Funny, stand-up style, in a true story kinda way.   Here’s a taste:

Gail Collins: I can’t resist the temptation to talk about women in politics even though I know we should be counterintuitive and debate the use of drones in antiterrorism operations.

Stacy Schiff: We can do that next time. Besides, I’m not sure topics divide neatly along gender lines when the individual tackling missile defense systems, nuclear nonproliferation and the Middle East is someone who once made national news with a chocolate chip cookie recipe.

True, that.   (Google Hillary and cookies and you get 668,000 hits)  Now, onto Grizzlies:

Gail Collins: One thing I’ve been surprised by during the current election season is the ongoing argument over whether Sarah Palin or her Mama Grizzly candidates could be regarded as feminists. Can I tell you how amazing it is to hear anybody fighting for the title?

Stacy Schiff: It is a word that can clear a room, isn’t it? Maybe only “bedbugs” does so faster.

Let’s hit shoes:

Gail Collins: Every time I go on a speaking tour I get questions from sad middle-aged women who want to know why their daughters all insist they aren’t feminists. They might be planning to devote their lives to healing fistula victims in Somalia, but they won’t let anyone call them feminists because they think it means being anti-man, or wearing unattractive shoes.

Stacy Schiff: Partly the word has been deliberately sullied, like “liberal” and “progressive.” It spells man-hating, militant, and, especially, no Manolos.

If it makes you feel better, I just texted my 17-year-old to ask if she considered herself a feminist. “If by feminism, you mean equality,” she answers, “then yes.” It’s not a word that appeals, because her generation thinks the work has been done. They’ve been reading articles about the End of Men. Somehow the news that men who work full-time make on average 23 percent more than women do seems to have escaped them.

And back to the Grizzlies:

Gail Collins: Do you think the Mama Grizzlies really can be feminists? I don’t think you can throw a woman out of the club because she voted against the stimulus bill. But if feminism simply means supporting equal rights and equal opportunities for women, I don’t see how a feminist can be opposed to government programs that provide poor working mothers with quality child care.

Stacy Schiff: Exactly. The issue is no longer first-rate intellect, or first-rate temperament, but first-rate opportunity. Which is where the Mama Grizzly business really falls down.

An actual grizzly mom is a single mom. She lends a whole new definition to full-time homemaker. If Dad shows up it’s probably to eat the kids. What Mama Grizzly wouldn’t believe in school lunches, health insurance and quality childcare? Who’s going to look after the kids while she’s off hunting? It’s really, really clever to put this powerful vocabulary — pit bulls and grizzlies — in the service of disempowering people. Kind of like death panels in reverse.

Strangely enough, politics may just be the one realm in which having kids imposes no penalty on women. Kids are practically a necessity. For scientists, or Supreme Court justices, or chief executives, or the woman who wants to learn to fly F-l8s off an aircraft carrier, it works differently.

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By now, you’ve surely seen it. The cover story in this Sunday’s New York Times magazine went viral days before it landed on my doorstep. Robin Marantz Henig’s “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” focuses a lot on the work of psychologist Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, who’s trying to get “Emerging Adulthood” identified as an official, distinct life stage. Arnett’s quest is an interesting one, but, regardless whether the label will earn approval, there’s little question that it fits.

Here is, as we geeks of the pen call it, the nut:

It’s happening all over, in all sorts of families, not just young people moving back home but also young people taking longer to reach adulthood overall. It’s a development that predates the current economic doldrums, and no one knows yet what the impact will be–on the prospects of the young men and women; on the parents on whom so many of them depend; on society, built on the expectation of an orderly progression in which kids finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and eventually retire to live on pensions supported by the next crop of kids who finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and on and on. The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain untethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life.

The subsequent discussion that’s hit the airwaves and the blogosphere comes down like this: Yes, for many 20-somethings, and opposed to maybe their parents’ generation, and certainly their parents’ parents’ generation, the decade is more about exploration than commitment. It makes sense: we live–and work–a lot longer now than ever before. And the interconnected nature of modern life puts all the options out there, front and center on our computer screen, the riper for the fantasizing. So is it any wonder that today’s 20-somethings would rather try before they buy? Rule things out as they make their way, honing in–circuitously… eventually… maybe–on what they ultimately want for their lives? Whether that’s jobs, locations, or romantic partners, the goal of this cohort, in the words of blogger Jessie Rosen,

is to get to the right place, not to get there at the “right time.” It’s not that we don’t know what it means to be an adult and how we’re supposed to do it–it’s that we do.

We are painfully aware that the decisions in our 20s lay the foundation for all of adult life. We know exactly how old our parents were when they had us, and exactly what they sacrificed as a result. We know that time is precious, age isn’t really just a number, and having kids changes everything…

What is so much better about becoming an adult faster?

What am I gaining by taking my time versus what I’m losing by just getting to it already? With every year I wait to be ready to get married, am I letting all the people there are to marry pass me by? Will I be a better, more mature mother at 35 or would I have been just as adept and instinctual at 25? If I live at home with my parents for one more year while I save up to be a full-time writer, will that leave an eternal mark of lame on my life resume? Does being an adult mean having the maturity to know you’re not ready for adult things, or having the maturity to dive in and just figure it out? Won’t I be a better, happier, healthier adult if I take my time getting there?

All of which begs the question: what is this “adult life,” anyway?

According to the NYT piece, sociologists typically define adulthood using a checklist comprised of five milestones (altogether, now!): completing school, leaving home, financial independence, marriage, children. In 1960, 77% of women and 65% of men had ticked them all off by the time they hit the big 3-0. As of 2000, less than 50% of women and one-third of men had killed the checklist.

But, again, to quote–well, myself–is it really that simple?

While financial independence is one thing, as for the rest of it–marriage, parenthood, and one single Career–is making such commitments all there is to being an adult? Is signing on to something–one thing–forever and ever the only thing that can ferry you over the threshold, out of NeverNeverLand and into GrownUpDom?

The idea of checklists, commitments, clearly demarcated life stages, they imply a destination, rather than a journey. And I think the fact of the matter is that whether you’ve got the mortgage, the 2.1 progeny, and the pension plan or not, life is always a journey. We are always emerging, as Arnett puts it. And in that way, it’s apt, though not a stage at all. It’s just life.


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Hey there, boys, lookin’ gooood!

Two items that caught my eye on Wednesday made me chuckle at the ways in which tables can turn.  The first was a feature on girdles for men.  Yep, read that right.  But these “Ript Skinz” are not exactly benign man-versions of Spanx, nor are they silly derivatives of Kramer’s “mansierre”.   Nope, these babies are skin-tight compression garments that, says Skineez company founder Michelle Moran, are designed to smooth the gut, hug the butt and hide the man-boobs.  Right now, the line features thigh-firming bottoms, tight muscle shirts and, soon,  socks.  (Socks?  Pardon me? In the event you feel bad about your toes?)  They’re designed to be worn under everything from business suits to gym clothes.

Gym clothes?  Laughing, are you?  There’s even a bonus feature:  long-term wear promotes over-all skin-tightening:

According to Moran, the fabric in Ript Skinz, along with every other type of Skineez Skincarewear, is actually infused with a patented cosmetic skin-care formula that’s supposed to “rejuvenate, moisturize, tighten and tone the skin” as the clothes are being worn.

If this sounds to good to be true, plastic surgery specialist Dr. Drew Ordon from television’s “The Doctors” can vouch for it. He said Skineez gear “constricts the skin, stimulates circulation and smooths out the fat. If you stick with it, it’ll work.”

Ah, yes.  Stick with it.  Where have we heard that before?  But it gets better:  The girdles have been tested on NFL and MLB trainers and according to Moran, they’ve been wearing the undergarments to the gym during the off-season  “so they can still look as taut and toned as ever.”

“Ript Skinz will improve a man’s posture, give them better shape and enhance their upper body,” she said. “With all that, they’ll gain more confidence. It’s like having a spa wrap under your clothing every day that helps reduce those annoying extra 10 or so pounds that we all gain time and time again,” she explained.

All of which should build brio everywhere from the boardroom to the bedroom, right?  Which brings me to the second item,  a  little press release on Wednesday noting that, while cosmetic surgery procedures — including botox and lipo —  among men may or may not be increasing since its peak a couple of years ago, depending on where you get your stats, what is on the rise is men’s acceptance of getting work done.  Okay, that’s mildly interesting, but the pay-off was this little graf that suggested that one reason that men want to look their best is… feminism:

A third factor contributing to acceptance of plastic surgery for men is a by-product of third-wave feminism. Part of third-wave feminism is what is described as sex-positivism, where women are encouraged to make vocal judgments about sex and sexuality, including what makes men attractive. Statements of this type may make men more open about appearance-related concerns and what might be done about them.

You know where this is going, but let’s go there anyhow. Imagine, boys.  Having your appearance checked out by the opposite sex, at the gym, or even when you walk down the street, telling you to, you know, work it! Some of those opposite sexers might even be judging you based on your, um, abs.  Gee whiz.  No wonder you guys are  headed for the lycra and the botox.

Now, if only we girls could learn how to wolf whistle.



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ACK! She’d say, in cartoon bubble text, generally while agonizing over her weight, or her boyfriend, or whether she was supposed to be avoiding carbs or fat that week, or some other neuroses over which women of her era–the first beneficiaries of feminism of the mid 70s–were taught not to agonize.

Cathy. She of the four “guilt groups”–food, love, mom, and work.

Writer Cathy Guisewite announced last week that the comic strip that no self-respecting set designer would omit from their single female character’s refrigerator will come to an end in October, after 34 years. I felt obliged to offer an obit, but the thing is, I never did like her much…. she was the opposite of empowerment. Shorthand for lonely, neurotic. A cautionary tale. The opposite of who I wanted to be.

But, if I’m going to be disarmingly honest, maybe my distaste had more to do with the fact that something in Cathy struck an uncomfortable chord: that this–let’s just call a spade a spade–rather pathetic woman put ink to the anxieties I’d rather not cop to. Yes, I’m empowered! Yes, I can do anything! Or can I? I don’t know… Do these pants make my butt look big? That nasty ambivalence that none of us want to admit. The shadow to our resplendent, enlightened selves. A piece in the New York Times quotes Guisewite as saying:

‘A big problem at that time was you had to be in one camp or the other. There wasn’t a camp for ambivalence. You were a liberated woman or you were a traditionalist. To even voice vulnerability if you were a feminist was wrong and to voice interest in liberation if you were a more traditional woman was wrong… So I believe the women I was speaking to in the early years of my strip were women like me, who were at that age in our 20s where we were kind of launched into adulthood with a foot in both worlds and no way to really express it.’

And Cathy expressed it for us. Where she should have been saying, Who needs a man?! she’d wonder instead, Why doesn’t he call? Where she should have been saying the pressure to look perfect is a bullshit instrument of oppression, she’d agonize over bathing suit shopping while gobbling a package of fat-free SnackWell’s. And in that way, she was kind of revolutionary. (ACK!)


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By now you have surely heard of Steve Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant who grabbed a couple of beers, activated the emergency exit chute, and with the equivalent of a hearty “fuck you”, left the plane and, presumably, his career.

Shortly thereafter he morphed from certifiable nutcase to the interwebs’ newest working class hero.  Let’s check what Mary Elizabeth Williams over at salon had to say:

Until yesterday, you probably didn’t know that this was exactly what the perfect kiss-off would look like. But once you read about it, didn’t you think, why yes, come to think of it, it would involve cursing, beer, sex and jumping out of a plane? Of course you did. That’s why you posted the story on your Facebook page. That’s why within hours, Slater had become a star – a reminder that with one noteworthy action, a person can gain fame faster than it takes JetBlue to get from Pittsburgh to New York. He now has a Facebook fan page with over 10,000 members, a Wikipedia entry and of course, an outcropping of “FREE STEVE SLATER” T-shirts. ..

Slater’s actions were assuredly grand and possibly a tad overzealous. As New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly understatedly told CNN, “It’s a strange way to quit, let’s put it that way. I don’t think he’ll be able to come back.” Yet his hall of fame-worthy exit cut right to the heart of a sentiment felt by anyone who’s ever had to take crap from customers for a living, toiled in quiet desperation for an impersonal corporation, or looked at a paycheck and thought, “Are you kidding me?” Or as Drew Carey once said, “You hate your job? There’s a support group for that. It’s called everybody, and they meet at the bar.” If you have never had a job that you fantasized elaborately about storming out on, you just haven’t been working long enough. Suffice to say the news of Slater’s exit made me wish I could get in a time machine and go back to the last day of my year in nonprofit. And that the museum I worked for had an emergency chute.

(Note: As of Wednesday morning,  the Facebook fan page had close to 125,000 members.)

Fun aside, Slater’s fantastic slide brings up a bunch of stuff we’ve talked about here  (which might explain why so many of us love his story):  workplace stress in the new millennium.  In our global faster-better-cheaper economy, we’re expected to do more with less.  There’s the new workplace math where the 40 hour workweek now equals 52.  There’s that whole issue of work/life don’t-call-it-balance (Slater, after all, was apparently caring for his dying mother) that if anything, is defined as  a woman’s issue and is usually equated with taking care of small children.  End of story.  But what about life itself?  For all of us?  You know, vacations?  Private time to turn off, tune out and leave the job behind?

No such luck.  And for that we have to thank all the techno-crack designed to make our lives easier that, ultimately, means we’re not only always on — but we’re expected to be always on.  And, as we wrote about last winter — and are rerunning below — this uber-connection encroaches on Every. Thing.  Even fun.  Here you go.

Be Here Now. Yeah, Right.

January 11, 2010 by Barbara Kelley | Edit

Today’s WTF moment comes courtesy of the cover of this week’s New Yorker. The illustration is a little nudge that reminds us how difficult it is to savor the moment, given our umbilical ties to everything tech.

Appropriately titled “The Top of the World”, the illustration shows two pretty people, clearly a well-heeled couple all decked out in chi-chi skigear, at the crest of what looks to be an alpine ski slope. But instead of admiring the view, reveling in their good fortune for what looks like one killer vakay, or just getting into the Zen of it all — pick one — what are they doing?

You guessed it. He’s taking a photo, undoubtedly to post on his facebook page. She’s on her cell phone, presumably sharing the moment, rather than living it. The only thing missing is an iPhone or crackberry so they can text some BFFs before their downhill run.

Well, ugh. It would be kind of funny, but ain’t it the truth. And it makes me wonder: Is this uber-connection to our cyber-lives and cyber friends and god-knows-what-all-else keeping us from being fully present in our own here and now? From appreciating what we have — rather than jonesing for what we don’t? Does the fact that we have one foot in our own life and the other in about a hundred others make us continually wonder what we’re missing?

All those distractions! All those choices! No wonder we’re always angsting over that greener grass — because the other side of the fence is always up in our face.

And it may only get worse (or I guess, better, depending on your point of view), according to a story in Saturday’s New York Times. In a piece aptly titled “The Children of Cyberspace: Old Fogies by their 20s”, reporter Brad Stone ponders not only whether his two-year old daughter’s worldview will be shaped by the technologies she grows up with, but if her generation — and each succeeding one — will be totally different from those that preceded it:

Researchers are exploring this notion too. They theorize that the ever-accelerating pace of technological change may be minting a series of mini-generation gaps, with each group of children uniquely influenced by the tech tools available in their formative stages of development.

“People two, three or four years apart are having completely different experiences with technology,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. “College students scratch their heads at what their high school siblings are doing, and they scratch their heads at their younger siblings. It has sped up generational differences.”

One difference that’s already apparent in older kids is the way they communicate, Stone writes:

Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and the author of the coming “Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn,” has also drawn this distinction between what he calls the Net Generation, born in the 1980s, and the iGeneration, born in the ’90s and this decade.

Now in their 20s, those in the Net Generation, according to Dr. Rosen, spend two hours a day talking on the phone and still use e-mail frequently. The iGeneration — conceivably their younger siblings — spends considerably more time texting than talking on the phone, pays less attention to television than the older group and tends to communicate more over instant-messenger networks.

Dr. Rosen said that the newest generations, unlike their older peers, will expect an instant response from everyone they communicate with, and won’t have the patience for anything less.

Or for taking the time to savor the view, or each other, from the top of the world. Which brings us back to the New Yorker cover. You gotta wonder: if you skied down a black diamond without texting any cyberpals about it — did it ever really happen?

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This post originally ran in April, but we thought now would be a good time to revisit it, giving the impending release of Eat, Pray, Love, based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s mega-bestseller of the same name. So, this week, when you’re bombarded with ads for the movie, the trip, or the collection, remember these words from everyone’s favorite fuck-up: Blow it all, catastrophically, and start over with good cheer. After all, if she hadn’t made some serious mistakes in her life, who knows where she’d be? More importantly, we’d all miss out on a chance to ogle Javier Bardem.

What if failure was not only an option, it was the only option? According to a recent article by Elizabeth Gilbert (she of Eat, Pray, Love fame) in this month’s O magazine, we’d all be a lot better off. In fact, “Failure is the Only Option” is the title of the piece, in which Gilbert suggests we’d be happier if we screwed up. Early. Often. And big.

Now, easy for her to say: her divorce, after all, begat one of the publishing world’s most staggering successes in recent memory (soon to arrive at the multiplex near you), not to mention an amazing round-the-world adventure and another go at the whole Committed thing. (So, it’s probably no surprise that she’d encourage failure on an epic scale: she, after all, is living one serious silver lining.) In the course of making her case for failure, she hits on one of our main theses about the overwhelm women feel in the face of limitless options, and why those options trip us up so colossally: They’re So. Damn. New.

Here’s a little bit of what she says:

We don’t have centuries of educated, autonomous female role models to imitate here (there were no women quite like us until very recently), so nobody has given us a map. As a result, we each race forth blindly into this new maze of limitless options. And the risks are steep. We make mistakes. We take sharp turns, hoping to stumble on an open path, only to bump into dead-end walls and have to back up and start all over again. We push mysterious levers, hoping to earn a reward, only to learn–whoops, that was a suffering button!

We’ve all accidentally pushed the suffering button. This new job is gonna rock! Quitting this job is gonna rock! This cheese rocks so much, I’m just gonna keep eating it! I’m totally gonna rock these 5-inch heels all night long! How can we ever know if we’re doing the right thing?

Maybe the better question is When can we know if we’re doing the right thing? To which, the only correct answer is: after we’ve done it. In which case, if it was the wrong thing, it’s too late to do anything but pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and try something new (or swear off cheese altogether). But until we’ve given what may or may not rock a shot, well, we’re generally operating without a map. (When you think about it, it’s terrifically ironic: women, who are so talented at comparing ourselves to others, don’t have a whole lot of comps to go by while charting our own course through this life.)

Of course, the major failures–the ones we’re afraid of making–are more significant than a blister or a day spent, uh, divesting oneself of sins of the Cowgirl Creamery variety. But the half-full way of looking at it might be that all those missteps are indeed serving a purpose: in many ways, women today are making the map. And while, one might expect the moral of a story called “Failure is the Only Option” to be something along the lines of “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, so you might as well go for it!”, Gilbert’s points are more charitable: stop pressuring yourself to be perfect, and every time you blow it, consider it a gift to your little sisters. Failure as philanthropy. Check it:

Let’s just anticipate that we (all of us) will disappoint ourselves somehow in the decade to come. Go ahead and let it happen. Let somebody else go to art school. Let somebody else have a happy marriage, while you foolishly pick the wrong guy. (Hell, I’ve done it; it’s survivable.) While you’re at it, take the wrong job. Move to the wrong city. Blow it all catastrophically, in fact, and then start over with good cheer. This is what we all must learn to do, for this is how maps get charted–by taking wrong turns that lead to surprising passageways that open into spectacularly unexpected new worlds. So just march on. Future generations will thank you–trust me–for showing the way, for beating brave new footpaths out of wonky old mistakes.

So here’s to blowing it. And here’s a word to the wise, from a sister who’s been there: half a wheel of Mt. Tam is too much cheese.

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Something struck me  as I clicked on the salon.com daily newsletter in my inbox Wednesday and it totally pissed me off.

Now before I go on, let me assure you that I love salon.com, that I’ve been reading it ever since Dave Talbot started it before the idea of digital journalism had even hit the radar, and that I myself have written for it as well.  But here’s what got me going:  Salon’s daily newsletter lists the each day’s headlines, along with bylines, and what I noticed Wednesday was this:  Of the 30 stories linked, only 8 were written by women.  Not that bad, you say?  Well, that’s debatable.  But of those:

One was a personal essay by Laura Wagner on going back to Haiti to report on what we don’t know about what it’s like there now.  Okay, good.

Another was an editorial by Joan Walsh, salon’s editor-in chief.

One was by a freelance food writer, whose piece was about a layered Japanese cake made with coffee jelly.

And the other five were all corralled into the women’s neighborhood known as Broadsheet.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love Broadsheet as much as the next girl.  Read it every day in fact, and almost always agree with the feminist line.  But, if you were to be honest you’d have to admit, every column is thorougly predicatable:  we’re pissed about (fill in the blank) and we’re gonna riff about it.  Done.

I couldn’t help but wonder: on a cutting edge news site, run by a woman in fact, can’t you figure out something for smart women writers to do —  other than rant or rhapsodize over tea cakes?

So anyway, then I went over to jezebel.com.  More cranky pants.  They were talking shit about Elizabeth Gilbert.  Now, let me say again, as I’ve said before, that I am probably the only woman left in America who hasn’t finished Eat Pray Love.   But c’mon: “How Elizabeth Gilbert ruined Bali”?  Really?  They also talked a little trash about Julia Roberts.   Of course.

So then, what the hell, I checked out the New York Times Homepage.  Nine bylines and only one woman, whose byline was shared.  To be fair, Maureen Dowd’s column (no byline) was up in the corner.  And there’s no question, were I to have given the gray lady multiple clicks beyond the home page, I am sure I would have found a number of women.  Or on the blogs.  Like Lisa Belkin, who I read often and kinda like, who writes about parenting.

But. Way back when, there was a TV show, “Lou Grant”,  that had been a favorite — either in real time or on rerun channels — of just about everyone I knew in J. School.  And there was this one episode where the girl reporter followed a hot story that allowed her to get outside the walls of the traditional woman’s beat, the only place most women journalists were allowed.  You know, lightweight features, ladies lunches, that sort of stuff.  The girl ghetto.

Anyway, having run into all this stuff, on Wednesday,  I couldn’t help wondering.  Are we back there again?  The girl ghetto? Where’s the writing of substance?  The Reporting with the captial “R”?  Are smart women only capable of essays or riffs or recipes?  You gotta wonder if we’ve been sucked into a ghetto of our own making, where we do simply what’s expected of us:  We write about food,  we write about kids — or we put on the cranky pants and riff predictably about women’s issues..  It that’s all we want to be known for, great.  But seems to me, if we want to be taken seriously — as journalists, or even as women — we ought to break out of this self-imposed exile.

Right here, I should probably add a little backstory.  I’m still pissed off about the list of the “greatest magazine stories ever“, compiled by men, that only had ONE woman on the list’s first iteration: Susan Orlean, for “The Orchid Thief”, who initially earned one star out of a possible four.  What about Orlean’s award-winning “The American Man at Age 10″?  Or what, no Joan Didion?  No mention of one of the most critically acclaimed magazine pieces ever, her “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream”?

I’m happy to report that the list has been updated and, ahem, the above have been included.   But nonetheless.  I’ve been, you know, cranky ever since.

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Everything is going to be great!

Don’t you just hate it when someone says that? They’re cheap words that come in handy when we’re psyching up ourselves–or someone else–for a march into the unknown, but really. Who do we think we’re fooling? We can’t know the future. And everything can’t always be great. So why do we even bother? I myself would much prefer a “Holy Crap!” a “Good luck,” or even a nice, honest “Yeah, you might be screwed.”

Rachel Shukert, the author of a new book called–ahem–“Everything Is Going To Be Great,” is clearly of the same school of thought. In a piece on The Wall Street Journal‘s Web site posted yesterday, Shukert proclaims herself thrilled at Jezebel’s early review of the book, in which writer Anna North declared:

Everything… does something unfortunately rare in women’s writing: celebrating mistakes.

Shukert says her mom’s reaction was somewhat different, unable to understand why her daughter would want to publish an account of her drunken escapades, her sexually and romantically unconventional (and frequently disastrous) shenanigans. Of her mom’s perspective, Shukert writes:

The girls of my generation were raised to be perfect. Our high-achieving baby-boomer mothers had labored mightily to raise us in a world where our potential would be unfettered. We were supposed to grow up to be physicists and judges and CEOs. Failing grades, ill-advised sexual encounters, or as I did, running penniless to Europe for two years to get away from an expectation of success no less restrictive than one of Betty Draper’s iron girdles (not to mention falling into a painful and destructive relationship with a man who already had a girlfriend): these were more than simply personal failings. These were an affront to the sisterhood, all the battles that had been waged a generation ago in our name. If we screwed up, we were letting the team down.

That is a lot of pressure. And, Shukert argues, it’s not only the judgment from those we’re close to that’s so oppressive, it’s our culture too. Bad girls are vilified; good girls are ridiculed, caricatured as crazy perfectionists–until they’re toppled from their thrones, which is generally met with nothing less than popular glee. This is why, Shukert says, in Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert fell into a familiar trap, compelled to present herself in such an exacting way: self-deprecating to a (well-documented) fault on the one hand; yet–according to Shukert anyway–happy to leave out the real, unflattering details about the demise of her marriage on the other. But really, who could blame her?

Gilbert exchanged honesty for likability, and now she’s being played by Julia Roberts in a movie. It’s a canny trade-off, but it’s one I wish she hadn’t had to make.

Jezebel’s North would say that such reticence to let our flawed, freak flag fly has to do with the fact that, while men can chalk up screw-ups of all shapes and sizes as growing experiences, women aren’t given the same sort of latitude, perhaps for the very reasons Shukert alluded to above–a man is just a man; where a woman is representing the whole damn team:

Near the end of the book, when Shukert is grieving over her breakup with her boyfriend who already has a girlfriend, she tells her friend, “maybe I don’t deserve better. Maybe this is exactly what I deserve.” The friend counters that she’s not a bad person — “you’re just messy.” And indeed, lots and lots of women lead messy lives — but we’re still not supposed to. In a piece called “Screwing Up” at The Good Men Project, Tom Matlack asked men to share their biggest mistakes. They range from the silly — “Drinking a third martini. Then talking.” — to the serious — “Having a child before I was married or ready to have kids.” But regardless of the severity of their mistakes, many of the men think of them as learning experiences. Too often, women are expected to learn without screwing up, to accept restrictions put in place for our own good… rather than finding our own way. And while the latter may be more dangerous, it’s also more exciting — and perhaps more likely to lead to a big and satisfying life. Women may not need to be told that everything is going to be great — Shukert’s title is largely tongue-in-cheek anyway. But we may need to hear that even if we fuck up from time to time, we can still be great people.

We do need to hear it, early and often. As Shukert writes,

Women are constantly judged, so we reflexively judge each other. We’re too fat or too thin; too sexy or not sexy enough; too uptight or too lazy; too feminist or not feminist enough. But in our hypercritical judgment, we miss the entire point of feminism, which was not to transform us all into high-achieving super-beings (or sympathetic victims), but about the universal recognition of the fact that women are as fully human as men…

We are none of us perfect. And that’s what makes us great.

Or, as Wavy Gravy said, “We’re all just bozos on the bus, so we might as well sit back and enjoy the ride.” And guess what? The ride will likely be smooth and bumpy, uncomfortable and thrilling. And boring and beautiful and exciting and awful and nauseating and inspiring. Much like life–and the people who live it. (And much like a night that involves talking after three martinis.) And if we could all learn to cut ourselves–and each other–a little bit of slack, everything will be… exactly what it will be. And that is pretty great.


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