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Posts Tagged ‘jezebel’

It’s not so much the right-wingers’ war on women that pisses me off — it’s the fact that they think we’re dumb enough to buy their talking points.

Case in point, a Bloomberg op-ed by Ramesh Ponnuru that attempts to make the case that the gender wage gap is nothing but nonsense: we make less because we choose to work less.  Or chose the wrong majors.

Here’s the truth you won’t hear: The pay gap is exaggerated, discrimination doesn’t drive it and it’s not clear that government can eliminate it — or should even try.

Exaggerated?  Hardly.  Fortunately, over there on Jezebel, Katie J. M. Baker did her homework.  She gleefully called out the “mansplainer”, refuting his thesis by citing some stats from the National Partnership research study.  Here’s just a taste:

  • Women in science, technology, engineering and math are paid 86 percent of what their male counterparts are paid.
  • As soon as one year after graduation, women working full time are paid only 80 percent as much as their male colleagues, even when controlling for field of study and age.
  • Among all workers 25 years of age and older with some high school education, women’s median weekly wages total $388 compared to a total of $486 for men.
  • Women in the service industry are paid only about 75 percent of the mean weekly wages paid to men in equivalent positions. In 2008 the average starting salary of a new female physician was $16,819 less than her male counterpart after controlling for observable characteristics such as specialty type and hours worked. A newly minted female MBA graduate is paid, on average, $4,600 less at her first job than a new male MBA graduate.
  • A 2010 GAO study on women in management found that female managers are paid only 81 percent as much as male managers.
  • Even when childless women and men are compared, full-time working women are paid only 82 percent as much as full-time working men.
  • Women are penalized for caregiving while men are not; the 2003 GAO study found that women with children are paid about 2.5 percent less than women without children, while men with children enjoy an earnings boost of 2.1 percent, compared with men without children.

(Our friends to the north, apparently, are no better.  According to Canadian Lawyer and Law Times, female in-house counsel earn about 16 per cent less than their male counterparts on average. Though men tend to hold higher level positions — which is problematic itself — men are still making more than women in comparable roles and are twice as likely as women to have had a 10 percent raise this past year.)

Anyway.  You can guess why this matters: the Republican’s newly tapped vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, a card-carrying soldier in the war on women, is on the record for voting against the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, if that’s any indication of where a Romney-Ryan administration would stand on equal pay.  Stay tuned to hear more of this anti-wage gap rhetoric in the months to come.

The next mansplainer was actually a woman.  Equally annoying was a post on Forbes.com that attempted to make the case that “pitting women against Ryan was a counterproductive sideshow.”  Really?  The writer, Sabrina Shaeffer is executive director of the conservative Independent Women’s Forum.  She says we lefty feminists have got it wrong.  (She also goes out of her way to tag anyone in favor of women’s rights as Left-with-a-captial-L or Liberal Democrats.  As if this were a bad thing…) What women really care about, she writes, is what men care about: it’s the economy, stupid.  The other stuff?  Health care, reproductive rights, the social net that benefits, most of all, families? Nothing but sideshow:

…a message framing experiment conducted for the Independent Women’s Voice (IWV) by Evolving Strategies this summer found that while the “War on Women” narrative might please the most liberal Democrats, it actually hurts them with independents and weak partisans – the very voters who helped put Obama in the White House.

This doesn’t seem to be stopping the Left, however, from trying to position Ryan as antagonistic to women and steering the conversation away from the economy. In particular they seem focused on three issues: Ryan’s views on entitlement reform, workplace regulations, and the HHS contraception mandate. But as women get more information about Ryan’s positions, they are likely to find him even more appealing.

Don’t think so.  All of which leads to the biggest scam of all — wait for it — which is sure to crop up before long: the sanctimonious equating of social conservatism with family values.  As we’ve written before, with regard to another family values guy:

Maybe prayer in school, opposition to gay marriage, and blowing up the safety net are the kinds of values that made your family strong.  But I seriously doubt it.  If the health of the American family is what we’re after, the values that matter most are more along the lines of equal opportunity, access to good health care and quality education, and above all, an abiding sense of compassion.

I guess I need a mansplainer to spell out for me why, for example, a gay marriage threatens my own?  Or why, if the social conservatives are against women terminating a pregnancy — even to save their own lives — it makes sense to limit their ability to prevent a pregnancy in the first place.  Or, the greatest canard of all, that repealing Obamacare is pro-family, when statistics show, and as we have written time and again, that the main beneficiaries of the Affordable Care Act are, you guessed it, women and children.  Save the fetus, forget the child?

Now, you may be one of those women whose job — and health benefits — is absolutely secure.  Maybe child-bearing is in your rear view mirror and, what the hell, you never had daughters anyway. Or you may have a securely-employed spouse who can not only pick up the tab, but the dry cleaning, too.

But then again, maybe you don’t.  And maybe you are, or someday will be, one of those legions of American women whose family will one day rely on any one of the entitlements, like food stamps or even Pell grants, that got the ax in the Paul Ryan House budget — which was more about ideology than reality —  that favored lower taxes, higher defense spending, and a bunch of holes — if not outright shredding — of our safety net.

Which is to say: How do you like those talking points now?

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The other day, I heard from Hilary, a former student who forwarded a pdf of the Letters page in the January issue of Washingtonian Magazine.  The top letter, which called out the editors for choosing to feature a naked woman on the cover, was hers:

Your magazine is cutting edge, informative, and entertaining without being superficial.  However, when the December issue arrived, I was disgusted.  Washington is full of beautiful, powerful, educated, intelligent women of all shapes, sizes, and ages, and this cover does nothing but degrade us to a naked – and I’m sure Photoshopped – figure with some lines about cosmetic procedures floating around her head…

Hilary said she was heartened by the fact that the magazine not only published her letter, but acknowledged the extensive blowback the cover had gotten from other readers.  She also wrote that she was inspired by the documentary, Miss Representation, and since seeing it has been quick to “attack any and all forms of the continued objectification of women, especially powerful women, in our society.”

You go, Hilary.

The cover story in question focused on the dreaded F-word, as in: Don’t like what you see in the mirror?  Fix it!  You can guess the fix: pages of features on everything from going redhead or trying new workout routines to a guide to 12 plastic surgery procedures, complete with prices.  (You can expect to pay anywhere from $2000 to $8000 to lift your eyelids.) All of which got me to thinking.

A while back we wrote about those two fall TV shows, “The Playboy Club” and “Pan Am”, where we castigated the male producers for pitching women in bunny costumes and girdles as examples of  “empowered women.”  (Apparently, the viewing public agreed. We’re happy to report that the first show met its timely demise while the second is on well-deserved hiatus.)  But as I clicked through that issue of Washingtonian Magazine, an ugly little thought crept in: It’s not just men who are responsible for our objectification.  You have to wonder if we’re sometimes complicit ourselves: The December cover of   Washingtonian was shot by a women.  All those features to “help you feel your best in the New Year” were written by women, for women.

Are we sometimes responsible for our own misrepresentation?

I found more food for thought over there on salon, where Mary Elizabeth Williams, writing about the new Chelsea Handler TV show, wondered why we consider shows about girls behaving badly to be ground-breaking:

But what really sets [the Chelsea-Whitney NBC Happy Hour] it apart is the whiff of voyeuristic creepiness about building a prime-time block around willowy females who dress up sexy and get their drink on. Is this really the same network that figured out how to give us the complicated, hilarious – and very different – characters of Reagan Brinkley, Leslie Knope and Liz Lemon?

Worse, though, Happy Hour reinforces the stereotype of ladies as inherently less funny than dudes. Chelsea’s humor, after all, hinges upon her being like a guy — someone who sleeps around and gets “lady wood” — but has conveniently appealing blond hair and boobs.

Over on twitter, a trending topic is #thingsaslutmightsay.  Many of the tweets are from men. But not all. Yuck. Jezebel reports on a bathroom sign in a D.C. coffee shop that shows a creepy stickfigure gent peering over the stall at the stickfigure gal.  This is funny? Who knows who came up with that bright idea — but what I wonder is why the sign is still up? Oh, it’s Saxby’s Coffee at K Street and Vermont Ave.  Don’t go there.

And over at The Guardian, Dominic Rushe wonders why, in 2012, the Detroit car show is still using “female eye candy” to sell cars — when roughly half its customers are women?  [Note: the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas is likewise using "booth babes" to accessorize its products.]

Rushe asks a good question.  But I’ve got another.  What’s our own role in all this nonsense? Whether or not we’re directly responsible for any of the sexism that continues to objectify our gender, we do have one responsibility — and that’s to call when we see it.  Just like Hilary.

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If a feminist worries over her worry lines, frets over getting fat, or lusts after lipstick… but there’s no one around to witness it, can she still call herself a feminist?

They’re questions we all ponder at one time or another, I suppose. Is buying Spanx buying into an oppressive ideal? Does dabbling in fillers make one a tool of the patriarchy? Does plunking down your VISA at the MAC counter mean you’ve forfeited your feminist card? Who among us hasn’t felt that guilt, that shame, keeping your head down while silently praying no one spots you–enlightened, intelligent, feminist you–shelling out fifty bucks for two ounces of eye cream? Who hasn’t wondered: Are a touch of vanity and an ethos of empowerment mutually exclusive?

Sure, maybe we can coast through a couple of decades, smug in our certainty that we’d never stoop so low. And yet. Once we start to age, once it’s our forehead that’s lined, our jawline that’s softened, the tug-of-war becomes urgent. As Anna Holmes, founder of the pop-feminist website Jezebel, wrote in the Washington Post:

‘Wow. You’re really looking older,’ says the voice in my head as I peer into the bathroom mirror. Then another, this one louder and more judgmental: ‘Who are you that you care?’

Who am I indeed. The fact that I can be so profoundly unsettled by the appearance of a few wrinkles on my forehead doesn’t say much of anything good about my sense of self as a whole. In the same way that I’m sort of horrified at the increasingly unrecognizable face that stares back at me in the mirror, I’m equally unsettled that I’m horrified at all.

Who couldn’t relate? Internal debating (and berating) aside, though, the thing I’m left thinking about is how much this sounds like yet another false dichotomy. Virgin/whore, pretty/smart, plastic/natural, young/irrelevant. As though a woman can be either a gray-haired intellectual frump or a Botoxed blond bimbo, as though there were nothing in between. As though any person could be so simply defined. One or the other. If one, then not the other.

While my fear of needles (and, well, poison) precludes me from even considering Botox, I have no problem admitting that some of the hairs on my head have gone rogue (by which I mean gray)–and that I pay someone good money to make it look otherwise. I happily incur the expense of continued education, and of shoes. I giggle, and I engage in heated intellectual debates. I spend time pondering the meaning of life–and the size of my pores. I proudly call myself a feminist, and, yes, I shave my legs. What box do I fit into?

Perhaps the goal is not to worry so much over what one decision means for the label we’ve happily slapped upon ourselves, but to realize that a label is only part of the story. Maybe the goal is to forego the labels altogether, to open our minds, broaden our thinking, be a little more forgiving of ourselves, a little more accepting of each other–and do something a little more productive with all that reclaimed time and brainspace. Or perhaps the goal is simply to remember to think outside the box.

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First off, how can you not love a book called Bossypants?   That’s the title of Tina Fey’s newly released comic not-a-memoir.  It’s hilarious, honest – and self-deprecating just short of a fault.  (The New York Times calls it “a spiky blend of humor, introspection, critical thinking and Nora Ephron-isms for a new generation )  In her book, Fey acknowledges the good, the bad and the awkward about everything from raising hell to raising kids.

Which is to say, she is Everywoman.  The tragic adolescent.  Pretty, but not, you know, pretty.  Struggling to be taken seriously in the boys’ room.  Juggling work and family.  Anxious.  Unapologetically ambitious.  But then again, not.

We love her.

She comes clean with many of the dilemmas we all face, and what you realize is that the biggest difference between her life and ours may be that she’s funny.   (Well, that and her current job.  Or her paycheck.  But I digress. ) One of my favorite lines in her book is this:  “I don’t care if you fucking like it.”

The quote is attributed to Amy Poehler, in the days when Poehler was new to SNL, and when the writing room was a flat out boys club.  (Classic line:  “Only in comedy does an obedient white girl from the suburbs count as diversity.”)  The anecdote goes like this:  Amy had made a joke that, Fey writes, was “dirty and loud and ‘unladylike’”.  Jimmy Fallon, who was the star of the show at the time, told her to stop it:

Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second and wheeled around on him.  “I don’t fucking care if you like it.”  Jimmy was visibly startled.  Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit.

With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place.  Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute.  She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes.  She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it.

At which point, Tina Fey knew she had a friend in the writer’s room.  She writes that after that, she felt less alone. (Moral of the story: look what happened to Amy Poehler:  You’d have to say that speaking out ended well for her.   And clearly, for Fey as well, who was the first female head writer at SNL)

Surely, we can identify with that.  That feeling that we are often stuck in alien territory, looking for allies, applauding anyone brave enough to speak her our mind.  And wondering why we are the ones who have to care whether the big boys like it — rather than the other way around.  As Nicole Arthur writes in the Washington Post:

To Fey, this constitutes a universal rallying cry for women in the workplace. Indeed, the book’s title alludes to the fact that she is often asked a question that would sound idiotic addressed to a man: “What’s it like being the boss?” The book’s tips for women in the male-dominated workplace range from facetious (“No pigtails, no tube tops”) to resonant (“You’re not in competition with other women, you’re in competition with everyone”).

In a word.  Yes.

What else many of us can relate to is her public struggle to decide whether to have a second child (FYI: she’s now five months pregnant, reports salon.com’s Mary Elizabeth Williams).  She wrote about it in the New Yorker, and we wrote about it here. But think of second kid simply as metaphor, and you have another issue we ladies can all identify with, whether or not kids are in the picture, or ever will be:  to wit, the never-ending shitstorm most women go through trying to combine career with the life the workplace – and to a certain extent, society itself – has cut out for us.   The message is this:  either we have to do it all perfectly (read: not possible) or we have to choose.  One or the other, baby.  Not both.  And Tina Fey rocks that one, too,  by coming clean with the struggle, and acknowledging she ain’t perfect.  As Mary Elizabeth Williams writes, Fey has, perhaps more than any other star, “defiantly set herself outside the realm of the Queens of Having It All”:

In a passage from her new book, “Bossypants,” excerpted this past winter in the New Yorker, Fey admitted being “stricken with guilt and panic” when her daughter expressed a longing for a little sister, and how, “tired of carrying this anxiety around,” she “burst into tears” at the gynecologist’s office. That’s a real, anguished road a hell of a lot of women have been down — the fear of losing career traction as fast as you’re losing eggs, and not knowing what to do about either…

… Maybe that’s why for Fey, whose work ethic could make James Franco look like a sleepy donkey, a little break sometime in the foreseeable future sounds like a hot idea. She’s written, “What’s so great about work anyway? Work won’t visit you when you’re old. Work won’t drive you to get a mammogram and take you out after for soup … Hollywood be damned. I’ll just be unemployable and labeled crazy in five years anyway” — a statement that would be more witty if it didn’t have such a stinging ring of truth to it. And though she may crack jokes about the rigors of balance — and “30 Rock” recently confronted the dilemma via the ambitious Devon Banks and his trio of “gaybies” — it’s clear from her dazzling success that Fey is not a woman who values her work any less because she loves her child so much. But the demands of being a powerhouse on all fronts can wear a lady down.

You bet.  Which goes straight to the heart of what we’ve been writing about:  We’re raised with the message that we can do anything. Which translates to we can do everything.  We can have it all, we can do it all, and it’s all going to be perfect.

Which is why we love our Tina Fey.  Whether her well-constructed presentation of self is for real or, as jezebel.com founder Anna Holmes suggests in Newsweek, all alter ego, who cares?  Because what we love is the way she flips the message.  We can’t do it all.  And perfection?  Nothing but pipe dream.  And that, sister, is exactly what the Everywoman inside us needs to hear.

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A new study suggests that when boundaries blur between work and home, women feel guilty.  Men?  Nope.  Even when after-hours demands are the same.

Women?  Guilt? Well, duh, right?

But here’s what’s interesting. The findings held true whether the work demands actually interfered with home life or not.  And here’s what’s more interesting: The study also found that women didn’t even have to have families to feel distressed when work came home.

Call it the unintended consequences of the “always on” life:  the electronica that makes it so easy to bring work home that, you know, we bring work home.  But why should women feel the pressure of the phonecalls, emails, texts and tweets  more so than men?  The authors blame cultural conditioning.  Over at Jezebel, Irin Carmon does, too:

… there are several things at play here, including the obvious aspect that women are culturally conditioned to feel guilty about doing exactly what their male counterparts are doing: Earning a living. (Remember the moral of the story in The Devil Wears Prada, in which the protagonist becoming good at her demanding job is conflated with abandoning her values and her boyfriend and friends? In which she watches a woman at the top of her game lose her husband?) We’re also constantly expected to make it look effortless, with which a frantic late night call or email tends to interfere.

We’re also soft-wired — or maybe hard-wired — to please.  An urgent (aren’t they all?) text or email from a [student, client, editor, boss, insert one] shoots in just before we flop into bed?  We respond.  We’d feel bad if we didn’t — and feel bad when we do.

Now.  We could solve this angst by going off the grid the minute we walk inside the front door.  Thus, fixing ourselves.  But, that’s not going to happen, is it?  Especially given the above.  Not to mention the need for a paycheck.  So let’s work on the culture itself, shall we?   Both the culture of the workplace and the social culture, too.  And to change all  that, sisters, we need to fight for getting more of us in high places.  If that sounds like a call for quotas, as you might find in some Scandinavian countries — what the hell, let’s go there.  Because, guess what?  It’s even better for the bottom line.

More about the money below, but first, let’s go back to that study, which was published this month in the “Journal of Social Behavior and Health”:

“… these results suggest that work contact may not necessarily inhibit the performance of domestic roles, but they still can have health implications in the form of negative self-appraisals and the feelings of guilt that may arise when the boundary separating work and family life becomes blurred.

And for women, the authors write, even though “gendered role identities” have long since changed, we’re still stuck with the weight of the old expectations.  We’re caught in this shifting cultural landscape, one foot in the way things were, the other in the way things are.  And consequently, feel rotten. As the authors of the study told Science Daily:

“Initially, we thought women were more distressed by frequent work contact because it interfered with their family responsibilities more so than men,” says lead author Paul Glavin, a PhD candidate in sociology at [University of Toronto]. “However, this wasn’t the case. We found that women are able to juggle their work and family lives just as well as men, but they feel more guilty as a result of being contacted. This guilt seems to be at the heart of their distress.”

The study’s co-author, sociologist Scott Schieman, says it’s all about differing expectations:

“While women have increasingly taken on a central role as economic providers in today’s dual-earner households, strong cultural norms may still shape ideas about family responsibilities. These forces may lead some women to question or negatively evaluate their family role performance when they’re trying to navigate work issues at home.”

Sigh.  Now what?  Well, we can sit around and feel guilty for, uh, feeling guilty.  I was raised Irish Catholic, after all.  I can definitely go there.  But still, I vote for Door No. 2:  Changing the structures and cultural norms that leave us in this land of mea culpa.  And for that, we need more women at the top: women who themselves know what it is to feel this angst.  And then there’s this: if changing structures, revamping expectations, and redefining the whole concept of worklife don’t-call-it-balance isn’t enough to make us fight for more women in high places, let’s knock on the door of enlightened self-interest.  This is where the money comes in.

The WSJ reports that the two companies that had the best stock-market gains in 2010 were run by, you guessed it, women.   In the piece, consultant Ann de Jaeger says it’s crucial to get more women into the boardroom — simply to boost profits.  But she also says that one reason only 3 percent of the boards of the Fortune 500 are comprised of women is that women have had to fit into the male model — or not fit in at all. Asked why successful women often leave their companies before they can be promoted, she says:

Because at a particular point, they realize that they have been too busy being someone else instead of themselves and therefore cannot bring their best to the table. Women seem to adapt to the prevailing – male – culture as they rise on the corporate ladder. They are not even aware of the fact that they are doing this – they simply play along and adapt out of a sheer survival instinct.

And then, bow out. When asked what we need to do to get women upstairs, she edges ever closer to the Euro-idea of quotas:

It would be preferable if the drive to do something about gender balance came from within companies – from the strategic need to reflect the market and the talent pipeline in decision-making bodies.

On the other hand, we see every day that progress is very, very slow. Too many companies adopt a compliance approach, a “fix the women” strategy – as if they can tick a box, run a couple of events, provide amenities that make life a little easier, but they don’t allow for real inclusiveness.

Fix the women?  Or fix the structures?  I know what I choose.  Without the slightest trace of guilt.

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So, today, I must must write about the most shocking, scandalous, jaw-dropping thing I came across this weekend. (And, no, it has nothing whatsoever to do with Ricky Gervais.) The item of intrigue was a story on Salon.com, entitled… wait for it… “Why I can’t stop reading Mormon housewife blogs: I’m a young, feminist atheist who can’t bake a cupcake. Why am I addicted to the shiny, happy lives of these women?”

Um, click.

How could I not?? I mean, apparently, there’s like an entire subculture of Zooey Deschanel-bang-sporting, craft-spinning, brood-mommying, hubby-looooooving Mormon housewives out there. As writer Emily Matchar puts it,

young stay-at-home-moms who blog about home and hearth, Latter-day Saint-style.

The women behind “Rockstar Diaries,” “Underaged and Engaged,” “Nie Nie Dialogues“, and “Say Yes to Hoboken” blog about their kids. Their husbands. Their love of hot chocolate. Their love of baked goods. The themed headbands they craft for their pals at the themed dinner parties they host. And how happy they are.

Matchar says that, although their lives bear no resemblance to her own,

On an average day, I’ll skim through a half-dozen Mormon blogs, looking at Polaroids of dogs in raincoats or kids in bow ties, reading gratitude lists, admiring sewing projects.

I’m not alone, either. Two of my closest friends — both chronically overworked Ph.D. candidates — procrastinate for hours poring over Nat the Fat Rat or C. Jane Enjoy It. A recent discussion of Mormonism on the blog Jezebel unleashed a waterfall of confessions in the comments section from other young non-religious women similarly riveted by the shiny, happy domestic lives of their Latter-day Saint sisters.

Which begs a question: Who knew?

Apparently everyone but me. Seriously, though, it begs another question, too: What gives? What’s the appeal? Matchar has a theory:

Well, to use a word that makes me cringe, these blogs are weirdly “uplifting.” To read Mormon lifestyle blogs is to peer into a strange and fascinating world where the most fraught issues of modern living — marriage and child rearing — appear completely unproblematic. This seems practically subversive to someone like me, weaned on an endless media parade of fretful stories about “work-life balance” and soaring divorce rates and the perils of marrying too young/too old/too whatever. And don’t even get me started on the Mommy Blogs, which make parenthood seem like a vale of judgment and anxiety, full of words like “guilt” and “chaos” and “BPA-free” and “episiotomy.” Read enough of these, and you’ll be ready to remove your own ovaries with a butter knife.

…Indeed, Mormon bloggers like Holbrook make marriage and motherhood seem, well, fun. Easy. Joyful. These women seem relaxed and untouched by cynicism. They throw elaborate astronaut-themed birthday parties for their kids and go on Sunday family drives to see the fall leaves change and get mani-pedis with their friends. They often have close, large extended families; moms and sisters are always dropping in to watch the kids or help out with cake decorating. Their lives seem adorable and old-fashioned and comforting.

This focus on the positive is especially alluring when your own life seems anything but easy. As my friend G. says, of her fascination with Mormon lifestyle blogs, “I’m just jealous. I want to arrange flowers all day too!” She doesn’t, really. She’s just tired from long days spent in the lab, from a decade of living in a tiny apartment because she’s too poor from student loans to buy a house, from constant negotiations about breadwinning status with her artist husband. It’s not that she or I  want to quit our jobs to bake brownies or sew kiddie Halloween costumes. It’s just that for G., Mormon blogs are an escapist fantasy, a way to imagine a sweeter, simpler life.

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about “the New Domesticity” — an increasing interest in old-fashioned, traditionally female tasks like sewing, crafts and jam making. Some pundits see this as a sign that young women yearn to return to some kind of 1950s Ozzie and Harriet existence, that feminism has “failed,” that women are realizing they can’t have it all, after all. That view is utterly nonsense, in my opinion, but I do think women of my generation are looking to the past in an effort to create fulfilling, happy domestic lives, since the modern world doesn’t offer much of a road map. Our parents — divorced, stressed-out baby boomers — are hardly paragons of domestic bliss. Nor are the Gen X “Mommy War” soldiers, busy winging snowballs of judgment at each other from across the Internet. (Formula is poison! Baby wearing is child abuse!)

Gosh! Kinda makes you want to chug a couple of root beers, huh?! But in all seriousness, I think she’s onto a couple of things. One is the allure of the (seemingly) simple, unquestioned life. I think that one of the things that’s become such a big burden to today’s women is the questions that come with the unprecedented freedom we have to live our lives whatever way we want. Whenever everything isn’t coming together as perfectly as a–well, a “vintage-y owl throw pillow,” for example, we wonder if we’ve chosen the wrong life for ourselves. It’s pretty tough not to get sucked into the Life Would Be So Grand If Someone Else Would Just Tell Me What The H-E-DoubleHockeySticks To Do fantasy.

(And, you know, who doesn’t love an escapist fantasy from time to time? Hello, Beverly Hills 90210 The Brenda Years, when every problem was solvable with a MegaBurger. 90210 is clearly not reality–and who knows how lovely these lovely young things’ lives really are? But sometimes we don’t want the nuanced truth. We want a MegaBurger.)

And then, of course, there’s the trap of the grass is greener syndrome: the fact that, time and again, it seems that whenever we play that comparison game, the one constant is this–that we seem categorically unable to image that whatever road we did NOT choose to travel might in fact be as bumpy as the one we did. And when we’re presented with something that looks perfect, why would we question it?

Of course, we’ve said all of this before. And I think there’s one other explanation: I checked out some of those blogs. And they’re pretty flipping cute.


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Just when you thought it was safe to take a peek at what everyone’s favorite bad girl’s been up to…

When I opened this Sunday’s New York Times, flipped straight to the Styles section (as I do when I have a blessed nearly-whole day of couch planned) and saw the headline: “Courtney Love: ‘I’d Like to Be Trusted Again,’ I had to wonder. Would this be one of those predictable Fallen Star Rises Again mea culpa type things? An I’ve-Seen-The-Errors-Of-My-Ways-And-Hey!-I’ve-Also-Found-God/Lost-Weight/Launched-A-New-Fragrance-variety profile? Happily, the answer is no. Not even close, in fact. For while author Eric Wilson is sympathetic to Ms. Love, all did not go as planned. After waiting for her in her hotel room at the Mercer Hotel–and snooping enough to discover a stash of curiously titled self-help books, Love made her entrance. And what an entrance it was.

Behold:

Shortly after 8p.m., Ms. Love burst into the room with the Marchesa dress slung on one arm and the noted German Neo-Expressionist artist Anselm Kiefer on the other. She was entirely naked and leaning on Mr. Kiefer for support. She made one lap around the room, walking in front of a photographer, an assistant, a hairstylist and me. She pulled over her head a transparent lace dress that covered up nothing, and demanded my assistance–“Not you,” she said to Mr. Kiefer, who was bent over trying to help her–to stuff her feet into a pair of black Givenchy heels that were zipped up the back and tied with delicate laces in the front. Then she applied a slash of red lipstick in the vicinity of her mouth.

“I really must get out of here,” Mr. Kiefer said.

“Just a minute,” Ms. Love said, as she pushed her feet, shoes and all, through a pair of pink knickers that she said cost $4,000. She grabbed a trench coat, walked through the hotel lobby with her breasts exposed to an assortment of prominent fashion figures, including Stefano Pilati, the Yves Saint Laurent designer, and then exited the hotel.

This is not at all how this story was meant to begin.

The piece goes on. The scene described above was an anomaly, but only kind of. And this post of mine is not going to praise Love for the afore-detailed behavior. (Or to worry over what became of those shoes. Shudder to think.) Nor does the NYT piece: the picture it paints is of someone who is simply herself. A self that can often be described as FUBAR, yes, but also intelligent, open, talented, and funny. A self that has been a pariah and a darling. That has crashed and burned and risen and crashed again. That has been beautiful and a hot freaking mess.

A self that is full of contradictions, much like most of the rest of us.

Interestingly, elsewhere in the paper (but still on the couch), I found a profile of Debra Winger, who’s reappeared on the scene as of late, starring as the troubled, aging actress Frances on the HBO series “In Treatment.” Much of the piece centers around why she hasn’t been acting despite an impressive career that began with her superhero role on Wonder Woman, what kind of roles appeals to her, what kind don’t. And to that, here’s a bit of what she said:

Heroes–costumed or otherwise–hold little attraction for Winger. “Most of the real ‘heroes’ I know are women who would not get called heroes,” she said. “They are deeply flawed, and what’s within that human spectrum–feeling weak, crying, messing up, being angry–is much more exciting to me.”

Again, I come not to hold up Courtney Love as a hero. But she certainly knows how to rule the range of that human spectrum. Two days before the incident Wilson detailed above, “Courtney Love told a reporter from Style.com that she was trying to take better care of herself.” A couple of days after the incident:

So here was Ms. Love, 16 years [after her husband Kurt Cobain killed himself], the toast of fashion. At one point, she took me upstairs to her room to show me some clothes. The bed was unmade, and there was an overflowing ashtray on the night stand next to five prescription bottles and some junk food. “These are my wakeup cupcakes, some anti-depressants and a cellphone book,” she said without embarrassment.

“I speak to you as someone who doesn’t want to be perceived as a train wreck,” she said.

But, as Jenna Sauers points out in a fiery and fun piece over on Jezebel, the twisted beauty of the story of Courtney Love is that she doesn’t seem to care how others perceive her at all. She writes:

I might even argue [Love] is in certain ways admirable. What other woman in recent memory, having been given (hell, earned) the media’s Bad Girl label, has snarled at the designation–and then continued on her own, misguided but apparently basically contented, way?

Courtney Love is unwilling to become boring… and for that alone, it seems some must condemn her. Perhaps she realized that women are judged for their personal lives in a way that men in the public eye rarely are–where male rock stars who are neglectful parents with histories of drug abuse are concerned, the press narrative is, shall we say, markedly different–and that trying to please those strangers who have come to feel they have a stake in her family, her personal life, or her choices is a losing game… Perhaps she just doesn’t give a fuck…. We truly don’t have enough women capable of or willing to play the bad girl with a smile — and without a trace of victimhood.

She writes that, despite the fact that Love’s a bad singer, a bad mother, and does some stupid stuff, she loves her. Loves her because she’s not a role model and never wanted to be,

Because she auditioned for the bloody Mickey Mouse Club at age 12 by reciting Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy.” Because she is subjected (and subjects herself) to industrial-strength moral and legal scrutiny at every turn and still gets up in the afternoon, applies lipstick in the vicinity of her mouth, and faces the world.

And that is nothing short of impressive. I mean, how many times have you made an idiot of yourself–and then gone into self-imposed exile so you could beat yourself up about it? How many times have you realized you’ve been walking around with lipstick on your teeth all morning, and refused to leave the confines of your cubicle for the rest of the day? Maybe you got a little too drunk and made a fool of yourself among friends–and then opted to spend the remainder of your hangover reliving the spill/fall/unwisely chosen words under the covers, rather than venturing out for a breakfast burrito with the rest of the crew? Love’s a (wildly) extreme case, but a good one for the rest of us who allow our fear of judgment to hold us back from being ourselves–or who’d prefer to beat ourselves up when we could be dusting ourselves off, and going back into battle. If she can put herself out there, why on earth shouldn’t we?

More importantly, to a certain extent, we’ve all been there–most of us to a lesser degree (and likely in far less expensive shoes)–so when a sister blows it, well, who are we to judge? Perhaps the trainwrecks of the world would have an easier time making their way out of the wreckage if we didn’t.


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