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Posts Tagged ‘” New York Times Magazine’

imagesThe Year of the Woman? Oy vey.

It’s a phrase that’s always struck me as ridiculous. It would be one thing to declare it the Year of the Short, Redheaded, Left-Handed Woman, or the Year of the Unmarried, Urban-dwelling Thirtysomething Woman, or the Year of the Woman Who Doesn’t Want to Have It All, but, I mean, half the people there are are women. Saying its our year is so broad as to be totally meaningless. And more than a tad condescending. (And, as any good writer knows, a mere three examples is all it takes to make a trend. Which is to say, as easy as it would be to round up three examples that prove it is indeed the year of the woman, it’d be equally simplistic to find three examples that demonstrate that, no, in fact, this was not such a good year for women.)

Interestingly, I got to thinking about this idea while reading Sunday’s New York Times magazine, which, upon first glance, would seem to be proclaiming 2012 as a the year of the woman. The cover story, “Hollywood Heroines,” is accompanied by a beautiful photo spread that spans 21 pages and features the big screen’s biggest ladystars of the year. It’s exactly the sort of thing you see, and expect the accompanying text to be proclaiming the dearth of quality female characters over, the representation equaled, the hierarchy overturned! (Citing three examples, natch.) Oh, actually, the deck did say that the hierarchy had been overturned. But, turns out, the piece, written by A.O. Scott, was right on the money, and its lessons stretch far beyond the reaches of tinsel town.

Scott cites some good examples of movies from this year that feature strong female characters, and/or pass the Bechel Test (the shockingly simple, yet equally, perhaps more, shockingly impossible-to-pass test comprised of three criterion: 1. the movie must have at least two named women characters; 2. they must talk to each other; 3. about something besides a man).

But the heart of the matter, I think, is this:

The rush to celebrate movies about women has a way of feeling both belated and disproportionate. Pieces of entertainment become public causes and punditical talking points, burdened with absurdly heavy expectations and outsize significance… It is a fact beyond dispute that the roles available to women in what movie-lovers nervously call the real world have expanded significantly in the last half-century, a fact at once celebrated and lamented in backward-looking pop-cultural phenomena like “Mad Men.” But the things that women do–the people they insist on being remain endlessly controversial. It takes very little for individual tastes and decisions to become urgent matters of public debate. It takes, basically, a magazine cover article. Women are breast-feeding their babies, pushing their children to practice violin, reading ’50 Shades of Grey’ on the subway, juggling career and child care, marrying late or not at all, falling behind or taking over the world. Stop the presses!

The problem is not that these issues are not important but rather that they are presented with a sensationalism that tends to undermine their ongoing and complicated significance. The behavior of a woman who appears on the public stage can be counted on to provoke a contentious referendum on the state of women in general. Is this good for women? Is she doing it wrong? This happened, in the last 12 months, to Sandra Fluke and Paula Broadwell, to Rihanna and Ann Romney, and, closer to the matter at hand, to Lena Dunham.

You did not really think I would get through a whole essay on gender and popular culture without mentioning her, did you? But the reception of ‘Girls,’ even more than the show itself–which is, to keep things in perspective,  a clever half-hour sitcom about a bunch of recent college graduates–is an interesting sign of our confused times. Dunham was mocked for her body, sneered at for her supposed nepotism, scolded for her inadequate commitment to diversity and lectured about the inappropriate things her alter ego, Hannah Horvath, does in bed. That much of the criticism came from Dunham’s peers is both evidence of a robust feminist discourse in the cultural blogosphere and a legacy of the under- and misrepresentation I have been talking about. Dunham was not quite allowed just to explore her own ideas and experiences. She was expected to get it right, to represent, to set an example and blaze a path.

And while the great majority of us are not Lena Dunham, I’d say that pressure and that judgment–and, more to the point, that expectation that we’re gonna be judged–is something we all deal with. Because no matter how many movies about women or girl heroes or headlines about secretaries of state or tiger mothers get paraded out on (to borrow Scott’s point) magazine covers, the message we take home has far less to do with the specific example itself than it does the analysis. What we absorb is this: Whatever you do, every choice you make, says everything about you, and, by God, you’re gonna be judged for it.

When we write about women and choices and the struggles we have determining what to do with our lives, I think we can’t overstate the lesson here. In order to make choices that are right for us, individually, we have to recognize how much of our pro and con lists are occupied by these pressures. The pressure to get it right, to represent, to set an example, to blaze a path. It’s interesting to wonder, if we could somehow apply a filter that’d shut those considerations down, how much easier our choices would be.

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That gagging sound you heard last week, when Ann Romney bellowed in her best Oprah voice, “I love you, womennnnnn!”? That was me.

And not because I don’t love women; I do. And not because I don’t believe that Ann Romney loves women; I’m sure she does. It’s because, at best, this sentiment is utterly beside the point. And at worst, it’s a cynical, calculated, transparent attempt to chip away at the current and sizable gender gap among voters.

My thoughts crystallized this weekend, while reading an adaptation from Hanna Rosin‘s forthcoming book “The End of Men: And the Rise of Women,” which ran in Sunday’s New York Times magazine. The piece–and Rosin’s book, which grew out of a much dissected article that ran in The Atlantic two years ago–focuses on several real-life families in Alexander City, Alabama, families who now rely on mom to bring home the bacon, a circumstance which leaves everyone puzzling over the reversal of roles. This change of fortune comes thanks to a confluence of factors including the disappearance of good-paying work in the manufacturing sector (jobs traditionally held by men), and the fact that the economy has changed, as have the types of jobs that are available, and the skills that are needed in order to land them:

These days that usually requires going to college or getting some job retraining, which women are generally more willing to do. Two-thirds of the students at the local community college are women, which is fairly typical of the gender breakdown in community colleges throughout the country.

These shifts represent a reality that bumps with the worldview there, informed by both Southern tradition and the Evangelical church. Rosin writes of a conversation with Reuben Prater, currently out of work:

Reuben has a college degree and doesn’t seem especially preoccupied with machismo, so I asked him why, given how many different kinds of jobs he has held, he couldn’t train for one of the jobs that he knew was available: something related to schools, nursing or retail, for example. One reason was obvious–those jobs don’t pay as much as he was accustomed to making–but he said there was another. ‘We’re in the South,’ he told me. ‘A man needs a strong, macho job. He’s not going to be a schoolteacher or a legal secretary or some beauty-shop queen. He’s got to be a man.’ I asked several businesswomen in Alexander City if they would hire a man to be a secretary or a receptionist or a nurse, and many of them just laughed.

All of which makes me chuckle a bit, when one considers this:

‘An important long-term issue is that men are not doing as well as women in keeping up with the demands of the local economy,’ says Michael Greenstone, an economist at M.I.T. and director of the Hamilton Project, which has done some of the most significant research on men and unemployment. ‘It’s a first-order mystery for social scientists, why women have more clearly heard the message that the economy has changed and men have such a hard time hearing it or responding.’

Why shouldn’t they have a hard time? We’re talking about nothing short of a wholesale redefinition of what it is to be a man. Or a woman. We’re talking about nothing short of a wholesale redefinition of what’s valued–and when, for centuries, to be a man was to hold power and make money, finding a woman to fill the role of “helpmate” along his ascent, I’d say it’s not mysterious at all that men are having a hard time hearing the message that things are changing.

Who wants to hear that their status is in jeopardy, their power no longer assured? Who wouldn’t find themselves at a loss?

And, as for the women, we’re taking on the challenges because we can. To earn a paycheck was not something expected of us as women; it’s something we’ve had to fight for the right to do.

And it’s not just the middle-aged men who have careers and lives to look back upon as they wonder what changed who are idling. Even young men seem resistant to what’s really going on. One family profiled in Rosin’s piece exemplifies it all: Rob Pridgen, whose job had recently been phased out; his wife Connie, a high school teacher; and her grown daughter Abby, who found Rob’s explanation of “man-as-provider” laughable:

At this point… Abby, who was then 19, piped up with her own perspective on the Southern code of chivalry, which she said sounded like nonsense to her, given how the boys she knew actually behaved–hanging out in the parking lot, doing God knows what, or going home and playing video games instead of bothering to apply for college…

[Another] afternoon, while Rob sat nearby, Connie and Abby were mulling over a passage from Proverbs that is sometimes read at church for Mother’s Day and that had come up in a Bible-study group.

The passage describes the ‘wife of noble character,’ who works with the wool and the flax, brings the food from afar, who ‘gets up while it is still dark,’ buys a field, plants a vineyard, turns a profit, and ‘her lamp does not go out at night’ because she’s still sewing clothes for the poor and generally being industrious while everyone else sleeps. Her husband, meanwhile, ‘is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.’

Traditionally the passage has been viewed as an elaboration of the proper roles of husband and wife. The husband sits in the dominant, protective role, watching his wife’s efforts on behalf of the family and taking pride. But in a town in which many men aren’t working steadily anymore, the words have taken on new meaning. There are people who have noticed that the passage never mentions what the husband is doing or what role he’s playing in providing food for his family, tilling the fields or turning a profit. And what’s dawning on Connie these last few months became obvious to Abby and Rob as she read the passage out loud. That noble wife is working from dawn to dusk. And the husband?

‘Sounds like he’s sitting around with his buddies shooting the breeze, talking about the ballgame and eating potato chips,’ Rob said.

Abby wasn’t surprised. Around Alex City, she said it seemed that it was the girls who were full of energy and eager to see the world. Her own brother, Alex, who was 17, seemed to want to stay in town forever and raise his family here. But Abby was enrolled in Southern Union State Community College, attending on a show-choir scholarship. Her plan was to go there for a year, as many girls in Alex City do, to save money, and then head to Auburn University.

Things are changing in major ways. And change is tough to deal with. But while we’re all puzzling over these seismic shifts is precisely the wrong time to accept blatant pandering with nothing of substance beneath it. And it makes such pandering even more offensive. Women are important to Republicans only in as much as a vote is a vote. But women are increasingly important to this economy, not to mention to the financial support of the typical family and household–we are, in so many ways, patently integral to the success of our society. And the outdated structures and policies we’re left with–and some are fighting fervently to preserve–are relics of a bygone era, useless as typewriters or VCRs. To refuse to recognize the changing times is the worst kind of denial–one that breeds backward-looking policies and irrelevant debate. Our society and our economy need us. To truly value women would be to prioritize policies that help working mothers, health care for everyone, reproductive rights. To patronize women by saying “we love you,” or “your job has always been harder,” is useless when it’s paired with a refusal to acknowledge who today’s women actually are, what they actually do. Because it’s not just women who depend on it.

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Ahead of September’s “I Don’t Know How She Does It”–a movie based on Allison Pearson’s best-selling novel about the realities of life as a working mother, which stars Sarah Jessica Parker as the harried “She” in question–this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine ran a story about the film’s screenwriter, Aline Brosh McKenna, whose other credits include “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Morning Glory,” and “27 Dresses.” 27 Dresses aside, McKenna’s films represent a new guard. As writer Susan Dominus puts it,

McKenna makes romantic comedies in which the romance is not so much between a woman and the perfect man but a woman and the perfect career.

…McKenna’s solution to romantic-comedy fatigue is not to ironize the genre or make fun of its characters’ (and therefore its audience’s) quests for fulfillment, but to give them what they want: a great guy and a great job, a happy family and professional success.

…McKenna plays out, in a frothy, mass-market format, the fantasies promised by ’70s feminism: that you can have a big career without sacrificing a personal life.

Which begs the question: to what extent is the idea of having it all a fantasy? And, in the same way fairy tales are demonized for conditioning little girls to expect some Prince Charming to appear and “rescue” them, can a frothy portrayal of a woman charmingly overcoming the struggles associated with having both a great job and a happy family cause us to expect that sort of juggling act to be easier than it really is? Does it prompt us to pile more onto our plates, to toss more balls into the air, to beat ourselves up more, when our job or our family isn’t the stuff of a summer blockbuster and we still have trouble managing it all?

Interestingly, in the book “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” the protagonist ultimately gives up her high-powered job in favor of a part-time gig that allows her more time with her kids. But McKenna opted to change that:

She decides instead to test the boundaries and carve out a better personal life while keeping her full-time job. (Another fantasy: Work-life balance, with no professional cost.)

A fantasy as dreamy as any Prince Charming. On the other hand, do such tales represent a step forward? After all, an ambitious–if naive–journalist’s attempts to succeed at “the job a million girls would kill for,” or the story of the daily struggles that comprise a working woman’s life–well, they’re infinitely more relatable than, say, Cinderella. Women today were raised with big dreams. Why should we–or our big-screen counterparts–give them up?

The thing is, though, in chasing them down, I’d venture to say most of us have found ourselves juggling. Most of us have likely found that juggle a little crazy-making, too. Most of us have probably worried that we could do better, more. Most of us have likely wondered if we’re measuring up.

And most of us have likely found that there’s no such thing as having it all. So maybe the happiest ending is in a contented acceptance of that. Maybe the new-new happily ever after looks more like happily chucking that ideal, once and for all.

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All of the hullaballoo about Summers Eve’s latest ad campaign (you know, the one that hails the “V”? Ironic, when you consider that the product for which the ad in question shills is one that disturbs a healthy V’s natural, self-regulating biology, one that’s counter-indicated by medicine, and one that carries the implicit message that your body, as it is, is bad. Hail the V? My A__. Oh, and those ads are racist, too), has left me obsessing over a bigger issue, one that has nothing to do with douche.

The aforementioned bigger issue is this: how these glossy messages of “empowerment” hijack and cheapen the conversation about what it is to be a woman, diverting our collective attention from important conversations and messages that could be truly empowering. So often, it seems that we’re terrified of the nuance, the deeper, more complicated questions, and so we attach ourselves to a quick, slick slogan. Girl Power, served up by a woman who calls herself Baby Spice? Or, as Rebecca Traister so eloquently explained in a piece in Sunday’s NYT Mag, a raucous call for an end to victim-blaming… while marching a “SlutWalk” in our underwear?

Don’t get me wrong: We’re all for Girl Power, and an end to the hideous pattern of victim-blaming that continues to rage against survivors of sexual assault. And we’re pretty fond of our Vs. But what about the rest of us? What about the feminine aspect, that je ne sais quoi that makes women women?

I can hear those knees jerking already!

When you say men and women are different, surely that must mean that one or the other is deficient: that’s a message used to denigrate women! The brain science is inconclusive! Gender is different than sex!

To discuss the feminine as something real, something distinct, yes, different even, well it’s still perceived as dangerous. Threatening. Historically, it makes a certain amount of sense, of course. Plotted against a timeline of the modern workplace, women are still relatively new to the game. It made sense that, upon our initial entree, our strategy was to blend in, to play like the boys, even to look like them (one word: shoulderpads). We downplayed our differences, fearing that if men smelled fear, insecurity, or Chanel #5, we’d be at an immediate disadvantage. Or maybe kicked out of the club for good. But isn’t it possible that every time we choose not to own our own womanness — and all the differences inherent to that womanness, like empathy, inclusiveness, compassion, collaboration, holistic thinking — we do ourselves and our gender (hell, humankind) as a whole a disservice? After all, isn’t there something more essential, more divine to being a woman than simple possession of a V?

They’re valuable qualities (and frankly, whether they’re born of nature or nurture… does it really matter?). And men possess them, too. But  in our culture, it’s those more traditional masculine qualities — linear thinking, assertiveness, individualism — that are prized. So, while men leave their feminine untended, women are all too often taught to shy away from their own. All of which leaves humanity as a whole operating in a rather lopsided fashion. But what if we could allow room for both to thrive?

It’s complicated to get at, though. We like proof in these parts, and the science remains controversial. Suggesting that women and men are different is too vague. Invites too many fears. (It’s proven, after all, that women perform worse on math tests when they’re told they’re being given the tests as a measure of how women are at math, compared to men.) And maybe that’s why these sorts of silly V-power messages fly. Real conversations are too risky. We’re too afraid that by honestly exploring a more complex idea, we might inadvertently give up some ground. But if we could begin to see this conversation as necessary and beneficial — for everyone, not just women, but men, too, who could use a little encouragement in terms of awakening to and cultivating their own feminine sides — maybe we would all benefit.

So, hail to the feminine — and the masculine, too.

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Oh, contentment. Fulfillment. Happiness. So slippery, so elusive. And yet, we never stop looking for it, do we?

A generation ago, women–stuck in the home and driven apeshit by a never-ending list of mindless chores–ran screaming out of those homes (and, sometimes, away from their families), certain fulfillment was waiting for them in the world of work (or anywhere but home).

In “Fear (Again) of Flying: The domestication of the female midlife crisis,” NYT Mag writer Judith Warner sums up this way:

In the mid-1970s, women began to take flight.

They got jobs, got their consciousness raised or got divorced. Sometimes their marriages evolved with them. Sometimes they just sort of took off — “finding themselves” in new relationships, dropping out of family life, leaving latchkey children behind. These outward-bound adventures tended to happen in early midlife, the moment when, as Gail Sheehy put it in her 1974 mega-best-seller “Passages”: “A woman had to make it happen–whatever she hadn’t yet achieved–or settle for the bed she had made.” The “runaway wife,” Sheehy declared, as she charted the “midlife passage” of her Silent Generation cohort, was “one of today’s fastest-growing phenomena.”

Today the daughters of these runaway moms, having arrived at the shores of middle age, are taking flight, too. But they’re not, by and large, dumping their husbands. They’re not looking to the job market with expectations of liberation.

Instead, they’re fleeing to yoga, imitating flight in the downward-gazing contortion called the crow position. They’re striving, through exquisite new adventures in internal fine-tuning, to feel more deeply, live more meaningfully, better inhabit each and every moment of each and every day and attain “a more superior, evolved state of being,” as Claire Dederer puts it in her just-published book, “Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses,” the latest installment in the burgeoning literature of postboomer-female midlife crisis.

The trend she’s identifying is not the old (disproven) one of opting out… exactly; this one has women opting inward. Indeed, pointing to a lineup of books, Warner suggests that when today’s women find ourselves dissatisfied, we opt to fix ourselves; that, rather than taking off for the big wide world to find ourselves, we look at home. In a way, of course, this is all to the good: we know that true happiness is something that comes from within. And yet, somewhere along the way, the message gets a little problematic. Warner writes:

There’s no sense that personal liberation is to be found by taking a more active role in the world.

Indeed, says Warner, the pendulum’s swung all the way back home:

In other words, the new “narrative of liberation,” as Dederer puts it, of the postboomer, “postfeminist” woman, the new incarnation of the ’70s girl who could do anything, appears to lead right back into a performance-enhanced version of “Mad Men”-era domestic fantasy. “In response to my 1970s mom, I had become a 1950s housewife,” Dederer writes.

(One flew over the chicken’s coop, much?) Don’t get me wrong; I come not to judge. And I think part of the reason contentment can be so very elusive for women has to do with our refusal to allow the women who choose differently from us the freedom to “choose their choice,” as SATC’s Charlotte might have said. And, to that end, if raising chickens in your backyard and keeping a perfect home are where you find your bliss, more power to you. (And, just have to add: if the chicken coop is your happy place and you can actually afford to stay home and hang out with your birds, consider yourself blessed. And if vacuuming is your happy thing, please please come to my house.) My issue is what Warner gets at here:

The values and beliefs and practices that go into sustaining and maintaining the way right-thinking, highly educated, generally affluent folk go about living their lives today–and that have made yoga a multibillion-dollar-a-year escape from the crush of modern life–are not rejected. Rather, as ever, the women question themselves. They can always be–must always be–further perfected, their performance of selfhood more highly refined.

And perhaps that’s why we’re always seeking something else. No matter where we find ourselves–pearl bedecked behind a vacuum cleaner, shoulderpadded in a corner office, pondering our navels in India while our children and husbands’ lives go on at home, teaching our children their ABCs…in Mandarin Chinese, or feeding the chickens in our own backyard–the second that happiness slips through our fingers, we assume it’s because we’re doing whatever it is we’re doing wrong. Or that we chose wrong. To have all of these choices is new for women, so it’s natural that we feel an intense responsibility to live out whichever ones we choose perfectly. And perfectly happily. We can do anything… so if we’re miserable, either we’re not doing it right, or we should be doing something else.

Don’t get me wrong: the modern world is maddening and overwhelming and much about the way we engage with it is dissatisfying. And turning inward helps. It’s crucial, in fact, if we’re ever to figure out who we are. And, let’s face it, it’s a luxury: the world of full-time downward dogging is reserved for the select few who can afford it. Most of the women I know who do yoga (myself included) are happy to squeeze in an om or two between five thousand other obligations. And while I tend to believe that the search for happiness, contentment, fulfillment is more eternal truth than trend, I also can’t help but recall something I wrote some time ago:

And while I have no problem with self-empowerment, it strikes me, perhaps given Barbara’s and my posts of earlier this week, that there’s something bigger, something less about the self, something more collective going on. You’ve read the study: Women’s happiness is on the decline. So it makes sense that, as a whole, we’re hungry. We’re in a state of transition, aching from the growing pains. And while the transition is collective, each one of us feels the growing pains acutely, individually.

And given all of that, the question I’m left wondering is this: if we address our dissatisfaction by disengaging with the world around us, what are we missing? And more importantly, what is the world missing? If the current setup of life and work is such that it makes everyone crazy, well, wouldn’t it be great if some of us were driven just crazy enough to set out to change it?


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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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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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