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Posts Tagged ‘Salon.com’

So, the Mommy Wars. They’re back. Again. Or still.

A superquick recap: As you’ve undoubtedly heard by now, last week Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen said on CNN that Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s wife Ann, a stay at home mom, had “never worked a day in her life.” Naturally the Romney campaign latched on to that one with the sort of ferocity that would make a pitbull (lipstick-wearing or not) proud, and the media has been all over it since.

While “Can’t we all just get along?” is my immediate, reflexive thought in the face of such firestorms, I realize that it’s just not that simple–and that, as Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams recently wrote, The Mommy Wars are real. In her smart and honest piece, Williams writes of her experience having a foot in both worlds–she’s a mom and a freelance writer who works from home. Here’s a taste:

We as women spend our whole lives being judged, and never more so than for our roles as mothers. We suffer for it, and frankly, we dish it out in spades. We park ourselves in separate camps, casting suspicious glances across the schoolyard. And it sucks because the judgment is there and its real and it stems so often from our own deepest fears and insecurities. We pay lip service to each other’s “choices”–and talk smack behind each other’s backs.

Yep, we’ve got each other’s backs theoretically, but when it comes down to it, Williams is pretty much right about what we’re doing behind them. But what is it really about? Why are we so defensive? So eager to judge each other for doing things differently? I’d argue its because, sometimes, we worry that we’re doing it wrong — and that the easiest, most comfortable defense in the face of that kind of worry is often a good offense.

And it’s not just stay at home moms versus working moms. It’s working moms versus their non-mom, on-the-job counterparts. It’s moms versus women who don’t have kids. It’s singletons versus coupleds. It’s pro-Botox and anti. It’s Tiger Mom versus Bringing Up Bebe. It’s gluten-free/organic/vegan versus chicken fingers and tater tots.

The other night I Tivo’d a show on OWN: it featured Gloria Steinem in conversation with Oprah, and then the two of them speaking at a small gathering of Barnard college students. At one point, Oprah asked Steinem about being attacked by other women, and then cut to a clip of Steinem on Larry King’s show. King thanked Steinem for being with him, she smiled hugely, and King went to a call. A woman’s voice came through, and she said, “I’m so glad I get to talk to you, Ms. Steinem” …and then went in for the kill. “Why are you trying to destroy families?” she asked in a voice so hostile it made me shiver. “Are you even married? Do you even have kids?” she demanded accusingly.

So, here’s the question: why are we so quick to perceive someone else’s doing things differently–or simply fighting to get access to those different things to do–as an attack on what we’re doing, a statement on our choices? As though there can be no other explanation for why we’ve taken the roads we’ve taken than that the road we didn’t take is wrong.

If we go out for ice cream, and you get chocolate, and I get vanilla (okay, I never get vanilla–I will always get pralines’n’cream), can’t the reason we’ve ordered differently just be attributed to the fact that we have different taste, like different things? Must I interpret your taste for chocolate as some sort of implicit judgment of mine for caramel? An attack on pralines? Surely, that would be chock-fulla-nuts.

What would I get out of criticizing you for your choice?

Perhaps if I was a little unsure that I’d ordered correctly, or perhaps if your choice was looking kinda good, enumerating all the ways chocolate is bad and pralines are good might help to stave off the self-doubt.

When it comes down to the Mommy Wars and all of the other crazy Us-vs.-Themmery we women put each other through, isn’t this kind of what we’re up to? After all, what, exactly, does my choice have to do with yours? Or yours, mine?

Well, there’s something: your choice has to do with mine in the sense that you’re showing me what the road not traveled looks like. If there’s only one way to do something, you’re spared the worry that you’re doing it wrong. There is no right or wrong, better or worse, there is only the way. But, the more options there are, well, the more options there are. And none of them is gonna be perfect, because nothing is. And when we come upon the bumps in our road, we wonder about the other road–and we worry that it’s better. And then, in our lesser moments, we seethe. We judge and we criticize in an attempt to stave off our doubts. If we can make the case that we are right–or, perhaps more to the point, that the other is wrong–we can seize on that little boost of self-assuredness to carry us through for a while.

So I guess what I’ve come up with is this: the moments when we feel like we need to make the case that that other road is wrong are probably the moments when we need to look at ourselves. Honestly. Perhaps we’re frustrated, or overwhelmed, or insecure or unhappy, or–and my money’s on this one–just having one of those days.

And women still have a lot of those days: that we have these choices we’re so quick to do battle over is new. We face structural inequities, lesser pay, the bulk of the burden of the second shift — and all of that second guessing. While we do indeed have access to a ton of paths that were blocked to us just a generation ago, we haven’t yet had the chance to make them smooth and pretty. They’re unpaved and overgrown and difficult to find. Of course we will have moments of self-doubt and envy and insecurity and frustration. But sniping at and about each other does no good for no one.

Last night before I went to bed, I was flipping the channels (it was a big weekend; I allowed myself some serious couch potato time once I got home–don’t judge!) and stopped for a quick second on CNN, because the ticker below that said “Mommy Wars” grabbed my attention. Four commentators went back and forth and around and around about the Mommy Wars: they were all men.

We are all doing the very best we can, in a world that it’s up to us to change, to make room for us. Every last one of us, no matter what path we choose to take. We’re all travelers–and we should do what good travelers do. Greet each other with a smile and an open mind. Share our stories. And, then before heading our separate ways, we should wish each other happy trails.

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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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And so a self-assured, kick-ass student we’ll call Jena followed me up to my office after the first day of class last week.  We made some idle chit-chat for a minute or two and then she got down to it:  She wasn’t sure she was going to stick it out.  Why?  For the first time ever, she confessed, a class had scared her shitless – as in, a knot in her stomach that kicked her clear out of her comfort zone.

To which my only response was this: “That’s terrific.”

Fear can be the best signal that you’re about to grow, to learn something new, to take a taste of something you thought was beyond you.  Harness it, and it’s often a source of power.  It’s all about stretching the muscles, as Salon’s Cary Tennis wrote to a teary grad student who was ready to flick it all in:

It hurts. You feel weak at first. Then you keep doing it and you get the muscles. Then you can do things you couldn’t do before.

It will always hurt a little. If it doesn’t hurt a little you’re not doing it right.

Love that. All of which got me thinking about the danger of the comfort zone, that safe little territory that keeps us from taking risks.

Now, you’ll never catch one of us (okay, me) jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.  Or white-water rafting.  Or even climbing to the top of a ladder.  But the two of us do share a healthy love of the kind of risk-taking that pushes women to throw themselves out there, to make those leaps of faith that get us past our initial fears.  In fact, what we believe is that the minute we realize we’re afraid to do something new, afraid to ask for what we want, maybe that’s precisely when we should jump out of the proverbial plane.  Men do that. Why shouldn’t we?

Take the case of Abby, a smart twenty-something we interviewed for our book.  She started out in journalism, left that gig for a job doing PR for a nonprofit, and then traded that one for a job doing PR for another nonprofit. She loved the job at first, but soon outgrew it, and interviewed for two new jobs – one that was merely good, and the other that was great.  She felt good about both interviews, and put in her two-weeks notice.  Risky business, right? That same day, she was offered the merely good job – but heard nothing from the great one.  So she played some guts ball.  She turned down the offer from the merely good job – and waited for an offer for the job she really wanted.  A few days later, it came.

Clearly, it could have gone either way.  But she made a choice, took a risk, and look how it turned out.

The conventional wisdom is that risk-taking is linked to testosterone, that women aren’t all that good at it.  But what we wonder is this: is risk-taking defined solely in terms of skateboarding without a helmet or driving too fast on curvy roads?  And is it nature or nurture, in that we girls have been conditioned to believe that our role is to play it safe?  Have we been too protected by doting parents who decided their role was to save us from ourselves?

Boys will be boys, but girls should be safe?

A recent study out of Columbia University suggests that gender disparities when it comes to risk taking may be different than what we assume.  It’s all pretty complex, writes Rick Nauert PhD, Senior News Editor of Psych Central:

Men are willing to take more risks in finances. But women take more social risks—a category that includes things like starting a new career in your mid-30s or speaking your mind about an unpopular issue in a meeting at work.

The researchers say that experience greatly influences the type of risk-taker a person may become and this explains why women and men perceive risks differently.

“If you have more experience with a risky situation, you may perceive it as less risky,” [said Bernd Figner, Ph.D., who cowrote the paper with Elke Weber, Ph.D]

Differences in how boys and girls encounter the world as they’re growing up may make them more comfortable with different kinds of risks.

Stuff to think about, right?  Meanwhile, back to Jena.  Day two, there she was.  Sitting front and center, flashing me a smile.  Giving it a shot.  And looking confident, indeed.

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And that’s why many people are apparently appalled.  Not necessarily because CBS foreign correspondent Lara Logan was surrounded by an angry mob in Cairo, and beaten and raped.  It was because she was taking unnecessary chances.  (Read: risk-taker)  She was doing it to advance her career (Read: ambitious).  She was daring to go where she did not belong.  (Read: brazen)

While none of the naysayers have been so brutal as to come out and say she got what she deserved, the fallout from the news of her hideous assault has been almost as ugly as the assault itself.  Here’s the background via the New York Times:

Lara Logan, the CBS News correspondent, was attacked and sexually assaulted by a mob in Cairo on Feb. 11, the day that the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was forced from power, the network said Tuesday.

After the mob surrounded her, Ms. Logan “suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers,” the network said in a statement. Ms. Logan is recovering at a hospital in the United States.

The evening of the attack, Ms. Logan, 39, the network’s chief foreign affairs correspondent, was covering the celebrations in Tahrir Square in central Cairo with a camera crew and an unknown number of security staff members. The CBS team was enveloped by “a dangerous element” within the crowd, CBS said, that numbered more than 200 people. That mob separated Ms. Logan from her team and then attacked her.

Heinous, right?  And yet.  Comments on talk radio and the interwebs Wednesday were cascading into blame the victim mode.  NPR, for that matter, had to take a number of comments off its site completely, and issue a plea for civility.   Meanwhile, according to Time.com,  reporter Nir Rosen, a fellow at NYU, resigned from his position at the university after he sent an ugly tweet suggesting that Logan was some kind of brazen careerist, trying to outdo CNN’s Anderson Cooper (who had been beaten in Cairo a few days before) and capped it with this:

“at a moment when she is going to become a martyr and glorified we should at least remember her role as a major war monger”—a reference to his criticisms of Logan over her coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Over at Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams (we love her) took on Rosen and others, too.  (According to Williams, Rosen also tweeted this:  “It’s always wrong, that’s obvious, but I’m rolling my eyes at all the attention [Logan will] get.”  Yeah, ugh.)  She also added this, referring to yet another hater:

And the ever-heinous [right-wing blogger and Fox News regular] Debbie Schlussel was quick to jump on her regular line of racism, noting how the assault happened in a “country of savages,” because that never ever happens anywhere else, and it’s never committed by light-skinned people! She then twisted the knife by going after Logan herself, saying, “So sad, too bad, Lara. No one told her to go there. She knew the risks. And she should have known what Islam is all about. Now she knows… How fitting that Lara Logan was ‘liberated’ by Muslims in Liberation Square while she was gushing over the other part of the ‘liberation.'”

Need we go on?  Yes, lets.  Grazing on some talk radio on my morning run, I heard similarly ugly — and thinly veiled — comments that suggested Logan had put herself in danger because she was trying to play like the boys.  Among them?   “What was she doing there anyway?”  “Didn’t she know the risks?”  And the worst, from a woman who suggested that the difference between a woman who might be assaulted while simply walking though a park (Read: innocent) and Ms Logan was that Logan was doing it for work.
As in, shamelessly ambitious.  Girls, you know, aren’t supposed to do that.

But here’s the thing.  If she is shamelessly ambitious, who cares?  Are we not over that?  If she took an unnecessary risk — and nowhere does it suggest that she did — isn’t that what foreign correspondents are paid to do?  Right?  But that’s not the point.  Or at least not mine.  At the midpoint of the protests in Tahrir Square, when things started going ugly, reporters were roundly encouraged to get the hell out of Dodge.  Many stayed.  Including Anderson Cooper.  He was beaten up.

We called him a hero.

P.S.  Within minutes of posting this, we got an ugly comment suggesting that Logan got what she deserved.  We have declined to approve it.

photo credit:  CBS

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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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Did you happen to catch Sunday’s Mad Men Finale? Entitled “Tomorrowland,” as always, the show served up a heaping dose of Yesteryear reality, tarted up in a no-detail-left-behind package of pitch-perfect mid-century style porn.

Initially–and despite the big jaw-dropper–I turned off the TV and thought about the women. Faye, the successful, independent, and beautiful doctor who challenged Don, encouraged him to be himself–even with some knowledge of his secret past–and seemed to have something verging on the serious with him… until, that is, Don took off to California with his much-younger secretary Megan, whom he’d slept with once before while working a late night at the office during which she proclaimed she was “interested in advertising,” and whom, in this episode, he asked to babysit during the trip after Betty canned the kids’ longtime nanny in a fit of temper. After a brush with his past that included the reclaiming of an heirloom ring, Don witnessed Megan leading the children in some sort of French nursery rhyme (just call her Megan VonTrapp), calmly cleaning spilled milkshakes, in a bikini and decked out for a night at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go. Ergo, he slept with her, promptly decided he was in love, and, in the long and grand tradition of ad men and their secretaries, proposed. Back at the office, Peggy scored a six-figure deal with some panty-hose slingers, but news of the interoffice engagement trumped hers, despite the fact that the agency was going under. Seeing her shock, Don attempts to–what? console her?–by saying of Megan, “she reminds me of you.” Just a little younger, more beautiful, maternal, and not quite so smart… And then Don picks up the phone to dump Faye, who takes it like a woman–an understandably pissed off woman. Oh, also: Joan got a promotion. In title only–no raise for you, Joanie. (In a New York Times piece in which the writer watched the finale with National Women’s Political Caucus co-founder and “How to Make It in a Man’s World” author Letty Cottin Pogrebin, the scene “prompt[ed] Ms. Pogrebin to laugh out loud and point at the screen: ‘We got the titles and not the salary.'”)

So much to say! (Alas, Joan and Peggy beat me to a fair chunk of it, in their hilarious shit-talking session in Joan’s office, post-engagement bomb.) But, hey, the show’s already been deconstructed and reconstructed, backwards and forward. (Although, am I the only one who calls “Foul” at the irony of all the critics who praise the show for its accurate depiction of an incredibly sexist time–and then describe Peggy, who’s started to prove herself professionally, as “increasingly arrogant?” For. The. Love.) But anyway. What goes on in the show is often shocking, but also not, because while wardrobe and workplace mores may have changed, certain human tendencies have not. Take even Betty, arguably the most shockingly-behaved character on the show. In a Washington Post piece entitled “Why ‘Mad Men’ Is TV’s Most Feminist Show,” which ran a week or so ahead of the finale, Stephanie Coontz says:

Betty Draper won most viewers’ sympathy in the first season because of her husband’s infidelities and lies. But since then, many have come to hate her for displaying the traits of the dependent housewife that Betty Friedan critiqued so vividly in her 1963 bestseller, “The Feminine Mystique.” She is a woman who thinks a redecorated living room, a brief affair or a new husband might fill the emptiness inside her, and her attempts to appear the perfect wife render her incapable of fully knowing her children of even her successive husbands.

Interesting, that. (And it’s little wonder that the Sallys of the world are the ones who led feminism’s second wave, looking to live lives on equal, independent footing. As Pogrebin said in that NYT piece, “You should feel sorry for [Betty]… She has such a stunted life.”) But those issues–of misguided attempts at filling the emptiness inside, or the lengths one might go to in the service of avoiding getting to know oneself or one’s family or dealing with one’s or one’s family’s shit–become even more interesting when you consider this, from a New York magazine post-finale-premiere Q&A with Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner.

Faye seemed like Don Draper’s mistress type…

MW: No, I think Faye seemed like the next Mrs. Don Draper. She’s a professional and he’s an equal. I mean, who knows? There’s no stories about men in this situation. Maybe The Odd Couple. I realized because guys like this weren’t single for that long. To me, the reason this episode is called “Tomorrowland” is because it’s really about the choice between, “Do you want to deal with who you are, and live with that?” or “Do you want to think about the person you could be in the future and you’re becoming?” And Megan said, “Go to Tomorrowland.” Everything’s pushing towards that fact. Why don’t you be the person you want to be, and not worry about dealing with the person you are?

Excellent question, Mr. Weiner. And, while thankfully, much of what goes down in Mad Men‘s yesterdayland is relegated to the past, that question gets to me. In the show, both Betty and Don would rather do anything than figure out who they are and be that person. Whether they prefer Fantasyland or Tomorrowland is incidental; it’s the need for escape that’s the same. Betty is a frightful cautionary tale, an emotional infant who deals in temper tantrums; Don is… a frightful cautionary tale, an emotional infant who deals in advertising, cocktails, and sex. Either one would sooner quit their Lucky Strike habit than give up the chase and take a moment to think.

As Salon.com’s Heather Havrilesky put it:

But Sunday night’s “Mad Men” finale reminds us of what Matthew Weiner’s riveting drama captures best of all: the particularly modern affliction of dissatisfaction, a sickness that robs us of our ability to savor the moment, to relish the mundane details of our lives and delight in all of the joys that our comforts and conveniences bring. Perversely, the more comfortable we are, the more we want. We’re constantly distracted by the notion that we could do better or have more, that we might become someone new overnight, that there’s a magic pot of gold around the next corner. Whether it’s advertising or celebrity or culture or some twisted mix of radio jingles, cartoons, soap operas, political speeches and suspense thrillers, our cultural marinade makes us fixate on easy answers, shortcuts, and magical thinking. We’re each about to win the lottery; salvation lies just around the next bend, we just have to wait and see what happens.

Of course, Mad Men is fiction. But what about the rest of us? How often do we push down our real self, procrastinate the work of getting to know her, and instead obsess over changing our external circumstances, hoping they’ll offer us some sort of satisfaction? Or ignore who we are today in favor of who we think we’ll be tomorrow, what we think will satisfy us then? Or find ourselves categorically incapable of being in the here and now, distracted instead by the bright, shiny promise of what could be? It’s so funny, isn’t it, how, sometimes, somehow, we actually believe it’s easier to make decisions based on who we want to be than who we actually are–or possible to distract ourselves out of our dissatisfaction. I’m not happy, but maybe if I leave my philandering husband for this politician, or up and move my family across town, then I’ll feel better? Or, perhaps I’ll have a seventh scotch and screw my secretary–that should do the trick! Or, everything is great… but couldn’t it–shouldn’t it–be better?

Ridiculous, right? And yet. It’s kinda funny how that part carries the disturbing ring of truth, how Fantasyland and Tomorrowland hold such a timeless, universal appeal. I’m in a shitty relationship, but I don’t want to deal with it… I’m gonna cut my hair! And dye it, too! My job is sucking my soul… Time to plan a vacay! Everything is fine, but I sure am bored… maybe I’ll go back to school! Or maybe I should take up with that barista who makes a skull-and-crossbones in my latte foam… Or this: I’m so stressed out over the pages of final edits to my very first book, I just can’t deal… maybe I’ll pour myself a glass of wine, cozy up to the couch, and settled in to watch some salacious TV instead.

Although actually, for 56 minutes, that last one worked like a charm.

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Doncha just love campaign season? Phones aren’t hung up promptly; scandals ensue! As a Californian, I’m naturally thinking of Whore-Gate, or the instance of gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown calling the police union for an endorsement, and neglecting to hang up before an aide helpfully suggested “What about saying she’s a whore?” (The background is this: His opponent, Meg Whitman–the “she” in question–promised the police union that she’d exempt them from the pension caps she was proposing for “all” public emploees, whereas Brown is calling for cuts across the board, including police and fire. The police union endorsement had nothing to do with her being “tough on crime”; it had to do with dollars. Natch.) Anyway, back to Whore-Gate. Once that comment was leaked, Whitman was quick to pounce, calling it an “insult to the women of California.” The issue was brought up during Tuesday night’s debate, during which moderator Tom Brokaw put the issue to Brown, suggesting that the W-word is on par with the N-word. Brown disagreed with the comparison, but apologized. He was booed. Whitman retorted by saying it’s a “deeply offensive term to women,” then saying that when her campaign chairman, former CA governor Pete Wilson used the W-word in reference to Congress, “that is a completely different thing.” She was booed, too.

Wowee, right?! The fallout was equally salacious. The day after the news of the Brown-camp W-bomb was dropped, NOW announced its endorsement of him, which prompted right-wingers everywhere to proclaim that the National Organization for Women is a partisan operation. (Because, you know, men get to vote on the issues, but women can only vote for the similarly-chromosomed. Any hint of voting with something other than our vaginas suggests partisanship.) Others wrung their hands over whether the W-word is, in fact, as sexist as the N-word is racist. Some saying of course it is; others, like Salon.com’s Joan Walsh saying,

Like it or not, in the political realm the word has little sting anymore, and almost no tie to gender. Brokaw’s comparing it to the “N-word” for women was a rare misstep for the otherwise smart moderator.

I tend to agree that the word “whore” in such a context, while ugly, is not particularly sexist, but I do happen to think that ugly language deserves a comment or two at this particular moment in time. Because the thing is, words do hurt. Bullying is reportedly rampant, as are suicides of its victims. People can say and do really ugly things to each other. Look at the cases of Phoebe Prince or Tyler Clementi. Look at the ways in which Hillary Clinton has been talked about, for gods sake.

But that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re not talking about sexism; we’re talking about pottymouth. We’re talking about the ugliness of politics, of what happens when someone who’s demonstrated zero interest in politics for the bulk of her life comes into billions of dollars, runs out of toys to buy herself and decides to buy a public office instead, breaking records on campaign spending, and swapping endorsements for favors. (Oops, did I type that out loud?)

But seriously, to suggest that the W-word in question is on par with the N-word–or “deeply offensive to women” in one instance while “a completely different thing” in another–is, quite frankly, offensive in and of itself. Splitting hairs is an insult to voters’ intelligence–and it points to the disingenuousness of Whitman’s decision to play the woman card here, despite the fact that there is precious little in her platform or proposed policy that would benefit women. Even putting that aside, claiming offense in this instance cheapens what people go through when they are the victims of truly hateful language. Politics is ugly, but not as ugly as hate. And what we have here is a non-issue, played up for drama–and votes. There’s plenty of truly offensive instances of hateful language and sexist bullshit to get pissed off about, but this is not one of them. And if you ask me, the most offensive part of the whole thing is this: California is in one hell of a mess, and in desperate need of some quality leadership. And this is what we’re talking about instead.


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