Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Tracy Clark-Flory’

Despite what we would like to think, life is not a multiple choice, scan-tron type of affair.  And sometimes, everywhere you look, something reminds you that choices and decisions are much more complicated than either/or.  Two cases in point, in case you’ve missed them:

First up, a Mother’s Day op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times by Stephanie Coonz.  If you recognize the name, it’s because she’s the author of 2005’s groundbreaking “Marriage: A History” and the newly released “A Strange Stirring: ‘The Feminine Mystique’ and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s.”  What she had to say was this:  that archetype of the happy — and saintly — stay-at-home mom?  It never was.  In fact, she points out, until quite recently, mom was pretty much villified, her social status in the dumpster until Betty Friedan came around.  So that whole debate about the mommy wars?  Put it to rest.

Coonz’ research has found that, really, whether you stay at home or work outside it, your happiness —  and your family’s too — is all about the choice.  There’s more, but here’s the take-away:

These findings suggest that it is time to stop arguing over who has things worse or who does things better, stay-at-home mothers or employed mothers. Instead, we should pay attention to women’s preferences and options.

Feminism has also fostered increased respect for men’s ability and desire to be involved parents. So we should also pay attention to expanding men’s ability to choose greater involvement in family life, just as we have expanded women’s ability to choose greater involvement in meaningful work.

While stay-at-home mothers may not have the aura of saintliness with which they were endowed in the 19th century, it’s indisputable that their status and lives have improved since their supposed heyday in the 1950s. On this Mother’s Day, it’s too bad that nostalgia for a golden age of motherhood that never existed still clouds our thinking about what’s best for mothers, fathers and their children.

And then there’s this.  The current shitstorm over the “SlutWalks” that are taking place across the nation — and beyond.  Sparked by a Toronto police officer who told a bunch of college women that they could avoid being raped if they didn’t dress like sluts, women have been marching in their underwear to protest his message.  I get the anger against blaming the victim — just not the underwear.  But I do like what salon’s Tracy Clark-Flory had to say about this whole either-or issue.  A slut or a prude?  She votes neither, and wonders why it has to be one or the other:

I’m tired of the polarizing rhetoric: Are you a prude or a slut? You know what, I’m neither. I understand the concept of re-appropriating slurs, and that many people find it freeing and empowering. Also, political discourse doesn’t exactly lend itself to nuance and subtlety, so shocking slogans can be tremendously effective. On a personal level, though, this kind of reactive language can feel awfully limiting. I’m not a political caricature, and neither is my sexuality.

… So while it’s kick-ass that so many women are proudly calling themselves sluts, I’d also like to defend the prudes, and those of us who would rather toss out those reductive categories altogether. The conversation really starts to get interesting when you say: I’m not a prude, but I’m not a slut; I’m ____

Choices, all of them, and never quite as clear as they seem.

Read Full Post »

Clicking through my Facebook friends, one could be forgiven for assuming I do a lot of socializing at preschools. One would be wrong, of course: the truth is that countless of my pals have replaced their profile pics with snaps of their wee ones; their status updates with diaper-status updates. Continuing along, one might also assume that, somewhere in my travels, I infiltrated a tribe of Carrie Bradshaw clones: beautiful, successful folks living the life, traveling to important places to do important things, wearing fabulous clothes while hanging out with fabulous people.

On the surface (and what is Facebook if not surface?), everyone’s having a dandy time living the lives they chose. Which is dandy. But how real is it?

We’ll come back to that. First, though, let’s take a look at an interesting piece on Salon.com entitled “How Facebook can affirm a woman’s singlehood.” In it, Tracy Clark-Flory makes the point that, for many women, spying on their married-and-mommied friends via the ‘book makes them feel validated to have put career first. Here’s a bit:

My friend Katherine is successful, dynamic, and fiercely intelligent–but, unmarried and childless at 32, she feels pressure from some to hurry up and achieve something that really matters: settling down and having kids. There is nothing new about a woman wondering if she’s sacrificed her love life for her career–but what is new is how Facebook is allowing these women to compare how their life choices have panned out with those of their peers, and sometimes it’s actually validating.

Katherine recently told me, ‘I go on there and I see these beautiful, intelligent women that I grew up with and they’re all married to these accountant types who wear polos and golf on the weekends. Yes, they have kids, a home and a husband — but it just looks so painfully, unbearably boring.’ Granted the whole truth is that she also sometimes feels jealousy — for instance, when a friend who is married with a baby posts about ‘drinking a glass of wine and eating oysters with her husband at their cute house with the bathroom they just remodeled themselves.’

…Despite all the choices available to women today, many still fret that in putting their career first and worrying about marriage and kids later they will ultimately miss out on the latter. There is a biological reality behind those concerns, but there are also plenty of cultural myths and trumped-up anxiety — the lonely cat lady who dies without anyone noticing and ends up being eaten by her hungry companion, for example — that serve as cautionary tales. The warning, of course, is that we will be punished for being too ambitious and going against our basic nature. Given the high stakes, it’s no surprise that this often leads to comparison and competition — and Facebook serves as a virtual looking glass through which to explore the path not taken.

So interesting isn’t it, how even here, life is presented as either-or for women. One path or the other. Career or love. Driven or domesticated. And if that’s the case, no wonder we have such a hard time making the choices that will take us down one road or another: they mean too much. And they’re too narrow. What if we want some of one, but more of the other? Where’s the profile for that?

And speaking of profiles, perhaps all of this angst–and uncertainty–over whether or not we’re making the right choices is why we’re so compelled to present ourselves so charmingly. We all have doubts. Do you think Katherine’s oyster-eating DIY couple posted the fact that they nearly killed each other while drywalling their new commode? Or the flipside:

‘Here I am, sitting in traffic, getting home to my tiny one-bedroom apartment, and eating macaroni and cheese after an 11-hour work day,’ [Katherine] says. ‘But I don’t post things about traffic, or sitting in my pajamas watching ‘Top Chef’ on Facebook! I write status updates about attending premiere parties and meticulously select profile pictures. I have to believe it’s all relative.’

Of course it is. Women today have every choice–and every one of us is, at some point or another, terrified we’ve made the wrong ones. Is it any wonder, then, that we treat our public personas like we might a disssertation: something we must present and defend? Here is my choice, and look how great it is! I have achieved the American Dream–witness husband and spawn! Or: I’m single and successful and fancy-free–witness the world travels and amazing fun! When in reality, of course, both are bullshit. Because life is life and it’s fabulous at times and at other times there are diapers to change or douchebags to date, and either way there’s bills to pay… But just because we’ve come up against yet another dirty diaper–or douchebag–does not mean we chose wrong.


Share

Read Full Post »

Welcome to 2011.  Whether you happen to be a member of roughly one-half the population or  just a human being, you’re sure to find something below to make you think.

Or possibly scream.

First up, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who apparently believes that the 14th Amendment — that’s the one that talks about equal protection under the law — does not apply to women.  That’s what he told UC Hastings College of the Law professor Calvin Massey in an interview published in the latest issue of California Lawyer.  Here you go:

In 1868, when the 39th Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 14th Amendment, I don’t think anybody would have thought that equal protection applied to sex discrimination, or certainly not to sexual orientation. So does that mean that we’ve gone off in error by applying the 14th Amendment to both?
Yes, yes. Sorry, to tell you that. … But, you know, if indeed the current society has come to different views, that’s fine. You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t. Nobody ever thought that that’s what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don’t need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box. You don’t like the death penalty anymore, that’s fine. You want a right to abortion? There’s nothing in the Constitution about that. But that doesn’t mean you cannot prohibit it. Persuade your fellow citizens it’s a good idea and pass a law. That’s what democracy is all about. It’s not about nine superannuated judges who have been there too long, imposing these demands on society.

No comment.

Actually, the above is what we might expect from one of the right-most justices on the nation’s highest court.  But look what we find over there at the considerably more enlightened New Yorker, courtesy of a caustic note from Anne Hayes, who fired off this letter to the editors of the elite periodical:

I am writing to express my alarm that this is now the second issue of the NYer in a row where only two (tiny) pieces out of your 76 page magazine are written by women.  The January 3rd, 2011 issue features only a Shouts & Murmurs (Patricia Marx) and a poem (Kimberly Johnson).  Every other major piece—the fiction, the profile, and all the main nonfiction pieces—is written by a man.  Every single critic is a male writer.

We were already alarmed when we flipped through the Dec 20th & 27th double-issue to find that only one piece (Nancy Franklin) and one poem (Alicia Ostriker) were written by women.

She ended her letter by saying that she was enclosing the current issue of the magazine with her letter — and expected a refund.  Love it.

And then there’s Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, who tearfully took the gavel Wednesday as the new Speaker of the House.  Maybe you like him, maybe you don’t, but what his aides have said — and what the “Pledge to America” spells out as job one — is the repeal of the health care overhaul, which, incidentally, has been estimated to save $140 billion over the next ten years.  (Um, remember who pays the price when health insurance isn’t a guarantee? More below.)  The new Republican platform spells out its agenda thus:  Cut the federal budget — without raising taxes or cutting military defense spending.  You can probably guess where the cuts will come.   This from the guy who cries at the plight of families.

Prepare to weep, because we also find out from ABC News that Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn), founder and chairwoman of the House Tea Party Caucus, is considering a run for the White House.  Yep.  We’ve yet to have a woman president — or even a woman make it past the primaries — and this is what we get?  Another name to add to the list of women who call themselves women, politicians who, like Boehner, like everything about family values — unless of course you define those values in terms of the support, like the new health care plan, that enables them to survive.  As we wrote back in November, when California distinguished itself by having two such women on the ballot, a skirt does not a woman make, nor does a skirt make a woman a friend of families:

Because who suffered most under our our health care system of old?  Women.  And when women suffer, it’s often the kids who pay the price.  So much for those family values.  But let’s recall a few things we may have forgotten about the old way of health care.  Pregnancy:  pre-existing condition.  Women:  statistically more  likely to work  part-time jobs (so they can care for their kids) that do not provide benefits.   Sure, all is well and good for ladies who can depend on well-employed husbands for heath care benefits.  But what if he loses his job?  Hard to afford COBRA on a part time salary.  Or no salary.  Or even one salary, for that matter.

And what if she’s a single mother?  Sorry, kids.  No doc for you…

And finally, there’s that scandal over the raunchy navy videos.  You know the ones:  mocking women and gays as a boys-will-be-boys bonding exercise.  Let’s go over to salon, where Tracy Clark-Flory (hey, where did Broadsheet go?) reports on her interview with anthropologist Lionel Tiger, author of “Men in Groups,” who says that this all this  stuff is a way to build, you know, brotherhood.  Especially when you’re stuck at sea:

There is an “intrinsic tension from living together in a relatively crowded environment for long periods of time,” and on a warship at sea, no less. That tension demands a release, and humor is a necessary outlet — but laughs aren’t the only motivator. Sexual stereotypes “reinforce the in-group feeling,” he says. Women, who were banned from serving on submarines until just last year, are “an easy out-group to pick on,” he says, and so are gays, who may soon be allowed to serve openly in the military. In both cases, it serves to prop up the heterosexual male norm, allowing for a touchy-feely-but-totally-not-gay “brotherhood.”

This Tiger person says that it’s important to know why this kind of stuff happens.  Clark-Flory takes it a step further, pointing out that the real issue is why this kind of stuff is allowed to happen.

Oh wait, there’s one more thing more that kind of takes us back to Shannon’s last two posts, on likability and ambition.  Ms Magazine’s January cover will feature Nancy Pelosi, who the magazine calls the “Most Effective Speaker Ever”, who passed more significant new public policy — from health care reform to the stimulus bill to the repeal of DADT —  than any Speaker in the last 50 years.  The magazine notes that even Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, says that Pelosi “ranks with the most consequential speakers, certainly in the last 75 years.” But Ms. also notes this:

If Pelosi’s efficacy is news to some, it’s because the media has often snubbed her. Neither Time nor Newsweek featured Pelosi on their covers in all the time she was Speaker (in contrast, Ms. put her on the cover immediately upon her inauguration). Both Time and Newsweek, however, have run covers featuring John Boehner—before he became Speaker.

That sound you hear is steam hissing from my ears.  Back to the future?  You be the judge.

Read Full Post »

Successful women, watch out.  The menfolk, they don’t like us.

At least that’s the message from a New York Times piece by Katrin Bennhold, titled “Keeping Romance Alive in the Age of Female Empowerment”.  And since we’re all, you know, successful women, we thought we ought to parse it out if only to share the idiot shivers.  Prepare yourself for some backlash.

The piece starts out with SATC’s Miranda, the redhaired ambitious and successful lawyer sucked into the peculiar hell that is speed-dating:

Remember “Sex and the City,” when Miranda goes speed-dating? She wastes her eight-minute pitch three times by giving away that she is a corporate lawyer. The fourth time she says she is a stewardess and gets asked out by a doctor.

What made the episode poignant was not just that Miranda lied about her success, but that her date did, too: it turned out he worked in a shoe store.

The piece goes on to explore the stereotype, questioning whether romance has been done in by “female empowerment.”  Ugh, right?  But let’s keep reading anyhow:

Sexual attraction in the 21st century, it seems, still feeds on 20th-century stereotypes. Now, as more women match or overtake men in education and the labor market, they are also turning traditional gender roles on their head, with some profound consequences for relationship dynamics.

There is a growing army of successful women in their 30s who have trouble finding a mate and have been immortalized in S.A.T.C. and the Bridget Jones novels. There are the alpha-women who end up with alpha-men but then decide to put career second when the babies come. But there is also a third group: a small but growing number of women who out-earn their partners, giving rise to an assortment of behavioral contortions aimed at keeping the appearance of traditional gender roles intact.

Puh-leese.  Can you hear me sigh? Next comes the anecdotal stuff:  the smart girls who keep their hubbies happy by playing 1950s housewives just to keep the spark alive.  Even though they outearn their men, they let them pick up the tab when they’re out in public.  They let them hold open the door and drive the car.  They book reservations in their husbands’ name, for fear that, I don’t know, these guys might have to turn in their testosterone card.  Clearly, these guys are weenies, but whatever. You get the picture, which is summed up in the article thus:

Dating sites seem to suggest that highly educated women have more trouble finding a partner than women in more traditionally female jobs. “Care and social professions work well; the really educated profiles are more difficult,” said Gesine Haag, 43, who used to run match.com in Germany. An elite dating portal at the company, trying to match up highly educated men and women, was abandoned and refocused more broadly, said Ms. Haag, who now manages her own Internet marketing agency.

“Men don’t want successful women, men want to be admired,” she said. “It’s important to them that the woman is full of energy at night and not playing with her BlackBerry in bed.”

Bernard Prieur, a psychoanalyst and author of “Money in Couples,” says men who earn less than their partners struggle with two insecurities: “They feel socially and personally vulnerable. Socially, they go against millennia of beliefs and stereotypes that see them as the breadwinner. And the success of their partner also often gives them a feeling of personal failure,” Mr. Prieur said in the November issue of the French magazine Marie-Claire.

Blah, blah, blah.  Granted, Benhold’s story has a Paris dateline, and its focus is Europe, where a man is still, you know, A Man.  But there’s this, too.  Where are the numbers?  Where’s the research?  Anecdotal information and weasel words like “many” or “more”  does not a true trend make.  And so, I have to wonder if there’s backlash at play:  let’s keep the girls in their place by convincing them that guys still don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.  Or, well, business suits.  Can it become self-fulfilling prophecy?

We went here once before, in a post (referencing a column by Maureen Dowd) that suggested that we’re still letting the stereotypes define us:  smart or sexy.  Beauty or brains.  I for one have had it with people telling us that we can’t be both. It’s bullshit, girls.  And when we buy into that nonsense, we lose.

Broadsheet’s Tracy Clark-Flory might well agree.  She also takes Benhold’s thesis to task, and provides some anecdotal counterpoint of her own, by racking up a bunch of quotes from men who not only have no fear of successful women, but actually prefer them.  Here’s one:

Simon, a 26-year-old Ph.D. student, wrote me in an e-mail, “I’m sure successful women pose a threat to some guys’ egos, but that’s just to say that some guys are dicks,” he says, hilariously. “Is this a more general issue, though? Are more guys dicks than we might have thought?” He doesn’t rule out the possibility, but notes that “it seems like a strange point of view if what you’re actually interested in is romantic partnership.”

Right?  We can go on believing the backlash and quite possibly hold ourselves back, or we can call it out for the nonsense that it is and stand tall in our Jimmy Choos or Armani suits.  As Clark-Flory sums up:

Certainly many men will be insurmountably intimidated by women who pull in more dough, but that hardly seems a loss worth mourning. Might it reveal a more fundamental incompatibility in terms of interests, drive, lifestyle or basic ideas about sex and power?

Of course, men are conditioned to bring home the bacon, and it’s tough to escape that sort of rigid social expectation. As a psychoanalyst quoted in Bennhold’s piece says, men who earn less than their female partner “go against millennia of beliefs and stereotypes that see them as the breadwinner.” If the guys I spoke with are any indication, though, plenty of young men are up to the task — and that is quite a different story from the Times’ cautionary tale.

Done.

Read Full Post »

2mad_men_10_restrict_width_792The newest “Are You A ….” game to pop up here in cyberspace involves Peggy and Joan, the two female stars of Mad Men, the spot-on series set in an advertising agency in the early 60’s. It starts its third season on Sunday. Full disclosure: I can’t wait.

For those new to the series, Peggy is the mousy twenty-something who starts as a secretary and works up to being a copywriter, the only woman with that title in the entire agency. Maybe even in the whole testosterone-charged industry. She’s a little bit frumpy and somewhat sexless — though she did get knocked up the first season. Joan is the sexy red-headed office manager who runs the ship while the guys are out drinking martinis. She wears tight dresses in bold colors (who says redheads can’t wear red?), hair in a sky-high beehive, and is clearly smarter than most of the men around her. But no one notices.

This new game, MadMen Yourself, invites you to get your Peggy or Joan on via virtual paper-dolls. You can play with fashions, hairdos, accessories — you name it — all to find your persona in a mid-century fantasy.

This is only the latest in a long line of games inviting women to define themselves in terms of TV characters, from SATC to Golden Girls: Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha or Miranda? Dorothy, Sophia, Blanche or Rose? The thing with those games, though, is that you always knew who you wanted to be before you started — and tried to game the answers accordingly.

Which makes me wonder: as it is in sit-com games, also in life? Do we first choose a character, then make decisions based on type? Do we allow ourselves inconsistency? Self-discovery? Forks in the road? And is that what gets us into trouble?

But back to Peggy and Joan. The girls from Salon’s Broadsheet recently had great fun playing with MadMen Yourself, writes Tracy Clark-Flory, who pondered why her crew of “brassy feminists” is so eager for some retro role-playing:

Well, I happen to think there’s plenty of room within feminism for personal contradiction — or, as I prefer to call it, evolutionary growing pains. That said, you don’t have to be a psychologist to recognize that a large part of the satisfaction derived from this kind of silly exercise comes from simple self-identification. It’s the “oh, I’m that type” recognition that people get from personality tests — whether it’s Myers-Briggs or the “Sex and the City” character quiz. In the “Mad Men” world, choices are pretty limited: Peggy or Joan? Jackie O. or Marilyn? Or, put in timeless terms: Wife or whore…

I so agree with what she says about room for personal contradiction when it comes to feminism. (And, in fact, didn’t a certain intolerance for that contradiction once push some feminists out of the tent?) But it’s the either/or that gets us into trouble. Especially when it comes to decisions — why we make them, why we can’t, and why we keep looking over our shoulders.

Meanwhile, back to that full disclosure I mentioned up top. For a few minutes (or, alternately, what seemed like an eternity) after college — long after the Mad Men era — I worked at an advertising agency, where I was caught in my own slice of Peggy-Joan land. The only woman in the small shop, I hired on as a copy-writer. Great, the bosses said. But you still have to sit at the front desk and answer the phones.

Oh yes. And look cute.

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 231 other followers