Posts Tagged ‘Salon.com’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Last week I came across a fascinating piece at Salon.com… which, arguably, is made are all the more fascinating for its utter familiarity. The piece, by Rebecca Traister, is called “The new single womanhood: Young, urban and not necessarily looking for a man, a crop of memoirists are sketching out a brave new female world,” and, while it’s ostensibly a sort of genre-as-a-whole reading review, it feels like more of a mirror. Check it out:

Embedded in Crosley’s quirky yarns about travel, work and friendship is a fresh accounting of the mixture of exhilaration and ennui that marks many modern young women’s lives. In this, Crosley is a valuable contributor to what is becoming a new subset of the memoir genre; hers is the latest in a string of entries from professional young women anxious to reflect on the adventure of coming into their own on their own. Unlike the tales of trauma and addiction that studded the first wave of publishing’s autobiographical boom, Crosley and her compatriots are staking out stylistically understated but historically explosive territory by describing experiences that may not be especially unusual, but are unprecedented, because the kind of woman to whom they are happening is herself unprecedented. This crop of books is laying out what it feels like to be a young, professional, economically and sexually independent woman, unencumbered by children or excessive domestic responsibility, who earns, plays and worries her own way through her 20s and 30s, a stage of life that until very recently would have been unimaginable or scandalously radical, but which we now–miraculously–find somewhat ho-hum.

…The decade since [Meghan] Daum’s freshman entry has seen scads of books built along the same calm lines: telling what it’s like to be among the first generations of American women not expected to marry or reproduce in their early 20s, for whom advanced education and employment have not been politically freighted departures, but rather part of a charted path, and for whom romantic solitude is regarded as neither pitiable or revolutionary.

The literary records of this newly carved out period of female life approach it from different angles and vary in quality. But they serve as magnifying glasses for women eager to examine not only their navels but also the opportunities and anxieties presented to them as they embark on a road that sharply diverges from the one traveled by most of their mothers, and certainly by their grandmothers.

Sound familiar? The extended adolescence, the untraveled roads, the elusiveness of happiness, the lives lived featuring each and every one of us as the mistress of our own universe… and then, of course–wait for it dear reader–the choices.

As Helena Andrews has said about her memoir, and the women whose stories resonate with her own: “We got the undergrad degree, we’ve got the master’s degree, most of us, the great job, the closet we’ve always coveted, and we think that happiness should come immediately after that. And that’s not always the case… We know what we can do, which is anything. But we need to figure out what we want to do.”

That, too, is new. And that, too, is unremarkable, even in its newness, because that’s where history has landed us, and the one thing we all have in common is the time in which we’re living. And while we obviously don’t want to go backward, there are growing pains to be expected in the going forward. The freedom to do whatever we want without answering to anyone is both exhilarating and a little bit scary. We are in charge, we can do anything we want… and our work is to figure out exactly what that is.

It’s a tough job, but everybody’s gotta do it.


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I came across this story in the Philadelphia Enquirer the other day about the new angst of quarterlifers. (I’ve buried the lead once again. But stay with me here.) The story revisited the book, Quarterlife Crisis, written back in 2001, and then went on to enumerate the ways in which the Crisis, thanks to the recession, is worse than ever:

Experts say the quarterlife crisis might be harder to navigate now than when the book came out. Entry-level employees, for example, are fighting for fewer jobs and lower pay, [Abby] Wilner, [coauthor of Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties] said in an e-mail interview recently.

“It’s absolutely a tough time,” she wrote.

Even those with jobs are in rough waters, said Dustin Williams, a career counselor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. A glut of older employees aren’t budging because they can’t afford to retire, so younger ones can’t move up. Plus, less-experienced employees are more likely to get laid off. Job security is a real luxury these days.

“Four or five years ago, “Williams said, “people would say, ‘Well, I’m not happy, so I’ll just change jobs and see how I do.’ “

Now, more than ever, it’s easy to get stuck in crisis mode. And recent college graduates are lucky if they land a job at all.

The story goes on to paint pix of doom and gloom, of how difficult it is these days to be twentysomething and trying to make your way in the world, noting a recent Harvard poll that found that 60 percent of young adults worried about whether they would ever end up better off than their parents.

Flipping to the upside, the story continues:

Yeah, becoming an adult and figuring out your future can be painful, especially these days. But it’s only natural, said Deborah Smith, a sociology professor at University of Missouri-Kansas City. Many people experience angst in their 20s because they’re reflecting on their lives for the first time in a long time, she said.

“In my mind, it’s not a crisis,” Smith said. “It’s a decision point, a pressure point, a life-stage change.”

Which brings me to my point, albeit a bit circuitously. But first, let me first say I know (from second-hand experience) about the presumed death of the dream for so many twentysomethings these days: no matter what their goals, it’s hard out there to reach them. At least at first. Money is tight, jobs are scarce and switching out the dream in exchange for settling — or moving back to your high school bedroom — is a real possibility. But yet.

It isn’t necessarily a crisis. At least right now. Unless, of course, you convince yourself it is. Which leads me to my point.

You have to wonder if quarterlife angst goes viral when you’re attached to a hundred different lives-in-crisis at any given time, when you’re inadvertently seeking out those who either share or validate your own personal misery. Call it over-sharing times, well, a number that may coincide with twitter and Facebook friends. A friend once described her Facebook page in terms of a cocktail party: You’ve got this conversation going on over here, but over there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of others you can eavesdrop on as you scroll down the page. I wonder if the better metaphor might be slumber party.

While all those connections might give a good sense of the zeitgeist, it’s not too much of a stretch to suspect that a certain amount of quarterlife angst can be contagious, especially among younger women, given research out of the University of Missouri back in 2007.

The study found that when adolescent girls did too much venting with their girlfriends over their problems, they ended up feeling worse. Yep, more miserable. Their friendships got stronger, the researchers, found, but the girls got caught up in a vicious cycle in which their anxiety led to more venting, which in turn – you guessed it – led to more angst. Getting off on the drama of it all? Who knows. But the more they talked, the worse they felt.

Not good, wrote Carol Lloyd on Salon’s Broadsheet some time later. She connected the study to her own childhood, growing up in 1970’s-era Northern California where, because her family …

used to process every five-minute spat with several hours of grueling self-analysis, early on I developed an acute case of communication fatigue. Feelings, I decided in my own little Idaho of tough love, could be crutches, disguises and distractions from the things we want to do, the people we want to become.

Clearly, feelings are not to be denied. (In fact, haven’t we said many times that gut instinct can be a good compass?) And yet. Despite the fact that we’re not teenagers, nor is life like a slumber party, you still have to wonder: Does angst beget angst? Is crisis mode contagious?

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Leno? Conan? Who cares? Late night TV hasn’t been funny since… well, I can’t remember. But if you think the jokes are lame, brace yourself: a recent piece in Salon.com suggests that perhaps the reason the suck-o-meter seems to be stuck on high might have a little something to do with diversity in the writers’ room. Or, more accurately, the total lack thereof. (Did you know that if you added up all the women writers for Leno, Letterman, and Conan O’Brien, the grand total would be… zero? No, that–alas–is not a joke.) In her piece about the not-so-funny world of late-night comedy writing, Lynn Harris says:

…The 2007 Hollywood Writers Report by the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW), found that not only had women and minorities not made any hiring gains since 2005; in some areas, they had actually moved backward. And the 2009 report found little improvement, with women ‘stuck’ at 28 percent of television employment and 18 percent of film employment…[The report states] ‘America will continue to become increasingly diverse – this much is guaranteed. And reflecting these changes in staffing and stories is just good business.’

Harris goes on to describe the comedy writing process, in all it’s crude, immature, sometimes offensive, presumably very funny glory. And then, some stuff that’ll turn that smile upside-down:

Crude we can deal with, women in the business insist. Viciously sexist too, even, in context. That’s what’s fun… We can stand the heat, they say. We like the heat. That’s why we’re here. ‘It’s a very aggressive medium, and it’s not the medium for fragile flowers,’ says the venerable Janis Hirsch. ‘It’s a job. It’s not a perfect world. Women have to either nut up and get into the spirit of it or not look for a job on a show that’s all about men.’

Still, even some of the most florid trash-talkers – Hirsch included – also said that other lines do get crossed. And that’s where things get tricky. With so many bitch, asshole and cocksucker stories already flying, of course, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly when that happens; that’s the problem. But some women do say they’ve felt it like a sucker punch when everyday chain-yanking makes the leap from ‘process’ to personal. Just one example of many, from an experienced female writer: Once, in the writers’ room, she told a couple of jerky ex-boyfriend stories she thought could be good script fodder. This prompted another writer to start ranting – angrily, not riffing – about how women ‘always date jerks.’ Another narrowed his eyes at her. ‘A guy acting like an asshole? That’s what makes you spread your legs?’

Her observation: ‘When a guy tells a story about an ex-girlfriend screwing him over, he gets laughs and maybe sympathy. When a girl tells a story about a guy screwing her over, she gets a lecture, or worse. The whole discussion becomes a referendum on women’s sanity,’ she says. ‘I call this ‘nice guy misogyny,’ she goes on. ‘The real problem comes from the supposedly nice married guys who secretly resent women for being on their turf and take it out on them in various subtle ways.’

But it’s not only that. The fact that these women are so outnumbered is also likely to blame for a return to the old-school, blend-in style of Women at Work, an ethos that comes with its own buzzkills:

‘It’s hard to speak up and say, ‘I’m offended as a lady,’ because the whole point is you’re trying not to be different,’ says one female writer. (Aside: When she interviewed for one recent job, the executive producers had the following conversation right in front of her: ‘We already have a woman. Do you think she’ll mind?’) So – perhaps putting to rest some alleged male fears – women may sometimes wind up going along with stuff they wish they hadn’t. As sitcom writer Corinne Marshall put it in an essay on the Huffington Post: ‘While off-color humor suited my palate just fine, there were times when I felt I was selling out, taking something a little too far just to impress the boys. For example, joking about an actress’ weight. In my mind, it’s never OK to talk to guys about how fat a girl is and yet I found myself doing just that. Later, I felt really shitty… because I had betrayed a principle just to be down.’

There is pressure to prove that you’re impossible to offend, women say, which causes some to ‘overcompensate by being incredibly dirty,’ said one female sitcom writer…

For related reasons, they sometimes also keep some material to themselves – sometimes even the good stuff. ‘Even if I thought I had a really great dating joke I think I wouldn’t put it out there because I’d be afraid of being pegged as a little too boys-and-pizza — you know, girls-in-pajamas stuff,’ said the comedy variety writer.

Ugh. The truly offensive kicker in all of this: according to the piece, the late-night shows are all consciously looking for more women writers. I wonder if it’s ever occurred to the honchos at the helm that, perhaps one of the reasons more women aren’t banging down that door is because they’re still expected to check that second X chromosome before entering it? No matter how much they might “like the the heat”–might, in fact, thrive on the heat–these women are outnumbered, and, by virtue of that token status, feel forced to endure sexist missives, to out-gross-out the guys–even when they hate themselves for doing it–and to keep their mouths shut for fear of being called out as ‘that girl.’ With all that to contend with, it’s a miracle these women are funny at all. Imagine how funny they’d be if they could just be themselves.

It’s an extreme version of what so many of us face every day, when “trying not to be different” forces us to walk the line, dwelling in the space marked by the tension between blending in while trying to beat them at their own game and standing out and striving to change the rules altogether. And I’d venture to say such circumstances make our choices harder. After all, who (okay, who other than Sarah Silverman) would want to put herself in such a position? And, as it is with the writers, I wonder: how much does our performance, our contribution, suffer, when we’re expending so much energy managing our image? How much better could we be?

But the thing is, the more of us there are–and not just (wo)manning the pen, but everywhere–the more likely things will change. And that behooves everyone:

For that to really work, though, there have to chicks, plural. Not just one woman who’s therefore the woman and — as in some cases — diverted from the free-wheeling fart-topia by the demands of constant triangulation: pipe up, shut up, nut up?

…The bottom line here is what makes better comedy. And as [former Letterman scribe Nell] Scovell says, ‘It’s been my experience that a room with a fairer sampling of humanity will always produce funnier material.’

And that might just be worth staying up for.

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Now that the flurry that is August has subsided, a few quick hits to remind us that we are all, well, Undecided.

And apparently there are enough of us out there to prompt our own marketing niche. Hence, The New Decider Watch? Terminally undecided? Simply sneak a peak at your wrist:

The New Decider helps you make decisions: as the seconds tick round the words “yes” and “no” are alternately displayed. When you need to make a decision, simply glance at the watch for your answer. A magnifying dome sits just above the answer window to aid visibility
The New Decider may not always be right, but as Tony Soprano observes,“a wrong decision is better than indecision”.

The wisdom of Tony Soprano notwithstanding, we may think that indecision leads to stress. And clearly, it does. But a new study out of Portugal suggests that stress itself can lead to bad decision-making. The study, published in the July 31st of Science, reveals that chronic stress can switch our brain onto automatic pilot, so that we make choices out of habit, rather than thoughtful cognition:

The researchers looked into goal-orientated decisions (so those where consequences are taken into account) and automatic decisions (so those resulting from habit) as well as the switch between the two, and how this was affected by chronic stress.
To answer that Ferreira and colleagues used rats exposed to chronic stress and, together with normal control rats, put them through training to learn to press a lever in order to obtain food rewards. Both stressed and control rats responded very similarly, rising the number of pressings with time as they learned that this would increase the rewards obtained.
But when the situation was changed by feeding the animals on the side, so making the food rewards less appealing, while control rats were able to re-evaluate the situation and diminish the number of pressings, stressed rats continued to push the lever constantly despite the effort this required. This suggested that once a habit was established stressed animals were no longer capable of switching the response back.

On another topic, but clearly related, Meryl Streep riffs on work-life balance and gender issues, Hollywood style, in a ten-minute interview she granted
salon.com a few weeks back. Love what she says here:

You had a famous quip in the 1990s about how difficult it was for older women to get good roles — that Hollywood producers don’t want to cast women who remind them of their first wives. Recently, you’ve said that you don’t think anything has changed dramatically. And yet you’re wildly in demand …
I don’t think they have changed dramatically, otherwise all the actors my age would be working as much as I am. And I think I have surfed a wave of very good fortune. I guess, starting with [“The Devil Wears Prada”] it has to do with the money coming back in big blockbusters. But if there were more female-driven, interesting projects that were widely distributed … That audience is there, they want to go.
There does seem to be a strange amnesia after women-targeted films, like “Mamma Mia,” are huge hits.
In the blogosphere. Because the blogosphere is still mostly fellas. Somehow they have all the spare time because — I guess, someone else is cooking, or cleaning, or doing whatever it is that needs to be done. [Laughs]

In other words, we may be the breadwinners, but we’re still expected to, um, butter the toast? USA Today reports that by October or November of this year, women will represent the majority of workers. But will numbers give us parity or equality. Nope. From the article:

The change reflects the growing importance of women as wage earners, but it doesn’t show full equality, Hartmann says. On average, women work fewer hours than men, hold more part-time jobs and earn 77% of what men make, she says. Men also still dominate higher-paying executive ranks.

On the other hand, we may not be fully represented in the boardrooms, but we do have spending power. According to “WOMEN WANT MORE: How to Capture Your Share of the World’s Largest, Fastest-Growing Market” (HarperBusiness, September 2009), educated working women may drive the new economy, with some $5 trillion in incremental earnings to spend. Which may give us some leverage, at least as consumers. From a press release about the book:

“WOMEN WANT MORE” is based on The Boston Consulting Group Global Inquiry into Women and Consumerism, a survey of more than 12,000 women in 22 countries around the world, comprehensive one-on-one interviews, as well as the authors’ decades of experience with companies and consumers worldwide. The survey results show that women are dissatisfied with the products and services available to them in many categories, largely because companies misunderstand women’s issues and fail to answer their needs. Most of all, women are overwhelmed by demands on their time and the challenges of dealing with the many roles they typically play — as wives, mothers, partners, professionals, friends, colleagues, sisters, and daughters.

And finally, this being the day after Labor Day, a back-to-school item. Newsday.com reports that as the economy falls, the number of college students stressed about choosing a major spikes. (Dirty little secret: Your major? Doesn’t always matter.) The response, on some campuses, is to relieve students’ anxiety by encouraging them to take a taste test to find what they truly love, rather than worrying about a career. Others, such as Hofstra, are piloting programs to help students navigate the decision-making process:

Ten students will meet once a week for two months and participate in a series of exercises designed to reveal their talents, skills and interests. By the end of eight weeks, the goal is for each to choose a major.
“They come in thinking they absolutely have to know what they’re doing from the beginning of freshman year,” said Jayne Brownell, assistant vice president of student affairs. “But they are putting false pressure on themselves, and placing too much importance on the choice of a major in determining life success.”
Brownell ought to know. She majored in women’s studies at Rutgers University. “When people asked me my major and what I was going to do when I graduated, I didn’t have an answer,” she said. She spent five years as a business manager for an advertising company right after graduation.
“You’re not going to have one career anymore,” she said. “That isn’t the way the world works. I think my education served me very well over time.”

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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.

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You know what I love about cooking? I love that after a day where nothing is sure–and when I say nothing, I mean nothing–you can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick. It’s such a comfort.

So says Julie, the modern-day half of the heroines featured in Nora Ephron’s new comedy “Julie & Julia.” By now I’m sure you know the backstory: in 2002, then 29 year-old office drone/aspiring writer Julie Powell decided to cook her way through the 524 recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year, and blog about it. Well, the blog turned into a (bestselling) book, and the book begot the movie, which charts the parallel lives of Powell and Child, both looking for something to do with their lives–and stumbling upon their calling. Of the premise, food defender Michael Pollan wrote in this Sunday’s New York Times magazine:

The movie shuttles back and forth between Julie’s year of compulsive cooking and blogging in Queens in 2002 and Julia’s decade in Paris and Provence a half-century earlier. Julia Child in 1949 was in some ways in the same boat in which Julie Powell found herself in 2002; happily married to a really nice guy, but feeling, acutely, the lack of a life project. Living in Paris, where her husband, Paul Child, was posted in the diplomatic corps, Julia (who like Julie had worked as a secretary) was at a loss as to what to do with her life until she realized that what she liked to do best was eat. So she enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu and learned how to cook. As with Julia, so with Julie: cooking saved her life, giving her a project and, eventually, a path to literary success.

Granted, the argument that cooking can save a woman’s life leads to some relatively dicey territory, although I don’t think Pollan’s motives sexist (though decidedly foodist). In fact, it’s worth noting that 1963, the year Julia Child’s “The French Chef” went on the air, was the same year Betty Friedan published “The Feminine Mystique.” Rather than arguing about who wanted whom out of–or stuck in–the kitchen, I think it’s safe to say that Julia Child became a sort of feminist trailblazer. As Kate Harding put it on Salon.com’s Broadsheet:

I love [Child] in large part because she proved that a woman could follow her bliss to succeed wildly in a male-dominated profession. I love Julia Child because her going into the kitchen helped a lot of women with different dreams and talents get out of it.

And that she did. But I think what’s most inspiring about both Child and Powell is, ironically, that their willingness to go forth without a recipe–to follow their bliss and take it as it comes–led them both to their calling.

There’s a certain, passive implication inherent in the notion of ‘finding your calling.’ It’s as though the skies will part, lightning will strike and we’ll hear a voice, calling us to whatever it is we’re supposed to be doing with ourselves. But waiting for lightning to strike seems like a pretty pointless–not to mention frustrating–endeavor. Maybe we while away our days twiddling our thumbs and pondering our navels while awaiting the great revelation; or maybe we feel somehow deficient for never hearing the great Call. Obviously, we all want to be doing something meaningful. But maybe we’ve got it backwards. Maybe the smarter recipe for this kind of fulfillment is to just set off towards something–anything–and see where it takes us.

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