Thursday, August 29, 2013

Tooth and nail

-Nail art had its day, and its day is, evidently, done. Nails may now return to the realm of skincare and haircare, where we are to seek out the appearance of 'health.' The fun days of glitter and neon for adult women are over, and now the trend is adhering to the dress code of some corporate law firm we don't even work at. I know because I read it on Into The Gloss, and because even before reading that, I'd painted my own nails a sheer pale pink. But if nail art brings up all kinds of appropriation issues, the "nude" nail has its own set of minefields. Specifically: "nude"? What's "nude" on one complexion isn't on another. Nail polish isn't the same as concealer or foundation, and a pale beige may look great on dark brown skin (although a dark brown polish may look not so amazing on pale beige skin). But yes, "nude" - acceptable for describing the color of something - nail polish, shoes, etc. - you yourself are wearing, maybe, but not for describing the color something is in the abstract.

-Canine dental care is expensive, is the understatement of the century. There's nothing even wrong with Bisou's teeth, but they must be cleaned to keep it that way. And we left with instructions on canine dental care that seem geared towards turning this - once combined with the half a day that must go to walking, fetch... - into a full-time job. Daily toothbrushing (this had been on an every-other-day schedule, along with brushing) and some kind of gel you're supposed to put on your dog's teeth before bed. I have trouble believing the 80-year-old women one sees walking 20-year-old poodles around Paris go in for all of this, but just as American women don't get to enter into a healthy, wrinkle-free old age on the wine-croissant-cigarette diet, American poodles can't live on Camembert and market-scavenging alone.

Bisou moonlighting as another dog's tail.

Bisou in the springtime, striking a pose.

Bisou mid-yawn, a menacing sight.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Women are socialized to

Oh, here we go: Are women perverts if they find younger (but over-18) men attractive? The Jezebellian community does some soul-searching to that effect here. One Direction was no doubt formed with the express purpose of launching such conversations.

While arguments abound, online and off, over whether straight men are 'naturally' only attracted to 15-year-olds, or whether it's physically possible to be aroused by a hag of 22, a woman who so much as notices a pack of shirtless early-20s men running by is, if she is mid-20s or older herself, on shaky ground. Even if she isn't exclusively or even especially attracted to younger men. There's a kind of nudge-nudge acknowledgment that men are, ahem, perfectly capable of finding girls-who-pass-for-women attractive, while a woman finding a definitively adult but not-quite-old-enough man even slightly attractive gets filed under something akin to pedophilia. What to make of this?

Another entry into the 'Women are socialized to ...' category: women are socialized to find men younger than themselves unattractive. Which has its plusses - female teachers tend to think of their male students as 'boys,' even if the boys in question are of legal drinking age. And 'boys,' that's not supposed to be a good thing. Whereas 'girls'...

Given the ethical and potential legal iffiness of finding 18-year-olds attractive (given that many who are a few years younger can pass for 18, an issue even for those who aren't teaching or otherwise working with these individuals - even for those not much over 18 themselves), there's something to be said for not even seeing the potential for sexiness in the the not-much-older-than-18 set. Point being, I'm not sure straight women should mind that we were socialized in this way, that unless Harry Styles himself struts by (One Direction, the exception that proves the rule), we may remain blissfully indifferent to college-age men.

It would probably be better if men were similarly socialized, than if in this realm, as in so many others, we declared the feminist goal as the one that would make female sexuality keep pace with male. That is, if men felt squicky about whichever attractions to much-younger women. Cue here, though, the pop-evo-psych comments about how female fertility peaks at 12 and it's only natural for men to see 17 as over the hill, but there's no arguing with such people, so why bother. Cue 'boys mature later,' although how that squares with men ogling 10th graders and women self-flagellating for admiring 22-year-olds, I don't entirely understand.


But the problem here is that the right to admire the young seems very much wrapped up with the right to actively seek out the people you find attractive, as vs. passively accepting the offer of the best of the bunch who've noticed you. Whereas pursuing vs. being pursued, this ought to be a separate matter. And on that matter, Rachel Hills is spot-on as always. A woman is supposed to want to be spotted across the room for her beauty. That a woman may also notice the most beautiful man in the room is not really supposed to matter, or is not even supposed to be a thing that happens. The best a woman can hope for is that the man she's noticed will coincidentally notice her.

But the world may well be divided between those who prefer to choose and those who prefer to be chosen... without the former always being men and the latter always being women. It could be - and this is my sense - that women are socialized to articulate desire as the desire to be desired. And that some women do genuinely experience desire in this way, whereas others simply learn, at a young age, to frame it in those terms.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Heavy machinery

As I can't possibly be the first American to figure out, driving long distances works best if there's some good food at your destination. I learned this recently, when the desire for Japanese groceries set me forth on my longest solo drive yet, all the way to H-Mart in Edison. There was also a practical purpose, which was to start getting used to the idea that wherever I work next will likely require more than a five-minute drive, or at least, I shouldn't be ruling things out that would. But in the immediate moment, the catalyst was more nori related.

In any case, while Edison is far, it's also a simple matter of driving along the main street in Princeton and not turning until you reach the supermarket, about 45 minutes later. But it was a good exercise in paying attention to lanes ending, merging, over a long(er) stretch, on streets I don't know (as well). It was also, I suppose, my first solo urban driving, if New Brunswick counts. I'm going to say that Nassau Street does not.

I had reached my destination.

But I got sidetracked.

When I got to H-Mart, I also got to Paris Baguette, a Korean French café in the same strip-mall. I needed a moment to recover from the drive. And if that moment came with iced green tea and a cannelé (an excellent combination it's unusual to come across), so be it. 

Driving to Edison may have mentally prepared me for the next pedagogical step, which is driving alone to Lambertville, aka the most interesting destination reachable by a few minutes of highway driving. Highway driving and parallel parking. Once these two are sorted, as in once I can readily do them alone, I will truly know how to drive. Someone just needs to dangle a pastry in front of me for these tasks, and they too shall be accomplished.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Small town living

A new cafe-and-store opened a while back, selling, among other things, cheese. Excitement! But although there's a cheese selection, and an excellent one, it's not entirely clear that the cheese is available for purchase. The staff hasn't quite been trained in (sorry) cutting the cheese. Or ringing it up, although they've recently made the bold-for-this-town move of putting price-per-pound on each cheese. Getting cheese at this establishment is a tremendous production, involving what starts to seem like a dismantling of their decor. (The price tags helpfully confirm that it isn't just decorative, and make me feel less guilty for inconveniencing the would-be cheese-cutters.) It's still a bit of an adventure, and one risks being sold a significantly different amount of cheese one came in for. (One time I ended up with enough for an entire Romance Languages department party, I exaggerate only slightly.) But it's well-priced, excellent cheese. What are you going to do? And it does seem to be improving. Each time I go, it's a notch less Pythonesque.

A week ago, I bought cheese at the place, went through the whole rigamarole, which I keenly remember involved two 0.28 lb. pieces of cheese being cut. I purchased one of them. A week had gone by, and back I was. I wanted more of the same delicious cheese. First a man behind the counter was about to cut some, but then his supervisor remembered that they sometimes keep smaller pieces in some other fridge, and lo and behold, the other 0.28 lb. piece and I were reunited after all.

Two thoughts of course crossed my mind: 1) that I really ought to have just bought the .56 lb. piece last week and saved the trip, and 2) how long small pieces of cheese are kept in the hidden fridge - a subset of the larger question, which is whether it makes sense to buy perishable goods from a place where you appear to be the only customer. But it's cheese, and I'm a captive audience.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Frenchwomen, househusbands

-I'm confused. Didn't we just get through discussing Hugo Schwyzer, and how he was extolling the virtues of dating older women in print (well, online) while chasing after far-younger sorts off-blog, and how this may or may not have been the precipitating factor in his downfall from the feminist blogosphere? Was the lesson not learned? Not any Schwyzer-specific lesson, but rather that essays from men about how older/non-pubescent women are actually beautiful end up seeming like protest-too-much declarations about just how gorgeous women are not past whichever age? That they read as "nice guy" to feminists (or just irritating because who cares what some random dude we don't even know thinks about what we look like), and get whichever "game" sorts panties in a twist because Science tells us that women become hags at 17. No productive conversation ever ensues. The boring reality - that individual men and women of all ages are desired and thus beautiful, but that "distinguished" doesn't sell bathing suits - is maybe, I don't know, too simple? Haven't we moved past this brand of nonsense?

Evidently not. The NYT Style blog just published a different man's essay about how women get more beautiful with age, really they do, even women in their 80s can be hot, really they can. As the astute commenters there have already noted, the piece is accompanied by photos of three French actresses, between the ages of 23 and 37. See! A woman of 37 can totally be attractive, assuming she's a beautiful French actress.

But the photos are the least of it. The text itself is a mix of the nauseating, insist-too-much thing about older women's charms and some of the stalest Francophilic cliché I've come across and that's saying something. It contains this gem: "Frenchwomen respect the natural adornments of time and are perhaps less in thrall to the fatal glow of false youth." Gah! From le very same newspaper: "A survey by the market research company Mintel found that 33 percent of French girls between 15 and 19 are already using anti-aging or anti-wrinkle creams."

-I can't possibly be the only one who questioned Prudie's advice to this 30-year-old whose long-term boyfriend has house-husband written all over him. She makes "over six figures" (seven?, and yes, I know that's not what she means) but insists, "I live in one of the most expensive areas in the country, so I would need two incomes to support a family." Well that settles it! Prudie gives the Prudie equivalent of DTMFA: "You look at your boyfriend and see a life partner and great father. I see a sponge." 

Second gah! of the day. If we want to see more women being high-powered lean-inners, we need to accept that some such women will be in 50-50 power-marriages, while many more will be the higher-powered of the two spouses. Otherwise we're effectively condemning women like this one to choose career over family. If she dumps this guy she's crazy about because society tells her she needs a man at least as ambitious as she is, who's to say such a man is around the corner?

Yes, fine, it's different if there's something wrong with the boyfriend that explains his not having worked full-time (we don't know precisely what he has been doing, which Prudie rounds down to "playing computer games and staring at his Claudia Schiffer posters"). Is he depressed, is he a terrible person, how exactly shall with pathologize his situation? But if he's just not that ambitious, and she's ambitious enough for them both, and has been with him since forever, and remains fond of him, what's the problem? He can take care of the kids when she's staying late at the six-figure firm, and won't mind when the firm relocates to Singapore because video games and Claudia Schiffer posters can travel.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Period dress

A grad-school friend posted these images from a 1996 Delia*s catalogue to Facebook, and oh my goodness. I remember not merely the styles but the catalogue itself. I must have really pored over it, and at an especially formative age. I remember the models. I remember not ordering anything from it, but not whether I wasn't allowed to, or whether it never occurred to me to ask. Whatever the case, the Summer '96 Delia*s catalogue is - pardon the cliché - my madeleine.

But what might be of more general interest is the difference between 1990s fashions as experienced and the 1990s revival we're currently experiencing. Having lived through it, I can well remember what was just this catalogue (the hairstyles) and what was true to the era (the clothes, makeup, and accessories - mood rings! dog-tag necklaces!). What's odd, looking at the catalogue, is how much might be sold in some very on-trend stores today: floral-print Elaine Benes dresses, neon nail polish, clunky boots or oxfords... The shoes especially seem very Acne or Oak or something, likely because these were the formative years of today's fashion folk as well. But then a couple details that are a bit too 1990s tell us that this is the genuine article.

So here are the 1990s looks that are not being revived:

-Pastel eye shadow. I still well remember wearing this. Some girls were pretty despite this. I wasn't one of them.
-Flared jeans/pants. Parts of the 1960s-channeled-through-1990s look has resurfaced (peasant shirts, floral prints), but this, not to be.
-Skater jeans/Jncos-style jeans. Now that whichever material has been invented that makes jeans form-fitting, this isn't coming back.
-White t-shirts with some graphic in the middle. Baby tees? Perhaps, but not midriff-bearing. Just faux-vintage. I remember adoring one such shirt, but have no recollection what the design or logo might have been.
-Those hair clips with flowers or glitter or similar. I'm sure young children still wear these, and that's fine. (Unless, choking hazard?) But 14-year-old girls wearing them to pull back bangs they're trying to grow out? That plus the pastel-blue eye shadow and we're starting to have a better picture of why, despite never being overweight, never having an acne problem, the boys were not lining up at my door.
-Chain wallets.

Beyond that, there are just certain ostensibly basic styles where a detail about the cut - one I don't have the fashion lingo to describe - gives it away. The red/pink tank top in Item 13 is 1996, but would be tough to track down now.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tiny children's furniture

I just finished Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children. I will now spoil its plot.

Reviews I've seen since finishing it - and what I vaguely recall the buzz being about the book when it came out - call the protagonists (three 30-year-old friends who'd met at Brown) "privileged," which is true in some respects, but isn't entirely useful or accurate. They're something, but there might be a better way to put it. Two - Danielle and Julius - are middle-class Midwesterners settled in tiny apartments in New York. Julius is barely scraping by (a freelance writer supporting himself by temping, struggling to keep up appearances), while Danielle's a TV producer doing a bit better but not much. The third, Marina, is a definitive child of privilege - think a Dunham alter ego, played instead by Natalie Portman - but is stuck in her childhood, regressing to the mean and procrastinating on a book about - drumroll please - children's dress. (Is that topic perfect, or overkill?) The eternal-child thing, again, it's very Lena Dunham.

Longwinded paragraph short, yes, this is an overrepresentation-of-literary-types-in-New-York novel, but there's not all that much advantage going around. By all means, be annoyed that this got published and your account of watching rabbits from out the window in NJ did not. (Will Bisou's novel ever get published?) But let's be clear why we're meant to be annoyed by its very existence.

We get a bunch of perspectives (and any novelist capable of jumping around various gender/age/sexual-orientation categories is, if nothing else, good), but we're implicitly supposed to identify with Danielle, hard-working, from Ohio, plain-but-not-that-plain, as opposed to the beautiful, spoiled Marina. In a neat twist, the Jewish woman is the sensible Midwesterner, the WASP the native-New-Yorker of intellectual-clout heritage, the daddy's-little-princess. So that's something.

Marina's thing is that after so many years, she's still sitting on her dissertation-I-mean-book-project. There's some line about how her father thought the project was a charming one for a 23-year-old but pathetic for a 30-year-old. Let the dissertator who has not thought this about herself cast the first day-old Bagel Bob's bagel. And, eh, I suspect many who've slogged through humanities dissertations will end up identifying more with Marina than with the sensible, effortlessly-professionally-successful Danielle. Even those of us who are not, like Marina, the beautiful offspring of famous people.

Certain things, some more important than others, don't add up: Why do all these American characters use "fancy" for "like"? Why does Marina, if she's the daughter of a big-deal Upper West Side intellectual, think it's a big deal to have that life situation? Isn't this just her normal, as it goes for all of us with respect to our childhoods, unless ours were radically different from those of our peers? As in, why wouldn't someone like this have a whole bunch of childhood friends from similar families? If she's this socialite who'd once worked at Vogue, why would she have just the two friends, neither of whom are from remotely that background? Marina seems to view her own upbringing from the perspective of an outside observer. This is because we're never really outside Danielle's head, to the point that it would have perhaps been better if this had been more straightforwardly Danielle's perspective we were getting (in first person?). And why does Danielle, if she so fancies Ludovic, introduce him to - and ask him to hire! - her stunning friend? These are behaviors that could be explained/alluded to, but aren't.

Also: why Julius? He's in many ways a more interesting character than the rest, and provides just about all the demographic diversity, but when we meet him, he's on the cusp of having next to nothing to do with the rest of the plot. (A plot revolving around him might have been more fun.) A gay male friend once close to the two female protagonists, whose function in the novel appears to be primarily to provide a sublet for Marina's visiting cousin.

And I now see I haven't even gotten into what the story's about. Namely Danielle having an affair with Marina's father, out of some kind of revenge or who knows. And Marina marrying a man just like her father. And Marina's cousin Bootie showing up and Bildungsromanning his way into all kinds of trouble. Bootie and Marina were in some abstract sense switched at birth - she'd have been happier with a small-scale, small-town life, and is oppressed by the expectation that she write a book and be an intellectual, whereas Bootie wants nothing more than that life and is your classic literary small-town boy dreaming of bigger things. And of course the 9/11 angle. You know it's coming, so Marina's "September" wedding couldn't feel more ominous.

"Thrifty pampering tactics"

Many nail salons in the UK are evidently staffed by slave labor. While it's commonly understood that nail-salon work is potentially dangerous (the fumes! the sharp objects!) as well as symbolically demeaning (a job that is quite literally rubbing people's feet), I suspect most who use these services assume the staff gets paid. The guilt-tip that follows (in the States, at least) is more about tipping being customary, or about this seeming like a particularly crappy job, than any deeper sense that one is somehow mitigating a great wrong (let alone inadvertently giving additional money to human traffickers).

Holly Baxter's piece about this controversy leaves a bit to be desired. Must there be such a long introduction referring back to SATC? And some of the evidence for this problem is kind of weak: "A friend of mine remembered that the last time she had her nails done, it was in a salon entirely staffed by Vietnamese workers, none of whom said a single word during the hour she was there." Maybe this was because the workers had been trafficked, but it could also be that they were Asian (is this friend even sure they were Vietnamese) and not especially chatty (must that always be viewed with suspicion?) or not English speakers.

But mostly, the issue is that she sets things up as if the problem isn't an unregulated sector of the economy, but women being frivolous and amoral, disposing of their disposable income as they see fit: "The thrifty pampering tactics of western women in an economic downturn have provided the perfect opportunity for those who deal in people." In a sense, Baxter is just saying that interests converged. But "tactics"? As I've said so very many times before on WWPD re: cheap clothing, consumers pay what they think is reasonable, based on what things generally cost, and are not sneakily trying to pay an unfair price. If some t-shirts are $5, others are $50, $15 is going to seem reasonable. How's a consumer to know if $15 is or is not a fair price, let alone if, if $15 might be a fair price, $14.99 of that isn't going to the CEO? Along the same lines, if a manicure usually costs X, it's asking a bit much for those who partake to extrapolate how much one would need to cost to cover the rent, materials, and a living wage for the staff. This isn't a consumer issue, but a regulation-from-above one.

But between the nature of the topic and Baxter's own angle, the comments go... as one imagines they would:

One commenter gets to the root of the problem: "Painted, squared-off nails are deeply unattractive. Stop it, women."

Because that's the only style people get done at nail salons? Because women with nails that style necessarily had them done at a place? The idea is that if only women would listen to dude (and it's a dude), two birds would be done in with one stone: an end to human trafficking, and dude's own aesthetic preferences (who knew men even noticed nails?) would be met. Clever!

Another commenter has never heard of prostitution, restaurants, agriculture... "If it wasn't for female vanity, trafficking in cheap labour wouldn't be a problem."

There's of course one of these: "it does always amaze me how easily middle class women are willing to overlook cruelty for the sake of fashion. So these cheap nail bars. Workers dying in Bangladesh to supply cheap clothes, workers dying of lung disease from sanding jeans for that 'just worn' look."

But we get the essential from this gentleman: "As a male I must ask...what price beauty?"

As it always seems to go, women are faulted for not somehow anticipating the revelation the reporting itself contains. It's not enough to question nail salons now and raise awareness of the issue. Women who use them must have known all along. Because it's never just about the issue, whatever the issue is. There needs to be some gratuitous shaming of behavior that's in and of itself relatively harmless. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Mindy Kaling is onto something

-I will no doubt be weighing in on this. For now, the placeholder.

-Is it really all that empowering to end an article arguing against people/women having facelifts by advising, as an alternative, "a good deal of skin care"? Yes, Luisa Dillner also advises "good sleep" and "good diet," but isn't "skin care" itself problematic for many of the same reasons as cosmetic surgery? As in, it involves spending far too much money on that which likely won't do anything positive for one's appearance, but might nevertheless have some unforeseen medical and/or cosmetic consequences? (At least if you're poisoning yourself with lipstick - and you are - your lips actually become - temporarily - whichever color you've painted them.)

If "skin care" means sun protection, not scratching at mosquito bites (or not getting so bitten to begin with - thanks very much, faulty window screens), and, if at all possible, seeing a dermatologist if there's an actual, identifiable problem, then yes, wise. But I'm not sure where, on the "love the face you have" spectrum, the thousand-dollar creams fall, relative to surgery, injections, peels (this is a thing, yes? not just something Patsy does on AbFab?), etc.

-I've been watching a lot of "I Love Lucy" at the gym, while folding laundry, and beats me why, but there it is. And I noticed something I'd never thought about when watching the show originally, as a toddler or thereabouts: Ricky Ricardo is, like, attractive. (Possibly relevant: my husband's been away for a while, as have all human beings, so I'm comparing black-and-white sitcom stars to, I don't know, squirrels, or the more strapping of the deer. And, I suppose, Fred Mertz.) Desi Arnaz must have used a really expensive moisturizer or something, because damn.

Well! Apparently (credit goes to a relative, but a different one than identified the crawfish) Mindy Kaling agrees. She calls him "matinee-idol good-looking," which about covers it. Glad to know I haven't lost my mind/taste, as presumably Kaling is comparing Ricky to a broader cast of characters.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

On dressing for me

I just went out in what has to be my most glamorous ensemble yet, so much so that I shall record it here for posterity:

-A black t-shirt, a decade old or thereabouts, and a hand-me-down to begin with.
-Neon-yellow running shorts.
-White socks.
-Brown leather boat-shoe-esque moccasins.

It's the kind of outfit that can only come about through wearing regular (if casual) clothes for part of the day (the shirt), then changing to run (the shorts), then not wanting to overuse pricey running sneakers and thus changing into loafers. As for the white socks, this is easily explained: a pack of three pairs at Uniqlo included black, gray, and white, and I wasn't feeling picky. And, eh, I'd been in the city to see friends twice this week, and both times involved putting on... well, it's all evening gowns compared to what I was strutting around in earlier this evening. (Jeans, or black pants, I think.) But just, like, aesthetically, for me, I found this get-up possibly too hideous. OK maybe for taking out the trash (because what isn't?) but for a full-on walk through the neighborhood? I briefly considered switching to old running sneakers, but then thought about laces, and the loafers won out.

As I was out walking Bisou, not seeing a soul as per usual in these parts in August, I contemplated how I'd play it, as it were, if I were to see someone I knew. Not what I'd say, exactly, but how I'd psychologically account for this ensemble. Would I imagine myself as a rustic Chloe Sevigny, my outfit so bad it's actually good? If I were not me, but some kind of French it-girl, the look would seem insouciant and effortless-yet-intentional. And then I remembered: everyone I know here is a scientist. (Some are quite chic, but they tend not to judge.) No, this really was all about my own horror at what I'd somehow managed to put on.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Further wildlife adventures

Nature! I get that I'm supposed to call where I live the suburbs, not the country, and that rabbits and deer (and the occasional fox, raccoon) are normal. I've accepted the snakes, frogs, turtles. That's just how it is. So today, when walking my semi-domesticated animal, I tried to be all blasé about the scorpion on the road. But I didn't feel all that blasé. (I also hadn't yet had coffee.) I took a (blurry - there was a poodle to contend with) photo, and showed it to my husband, and later to a friend (in NYC, where I'd gone to escape the scorpion menace), and we couldn't figure out what was going on. Various scary-scorpion stories were shared, Googled. Various theories born, mine all tremendously implausible and thus not to be repeated here. (OK, fine - I thought that because there were a lot of moving vans around, maybe one had been in scorpion country and accidentally imported one.)

The menace. A few inches long, but still menacing.

And here's where Facebook comes in handy. Moments after I posted this photo there, one of my cousins commented that this was a crawfish. And these do indeed live in NJ. All this panic over what had basically been a walking... ingredient.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Feminism's "white lady" problem

Often, one hears the expression "white lady," used by those of various gender and racial demographics themselves, but certainly including white women. Who's a "white lady"? She has pearls. She clutches them. She has a breakdown of sorts at an Apple store and it goes viral. She thinks it's terribly feminist to work outside the home, but never thinks about the woman she's hired to do her childcare and household duties. She has this thing about gluten - no, not celiac, she's just not doing gluten these days. Of course you'll understand.

"White lady" - goes my not-remotely-polished hypothesis - is a way to be misogynistic (and misogyny can come from women) while seeming to be engaged in a kind of racial solidarity. It's a way of giving the impression that the bulk of white entitlement/privilege/whatever is possessed by the group's women.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Gwyneth Paltrow's fitness guru smokes one cigarette a lifetime

Dear Her-Gwynethness,

You are officially the patron saint of women who don't need to lose any weight going on diets all the same because it's somehow more feminine to be hungry all the time. But I suppose we can't really hold you accountable for the words of your colleague/friend/body-morpher (a positive role model, this one, on account of having smoked precisely one cigarette in her life, as vs. you, naughty Gwyneth) Tracy Anderson:

I agreed to meet with Gwyneth, and she said, ‘I’ve got this movie coming up where I have to be a superhero.’ It was the very first Iron Man. She said, ‘I know you have a son—I just had Moses—and I can’t get this weight off. I’ve never had a problem like this in my life.’ She had 35 extra pounds on her. Her butt was long and she had outer thigh problems. Gwyneth is lucky because she’s really tall, so she can hide it really well in clothes, but she had significant problem areas. I felt so badly for her, and thought I could really help.
Journalists are already at work investigating what this "long butt" problem consists of. This is an altogether new complaint about the female body, so Anderson wins points for inventing an insecurity none of us would have thought up on our own. Not knowing what "long butt" entails (tails?), how can any of us know if right this very moment, we've got this flaw? The safest bet would be to sign up for Anderson's butt-shortening guruship.

"Outer thigh problems," though, is less mysterious. It just means "a post-adolescent woman with legs."

"Lean into an unpaid internship"

Fiction is better, the article. By yours truly. I need to be better about the whole social-media self-promotion thing, i.e. it's not enough to just link to the article without making it clear that I, you know, wrote it. I need to... "lean in." I mean, I'm getting there. I have the beginnings of a functional website.

OK, so I've finished Lean In, and will provide my much-anticipated verdict. (I must phrase it like this, despite not actually thinking my verdict is especially anticipated, because Sandberg promotes faking it until you make it.) Which is not entirely unenthusiastic, if somewhat less positive than Flavia's.

As a reader, I'm not the biggest fan of books that are collaborative efforts between famous people and people actually capable of writing. It's not the principle of the thing - as long as the "with" is acknowledged, it's fine - but the writing style that ensues. There are these little quasi-humorous asides, where you may find yourself wondering, is this Sandberg? Her "with"? The moments that are meant to feel natural just don't. I found the style incredibly distracting, even though I could tell it was designed for easy reading.

Style aside, it's a mix of sensible advice applicable to all women; sensible advice applicable to the three or four women in Sandberg's boat (the second-after-Sartre problem); artificial-feeling nods in the direction of stay-at-home moms doing really important work, too (although I might file that, too, under "style" - it feels very much included to preempt that accusation, but cuts against the book's main message); and painful attempts to make Sandberg's career trajectory relatable. There are also platitudes - be confident, but not obnoxious. Fair enough, but how? Isn't the problem there that the line is only ever visible to others?

First, the sensible-and-applicable. The bit about how you should do what you would do if you weren't afraid, it's self-help-ish, but not wrong. And the advice about the long haul - that just because your work hardly/doesn't pay for childcare doesn't mean you should quit - seems right. There's value in staying in the workforce in some capacity. And the big-picture argument - that there ought to be more women at the top of every field - was true when Anne-Marie Slaughter said it and remains true. Fewer women opting out means a broader pool from which Slaughters and Sandbergs might emerge, and means a lot of good-but-not-spectacular careers for women who don't quite reach the top. (Most men won't, either.) And the biggest, overarching point - that the person who steps back in a straight couple shouldn't by-default be the woman - is entirely true and important. And relevant to everyone, not just executives.

Next, the not-as-applicable. The stuff about the two-body problem was... not so helpful. First, a 27-year-old woman is faulted for not wanting to move abroad for a year for some very important job because she has a boyfriend. Fair enough - if you're not going to go abroad for your work then, when? (I did, and have the grungy Paris-dorm flip-flops to tell about it.) Then Sandberg insists that women should be open about their personal lives as this relates to geography, and proudly recalls telling her mentor, Larry Summers, that she'd rather not move abroad because she wants to meet a man (they're only found domestically?), and also would rather not live in D.C. because it's where her ex-husband lives. What normal person could do this, given that there are enough problems for many people trying to tell higher-ups that they want to live near the person they're actually involved with? What message does this convey, other than that it's good to be at a place in life where Larry Summers has your back? (As someone I discussed this with said, this sounds more like leaning out.)

We then reach the point where Sandberg is happily married to her second husband, but they live in different cities. The cost (or, one suspects, comfort) of travel isn't an issue, but they have a kid now, which complicates matters. Her husband - 50-50 partner that he is - graciously decides to move to her city. Has he opted out? Not exactly - he's become CEO of another company and moved that company to her city. And how delightful that must have been for all the employees of said company, who must now move away from their families. This isn't how it goes for white women, or for white women with college degrees. This is how it goes for like three people in the world, and she and her husband are among them. Between this and the enthusiasm for "Porn For Women," that book about how, ha ha, women's biggest 'turn-on' is for their husbands to clean the house, Sandberg would lose me from time to time.

The main problem with the book is that it's trying to be two things - a guide for all the women, and one for the second-after-Sartres of the world. It's not exactly that it's offensive to women who are less ambitious. It's very every-box-checked, with privilege acknowledged, the full deal. It's just... maybe not so useful if you're never orchestrating the merger of two companies or some such. If your goal is ruling the world, then yes, it's incredibly important to pick a spouse who'll embrace this. Yet few men - and, drumroll please, few women - are interested in signing up for that life, and if you want a happy relationship, and don't want to be CEO of an especially large corporation, this may not be a wise strategy. This one woman is discussed and praised for having played mind games with boyfriends, canceling on them for fake work events, to see how they'd react, and asking them to travel with her (was she paying?) at a moment's notice. It's not worse for a woman to do this, but it's kind of weak behavior on anyone's part.

And then there's the Lean In empire, which is its own thing, and which just feels like internet-age positivity without much direction. A 20-something unpaid intern tells her Lean In story (dream the big dreams!), as do Sarah Ferguson (!) and Tyra Banks (!!!), who evidently leaned into her position as a supermodel. You can also intern for zilch at the Lean In organization. For all that Lean In has to say about the need, as a woman, to deftly negotiate, there sure is a lot of space left open for celebrating women who work-for-no-pay outside the home.

Who what where when why?

Does feminism have a racism problem? In the abstract, it's easy enough to think of reasons why it does/has had one. The emphasis on the woes of the 'housewife' in years when women of color were working outside the home. The emphasis on the pressure on 'women' to be thin, when it's not really all women (if not just white women, either). The tendency of feminists to ignore issues that specifically impact non-white women - the famous intersectionality, which Jewish women (most of whom are 'white' by U.S. standards) should be plenty attuned to, given the 'JAP' stereotype, which is simultaneously misogynistic and anti-Semitic; there are more extreme equivalents for other marginalized groups*. Problems specific to the black-and-female, the Asian-and-female, etc., are too often ignored, if the big-deal feminists are nearly all white. And then there are questions of multicultural and multifaith feminism - is wearing a veil necessarily anti-feminist? And so on.

So it's not mysterious why feminism can have such problems. What's mysterious is what the problem is, specifically, here. I've been semi-following the Hugo Schwyzer Affair or kerfuffle or I don't know (he follows me on Twitter, I'm now reminded; am I implicated in all this, on account of that plus being white-ish and identifying as a feminist?), but Mikki Kendall's Guardian op-ed seems like it's missing a first paragraph or similar. (As, alas, does everything that I've seen written about this.) It's conceivable that Schwyzer has wronged feminists of color (as a group, or as individuals), and it appears he's confessed as much, but the question is, what happened? I hoped to figure this out from the Guardian comments (forget to bring a book on NJ Transit and this sort of thing happens), but most everyone there seems about as mystified as I am. Mystified not, to repeat, by intersectionality, but by what the particular controversy here is. The Google isn't of much help, either. It reminds that Schwyzer has a past of pretty extreme domestic violence, which is indeed an odd fit for Professional Feminist Ally status. But what's the racism story? There's this broad consensus that this man did something racist, and he himself is admitting as much, but it seems impossible to find out what. Anyone know?

*And arguably for white women of the non-hyphenated (blonde?) variety. The whole 'white lady' thing, where 'lady' is used (often enough, by other white women), and the individual in question will be referred to as entitled when an equivalent man would not have been. Not all intersectionalities or marginalizations are equal, of course, but there's still a kind of intersectionality that applies to the 'white lady' construction.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A kind of mentorship

-My new poodle chew-toys are fabulous. Purchased for the admittedly less-than-fabulous reason of, the previous ones similar to this, bought several years prior, had disintegrated. But nevertheless. 

-By tomorrow I need to have decided between Cory Booker and Rush Holt, both of whom seem like reasonable people. Does anyone have strong feelings about this? Tepid ones? I've Googled a bit, but mostly, I've learned that Booker is a celebrity and a Rhodes Scholar (and the one who's going to win), while Rush Holt "IS a rocket scientist," as the bumper stickers attest. (I'm in rocket scientist country - half the cars have them.) An astrophysicist with a PhD from NYU! In the case of a tie, this will stand in his entirely subjective favor. Or, that he's apparently the furthest to the left, and I've become a hippie in my old age. 

I also need to have sorted out how to get to the polling station, which is like three blocks away, but not blocks, because this is the rural suburbs. Without a GPS, this looks like one wrong turn away from ending up in Pennsylvania. (A lovely state, but not one where you can vote for NJ senators.) It's the perfect distance away for a jog, however, which is far more compatible with stopping periodically to check directions. This is not about having a bad sense of direction. It's sport

-I am at long last reading Lean In, not just about it. I've reached the part where Sandberg discusses having been "mentored" by a woman who was one of my high school classmates. Somehow - and nothing against this classmate - this passage detracts from this book's ability to inspire me personally. Reading that passage was like some kind of crushing high-school-reunion nightmare. I haven't done nothing in my 30 years on this planet, but I most certainly haven't made a billion dollars in tech, nor have I mentored Sheryl friggin' Sandberg. I've... taught my poodle how to walk on her hind legs on command. It's a kind of mentorship.

The pretty one

Would you rather be thought beautiful, or be with someone you see as such?

Lionel Shriver, a (female) novelist, writes:

[A]s I get older, I grow less involved with feeling beautiful than with finding beauty. I am happy to inhabit the eye of the beholder. I spot a young woman strolling down Broadway, smooth, lithe, bronzed from the summer sun, clad simply in a skirt that suits her, and I want to call out, “You will never look better than you do right now!”
This is in reference to the way the piece begins, with Shriver recalling an older man telling her this, her first summer after college.

While Shriver's essay is mostly about the question of weight - a controversial-but-not-really argument that if society has decided thin is beautiful, this impacts how fat people experience life - what struck me was what she writes about looking vs. being looked at. This seems far more about gender than age - women are expected to want to be found beautiful, whereas men are expected to want to be with someone beautiful. This is complicated, of course, in same-sex relationships, although there's always the possibility for adoption of 'traditional' roles, with one partner the pretty one, the other the one who snagged the pretty one.

But within the context of heterosexual relationships, are women really always more interested in being thought beautiful than in being with men they view as such? Are young women by necessity in this situation? And - as goes the modern-day feminist refrain, if usually in a different context - what about the men? Might there be straight men more interested in being looked at than in doing the looking? Or is everyone going to prefer looking to being looked at, and it's The Patriarchy keeping (most, or most young) women from joining in the fun?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Race and the two-fellowship purse

Already old news, but here goes: Oprah wanted to buy a bag the cost of approximately two years' worth of PhD student fellowship. (Something to think about, would-be graduate students.) Because the market values Oprah's contribution to the world more than that of those slogging away at dissertations, she could well afford that bag and then some. But Oprah was unable to buy the bag in question, because the woman assisting her in some Swiss shop decided that this woman surely couldn't afford it. "This woman" being, as we all (well, not all, it seems) know, among the few in the world who, no matter what it is, could well afford it.

And cue the obvious: $42,000 (I think? the figure seems to vary) is a lot of money for a handbag! (For one named after Jennifer friggin' Aniston, one might add.) And made out of crocodiles! Think of the crocodiles! (Are we supposed to think of the crocodiles? I hadn't been paying attention, given that I wasn't in the market for crocodile anything. I'm barely keeping up with which salmon is socially acceptable.) Such egotism mixed with U.S.-centrism - why must retail workers all the world over know who some American TV star is? And she's crying racism?

Yet I'd have to agree with her assessment of racism. In a sense, the fact that Oprah is so advantaged in every other way, the fact that this is such beyond-first-world-problems territory, allows us to isolate racism as the root of what's going on.

Let me explain: Being ignored in a snooty store isn't about racism - it's something all of us who don't come across as fabulously wealthy (a category that includes virtually all Americans abroad, including the very rich - our high-end-casual world of $90 yoga pants doesn't really translate) experience. It's likely that being overweight reads as being too poor to buy anything in the place, depending the locale, and that this impacts experiences even in accessories stores, i.e. where sizes stocked isn't applicable. But being thin and pale, while it might lead to never having a free seat next to you on public transportation, isn't enough to get attention in many stores. Trust me on this.

But being preemptively suspected of shoplifting, now that is absolutely racism. And that's what it sounds like happened here. Why wouldn't someone be shown a particular bag? Fear of theft. Upscale stores correctly assess that I won't buy anything, but don't trail me, either. If we're to frame this in privilege terms, white privilege isn't being fawned all over in Zurich handbag emporiums. It's not being presumed a thief.

It's not unlike the where-are-the-black-models question. One might well point to the complete unfairness inherent in who qualifies for the job of "high-fashion model" to begin with. Whereas in any other job, simply having certain physical attributes either wouldn't be enough or (far more often) would be something your employer shouldn't be considering in the first place, with modeling, that's the essential. There is no inalienable right to be a runway model, any more than to owning some kind of endangered-material handbag named after Rachel from "Friends." But what does it say if you have the bizarre and arbitrary qualifications, but can't get hired for one reason only, and that's because you're black?


I know that a problem I'd often have, when trying to finish my dissertation (which I finished! woohoo! making me technically all-but-defense) was that the river views of my Manhattan penthouse duplex posed such a distraction. As were the continuous deliveries of caviar and Louboutins.

In all seriousness, I will say that the wildlife outside my window in NJ does pose a distraction. Not so much the wildlife itself (although I find the colorful birds endlessly fascinating) as having the kind of dog where, at so much of the hint of a distant squirrel, this needs to be announced as if it's the most shocking thing that ever happened. Imagine, a squirrel, in a wooded area of the Northeastern U.S.! But frolicking rabbits, large families of deer, a neighbor's outdoor cat, these are all visible from Bisou's perch, a spot on top of a chair, next to a big window. Each mammal elicits a different bark. The deer might be the worst.

As repetitive as "The Squirrel and Rabbit Show" might seem to me, as far as Bisou is concerned, this is some serious drama - "Mad Men" or "The Wire" or some other show I've never seen but might consider watching now that the thing is turned in. I'll think she's fast asleep, and then she's somehow detected a far-flung rodent, and off we go for another round.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Rhoda Studies 101

So I've now watched from the second (not the first - it's unavailable) episode of the notorious "JAP" Bravo reality show, up through I'm not saying what number. Possibly too late to write about it for a thing that isn't WWPD, unless I find a timeless angle, which... I think I might, so maybe more later, elsewhere. But for now:

The first thing I noticed: the "Princesses of Long Island" - most of them, at least - retain their original noses. A definite change from earlier generations of the same milieu. Is it that they really own their Jewishness? Is it just some kind of Ashkenazi-Sephardic divide, with the former (for some obvious historical reasons I could think of) more likely to have undergone this procedure?

I point this out not to gratuitously bring up noses, but because the original-nose-retention (in the midst of a great deal of artifice otherwise) seems somehow emblematic of the show. The whole unapologetically-Jewish thing. A few seconds hardly go by before we're reminded that the women - who seem basically like reality-TV women everywhere, and who one half expects to start speaking in Essex accents - are Jewish. Did they mention recently that they're Jewish? This, despite only one of the women being a practicing Jew, or seeming at all plugged into anything culturally Jewish, for that matter. The others have evidently been instructed by producers to play up the Jewish angle, to drop various Hebrew expressions that don't make any sense in the context, and seem incredibly forced. One asks all men she meets if they're Jewish, in a way that seems beyond artificial. So basically the same relationship to Jewish-Americanness as "Jersey Shore" had/has (?) to Italian-Americanness. Or the TV-show version of this.

Maybe the show is anti-anti-Semitic. It represents Jews as big drinkers and not remotely clever or intellectual. Overanalyzing everything? Overachieving? Overrepresenting the group in graduate schools? Not so much! Oh, and if the "JAP" is frigid, well, our pal Erica clears that up.

Should I be offended that this show kinda-sorta claims to represent me, a Jewish woman about their age, living not on Long Island, fine, but in New Jersey, which might be exactly the same thing? (There was an intro shot of a tristate-area strip mall that brought me right back to my most recent supermarket trip. And I'm half thinking, 'but I just bought groceries, how am I back there?') Probably. I'm not, but only because of a likely misguided belief that no one would imagine I belonged to that subculture. I'm about 50 primping-steps away from being socially acceptable in that world. But to someone from well outside it, by virtue of being American, Jewish, female, and not a complete hippie, I may well read as a "JAP." Which is why all American Jewish women effectively have to find this stereotype offensive.

As with all minorities, we're probably all the same to outsiders, yet small internal differences seem immense to us. Growing up, I virtually never encountered this subculture for any length of time (once at summer camp, at 8, and then not again until Birthright Israel, at 23), other than to have it drilled into me from day one that I was not and should not ever be that. That princessy-ness was simultaneously anti-feminist and repulsive to men. Not sure how I came to grow up with this message - it seems to more often come from Israeli-American communities. Maybe an urban vs. suburban thing? A clash between those with more cultural capital than economic and those in the reverse situation?

There's a kind of mutual class snobbery between whatever the thing I was brought up as and whatever that is. The only instance of bullying I can remember from my childhood involves that sleepaway camp, where I was harangued for not blowdrying my hair (I was 8!), and having clothing that clashed (is that still a thing?). But the very same Jewish women who are most attuned to issues of gender-and-marginalization are probably the ones most wary of coming across as "JAPs," despite this being nothing more than a gendered stereotype, with intersectionality written all over it. It's complicated.

As Jessica Grose pointed out, this show really harps on the age of the participants, displaying their age with their name, which is not a normal thing done on reality shows. (We don't get the ages of their dates, parents...) Grose sees this as highlighting that these grown women live like children, which they do. But as Rachel Arons picks up on, the age is what brings drama to the proceedings. Time is running out. They're all on the cusp of 30. Which has tremendous significance for them, because they need to be married by that age. The moment all the women are 30, some kind of timer goes off.

Which... I don't even know. That view is hardly unique to this one subculture. But they're stuck in a frustrating middle-ground, culturally. Traditional enough that it's a tragedy if they're 29 and single (and that it would be tragic if they married out), but not enough that someone in the community has it together to find them spouses.

And then you get the show's Snooki (the very short, quirky one) getting quasi-proposed to by her father, with a diamond ring, with her mother present, to mark her 30th birthday. One of those reality-TV moments you can only hope was scripted.

What is anti-Semitic about the show, I suppose, is that it perpetuates the idea of the perpetually single-and-desperate Jewish woman, the one whose very Jewishness somehow rules out the possibility of her pairing off, yet makes her all the more keen to do so ASAP. (You'd know about this if you'd taken Rhoda Studies 101.) The single woman in American mainstream culture virtually is a Jewish woman, so thoroughly has that cliché caught on. A certain New York-area accent and 'Semitic' appearance is shorthand for 'perennially single-and-doesn't-want-to-be sidekick'.

And yet! Women in this subculture do get married. Happens every day, I'd imagine. There are, after all, men of the same subculture, who contrary to what Philip Roth might have you believe, tend to prefer their female equivalents, and not to be running off with low-maintenance WASPs (whom they'd be meeting where, exactly?). These particular women are, one gets the sense, unusual in their milieu for still being single at their age. A subset of a subculture. Yet the show's message is, look at how repulsive Jewish women are to the opposite sex! Who would want anything to do with them? When it's like, a) not all Jewish women are anything like this, and b) of the ones who are, this does not seem to be an impediment to pairing off.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Immediate post-turning-it-in goals

-Get dog groomed (check!).

-Go to supermarket (check!).

-Catch up on emails (getting there!).

-Clean the bath (hmm...).

-And the rest of the apartment (ehhh...).

-Cuddle with freshly-groomed poodle while watching the newly-available "Princesses of Long Island," trying not to view it through any kind of academic lens (no comment).

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Garrets and lofts

Garance Franke-Ruta is right: there have always been struggling artists, and it's long been a struggle to be one in New York.

But what's new - and not limited to New York! - is the expansion of the struggling-artist category. Are academics starving artists? Lawyers? Journalists? I can understand that if you want to live off your own pure creativity (music, writing, visual arts, etc.), it's always been and always will be a struggle, unless you have family money. These days, though, you can go any number of providing-a-specific-service-to-others professional routes that would have sounded sensible a couple decades ago, and this will be viewed as decadent. It's possible to be an unpaid intern at an office job, the very sort of office job that back in the day, an artist or writer might have used to pay the bills.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013


OK, so it's lovely and convenient and wonderful (if unfortunate for those now applying for grants to do research in Croissantsville) that the BNF (French national library) has digitized just about everything. And it's delightful that you can (kind of) search the documents themselves. But would it be too much to ask for those who label the documents not to hand-scribble the identifying information, such that it's one bad xerox or whatever away from complete incomprehensibility? I'd found all of this neat info. (about an author my advisor had suggested I look at, and she was so very right), but wasn't sure if it could ultimately end up in my dissertation, because bits and pieces of identifying information were missing. Important ones, like which date of which publication something came from. (Year and author I knew, and I could see that there was a month ending in -bre, which only just narrowed things down.) Footnote formatting is one thing, but my understanding of research is, the thing you cite needs to be identifiable beyond 'page 302 of some PDF.'

Despair, despair, until the deadline adrenaline kicked in, and I figured out the mystery scribbler's system. If I didn't find this, it wasn't going in. I first sorted out which documents were in the PDF - that is, what the possible dates might be. (A few months were possible; it's not like there was a table of contents or anything remotely of that nature.) This confirmed the -bre but wasn't otherwise helpful. Then I had the brilliant (i.e. in retrospect obvious) idea to look at preceding entries (the PDF's a mishmash of documents), and found that they were indeed in chronological order. Moreover, I saw that Monsieur or Madame or Mademoiselle the scribbler would alternate between "octobre" and a messy version of "8bre." The famous -bre, at last! Making the mysterious 48th of mystery month, 1882, October 4, 1882.

I can't begin to convey the sense of triumph/relief I felt when I finally sorted that out.

Monday, August 05, 2013

And This Is How You Don't Make Fun Of Random People On the Internet

There are certain categories of behavior the internet was basically designed to mock, all of which fall under the heading of douchiness. The people who use their blogs and the various newfangled whosawhatsits that came after blogs to post photos of themselves in designer clothing, in bathtubs full of $100 bills. The people who park their cars so as to take up two spots (and it may be a life's work, but if I can manage not to do this...). The people who throw fits on commuter trains, bragging about how educated they are, belligerently, to their fellow commuters. We can have a discussion of the ethics of these pile-ons, particularly when the individual in question is identifiable, and maybe just having an off day. That discussion would conclude with me saying that it's iffy-to-plain-wrong to engage in this behavior at all, however douchetastic the recipient. But the issue here is, the rule of this is, douchiness is what one might plausibly call out in this context.

Which is why this post - "And This Is How You Don't Follow Up To A Job Interview" - fails so miserably as an addition to the genre. It's a letter from an applicant to an entry-level job. The applicant is furious about having not heard back after two rounds of interviewing, and fires off the email to them that is in the mind of people in that situation, but that should - and this is supposed to be where the humor comes from, I take it - obviously not be written, let alone sent.

The hilarity of this is supposed to be, whoa, look at the entitled millenial! But the comedy fails, because of the utter powerlessness of this young person who, it seems, is all kinds of desperate for an administrative job. The tone of the letter might be entitlement, but the gist of it is worker rage - or, I suppose, unemployment rage. Would I want to hire this applicant? No - unhinged is never appealing. But how can you read the letter and - no matter how ridiculous you find it that the email was sent - not feel kind of sorry for the person who sent it? How can you not think of the tough times for post-2007 graduates? The email was certainly ill-advised, but it fails the douchiness test by such a long shot.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

The world's greatest mystery

The danger in publishing a photograph of one's self, alongside those of various individuals who've rejected you romantically, and asking why the rejections, is that 'readers' will ignore the text (in this case, a man asking several women why they'd turned him down over the years) and come to certain... conclusions based on the provided images. One of the women who rejected this dude is a model. And not in the avant-garde/heroin-chic runway sense. Nor in the delusional 'aspiring model' one. In the swimsuit-model-attractive sense. The other women are also - as is, I believe, pointed out in the Jezebel commentary - plenty conventionally good-looking. The guy? Perfectly within normal limits, but maybe not someone who wants to put a photo of himself next to a photo of a model and ask - as if it's the world's greatest mystery - why she wouldn't be his girlfriend. He also claims to be 5'6", which by the rules of the internet makes him... substantially shorter than 5'6". But it's not his fault that he's short! Isn't it unfair that height enters into so many women's assessment of male physical attractiveness? That physical attractiveness enters into it for women, period?

Let's consider the reverse scenario: A woman who's heavy (this being, for women, the equivalent, give or take, of shortness in men) and also not especially pretty or well-put-together posts a photo of herself, alongside those of male models, professional athletes and the like, and asks, utterly baffled, why she isn't with any of these men. This theoretical woman not only feels entitled to date the Ryan Reynoldses of the world (and, by implication, to preemptively reject her own male physical equivalents), but also genuinely doesn't understand why she keeps striking out with men. This theoretical woman is defining "men" as "men who could be hired to be 'the strapping guy' in a commercial aimed at women"; men who fail to meet this definition don't register. 

Would this ever happen? Yes and no. Yes, there are people of both sexes who, though not conventionally spectacular themselves, will only accept that in a partner. Which is just fine if they're fine with the substantial possibility of remaining single, a possibility that's mitigated if they happen to be very impressive in other areas, or if they're willing to settle in other areas. "League" isn't law. There's nothing disgusting or wrong about a mismatch in that area. And looks are subjective. Wait long enough, and you, the unconventional-looking sort, might find that you are the very epitome of the type of someone who's your type, which happens to be the conventional ideal. (See: the Marisa Tomei-George Costanza "Seinfeld.")

But it's less fine if people - men or women - believe the world owes them their dreamboats. And that seems to be more common in men. Women tend to have if anything too much self-awareness in this area, if anything a too-keen sense of how our own looks don't match up with societal ideals, and we may often if anything overestimate how much that matters for pairing off. A woman who for obvious reasons doesn't meet these ideals isn't going to be mystified if much-sought-after men reject her, and may well assume she wasn't pretty enough even if - it can happen! - that wasn't the issue. That an equivalent man might be mystified tells us oh so much about these matters. Even if - I suspect - the entire point of that article was for the man to give the impression that he dates women along these lines; it just hasn't worked out with any of them yet. A humblebrag of sorts.

As Tracy Moore of Jezebel points out, the rom-com scenario of stalking amounting to seduction is not even thought plausible if the woman is the rejected party. This, as I see it, is because we take for granted that if a man doesn't find a woman attractive enough for that, it's never ever ever gonna happen. Women, many imagine (incorrectly) just require convincing. (Says "game," says nice-guy-ism, says the culture more broadly.) And any woman who doesn't respond to convincing is being shallow. That the man has likely already exhibited superficiality in deciding which women to pursue in the first place is conveniently ignored, because it's so thoroughly assumed

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Things I wore before they were cool (or moldy) UPDATED

A long time ago, I got a pair of boots in Wicker Park. Second year of college? 2002-ish? What was notable about these boots was that they look - or, I should say, looked - like the boots of the moment, the moment being 2013. I was so ahead of the curve on that one! While I don't remember exactly what they cost, I do know that they were not anywhere near $600. I'd assume well under $100. I remember the struggle of breaking them in on icy Chicago sidewalks. That, I suppose, was the investment.

I remember even more vividly removing them from my closet this evening, in the hopes of wearing them tonight to celebrate my (and, I suppose, their) ancientness. Only to discover... mold. So very much mold. All over them. Not related to the age of the boots - I'd been wearing them during the winter, and they'd been just fine - but to my recent (I'd thought noble, or at least seasonal) decision to store them in the closet.

I'm no scientist, but I nevertheless infer that there is some kind of mold problem in the closet. And by closet I mean the closet - the only clothes-closet in the apartment, so the concern is less the loss of the boots than the possibility (near-certainty) of a mold... situation covering absolutely everything. And yes, blogging about it is a way to delay the inevitable, namely removing everything from the closet and finding all of our clothes have turned into an inedible and potentially toxic Roquefort.


To whom it may concern (i.e. close relatives), the mold is likely the result of towels that ended up on the bottom of the closet after going through the laundry, and might not have been entirely dry because are towels ever after the dryer? As for why so many towels, the immediate family members concerned know the not-so-exciting answer. (Family heirlooms, kind of. Long story.)