Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

media. music. feminism. food. city-dwelling. story-telling. and other things.

Posts Tagged ‘Gender & Feminism


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Diavlog: Conor & Elizabeth

I recorded a bloggingheads segment Monday with Conor Friedersdorf for his channel on bloggingheads.tv. I guess you call this “vlogging.” I have been vehemently opposed to vlogging (ask Rachel Steinberg) since 2006, because no one looks good in web-cam close-up. Also because a lot of bloggers are better writers than talkers, including me. But I talked to Conor for nearly an hour, about: men’s role in feminism, Hugo Schwyzer, James Poulos, women’s ‘privileged relationship’ to the natural world, subsidizing birth control, vasectomies, my partisan political apathy, Gary Johnson, what’s new in eating disorders, David Brooks, Phoebe Maltz-Bovy, ‘elites’ behaving like traditionalists, goat cheese and arugula, old-fashioned cocktails, Portland bartenders migrating to Los Angeles, the farmer’s markets of Indiana, D.C. media culture and the things you’re supposed to say on the Internet.

Anyway, here’s the test clip I sent Conor & my very first test vlogging attempt:

I swear I get a little better.

You can check out the whole thing here.


Written by Elizabeth

February 29, 2012 at 8:10 am


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Would you share a farm with this girl?

(In Which I Declare What I Could Have Said A Lot Less Complicatedly As An 8th-Grader Who Idolized Hippies …)

It started with reading this Sandra Tsing Loh article in The Atlantic, I think.

Loh notes that today’s “creative class” mother – with her flexible, creative job; her city life; her egalitarian marriage and child-rearing ideals – actually has it worse than her previous-generation counterparts, because of the absence of a built-in family and community structure.

Working for the AARP, I come across a lot of things about multi-generational households, and I’m convinced that they offer a lot of benefit, for all parties involved; that our nuclear-family model of housing and living (which was, in so many ways, engineered in early- to mid-20th century America to push housing sales and create demand for railways and street cars)—our method of splintering off into smaller and smaller household units, of aging parents on their own back in Midwestern cities and suburbs, or shuttled off into nursing homes and retirement communities, of modern moms and dads raising kids in isolation—is all just a mess.

At this same time, I’ve been reading Laura Kipnis’ Against Love: A Polemic, which rails against the modern conception of marriage and monogamy on its own merits (or lack thereof). It’s a fascinating book that looks at what, exactly, is supposed to sustain marriages now that property ties and lineage concerns and gender roles aren’t all tied up with them; how marriage, as it stands, is a failing institution; how our conceptions that our spouse (or boyfriend/girlfriend/lover) is supposed to be everything —friend, lover, domestic and child-rearing partner, therapist, creative consultant, etc.—is ruining our lives.

Kipnis gets into this whole explanation of earlier revolts against marriage (or examinations of it, at least) in the U.S.—of the pamphlets and townhall meetings and intellectual discussions about the issue in 1800s America; of the transcendentalists and others who sought alternative forms of marriage or companionship and domestic life. These ideas used to be taken seriously, she writes, but the whole 1960s commune/free-love movement and the subsequent backlash and mockery that created have relegated any questioning of this sort into a hippie cliché.

Flash to last night, and I’m talking with my friend Morgan about yurts. Specifically, that her and her roommate, Sam, have been, for years now, looking into and researching and dreaming about getting a lot of friends together on a farm, out west, or in a college town, and living in yurts off a main house and practicing communal farming and living, etc.

And I laughed, because this is exactly the conversation that keeps playing out, over and over again, amongst me and my boyfriend and my friends in Brooklyn. We have a few friends who’ve actually started, who’ve left the cities (New York, Cincinnati) behind and ventured out to California, to Alaska, and started apprenticing at farms. We have other friends with family ties to maple farms in Scandinavia, avocado farms in SoCal. We’re tentatively and dreamily exploring our options. We’re starting with hallway gardens and kombucha brewing classes and volunteer sessions at the Greenpoint Rooftop Farms. We’re engaging in grand conversational fantasies with one another whenever we see things like a 15-room hotel for sale in upstate New York. We’re discussing these things with friends in other cities—like Morgan and Sam in Chicago; but also friends in Boston, friends in Cincinnati, friends out in California already. Everyone’s feeling this vibe.

From the yurt conversation, Morgan and I got on the topic of marriage, of children, of monogamy, spurred by the fact that the reason I’m visiting Chicago my best friend from college having a baby. She’s the first person Morgan or I are friends with —real friends, not high school friends, not the kind of friend who’s still in your home town and whose life bears no real connection or resemblance to your own—who has been married, and now, who’s having a child. Morgan and I were pondering the implications of this.

And then and there, I developed a philosophy on life and love and marriage and children and society (one that I didn’t even know I felt until I was espousing it to Morgan as if it was a long-held system of beliefs).

The only way, I realized, that all of this would work in my life is for it to take place within a multi-adult/couple/family communal living situation.

I’m not totally averse to monogamy, to marriage, to children even; but I also could never do it as part of a totally secluded nuclear family unit. I think a lot of people my age feel the same way. For whatever reasons, though, it’s not totally feasible or desirable to move back to our hometowns, to create multi-generational, communal households within our own extended families. But it may be feasible to do so amongst friends?

What if, as we age—as we reach that inevitable stage where people really do start wanting to pair off, to maybe make relationships legally and economically sanctioned, to start forming families—my friends and I all did it together? And combined it with our collective desire to be a part of the land, to create food and art together? How wonderful would it be to have those things—a life partner, children if you lean that way—without the confines of having to rely on the totally illogical goal of having one person meet all your needs in life? You could serve as each other’s companions, creative partners, domestic helpers, chefs, housemates, and friends. You would, of course, still get some of all of this from your primary partner. But you wouldn’t have to rely on them exclusively for all these things, and thereby diminish the primary love/sex bond you have with them.

I’ve pretty much decided in the past 12 hours that it’s the only possible way for me to live, create and grow old.

Written by Elizabeth

December 15, 2009 at 9:45 pm

Mad Men: Scary Food, Feminist Leanings

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I love, love, love this Brokelyn post on “scary food from the Mad Men era”:

If you’re thinking of catering a Mad Men party this weekend with authentic 1960s cuisine, you may want to reconsider—a look at the terrifying stuff that passed for dinner back then offers a clue as to why Julia Child was regarded as such a revolutionary. lemon-jello-tuna-pie1-250x153The following photos are from Betty Crocker’s Dinner in a Dish cookbook, published in 1965, a mayonnaise-slicked, canned-fruit dotted roadmap to an American culinary era thankfully gone by. First among the supper-time atrocities: a “Summer Salad Pie” (above), whose ingredients include lemon-flavored gelatin, tomato sauce, and tuna fish tossed together in a cheddar-cheese pie shell.

My mom still kinda cooks like this.

While we’re on Mad Men, interesting post at RH Reality Check from Amanda Marcotte, about the show’s feminist leanings:

I think the moment for me on “Mad Men” that made me realize the strong feminist bent of the show was far from accidental was the opening sequence of the masterful episode “Maidenform.”  You see the three main female characters Peggy, Joan, and Betty getting dressed and see how even Peggy, who is low maintenance by 60s standards, has to go through intense amounts of work just to be considered worthy of stepping out the front door.  You also see Joan rubbing her skin where her bra strap cuts into it. True, second wave feminists didn’t burn their bras–or their girdles or their garters–but the show argues with this visual imagery, that they probably should have.  As the actresses on the show have complained repeatedly, underwear for women then was a potent symbol of how painfully restrained women were, how their personalities, ambitions, desires, and very flesh and to be pinched and molded to fit male demands.

My favorite Mad Men lady is Betty Draper (I dressed as her for Halloween last year, although I ended up looking rather more like an erstwhile drag queen after having applied makeup for the first time than like the lovely Betty; I have never been able to pull off red lipstick), but then, I’m a sucker for repressed housewives. Too much Sylvia Plath as a teen, I’m afraid.

I recently watched Revolutionary Road (phenomenal!) and immediately ran out and bought the book, which I am in the midst of devouring. What’s interesting about April Wheeler, Revolutionary Road’s repressed housewife, is that author Richard Yates, through the viewpoint of her husband, Frank, explicitly states that the wanna-be actress on some level enjoyed falling into the wife/mother role, or at least finds it a little bit of a relief, because it saves her the disillusion of trying to “make it” and failing. Yet, at the same time, she clings to a kind of anger at her husband for having “trapped” her, as a response to her own guilt/sadness/whatever at being a suburban mother and wife.

Meanwhile, Frank, her husband, insists on working a job he dislikes, and doing all sorts of “responsible man” things, to the exclusion of his “dreams,” for the same reason—because it prevents him from having to confront that he might not actually be special, and might not actually be good at anything. But instead of, like April, lashing out about the inanity of it all, he finds himself defending it—especially when she wants to subvert it (by, say, having an abortion)—even though he actually agrees with her, because by pretending he can find confort in the normalcy she can’t find comfort in, he wins some small victory over her and his failed path in life. It’s crazy-intriguing stuff.

Anyway, it reminded me of the Mad Men episode in which, after Betty tells Don not to come back home, a friend tells her that the scariest part of being single is suddenly having to make decisions for yourself (paraphrasing, but it’s something like that). Having pretty-much predetermined paths in life might have been stifling, horrifying, boring, etc., etc., for both men and women, but damn if it wasn’t, at least for a while, probably a pretty easy way to avoid some of life’s big quesitons.

Written by Elizabeth

August 16, 2009 at 6:01 pm

LadyBlog & Culture11

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So I mentioned last week that I’m part of the cabal of LadyBloggers over at Culture11. This next part feels a little silly explaining, because everyone I know in DC seems to be writing for Culture11 in some way or other, but I realize some people read this who aren’t the 30 people I know in DC. So …

Culture11 is a new online magazine—it’s still in Beta right now—that was/is aiming, at least theoretically, to be like Slate or Salon but with a slightly right-of-center bent. A few months ago it began snapping up various talented libertarian-ish writers, including three of my favorites: Peter Suderman (C11’s culture editor), James Poulos (C11’s politics editor) and Conor Friedersdorf (C11’s features editor). The whole endeavor seemed radically promising. Where it will go still remains to be seen, obviously—right now, the amount of content is a little light and every now and then article choices just seem weird —but it is still in beta and I think it’s off to a good start.

And now, this brings us to LadyBlog. Please understand that everything I say from here on out should not be construed as criticisms of Jillian Bandes, C11’s assistant editor and the Madam of LadyBlog, if you will (who was nice enough to let me be a part of this project despite the sum of my conservative credentials being “not Democrat,” and who handpicked a very interesting slew of diverse women bloggers and is, in these early stages, currently taking a generously laissez faire attitude towards what we write). Nor of the very smart, very funny women—Phoebe Maltz, Amber Bryer-Wotte, Jillian, Katherine Mangu-Ward, Dara Lind, Nicola Karras, Penny Larkin, Cheryl Miller, to name a few—writing on LadyBlog.

But let me just say that LadyBlog is a weird, weird place. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Elizabeth

September 23, 2008 at 5:47 pm