Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘women

Curio: Gender Myths Edition

leave a comment »

1. Timing, Meaning of ‘I Love You’ Differs by Gender … and it’s not us ladies getting all lovey first.

Men actually are more likely to utter those three loaded little words first, and men admit thinking about confessing love six weeks earlier than their female partners, according to an article to be published in the June issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

This is obviously, however, only because men think it will help them get laid, the researchers conclude. Because, you know—what else?—ev-psych and stuff …

The researchers theorized that a pre-sex love confession may signal interest in advancing the relationship to include sexual activity — which is what men want, evolutionarily speaking, so as not to lose an opportunity to spread their genes. They want to “buy low,” as the article put it. Women, who have more to lose if they get pregnant, prefer a post-sex confession as a signal of long-term commitment. They prefer to “sell high.”

Despite birth control and egalitarian values in modern society, these primitive patterns persist in the subconscious, Ackerman said.

At least the researchers clearly have a sense of humor:

The researchers hope exposing the biological underpinnings of these behaviors can help people understand the hidden meanings and motivations behind professions of love, which are ripe for misinterpretation.

Which brings us to ..

2. Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society and Neurosexism Create Difference by Cordelia Fine

… and this awesome, whiskey-fueled review of it from The Rejectionist:

Cordelia Fine is not just smarter than you, she is funny as shit. For every study John Gray drags around the playground, about Men and their Mars of warlike thrusting vs. the Planet Veeeeenus where ladies embrace their vacuums and emote gently across that moist and pinkly lit landscape, Cordelia Fine has thirty more studies that tell you what a bunch of shit that study is, also with jokes.

3. Betty White is totally down with men baking her cookies.


Written by Elizabeth

May 5, 2011 at 8:18 pm

On Feminism, Neural Circuitry and Men Being ‘Rapey Enough’

with 7 comments

I just came into the TV show Weeds at the beginning of Season 5, and one of my favorite parts so far was when the Andy character explains to Mary Louise-Parker why it would never work out between them:

(Link) View more Weeds Quotes and Sound Clips and Andy Botwin Quotes and Sound Clips

A few days after watching that episode, my friend Greg said to me, “Dude! [Ed. note: That is really how he talks] Did you read about Rihanna talking about how she likes whips and chains?”

Actually, Rihanna does not like whips and chains, at least not most of the time, at least not if her quotes in Rolling Stone are to be taken at face value. Here is the passage in question:

“Being submissive in the bedroom is really fun,” she says. “You get to be a little lady, to have somebody be macho and in charge of your shit. That’s fun to me…I like to be spanked. Being tied up is fun. I like to keep it spontaneous. Sometimes whips and chains can be overly planned – you gotta stop, get the whip from the drawer downstairs. I’d rather have him use his hands.”

We could get into all the Oh My Oh My Oh My’s about this, in light of … but it all seems too obvious. And this is not a post dedicated to pointing out the obvious. I bring up the Weeds clip, and Rihanna – and while we’re at it, I’ll toss in this post by Jessica Grose at XX Factor about fashion moguls and the submissive ladies who love them – as a little pop cultural S&M appetizer before we get to our wonky, scientific main course: The Neural Circuitry of Dominance & Submission.

Writing on Psychology Today’s “Billion Wicked Thoughts” blog, Ogi Ogaswhose claim to fame seems to be “using cognitive techniques from his brain research to win half a million dollars on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and co-authoring a yet-to-be-released book called A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals about Human Desiremuses on “why feminism is the anti-Viagra.

Link-baiting much?

But all right, all right, I’m biting; tell me, Ogi, why is feminism the anti-Viagra?

Gender equality inhibits arousal.

That’s a pretty bold statement there, Ogi. But you’ve got a PhD in this stuff; you must have done your research. What kind of hard-hitting evidence have ya got?

From classic romance The Flame and The Flower to classic erotica The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty to Twilight BDSM fan fiction, submission themes are immensely popular in cross-cultural female erotica.

[…] Romance heroes are almost always high status alpha males—billionaires, barons, surgeons, sheriffs. Avon Books and Ellora’s Cave feature no heroes who are kindergarten teachers, accountants, or plumbers. Even though there’s been a trend away from the conspicuously rapey bodice-rippers of the seventies and eighties, women still want strong, dominant men.

Huh. You’re starting to disappoint me a little bit here, sir (I decided I should drop the calling you by your first name; wouldn’t want to start inciting flacid penises left and right). I’m not a doubter about a lot of men and women having dominance/submission fantasies. But … romance novels and Twilight fan fic? It’s just not striking me as a representative sample of human sexual desire. Maybe we could get a little misguided interpretation of evolutionary psychology thrown in here?

“We’re portraying men the way feminist ideals say they should be—respectful and consensus-building,” muses erotic romance (EroRom) author Angela Knight. “Yet women like bad boys. I suspect that’s because our inner cavewoman knows Doormat Man would become Sabertooth Tiger Lunch in short order.”

Ah, there we go! But … then comes this:

One of the most startling findings from our desire research is this: men and women’s brains each come wired with the neural circuitry for both sexual dominance and sexual submission. When Nature builds our brains, it installs both the “male” and “female” subcortical circuits, but apparently only links one of these circuits to the arousal system. Scientists can trigger lordosis in male rats by activating their dormant submission circuitry, and can trigger masculine mounting in female rats by activating their dormant dominance circuitry.

In humans, the hormonal vagaries of prenatal development appear to cause a substantial portion of men to be born with active submissive circuitry. These men find sexual submission as arousing—or, quite often, far more arousing—than sexual dominance.

Wow. That is actually interesting. And seems to actually, scientifically, tell us something about the neural circuitry of dominance and submission. But in order to get to this – in order to get to this in a blog post on Psychology Today, not some lad magazine or MRA-site, mind you – we’ve had to sift through several rounds of feminist bashing, romance-novel-based evidence and bastardized ev-psych theorizing. On behalf of all folks (and feminists!) who truly are interested in the neural components of sexual arousal… it’s just insulting, Ogi.

Fortunately, Linda Young, also writing for Psychology Today, offers a much less sensationalistic (and idiotic) take:

To say “feminism” is causing loss of desire and damping male arousal is totally misleading. In fact, there is research that supports the opposite. Rudman and Phelan (1) found that men who had feminist partners reported being in more stable relationships and greater sexual satisfaction.” Brezsnyak & Whisman (2), showed that more egalitarian decision making was associated with elevated levels of sexual desire. Schwartz and Young summarized a number of studies showing a relationship between equitable couples and greater sexual satisfaction (3).

Feminism is about social, economic and political equity and is independent of what turns someone on in a bedroom or fantasy. Ogas, like lots of folks, finds it easier to parse people and ideologies into black and white polarities than to consider the complex grays that don’t fall neatly into categories. A feminist with cleavage in high heels who wants to be ravished in bed is not a contradiction!

And neither is a man who’ll smack you around one minute and beg to be tied up the next. I mean, so I’ve heard …

Written by Elizabeth

April 28, 2011 at 11:26 pm

‘Civilization is coming to an end…’

leave a comment »

Via CCK, this Canonball post, “The Art of Writing While Female,” in which the author compiles her favorite snippets of Paris Review interviews with female writers. Here’s my favorite:

Dorothy Parker,  1956

INTERVIEWER: What kind of work did you do at Vogue?

PARKER: I wrote captions. “This little pink dress will win you a beau,” that sort of thing. Funny, they were plain women working at Vogue, not chic. They were decent, nice women—the nicest women I ever met—but they had no business on such a magazine. They wore funny little bonnets and in the pages of their magazine they virginized the models from tough babes into exquisite little loves. Now the editors are what they should be: all chic and worldly; most of the models are out of the mind of a Bram Stoker, and as for the caption writers—my old job—they’re recommending mink covers at seventy-five dollars apiece for the wooden ends of golf clubs “—for the friend who has everything.” Civilization is coming to an end, you understand.

Written by Elizabeth

January 15, 2011 at 3:22 pm


leave a comment »

Written by Elizabeth

October 10, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Fetishizing the Good Wife

with 5 comments

The problems start with the subhead: A new generation of female bloggers is championing the importance of being a good wife and partner.

Yes, a new generation of bloggers, eons removed from those paleolithic female bloggers of 2003 who, incidentally, aimed to be terrible wives and atrocious partners! But blah blah blah; people like to cover housewives. The green/locavore/whatever movement is providing a wonderful new hook for doing so.

What’s more interesting, I think, are things like this:

And then there’s Taryn Cox, who isn’t afraid to put it all out there, unabashedly writing about stereotypically uxorial topics ranging from themed baby showers and creating her own cocktail-style dresses to the art of ironing a newspaper and how to clean with vodka at a blog she has titled TarynCoxTheWife.com.

Cox’s posts showcase classic glamour and gorgeous parties as songs such as “Sunny Side of the Street” play in the background.

“I’ve always just been so completely fascinated by the idea of marriage and dedication,” says Cox, a trim 26-year-old with a penchant for pastels and an e-mail address that starts with “stepfordwife.”

No, she’s not married and she doesn’t have kids, but “this [blog] is for those dreams and fantasies. I believe my own vision. I believe there’s an art to being a good wife.”

Clearly, Taryn is taking things a little far. But I think for a certain subset of post-post-feminist (or whatever we are) Gen Y women—especially the particularly horrifying strain who perhaps read a lot of Sylvia Plath or worked in a vintage clothing shop in high school, who were raised by Republicans or Catholics but later got a lip ring or an ill-advised Kanji tattoo, and who appreciate a good cocktail, a man who will take out the garbage and the erotic possibilities of gender roles—well, it’s not too hard to get sucked into the ‘good wife’ allure. Not to the degree Taryn has, heavens no. Just a little bit.

Maybe it’s seriously all libido. Or maybe it’s just another facet of that grasping 20-something desire for some model for how to be Good at Life®.

The rest of the article—which ran in Sunday’s L.A. Times—is mostly a rehash of some book about being your husband’s “at home business partner” or something that came out a few years ago, sprinkled with a little bit of two-bloggers-as-Trend anecdotes. And of course there is the Angry Feminist response:

“They want to live in this perfectly art-directed world,” says Michele Kort, senior editor at Ms. “It’s an illusion that if you have all the right clothes and right accessories that your life will be perfect. This is a throwback to stuff like [Marabel Morgan’s 1974 self-help book] ‘The Total Woman’ … that a wife should be subservient and be all about making a man comfortable and having the perfect household … for the women of the ’50s, it wasn’t so happy-making.”
Which is one of those arguments that just seems silly, for anyone to endorse or for anyone to take as the standard belief of all feminists. To me, it seems that for some women of the 50s, it probably was “happy-marking,” to use Kort’s awkward phrasing. It’s possible that then, as now, there were some women who really did enjoy being completely dedicated wives and mothers. And that this being true in no way negates the fact that many women do not enjoy being full-time housewives, and that women should pursue whatever path makes them happiest. I mean, while I appreciate all the current research and publicity about how women who don’t work could be in for a lot of financial misery if their husbands dump them … at a certain point, god. All of our life paths are a gamble. If we really want to protect our young women’s financial futures, we should tell them not to become journalists, or actors, or major in sociology.

Written by Elizabeth

May 18, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Is Emily Gould the Elizabeth Wurtzel of Gen Y?

leave a comment »

That’s my preliminary assessment after reading the first two chapters of And the Heart Says Whatever. Stay tuned!

Written by Elizabeth

May 7, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Why Don’t More Women Propose?

with one comment

That’s what I found myself wondering after reading this Wall Street Journal article and this response on XX Factor. The WSJ article is an exploration/lament of the different way marriage proposals are negotiated today compared to 50 years ago.

Those romantic tales that get passed among friends and relatives—”One day he just showed up with a ring! I was completely surprised!”—are vestiges of the past. We’ve gone from popping the question to a long conversation, hammering out the details of when and how the engagement will happen.

Amanda Miller, a sociology professor at the University of Central Oklahoma, conducted a study about how proposals are made among cohabiting couples. The result, titled “Waiting to Be Asked,” found that couples not only work together as a team to set the date. Ms. Miller says some women script the proposal first, telling their boyfriend something like: “I’d always wanted to be proposed to on Christmas morning in front of family.”

Obviously, the upside to all this is that it’s a sign of how women now have more agency in deciding when and whom to marry. And perhaps it should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: that surprise proposal of the past that the article nostalgically clamors for is hardly a long-standing “tradition,” at least not when we take the whole of societal marriage negotiations for the past couple centuries into account.

But none of this is what I really want to talk about. What I want to know is, if women obviously have more agency in organizing marriage arrangements these days, and if a particular women (like these mentioned in the article) is comfortable enough in her relationship and desiring enough of and old man* to negotiate a proposal from her significant other …. why doesn’t she just propose herself? Why is that not even mentioned in the article as an option? Is it really that rare? Admittedly, I’ve never known any girl/woman/pick-your-poison who proposed to her man. Is it because most egalitarian-minded women would rather just  discuss the idea of getting married with their partner instead of re-purposing the proposal genre, which could be considered a “tool of the patriarchy?” So many questions! Stephanie Coontz, what say you?

* This is (with its mirror, the “old lady”), I think, the funniest term for a spouse, and one I heard used non-ironically quite a few times more than expected growing up in the Midwest …

Written by Elizabeth

April 27, 2010 at 11:07 am

Posted in Culture, Feminism, Sex/Love

Tagged with ,

‘Game Over: Pickup Artists & Social Conservatives Hook Up’

leave a comment »

Photo from Doublethink

Photo from Doublethink

I’ve got an article in the winter/spring issue of Doublethink Quarterly on conservative women writers’ discovery of  “The Game.”

For socially conservative writers, PUAs provide a way to vindicate their otherwise past-oriented views about marriage, sex, and cultural decline by squeezing them (never quite comfortably) into the framework of the cutting-edge. It’s relevance by any means necessary. And so Game devotees are transformed from an assortment of bitter and manipulative losers, deviants, and wimps into the logical response to a “feminized” culture. They are a tribute to our biological imperatives, which will surface irrepressibly from under the tight lid of political correctness and feminism. They are what the sexual revolution has produced, and their attitudes and antics will become “the new normal” if we don’t just, you know, declining marriage rates birth control no fault divorce single mothers ready abortion sex ed.

In the end, it all seems to turn (for both PUAs and certain social cons) on a paranoid conviction that, because of some heretofore unseen combination of cultural and biological circumstances, a large subset of marriageable men will be “denied access” to the wives owed them; women will either choose to go the child-rearing route alone, climb from hypergamous match to hypergamous match, or be part of an alpha males’ harem of offspring-producing females; and nuclear family life as we know it will cease to exist.

Fun article to write (and hopefully a fun article to read!). More here >>>

Written by Elizabeth

April 26, 2010 at 8:00 am

Posted in Culture, Gen Y, My Life, Self-Promotion

Tagged with , , ,


with 4 comments

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

All just a little bit of history repeating …

with one comment

One of my particular cultural irritants, as of late, has been what can be scapegoatedly pinned on Ayelet Waldman or more broadly described as the “bad mother” genre. What a strange symbol of our times, these women hemming and hawing over their perceived psychological transgressions against the pathos of motherhood, their defiant reclamation attempts in Oprah-friendly memoir form . How ridiculous; how tedious.

So I got a kick out of Sandra Tsing Loh’s December Atlantic article, “On Being a Bad Mother,” in which she reviews both Waldman’s Bad Mother and Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch:

What better phrase to describe marriage among those of my own bewildered demographic slice—parents of the Creative Class? We start with the best of intentions. In her 20s, the Creative Class female carves out a cool Creative Class career, like Writer. She meets a man with an equally cool Creative Class job—say, Devoted Documentary Filmmaker of the Obama 10-Year African Kiva Water Project. In their 30s, the baby comes: the Creative Class mom is pitched into hormonal bliss (at least at first); the very same week—argh, the timing!—Gates Foundation money suddenly comes through for the Obama-kiva-water-project documentary. Clinking champagne glasses, both spouses agree that Dad must fly to Africa for two months to finish filming while Mom cares for the baby. (The last thing she wants is be a 1950s nag—and how rarely does Gates money come through, how important is drinking water for Africa?)

After kissing her husband goodbye, the Creative Class mother now begins to care for their baby, alone, in New York, or Los Angeles, or whatever cool city they’ve moved to. She’s isolated from her stem family—the grandma, aunts, and in-laws (who all love children!) have long been left behind in notoriously un-Creative Lompoc, Fort Lauderdale, or Ohio. She can barely maneuver the stroller down the four flights of stairs to get to Gymboree ($20 for 45 minutes, and you have to actually stay with your nine-month-old and drum). Result: the 21st-century Creative Class mom’s life is actually far worse than that of her 1950s counterpart. Her husband works as many hours (and travels more), but life is uncomfortable on his salary alone, and the isolated mom has no bingo-playing moms’ group to ease the unnatural, teeth-chattering stress of one-on-one care of her child.

But every time I read these sorts of things—this, or Tsing Loh’s last Atlantic article, about her affair and divorce; Elizabeth Weil’s New York Times Magazine article about working on her marriage, and all the bloggy disccusions around it; books like Against Love and A Vindication of Love, both railing against modern “companionate” marriages in their own way; all these late-boomer and Gen X women at once enchanted and neurotic and furious with our current exemplars of marriage or motherhood or monogamy—I am left wondering (and depressed) about what fights we Gen Y (and beyond) women will face in this realm. So much of the current angst seems to be a reaction to the 1970s woman’s reaction to the 1950s woman’s lifestyle/dilemna/ideal … it frustrates me. I’m tired of those battles; they seem silly and cliched and obvious.

But our battles are going to have to be a reaction to these. Or a backlash. And what will that look like? All I know, when I read these things, is that I don’t want to be any of the women in these essays. I don’t want their problems, don’t want their lives. I wonder how they possibly got there, and then can see myself getting there. I think the avoidance of all that will all be so simple, but then they, as women in the 70s and 80s, probably thought the same thing about that 1950s woman.

Written by Elizabeth

December 6, 2009 at 11:55 pm

Posted in Culture, Feminism

Tagged with , , , ,

Women’s Studies

with one comment

Laura Vanderkam writes in USA Today about “the princess problem” and women in the workforce:

Some economists have predicted that women could surpass men as a proportion of payroll employment this year. A growing proportion of young women entering the workforce will need to support their whole families at some point. Yet there’s evidence that young women don’t think about this as they plan their careers — because, hey, someday that prince might come.

I wonder how much Vanderkam’s hypothesis applies to young women today—it seems to me more of an attitude belonging last to the boomer generation. But while girls today might not fall as easily prey to the princess trap in choosing a career, Salon’s Broadsheet recently pointed out:

… even as more women than ever are majoring in science and engineering, the traditionally female-oriented fields are becoming even more so — i.e., as more women major in those subjects, men start avoiding them. And as people who work in the “caring professions” have long known, the more a field becomes “feminized,” the less it’s valued.

I wanted to know why the traditionaly female-oriented fields were becoming more so, but neither the Broadsheet post nor the Inside Higher Ed article in links to offer much by way of explanation other than”as women go into some majors, men sometimes don’t want those majors anymore,” which seems to raise more questions than it answers.

Written by Elizabeth

August 12, 2009 at 1:48 pm

Posted in Feminism

Tagged with , , ,

Fashion Writing

with 2 comments

My friend Melanie is offended by my post on women journalists. She writes:

“Love Liz, but I find her response really condescending. Good fashion writing is not “fluff stuff.” Need proof? Washington Post Fashion Editor Robin Givhan won a Pulitzer for her work in 2006. While I agree fashion is not a “serious” issue, that doesn’t make it unimportant or render fashion writers second-class journalists. I follow politics, but I don’t have an interest in writing about it. My ability to grasp “‘real’ political issues, like military endeavors, campaigns, taxes, etc.” has nothing to do with it.”

So—for the record—I never meant to imply I think all fashion (or fitness or celebrity or beauty or relationship) writing is fluff (nor that all business or news writing is non-fluff, for that matter). But I think we can all agree “5 Ways to Get Beach Hair” or “14 Ways to Surprise Your Valentine Feb. 14” is. And that’s the kind of stuff there’s a bigger freelance market for than the type of fashion-writing that wins Pulitzers. That said, I also never meant to imply that it doesn’t take a certain skill to write even the fluff (sometimes writing short can be sooo much tougher than writing long), nor that the writers of said fluff were writing it because they weren’t capable of grasping more serious stuff. All I was saying is that because women journalists have the option of writing—and getting paid for—this stuff, less of them may tackle military endeavors, campaigns and taxes.

This conversation was somewhat spawned by Phoebe’s post here (“I still think there’s something to the idea that fashion-as-shallowness is a sexist construction”), and she’s on about fashion again today, asking ‘What makes good fashion writing?‘ Meanwhile, I just read today (via Joanne McNeil) that “1/3 of U.S. women recently surveyed by America’s Research Group said they plan no clothing purchases–none–in 2009.

Written by Elizabeth

February 2, 2009 at 12:34 pm

Posted in Culture, Feminism, Media

Tagged with , , ,

More on women, fashion, writing …

with 2 comments

My friend Melanie is offended by my post on women journalists. She writes:

“Love Liz, but I find her response really condescending. Good fashion writing is not “fluff stuff.” Need proof? Washington Post Fashion Editor Robin Givhan won a Pulitzer for her work in 2006. While I agree fashion is not a “serious” issue, that doesn’t make it unimportant or render fashion writers second-class journalists. I follow politics, but I don’t have an interest in writing about it. My ability to grasp “‘real’ political issues, like military endeavors, campaigns, taxes, etc.” has nothing to do with it.”

So—for the record—I never meant to imply I think all fashion (or fitness or celebrity or beauty or relationship) writing is fluff (nor that all business or news writing is non-fluff, for that matter). But I think we can all agree “5 Ways to Get Beach Hair” or “14 Ways to Surprise Your Valentine Feb. 14” is. And that’s the kind of stuff there’s a bigger freelance market for than the type of fashion-writing that wins Pulitzers. That said, I also never meant to imply that it doesn’t take a certain skill to write even the fluff (sometimes writing short can be sooo much tougher than writing long), nor that the writers of said fluff were writing it because they weren’t capable of grasping more serious stuff. All I was saying is that because women journalists have the option of writing—and getting paid for—this stuff, less of them may tackle military endeavors, campaigns and taxes.

This conversation was somewhat spawned by Phoebe’s post here (“I still think there’s something to the idea that fashion-as-shallowness is a sexist construction”), and she’s on about fashion again today, asking ‘What makes good fashion writing?‘ Meanwhile, I just read today (via Joanne McNeil) that “1/3 of U.S. women recently surveyed by America’s Research Group said they plan no clothing purchases–none–in 2009.

Written by Elizabeth

February 2, 2009 at 12:34 pm

Posted in Feminism, Media

Tagged with , , ,

Unfinished Business

with one comment

In the midst of the “shallow girls” discussion on Ladyblog, I remembered a post I wrote some time ago in response to this one by Elizabeth Crum but never published. EC cited a Ms. magazine opinion column lamenting the lack of female pundits and columnists, and opined:

Me, I’m not one to worry much about ratios. I figure if you’re good, and you want to write, and you work hard, you’ll be in print somewhere. In my mind, fewer female columnists and pundits likely means there are fewer able and/or willing intrepid girl reporters in existence (not that there’s a Vast Boys Club Conspiracy).


While it is true there are fewer females who seek to go into punditry or column-writing (or even political journalism, blogging, etc.), I thought Elizabeth’s answer was a little too dismissive. I think the discrepancy, at this point in history, goes way beyond the polar extremes of General Sexism/Boy’s Club or “women just not having the ability/desire.” It also goes beyond the typical explanations about socialization we’ve heard a bazillion times before—I’m not discounting those, but I think there are some particular nuances, which I’ve tried to roughly sketch out below.

1) Being a political journalist/columnist, or a serious national affairs/sociocultural-type reporter/freelancer, has got to be hard (both in terms of skill level and opportunities to break in). Very hard, regardless of gender. It’s not something any writer/reporter can just do. But women, I think, have a lot more options when it comes to the range of topics, in general, they can write about and still be “journalists.” There are many, many more (paying) outlets for fashion/beauty/entertainment/sex/relationship writing than political writing. In my own fantasies of the joys/horrors of ever trying to strike it as a freelance writer, I’ve browsed through all the how-to-query sheets on media bistro, and sometimes wondered why the heck I wasn’t trying to write the fluff stuff seriously.

So for the kind of person who starts out with mild pretensions of being a serious journalist, or even just a daily news reporter, or a mildly authentic storyteller, and finds it daunting/hard/unrenumerative, etc., there’s a lot easier ‘out,’ I think, for women than for men, who, for the most part, don’t have the option of writing about healthy/beauty/fashion/etc. It’s kind of the same psychology that I think is often under-valued when explaining why women ‘opt out’ of the workplace—work can suck! It’s sometimes hard, and sometimes boring, and for people who don’t find themselves in a perfect situation, staying home with the kids full-time can seem like a socially acceptable way to ‘fail,’ to give up—one that more men would avail themselves of, too, if they could as easily.

2) Another thing is that there are very few separate “men’s issues” in politics, or media, but there are separate “women’s issues”—things like reproductive rights, gender discrimination, the politics of motherhood, media sexism, etc., just to name a few. While these should *theoretically* be things of concern to both genders, they’re not, and I can’t entirely blame men for not taking them as seriously. Also, why would a male writer want to carve out a niche in writing about sexism, or gender discrimination, or reproductive rights? There’s always going to be a woman writer who can claim more authenticity, and some who even feel offended by a male writing about these things, so there’s totally a disincentive for them to even consider doing so).

Women have had to carve out their own spaces in the blogosphere—places like Broadsheet, Feministe, Feministing, XX Factor, Jezebel, (Ladyblog!)—to discuss these issues, separate from the “real” political issues, like military endeavors, campaigns, taxes, etc. Again, this is understandable; there are a few Big General Political Issues, the sorts that get talked about at the major political blogs and magazines, the hard news stuff, and then all sorts of non-gendered softer stuff – education, race issues, food politics – have to carve out their own separate spaces as well. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of this. It’s just that … well, a lot of very smart, very political women writers/bloggers/pundits are naturally going to be attracted to reading about issues that directly affect them. Which means less time keeping up with the Big General Political Issues. There are only so many hours that can be devoted to keeping up with blog conversations per day, and every minute spent reading Shakesville or the Independent Women’s Forum blog means less time that can be devoted to, say, Andrew Sullivan or Matthew Iglesias. It’s impossible to keep up with it all.

I’m not someone who’s ever had any aspirations to being a Serious Political Blogger (clearly), but as someone who does want to participate in whatever small way in the conversation, who lives in DC, who hangs out with a lot of journalists and writers, and who just generally wants to be well-informed about what’s going on … even I find it daunting. So I think, yeah, this is certainly a disadvantage for women writers/bloggers who do aspire to really be out there—either you’ve got to just do the women’s stuff, or just do the Big Political Issues, and that’s got to be a hard call to have to make. [And, again, the socialization thing, but I think women who show an interest in political/sociology/media etc. are still often encouraged more to focus on social issues than on horserace politics, economics, or foreign affairs).

3) A lot of who-writes-for-where-and-about-what is driven by editors. And if an editor has two people, a man and a woman, who can write about some economic issue, but only the woman can credibly write an article about, say,the ‘opt out revolution,’ they’re going to assign the either/or story to the guy so they can assign the women’s-only story to the girl. That’s certainly not sexist. But it does work against more women writing about the Serious General Political Issues.

Taken as a whole, I think women actually have many more opportunities than men to make a career out of being writers/journalists/bloggers. Just not necessarily writing about the kinds of things they may want to write about, or the kinds of things on which we place a premium as Serious Issues.

[Yes, I posted this at Ladyblog as well, but since I’m not sure what’s going on there right now, I wanted to post it here as well].

Written by Elizabeth

January 31, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Narcisisstic Desire Disorder

with one comment

So this has been blogged about all over the place, and I’ve already posted about it on Ladyblog, but I’m still pretty intrigued by the New York Times Magazine article on women and sexual desire [seriously, read the whole thing if you haven’t yet].

Yes, the article has a few flaws—the “post-feminist” tag on the headline is sort of annoying, since several of the researchers within are quoted as considering themselves “feminists,” but that’s hardly the writer’s fault; and the ending— “women’s sexuality is an unknowable forest” and all that—is, in addition to being kind of a cop-out, just kind of cheesy. But I think, overall, the (male) writer does a really great job of handling the topic and the material, presenting it in a way that avoids falling into any particular ideological pigeonhole or falling back on the old “women—man!, aren’t they crazy and inexplicable” trap.

The part that most intrigued me was the research about women’s desire based on a feeling of being desired:

[One researcher] emphasized the role of being desired — and of narcissism — in women’s desiring.

The critical part played by being desired, Julia Heiman observed, is an emerging theme in the current study of female sexuality. Three or four decades ago, with the sense of sexual independence brought by the birth-control pill and the women’s liberation movement, she said, the predominant cultural and sexological assumption was that female lust was fueled from within, that it didn’t depend on another’s initiation.

Meana made clear, during our conversations in a casino bar and on the U.N.L.V. campus, that she was speaking in general terms, that, when it comes to desire, “the variability within genders may be greater than the differences between genders,” that lust is infinitely complex and idiosyncratic.

She pronounced, as well, “I consider myself a feminist.” Then she added, “But political correctness isn’t sexy at all.” For women, “being desired is the orgasm,” Meana said somewhat metaphorically — it is, in her vision, at once the thing craved and the spark of craving.
This whole narcissism business has, of course, sparked some complaints from a few feminist bloggers. Jill at Feministe writes:

Shocking, absolutely shocking, that when women are raised in a culture that equates the female body with sex itself, that positions the female body as an object of desire, and that emphasizes that being desired is the height of female achievement, women will see sex as a process primarily centered on male attraction to women, and will get off more on being wanted than on wanting.

Maybe so. I like my cultural constructs as much as the next person and all that. But regardless—whether it comes from some innate position or from acculturation (which, sure, is an interesting exploration in and of itself, though really, an impossible one)—it’s still a fascinating finding. Women get off on being desired. And yet, one researcher notes:

… in comparison with men, women’s erotic fantasies center less on giving pleasure and more on getting it.

Women are far more selfish and narcissistic in terms of sex—if not in practice, at least in fantasies—then men? Come on, this is good stuff! I don’t understand how this research can be construed as some sort of tool/effect of the patriarchy. And—I have to admit, though I have spent my formative years adamantly denying that gender differences exist at all—that, uh, based largely on anecdotal evidence, I’m beginning to come around to the idea that (while mental/emotional gender differences still be damned!) sexual desire/behavior may be an area of innate difference between the sexes. Not in the typical “men want it/women don’t” or “men can separate sex from love/women can’t” dichotomy that is often presented [one researcher thinks that women may be even less emotional/relational in their lust then men are], but in more subtle ways—which is what a lot of this research seems to be saying.

Written by Elizabeth

January 27, 2009 at 10:52 pm