Tuesday, March 03, 2015

I remember snow

-Thought I could be all smug about having missed the East Coast winter. Evidently not. It's somehow March but still undriveable. I'd been so eager to use my newfound highway-driving confidence for, I don't know, a spontaneous trip to Philadelphia. (Working from a Philadelphia coffee shop as vs. a Princeton-area one is a longstanding driving-ability fantasy of mine.) Instead it's more like, maybe it's not worth skidding off the road to go to Wegmans ten minutes away, even though they do have really good cheese. Now might, however, be a good time for me to hate-read articles urging people to investigate the provenance of their vegetables. Produce-wise, I'm working with one bunch of scallions here, possibly one blood orange as well. (I feel like I should be directing the implied recipe dilemma to Lynne Rosetto Kasper.)

-First instance I've seen of this: a journalist attempts to report on her own family, fails to get their approval. This seems, ethically, like a step in the right direction.

-When someone who "coordinates [...] a body positivity group started by fat queer people of colour" speaks out against privilege-checking, people (rightly) pay attention. Read Asam Ahmad here, although I found this via so many people who may well be reading this, so you've probably already read it by now.

-Via Aryeh Cohen-Wade, Lindsey Finn's list of "feminist humblebrags." The McSweeney's website isn't big on telling you when a piece is from, but it is - as they say in journalism - evergreen. Item 4 seems like it might be/have been a little controversial.

-Lisa Miller's anti-minimalist essay suggests that the Marie Kondo's neatness philosophy is the opposite of frugality. I'm not sure I agree, but she makes a good case.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Cleansing through Paris

There's France, a country in Europe. Then there's Frahnce, an idea, a symbol, a prime study-abroad destination, an Anglo-American fantasy, a disappointment to some Japanese tourists, and the place where Alice Waters learned that American food was inferior. I'm not sure which of these Dionna Lee's guide is in reference to.

As would make sense for "Into The Gloss," where the guide appears, it begins with advice on where to find "100% organic juices, açaí bowls, and homemade almond milk cacao shakes." As the commenters correctly note, this is an odd pick for a city with... well, for a city with this as an option. Other suggestions include shopping at an H&M-affiliated store with a location on lower Broadway; getting cheesecake at an American-style café; and having an expensive vegetarian dinner. This is, in other words, an upscale, fashion-world version of a guide to Paris's McDonalds and Starbucks locations. A guide for those who find snails not too weird but too fattening. (The cheesecake can, I suppose, be Instagrammed but not eaten.)

But the beef in the comments seems mainly to come from the framing: "Paris Like A Local," the post is called, when basically everything being suggested could be better-accomplished in New York. But... does that necessarily make it not a like-a-local guide? New York is so hot right now in Paris, or was when I was there, which was granted a while ago now, but I've heard things, and it's my understanding that that remains the case. The more Williamsburg-ish a place is, perhaps the more likely hip French people will be in it. Or hip Parisians, a group that includes expats. After all, Parisians aren't going to shop exclusively at stores that only exist in Paris. It's a let-down for you-the-tourist if you can find the same thing for less at a mall, but not for someone who's unlikely to ever set foot in the Quakerbridge Mall (and how nice for them) in the first place.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

"Of noble provenance"

-Gender parity in the literary world. What can be done? If women persist in painting their nails and watching British glorified soap operas about middle-aged lesbians in a part of England where people drop the definite article (not just a Russian thing, it seems), while men are writing Literature about North American obesity and overflowing toilets, how exactly can one expect 50-50 representation? Can the literary world use the contributions of someone Netflix correctly guessed would give the full five stars to "Last Tango In Halifax," based, no doubt, on our interest in "Waiting For God"? Such is the question some of us must ask ourselves when we open up that Word doc.

-Just as I'd predicted, the fashionability of sneakers was not, in fact, the first sign of a feminist revolution, but a trend. And, by definition, trends at some point start looking dated. The time to look of-the-moment in white Adidas is done, and "more traditional heels" are among the replacements.

-Will I try this David Tanis chicken recipe? Probably. (Maybe not, given my immediate chicken thighs -> yakitori thought process.) But speaking of trends, when will food writing stop having paragraphs like this?:

Of course, you should try to get the best chicken you can. Choose organic, free-range, heritage birds when possible. Even at $4 a pound, that’s far less expensive than other prime cuts of meat, and you are more likely to get flavorful chicken if it is of noble provenance. Free-range birds generally have firmer muscles than cheaper “factory style” birds. If you have tasted chicken in other countries, you know that firm meat and flavor go hand in hand.
I like the nod to what's "possible," in discreet recognition of the fact that some of us live in New Jersey. New Jersey, where a trip to the fancy supermarket yielded a spontaneous free glazed doughnut hole (a product they're now "testing," whatever that means; I survived it) and, OK, some baby artichokes that will be used to make a different Tanis-inspired recipe. And... he's right - chickens shouldn't suffer unnecessarily, and better-quality chicken (like, ahem, what's sold for whatever reason in the Santa Barbara Whole Foods but not the Princeton one, thus posing the ultimate of first-world problems) really does taste better.

But... "of noble provenance"? And a random dig at the U.S., and at the poor souls whose chicken experience (and perhaps life experience) is limited to this country? Must recipe-writers insist on budget-shaming their readers? And from an ecological perspective, should they be encouraging those of us who could buy this special chicken to do so even if it means driving around more so as to track it down?

Or is this more to preempt the commenters who'd see a chicken recipe as inviting a sanctimonious lecture on chicken farming? Is it a disclaimer, so that he can't be accused of encouraging anyone to buy that chicken, even if, realistically, this is a chicken recipe, which people will make with the chicken available to them?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Surf, turf

Hadley Freeman brings our attention to a lip gloss named "Underage." Should we protest? Perhaps, but in the U.S. (where, it sounds like, this product is mainly being sold), underage can refer to a 20-year-old, too young to go to a bar legally but otherwise an adult. It's not necessarily Roman Polanski territory, but it's also not necessarily not that.

I'm thinking the name, though, is less about helping grown women (if, indeed, that's who buys lip gloss) resemble the 15-year-olds that pop-evo-psych-type men claim are the only "women" worth looking at (search WWPD for "Derbyshire" to see what I mean), and more about tapping into a less directly sexual fantasy: that one will be carded. And the threshold for that is probably more like 25 or 30 - anyone who could plausibly be under 21. As such, "Underage" is evil only insofar as the entire beauty industry is guilty of tapping into/inventing the desire to be a young-but-adult woman forever.

While denouncing lip-gloss labeling is one strategy, a more effective approach to dealing with the obsession with female youth-and-beauty might be to acknowledge that youth is associated with beauty in men as well. Or, at least, not to perpetuate the myth - as Stella Grey does - that women are somehow nobly immune to appreciating the beauty of beautiful younger men:

There seems to be a gender imbalance, vis-a-vis the packaging thing. All the women I know are tolerant of middle age showing itself in a chap. We quite like a late flowering, in fact: the silvering, the smile lines, the coming of bodily sturdiness. We read these as signs that life has been lived and enjoyed. We read them as indicators of substance, of being substantial. In general, men don’t seem to grant us the same courtesy, at least not the men I meet online. They are highly focused on the packaging. It’s disheartening.
Later in the piece, Grey (a pseudonym) specifically refutes the idea that she'd check out 25-year-old men. (25, not underage, even by car-rental standards.) These men, she recalls telling someone, "'have mothers of my age, so it’d be like randily pursuing the children of your friends.'" And, I mean, I'll take her word for this - I'm sure there exist, in the world, heterosexual women who could see a pack of surfer guys walk by in the outfit they wear here, consisting of a half-unzipped wetsuit, tight pants on the bottom, chiseled shirtless torso on top, and not notice.

In all seriousness, I think it's more a case of, women are socialized to deny noticing the surfers (or the London-or-wherever equivalent), while men are socialized not only to admit to noticing, but to pursue equivalent women, regardless of their own age (or surfing ability).

A better situation might be to accept the noticing for the gender-neutral near-universal that it is, while urging friends of both sexes to be realistic about who will date them, and whom they'll have anything in common with. And the way to get there would be to stop with the (pardon my jargon) patriarchy-affirming insistence that women are actually more inclined to ogle a man the less he resembles an underwear model.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Today in YPIS

-Students at NYC private schools are studying their own privilege, reports Kyle Spencer. The obvious: if unearned advantage were a problem for private schools and their supporters, private schools would cease to exist. The students would switch to the public school system, where everyone's on 100% financial aid, and where rich kids can't help but be exposed to kids less rich than themselves. (Also: remember that private schools, at least last time I checked, are including Asian and Asian-American students in their "non-white" figures. The counting goes otherwise in commentary on the city's public schools.)

But here's the most interesting bit:

Educators charged with preparing students for life inside these schools, in college and beyond, maintain that anti-racist thinking is a 21st-century skill and that social competency requires a sophisticated understanding of how race works in America.
This tells us either a) that the entire privilege-acknowledging project is actually about further perpetuating privilege, or b) that it needs to be sold as such to skeptical parents who'd otherwise protest, and who are indeed sending their kids to private school in order to perpetuate family privilege. I mean, who's to say the people running the workshops don't wish these kids were in public school? More investigation is required...

-Anatomy of a YPIS cycle: Blogger calls out obliviousness, only to be called out for own obliviousness. Jessica Coen brings Jezebel readers' attention to the leaked cover letter of a job applicant (unnamed, thank goodness). In the cover letter, the applicant uses his or her past experience working in a bridal salon to explain why he or she would be right for a crime-victim-advocate-type position. Coen frames this in terms of bridal-industrial-complex obliviousness - how insensitive that someone would conflate stressed-out brides and actual, you know, victims.

But no! The commenters point out that Coen herself is oblivious to how job searches, especially entry-level ones, work. You have to draw connections between the work you've had and the job you're applying for. Is it really such a social-justice move to make someone feel bad for using a retail job as a stepping stone to a do-gooder one?

But so it goes in YPIS. It's a conversation that takes place among people all of whom are interested in calling out obliviousness. But once that's the thing you're doing, people will be hyperaware of your obliviousness.

-How's this for the first-world problem of the day? The running sneakers I like the appearance of are never the ones that actually fit well enough to go running in. Note: it's not the flashy colors I object to, but the way they're inevitably combined.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

So many feelings

Huh! I wrote something that people seem to generally agree with. (It's my thoughts on feelings journalism - the long and edited version.) Good for my ego, bad for fueling a furious comment thread, but I can live with that.

Feelings journalism, to be clear, isn't when a writer offers up his or her own feelings in lieu of reporting. It's when a writer puts thoughts into the head of another person, real or imagined.

Now, I'm not an anti-feelings-journalism absolutist. Sometimes it *is* interesting to know what a journalist thinks someone else is thinking, or would think. If it's clear that we're in the realm of an author's imagination, if it's done carefully, it can work. (Again, the Wadler-ice-floe example.)

The problem is when the imagined thoughts are the story. Or: when the tone suggests more is known than is. Worst is when there was a specific person who might have been, but wasn't, interviewed. It definitely strikes me as worse if the imagined feelings are those of a real person (named especially, but also if it's just the guy sitting next to you on a plane, at a movie) than if it's a clearly invented person. (Ms. Ice-Floe.)

Perhaps that's what the unofficial rule should be - it's fine to speculate on the feelings of rhetorical constructions, but not of actual people. This is separate, then, from the question of what place, if any, rhetorical constructions should have in journalism. But the goal shouldn't be eliminating creative-writing, "Shouts and Murmurs"-type pieces - it should be making sure that they aren't posing as - or filling the role of - reported ones.

More on this later, maybe. In the mean time, I suppose what I'm saying is that I both get why people write these pieces and why such pieces get people so worked-up.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The self demands promotion

-In the New Republic, I argue that professors shouldn't blog negatively about students, reacting to Conor Friedersdorf's piece and several others. I'd written in the past about instructors who make fun of their students online - the hilarious-error genre that will be familiar to you if you have friends who teach. While student mistakes can be the stuff of great comedy, it screws up the teaching environment if students who mess up risk not only low grades but mockery from the people supposedly helping them learn.

The case I talk about in this article is different - a tenured professor, John McAdams called out a grad student for a classroom-management decision she'd made. Because she wasn't his student, and because the behavior he was criticizing was her instruction of undergrads, he seemed to think he could take her on as a fellow college instructor, or as an investigative journalist, or as some bizarre hybrid.

-And for a video of me chatting with Aryeh Cohen-Wade about viral shaming, European Jews, and the "cool girl," click here.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Feelings journalism

Joyce Wadler says here exactly what I was trying to get at here, only better. The difference between sophisticated, sex-positive (Dan Savage-approved) entertainment and mainstream may be overstated. More on this later, perhaps elsewhere.

Katie Johnson, meanwhile, offers supporting evidence for the phenomenon Amanda Hess discussed, wherein the "50 Shades of Grey" franchise relies on the hate-fandom of people whose hate-enjoyment comes from setting themselves apart from the "constructed Other of the ‘vanilla’ housewife," as some "50 Shades" scholarship (cue the CCOA outrage that such a thing exists) brilliantly if jargonishly puts it.

Johnson's review of the new movie is feelings journalism taken to the extreme. Based on the fact that her fellow movie-goers were wearing sequined clothing and various observations (or stereotyped assumptions, it's unclear) about the town where she saw the film, she projects all kinds of attitudes onto the audience:

If you’re going to spend two plus hours watching one dimensional characters act out the not so nuanced fetishes of handcuffs and ass slapping, you might as well go somewhere where you can enjoy the show around you. 
In our case, that show consisted primarily of women. Most had come in groups, presumably to dilute their feelings of guilt and embarrassment, while others had their submissives – er, boyfriends – in tow.
 Emphasis mine. It continues:
We opted out of the Valentine’s Day weekend screenings because we weren’t interested in seeing conservative couples taking note on how to spice up their holy sanctioned marriages. Instead we showed up on a Thursday night, opening night, because we wanted to see the die hards; the fans who felt obliged to see their unspoken favorite series brought to the big screen, the ones who left the kids at home and told their husbands they were at book club.
These details - the spicing of marriages, the book-club evasions, are things Johnson has, by all accounts, made up. Not "made up" in the Scandal In Journalism sense, but made up in the unhelpful-speculation one. It's one thing to say something like this to set the scene (and if an author wishes to situate herself as hipper-than-thou, I mean, it can work, but it's dicey, given the YPIS accusations it invites), and another to spend an entire piece attributing views to a group of people you haven't interviewed, based on what they seemed as if they might be thinking. It makes me think of the thing in - allow me a mass-market moment here - Gone Girl, where Nick and his sister - both back home in Missouri after stints in NY - decide to call their bar The Bar, ironically, thinking their cleverness will go over the heads of the rustic locals. It does not.

But back to Johnson's review. There's more along these lines - e.g., "I spent the majority of a sex scene involving whips watching the 60-year- old man behind me stare open eyed and open mouthed as his wife held his hand" - but this was the clincher:
[J]udging by the enrapt faces of the audience members, something told me they could have cared less about the emotional complexities of Anastasia and Christian’s relationship. I looked around the room during the the film’s raciest moments and registered looks of secret acknowledgment and endearing shock. They were completely absorbed by acts that are never discussed in casual conversation, or not in Mesa anyway.
Now, one might point out that Wadler's piece, which I thought was fabulous, is also the product of the author's imagination. Both pieces are examples of fiction in journalism. But... we're not meant to actually believe Wadler had an encounter with "a young woman on an ice floe." Whereas Johnson's presenting her speculation as fact.

Ugly women, unconventional-looking men

Just after telling a woman that she should settle for the guy she's with because she's in her mid-30s and not getting any younger, Emily Yoffe fields a letter from a man who describes himself as "ugly." He explains that he has everything else going for him - work, workouts, clothes, hobbies - but is so unattractive that women won't date him. His question is whether he should get cosmetic surgery.

Yoffe allows that there are such things as "actual facial deformit[ies]," but doesn't seem to believe it's possible for a man to just be ugly:

There are plenty of women who would go for the guys on this list of “actors who aren’t very attractive” (I’m winking at you, Paul Giamatti). A man who is happy in his career, who is seeking a committed relationship (and who cooks and can serenade), should have had many second dates. I doubt the problem is your looks, so going under the knife for cosmetic reasons will just leave you a lonely, different-looking version of yourself. So you need to figure out what’s really going wrong.
Normally, advice-columnists take letter-writers at their word. Not here. Yoffe deems unattractiveness implausible, but suggests he might "fall somewhere on the autism spectrum"! I mean, he might, but nothing in the letter suggests as much.

Yoffe's right that plastic surgery's probably a mistake - as it is for most, male or female, if only because elective surgery, ugh. But separate from the question of whether surgery should - or could - improve dude's looks is the one of whether physical unattractiveness is possible in a man. And... why wouldn't it be? Yes, looks are subjective, and yes, most people are within normal limits. A further yes - yes, sometimes people grow into their looks at unexpected ages.

But some people - men and women - are found plain-looking by the vast majority of people they meet. It minimizes the pain the men in that situation experience to suggest that their troubles in love can't actually relate to their looks. It can.* But it also - especially in conjunction with that earlier letter - suggests that women ought to be grateful for any man who's reasonably upstanding.

I wonder how Yoffe would have answered the same question from a woman. While I doubt she'd have recommended surgery there, either, she might have advised a trip to the Clinique counter. That is, I doubt if she'd have entirely dismissed the possibility that looks were at least part of it.

*The ease with which very good-looking men succeed in dating is the subject of a really spot-on scene in "House." It culminates with Chase getting the most interest by far, despite having put on an unappealing act, and despite the well-above-average attractiveness of the men he was with. Fiction, yes, but I link to it only because of the logistical and ethical problems with linking to real-life examples of any such phenomenon.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Californian fashion commentary UPDATED

-There's a woman in the coffee shop I'm sitting in wearing the nicest dress I've ever seen, ever. Can't quite describe it (a pattern is involved), but it's perfect. There's also a 98% chance it's from Japan (I can hear the language the women are speaking, among other clues), and an 198% chance it wouldn't look nearly as good on me. That said, on my or their way out, whichever comes first, if I summon the courage, I'm going to ask where it's from. Fingers crossed that the answer will be "the Old Navy down the street."

Mid-post update: I asked! And yes, from Japan. (In blue, but that's definitely the style, confirmed by the woman wearing it.) The quest beings...

UPDATE: This is the dress, in the right color and everything. Not made for my body type, I now see, but gorgeous.

-If you imagined Cupcakes and Cashmere was all Emily Schuman, you... were making a reasonable assumption. Personal blogs that expand take different approaches to acknowledging said expansion The one I worked for, as the careful reader may recall, used a masthead. It wasn't spelled out who did what, but it was clear that a group of people were involved, and who they were. Some go with bylines. Others with some mix. Still others just morph into publications.

I was of course interested to see Schuman introducing her staff, but couldn't quite say what to make of what I can only assume was her choice to mention them only by first name. It's like a quasi-credit. It feels sort of breezy and feminine and on-brand and... odd. A little less so for the recent college grad whose first real job this is than for the woman who's "been an L.A.-based editor for the entirety of [her] career."

Dependent but paraben-free

Like Miss Self-Important, I was baffled by Eric Posner's call for for declaring college students children. The biggest issue with it for me, though, was something much more basic, namely the vagueness surrounding whether the idea would be to treat college students or all individuals of traditional-college-student age as minors:

Society seems to be moving the age of majority from 18 to 21 or 22. We are increasingly treating college-age students as quasi-children who need protection from some of life’s harsh realities while they complete the larval stage of their lives.
It would be one thing if we as a society acknowledged the difficulties of becoming a self-supporting adult by 18, and the existing effective-majority of 21 (adult socializing is legally out of bounds for 18-20-year-olds), and decided to move The Age up by a few years. It might not be the best idea - if we let the 'the brain only fully develops at...' crowd pick an age, they'll go with 50 - but it would be, as I say, one thing. It would be another entirely to declare 18-22-year-old college students children, while maintaining 18 as the age of majority for the non-student population. It would be writing into law an existing norm, though, of a class-based age of majority.

This is, as others (Elizabeth Nolan Brown? a NYT op-ed? both?) have brought up, already an issue when it comes to campus rape. College-age women are evidently less likely to be victims of rape if they're college students, but the cultural conversation is about college sexual assault - especially cases at elite schools. One might also point to the issue of juvenile offenders (generally not from the most advantaged backgrounds) tried as adults - there's no upper-middle-class equivalent. Privilege - that amorphous buzzword - can be summed up as, at what age will society consider you an adult? If the answer's over 40, you're positively drenched with the stuff.

Except... is it actually advantageous to be a dependent at the age when your first gray hairs appear? It's advantageous to have the option - that is, to have a safety net if things have gone wrong. But are endless years of dependency desirable?

In a very interesting article of hers that Miss Self-Important links to, she points to "descriptions of emerging adulthood as something that one is 'supposed to have' [and that] soon enough slip into talk of emerging adulthood as a right, and one that government programs are obliged to provide for everyone." She's skeptical: "And what more important use of tax revenues is there than to level the emerging-adulthood playing field so that the less fortunate can have equal access to a year or two of aimless hipsterdom after college?"

This is already the case when it comes to the cultural conversation about unpaid (or negatively-paid) internships. These internships tend not to be necessary for entering well-paid fields, nor (last I checked stats on this) do they up the chances of getting paid employment. But rather than discussing them as yet another foolish undertaking of the pampered classes, another way well-off parents hurt their kids while trying to help them - as we very well might have done - we refer to them as the epitome of privilege. We ask how we can extend the ability to work for free for an indefinite period of time to all.

The obvious counterargument would be, well, college. It's now quite generally accepted... not necessarily that every individual should go to college (although that's a popular view with political support), but that no one should be prevented from doing so for socioeconomic reasons.

But the thing is, not everything common among elites is better. For that matter, not everything common among elites is conducive to perpetuating elite-ness! Some highbrow habits are conducive to regression to the mean. Going to college, getting and staying married, these have advantages. But the elite thing of researching the ingredients of all food and cosmetics products, this seems mainly to encourage women to stay out of the workforce, with dubious benefits to their paraben-spared offspring. Related: the elite thing of not vaccinating one's children. I'd lump unpaid internships and ever-emerging adulthood into that same category.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Barcelona market value UPDATED

Whenever I read a real-life account of romantic-comedy style pursuit, I can only hope that what I'm look at is a revisionist history of the early days of the relationship. That is, one that casts the man as the stubborn suitor, the woman as the gorgeous-but-passive object of his affections, rejecting his romantic advances until finally deciding to give the guy a chance. This is the most generous way to read such narratives. If you take them literally, they're at best objectifying (in that one-sided, woman-as-object way) and at worst borderline frightening. But if you read them as partial truths - presumably the man would have shown some interest along the way - they make more sense. For whatever reason, it's seen as insulting to a woman to speak of her relationship as having emerged from mutual attraction.

That is, at any rate, the best I was able to come up with re: UPDATE Arthur (thank you commenter Peter!) Brooks's op-ed intro here:

She was 25. I was 24. We spent only a couple of days together and shared no language in common. But when I returned to the United States from that European music festival, I announced to my parents that I had met my future wife. 
Of course, I had to convince Ester first. So I tackled the project as if it were a start-up. I began by studying Spanish. Before long, I’d quit my job and moved to her native Barcelona — where I knew no one except her — in hot pursuit. The market pressure was intense: Men would shout wedding proposals to her from moving cars. But I pressed on, undeterred. It took two years to close the deal, but she finally said yes, and we married.
As some of the commenters to the piece gently mention, what he's describing sounds like stalking. But I doubt that's it - I think it's about the narrative. A lot is left out - did he move to Barcelona for a woman he found attractive, or for one he'd already formed an intense relationship with (i.e. Ethan Hawke would play him, Julie Delpy her, in the movie version)? Were two years spent chasing her down, proposing daily, or, you know, dating her, during which time they probably both realized they were serious about each other, even if he's the one who eventually proposed? 

Then, of course, there's the rest of the op-ed, which is about how everyone needs to put down the smartphone and live in the moment (generic if sound advice), but also how one should apply the principles of entrepreneurship to romance. But I don't think the advice is aimed at women, entrepreneurial or otherwise: "This Valentine’s Day, don’t be a risk-averse wimp. Be bold. Treat love as if it were a start-up that will change the world. When you find your target, focus mindfully, and push through the fear." No one would ever refer to a man a woman was interested in, but who had yet to reciprocate, a "target." I might go so far as to say that no one of any gender should be referring to love interests as targets.

The narrative is meant to flatter women. Maybe some find it flattering. I can't decide whether I find it more creepy, patronizing, or silly, but I guess I'm not its target audience. 

At the end of the piece, in a final shout-out to outrage-prone feminists (and I'm including people who became thus halfway into his piece), he adds, of his pursuit: "Believe me, it’s worth it. After 23 years of marriage and three kids, men still shout to my wife from cars when we visit Barcelona." A marriage, you see, is a success if your wife doesn't let herself go, and if she continues to be catcalled in middle age.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Cool Girls are GGG

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn's novel, is the story of a woman in her 30s who turns herself into the ideal girlfriend and, later, wife. Who does this so thoroughly that she ends up in what "Seinfeld" fans will recognize as a "serenity now" situation - that is, she's bottled up her actual feelings to the point that when they emerge, they do so with tremendous and dangerous force. Some of what "ideal" involves is predictable, clichéd - she maintains a small dress size and, when asked to uproot her life for her husband and to take on new caring responsibilities, does so without complaint.

But passive and beautiful is no longer enough. Today's ideal is a "Cool Girl" - that is, one who likes guy stuff (yay sports! boo shopping!) while looking flawless and feminine. (See of course Amy Schumer's parody. See also Flavia's commentary.) Under a façade of feminism and empowerment - girls don't have to like girly things! down with consumerism! makeup is gross! - women engage in the not-especially feminist act of going out of their way please men. The frustrating aspect about Cool Girl-ism is that it looks so much like liberation. From the outside, the two can be just about impossible to tell apart. (It's not necessarily Cool Girl if a woman on the slimmer end of the spectrum eats more than a leaf of lettuce. The myth of the slim woman who subsists on air is at least as damaging as the one of the effortlessly slim woman who can't get enough cheeseburgers. Not that there aren't slim women who eat very little or very much but... you know what I mean.)

You'll see that in the much-discussed Cool Girl speech, Amy Elliott includes, among the Cool Girl's traits, an enthusiastic appreciation of what just so happen to be classic hetero male sexual fantasies. A Cool Girl is sexually adventurous, but not really - her sense of adventure is about eagerly consenting to anything a man suggests, or anticipating a man's desires. Considering the plot of Gone Girl, one might add to this that a Cool Girl looks the other way when her husband's having an affair - it's just male second nature to see that one's wife is a bit older than she used to be and to sleep with someone younger!

I thought about this when I saw Dan Savage heap praise upon (and semi-claim credit for, not unjustly) a recent scene from "Broad City." The show has its Cool Girl moments, and the scene in question is one of them. Is it about a woman feeling empowered to try something new in the bedroom? Or is it about a woman doing something a man has asked her to do, something where there's (not to get too technical here) something in it for him but not for her.

And this brings me to my qualms about Savage's approach more generally. A lot of what he advocates - not all - amounts to asking straight women to cheerily agree to men's sexual requests. I say "amounts to" - he advocates this in gender-neutral terms, while admitting that women are socialized not to make requests of their own. And... as the "Broad City" clip only further demonstrates, Savage's ideas are more or less synonymous with what sex-positive means in our culture.

Extraordinary descriptions of ordinary occurrences

-Yesterday I - I! - drove to Los Angeles and, crucially, back from Los Angeles as well. Around it, too, even, a little bit. My husband (and former driving instructor) was with me, which was particularly helpful when I was driving on whichever part of the freeway has like 20 different lanes on either side of you. Given the driving involved, L.A. itself was a bit of a blur. We had some (all excellent) ice cream at Carmela, coffee at Dinosaur, Thai food at Wat Dong Moon Lek,  Korean BBQ at Eight. I think I ate (and spent) enough for this entire month in California in one day.

There was also a halfhearted attempt at clothes-shopping. Which is to say, I tried to go where the five minutes of where-do-my-favorite-bloggers-most-of-whom-seem-to-live-in-L.A.-now-that-I-think-of-it shop? research directed me (this trip was, as you might gather, spontaneous), but this one boutique that sounded very promising turned out to be... exactly how I now see the Yelp reviewers found it, which is to say, ridiculously expensive and hipster-parody-ish.

-After reading so much about it (the "cool girl" speech especially), I decided the time had come to read Gone Girl. It was a complete page-turner, as in, it was difficult to put it down as I was reading it. It had a lot that held my attention apart from, you know, the suspense. Specifically the parental-overshare angle. The book does suggest that writing fiction about your kid can be as damaging as non-fiction, at least if it's more fictionalization than fiction-fiction. Much of the story ends up hinging on this. Well, that and the "cool girl" thing - Amy Elliott is so chill that she cheerily moves from New York to rural Missouri, where she can't find work, so that she can care for the aging parents of her cheating husband. (There may be thoughts on the intersection of "cool girl" and "monogamish" forthcoming.)

The only thing that bothered me was that Amy makes no sense as coming from New York. She's from a demographic of native New Yorkers that exists in entertainment - I'm thinking especially of "Gossip Girl" - in which Manhattan-ness means being the too-cool-for-school popular girl from an all-American high school. I couldn't figure out where she fit into any actual part of the New York population of the years when she's supposed to have grown up. She's this posh woman with family money, but the money was made from bestselling children's books. Yet that somehow lands Amy into something like a WASP upper-crust ice-queen status, and not, like, Zabars-and-Fairway country.

OK, and one other thing... I wouldn't say bothered me, exactly, but it's something I wondered about. I kind of get why literary fiction is so often about writers. I wish it weren't, but it sort of is what it is. But a mainstream suspense-type novel, does that also have to be about Brooklyn writers' parties, even if it quickly moves elsewhere? 

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Women and comedy

(Spotted near the place where I returned the emptied-into-the-sink green juice bottle for the $2 refund. Photo includes a finger-selfie for good measure.)

-I've (finally) seen "Broad City" - the web series and a couple episodes. I feel as if I'm supposed to say it's better than "Girls," but I think it's more that the protagonists are more likable. If at times a little too likable - not "cool girls" exactly, but maybe a bit? 

As with other sketch comedy, it's hit or miss, but more hit than is typical. But those first few episodes of "Girls"... I mean, there's a reason they use a photo of Lena-as-Hannah to illustrate every article about millennials. Capturing a zeitgeist isn't the same as accurately representing the experiences of people your age. While "Broad City" does better at the latter (esp. the depiction of the extent to which first jobs, however advertised, tend to involve cleaning bathrooms), "Girls" has the former figured out. 

-A different sort of humor can be found in the comments to a recent profile of Lululemon's founder. In an odd way, the thread amounts to an ad for the brand, if only because the counterarguments to the commenters' objections come so easily. Objections being things like, you can work out in cheaper clothes as well (yes, but you can also go to work in thrifted business attire, to parties in H&M sale rack outfits, yet we don't find it baffling when people spend a bit more in those areas, even though there, too, there's a mix of marketing and the more expensive things actually being nicer). Or that it's offensive that the pants are designed to make women look good to men (yes, how dreadful... and how likely to inspire readers who'd never heard of the make before to go to its website). 

My favorite, though, are the comments from women who'll have you know that their butts look good in cheap leggings. (OK, those, and the one from a woman who on principle won't buy clothes from a store that doesn't make larger sizes, but she - let the record state! - is a six.) A professor of mine in grad school would always talk about "the terms of the debate" and, well, these commenters aren't exactly changing those. A shapely rear remains the goal. And if it's a choice between working out twelve times a week or paying up for leggings that give the illusion you do (or that you've convinced yourself do this), I wouldn't be so quick to assume the fools are the ones in luxury stretch pants.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Reverse "Annie Hall"

For some reason, this morning I was feeling especially, hopelessly, perhaps even a bit euphemistically New York. A brilliant plan to combine getting a croissant with going to a supermarket in the croissant-having strip mall didn't take into account rush-hour traffic, plus I wasn't entirely sure which freeway exit I wanted - not such an odd situation, perhaps, but in the moment it felt overwhelming. But I got there fine, parked in one of those slanted parking spots that are made for people who got higher than a C in physics but you get used to them, and went to sit outside amongst the fluffy dogs and coughing blond children while enjoying said croissant and a cappuccino.

While I'm not joking about the coughing, the overall vibe was very blond and wholesome. At one point I glanced over and saw the blondest and most wholesome scene I ever had (and I've spent a lot of time in Germany!), involving three generations of blonds and their Golden Retriever.

And then came the part this post's title comes from: Rather than imagining that I was being seen as a Hasid, I looked up and saw two more wholesome Californians heading into the supermarket I was about to go to, dressed like so. Which - as per the link - isn't out of the ordinary, given that there are Franciscan monks about. But for a moment I really did wonder if I was somehow Grammy Hall-ing a couple surfer dudes.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Green beverages

A photo posted by Jo Bovy (@jo.bovy) on
Yes, I did it. I tried green juice. While the one I tried was probably as good as green juice gets - it's the one the woman at the green-juice place said is the most popular green juice, and has apple juice and ginger mitigating the kale - it's not for me. According to my husband, who'd tried a different green juice before, this was one of the better ones. It's possible we'd have both enjoyed it more (no way I was going to attempt the entire thing on my own; as it stands, half of a no doubt now-gone-off green juice remains in our fridge, as a souvenir of sorts) had we not gotten it immediately after tacos, which were, in turn, immediately after pastries. A juice cleanse this was not; perhaps if you're really hungry, it's more appetizing? Something about the aftertaste - celery? romaine? - set off my gag reflex.

That said, it was less weird than I was expecting. More... snake-oil-ish. I mean, it's some liquid in the general family of gazpacho or V8. It's not a new, exciting product, but vegetable juice or, with the addition of ginger, vegetable soup.
A photo posted by Phoebe Bovy (@phoebe_bovy) on
That said, sometimes it pays to be suggestible. Inspired by someone I follow on Instagram, I got a matcha latte, which was quite good. I went with soy milk, thinking that would somehow go together, and I think it did. Different from, but not necessarily worse than, regular (that is, milk-free) matcha. Vastly, vastly better than green juice, but with that same "health, health, health, darling" aesthetic appeal.

Friday, January 30, 2015

"Nuts, how many in one serving?"

Elle addresses a topic new to women's magazines: what is it, exactly, that's "making us all fat"? Who exactly is meant by this first-person-plural isn't clear - the accompanying photos (of models, of the author) show slender women. Are we really all fat? In womensmagazineland (and Elle is usually the best of the bunch!), yes, we really are all fat. All of us are works in progress, in need of some kind of cleanse or lifestyle change or euphemistic improvement. Or so it was - the pendulum seems to have swung, and we're no longer in euphemism territory. We're back where we started, with already-slim women shaming one another for having not chucked entire food groups. Women's mags, too, have joined the backlash against PC, and are now back to triggering disordered eating through a more direct approach.

Two things jumped out at me about the piece. The first was the title (or maybe just the Twitter title, Twitter being where I found it), which had something to do with "green juice," which is apparently making all of us fat. Even those of us who still haven't gotten around to trying it. The strip mall with the Japanese supermarket and Trader Joe's won out as today's excursion. But I shouldn't get complacent; sushi is also making us fat. And bagels, although that's not going to surprise anyone who's ever come across an article of this genre before.

Actually, Justine Harman's framing of this piece - which is an interview with a lecturer in This Is Why You're Fat Studies - is brilliant. The gist of it is that all of the "Cleaneatalian" foods are - paradoxically - the ones that are making us fat. Skim lattes, green juice, and almonds - almonds! - are the problem. (Typing this reminded me of some almonds a few feet away; they're now at hand. Said almonds are at this very moment in the process of making me fat.) Of course, what sort of "problem" are we talking about? The article's aimed at the kind of woman who is not, in fact, fat. Or it's aimed at flattering the reader into thinking she's already slim but could be thinner still. It's not (just), in other words, a service-journalism piece alerting readers that the proverbial lowfat Snackwells are actually more fattening than fruit, especially if you respond to the reassuring packaging by eating the entire package. It's more along the lines of, you think you're doing everything? You're not - there's more.

Which brings us to the other thing that jumped out: Harman describes the diet-peddler she's interviewing as "the kind of glowing brunette you might see shopping at Whole Foods in lightweight cashmere while you're wearing your linty Lulus and snacking on Snapea Crisps." This is some of the most impeccable lifestyle writing I've ever seen. Harman managed to make wearing Lululemon to Whole Foods sound shabby.


Dashka Slater's article about a let's say hate-motivated crime on a bus illustrates the challenges of writing that type of piece. The story's both upsetting and timely - timely, that is, because it's about two different left ideologies being in conflict. Who gets your sympathy - the agender middle-class white teen who was set on fire and is now doing better but was still, you know, set on fire? or the teen who set the other kid on fire, who's black, working-class, and a self-identified homophobe? Or maybe they should just both get neatly-divided equal amounts of your goodwill - both being Others in this harsh and unforgiving world. Or maybe... setting someone on fire (the details are chilling) is sufficiently terrible as to fall outside the usual privilege analysis? Maybe?

Reading the comments - which take the author's lead in their approach - you'd think that the kid who'd lit the other kid on fire had, I don't know, failed to use the proper, liberal-arts-college language to refer to agender individuals. And not... set such an individual on fire. (Nice touch, though, how the one kid's lawyer refers to the victim as a boy in a skirt.) This isn't about cultural relativism, and how different communities understand gender, and the need (which does exist!) to be understanding of those not up-to-date on the cutting edge of gender self-identification. It's about violence. The right to, I don't know, publish offensive cartoons, shop at a kosher supermarket, or ride the bus as a gender-non-conforming teenager and not be physically assaulted.

And to those who point out that they, too, engaged in teen hijinks, and that their hijinking-while-white privilege saved them from falling into the criminal justice system... yes, that's a very worthwhile conversation to be having (and that is being had, if not nearly enough) about things like pot, underage drinking, shoplifting, etc. About attempted murder? Let me think about this for a moment... no. This is not a case where a no-big-deal act has been overblown because of racism. It's one where we can all well imagine getting angry if a white kid committed an equivalent crime and didn't get into sufficient trouble.

That said, nuance is needed, because of the issues (to put it mildly) with trying underage teens as adults. But this is a question of how a society should respond when someone under 18 commits a terrible crime. The answer to that question can't possibly be reducing everything a 16-year-old does to the status of "prank."

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Why drive when you can write about it?

-I was just alerted to Adam Gopnik's learning-to-drive-as-an-adult essay: "There’s a rich literature about learning to drive written by women, for whom it represents a larger emancipation from the feminine roles of enforced passivity, of sitting in place and accepting helplessness," writes Gopnik, surprising those of us who'd thought that literature consisted of Katha Pollitt's essay and various failed attempts at reinventing that power-steering wheel. Gopnik has instead produced some learning-to-drive literature for men, which involves unfurling a long  New Yorker essay (sample observation: "Writing a book seemed as mysterious a process to him, one as much in need of elaborate advance and afterthought, as driving a car was to me.") about wanting to drive to Cape Cod (not the Hamptons), and feeling (but not actually being) privilege-checked by a road-test examiner of the black and female persuasion.

Now, my learning-to-drive essay, which I will sell to the highest bidder, will be quite different. It won't be a tale of feminist triumph, at least not in the usual sense - I had to learn because I'd relocated for my husband's work, and he's the one who taught me. (That means no folksy story about connecting with the Common Man via driving lessons.) Nor will it end, as Gopnik's discreetly does, with an announcement that, the license now secured, the time has come to muse about it over however many thousand words, but not to actually, like, use it to drive somewhere. Getting the license is not quite the same as learning to drive. That's the main takeaway from the last two years of my life, and most especially of the last few days.

-Speaking of driving (are there other topics?), this evening was my first time ever pumping gas. While my husband helped me figure it out, I'd already been prepping, which is to say I Googled it and watched a couple YouTube videos. I also read the comments to those videos from incredulous and vaguely irritated people who can't fathom how anyone (who'd be in a position to need to know) wouldn't already know how. I also read the other comments that offered the very reasonable explanation: New Jersey law. It's not about having a butler who does this for you or whatever it is these commenters might imagine.

-Also on the agenda: trying this green juice they speak of. It sort of must be done, for when-in-Rome purposes. I'm working my way to it slowly - I got a soy espresso drink one day, which was actually quite tasty in a yuba sort of way, and am making my way through tremendous amounts of non-pulverized fruits and vegetables (and chocolate croissants). I want the full aesthetic experience, which involves leggings and green juice. I want to announce - on the basis of pseudoscience - that I glow.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Several items of varying importance

-The Big Essay about the new political correctness has been written and responded to at great length all over the internet. See Miss Self-Important, or see Chait's essay. I haven't been online as much as usual lately (more on that in a moment), so all I know is that this is now the topic. And... I know I once had thoughts on it, but I'm maybe a bit YPIS'd out. The problem with YPIS, PC, or whatever we're calling it is principally that it's an internal argument on the left. As such, it has no hope of convincing anyone on the right of anything, other than perhaps that the left is, indeed, ridiculous. I say this as someone on the left.

-Andrew Sullivan has stopped blogging. Obviously a big deal in terms of journalism, blogging, politics. A specific big deal to me as well, seeing as I worked at the Dish, but also as one of the many bloggers inspired by Andrew's example in those early blogging days. I wish all my former colleagues there the best. While I don't agree with every single political position Andrew has taken, I... got to post my own thoughts on Zionism, female sexuality, and more during the guest-blogging (now out from behind the paywall, it seems), so I can vouch for the Dish's openness to dissent firsthand.

-If my thoughts on everything are a bit fuzzy, it's because today was kind of all over the place. I went running in the morning and got... not lost, exactly, but went much further than I meant to, and ended up in some kind of surfing enclave. I'm not sure I'd ever seen surfing before, at least not surfing-culture surfing, the kind that involves blond dreadlocks, yet there it was.

But the big adventure was driving around alone on the freeway. The real one this time - the 101. I even took one freeway to another freeway at one point. Once I was doing this, it hit me that these are just roads, and that what I was doing was if anything less complicated than the driving I normally do. But it felt as if a whole world was opening up. I'd say I should have done this ages ago, but my sense is that while the driving I'm doing now may prepare me to take the NJ Turnpike alone to Mitsuwa, the reverse order wouldn't have worked.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The deep end

Before I'd started the process, I'd imagined that learning to drive would be a binary sort of thing. Either you know how to do so - in which case the entire world of driving-related possibilities opens up (all of that "take Exit 3 and bear right") - or you don't, in which case you either live in New York City or sit around waiting for a ride from one of those people who has this magical skill. How wrong I was. There is, in fact, such a thing as semi-knowing how to drive.

What happened back home in New Jersey was I sort of plateaued. I got to the point where I could drive anywhere I absolutely had to, and do so quite well if I may say so myself, but whichever sense of (or tolerance for) adventure took me from being incapable of driving around the block to being fully capable of going 50 miles an hour on a country road... that sense/tolerance didn't extend to any further exploration. Let me give an example: my most frequent "long" drive will be to HMart in Edison. If I'm driving alone, I always go on the 27 and not on Route 1, which would be less direct but much faster. I never turn onto the main drag in New Brunswick along the way, even though it looks like it might be interesting, because I'm convinced I'd get lost and OMG driving. Mostly the car is for supermarkets and, at a distant second, coffee shops. I might say I buy clothes in New York for some chic reason, but honestly it's because driving to the very same mall stores closer by would be too stressful. 

Here in Santa Barbara/Goleta/wherever this is, I find myself plunged into the deep end of the driving experience. If I want to be able to drive anywhere during the day, I need access (of course) to the car, which means dropping my husband off at work and picking him up. This is a short, direct drive in light traffic... but it involves a highway. No! A freeway. Prior to yesterday, I'd been on the highway alone exactly one time - driving from Princeton to Lambertville (and, ahem, back). While that had been uneventful, I hadn't ever seen the need to repeat the experience. (There's... very little in Lambertville.) But there I was yesterday, and again today, suddenly going 65 miles an hour and ahead of me were, like, mountains. This tremendous landscape, and the person driving was... me! That inspired such confidence that I drove all the way from Goleta to Santa Barbara yesterday, without knowing precisely where I'd park, all spontaneous-like. 

The GPS helps - or I should say, helped, since just after I figured out how to use one, it stopped working - but I don't think that's the main thing. It's more... a sense of necessity. I also have a secret city-person advantage - willingness to walk the extra block or so to a main street. This is good both for avoiding having to parallel park (I know, I know) and for not having to pay for parking. While I'm still not at 100%, I seem to have nudged myself from 85% to 95% in record time.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Ranch to mouth

Apologies in advance, East Coast, for what I'm about to say:

I just ate a citrus fruit directly from the tree. I say "a citrus fruit" because I don't know what kind, only that I had permission to take one. It felt very biblical; upon eating it, I came to the sudden realization that I was wearing leggings as pants.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Alvy Singer 2.0

Today was most unusual in WWPD history. It included:

-Driving on the freeway. In California. With me driving. Uneventful (thus far, knocks on wood, prays to all the world's deities) but challenging because this was my first real experience driving a car other than my own. (Driving lessons don't count.)

-Impulse-purchasing a giant (Zutano?) avocado at a farmers market, basically because it seemed amazing that avocado could be a local food. The giant avocado represented not being in New Jersey even a little bit. Bought some limes as well, in part for that reason, and also, of course, to go with that and the regular-sized less-impulsively-selected avocados.

-Having fried-fish tacos for lunch at a Sundays-only pop-up taco place.

-Walking by the Pacific Ocean. (!!!!!!)

-Walking around in leggings and a sweatshirt and finding myself vastly overdressed.

There was some usual as well. I have yet to switch from coffee to green juice, and I've already been to a Japanese supermarket.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Off to Greenjuiceland

I'm going to be spending the next month spousally trailing to Santa Barbara, California. I've never been there before, so if you have and have suggestions, comment away! Thus far my plans include eating fresh local produce and cluelessly asking the rest of America why it isn't spending its winter doing the same.

My main sense about this trip is that having learned how to drive will come in handy. A quirk of learning as an adult, though, is that you can kind of forget that you did. I still have this thing where I automatically ignore whichever suggested directions involve driving - not around here in NJ, where of course that's how I'd do so, but when contemplating being anywhere else. I just immediately go to how one would get from Point A to Point B on foot, maybe by bike - assuming public transportation's not an option. While there are advantages (ecological, toned-ness-ological, cheapnessological) of that approach, my sense of where we're staying is that it's one of those places where you really need to drive. Granted, I've walked across many such places in my day (Tempe, AZ and Los Angeles come to mind), but not absolutely needing to do so seems like it'll be a plus.

Making a go of it

-David Schraub has a fascinating article about British anti-Semitism, the law, and more. Read it.

-Rachel Hills has a sweeping feature about female sexual fluidity. Read that, too. Yes, I arrived at the story with a few preexisting gripes about how the topic is generally covered, but Rachel addressed basically all the ones I might have come up with. Although I do have one remaining question - for Rachel, but also for WWPD readers: Why are the onscreen same-sex couples of erotic interest to straight women lesbians rather than gay men? It makes sense what Rachel found, about straight women being put off by scenarios that are demeaning to women or about enforcing gender roles, but this doesn't explain why two women, as versus two people of the gender to whom straight women are, by definition, attracted. I wonder if - and I realize this is a bleak interpretation - this isn't just a case of women being socialized to look at images of women's bodies, in the non-sexual realm. (Fashion magazines, thigh-envy, etc.)

-Obligatory self-promotion: Today was my radio debut. Veronica Rueckert invited me on "Central Time" on Wisconsin Public Radio to talk about undersharing. Given the number of public-radio podcasts I've listened to while walking Bisou, I figured I'd have some sense of how this sort of thing goes, but was still petrified for the first minute or so. I now have a newfound respect for everyone who goes on these shows and manages not to babble.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

French Jews, French tips UPDATED

-Have questions about French Jewry? I have thoughts. A short version, and a long one; a mid-length one is in the works. Much as a stopped clock is right twice a day, an obscure research topic proves to have broader significance once in however-many news cycles.

-And back to your regularly-scheduled deep thoughts: Philip Galanes seems awfully confident "that hair dye and eighth grade do not mix." He OKs dress-up that involves a wig, but tells a letter-writer to turn his or her 13-year-old daughter's interest in going blonde into a discussion "about depictions of women in society."

I know it's very much the thing to be outraged whenever girls' parents allow them to express traditional femininity, and all self-expression-through-appearance apparently counts as such. We're supposed to lament the era when gender roles and the desire to primp and all that sort of thing managed to hold off until 16 (or 30?). When young boys and girls alike played in the dirt, explored in the woods, built those proverbial forts that so epitomize the ideal childhood. Why can't kids just be kids?

(I see that I repeat myself, but I really do think part of this is the concept of "virgin hair" - as if something sexual and adult happens when hair color is changed. Which... no. It's just hair, and however you dye it, it grows back your natural color.)

While I do see the skepticism surrounding a world in which young children feel entitled to expensive beauty treatments (and professional hair dye, at least, is a splurge, she writes, having just splurged on some), eighth grade seems exactly the right time to be experimenting with at-home Manic Panic, weird nail polish, etc. If not then, when? There's this brief blip of time when you're old enough to want to do such things, but too young to need to look office-appropriate.

Maybe, then, the issue is helicopter parenting. It seems inconceivable today - but didn't in my day - that kids might be bleaching or dyeing their hair unsupervised. These days it would almost have to be at a salon. And salon means the resulting look will be a tasteful, pretty look rather than the kind a 13-year-old could very well have in mind.


Re: helicopter parenting, there's quite the thread here, of commenters recalling their own "free range" childhoods. (So. Many. Forts.) What's frustrating about the comments is that they're each one presented as scrappiness oneupmanship, rather than as examples of how life just was, quite recently. ('My mother let me blow-torch the creme brulee as a toddler!' 'Oh yeah! Mine let me ride a motorcycle without a helmet while in utero!' I paraphrase but slightly.)

There's a huge divide, but it's not about seatbelts or curfews. It's not about today's parents being more fearful than earlier ones. It's about smartphones. It used to be impossible for parents to know what their kids were up to much of the time - even the kids whose parents tried to construct a panopticon out of guilt. Today, everything's documented, and everyone can be in touch at all times. It's become irresponsible not to use one of these devices. A constantly-monitored childhood was always the fantasy of some parents (we all had those classmates...), but is now the default.

Friday, January 09, 2015

And now for something completely unserious

As surprised as I am to say this, a couple years after mostly losing interest in the genre, I have a new favorite personal-style blogger. Madeleine Alizadeh lives in Vienna and (thus) writes in German, but that's neither here nor there. What's exciting for me is that she's the first such blogger I've found who has my build as well as my coloring. She has far better taste than I do, however. Better, but similar, and making her blog the perfect resource for coming up with ways to style what I already own. And that's really what you want in a personal-style blogger - someone who has (give or take) your wardrobe, looks (give or take) like you, but knows how to put outfits together.

So! Outfits I plan to shamelessly copy using clothes I've already got on hand include pairing a button-down shirt with a motorcycle jacket; a loose gray t-shirt with a black pencil skirt; a tough-shade-to-wear blue sweater with black jeans and a navy jacket; camel with navy (yes! it always looks odd, on me at least, with just black); and camel with camel. Oh, and pairing everything with black sunglasses, although I feel this is only a borderline already-own, since I just bought these and have yet to wear them. All of these combinations may sound obvious, but somehow, on a day-to-day basis, they're not.

On France

In light of some recent news, a couple thoughts:

-Americans following this story need to refrain from projecting American notions of race onto France, which has its own history. I, an American Ashkenazi Jew, am white. French Jews who look exactly like me aren't... whatever the equivalent of "white" is in France. The white privilege framework maybe doesn't apply to groups of white-by-US-standards people who are being attacked as a historical scapegoat minority where it is they actually live.

-It's possible both to worry about backlash against Muslims, and to avoid leading with that concern. That said, France hasn't been, ahem, all that fantastic about integrating its Muslim-or-of-Muslim-origin minority. Any analysis of these events that can't get past Terrorism is unlikely (as history has shown) to make much headway. Explain but not excuse and all that.

How to shop your way to frugality

The BBC Woman's Hour has taken on the question of minimalism, bringing in anti-stuff advocate Teresa Belton. At one point Jane Garvey asks Belton about whether all of this let's-get-rid-of-everything is, in a sense, a class luxury - something for those who've always had enough and then some to ponder. Stuff, Garvey was saying (or was this just how I interpreted it?) is perhaps more appealing to those who can't take it for granted. Belton seemed to think Garvey was asking her whether it's materialistic for those who have nothing to dream of a roof over their heads; you'll be relieved to hear that the answer is no.

More frustrating, though, was the discussion throughout of "modest" consumption. "Modest" spenders were asked to call in, and call in they did. Some mention was made of there being a range of what "modest" means, but I'd hardly even classify it as a range. It's like "low-maintenance" - virtually no one's going to admit to being the other way. Everyone (with the exception of cast members of certain reality shows) points to the people who spend - or primp - even more. What's my hair iron and eyeliner compared with that lady's Botox and extensions!*

Anyway, my point is that I don't feel right discussing Cheapness Studies from the perspective of someone who has all the answers. I have yet to be able to teach myself to enjoy eating most legumes, so the proverbial pot of lentils isn't in my repertoire.

But what I will say is that Marie Kondo's thing about how you should love everything you own makes sense. I'd even go so far as to say that (with certain caveats) you should - for frugality's sake - own everything you love. With the I-hope-obvious disclaimer that "love" for objects is different from love for people, although analogies can (and will) be made. A further disclaimer: this is about clothes, makeup, jewelry. If you're a masculine-of-center individual, this may not be the post for you.

So. First, let me reiterate that loving what you own doesn't have to mean shopping at expensive stores. Just as people admire famous actors and models but love their partners, it's possible to appreciate the objective beauty of a Prada dress, while loving a particularly soft and well-cut t-shirt. And (to keep on mining my own shopping history for examples) as much as I can accept that there's beautiful expensive jewelry out there, I remain beyond thrilled with these splurge-for-me earrings I bought over the summer. And while I'm sure there are higher-end versions of the same (Céline? Eileen Fisher?), my grayscale-minimalist wardrobe is mostly Uniqlo with some Muji thrown in. (Note: none of these places paid me to promote them, or sent me free stuff. I should be so lucky.)

But why have, as a goal, owning all the clothes you want? Because - and here's what's either a brilliant thought I had while walking Bisou in the cold without headphones, or nonsense - it defines one's wanty list (credit for that oh-so-useful term, as always, to Kei) as finite. Or, if not finite, then temporarily achievable. Rather than assuming that every season, every lunch hour, you'll discover something new, figure that you have a limited list of things you simply must have. And once you find the pencil skirt or the corduroys, or the cap-sleeved black t-shirts that somehow make you feel like Angelina Jolie, you've checked that box, and the hunt is over. Having this approach doesn't make you immune to wanty-creation upon entering a store or checking out a fashion blog. But it does keep things from getting out of hand. Also: Owning everything you love doesn't mean going out and buying it all at once. Love isn't lust. It needs to be something that you've thought about, mulled over.**

More caveats: Yes, things get worn out, or go out of style. Yes, there's such a thing as the laundry cycle, thus meaning with stuff like t-shirts, you're not buying just the one. And no, you never really know which items you'll end up wearing for years. What I'd say on that front, though, is that you should avoid the ubiquitous advice to purchase "classics" or "basics" (which tend to be the very things where the silhouette will most quickly look dated - jeans and dress shoes especially). Instead, the thing to do if you want to wear something for years is to buy something you love. If you were super-excited to buy the thing, if there was sufficient mulling-over beforehand, you may very well keep on wearing it after it's no longer the thing, or (ahem, Petit Bateau Breton-striped shirts) after it's definitively worn-out.

*Indeed, I sometimes wonder if the point of those reality shows isn't just the straightforward product placement for whichever companies are ostentatiously named, but also to set the bar higher and encourage spending/primping more generally. Not because viewers will emulate the people they see onscreen (fine, some will), but because every indulgence that falls short of what's onscreen starts to look restrained.

**There are certain constraints. If the object is something general - alpine hiking boots, to give an example from my own stash of long-anticipated purchases  - you can wait for ages. But if it's one-of-a-kind - which can include fast fashion, given the turnaround, thus the never-purchased and still-regretted Uniqlo camel cape - you may not have that luxury. Thus why items seen while traveling cause such angst. Or did before globalization and e-commerce meant that those Japanese cosmetics are probably on Amazon.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Status updates: ethical imperative, signaling, or both?

-My thoughts on this day are already summed up in something I just posted to Facebook:

Yes, the NAACP attack should get more coverage. No, the fact that the Paris attack (killing 12, as vs thankfully zero, and with major international implications) is more in the news isn't unreasonable. Nor (ahem, Twitter) should it be interpreted as evidence that The Zionists control the media.
What else can I say? I could add that it's upsetting to me for personal reasons when the staff of a publication that takes a stand against political correctness gets massacred, seeing as I was working at such a place until recently, but I can't imagine anyone in their right mind not being horrified by this.

-Tangentially related: Some journalists responded to my article about Facebook's sharing imperative by asking for more information about where I stand regarding the ethics of refraining to speak out politically on Facebook/social media. I've been giving this a lot of thought, and here's how I see it, at this particular moment in time; thoughts may evolve, or become less rambling...

There's a certain impulse to dismiss political status updates as either smug or pompous, or, conversely, as evidence of a foolish lack of discretion (one never knows what might upset a current or future employer). Armchair commentary has never had a good name, but social-media activism somehow has a worse one, quite possibly because the people status-updating about how a horrible thing in the news is horrible aren't risking much, and may even be motivated by a desire to seem caring or plugged-in, yet may appear to think that they're somehow saving the world.  This had long, at any rate, been my own impulse. As I've believe I've mentioned once or twice before, I'm no great fan of personal-life overshare, and thus tend to be biased in favor of discretion.

But political status updates aren't the same as cover stories about one's own family drama. Yes, it may be "signaling" when people strive to seem plugged-in, but... people should be plugged-in. I'd rather live in a society that gently pressures people (at least those who can do so without losing their livelihood) to speak out, or just to share news stories, than in one that treats social media like a stuffy dinner party, where anything even mildly controversial is to be avoided.

I do feel strongly, however, that no individual should be condemned for withholding any sort of information from any social-networking site - or, indeed, for avoiding these sites altogether. Friend A isn't a racist for failing to post about Ferguson - I mean, Friend A may well be a racist, but that's not good evidence. Publications can be taken to task for ignoring a story, as - I suppose - can demographic groups. Not individuals.

-Also tangentially related: My Tablet profile of Corey Robin, which also deals with questions of social-media political speech, can be found here.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015


There have been brunch protests. They involve black people and non-black allies going into posh brunch places, speaking for a few minutes, then leaving. (From the video I saw, it's approximately as disruptive to brunch as when a live band suddenly starts playing at a coffee shop. No waffles, it seems, were harmed.) Gawker commenters are discussing whether the place anti-racists really want to target is upscale NY restaurants, whose patrons are (the commenters' assumption, ahem, not mine) progressives, and not the predominantly white, working-class establishments where one might (again, paraphrasing the commenters) find racists, cops, racist cops. That line of argument... makes me very pro-protesters.

Because when I first saw something about this, I wasn't sure - it sounded like hipster performance art. Hating brunch is cool, not because brunch is racist, but because it is - for lack of a better term - basic. I mean, this even comes up in an early episode of "Girls" - the Lena Dunham character is assuring her (also-white) on-again off-again dude that she doesn't want a guy to take to brunch.

But taking a broader view, the percentage of people avoiding brunch because they think they're above it is tiny in comparison to those who are avoiding it because it's expensive, because they have to work when it's brunch time (perhaps... at a brunch-serving establishment), because they have family responsibilities, because it's not a thing in their neighborhood, etc. The demographic brunching at these places... the Gawker commenters don't quite have it right. It's not that the customers aren't racist - it's that they probably aren't resentment-racists. It's a safe assumption that they're of the demographic that identifies neither with a young black man shot by the cops nor with the cops.

Protesting at brunch - and not, as the Gawker commenters suggest, a white working-class hangout - is a way of challenging the all-too-common view that systematic racism is upheld by the white people who, all told, benefit the least from (again, for lack of a better term) white privilege. Rather than addressing the GOP set, these protestors are talking to the GOOP crowd. Doesn't seem like a bad idea.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Fiction is better, Installment #748,923

Jessica Valenti has located "the worst man in America." Scott Lemieux has a similar reaction to the dude in question. As does much of the rest of my Twitter feed. These all being writers I like, I had to see what the hubbub was about. And it's about William Giraldi's personal essay about a misspent paternity leave. Specifically, this passage:

My son was born in March, and my sabbatical went from early May to mid-January, which, in a tidy coincidence, is nearly nine months. But since his care was taken care of by his mother—whose apparent willingness and capacity to do almost everything for him flooded me with awe—I spent those nine months trying not to be bored while not writing a novel that was coming due.
And so ensues a gently self-deprecating tale of macho drink-consumption and sloth. What, with a different tone, might have read as a Very Serious confession of alcoholism, or a meditation on the dangers of having too much free time, comes across as "[c]lueless male privilege." Passages like this one don't help:
Okay, the university made me sign a document that swore I’d be incurring more than 50 percent of parental duties. But let’s be honest: even in self-consciously progressive households, it’s a rare new father who does as much baby work as a new mother.
The idea behind paternity leave is, one might imagine, that the other parent - typically the mother, and typically the person who just gave birth - can return to work. It's hard to see past the dismissal of paternity leave and get much out of the various musings the essay kind of feels like it wants to be about. And so begins the first feminist 'Gate of 2015.

Giraldi, meanwhile, is apparently a great fiction writer. Perhaps a better one than he is a personal essayist. And what struck me - of course, and thus the post title - was how much better this story would have worked as fiction. A man who takes paternity leave and finds himself with too much free time, and experiences a brush with substance abuse could be a flawed but compelling character. That the author here is the character does no one any favors.

New material

-Trace Barnhill has brought frugality to Into The Gloss, a site whose usual influence is to make spending $40 on luminizer seem like a great idea. Barnhill makes an interesting point about there being two kinds of thrift:

Some people prefer to cut out personal, almost invisible purchases—things no one else will see but you. You get the generic panty-liners. The veggie Ragu instead of the Italian-import truffle-infused sauce. I’ve personally not had a headboard on my bed since high school, unless the wall counts. Switching to generic allergy drugs. [...] 
But then sometimes it’s the opposite. Sometimes you only want to spend money on things just personally, intimately for you. Your coat can be shabby-chic consignment (and you know it’s actually really ugly), but you’ve got Chanel in your bathroom cabinet. No TV, but unlimited HBO Go. Little secret purchases while on the outside, you’re a quiet, thirsty soul.
I'd never thought about it quite like that before, but it makes sense. I think I fall into the second camp more than I'd like to, but in principle would want to be in the first. I'll very often be found in a pair of $30 corduroys from five years ago, but my cupboard (and, ahem, hair-product collection) shows evidence of splurgy trips to Japanese supermarkets. There's probably some deep, psychological meaning behind which category one falls in, but what that is isn't coming to me at the moment.

-I've been thinking about Miss Self-Important's second resolution from last year: "Get some new ideas so I can stop infinitely repeating things I've already said in my non-academic writing." The appeal of one's old ideas - for me, at least - is that one has thought through every aspect of them. Figured out all the counterarguments. From an impostor-syndrome-ish perspective, this is immensely satisfying. Sure, there will still be the 'this is the dumbest thing I've ever read' brigade on Twitter, but they'll fail to convince the author of his or her (her) own idiocy.

The trouble with a new idea - and I've just given one of those a gamble - is that one hasn't spent months analyzing it. I'm still trying to sort out exactly what I think about certain aspects of the undershare question, and at this point think the most compelling thing about it is that it's even a question.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Day in review

-Slept in.
-Dressed up (that is, wore my better workout-wear) for the elliptical machine, on which I enjoyed some Proust, by which I mean "Millionaire Matchmaker."
-Tried to try out the hipster coffee shop in Highland Park, only to drive the 45 minutes or so and find it closed for maintenance.
-Drove an additional few minutes to Edison for Paris Baguette, which was no great sacrifice. The berry-custard tart is if anything better than it looks.
-Did some work once the wireless kicked in.
-Took note of the excellent highlights on some of my fellow (similarly-dark-haired) customers. Contemplated asking them where one goes to get this done. Decided against - I'm too much looking forward to getting this done in Williamsburg (when? who knows), inconvenient though that may be.
-Bought a milk bread. That it can be done at home doesn't meal I'm about to do it.
-Ate tremendous amounts of hot-pot at Little Sheep. (I can't decide if it's very American or very not American that I suggested this dinner option because it's in the same strip mall as we'd already parked in for Paris Baguette. Lazy, yes, but also a case of reluctance to drive.) Noted to self to skip the tofu skin next time (yuba it's not), but to double up on pea shoots.
-Drove back in the dark, in the rain. Whined about the difficulty of seeing the lane lines. Accepted assessment that my apparent ability to stay in the lane just fine the entire time suggested that I could, in fact, see the lane lines. Drove a good bit under many a speed limit along the way. Got passed on the right.