Category Archives: America

Free To Be … Me: Why Do Other People’s Choices Make Us So Cranky?

America is suffering from an epidemic. No, it has nothing to do with smoking or obesity; it doesn’t even have to do with gun violence.* It has to do with unwonted bitterness and anger toward other people’s choices. No one, it seems, can be comfortable with their own decisions without justifying them by judging and/or dismissing other people’s. The trend is exemplified by Amy Sohn, who, in her recent Awl piece, cheerfully and smugly skewers everyone she knows, saying “we” just enough to allow her to criticize her community while also making it clear that she’s the observant outsider — the Mark Twain of Park Slope, if you will. (“The stoners came back with smug grins and then talked about how good the pot was, like if they didn’t talk about it, it wasn’t quite as rebellious. I decided it was time to go home.”)

Amy Sohn must be an aberration, though, right? Not these days. Everyone, it seems, now has an ax to grind. This piece in Salon is ostensibly about how being single is a legitimate life path, but in actuality drips with scorn for the alternative:

[Married people] aren’t going to pathologize you [single people] for playing around for a protracted amount of time, but eventually you’re going to have to settle. And the marker of success, the end of the romantic story, is riding off into the sunset with that person. But you don’t get to see the next 30 years of boredom, or anxiety, or terror or concern.

Look at that word choice: “Settle,” “boredom,” “anxiety,” “terror,” “concern.” What a revolutionary attitude toward marriage! Freud would be bored out of his mind by this guy. Can’t the institution just not be for him without being, well, terrible?

Slate recently ran a series about women choosing to be “child-free” that was actually about how gross & exhausting babies are. The highlight was this entry, entitled, “No Kids For Me, Thanks: I Don’t Enjoy Alien Parasites“:

So now I cheerfully tell anyone who mentions it—friend, family, co-worker, overly friendly stranger—that no, thank you, I will not have kids/parasites for reasons that will probably insult you. These include eww, gross, I-have-better-things-to-do-with-my-time, and there-are-7-billion-people-in-the-world-why-add-more. But if I can suffer through your alien ultrasound photo on Facebook or grin at your crying kids without vomiting, then you can be grateful that women like me will always be around to organize an occasional girl’s night out and to keep the population in check.

I mean, jeez, “kids/parasites”? “Without vomiting”? For many years, I felt decidedly neutral/negative on the subject of children, and especially on the subject of having them myself, but I never patted myself on the back for not going all Exorcist on someone else’s offspring just because they were making an unpleasant noise.

In Amanda Marcotte’s entry “Children Make you Happier, If Someone Else Does Most of the Work,” Marcotte contributed this gem to the hall of fame: “Not to say people are bad people for having children, but …”

But! Ha. The putting down of people who do marry and/or have kids is a theme of Marcotte’s: See also The Real Reason More Women Are Childless and Two More Reasons to be a Curmudgeonly Childless Marriage Boycotter.

And I refuse to even enter the attachment parenting fray, which has everyone taking up arms against each other on the subject of their choices, except tangentially: in another unhappy man’s case, his wife’s choice to breastfeed (and breastfeed, and breastfeed …) upsets him so much that he has taken his complaints to the Gray Lady. Perhaps he means to raise an interesting point about how a mother’s breastfeeding can affect a family’s dynamic; what he actually does is castigate huge swaths of the population and whine about how his wife’s bond with his son has affected his sex life:

So to all nursing moms, except perhaps those who used a lab technician, I say that the foundation of the parent-child bond is the parent-parent bond. Unlike the baby chicken or the fertilized egg conundrum, partnership precedes parenthood. That’s how you got into this position to begin with: by attracting a man who liked what he saw, and wanted to see more of what even the scientists researching extended breast-feeding call mammaries, not Mommaries.

How furious would you be if you were this strident fool’s wife? I’d probably rather have my husband cheat on me discreetly than slam me in a public forum. Of course, what I’d actually want is for my husband to say to me, “Honey, I totally get that breastfeeding our children serves some important function for both you and them, but can we talk about why he still has your boobs in his mouth? He can’t bring them to school in his lunchbox, after all, so it might be time to start weaning him.”

Also, of course his conclusion starts, “To all nursing moms.” Because sure, why not lump those women in who are struggling with breastfeeding, despite the numerous hurdles, for the suggested minimum 6 months, with women whose founts overflow until the kid is old enough to choose Sunny D from the fridge himself? Our society makes it difficult enough for women to nurse their children without this doofus weighing in that we’re grossing out our husbands, too.

Why the overheated self-justification? Why can’t we say, “You do what’s cool for you, and I’ll do what’s cool for me?” Why the rancor, which is just guaranteed to get everyone else reaching for their rhetorical Uzis? Isn’t it kind of exhausting?

The triggering event for this round up was my seeing, this past Sunday in the New York Times, a bitter troll complaining about how, now that his gay friends can finally get married locally, he’s being invited to too many weddings:

Same-sex weddings can also make us wince as stereotypes go on display in mixed company. Exhibit A: lesbians plodding down the aisle to the Judds. … I’m talking about one bride in a frilly Vera Wang and one in a butch pantsuit. You’re a better person than I am if that attire doesn’t make your mind wander into areas of their relationship it doesn’t belong.

In other words, “Gay people, stop enjoying your long-sought and hard-fought freedoms! They’re interfering with my weekend plans. Also, lesbians, would you please just go away? Ironically, though I am wincing at your displays of stereotypes, I am contributing to one of the more vicious stereotypes about gay men myself: that we are shallow, judgmental snobs who hate women and queer women in particular.”

A lot of this vitriol can be understood as people getting prickly because they are choosing less conventional paths: specifically not coupling up or not procreating. But is the defensiveness justified? Being single is a fully legitimate life-path, and our society has never been more accepting of it. Record numbers of people live by themselves:

Only 51% of adults today are married, according to census data. And 28% of all households now consist of just one person — the highest level in U.S. history. That second statistic may appear less dramatic than the first, but it’s actually changing much faster: The percentage of Americans living by themselves has doubled since 1960.

Singleness is, increasingly, the (or at least “a”) new norm. And single people aren’t ostracized. Look at two of the most powerful women of recent times: Condi Rice and Oprah. Not having a spouse doesn’t hold them back. We don’t burn older, unmarried ladies at the stake for being witches anymore; we appoint them to the Supreme Court.

Besides, our pop culture consistently reinforces the notion that “settling down” is for wimps, marriage is a sexless drag, and the goal is to remain young, hot, and unencumbered forever:

So what if some of your annoying relatives give you a hard time for not making it to the altar yet? That’s what annoying relatives are for. If they didn’t have your relationship status to needle you about, they’d be on you about your weight  or your mortgage payments or whether you’re going to scar your son for life if you do or don’t circumcise him.

Friends, this is very simple. If you don’t want to go to other people’s joyous ceremonies, don’t go. If you don’t want children, don’t have them. If you don’t want to get married, great! Save your money for retirement. I’m not judging you, so please do me the courtesy of not judging me. There’s no need to for all of us to turn into Katie Roiphe, is there? That’s what I thought.


*Sidenote: I liked Batman’s own statement on the issue of gun violence from within the universe of The Dark Knight Rises: “No guns,” he tells Selena Kyle sternly. “No guns, no killing.” My own favorite superhero Buffy feels the same way. One could argue that it may be easier for the extremely nimble, powerful, and quick to heal among us to eschew weaponry, but these avengers also live in even more dangerous times and places than we do. Besides, they’re still mortal and they face the prospect of dying on a near-daily basis. If they can choose not to pack heat, can’t the rest of us?

Cross-posted on The Huffington Post here.

The Great European Cities Tour of America

My very first Hairpin piece is up! Check it out: The  Great European Cities Tour of America.

“It is a fact both true and sad that Europe, while awesome and filled with classy old buildings, is expensive. A boyfriend  backpacking there after the decline of the dollar told me he missed fruit, which cost too much, and made the wistful  request that I eat grapes for him. He also gave up shaving rather than shell out for razors.

But unsightly facial hair and scurvy need not be the prices you pay for travel! Not if you do it right. …”

Go read it! Then come back for a meta-discussion.

For the Berlin section, editrix extraordinaire Edith Zimmerman and I went back and forth about what a funny motto for  Berlin would be. I suggested, “The city where the sweet old man feeding pigeons in the park may have turned your Nana  into a lampshade!” She pointed out, politely, that that was a bit of a shift in tone from the rest of the piece.

After much deliberation & brainstorming, I presented her with the following less macabre alternatives:

* “BERLIN: The city that runs on Spaetzle.”

* “BERLIN: The city where even six-year-olds are cooler than you.”

* “BERLIN: Where even Hitler fell in love.”

* “BERLIN: Where they are really, really sorry about that thing that happened.”

Which one do you like best? Can you suggest something better? Edith went with “spaetzle,” which WordPress spell-check does not recognize as a word, btw. But I have eaten it at the Neue Gallerie’s restaurant and I have learned it is for real. It is real inside you for DAYS.


ETA: This has now been cross-posted on the Awl. Wow. The day a girl comes across herself on Google reader is a happy day indeed.

Being Ladylike is Overrated

Women who make shit happen and are imprinted in the Book of Life are generally not the ladylike type. The exemplary Elena Kagan — currently on track to be our next Supreme Court justice — is a Jewish New Yorker with bad hair, bland clothes, and possible lesbionic tendencies. (Carpet munching? So not lady-like.) (Though to be fair, appearing or acting sexual in any way is not very ladylike either.) For the next few days as she makes it through her confirmation hearings, however, she will put a good show: she will cross her legs at the ankles, wear skirts, smile pretty, laugh at the jokes of men, and say as little as possible.

When it’s over, she may never have to pretend again. I will be very happy for her. I am guessing that Camille Paglia will not. In the NYT this weekend (on Pride Sunday, in fact, because Gray Lady editors have a sense of humor) she laments the fact that white men and white women have fused to become a sort of androgynous, asexual unit:

[A] new pill, despite its unforeseen side effects, is necessary to cure the sexual malaise that appears to have sunk over the country. …

In the discreet white-collar realm, men and women are interchangeable, doing the same, mind-based work. Physicality is suppressed; voices are lowered and gestures curtailed in sanitized office space. Men must neuter themselves, while ambitious women postpone procreation. Androgyny is bewitching in art, but in real life it can lead to stagnation and boredom, which no pill can cure.

Now, whose fault is it that being ladylike/gentlemanly is out and androgynous in? “[E]lite schools, with their ideological view of gender as a social construct.” She calls them feeder cells, which is super cute because as you may know that’s a label usually used for terrorists.

She goes on to explain that white folks are screwed up because our men and our women both look like boys, whereas the darker-skinned folks have a more “healthy” ideal:

[V]isually, American men remain perpetual boys, as shown by the bulky T-shirts, loose shorts and sneakers they wear from preschool through midlife. The sexes, which used to occupy intriguingly separate worlds, are suffering from over-familiarity, a curse of the mundane. There’s no mystery left. … American actresses have desexualized themselves, confusing sterile athleticism with female power. Their current Pilates-honed look is taut and tense — a boy’s thin limbs and narrow hips combined with amplified breasts. Contrast that with Latino and African-American taste, which runs toward the healthy silhouette of the bootylicious Beyoncé.

Oh my god, Camille Paglia, have you lost your cotton-picking mind? Where is the proof of any of this? First and foremost: what sexual malaise? Seems to me like Americans are doing it early and often (and outside). The subset of Americans she is pounding on here, the educated bourgeoisie, is actually the most likely to have stable marriages. Wouldn’t that probably be less true if men really did just feel like cogs in the domestic machine?

In Paglia’s world, there don’t seem to be any lesbians (mystifyingly, since she herself identifies as one). There are no folks who find gender-bending or androgyny titillating. There are, in fact, no real people at all, only figments of her imagination.

My friend Veronica put it best in a consolatory email she sent after reading the article:

Please let me express my condolences for your sexually suffocated marriage. You must just be killing Ben with your anxiety and ambition. And, my God, he probably has no idea what to do with your Venusian figure. What a shame. But, then again, I should probably question how I can be a Latina lesbian who prefers my girlfriend’s broad shoulders to Beyonce’s extra-yeasty double-rise curves.

Extra-yeasty. I myself rather fit that description, being composed almost entirely of cleavage; it is hard for me to be as ladylike as I sometimes feel pulled to be. In those moments, though, I try to relax and think of Elena Kagan, not to mention Margaret Cho, Alison Bechdel, Victoria Woodhull, Michelle Obama, and everyone else who has made the world better by simply being who they are.

Arizona: the Police State

For days now I’ve been mulling over the new AZ immigration law and why it bothered me so much. Possibly it’s because I was just recently a judge at a student Holocaust film festival, so I’m more sensitized to fascism than I am on a day-to-day basis. Which, by the way, is pretty effing sensitized. I grew up breathing the air of the Inside Room and learned the Devil’s Arithmetic before I managed to Number the Stars. Every season was the Summer of my German Soldier, goddammit, to the point where if I heard German spoken in real life I jumped.

When I needed to cool down from YA Holocaust lit, I picked up on other kinds of injustice through biographies of Harriet Tubman and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.

Even my very first smutty smut book, Night Over Water, had fascism as a subplot. (Reading the description is fascinating now because all I remember is the sex [vividly] and the politics [hazily], and that only because at 10 or 11 years old, I was surprised to learn there were fascists in England, too. By contrast, my mother, who gave me the book to read, didn’t remember the sex at all.)

Back to Arizona, the state that gave us John “Never Said I Was a Maverick” McCain. Bisbee is great! Try the killer bee honey. You can’t argue with the Saguaros everywhere, which are evidence of God’s prickly sense of humor. But why, WHY, does anyone think it’s acceptable to force people to carry identification papers with them at all times because they could be stopped and asked for those papers by the police?

Linda Greenhouse does not think it is acceptable. In fact, Linda Greenhouse is smoldering with rage.

And good on her. Having to wear a badge on your sleeve is only five paces in that direction from having to carry ID papers with you everywhere. Knowing you could be stopped and frisked by cops simply for leaving your house in your darker skin is a kind of low-level terror no one should be exposed to: not illegal immigrants, not legal immigrants, not citizens of this country.

As May Day is almost upon us, it feels appropriate to quote Billy Bragg’s excellent translation of the Internationale, which is unfortunately playing in my head to the tune of La Marseilleise, but never mind:

Stand up, all victims of oppression
For the tyrants fear your might
Don’t cling so hard to your possessions
For you have nothing, if you have no rights
Let racist ignorance be ended
For respect makes the empires fall
Freedom is merely privilege extended
Unless enjoyed by one and all. …

It’s all in how you see it

I would think that flying a plane into a building is a pretty black-or-white act, especially in our post-9/11 world. What is terrorism if not an attempt to intimidate people into acting in a certain way because of violence or the threat of it? If I demonstrate that I am willing to kill people for what I believe politically, whether I believe in lower taxes or global jihad, I become a terrorist.

Or — and here where it gets tricky; you might want to sit down — a hero.

The daughter of a man who crashed his small plane into a building housing offices of the Internal Revenue Service called her father a hero for his anti-government views but said his actions, which killed an IRS employee, were “inappropriate.”

Joe Stack’s adult daughter, Samantha Bell, spoke to ABC’s “Good Morning America” from her home in Norway. Asked during a phone interview broadcast Monday if she considered her father a hero, she said: “Yes. Because now maybe people will listen.”

His actions, which included murder, arson, and the destruction of federal property, were “inappropriate.” Because they were successful, however, and “now maybe people will listen,” he’s a hero.

The daughter went on to say, “‘But if nobody comes out and speaks up on behalf of injustice, then nothing will ever be accomplished,’ she told ABC. ‘But I do not agree with his last action with what he did. But I do agree about the government.'”

That government workers deserve to be killed? That our taxes are so high (in Texas, mind you, where there is no state income tax) that we are entitled to resort to extremism and destruction? What exactly does she agree with? Or, in this age of Tea Partying populist anti-government paranoia, does it not even matter? “Injustice,” she says. Injustice towards whom? About what? I am trying to stay calm, trying to understand what on earth she is talking about. I am not having an easy time.

I would like to knock on her door and ask to come in and have a nice quiet polite chat where I ask her whether she now identifies with the hypothetical daughter of a 9/11 hijacker who thinks her father is a hero. Because what’s the difference? Are Muslims terrorists and white men who act out merely “inappropriate”?

And then I will put down my cup and look her in the eye. Very quietly, I will say, I have been to three funerals and four shiva calls in six months. I have traveled to Connecticut for death and to North Carolina and to DC and to Westchester. I am tired, and I am angry, so angry that I am probably clutching the table right now. Because how dare anyone think that he is entitled to kill people, to fly a plane into a federal building just because he believes something? My mother works in a federal building and my father used to. I don’t care what you believe; you can die for your beliefs, if you feel that strongly about them. But how dare you take other people with you to prove a point?

"… ladies."

A Cambridge student athlete has made it to the finals in the Miss East Anglia competition, precursor to the Miss England pageant. Is this more or less shocking than a Hispanic woman who grew up in the projects getting a Supreme Court nomination? Check out the picture below and weigh in.

This is a toughie. Let’s hear comments from the peanut gallery:

“Slim women – not anorexic – look better than fat blobby women. Get over it. If that weren’t true, people wouldn’t prefer them, would they?”

An excellent point, since “people” do objectively “prefer” the slim over the blobby, and we know this from detailed examinations of everything since the dawn of time. Thank you, John Stern from London.

What about Sonia Sotomayor, a Puerto Rican from the Bronx: could she really hold her own on America’s highest bench? Educationally, she has scaled some very high ivy walls, graduating from

Princeton University, summa cum laude, in 1976, where she won the Pyne Prize, the highest general award given to Princeton undergraduates.[7] Sotomayor obtained her J.D. from Yale Law School in 1979, where she was an editor of the Yale Law Journal.

Still, surely there’s a more qualified white man in the wings who is being overlooked simply for the sake of color? Again, speak, O peanut gallery!:

“This country has taken a dangerous shift away from the basic tenets of our Constitution , and instead of seizing the opportunity to right that ship, we get another poor choice designed to placate the masses.

Randy Barnett would have been a much better choice.

Unfortunately, being white and male,he didn’t have much of a chance from the start.”

SO TRUE, SgNews. Btw, who is Randy Barnett?

the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Law at Boston University, where he served as the faculty adviser for the Federalist Society. He joined the faculty of Georgetown University Law Center in 2006. Barnett is a Senior Fellow of the Cato Institute and the Goldwater Institute. … In 2009, he drafted the Bill of Federalism, 10 proposed amendments to the US Constitution designed to limit federal power and strengthen individual rights.

In other words, he’s the Ron Paul candidate for the bench! I can’t believe Obama didn’t pick him. Of course, it wasn’t his Libertarian views, his involvement with the Federalist Society, Cato Institute, or Goldwater Institute that held him back; it was his sex and his race, which as we all know are a serious barrier to advancement in America.

For more, because there is always more, see here and here.

Honestly, I am as shallow, judgmental, and quick to stereotype as anyone else who has grown up in this flawed society, and both of these women strike me as eminently qualified for their positions. I wish them the best. With all this criticism from all sides, though, is it any wonder women say they are less happy than they used to be? (Also, did anyone running that study consider that perhaps women feel allowed to be more honest these days?)

Whither Thou Goest, I Will Go


  • I am married.
  • My husband wants to be a law clerk one level up in a District Court
  • District Court clerkships are incredibly hard to get, especially in popular locales such as Washington, DC, New York, NY, and San Francisco, CA, and their environs
  • I have no interest in leaving Brooklyn
  • But my husband has a dream

ME: How about when we’re 30? I thought we agreed that when I’m 30, you are allowed to take me from New York.
HIM: 30 is a long time from now. I would really love to apply for next year.
ME: Next year I will still be less than 30.
HIM: But now is when we are still young, still mobile, still flexible …
ME: 30.

HIM: How about we look at where I could go and you could say if one place or another would be more enticing to you? After all, it would only be for a year.
ME: Okay. Shoot.
HIM: Bridgeport, CT.
ME: My parents did not send me to Jewish Day School for 13 years so that I could wind up in Connecticut!
HIM: But I have roots there —
ME: Anyway it’s too cold. Next, please.

HIM: Concord, NH.
ME: Too cold.
HIM: Burlington, VT.
ME: Too cold.
HIM: New Haven, CT.
ME: Too cold.
HIM: Come on! We’re not talking about Alaska.
ME: Too cold.
HIM: Providence, RI.
ME: Maybe.
HIM: Maybe?
ME: Maybe. But probably too cold.

HIM: Okay, how about the South?
ME: Where are the clerkships there?
HIM: Nashville, TN.
ME: Too Christian. I’ve heard horror stories.
HIM: Shreveport, LA.
ME: The last Confederate command to surrender! Plus there’s a whole Wikipedia section labeled “Churches.”
HIM: Roanoke, VA.
ME: Are you crazy? People disappeared in Roanoke. It could have been aliens. They could come back. Plus there’s a whole Wikipedia section labeled “Crime” with a subsection on “Gangs.”
HIM: Yeah, but it’s gone from 2nd worst city in VA to 5th.
ME: Next, please.

ME: How about you wait a year to apply?
HIM: That’s fair. And in return, you’ll be fine with my applying to …
ME: Hawaii; San Juan; Columbia, SC; New Bern, NC; the Virgin Islands; Arlington, VA; Portland, OR; Jerusalem; and the Hague.
HIM: And maybe Memphis and New Orleans.
ME: Yes.
HIM: Thank you.