Category Archives: wymyn

How to Look Pretty

I am the beautiful reflection / Of my love's affection ...

The Gray Lady has been full of useful advice for the ladies the past couple of weeks! Here are some of her thoughtful suggestions:

Feeding tubes for brides. Looking to fit into that too-small wedding dress in a too-short amount of time? Why not go the Terri Schiavo route? Members of Congress might not judge you brain dead but I certainly might.

Get your husband to sponsor your waxing and obscenely-expensive footwear.

Take multiple exercise classes per day.  Take so many, in fact, that you have no time for men and totally lose sight of why you’re trying to get thin in the first place: “Ms. Greisman, who is single, said she often forfeits other social events for her workouts — ‘the gym is where my friends are,’ she said — and does not make plans on Saturday apart from three of her favorite classes, which run from 11:45 a.m. to nearly 5 p.m. Dating, she mused, ‘would be challenging.'”

* Last but not least, corsets! “Getting the look requires some grit. Tugging on a faja can become a desperate bout of woman versus fabric. Flesh must be coaxed inside, battened down by hooks and, finally, sealed with a zipper that can force the air out of your lungs. ‘The first day you can’t stand it,’ Ms. Murillo said. ‘But then it loosens it up.'”

A Closer Look at “Mommy Porn”

Currently, Fifty Shades of Grey—an Australian e-book by an unknown female author with no marketing budget—is fourth on USA Today’s Best-Selling Books list, behind only the “Hunger Games” trilogy. Grey’s two sequels, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Free, have also climbed into the Top 20. And panic is gripping the nation, because these books, which are being enjoyed by The Ladies, are about The Sex.

In the past few weeks, several news pieces have addressed the issue of women getting off on these books and what that means. “Will Fifty Shades Of Grey Make ‘Mommy Porn’ The Next Big Thing?” asks Forbes.Fifty Shades of Grey has America’s national thong in a twist,” declares USA Today, adding, “However you categorize it—mommy porn, erotic fiction, Twilight fan fiction gone rogue, a symbol of moral decay—British writer E.L. James’ NC-17 bondage trilogy has gone from e-book cult favorite to publishing phenomenon.” Everyone from so-called “mommy bloggers” to hardcore feminists is hailing the tome as a triumph for women, in spite of the book’s strong themes of female submission at the hands of a high-powered man,” says The article also goes on to use the now-inescapable phrase “mommy porn.”

Captain Obvious would point out that there is no such thing as “daddy porn,” presumably because dads remain men, even after procreating. Once they give birth, women apparently morph into “mommies,” neutered creatures who may be venerated but don’t need to be taken seriously. Hence their easily-dismissed “mommy blogs” and now their “mommy porn.”

The phrase, even more than the phenomenon of married ladies reading smut on their Kindles, raises all sorts of interesting questions about how women’s sexuality is viewed by society at large. By modifying the highly-charged word “porn,” are we diminishing its power because we remain deeply uncomfortable with the idea of even adult, married women having erotic needs? According to the breathless news coverage, the answer seems to be, “Kind of, yeah!”

There is a long and storied history of women reading to build up, and blow off, steam. I first learned that “romance” was merely a polite literary euphemism for “porn” when, on a sleepover in sixth grade, a friend showed me her secret stash of paperback Harlequins, over which we stayed up for hours, wide-eyed and red-faced. In seventh grade, I found out that “historical fiction” could be another, more high-brow mask for “porn” when I stumbled on Jean M. Auel’s Earth Children series. (Plot synopsis: pre-historic hottie Ayla, raised among Neanderthals, meets sensitive Cromagnon Jondalar. Pausing only to invent throwing spears, awls, and probably an early version of the iPad, Ayla hanky-panks with Jonadalar across early Europe.) Auel’s books have sold over 45 million copies worldwide. Harlequin is one of the most profitable publishing companies anywhere; according to the New York Times, they make hundreds of millions of dollars in sales every year.

That sex sells, even to women, should not, in 2012, come as a surprise. Yet something about this publishing phenomenon seems to have gotten under our culture’s skin. What’s different about Fifty Shades of Grey? It’s kinky.

The sex in Harlequin romances tends to be extremely tame. The rugged, beefy, All-American men bursting out of their shirts on the covers of the paperbacks telegraph to the reader all she or he needs to know about what’s going to happen in the bedroom (or on the grass, or aboard the pirate ship): straight-up, classical seduction. Jondalar, who is, coincidentally, described to look like a dead-ringer for Fabio, never expresses a desire more risqué than giving Ayla pleasure. Even Sex and the City, which expanded our society’s understanding of women’s ability to both enjoy, and speak freely, about sex, portrayed women who were pretty traditional in terms of what turned them on. No main character had a hidden fetish or a desire to dominate or be dominated. In Grey, a young woman signs a contract giving an older man control over her life. The readers in Grey’s universe are not in the Kansas of Harlequin novels anymore, or even the sanitized New York City of SATC; they’ve crossed over into the darker, edgier world of the 2002 indie/cult-favorite Secretary. Except that, for the first time, their support has helped something marginal cross over into the mainstream.

Grey’s success has communicated to the news media that some women’s taste runs to BDSM and power play—enough women, in fact, to get the attention of the Gray Lady herself. To some degree, this is old news. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight, both bona fide phenomena, spawned reams of fan fiction by drawing on similar themes (especially Buffy’s Season 6, which you can hardly watch without overheating); the original draft of Grey was, in fact, Twilight fan fiction. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series leans heavily on explicit sex scenes that are anything but square. And for power play, it’s hard to beat the unorthodox use of cigars in the Starr Report, now fifteen years old. Ultimately, the BDSM buzz around Grey seems like a red herring. What shocks the media is not that women are paying to read about a naïve college student submitting to a relative stranger; it’s that women—even adult, married women with children—are jonesing to read about sex at all.

As a society, we tend to ignore Harlequin’s massive success, or treat it as some kind of anomaly; and we seem more comfortable with the long-running joke that Porn for Women is men doing housework than the idea that women also like their raunch, including material that’s less-vanilla and more Karamel Sutra. Porn is porn! Lots of people consume it and, as with sexism, we know it when we see it. Most importantly, moms don’t hang up their gonads after their kids are born; they remain sexual beings. Ye gods! Where do you think babies continue to come from? If you really don’t know, I have a book or two I could recommend.

ETA: This piece also appears on the Huffington Post! Read it here

Nota Bene

This week’s New Yorker is brought to you by:

– Paul

– Stephen

– Nicholas

– Adam

– Ben

– Alex

– Dan

– Peter


– Anthony.

Oh, and Patricia–writing about men’s clothes.

It’s not that I object to a male-only New Yorker. I just wish it were a “Masculinity Issue” or something rather than the status quo.

Gallup is Perplexed. Let Me Help.

It’s not clear why Americans would overwhelmingly prefer boys.”


It’s not clear why? BECAUSE THIS IS A PATRIARCHY, you twits. Land of the free! Home of the brave! Here we worship winners, cowboys, soldiers, tough guys, Don Draper and Tony Soprano, John Wayne and Gary Cooper. We hate femininity. We hate it so much we stamp it out in boys wherever it pops up.

Here men head the household because of some misguided Catholic/Christian notion that that’s the way God wants it. (The way he wanted it several thousand years ago, anyway, when last he bothered to weigh in.) Here be Mormons.

Why wouldn’t you want a child more likely to earn more, to be judged by something other than looks, to be able to have a child himself eventually — on his schedule, no pressure — and let someone else deal with the drudgery of raising it (and cleaning up after it)?

Yes, being a real man is expensive, and it certainly can be stressful and time-consuming. It’s still better than the alternative.

Some of my best friends are ladies and good lord, even *I* want to be reincarnated as a Dutch or Scandinavian man.

More feminism, she cried!

Have you read “Ask an Abortion Provider” on the Hairpin yet? This is for serious, and it is seriously amazing. Why did the author choose this path? “I figured the most direct way to ensure that there wasn’t a total asshole at the bottom of the table was to do it myself,” sayeth she. And she goes on:

I was with the doctor I train with doing the initial steps of an intake — an ultrasound to date the pregnancy and a full history.The patient says to the doctor, “I should not be here today. I agree with the people out there.” Gestures out window to street. The people at the bus stop???? “The people who are protesting. I think what you are doing is wrong. I think you should be killed.” Oh. Whoaaaa! …

So I told my patient what I truly believe, which is: “I’m so sorry that you feel that way because feeling that way has got to make this an even harder decision than it already is. I imagine it must really feel awful to think that you have to do something that goes against your own beliefs.” (Secret inspiration: my own feelings about the situation!)

“I know there is no way you’re going to go home feeling you did the absolute right thing no matter what happens today. We are not going to do any procedure until you are absolutely certain that this is what you want. I do not want you to have an abortion. The only that I want you to do is the thing that is most right for you, whether it’s continuing this pregnancy and becoming a parent, or adoption, or abortion.” Then we brought her with her boyfriend to the counselor who talked with them for hours about the spectrum of resources available for not just abortion but adoption and parenting. At my clinic, we joke that we turn away more patients than the protesters do.

And although she did end up terminating the pregnancy, the procedure went well, there were no complications, and she told the staff we had been the “most supportive!” I personally thanked her and told her it was an honor to be there for her and still get teary when I think about it. Ice burn, Lila Rose!

On Saturday I rallied for women’s health and Planned Parenthood and I was moderately proud of myself in a “Good girl! Look what you did instead of lolling on the couch watching old episodes of Buffy and eating packs of Trader Joe’s roasted seaweed” kind of way.

Reading this piece makes me think about soldiers. I didn’t grow up around military people and yet, when I met a Marine on New Years Eve in New Orleans, I knew exactly what to say: “Thank you for your service.” I rely on the men and women who join the Armed Forces to protect my freedoms. However you may feel about the Military Industrial Complex, you have to respect the individuals who commit to spending a year at a time in dusty, desert-y, Middle Eastern countries away from their families and friends and Netflix and Trader Joe’s, and much closer to death than we, in general, are.

But the men and women who choose to become abortion providers, and the fine folks at Planned Parenthood who support them, are protecting me too, and without anywhere near the same kind of societal recognition. Because I know that those doctors are there, I don’t have to choose between having a romantic life and a professional one. Because they are there, I can work — at my office, 9-5, as well as on my writing — and take that work, and myself, seriously. Because they are there, I don’t have to just be a woman; I can be a person too. They give me that freedom.

So thank you to everyone at Planned Parenthood who were so kind to me when I went in, twice, while unemployed, because I didn’t know where else I could afford health care. Thanks to those of you who stand at the ready in case I need you for other reasons, and who have helped the women I know who needed you. Thank you, Gail Collins, for urging me to think about all these issues as I read When Everything Changed. And thank you, Dolores P., for your service, which, in so many ways, makes everything possible.

Say Goodnight, Fiorina

How appropriate that in a campaign built on lies, a person can get shitcanned for telling the truth:

Asked by a St. Louis radio station whether she thought Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin could run a company like Hewlett-Packard, Fiorina responded: “No, I don’t.”

The McCain folks are pissed.

“Carly will now disappear,” this source said. “Senator McCain was furious.” Asked to define “disappear,” this source said, adding that she would be off TV for a while …

Fiorina was booked for several TV interviews over the next few days, including one on CNN. Those interviews have been canceled.

No $50 million golden parachute on this ride down, I guess. But who will cry sexism on Palin’s behalf now?

What’s so frustrating is OF COURSE none of these political contenders could run a major corporation. That’s not what they’ve trained to do. Even George W., who *had* an MBA, couldn’t helm Hewlett-Packard. But putting Sarah “Bush in a Skirt” Palin in office would be worse than average, an awful lot like putting Norville Barnes in charge of Hudsucker Industries. Except that Norville Barnes was authentically a nice guy, not someone who fired her enemies and appointed old high school friends with no experience to run million dollar agencies.

Sarah Palin is officially Not Fun Anymore, even if she does have an action figure.

Olympic Madness

This is like the movie version of My Fair Lady, with the studio casting Audrey Hepburn instead of Julie Andrews and then using Marni Nixon’s voice: the little girl who sang in the opening ceremonies was the face China was looking for, but the voice was provided by a less adorable seven-year-old. God, how depressing. We’ll never get over our perfection-obsession, will we?

(Because I can’t resist the Biblical reference, I have to admit this quote also sprang to mind: “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.”)

Predictably, people are pissed:

The outrage was especially heated over the cold calculation used to appraise the girls. “Please save the last bit of trueness in our children,” wrote one person with an online name of Weirderhua. “They think Yang Peiyi’s smile is not cute enough? What we need is truth, not some fake loveliness! I hope the kids will not be hurt. This is not their fault.”

Another person added: “Children are innocent. Don’t contaminate their minds!”

Though I’ll happily debate the “children are innocent” canard, otherwise I agree. It’s this kind of stage management that makes people either strive for the unattainable or become cynical about everything. Like the New Yorker article about photoshopping, which made it clear you can never fully trust what you see. Do you think there would be so much conspiracy theorizing — about the moon landing, 9/11, and Britain’s 7/7 — otherwise?

The idea that a child needs to not only have the best voice but the best look is American Idol-type nonsense. So is the idea that no female Olympian is complete, not even with a gold medal, if we don’t know that she also has a husband and a baby in the wings, as a Johnson & Johnson ad last night made clear, or is about to start a family, as the media and announcers during the women’s beach volleyball competition kept stressing. Already they have to compete in bikinis, so that we can objectify them even as we admire them.

Seriously, isn’t it enough that these athletes do unreal things with their minds and bodies to perform for us on an international stage? Do we really need them to shrink back to human size once the cameras are off?

Lifestyle Justified!

Studies in newspapers exist to confirm what we already know. All the same, sometimes it’s nice to get that little refresher, like someone handing you a towel when you’ve just stumbled into a puddle of doubt. Two studies recently have functioned in this cheerful way: first, this one showing there is no difference anymore between the math scores of boys and girls. And second, this one, letting us know that living together before marriage decreases the likelihood of divorce!

None of this would have happened had Betty Friedan not thrown down her apron.

The researchers found no difference in the scores of boys versus girls — not even in high school. Studies 20 years ago showed girls and boys did equally well on math in elementary school, but girls fell behind in high school. “Girls have now achieved gender parity in performance on standardized math tests,” Hyde said.

And as for the “living in sin” business:

The odds of divorce among women who married their only cohabiting partner were 28% lower than among women who never cohabited before marriage, according to sociologist Daniel Lichter of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

For people who believe in sin cohabitation can still feel wrong, of course. But I like that it has been proven to have the social utility I instinctively believed it had. What pleasant news to come along right before my very first wedding anniversary.

reader: marry him

It is make or break day for Hillary Clinton! Even Bill says she needs to win both Texas and Ohio to stay in the race; carrying Rhode Island (little ol’ Rhode Island) won’t be enough. New Hampshire seems so long ago now, and though I distinctly remember how much I wanted her to win under those circumstances, I have fallen out of touch with my intense sympathy for her. At this point I would like her to bow out gracefully. If only such a thing were possible. However, I am also glad that retains certain supporters — Tina Fey, for one — because I don’t think, for example, that she’s been such an utter embarrassment, such a miserable mistake, that she alone has set women back fifty years.

That article, by the way, turned me into a cartoon: my jaw dropped and my eyes bugged out as ten alarm clocks jangled loudly in the background. In that, I wasn’t alone. As of right now “How Dumb Can We Get?” has generated over a thousand comments on the Post website. Its author, Charlotte Allen, exemplifies what I don’t trust about women who don’t have female friends, women who, like Maureen Dowd and Ann Coulter, are disdainful of “women” as a whole and get to think of themselves as “brilliant outliers.” Isn’t that convenient for them? And mustn’t their mothers be proud?

As long as I have my Outraged Feminist hat on (and I’m hoping my hair looks okay when I take it off), I may as well mention an Atlantic Monthly article Marry Him. This has been around long enough for the controversy to simmer, boil over, and then fade to quiet, occasional snufflings of anger already but it’s worth checking out if you haven’t subjected yourself to its mind-boggling leaps of logic. In short, Lori Gottleib argues that because she, as a 40-something, never found the perfect man and had to proceed to the Plan B of single motherhood, anyone who is still single should settle, and ideally they should do so while they are hot (read: young) enough to command a high price on the open market.

Gottleib’s use of the word “settling” is what makes her argument hard to take seriously, but I don’t think her overall point — that some women are led by our Disney-fied American culture to have unrealistic expectations of perfect romantic love with a perfect tall, rich, handsome man that will last forever — is entirely wrong. I do think everyone learns at some point to adjust expectations to reality. When I was 16, I wanted either Rhett Butler or Noel Airman to rescue me from the doldrums of teenage virginity, depending on the day. Did I hold out for that? Clearly not. And I am extremely happy that I didn’t. But if someone had described my going out with a guy who was not dapper, older, cruelly brilliant and forceful as settling, I would have bought a really mean incontinent dog just so the dog could piss all over the idiot’s new shoes.

Gottleib gets on the Assumption Train and waves at us as it drives her straight into Crazytown. All women want children, she declares; all women must want what her, Gottleib’s, friends want; and being married to a man you don’t love is better than being alone, as long as you have a family. It’s perplexing that she didn’t consider why, if she’s right and no married woman would trade places with a single one, the divorce rate is so high in this country. The truth is that people aren’t willing, as a general rule, to be unhappy anymore. Women who aren’t crazy about a man know that they’re not going to be a happy chained to him for eternity, and why should they pretend otherwise? They’ll just end up leaving those lackluster husbands for the handsome fiftysomething divorcees they meet and have a smoldering affair with at age 47.

Also, who says that these men want to marry women who are settling? Has anyone asked them? I thought American men these days, in the popular imagination, were the world’s happiest bachelors.

Don’t you think these ladies should have a picnic? Coulter can bring the salad, Gottleib the alcohol, and Allen the tart of self-hatred, and they can help themselves while gossiping about how they alone have it all figured out. Woody Allen can drop by about midway through the meal so that they can make eyes at him; then he’ll catch a glimpse of Scarlet Johannson and go scurrying after her. They will murmur and nod and call this only natural.