Crazy. Stupid. Stalking.

SPOILERS ABOUND. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Jason and I went to see Crazy Stupid Love last week as our anniversary date, because seeing a movie about a couple on the edge of a divorce is a GREAT idea for an anniversary date. (It was my choice; I’m not blaming him.) But actually it was good because the movie turned me into a laughing, sobbing, gooey, slightly turned-on (I’m sorry to be so predictable but Ryan Gosling doing the Dirty Dancing lift is hot, okay?) mess and I was clinging to his arm the whole time. Plus we saw it here, and yeah, we shelled out for the Premium PLUS tickets. This was sort of like being a small child, or a very wealthy recluse. We reclined on cushy chairs with cozy blankies, and sodas, popcorn, and fried foods magically appeared at our table. It was pretty awesome.

Initially, I loved this movie. Like I said, I was either laughing or crying practically the whole time, and usually I don’t like crying at movies, because it feels imposed on me, but a) they cut it with lots of laughing so that’s okay, and b) the actors earned the tears the got. So I really liked it. And look, the actors are great. Julianne Moore is obviously a goddess, and if you haven’t been convinced of that fact by her myriad* film roles, go watch her spar with Alec Baldwin in the guest arc she did on 30 Rock. Go. Now. I’ll wait.

*That trailer is irritating me. Oscar Wilde’s England wasn’t Jane Austen’s England. Jane Austen’s novels were published from 1811 – 1818 (and two of those were published posthumously). Oscar Wilde was born in 1854. I know they both lived “in the past” but “in the past” continues not to be a monolith, and the 19th century was a century of major upheavals for England that were probably only second to the upheavals of the 20th. And, um, the 11th. And the 5th.

Isn’t she awesome? And Emma Stone? I love Emma Stone! I love her adorable charm. I love her whole schtick. A lot. Ryan Gosling? First of all, drool. (He takes off his shirt at some point in the movie. My husband got into the car after and was like, “I’m going to start working out.”) Second of all, he’s hilarious. I don’t think I knew he was hilarious before this. He gets the line of the night with, “The war of the sexes is over and men won. We won when pole-dancing became an exercise class.” And Steve Carell? He can make me cry with the lift of an eyebrow. He can make me laugh with the quirk of a lip. I think he is so completely invested an actor and I love him. I just love him.

And there were some really, really solid scenes. At one point, Steve Carell is in the backyard of the house he used to share with his family, tending to the lawn under cover of night, when his wife calls him. She pretends she needs his help with the furnace (I think it’s the furnace. The furnace is where you’d find a pilot light, right? She asks about a pilot light.) but he can see her through the window; he knows she’s not actually trying to fix the furnace; she’s just standing there wanting to hear his voice. But he plays along like he’s actually helping her with the furnace, with his heart in his throat the whole time. You guys, I lost it. I mean, I really lost it. That stuff gets me.

And the series of scenes in which Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling fall in love are so funny and so sexy and so sweet and, in my opinion, so well-written.

But all of these great scenes can’t save it from itself, in the end. Because (in case you didn’t get this from the he’s-watching-his-ex-wife-through-her-window thing) it’s yet another movie that promotes the idea that stalking = true love and if she tells you to bug off, it just means you haven’t made a Grand enough Romantic Gesture yet.

See, Julianne Moore and Steve Carell have a thirteen-year-old son* who is in love with his eighteen-year-old babysitter, who is herself the daughter of family friends. He – more than once – tells her he thinks about her when he masturbates, he texts and calls even when she tells him that he’s making her uncomfortable, and he (more than once) very publicly declares his love for her even though she asks him to stop embarrassing her. She tells him she loves someone else, and he doesn’t care. Until he finds out that that someone else is his dad. Then he flips a shit.

*They also have a maybe ten-year-old daughter but she barely has lines, never mind any emotions about, say, her parents’ impending divorce which may be inconvenient to her parents or the plot.

He finds this out because her parents discover the naked pictures she took of herself with the intention to give them to Steve Carell, so her father drives to the family’s house (and oddly, not Steve Carell’s new divorced-dad digs, even though it’s just a coincidence that Steve Carell is at his family’s house at that moment) to punch him out. It would have taken a two-sentence conversation with his daughter to determine that Steve Carell had done nothing to encourage this behavior from her, but, you know. Then no whacky hijinx could ensue. So the son decides that she’s a worthless whore and his dad’s an evil bastard. Ignoring the facts that a) his dad didn’t even know that the babysitter had a crush on him until that moment, and isn’t responsible for her feelings in the first place, and b) she’s not his girlfriend and can take ill-advised pictures of herself for anyone she wants. And look, I understand that the kid is thirteen. But the writers of the movie are not. And they kind of imply – or don’t do anything to avoid implying – that they think the kid is in the right here.

Then the kid makes his grand Love Stinks speech at his graduation (because why not, really?) and Steve Carell interrupts him, I guess because making inappropriate speeches in public settings has become, post-The Office, Steve Carell’s thing, and the conclusion reached by all is that a) you do have a soulmate, b) you probably met her in grade school (the ‘you’ is of course male; we’ll get to that later), and c) you should probably declare – publicly – your intention to “fight for her” forever and ever no matter what she does or says to dissuade you. Because stalking is romantic. We know that the ladies find the stalking ultimately romantic because the babysitter responds to his second public declaration of love for her, and his prediction that when he’s older, he’ll look like his dad (ew!), and she’ll love him then, by giving her former charge (ew!) the nude pictures she’d taken of herself that had been originally intended for his father (ew!). It must be twoo wuv.

And at the end of the movie Julianne Moore and Steve Carell seem on the mend, too. Because when your estranged husband takes the opportunity presented to him by his son’s salutatorian address going severely off the rails to announce to the entire town that he has no intention of ever moving on or respecting your wishes to do so, that’s love, you guys.

So I find myself, yet again, having to rail against all of the evil ideas about relationships and women Hollywood delivers.

And look, not to go off on a tangent (ha!), but, yes, this matters! We are humans; we are culture-making animals. Spiders make webs and live in them; we tell stories to each other and live in the culture those stories create. You think you can distinguish between reality and stories, but you can’t, and it’s not because you’re stupid, it’s because they’re not different things. Stories make order of reality; in turn, they create the terms by which we understand reality. Stories are seriously important and that’s why I will always, always take a poke at the stories that are creating a culture in which I do not want to live.

I don’t want to live in a culture in which stalking = romance. In the first place, it’s a dangerous method to keep perpetrating. Boys grow up on stories like this (I know, I know, this movie doesn’t have any explosions in it, so obviously boys don’t watch it. But we all know that’s a lie.) and then think the best way to show their love for a girl is to pester her all the damn time until he finally “wins” his “fight” for her. And after the fifth or sixth girl responds to this kind of attention with bitchy putdowns or restraining orders, he becomes enraged and bitter and misogynist. Girls grow up on stories like this, and don’t feel fully loved until someone is standing under their window with a boom box. Even though they don’t know what a boom box is. Furthermore, when they feel threatened by a boy’s attention, they feel guilty about having that feeling, so instead of listening to that voice going, “This behavior is inappropriate and scary,” they make allowances. Because they’ve seen the movies; this is how “nice” guys behave.

Furthermore, the idea of Grand Romantic Gestures and “fighting” for the one you love really allows a movie like this to glide over what it actually takes to keep a relationship together. Because relationships are hard. Building a life together is hard work and requires more in terms of personal strength and skill than you’d ever think it would. And you can fuck it up. You can fuck it up so that it’s beyond repair. You can fuck it up so that it’s not beyond repair, but you still have to repair it. Declaring your love for her and your memory of sharing mint chocolate chip ice cream with her on your first date in front of the entire town is not the same thing as repairing the relationship. At best, it’s an indication that you want to do the actual work. At worst, it’s just a gesture you hope will mean you won’t have to. And when the stories we tell ourselves tell us just the opposite of that, it makes the work so much harder, because both partners feel, in the backs of their minds, that this kind of work has no place in the world of True Love.

I also don’t want to live in a culture in which women are mere conduits to men’s self-actualization. Because despite hiring women like Julianne Moore and Emma Stone, and despite this being a movie about love and relationships, which are usually considered “chick flicks,” this movie is entirely about who men are and what men want. I will admit that, while in thrall to this movie, I was solidly on Steve Carell’s side in the divorce. Partially this was because she cheated, and I have low sympathy for that. I have even lower sympathy in this case because, like my husband and I, Steve Carell and Julianne Moore have only ever been with each other. I know that all cheating is bad, but I feel that, when you’re each other’s firsts and onlys and intend to be onlys forever, there’s a bubble created in which all sex is sex with each other and so the very definition of sexual experience is each other. And she busted that. So to hell with her. When, later in the movie, we’re supposed to kind of be on her side for ten seconds (just long enough so that Steve Carell can grow) because a) Steve Carell slept with nine other people, and b) one of them was his son’s English teacher, I was going, “Hey, you broke the bubble first.”

(The English teacher is played by Marisa Tomei, who did crazy/horny/crazy pretty well, as usual, but it was more misogyny, because of course the girl you wronged is batshit crazy! That’s why it was okay to wrong her!)

But the truth is, the movie made it so that I can only be on Steve Carell’s side, because I don’t know what Julianne Moore’s side is. She never has a scene where we can see why she wanted a divorce. The movie opens with couples’ feet under tables in a restaurant; they’re all playing footsie. Then we see Steve Carell’s feet, in New Balance sneakers (who must have been paid for all the negative endorsement this movie gives them, unless the idea that no publicity is bad publicity holds) not playing footsie with Julianne’ Moore’s well-shod feet. And I don’t know what that’s about, really. It might symbolize that Julianne Moore is still working on the relationship and Steve Carell is not, or that she’s grown and he hasn’t, or that women’s sartorial standards are always higher than males. Or it’s not a symbol, but a symptom of that last one. I don’t know. In any event, that non-footsie playing is the only glimpse we get of their relationship before Julianne Moore announces she wants a divorce. And Steve Carell is gobsmacked. And then they’re in the car, and she’s continuing to talk about how she wants a divorce and how she slept with this guy at work but it’s really about their problems and Steve Carell continues to be gobsmacked. And of course, Steve Carell is the King of Gobsmacked. He was great in this scene. But the scene was all about him. Julianne Moore was just the Girl-Person making noise in his ear so he could react to it. Even when she tells him she had sex with someone else, but that it was a symptom of their marital problems, we never get into what her perspective on those marital problems is. (We never even find out much about the man she had an affair with. He’s around, but he’s never a real character or even a real threat to the relationship, since it’s pretty clear that Julianne Moore has no intention of pursuing a relationship with him. And he’s played by Kevin Bacon. Why did they pay Kevin Bacon prices for such a non-entity? Why did Kevin Bacon say yes? Do we not pay him royalties every time we play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?) Ryan Gosling suggests that it’s that Steve Carell lost perspective on who he was as a man and that’s the plot line the movie follows for a while, the line of Ryan Gosling showing Steve Carell how to be a “man” (read: PUA asshole), but Ryan Gosling has never met Julianne Moore and it later becomes clear that he’s projecting his daddy issues onto Steve Carell. Steve Carell suggests to Julianne Moore that he was taking the relationship for granted, but that’s kind of meaningless and generic. So the way the movie plays out, Julianne Moore announcing that she wants to divorce Steve Carell is nothing more than Julianne Moore pushing Steve Carell off on his journey of self-discovery, and then serving as his North Star so he can keep track of where he wants to go. What she wanted, what she was missing, none of this is ever the point, none of it is ever really discussed. And this is the height of romance, for a woman. Being some schlub’s North Star.

Even the adorable Emma Stone loses all personality and perspective once she teaches Ryan Gosling to be a “man” (read: not a PUA asshole). Before that she’s sparkly and witty and has a career path; after that we never see those traits again. We barely see her again, and when we do, it’s mainly her standing by Ryan Gosling’s side, not doing much. And the babysitter can, of course, transfer her feelings of affection (and nude pics) from the father to the son, not because we’re ever shown her developing an appreciation for the son’s character but because the son has self-actualized, man! And has asked her to spend her college years and a large chunk of her twenties waiting for him. Romance!

Even worse is the way I’m supposed to believe that men who see women as conduits to their self-actualization are the “nice” guys, juxtaposed to their “asshole” brethren who see women as conduits to their sexual pleasure. That’s the Ryan Gosling self-actualization story – from PUA asshole to sensitive, partnered dude. That’s the belly of the whale Steve Carell has to crawl through – from New Balance sneakers to playah to sensitive, partnered dude. I am not any more sold on this theory than when they were trying to sell it to me on Dawson’s Creek. Not in the least because hey, if you’re only a conduit to sexual pleasure, you can spend the rest of your time doing other things. If you’ve got to be a conduit to their self-actualization, that’s pretty much a full-time, lifelong job. (Oh, excuse me, I forgot. All women really want is the full-time, lifelong job of taking care of a man’s fragile ego.) But no, seriously, this is the thing we should build a culture around instead: You are nice if you see others as whole, separate people, with existences, motivations, desires and rights that are equal to your own. You are not nice if you see other people mostly as conduits for your own desires, no matter what those desires are. You’re using someone just as surely if you use them for cuddling as if you use them for sex. Nah mean?

I didn’t come out of this movie wanting to hate it. I came out of this movie loving it. Because I live in this culture, too, and I’m just as capable as anyone else of ignoring the messages I don’t like in favor of a story I enjoyed being told. Some individual scenes were wonderfully written, poignant and funny and awesome. And I love each of these actors. A lot. Emma Stone, I don’t mean to creep you out after the whole Jim Carrey thing, but I think you and I could be friends. Call me.

But I can’t ignore these things forever. Stories are important; stories matter. I want better ones.

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Oh, Dear

See, this is exactly what I was talking about when I said that we need to deal with the fact that our sexual culture makes it such that ordinary doofuses cannot necessary tell that what they are doing is called “rape” and other ordinary doofuses will go, “Hey, that’s a bad story, but I don’t want the guy to be subjected to ass-raping by sharks every day for the rest of his life as a result of hearing this story, so therefore it’s not rape, you feminazi bitch.”

An Education

You guys, I just finished the best book. It was A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz who may be my new secret boyfriend. Mainly because the person who wrote this book sounds like an awesome boyfriend.

Now, I love Jane Austen. A lot. Pride and Prejudice remains my favorite novel of ever (and if any of my readers are wondering what present they should buy me, the book I just linked would be an awesome choice). I can never decide whether Emma or Persuasion is my second favorite, but, you know, either of those would make excellent presents as well. And of course I’ve watched all the movies, some of them dozens of times (and in the case of Clueless, the cleverest adaptation of them all, well more than that). My husband actually ripped the audio files of the BBC Pride and Prejudice movie and burned them onto CDs (oh my God I’m so f-ing old) so I could listen to them in the car on the way from Boston to Chicago. So would a person who does not like Jane Austen like this book? I really don’t know.

On the one hand, William Deresiewicz started out as one of those people. That’s what his first chapter (on Emma) is about – his transformation from too-cool-for-this-shit grad student to Janeite. So maybe people taking this journey with him will be turned on to Jane Austen the way he was. Maybe this will be the portal to liking Jane Austen. Who knows?

On the other hand, this blend of memoir and literary criticism is really more literary criticism than it is memoir and if you haven’t read the lit at hand, I’m not sure you’ll like it. His writing is by no means excessively esoteric or academic; one could certainly understand the basics one needed about each novel given his descriptions and analyses. I just don’t know that one would care.

Actually, the one thing that was slightly disappointing was that the memoir stuff was a little too light. He was never funnier than when he was writing self-deprecatingly about early incarnations of himself; I could have done with more of that. But what he writes about Jane Austen – and what he writes about what one is supposed to learn in order to be a worthwhile – “useful” in Jane Austen’s term, which Deresiewicz favors – adult – is truly illuminating.

But my goodness, I got an education about the important things by reading Deresciewicz’s book. And not just about Jane Austen, although that was good, too.

What did I learn about Jane Austen? Well, to begin with, although I am a fan of her novels, until recently I’ve tried to avoid reading about the lives of the authors I like. Somehow it felt to me like a violation of their privacy, or, if not their privacy, than like a disservice to the novels they wrote, like, if I was just looking for the places where the novels were autobiographical, that’s prurient and a disservice to their art. Because it always irritated me in my creative writing workshops when someone would ask of someone else’s story, “Is this you?” But I am old now and not so much of a navel-gazer (hah!) and I begin to see the value in knowing something about one’s favorite authors. (I particularly started to see it when I started reading Jennifer Crusie’s blog. She’s my favorite contemporary romance novelist and when she talks on her blog about feeling frustrated, blocked, and convinced that all of her ideas suck, it makes me feel a lot better about my writing. But I digress. Often.)

Deresiewicz showed me that understanding from other sources, such as letters, of which Jane Austen was a prolific writer, what their general world outlook was, that can illuminate their writings. One of the first defenses he makes of her, for instances, is that she chose to write about the seemingly unimportant trifles of everyday life not because she was so insulated from and ignorant of more wordily matters, but despite her lack of that isolation. Her brothers were in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, her aunt was (perhaps intimately) involved with Warren Hastings, first governor-general of India for Britain, the son of whom was raised in the same household as Austen. So she had access to these grand events of history. She just chose to write about home and hearth instead.

It was not surprising to learn that she was capable of a wicked wit in letters as well as in novels, nor that her letters to her sister from around the time she started writing Pride and Prejudice sounded nearly indistinguishable from conversations between Elizabeth and Jane in the novel. (If anything, Austen was meaner than her literary daughter/avatar; would Elizabeth have ever said, “I was as civil to them as their bad breath would allow me”?) But knowing the degree to which she was involved with her nieces and nephews, and to what degree they relied on her advice regarding romance, put her novels in a whole new light for me. Her back-and-forth with her niece regarding whether or not said niece should marry a given suitor was marvelously illuminating in terms of the pull Jane Austen felt between “Of course you should marry for love and allow your feelings to guide you!” and “On the other hand, feelings are unreliable, and if he’s a man of good character, your appreciation of that character will lead to love.” It certainly goes a long way in explaining why Sense and Sensibility lacks the spark of Pride and Prejudice. (I like Sense and Sensibility, no question. But Edward is a little dull, let’s not lie here.)

I also learned that Rudyard Kipling was a fan, which struck me as odd, as I was under the impression that Rudyard Kipling doesn’t much like women. (I’m not implying he’s a homosexual. I’m implying he’s a misogynist. It’s weird to me that most male misogynists are not also homosexual, but there you go. On the other hand, it is not weird to me that most homosexual men are not misogynists, because what do they have to hate us for?) Then again, it has always struck me as interesting that Jane Austen is an author, and female, and wrote about “feminine” things, but has always won praise and admiration from many very manly men.

Deresiewicz also gave me a lens to understand why I like Jane Austen and sometimes feel like a bit of an oddball. He writes, “Romanticism bought that society and its conventions are confining and artificial and destructive, and that reason was simply another one of those conventions, not a source of truth. . . . In terms of cultural history, [anti-Romantic] Austen was fighting a losing battle. The Romantic idea gave rise to almost all the great art of the last two centuries . . . It has set the terms for the way we think and fee ever since the time of Austen, and in particular, for the way we think and feel about thinking and feeling.” I, like Austen (and, I think, like my mother), am an anti-Romantic. I don’t believe if it feels good, then it is good. (That’s Sophia’s department.) I do believe you should think first before you act on your feelings. I’m no Puritan, I don’t believe that if it feels good, it’s therefore automatically sinful. I just don’t trust feelings as the primary piece of information on which one should act.

But gosh, some of the lessons he takes from Jane Austen’s novels are lessons I’m sorely in need of, too. So let’s break them down:

In Emma, we learn that it’s always the little things that matter. You can hold yourself up as the intellectual superior to everyone around you, the only one who understands that there are bigger issues out there and more interesting things out there and God everyone around you is so small-minded and boring but that just makes you an irritating twit. Caring about the people around you, and all their foibles and concerns, the most minute piece of thread from the fabric of their lives, is life, so get off your my goddamned high horse. I need to be reminded of this once every sixty seconds or so. For example, my mother-in-law got me a subscription to Real Simple for Hanukkah. I really like Real Simple most of the time. Its art direction is gorgeous, I like its recipes, I like its random uses of everyday objects (Egg shells as planters for young herbs? Kind of cool.) and despite a tendency towards emotionalism that is a touch too much for cynical me, I really like reading the readers’ answers to various questions on what they do for fun and what they’re reading and all. But sometimes I come across articles like, “Three Ways to Organize a Closet!” and I kind of want to kill myself because it hurts to recognize that this is my demographic now. BUT what I should be learning from Emma and from Deresiewicz is that the closet organizing is important. Or, not so much the closet organizing, but if a loved one wants to talk about their closet-organizing project, I should listen, because it’s the people who are important. I used to be very good at this, at being the kind of girl to whom a Miss Bates could ramble endlessly; I have lost that ability in recent years. Perhaps I will embroider it on a pillow – Everyday Matters.

The lesson from Pride and Prejudice is one I need to hear about every thirty seconds. You will make mistakes, Austen/Deresiewicz tell us, and they will be big, and it will be massively embarrassing to you to 1) own up to them and 2) fix them, but you have to do it or you’ll never grow. Yes, even if you are the most engaging and adorable character in all of literature, you will fuck up. Hugely. Trying to avoid mistakes, or avoid taking responsibility for your mistakes, will not preserve your status as engaging and adorable; it will turn you insufferable and immature. So live, learn, and grow the fuck up. Now that’s what I’m embroidering on a pillow. Grow The Fuck Up.

Northanger Abbey has long been my least favorite Austen. Maybe that’s because it doesn’t have a good movie to go with it. But maybe I should give it a try. The lesson Deresiewicz (I’d complain about having to spell his last name over and over again but hey, my last name is no picnic, either.) draws from it is that you should live with your eyes open, that you should stay young by expecting to be surprised and expecting to change your mind. Subvert dominant paradigms, and the rigorously question the new ones. Gosh, Austen was just awesome.

Deresiewicz sums up the lesson of Mansfield Park thusly. “Being entertained is not the same as being happy.” I am reminded of that line in David Mamet’s State and Main (Sorry, I know he’s an asshole now, but I love that movie.) where Philip Seymour Hoffman says, “I guess you have to make your own fun around here,” and Rebecca Pidgeon responds, “Everyone makes their own fun. If you don’t make it yourself, it’s not fun, it’s entertainment.” This is also basically what everyone’s saying about these kids these days with their iThis and their Wii-that. That we lack true purpose and true community and therefore we are depressed and/or entitled and annoying. No arguments there. But this is one of those lessons that totally everyone else needs but not me because I’m better than those spoiled assholes.

Right?

Persuasion is not the best-loved Austen book. The character in it is older (okay, twenty-seven, but Austen’s twenty-seven is different from our twenty-seven, okay?) and kind of passive and who lets their dead mom’s best friend tell them who to marry anyway? But I’ve always loved it. I feel Anne because I’ve so been there, girl, with the everyone depending on you but no one really seeing you and the crazy in your life with no one sufficiently not-crazy to talk to about it and the pining for boys who seem to be so not into you. So I get into this one. I love this one. Deresiewicz uses this chapter to talk about friendships, and the ways in which the relationships you choose, and the relationships you strengthen, may include family members, and may (should) include your spouse, but that the formation of a chosen family of like-minded and beloved friends is the key to a happy life. It’s another chapter in which his lesson is being borne out by various psychological studies which I’m sure I’ve read but I’m too lazy to Google now. And it’s certainly rung true in my life. I had a group of friends in college who were my family while I was there, and still are, though we are far-flung now. I am developing a group of friends now who can be counted on for things like bringing me exactly what I want (croissants from Sweet Whimsy; a copy of Game of Thrones that does not have Sean Bean on the cover – all my love to Sean Bean, I just hate that stuff on books) on a shitty birthday, or making the cupcakes for my kid’s birthday party. Good stuff. Necessary stuff, not just to feel happy, I think, but to feel human. (Deresiewicz emphasizes the necessity of having friends who’ll tell you the truth even if you don’t want to hear it. I think that’s important, too, but . . . I think this is more of a guy thing than a girl thing. Or maybe girls in general are very good at being hard on ourselves, and what we need from friends is to tell us we’re really not that bad. Or maybe that’s just me.)

And finally, in Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen drives home her anti-Romantic point. Which I think I’ve got down. I think it’s what attracted me to her in the first place. Plus, this is where we get the story of Deresiewicz’s love, now that he’s learned enough from Jane Austen to find and recognize her, and that was so adorable I fell in love with him a little bit.

I guess the best thing I can say about reading this is that I felt, in the process of reading it, about William Deresiewicz as I do about Jane Austen – that they are my friends, that I have just sat down for a long chat over coffee with them and had a thoroughly enjoyable time.

Erica Answers, Sophia Butts In

Dear Erica/Sophia,

I had been going out with this guy for a few weeks, and made out with him once, when he invited himself up to my apartment. Once we were up there, kept trying to go down on me, and finally I let him. It was nice, but afterwards, he leaned back and said, “My turn.” At this point I thought things were already moving too fast, so I said no, and he pouted a little and then tried to use my guilt over not reciprocating as leverage to spend the night. By then I pretty much wanted him to get the fuck out of my house, so I told him I had to work in the morning and sent him on his way. I feel like I took advantage of him by not returning the favor. What should I have done?

Manhandled in Maine

Oh, good Lord, I’m letting Sophia take this one.

Darling, darling, darling. There are so many things wrong with this question, I don’t know where to start.

I think we start with, you invite to your apartment. Not him.

Then let us visit this – you are dating this man. You have made out with this man. And yet you are reluctant to let him pleasure your body. Why are we dating men to whom we are not attracted?

Sophie, that’s not necessarily the case. Maybe she is attracted, but she wasn’t ready to go that far yet.

I do not understand the words which you are saying to me.

Yeah. I know.

Darling, listen to me. If you are engaged in a passionate interlude with a gentleman and he wishes to pleasure your body and your reaction is not, “Oh, yes, please, darling, do!” you are with the wrong man.

Or it’s just the wrong moment. You know, she liked him enough to be making out but then he went too fast.

But this is what I said, darling. The wrong man.

And as if to prove this point, this “guy,” for I will not call him a man, finished pleasuring you and then said, “My turn”?! Darling, you must spare my poor heart from knowing such callous un-gentlemanly behavior exists. “My turn”?! “My turn”?! Honestly, darling, I am left speechless. Positively speechless. “Pouting”? “Guilt”? He is hardly a man, darling; I am surprised that he possesses the organ with which it might be his “turn.”

I say to him, this is not how to be a lover. A lover delights in his paramour’s body. A lover provides pleasure and accepts graciously the pleasure his paramour offers to him. He does not push his attentions on a reluctant woman, nor demand attentions on his person that she is unwilling to give. Such selfishness is not to be borne.

You have to excuse her a moment. She’s dizzy with rage. Please keep in mind, she’s only a figment of my imagination, and as such, only consorts with the men who live there. They never behave like this.

“My turn”?! “My turn”?! Of all things! No one owes anyone anything in bed! Ever! To behave like this is the height of- of-

She’s gone again. I don’t know what to do for her. I’d offer her a cool washcloth on her forehead or something, but, as a figment of my imagination, she doesn’t really have her own forehead.

And you! You think you took advantage of him?! You think you should have “returned the favor”?! I cannot – I simply – I cannot-

I think what she’s trying to say is, he took advantage of your obliging nature by inviting himself in, performing a sex act which you were reluctant about, trying to insist on a return of the “favor,” which, in fact, you did him by allowing him to do something he apparently wanted to do and you were only meh about, and then trying to weasel his way into your bed for the night where, you can be sure, he would have tried to have sex with you by wheedling, cajoling, pouting, and persisting some more, so no, you don’t owe him anything.

Sometimes I am glad you are my twin, Erica. When I cannot speak, you are level-headed enough to do so on my behalf. To Manhandled – darling – do not date men to whom you are not attracted. Do not “let” men do things you don’t want to do. Passion, darling! If you don’t want something desperately, it is probably not worth doing.

If you want to see other stuff from Sophia, check out this and this. If you have a question for her, contact me at raspberrylimericki@gmail.com.

Prom Reminisces

Boy, I know I can’t spell anymore but “reminisces” doesn’t really look right no matter which vowels I put in.

Anyway. I have now watched the “Glee” performance of “Friday, Friday” a hundred bajillion times because it’s Zoe’s new favorite. (Really, guys, life does not get better than your preschooler in her nighting gown jumping up and down screaming “Best Prom Ever!”) And the first several times I noticed Santana making a kind of weird head move but I didn’t see why but then I did – she’s giving a weird look to a girl wearing the same prom dress as her. And then I got all nostalgic because that happened to me, too!

My junior year, I went to a friend’s senior prom at a different high school. I almost turned down his invite because I didn’t want to buy a dress; that’s how aggressively un-girly I was being at the moment. So when my mom and I went shopping for the ensemble, I was very much pushing towards sale racks and items that can be worn to non-proms as well as proms. I got this simple black dress with sort of pastel embroidered flowers up the front and it was very nice and elegant and not too prom-my and cheap. And then when I got to the prom, another girl was wearing the same one! But she also did not go to this school! She actually went to the same high school as me, but we didn’t really know each other much. So instead of either of us feeling, “Oh, no! I must write to Teen about my tale of ultimate embarrassment immediately!” we were like, “Sales rack at Macy’s? Nice.” And we went on with our night.

And, as it happens, I did wear that dress, to a couple of B’nai Mitzvot and to a formal in college which was called Screw Your Roommate, because you were supposed to set up your roommate, presumably with someone objectionable. What was funny was that I had talked to my parents about the dance enough that they were familiar with the shortened term “Screw.” Then when everyone was having breakfast one morning my stepmother asked what dress I was going to wear to a coming Bat Mitzvah, and I said, “The dress I wore to Screw.” My stepsister, not having heard me talk about the dance, dropped her jaw on the table. “You tell our parents stuff like that?” It was sort of amusing.

I remember two other things about the purchasing of that outfit. The first thing is that I did keep my mother on track with the mantra of “Sale, Sale, Sale” for most of the purchasing, but she got the hair doodad without me. (She wasn’t being controlling or boundary-overstepping; IIRC, the invitation to the prom was a little late by girl standards and we were just running low on time so she ended up going shopping on her lunch hour, which I, as a high school student, couldn’t do.) The hair doodad was nice, but it cost $40, which I considered too much money for a hair doodad for someone else’s prom. BUT. The following year, when a) I was no longer quite so aggressively anti-girly, and b) it was my prom, I picked out a hair doodad for $40 – and my mom wouldn’t get it for me! She said it was too expensive! She did come up with a much cheaper and much cooler hair concept, though.

The other thing is that my date was, like, 6’5″ or something (and presumably still is), so I insisted on getting sky-high heels. I cannot walk in sky-high heels. It’s one of the Girl Classes I flunked. I had on these shoes for maybe five minutes of the prom. By the time I actually slow-danced with my 6’5″ date, the shoes were off. And this was not a lesson I learned; I also purchased sky-high heels for our formal my senior year of college. Which I also could not walk in.

I was, however, very happy to go to my own prom with a more normal-sized guy so I could buy the easy 1 1/2″ heels instead.

And while I’m at it, I’ve got to give props to my date for my own prom. When we got there, the junior guy in charge of filming stuff for the school television station, who I knew a little, asked me and my date to come be interviewed. He asked how I felt about this being senior prom, and I said something I do not remember now, and then my date went into this long, emotional speech about how it was the last time we were all going to be together and all the memories he had of everyone there and how he was going to miss all of them so much – all the cheesy stuff you’d expect, only he really sold it. The best part? He didn’t go to my school.

Hello, You’re a Mom

And now We’re really going to do a number.

But let’s start before you’ve even gotten pregnant. Let’s start by asking why you haven’t yet. Don’t you know that 16/23/27/35/42 is the ideal biological age/ideal time in your life/last possible chance to have children and you’re running out of time? What are you, selfish or immature or something? Don’t you want someone to take care of you in your old age? Don’t you want to make a meaningful contribution to society? Don’t you want to give your parents grandchildren already? Grandchildren are the great joy of old age; how dare you think of denying your parents the pleasure. Getting grandchildren was the only reason they had you, you know. And babies are so cute! How can you think babies aren’t cute?! What kind of heartless bitch are you?

Oh, you’re pregnant? That’s kind of selfish of you. Don’t you know the planet is overpopulated? Why do you think any more of our dwindling resources should go to your selfish need to reproduce yourself? At the very least, you could have adopted some poor, starving child from some poor, starving country instead. (Multiply the force of this argument by a billion if you *gasp* used any fertility assistance to get pregnant.) Also, We don’t think you really deserve your job anymore. Obviously if you’re going to selfishly put your own kids first, ahead of your company, then you’re not really the kind of girl they hire/promote/respect at all. You’re probably going to be busy doing all kinds of stupid mommy things now. Like puking. Or breastfeeding. Or picking up sick kids from school. Obviously you can no longer be productive in the workplace. It’s not sexism; it’s just true.

(We won’t even address those of you who are pregnant and don’t want to be. It’s your own fault for being such a dirty slut. Next time you shouldn’t have sex/shouldn’t wear such a short skirt around your mother’s boyfriend/should have learned how to use a condom/should never have heard of condoms because that’s what made you have sex in the first place. Whore. We hope you’re not thinking of murdering your unborn child. Or expecting Us to do anything to help take care of your bastard once it’s born. And don’t try to tell Us you did use a condom. Don’t try to tell Us you were raped. Don’t try to tell Us your own health is at risk. Don’t try to tell Us you ARE married, to the father of this child, and you already have children, and you just can’t afford, physically or financially, to have another one. We don’t believe you. Or give a shit.)

We hope that’s not a cigarette or a drink in your hand. Or a coffee. Or a roast beef sandwich. Or sushi. Or brie. We hope you’re not even standing in a place where others might be smoking or drinking or eating roast beef sandwiches. It could hurt your baby. We hope you’re getting enough folic acid. We hope you’re not gaining too much weight; being pregnant is no excuse to become a big fat pig. We hope you’re eating enough; wanting to stay skinny through a pregnancy is so shallow and superficial and selfish of you. Don’t you care at all about your baby’s well-being? We hope you’re getting enough rest. We hope you’re not sleeping all the time; being pregnant is no excuse for being a lazy, useless human being.

We hope you’re not thinking of using drugs during labor. That’s unnatural. Hundreds of millions of women across history and also in Sweden don’t use drugs; are you too weak and spoiled to do what they did? We hope you’re not thinking of going without the epidural. What are you, some kind of retrograde hippie? Modern science has produced an epidural; why wouldn’t you use it? We certainly hope you’re not thinking of just scheduling a C-section. Selfish, spoiled, careerist woman. Probably an unfit mother. A C-section is frequently the only safe way to deliver your baby and anyway it makes it much easier on the doctor and your baby won’t have that weird head for the first few days. Why are you willing to sacrifice the life/health/beauty of your baby? Why do think the doctor has nothing to do but stand around waiting for you to just “decide” to give birth?

And now you have your wonderful, perfect, beautiful baby! Congratulations. Now, don’t worry if you don’t feel that rush of maternal warmth and love in the first seconds after pushing the kid out of your vagina/being opened up on the operating table. That’s normal. It’ll destroy forever the bond that is the only way for your child to grow up emotionally healthy. But don’t stress yourself if it doesn’t happen. Your child can always develop a strong attachment to something else. Like a blankie. Or marijuana.

What do you mean, you’re not breast-feeding? Don’t you know it’s the most super awesome thing that you could do with your life? Don’t you know that if you don’t breastfeed, your child will be stupid and fat and malnourished and also not bond with you? But . . . keep your breasts hidden, okay? No one wants to see those enormous udders in public. It’s disgusting. They’re not even sexy anymore, and We’ve already been over this in your Girl Training – if you’re not sexy, you should just agree to be invisible. And don’t let your baby cry in public either, even if you’ve been stuck on the runway in a crowded airplane for four hours and they won’t turn the air conditioning on and it’s July. Your baby’s cries are annoying. We feel that there would not be any babies crying, especially not in public, if you would just do your goddamn job as a parent, which is, prevent that baby from annoying us. Or stay home. God. There’s not thing worse than crying babies in public. We don’t even hate fat people as much as we hate your baby crying. We don’t even hate your boobs as much as we hate your baby crying, although seriously, if exposing your boob is what it takes to keep your baby from crying, you should just stay home. For the entire year that breastfeeding is absolutely necessary for the well-being of your child. Not that you should breastfeed. It’s the 21st century for crying out loud. Haven’t you ever heard of formula, you hippie?

You’re staying home with your child? What is this, 1952? You just expect your husband to foot the bills for everything? That makes you, like, a hooker, right? Because someone else is paying for your living, and you have sex with him (well, not so much now that you have a kid, but sometimes), so that makes you a hooker. Plus what kind of example are you setting for your child? Especially if she’s a girl? You’re not giving her a role model if you don’t work outside the home. And now you’ve left yourself really vulnerable. What if your husband leaves you for a younger, sexier woman, which, let’s face it, he’s going to, because being a stay-at-home mommy has made you decidedly unsexy plus you were probably one of those women who let him be there when you gave birth and do you really think that you can just expect him to want to bone you after that? And what if your husband is injured or gets sick or is in some other way incapacitated? What kind of gold-digging bitch are you to put all the earning money responsibilities on his shoulders? Plus being a housewife makes you kind of boring. A non-entity. No one will talk to you at cocktail parties because you couldn’t possibly have anything interesting to say; you’ll just want to go on about diapers and poop.

Not that you can go to cocktail parties. Because that would require hiring a babysitter, and everyone knows that all people who choose to work with children are probably child molesters, so you can’t possibly trust anyone else to ever have contact with your child. That’s why you’ll have to stay home and not work. Plus, a child’s own mother is really the only proper provider of care for that child. (Not the father. Don’t be ridiculous.) If you don’t stay home, your child will feel neglected and will not bond to you properly. But, again, no problem. If you need to be a selfish, careerist, feminist bitch, then there’s always the marijuana.

Co-sleeping is bad. So is the cry-it-out method. Spanking is bad, time-outs are bad, not disciplining your kids is bad. Princesses are bad and so are tomboys. Home-schooling is for hyper-Christian weirdos and hippies. Public schools are a disgrace; We can’t believe you’d think of sending your child there. Private schools are great if you’re a rich elitist snob who doesn’t mind your kid growing up completely in this sheltered bubble and being super-entitled and also drinking and taking drugs and having sex by the time they’re ten.

Your child should be in after-school athletics so that s/he doesn’t end up fat. Your child should be in after-school music lessons; they develop the mind in all the important ways, like the ability to do math. Your child should be in after-school dancing, drama, or art, to get a leg up on the competition. Your child should be in after-school community programming, like Scouts or some volunteer organization, so they grow up with strong ethics and morals. Hey, your kid is way over-scheduled! S/he’s going to have the same stress level as a 45-year-old CEO! Let them run outside and play, for God’s sake! They’re kids! Not alone though. Kids should never be alone outside, you don’t know what kind of random freaks are out there. Homicidal pedophiles are not the exception, they are the NORM. They are your NEIGHBOR! And home? Your kid shouldn’t stay home alone until he’s nine. No, eleven. No, fourteen. No, fifteen. No, not even for an hour. S/he could choke! What do you mean, your kid needs after-school care when s/he’s in high school?! You’re hovering! You’re going to make your kid needy and depressed and unable to cope with the adult world!

Talking to your children about sex is bad – they’re going to be sluts! Not talking to your kids about sex is bad – they’re going to be repressed! Whatever you just said to your child about sex is bad. Now you’ve fucked them up forever.

If your child ever does any of the following: yelling in public, hitting anyone ever, having sex as a teenager and getting caught, experimenting with drugs, getting arrested, being dressed awkwardly, not getting into Harvard, being fat – that’s clear evidence that you were a lousy parent and whatever methods you thought were going to work didn’t. If anything tragic ever happens, like if your child gets hit by a car or something, that’s also clear evidence that you are a lousy parent and you might even get arrested for child endangerment or similar. But if your child is absolutely perfect in public – dressed nicely, addressing everyone as “Sir” and “Ma’am,” performing Rachmaninoff in professional venues by age 11 – that’s a clear sign you’ve been an evil mother who beats your children with coat hangers when they don’t perform to your standards. You crazed bitch.

Also, there’s spit-up on your blouse. Ew.

SYTYCD – FINALE!

Erica: Because I can’t not do this, I must point out that when the girls come out in the beginning of the episode they’re in skimpy, sexy dancewear, and when the boys come out, they’re in…clothes.

Kate: It happens. Unless Brandon is there. That kid never wears clothes.

Erica: I will be referring to one of the guest judges as Joey all evening. Partially because I am old and nostalgic (for the time when TV was… worse?) and partially because she’s, like, 35 and she still seems to be playing the 15-year-old ingénue.

Kate: Katie Holmes will never ever not be Joey Potter. You know how that just happens to some TV characters? Like most of the “Friends” and “Seinfeld” casts? Same goes for “Dawson’s Creek.” It doesn’t help that she doesn’t LOOK any older than 15 and also doesn’t have any kind of authority on dance whatsoever.

Marko and Melanie

Erica: See, the world likes to do this to me a lot. Marko and Melanie together again! Yay! Doing Disco. Blah.

Kate: The song was simply dreadful and I was…bored? I hate to do this to them but yeah, I didn’t like it.

Erica: I almost never like the disco. And I hate that song more than most other disco songs. The song itself seems to me to sap energy from the room; Melanie and Marko did their level best to bring it back.

Mark and Sasha

Erica: Whereas Mark, Sasha and Sonya is an all-around dream team.

Zoe: He needs a shirt.

Erica: Did you know that Mark was Lady Gaga’s lead dancer? That seems extremely appropriate. He was also in the Britney/Madonna number on “Glee.”

Kate: Good for Mark.

Erica: Also, do we think he’s one of Cat’s favorite dancers because he’s about as tall as her?

Kate: A rare thing indeed.

Tadd and Joshua

Erica: Listen, in a swag competition between Tadd and Joshua, obviously Joshua is going to win. That said, I thought Tadd was pretty good, too. He had some flow and some…I guess “sass” in place of “swag.” Which was good! And on another topic, which I only bring up because Mr. Kenny Ortega did, but I just want to say I like this format of standard pairing for the top 20-the top 10, then a mix of all-stars and coupled performances.

Kate: See but I still don’t love the whole all-stars thing because the all-stars are not being judged or critiqued and contrary to popular belief just because they are “all-stars” does not mean their technique is flawless-what if one of them fobs up the routine? Only the contestant gets sh!t for it.

Erica: But I get so happy seeing them! Also, as we wind down to the finale, it helps to highlight individual competitors over teams, you know? Okay, now that this gesture has been used by an aging disco queen, a quirky-artsy dancer type, and a hip-hop guy, it must be universal. I will therefore now put my hands in prayer position and touch them to my forehead and bow a little every time someone says something nice to me.

Melanie and Robert

Erica: Sometimes I get a little tired of the heartbreak-and-flail contemporary stuff. And then this happens, where it’s heartbreak-y and flail-y and AWESOME and Melanie breaks my heart. I’m going to be depressed all day. Thanks.

Kate: Mmm Robert. Sorry what? Dancing? Oh yeah.

Erica: I haven’t said this enough this season but Cat is so adorable. I loved her demanding exorbitant agent’s fees for getting Melanie an alleged job. Also, I like Stacey Tookey’s hair.

Kate: She’s just such a little pumpkin. Although I get her and Mandy Moore (the choreographer, not the singer/actress) confused.

Erica: ME, TOO.

Sasha and Marko

Erica: I thought they were great. Even if Nigel didn’t. I love the little things in Broadway numbers, like when his foot jerks along with her head or whatever.

Kate: Well what a fantastic little song for Miss Sasha Fierce (the REAL Sasha Fierce!).

Erica: But why do all the Broadway routines have the same “story”? Sexy, aggressive lady, hapless dude? Also, is Katie Holmes-I mean Joey-taking on some of Tom Cruise’s mannerisms? I only ask because at one point the way she was saying something reminded me of Ben Stiller’s parody of Tom Cruise on the SNL series of Celebrity Jeopardy sketches.

Kate: Given that Tom Cruise performs brainwashing voodoo hexes on Katie on a nightly basis and infects her with his supreme unsettling weirdness, probably.

Melanie solo

Erica: She’s so adorable.

Marko solo

Erica: I like the song he dances to. Kate, get on that for me, would you?

Kate: I actually have a great site for all the SYTYCD music: PURESYTYCD BLOG

Erica: No, no, no, I don’t want to do any work. I want you (and your viewing companion, if he’d like) to make me some more CDs of music I won’t find on my own that I’d like (keeping in mind that I only “find things on my own” if they’re covered on “Glee.”) Also I like the acknowledgement that, uh, some people work for a living.

Sasha and Tadd

Erica: I kind of hated the music, but I didn’t think the dancing was nearly as bad as the judges did. But look, if Mary Murphy says they didn’t do the cha-cha properly, then they didn’t do the cha-cha properly.

Zoe: I want Saaaaassshhhha.

Lauren and Marko

Kate: Okay someone explain to me what the h-e-double-hockey-sticks is WRONG with Lauren Froderman. Last time she looked a little weird but this time she looked positively distraught, like unable to form coherent movements/words after the routine was over. Let’s get to the bottom of this.

Erica: I very much agree with you. Weird. I still love him, though.

Kate: I actually thought he was better than her in this. See what I mean about the all-stars, in this case the WINNER, not being assolutamente perfetto?

Erica: I concede, you have a point.

Tadd solo

Erica: I liked it.

Kate: I still don’t like b-boy solos.

Tadd and Melanie

Erica: So much fun. You know what I loved? The old-fashioned sock-garter things when Melanie ripped Tadd’s pants off.

Kate: Cute for sure but I saw some of the awkwardness you mentioned last week about her hip-hop-her contemporary training was showing when she was trying to loosen up and be all sassy jazzy lady. The pants were a tad (ha, I’ll never get sick of that pun in here) unflattering.

Erica: Yes. Most definitely not a good idea.

Sasha solo

Erica: She’s going to win.

Kate: She should.

Sasha and Melanie

Erica: I loved this. A lot. And I thought the choreography was really smart. But I think the things they (the judges and the choreographer) said about it and the things I actually saw were different. I didn’t see the women using each other’s strength and their friendship to break out. I saw the women wanting to do that, but then consciously rejecting it and returning to their corners. Which I thought was really brilliant. But it didn’t match what they said.

Kate: I feel as though Stacey Tookey choreographed this specifically with you in mind.

Erica: Sometimes that happens.

Kate: I liked that they not only danced together but did lifts together, and it looked perfectly effortless! Like they each weighed nothing!

Erica: So, I hate to go all hippie-dippie here (okay, that’s an obvious lie-I love to go all hippie-dippie), but this thing with Nigel saying the camaraderie is what’s so great, and competition aside, these girls are both stars-I mean, it’s all true, so…are we having a competition, then? I really think I could be equally entertained if we saw the collaborative process of putting on a dance, watched a set of dancers grow and change and explore, rather than watching two get kicked off every week. And I think this about skill-based competitive reality shows in general, not just here. Here, if it’s true that these guys are all such wonderful dancers (which they are), do we really need to crown only one of them the best? Why do we need to assume competition is the best thing all the time?

Kate: And the thing about this show is, the top 10 go on tour anyway and probably the top 20 all get kick-as$ dance careers out of it.

Erica: Well, that makes me feel better, honestly, because I don’t have to worry that their losing actually affects them too negatively.

Marko and Tadd

Erica: Oh, thank the Lord. I thought we were going to go a whole episode without a single Very Special Issue or Dance from a Different Culture coming up.

Kate: This was the worst possible way to end the show. And the season. Tadd was pretty good but um hello Marko, where did your swag go? You totes had it in that hip-hop routine Lady GaGa sort of rejected, and you lost it here. They were completely off the whole time. Even my viewing companion who has no dance background whatsoever (but who insists he can do all the lifts on this show just fine) saw that.

Erica: In terms of swag: Joshua > Tadd > Marko. Fun but not memorable, and yes, Nigel, a girl is going to win. I just wish it could be both of them.

Kate: Ha ha, that was probably the best thing Nigel has said all season. “Neither of you is going to win! But swell job lads.”

Kate: I would not be totally shocked if America voted for Tadd, nor would I be that upset that he did because HE’S A B-BOY! A LOWLY UNEDUCATED B-BOY WHO COULDN’T HAVE POSSIBLY DONE ANY OTHER TYPE OF DANCE UNTIL THIS SHOW SAVED HIS TORTURED SOUL! But I still would LIKE for Sasha to win.

Erica: Well, too bad, because MELANIE WON! I’m kind of surprised. I loooooove Melanie (and Sasha) but I thought for sure Sasha would win. But they are both awesome. Really, they are all pretty incredible.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape

Next week, I will post the much-anticipated Hello, You’re a Mom, the follow-up to my much-lauded Hello, You’re a Girl. (I’m lying, as usual. No one is anticipating, and by “much-lauded,” I mean two people have asked me if I’m okay. I am fine, thank you for asking.) But this week I feel like I’ve got to address . . . rape. Sorry.

So The Atlantic, which seems to exist in order that I might be annoyed when I don’t care what Ross Douthat is writing about, published this article yesterday morning. And Kate Harding, who I wish were my friend (she lives in Chicago! It could totally happen!) tweeted about it, which is how I know about it. And then I read one of her links and now I think it’s time to write what I’ve been thinking about our discourses on rape. Be warned – this is going to be a long and twisty road with possibly no point whatsoever.

I think the biggest problem with our discourses on rape is that there’s this cultural understanding that Rape is the Worst Thing a Person Could Possibly Do Ever, and anyone who does it deserves to be torn limb from limb by wild horses, tarred and feathered, and then left alone in a room with Catherine Kieu Becker. (That’s another shameless link to a pretty popular post of mine.) And then they, themselves, should be repeatedly ass-raped, although, by whom, I don’t know, because wouldn’t we just have to do the same thing to their rapists?

And obviously, I think rape is a very bad thing to do and if you do rape someone you should stand trial and then, if you are found guilty, which, if you actually have raped someone, I hope you are, go to prison (to the extent that I think prison is a good idea as a criminal justice system, which I guess I do, as I don’t have any really good alternatives).

But when you set up this thing that is The Most God-Awful Thing You Can Ever Do, there then has to be a lot of hedging. That’s the line that got me in the Atlantic article, the hedge. “I speculate that something neither violent nor completely consensual happened, such as an aggressive attempt at seduction to which she consented for fear of angering a wealthy hotel guest,” writes Stuart Taylor Jr., as if there’s such at thing as “not completely consensual” that’s not also “rape.” “If so, Strauss-Kahn’s conduct was deplorable – but was not the forcible sexual assault with which he has been charged.” This is clearly the move of, “Look, if he had forcibly sexually assaulted her, I’d be all for stringing him up, putting his head on a spike outside the city gates, cutting off his balls with no anesthesia, sure. But this doesn’t sound quite like forcible sexual assault to me.” (Of course, Taylor’s speculations as to how this doesn’t sound like forcible sexual assault are . . . bullshit. I kept trying to come up with an elegant hedge, here, but my momma always said that if the word you mean is “bullshit,” you should just say “bullshit.” But that’s not the point I’m trying to make here.)

I don’t know what the legal answers are here. I wish I did. Sometimes I think there ought to be degrees of rape, like there are degrees of murder. (And I know there’s rape vs. sexual assault, but I think that’s a distinction based solely on where he put his penis, and not on degrees of consent. Which, of course, I imagine requires that most female-on-male – and all female-on-female, I guess – rape be downgraded to sexual assault, which is its own problem. Which is again not my point.) But I don’t really care that much about what you should charge a rapist with after s/he’s raped somebody. I care about preventing that rape from happening in the first place and I care about creating a model of romantic/sexual behavior that holds “aggressive seduction” as an oxymoron.

And this is where rape culture comes in. I think the heart of rape culture is the assumption that the normal sexual landscape is that women don’t want sex, they want love/commitment/money. In order to get sex from women, you have to successfully convince them that you can offer them love/commitment/money. Once you have convinced them of this and they have given you the sex, you are not under any particular obligation to give them love/commitment/money, although it’d be nice (but not Dudely). But if you’ve ponied up enough love/commitment/money, or even the illusion of it, they do, in fact, owe you sex. Many acts which these irritating feminist broads call “rape” because they’re so nitpick-y are really just men either a) taking what was due to them because of their offering of love/commitment/money, or b) cheating the system by taking sex when they haven’t offered these things. I mean sure, a man with a gun jumps a stranger, a virgin on the night before her wedding who’s never so much as stepped on an ant, and brutally attacks her in a way that leaves obvious marks that can’t be mistaken for anything but assault marks, and rapes her, well, that guy is a Rapist. But this case? This case of the old, overweight ladies’ man who maybe “aggressively seduced” a woman who was afraid to say no? The college boy who goes ahead with sex after the person he’s been making out with passed out? The husband who just really wanted sex and his wife had been claiming she had a headache for, like, a month? The guy who thought when she said, “No, don’t, please, don’t!” it was dirty talk? They’re just dudes trying by hook or crook to get girls to sleep with them. The ideal of sex in this system is tricking a beautiful, hard-to-get woman to sleep with you and then getting away without having to pay her in love/commitment/money. Consent? Getting consent is getting a girl to say, “Oh, alright. I suppose. If I must.”

And then the other side of this, the side that says, “Hey, consent is ‘yes'” or even “Consent is ‘oh, God, please, yes, now,” the feminist side, is accused of being anti-sex and anti-male because we hate the idea that women don’t want sex and therefore whatever one does to get sex from them – short of brutal attacks on wide-eyed virgins who are preferably the sisters of the we-swear-we’re-not-misogynist dudes that always hedge when this rape stuff comes up – is acceptable. But we’re not anti-male and we’re definitely not anti-sex. We love sex! That’s why we believe it’s possible to get the “Oh, God, please, yes, now” kind of consent from women, and not settle for the “Well, if you insist. You did get me these diamond earrings, after all” kind of consent.

But I’m not saying that every time you have sex with a woman who is not saying “Oh, God, please, yes, now,” you’re Raping her in that kind of rape that means you deserve to be branded a monster, shunned by polite society, drawn and quartered, blah, blah, blah. First of all, let’s just say this, I am married, and not delusional. I’ve definitely had sex when my consent was more “Alright” than “Yes, please!” And if it wouldn’t get my husband on the list of Asses to Kick that the Dudes keep handy, I’d venture a guess that he’s also been more “If you really want” than “Please, now!” once or twice. That doesn’t mean either of us has raped each other. It just means that sometimes we’ve had less-than-ideal sex. Mixed in with plenty of “Yes, please” sex. It happens.

But there’s lots of other kinds of not-really-consent that seem to get a pass as long as we’re operating on the model of “Non-consent is one thing, but Evil Monster Rape is quite another.” I’ve always been confused by how men who act the way Dominique Strauss-Kahn has apparently acted – groping women against their will, “aggressively seducing” any number of them, possibly raping one or two – are called “ladies’ men” or “womanizers.” Maybe they’re sort of pathetic in that Pepe LePew way, or maybe they’re naughty and oh-so-wild in a very women want them, men want to be them way. But they’re not laughed at or roundly mocked for being unable to get “Yes, please!” consent and for settling for “Oh, alright, if you’ll stop bothering me already” consent when they get consent at all. Plenty of arenas of male culture will slap you on the back for getting less-than-fully-enthusiastic consent; plenty of arenas don’t even think that it’s rape if a girl’s unconscious or clearly incapable of giving consent or, say, eleven and wearing make-up and a short skirt. They think it’s a party and if she didn’t want to be treated that way then she she shouldn’t have been where she was, doing what she was doing. Much like you shouldn’t wander into a lion’s cage and expect not to be eaten. Except we keep lions in cages; we don’t let them wander about the city streets. We let men wander freely and tell women to watch themselves lest they attract the lions’ attention.

But that’s a whole ‘nother post.

What I’m saying here is that in order to create a sexual culture that can call rape rape when it’s rape, we need to let go of the idea that the act must be the kind where you could cheerfully imagine torturing and mutilating the perpetrator and not feel any guilt about it whatsoever. We need to accept that sometimes, rape is committed by people who are not monsters, who do not stand outside the normal stream of humanity by some defect of mind, heart, or soul, but who have nevertheless committed crimes for which they ought to stand trial. We need to understand that some of the ways of thinking about sex that we’ve completely normalized feed into and encourage the committing of acts that are, in fact, rape, even if they’re played for laughs in Revenge of the Nerds or for sexy drama in Gone with the Wind. We need to understand that by normalizing the idea that women don’t actually want sex, so consent is always obtained by hook or by crook, and never enthusiastically, we encourage perfectly normal men to commit rape while not even being able to recognize that that’s what they’re doing.

This post is a call to create and to support culture and ways of engaging in sexual education that holds up “Yes, please” as the ideal and does not accept the underlying premise that women don’t want sex, so some version of not-really-consent is the only way to get it.

A discourse about what should be punishable by law and how the law should be enforced is a worthwhile and important one. I have nothing to add to it. What I do want to add is a focus not on what happens after a rape is committed, but what can happen such that fewer rapes are committed at all.

(By the way, I’m aware of the enormous hetero-centricity of this post. This is partially because I am heterosexual and have that bias. It’s also because it’s a post about the discourse on rape, and the discourse on rape is so heavily hetero-centric that I don’t even know how not to be in this case.)

SYTYCD – Top 6

Erica: (in Cat Deeley voice) “This is So You Think You Can Dance”, now with 100% less Jess. 😦

Kate: 😦 (in a Snooki voice) Wahhhhhh.

Erica: Two routines and a solo and probably a lot of nonsense. Got to fill the two hours.

Kate: I love when they have just enough dancers to do 2 dances each thus cut down on the judges’ blabbering, but with this number of dancers they have to kill time.

Erica: Does Christina Applegate look like maybe somebody punched her in the puppy right before she went on the show?

Kate: Well, she’s been through a lot. I think she semi-recently had breast cancer and then more semi-recently I think she had a baby, so perhaps those 2 things explain her look. Neither of those things excuses her hair from being too long, though, and I don’t think I knew she had any kind of dance background or knowledge?

Erica: Oh. I didn’t know any of that. Yeah, she’s been doing Broadway for a while now. We were supposed to see her in Sweet Charity but she got sick that night or something. Oh, my God, Nigel, not only did you INVENT DANCING, but you then spread it AROUND THE WORLD. Congratulations.

Kate: Amazing!

Melanie and Twitch (!)

Erica: During the rehearsal footage, I was thinking, gosh, this storyline is all kinds of racist, but they were so adorable it just seemed to fit.

Kate: Oh she just looked so precious trying to be tough and hip-hoppy. A little silly, but good.

Erica: I hate to say anything bad about Melanie, but she was not sharp enough. Her contemporary training was showing.

Kate: That’s what I was trying to sugarcoat with “silly”.

Sasha and Kent (!)

Kate: So many exclamation mark-worthy performances tonight! I’d forgotten how good Kent was, probably because I was lobbying so hard for him NOT to win last season because I so badly wanted Lauren to win. Turns out I was successful (as if my vote had anything to do with it-yes I actually vote, but only for the finale).

Erica: I’m glad Melanie and Kent weren’t paired. That would have been an explosion of cute the world could not have withstood. There’d be a flash of pink and blue sparkly lights and then we’d walk outside to discover that our world had become hand-drawn animation with saturated pastels and enormous eyes on everything.

Kate: Well, yeah.

Erica: I am not a fan of Tyce’s non-Broadway choreography (unlike the judges). That said, Sasha is FIERCE (and I sort of hate that saying that is automatically a Beyonce reference).

Kate: I know, she totally ruined that name-word combination for us. But it’s true, she (Sasha, not Beyonce) is the fiercest.

Erica: I like Christina Applegate. Sometimes I get annoyed with the judges’ prioritization of emotion over technique, but with Sasha I get exactly what Christina is saying. Sasha puts her hand on a wall and I care.

Kate: I so care.

Erica: Apropos of nothing, I sometimes look at pictures of myself and realize that the shirts I’m wearing are too low-cut (or, when I’m being an optimist, that my breasts are too fabulous for my shirt). And then I see Mary Murphy’s dress and think, “Well, if that’s normal…”

Kate: It’s not. We’ve discussed how I feel about age-appropriate, cleavage-baring ensembles. Ms. Murphy was definitely in violation as well as way too blinged out AND I do not support the new lighter ‘do, which I believe I mentioned in a previous post. Cat, on the other hand, looked fabulous. I love the long-sleeve-mini dress thang, but my SYTYCD viewing companion is vehemently opposed to the height of her shoes because she is already so tall.

Erica: See, this is what comes of reading women’s magazines. Because whenever they have “dress for your body” stuff, it’s always “try to look as average as possible” stuff. Big bust? Minimize it! Small bust? Maximize it! Big hips? Make them smaller! No hips? Try to create some hips! Whereas really, we should CELEBRATE what makes us look un-average. Tall and leggy and gorgeous like Cat Deely? Wear those six-inch stilettos, baby! You look fabulous! Also, those short cocktail dresses she always wears would look weird with flats.

Marko and Janette

Erica: Dmitry! Another guy who was on this show who was actually sexy and not little-brother adorable!

Kate: The choreographer?

Erica: Yeah. He was on Season 2. And then at one point, he came on a finale and danced with Mary Murphy. Which was HOT DAMN. I would like to know what Janette thinks her Hispanic roots have to do with partnering Marko for this dance? So, the dance. Oh, man, agreeing with Nigel kind of hurts me, but I know he’s a big paso doble guy, and I knew this wasn’t going to excite him, and it didn’t excite me either. Marko was good but not great, and the same could be said of the whole thing.

Kate: Much agreed. Can’t really picture something involving Mary Murphy being “HOT DAMN.”

Erica: You are so very wrong. Mary Murphy is the conductor on the Hot Tamale Train.

Ricky’s solo

Erica: Bringing in Ricky’s mom will not melt me to him. I’m still going to be sad that Jess went home last week and not him.

Kate: Me either. Get rid of ‘im.

Tadd and Eleanor

Kate: Ellenore! I loved her during her season (7?) and was very sad when she was sent home.

Erica: Okay, so I love Ellenore, and I love her with Sonya, and it was really fantastic. But when Sonya was describing it, I thought we were going to get the few seconds of “Oh, no, we mustn’t!” before we got to “I must have you!” I would have liked that few seconds. Mainly because of all the romantic plot lines I like, the ones where it’s “No we mustn’t but I HAVE TO RIP YOUR CLOTHES OFF RIGHT NOW but we CAN’T” are my favorite. (I’d look for a TV Tropes link for that plot line but seriously, I have to, like, eat and sleep and get my kid to preschool and I fear that won’t happen if I so much as link to TV Tropes right now.) I felt like it was a really great piece that would have been awesome with, like, four more hours of work on it.

Kate: I really liked this too but how can you not mention Tadd’s amazing-ness with that chandelier? Pretty neat-o.

Erica: It was all pretty neat-o. Oh, no, Christina! You brought the b-boy thing in! Stop it!

Kate: And we had such high hopes for her.

Caitlynn’s solo

Erica: I’m annoyed by this cover.

Kate: So annoyed.

Ricky and Jaime

Erica: I’m happier to see Jaime than I thought I’d be.

Kate: Not a clue who she is, but this dance was all right I suppose. Definitely been-there-done-that contemporary choreography, and definitely out-shined him. Out-shone?

Erica: I think it’s out-shined, actually, but I could be wrong. She was the flower to Hok’s hummingbird. Here’s what I understand about contemporary dance from this show: girl in nightie, boy in pajama pants, flail. Which is not to say that I didn’t like this. I just feel like contemporary dance comes out of wanting to keep the costume budget low.

Kate: Very astute. Don’t forget the sappy song.

Erica: Oh, yes. That, too. “Love is awful”; that’s what else I’ve learned from contemporary dance. And “Inside These Lines” with the sticks? We’re going pretty literal, huh? I thought he wasn’t too bad this time but Jaime was so fabulous I might not have been paying attention.

Tadd’s solo

Erica: See, I already liked Tadd, so his dad kind of charmed me. I do love his solos. So bouncy and cute.

Kate: A b-boy solo never thrills me; he is much more talented than these little tricks.

Sasha’s solo

Erica: I love Sasha’s parents, too. But I already loved Sasha. Her solos to me are inventive and real performances, not just “let me show you how many times I can spin”.

Kate: Agreed, this was one of the only solos I’ve ever seen, like, really ever, that actually had me at full attention. I’m leaning toward Team Sasha again.

Caitlyn and Pasha

Erica: Two sexy Russians in one rehearsal segment! Happy Erica! Although let’s never use the construct “What happens in x location, stays in x location” ever again, okay?

Kate: Wasn’t it originally only for Vegas? I don’t get how it applies to every location; if it applies everywhere then no one will ever remember/acknowledge what they did, like, anywhere!

Erica: You are too right about that.  We are so sympatico tonight! Never mind that it’s not even true in Vegas – marriage licenses and STIs can cross city lines, you know. Anyway, I loved this. But there was Pasha doing samba, of course I loved it.

Kate: I did not love her part. She seems too young and perky for this kind of dance.

Marko’s solo

Erica: And of course, Marko’s mom has already melted me.

Kate: Totes. His solo was good?

Erica: Sure.

Melanie’s solo

Kate: Can we just have Melanie’s grandmother win the show and be done with it? The whole Melanie family is just so precious; she did a little Harlem shake at the end of her solo! Precious precious precious!

Erica: But the shake was with the assumption that they were going to do “dance dance dance dance” at the end. Which they don’t do anymore. Of course, her solo was all kinds of awesome.

Kate: Oh, cut it out. It was precious.

Ricky and Sasha

Erica: Waaking? Oh, boy.

Kate: Okay my issue with this “waaking” business is that it has really cool moves, but I think it’s ONLY moves and not really a full-on dance genre. Anyone with me on this?

Erica: “Waaking is about the individual and who you are right now in your life.” I know what all those words (except ‘waaking’) mean individually, but all together? They are completely meaningless. And have nothing to do with dancing.

Kate: I thought the same thing. She totes made that up.

Erica: And watching the dance didn’t help anything. It just looked like what they typically call “jazz” on this show. And I sort of remember Princess Lockaroo but this isn’t what I remember. I really don’t know what happened in this number or why.

Kate: You so totes read my mind! The whole time I was thinking “This is just jazz, with some actually cheerleader-like arm movements.

Erica: I am loving Christina Applegate, though, because she delivered that “waacked it harder” with the appropriate amount of dead-pan-ness and a decided lack of giggling and congratulating herself for being such a bad, bad girl indeed.

Kate: She redeemed herself from the “b-boy” comment. Almost.

Melanie and Tadd

Kate: Very, very hot. They had great chemistry. You already know how I feel about her, but he really is quite talented too.

Erica: Damn. Loved it. Love her. Even loved him. (I usually like him but when he stands next to her, some of her shine rubs off.) Holy God. Loved it. But props people, you had at least two girls in cheap negligees tonight; couldn’t use the extra money for a real mirror that wouldn’t bend when they touched it?

Marko and Caitlyn

Erica: It’s awfully difficult to develop a reaction to a dance when your daughter is making you shake a string with her and sing the mouse song from Cinderella over and over again. So…fine?

Kate: Fine?! This was BEYOND. I finally saw what everyone else sees in Caitlynn (which doesn’t mean I’m not ready to send her packin’ because the top 6 episode is not the time to actually START dancing really well), and I think we have to owe that to Sonya. (In a British accent, a real one not a phony one like Nigel’s) This was brilliant, bloody brilliant.

Erica: Umm . . . his name is Nigel Lythgoe. I think we can trust that he’s actually British. Okay, I watched it again. You’re right; it was pretty awesome. Although she still does some pretty amateur theatrics with her face.

Kate: Note how neither of us even acknowledged the presence of that wretched cretin who goes by the name of Lil’ C. Ugh.

Erica: I do not feel he is cretinous so much as he doesn’t say much that means anything to me. (Hashtags, dude? Really? You’re so cool.) It’s like he’s always a character when he comes on; he’s always Lil’ C. (Li’l C?) That’s actually what I liked about Christina Applegate tonight. She’s been in my conscious for so long, but mostly as Kelly Bundy and then whatever Kelly Bundy is doing now, and none of it really was my speed. I didn’t even like Sweet Charity that much; it’s sort of a weird show, even if it does have some stellar songs. But now I feel like, I would sit down and have a cup of coffee with her. I don’t feel like I know who would show up if I made the same offer to C.

Kate: Cretinous.

Erica: Okay, so, the results show. My new best friend Christina was not there and I’m not sure I heard why. But Kent and Lauren reprised their Travis Wall prom number and it was delightful. And I don’t understand what they were on about with the results. They can’t reveal the bottom four because that would reveal the top two? I don’t understand. But I guess they’ve got an hour, might as well have six solos. In any event, Caitlynn and Ricky went home. Not at all surprised, totally pleased.