He’s Just Not That Into You – A Readalong

Look at me, getting on this super quick like that.

Okay, the book was published seven years ago but I just announced my intention to blog about it, like, two weeks ago, so that’s super quick.

First, some general background. This book is by two writers on the staff of Sex and the City. Greg Behrendt advising some of the women on the staff that the men they were obsessing over that the gentlemen in question were just not into them inspired an episode in which Carrie’s boyfriend Ron Livingstone advises the girls – well, advises Miranda, because Miranda is the closest thing to a feminist we have on the show, and therefore the least attractive – that some guy is just not into her. Miranda finds this eye-opening (as did the writers, apparently) and it works out great – until she thinks a guy is not into her when really he’s having a bad reaction to the Indian food they just had. Likewise, the absolutely mind-numbingly awful movie they made of He’s Just Not That Into You (and I say that with all the love in my heart for Ginnifer Goodwin and a soft spot for Justin Long, too), the guy is just not that into her, and acts like he’s just not that into her, and does all the things in the book that indicate that he’s just not that into her, until poof, he is. So both times they use this premise in fiction, it’s not at all a good premise. I realize that’s how romantic comedies work, but I just need to point that out.

Okay, let’s take this chapter by chapter, shall we?

Chapter One – He’s Just Not That Into You If He’s Not Asking You Out

I do feel the need to start with a caveat – I met the guy I’m married to – I met and immediately started dating and have never been non-monogamous in my relationship with the guy I’m married to – when I was eighteen. And, unless we’re counting the three days in sleep away camp I spent with Mike Braunstein when I was fourteen, he was really the only person I could ever have described as my “boyfriend.” So I have not personally gone through the experience of dating as it is described in this book. I have never, not once in my life, been “asked out,” on an actual date, by someone who wasn’t already in a long-term relationship with me. (I’m not sure I’ve really been “asked out” by someone who was already in a long-term relationship with me.)

But I live in the world; I have friends; I have met people before. Not only that, but I am fully capable of understanding that not all people experience the world exactly the way I do, and that not all people of a given gender experience the world exactly the same way as each other. So that puts me one step ahead of Mr. Greg Behrendt.

I don’t know how guys stand this. After presenting us with three examples of women making excuses for why men aren’t asking them out – they don’t want to ruin the friendship, they’re intimidated, they want to take things slow – he hits on the “But can’t I just call him?” theme. And here’s what he says about that:

Men, for the most part, like to pursue women. We like not knowing if we can catch you. We feel rewarded when we do. Especially when the chase is a long one. … men like to chase and you have to let us chase you. I know. It’s insulting. It’s frustrating. It’s unfortunately the truth.

Now, I’ve met guys. A lot of them. Some of them do really seem to like the chase. Some seem to like it to the exclusion of having an actual girlfriend. This is one of the reasons women don’t like hearing, “Oh, men like the chase, just let them chase you!” Because somewhere, some time, we’ve all done this. We’ve held ourselves at a distance, either on purpose or because we genuinely weren’t sure, we’ve finally decided that the guy chasing us must be a worthwhile person of excellent taste, we’ve finally allowed ourselves to be “caught” – and we’ve found ourselves less interesting to him than a garden slug the next day. Even I, with my embarrassing lack of experience, have gone through this.

But men are, in fact, human. They don’t all like the same things. They don’t all like the chase. Some of them, in fact, experience this very human emotion known as “insecurity.” So when a guy like this is interacting with a woman who doesn’t flirt overtly with him, isn’t available for dates, and never calls unprompted, he assumes she . . . doesn’t like him. Shockingly. So he doesn’t pursue because he’s not interested in courting rejection.

And following this advice puts women in this weird position where we can’t act like we like you if we like you, because then you’ll be put off, but if we genuinely don’t like you but are not total bitches, then we’re acting precisely in the way that inspires these chase-oriented guys to, well, chase. You know, we smile, we laugh at your jokes, but we don’t call you or give you our phone numbers or date you. So you chase. Then we have to become actual bitches to put you off, which many women hate doing, and which has been known to inspire violence from men. Not all men. Not even many men. But it’s hard to know which ones are which until you’re alone in a back alley with one.

And he’s awfully dismissive of some perfectly good reasons why men might not ask a given woman out. The “He’s intimidated by me” “excuse” is illustrated with a (fictive?) letter from a woman saying someone in her employ – a gardener? – is attractive to her but not making a move despite her flirting. Now, one possibility is he’s not interested, sure. But Behrendt insists that “a guy will ask out a woman of higher status if he’s into her.” Might not the employee be uncertain about the flirting the woman is doing, and nervous about holding on to his job if he’s wrong?

The same thing is going on with the “ruining the friendship” thing. Behrendt insists that no man ever has worried about ruining the friendship with a sexual relationship. I’m sure that’s not true, but even if it were, people (yes, men and women, both) don’t usually worry that making a move on a friend because they think the move will be accepted and the friendship will be ruined. They worry that the move will be rejected and the friendship would be ruined. We’re not picking a friendship over sex. We’re picking a friendship over the possibility of no sex and no friendship. (And we’re also keeping Schrodinger’s cat in the box, allowing ourselves to permanently exist with the possibility that our crush object might secretly like us rather than opening the box and finding out. But that’s a separate issue.)

I mean, sure, if you make a move on your guy friend and he says, “I don’t want to ruin the friendship,” then, yeah, he’s telling you, “I’m not attracted to you.” Or at least, “I’m not interested in pursuing a thing with you.” But if you have a male friend and he’s not making a move, it could be that he’s not interested OR it could be that he is interested but thinks that if he makes mention of his interest, you’ll think he’s a creep and not be his friend any more.

The “take it slow” thing is illustrated by a woman writing about a man going through a divorce, blah blah blah. Again, Behrendt rejects the notion that men ever feel anything other than “desire to have sex” and “satisfaction that they’ve just had sex.” It is not possible that a man could be attracted to you but have other things going on emotionally that are making him gun-shy at the moment. Because men are not human, they’re men. Really, there’s a whole subset of the third wave feminist movement devoted to screaming about the way women are portrayed in the media (and I am a proud member of this subset). Why aren’t more guys there, screaming about how men are portrayed in the media? I don’t get it. (Okay, there are some guys. Scream louder, guys!)

Darlings, this is what the point ought to be. Maybe the gentleman is “into you” but is in an emotional place where he cannot fully devote himself to the worship of your wonderfulness. This does not make him a bad man. Nor does it make him a man worthy of your thoughts, your emotions, your time. Whether or not he is into you, you are not required to be into him.

Thanks, Soph. We need to be reminded of that.

Behrendt ends the chapter with two stories under the heading “This is what it should look like.” One is about him asking for a girl’s number in a bar. She won’t give it to him but gives him her name, which is not a terribly uncommon name. So he calls all the girls in the phone book with that name until he finds her. Another is about a friend of his who met this girl at a party, lost track of her, but then hunted her down. These are supposed to be the good stories. Not at all the, “He seems sweet but he might just be a stalker” stories. Because when you meet a guy for ten minutes and don’t give him your phone number or a way to find you easily, he should definitely assume that means you want him. Right?

Chapter Two – He’s Just Not That Into You if He’s Not Calling You

This chapter is a special bailiwick of mine because I f-ing hate the telephone. I have always hated the telephone. It was actually a problem for me in high school, until I learned to just be a girl and have phone conversations. Then I went to college, lived with my friends, and reverted to my old, hating-the-telephone ways. I will consent to phone conversations with people far away from me because I love them and it’s the only way to keep in contact. But if we live near (or with) each other, the only phone conversations I want to have are ones in which we make arrangements to meet or make amendments to those arrangements. This does get on Jason’s nerves, because he will sometimes call me on his way home from work, which is fine with me if it’s just a “I’m on my way home from work!” call, or a “I’m stopping at Target, do we need anything?” call, but then sometimes he wants to actually talk about his day and I’m like, “Won’t you be home in twenty minutes? Can’t you tell me this then?” If I were a single adult who dated, and you were the guy I dated, I would be mildly annoyed if you called me up in the middle of the day just to say hi. I mean, if I liked you, I’d take the call, and I’d try to chat pleasantly, but mostly I’d be thinking, “Aren’t we seeing each other tomorrow? What do you need to talk to me now for? Couldn’t you send me an e-mail instead?” So I have little sympathy for the women who are in this chapter whining about the men who don’t call them, and little sympathy for Behrendt’s assertion that men, just like women, love talking to the people they care about on the telephone. Because I don’t. I really don’t. I like e-chats and e-mails and talking in person. I hate the phone.

That aside, there’s some more stuff in here that’s, “Even if he’s into you, are you into him with him behaving this way?” – like, if he says he’ll call and he doesn’t, and especially if he does that thing where he says, “Oh, someone’s at the door, call you back in five,” and doesn’t, aren’t you annoyed? At some point, don’t you say, “Whatever, I’m not dealing with his bullshit no matter how ‘into me’ he is?” Why isn’t the question, “Am I that into him?”!

And there’s some more stuff that’s “This is how you expect a guy to act after a few dates? Really?” One “letter” in this chapter is from a woman who went on a few dates with a guy, then he forgot to call her when he went out of town to tend to his sick mother. And, from the letter, I mean, he didn’t show up to the date, she called to find out where he was, and he said, “Oh, shit, I’m driving to Connecticut to deal with my sick mother.” So it’s not like days went by and he forgot to call. And look, not calling to cancel a date was rude. But . . . you’ve been out on a few dates. His mother was sick. Do you expect head-over-heels, you-are-the-world already?

He also ends by saying, “100% of men polled said they’ve never been too busy to call a woman they were really into.” Okay. 100% of your friends agree with you. That’s fabulous. Also, people suck at self-reporting. Ask all of their girlfriends and wives if they have ever forgotten to call and see what the result is there.

(As a note, I don’t think my husband has ever forgotten to call, although keep in mind that we spent the first four years of our relationship in college, where ‘calling’ was less of a thing than ‘coming over.’ But ask him about my phone manners and he’ll give you an earful. Seriously, I suck at phone-related things. And I apologize to anyone I’ve hurt by this. I know there are a lot of you.)

Chapter Three – He’s Just Not That Into You if He’s Not Dating You

Now, again, my experience here is limited by the fact that my only relationship started in college. Behrendt wants to claim that “‘hanging out’ is not dating” but we did nothing but hang out. Well, and make out. More making out than hanging out those first few months, if you want to know the truth. And I’m going to assume that hunting for empty dorm rooms also does not, by Greg Behrendt’s standards, count as a date.

That aside, this chapter is mostly right on, even if it doesn’t address things in a very woman-friendly way. It does assume that, as a woman, you want a relationship, and men, unless they’re “really into you,” don’t. And I’m willing to accept the possibility that there are women out there who are genuinely fine with casual sex, genuinely fine with being each other’s booty call, genuinely fine with a friends-with-benefits situation.

Certainly any of these situations can be quite pleasant.

We’re married, Sophia.

I know, I know. But darlings, there is something to be said for a man who will make you come and not at all expect you to do his laundry.

But if you do want a real relationship and he doesn’t, don’t be with him. He’s not going to come around after the ninth bonk. He’s not going to realize how into you he is when his father is dying and even though he’s only ever called you for sex before he’s now calling you for emotional support unless you’re fictional characters in a rom-com. If he wants a casual thing and you want a relationship, leave. It’ll suck. It’ll be lonely. It’ll be sex-free, which is difficult. But not as difficult as hanging around someone with whom you are in love, who doesn’t love you but is willing to use you.

And seriously, ladies, listen to what a man is telling you at the beginning. “I don’t have the time for a relationship right now.” “I can’t really be anyone’s boyfriend.” “I’m really emotionally unhealthy and toxic.” If you hear a man say this to you, as my lawyer parents are fond of saying, “Be guided accordingly.”

Chapter Four – He’s Just Not That Into You If He’s Not Having Sex with You

Darlings, honestly. Forget whether or not he’s into you. If he is not pleasuring you, what on Earth do you want with him?

Yeah. This chapter is pretty much right on, too.

Chapter Five – He’s Just Not That Into You If He’s Having Sex with Someone Else

Um, yup.

Unless you have agreed to be polyamorous.

And by “agreed,” I mean, you both are into the idea of being each other’s main but not only squeeze. Not you pretend to be okay with him sleeping with other women so that he stays with you even though you die inside a little each time you see lipstick on his collar.

(Who leaves lipstick on a collar? Who kisses a shirt? Why is that a thing?)

Chapter Six – He’s Just Not That Into You if He Only Wants to See You When He’s Drunk

Now this is the chapter I had a real problem with. Because the title sounds reasonable. If he’s only drunk-dialing, that’s not a relationship. But the actual letters go deeper than that. The actual letters go into casual drug or alcohol use that has nothing to do with the relationship, and into addiction. And Behrendt seems to be working on the premise that if a guy were “really into you,” he’d be able to quit his addiction. It’s only because he doesn’t love you enough that he can’t.

Here’s the “This is what it should look like” section of this chapter:

I know a successful businessman who used to get stoned every single night, and sometimes in the morning too. He dated women who didn’t like it, and he would try to cut down while he was dating them. One day he met the women [sic – I assume] of his dreams and she would have none of it. He stopped cold turkey and now spends his days completely sober and very happy with it.

You guys, this attitude is effed up. It’s the exact opposite of what any AA-related material or actual psychological research would tell you about addiction. A genuinely addicted person doesn’t just love their drink more than they love you; they’re addicted to it. It’s an illness. They need help and love, not “If you really loved me, you’d quit!” shit. And the people who do love alcoholics, etc., also need support and love, not “He must not really love you/Your love must not be good enough for him” nonsense.

I’m willing to believe Liz Tuccillo’s stoned businessman story. It happens to some people. Especially with pot, which, unlike alcohol and many other drugs, is psychologically but not physically addictive. Which is not to say that psychological addiction is easy to break, but it’s a hell of a lot easier than physical addiction. Just ask someone trying to get off heroin.

And I’m not saying, ladies, if he’s addicted to something, and y’all just met, love him and support him and help him on the path to sobriety. You just met him; if you don’t want to pick up that kind of baggage, which can be strenuous, don’t. Remember Sophia’s and my cardinal rule – You don’t have to be into him just because he’s into you. But if you are already in a relationship, romantic or otherwise, with a person addicted to some form of alcohol or drug, please know that it’s not your fault. It’s not that the person doesn’t love you; it’s not that your love or your self is not good enough to cure that person by the magic of your awesomeness. It’s that the person is addicted.

This chapter really pissed me off. It’s serious social irresponsibility in the guise of a lighthearted dating advice book. Step off, Greg and Liz, and leave the real issues to the professionals.

Chapter Seven – He’s Just Not That Into You if He Doesn’t Want to Marry You

Look, if you are a person who wants to be married, and he says or has said that he never wants to get married, don’t be with him.

If you are a person who wants to get married and you’ve moved in together without even talking about a timeline for marriage, like, “Let’s move in together and if we don’t want to kill each other in a year, let’s get married,” it’s time to have that talk. (I know people don’t like having those talks because they want proposals to be surprising and romantic and all, but marriage is serious. Grow up. Talk about it.) If the talk ends with him saying, “I don’t want to get married,” then this is not the relationship for you and I hope you live in a market where finding a new apartment is relatively painless, i.e., not New York or San Francisco.

If you are a person who wants to get married and he says he isn’t “ready,” figure out when you need him to be ready by, tell him when that is, and stick to it.

But. I do not buy the premise that marriage is the be-all and end-all for all people, men or women. I do not buy that a guy who says he doesn’t want to get married necessarily just doesn’t want to marry you. That’s probably the case sometimes. But not all the time. And for all the anecdotes that Greg and Liz and their fictive letter writers can offer of men who just weren’t into you enough to get married, I can think of at least three relationships I know about off the top of my head that were or are long-term, committed, and monogamous, without being legally binding. If I wanted to, I could probably think of several more where one or both partners wasn’t “ready”, and then they were! So if that kind of arrangement is fine with you, don’t go creating problems where there are none.

And yes, I see that, once again, 100% of Greg Behrendt’s friends, who are presumably of similar age, socio-economic background, and general attitudes towards life, agree that of course they’d marry a woman they thought was the love of their life. So that’s a reliable statistic.

Chapter Eight – He’s Just Not That Into You if He’s Breaking Up With You

Look, break-ups suck. You don’t need Greg and Liz to beat up on you for not being over it, already.

Yeah, it’s not a good idea to keep having sex with him. And yeah, you should be classy, not crazy, about the break-up, as they advise.

But still. There’s no need to be mean about it.

Chapter Nine – He’s Just Not That Into You if He’s Disappeared On You

This is the same thing as the last chapter. I don’t know what it’s doing here.

Chapter Ten – He’s Just Not That Into You if He’s Married (and Other Insane Variations of Being Unavailable)

So, once again, people, this is the time when we don’t ask ourselves, “Is he that into me?” but “Am I into him enough to put up with this shit?”

If he’s married? No. That’s a lot of shit. Step away.

If he’s in the process of a divorce and really f-ing bitter and in the middle of the shitstorm that comes with the divorce? Well, look, it’s a lot of shit. It might be a storm that goes away, or all that anger and self-centeredness might be his actual personality. Date cautiously and only if you really, really think there’s a gem in there. (And if you find that he’s handling his divorce with emotional maturity, self-control, and kindness, well, that’s probably the best sign you’ll ever get that he’s a keeper.)

Chapter Eleven – He’s Just Not That Into You if He’s a Selfish Jerk, a Bully, or a Really Big Freak

No, no, no! You’re just not that into him if he’s a selfish jerk, a bully, or a really big freak. (Unless his freakishness and yours are compatible.)

I took a short-stories class in college. In it, we read “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” by Raymond Carver. Truthfully, I don’t remember the story that well, though I do remember that I liked it at the time. Vaguely, it was about a group of friends talk about love and it comes out that one of them is being very seriously physically abused by her fella. Now, the story was written pre-1990s, so it doesn’t deal with the issues the way we, the liberal arts college students of the early aughts, were accustomed to. So a big discussion broke out in class about whether this woman’s fella really loved her. Half the class (mostly the guys) said yes and half the class (mostly the girls) said no. I said yes and was hollered at for a little while, and I was confused at first, until the discussion turned and I finally realized what the problem was and how to address it. “I’m saying he might really love her,” I said, “but I’m not saying she should love or stay with him! He’s still a horribly dangerous asshole and she should get the fuck out!” (Yeah, I might have said ‘fuck’ in class. Brandeis was that kind of school.) It was a light bulb moment for everyone, including me. We had all been operating under the assumption that a woman is supposed to love a man who loves her, because he loves her. This book rests on that assumption, too, that the first question is, “Is he into me?” and not “Am I into him?”

Ladies, the first question should always be “Am I into him?” And you’re allowed to say “No,” even if he is, in fact, into you. And that’s pretty much my problem with the whole book – that it asks the wrong question at the outset. I don’t think you should spend a lot of time making excuses for guys who are treating you badly. I just think you should worry more about who you’re into, and less about who’s into you.

Ricki Cooking School, Chapter 3 – Garlic Bread and Tomato Soup with Pesto

I made this tonight and my husband said, “You should write this stuff down.” So I am!

(I’m also wondering if he’s planning to kill me, but still wants his next wife to cook his favorite foods. But probably not. Right?)

So, garlic bread – Buy good bread. Seriously. Don’t chintz out on this step. I like a nice “Country Loaf” or “Tuscan Loaf” or something like that. Sourdough would not be bad either but it’s a little on the dense side.

Then you slice it. Maybe 3/4″ to 1″ thick. (You should keep in mind, as you read that, that I am guessing based on how thick I cut it, and I have no spatial perception at all.) Lay it out on a baking sheet. Drizzle generously with olive oil and sprinkle some good-quality salt. Sea salt in a big grain if you’ve got; kosher salt if you don’t. Don’t use table salt. In fact, if you’re even thinking, “Wouldn’t table salt be fine?” at this step, just go to the freezer section of your local grocery store and buy Texas Toast or something. Don’t bother with this recipe.

Put the bread under the broiler and WATCH IT. Usually four to five minutes is a good estimate, but don’t leave the kitchen and check frequently until you’ve got a good handle on how fast the bread you prefer toasts in your particular oven. While you’re checking, take one garlic clove, big as you can get, and slice the top off. (You don’t have to peel it but you might want to sort of jimmy the peel away from the top a bit.) Once that side of the bread looks good to you, take it out of the oven and, as soon as you can, rub the garlic clove over all the bread thoroughly. You’ll need to use an oven mitt on one hand to hold the pan and you’ll need to move quick and careful with the hand holding the garlic, but if you don’t do it while the bread is hot the garlic won’t get absorbed properly.

Then turn the bread over, re-salt, and re-olive oil if necessary (It’s frequently not necessary unless you’ve got a dense bread). Then stick it back in the oven, usually for a minute less than the first time. Then repeat the action with the garlic.

And, voila! Delicious garlic bread. I use this as croutons in salad, I use this for my panzanella (which I’ll put up in the summer), I use it for all sorts of reasons. I rarely serve bread without doing this to it first.

As for the tomato soup, I vary it a lot, so I’ll tell you what I did tonight. First, I cut up a shit-load of garlic cloves. I sautéed them in the bottom of a large pot with olive oil, salt, and crushed red pepper. (Sometimes I get fancy and crumble up some chiles de arbol instead.) Then I dumped in two cans of San Marzano crushed tomatoes.

Two notes:

1. IT MUST BE SAN MARZANO. “But I always use Del Monte!” No. San Marzano. “But what about organic Whole Foods brand?” No. San Marzano. “But what about locally grown-” No. San Marzano.

2. I know I’m supposed to use the whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes and blend them with my immersion blender, but, as easy-peasy as using the immersion blender usually is, tonight I was making four different cookies while making the soup so I just did the crushed and I didn’t even bother to blend them. Personally I usually like the soup a little smoother, and missed the immersion blender action, but Jason was all over it.

So that was basically it. I heated up canned, crushed (SAN MARZANO) tomatoes. Delicious.

Normally I would swirl in some lightly chopped basil leaves at the end there. But the thing was, I had planned on making this soup, like, a week and a half ago. Then Jason broke his arm and we just had take-out for days and days and days because he likes take-out. So somewhere last week I decided to turn the basil I had bought, and the cilantro left over from something else, into pesto. Here’s how I did that: Zoe and I took a whole bunch of basil, a whole bunch of cilantro, three or four peeled garlic cloves, about half a hunk of parmesan cheese, a pinch of salt, and a ton of walnuts and tossed them in the food processor. With the machine going, I helped Zoe pour olive oil in until we got a sort of paste-y texture. If I were planning to serve it over pasta, I would have tried for a more liquid texture, but since it was going in soup, the paste was perfect. Incidentally, making it more liquid involves EVEN MORE olive oil, so if you are making pesto for pasta, and don’t want to add EVEN MORE olive oil, just toss the pesto and pasta with a little of the pasta cooking water to thin it. It doesn’t make pesto health food, exactly (although honestly, if you’re not trying to actively lose weight, pesto is pretty healthy), but it’s a little better.

Then I threw some lemon juice in there so the basil wouldn’t turn brown and left it in the fridge for a few days, until I finally got around to making the soup. Once I poured the soup in bowls, I added a dollop of the pesto on top.

And that was dinner tonight! One of these days I’ll do pictures with these posts.

Free Ranging, Old School

Those of you who’ve had the misfortune of getting me on this topic in the last few years know I’m a fan of this.

And those of you who’ve, uh, met me know I like myself a good musical.

So we were watching Meet Me in St. Louis the other night (Y’all should be so glad you’re looking at this on your computer screen far away from me because if I were telling you this story in person, we’d need to take a break at this point so I could sing the title song a couple of times. And, for the none of you who don’t know this – I’m not exactly Judy Garland when it comes to singing.). For those you who have never seen it, first of all, I’m revoking your American citizenship. You may only get it back when you can tell me at least three sounds made by the trolley and its various parts. Second of all, it’s a nice movie about a nice family – the Smiths – and a year of their life in St. Louis as St. Louis gears up for the 1904 World’s Fair, at which just about everything you’ve ever touched was shown to the world for the first time. (Including ice cream cones, which were invented there, though this fun fact is not covered by the movie.) The movie goes in seasons, and Fall (or possibly Autumn) focuses on Halloween. The Smith family has five children, and the two youngest sisters, Tootie and Agnes, are supposed to be about four or five (she says she’s not in school yet) and maybe eight or so. On Halloween, they go out together, without any parents walking behind them, to join all the other children in the neighborhood, who have set up an enormous bonfire in the middle of the street. Instead of trick-or-treating as we know it, the children go off in groups to throw flour in the faces of the adults who answer their doors, which they refer to as “killing” those adults. Only there’s one family all the kids are too scared to take, so Tootie, the one who’s four or five, goes by herself. To the house of a man rumored (although the movie clearly wants us to think the rumors are false) to beat his wife and drink whiskey by the boatload. She successfully “kills” him and then is allowed to take her turn throwing stuff onto the bonfire.

Not only are there no adults supervising the bonfire or accompanying the children, the adults all seem to be giving tacit leeway to this. We see the girls in conversation with their mother beforehand, and she makes it clear that adults leave discarded furniture and other bonfire-friendly items out on their porch for the children to take, and as far as throwing flour in the neighbors’ faces, she merely advises them not to use to much or aim for the eyes. Then their grandfather suggests they wet the flour first, as it will stick better.

Later, Tootie and Agnes get into real trouble when they throw a dress they’ve stuffed to look like a dead body onto the trolley tracks, with the intention of upsetting the trolley car. They don’t, but they do cause a big ruckus. The reaction of the family? That’s horrible. And hilarious. Now eat your ice cream.

Now, I don’t know how accurate this vision of Halloween is. The musical is about 1904, but it was made in 1944, so I don’t know which period’s norms it’s reflecting. But it is based on series of semi-autobiographical short stories, so it might in fact reflect a middle-class kid’s experience of Halloween in 1904.

It sure as hell doesn’t represent anything a kid would experience in 2011.

And that’s a real shame.


Lessons to Unlearn from Glee – Season 3, Episode 9

I’m going off-form for this one. Because this is my blog and I can.

This episode of “Glee” had the exact opposite effect on me that a Christmas special is supposed to have, and I think quite unintentionally. See, a Christmas special – be it the Christmas episode, a made-for-TV movie, or a regular movie with a Christmas theme – is supposed to start with the idea that the world sucks, or it sucks for our lead character, or something specifically sucky is happening, but then we learn the true meaning of Christmas and are uplifted and feel very warm in our hearts and generous to our fellow man and like maybe the world is not so crappy after all.

This episode started me off all heart-warmy. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I f-ing love “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” So I started the episode on a happy note. And then I didn’t really pay attention to anything until the Artie-directed Christmas special, which I thought was adorable. I mean, really. That’s what those kids do best, that tongue-in-cheek overacting thing. So friggin’ cute. And so many good songs. “Let it Snow” as performed by Kurt and Blaine? Adorable! “Favorite Things” with Mercedes and Rachel? Love it! “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” the Bruce Springsteen arrangement, with Finn and Puck? Okay, so they’re not The Boss, but still, ! “Christmas Wrapping” with Brittany and the Cheerios? I love that song! Heart? Warmed!

And then it all went to shit.

First, Irish (what, like I’m supposed to remember this character’s name?) has to go all Jesus on us for the meaning of Christmas. See, he was supposed to enter the Christmas special with an edited version of Frosty the Snowman, in which Frosty doesn’t melt (which, yes, would have been dumb) but instead he reads a passage from something New Testament-related about the prediction of Jesus’s birth. To an audience of one atheist (Kurt), three Jews (Rachel, Puck, and Artie the director), several people whose religious leanings we know nothing about (Blaine, Brittany, Santana, Finn, the Cheerios), and one actual Christian (Mercedes). All of whom look rapt and rueful and full of Christmas spirit.


I mean, sure, it’s great to focus Christmas messages on giving and love and selflessness – but why did a secular show for secular audiences with plenty of non-Christian characters have to go straight to Jesus? Aren’t there about a billion Christmas stories and songs about giving and love and selflessness that aren’t about Jesus?

(And don’t give me that shit about “But Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus!” Bullshit. Santa. Reindeer. Elves. Fucking evergreen trees. Do these strike you as symbols that came out of ancient Israel?)

But look, if that had been all, I’d have let it pass. I am not the straw man Fox news believes exists who’s waging a war on Christmas.

It’s just that then, the gang went to a homeless shelter to serve dinner and sing. And they sang “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” And the thing is, I don’t think I’ve ever listened to that song. I mean, obviously, I’ve heard it. I am a person whose hearing works who lives in the English-speaking world. But I’ve never listened. And I was only half-listening this time, because I was also doing dishes, because, hey, listen up, all you bitches of Altanta and Beverly Hills and what have you, I am a real housewife. But what I was half-listening to was disturbing. “Thank God it’s them instead of you”?! That’s a Christmas message?! A message of love and giving and Jesus-ness?! No! The message of love and giving is, “Share what you have with them; make a commitment to work on eradicating the differences between you and them; actively work to not contribute to their misery.” Not “Remember how other people don’t have it so good and thank God you do.” Fuck that noise. That is not okay.

I mean, yeah, the other lyrics are “Feed the world,” and I know sales of the song raised a whole lot of money. But because of lyrics like that, it’s still the kind of song you can listen to and think you’re a better person because you went, “Yeah, man, those poor people over in Africa,” but you’re not because you didn’t fucking do anything.

And on that note, who wants to help me buy a sheep?

Hating Women – a Read-Along

I picked up Hating Women (2005) by Shmuley Boteach when I was at Tara and Gabrielle’s house. Shmuley Boteach, for those of you who don’t know, is an Orthodox rabbi who has gained some fame with best-sellers like Kosher Sex and a short-lived TV show on TLC called Shalom in the Home. And for an Orthodox rabbi, he’s sort of liberal. For instance, his views on homosexuality run something along the lines of, “‘Thou shalt not lie with a man as with a woman’ and ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ are commandments, and the first one is certainly being violated by gay men, and the second is sort of hard to fulfill for gay men and, to a lesser degree, gay women, but look, those are two commandments. Out of 613. Nobody can fulfill them all.”  He has also gained notoriety by being involved in some serious financial scandals, sadly.

The thing about him is that he wants to be, like, this super-progressive, pro-woman, pro-feminist kind of guy, but he just does not get it. So the premise of Hating Women is that American culture is going to hell in a hand-basket because we portray women as stupid, slutty, gold-digging whores whose only value lies in their fuckability (my word, not his) And as far as that goes, I agree with him. The way women are portrayed on reality TV, in scripted TV, in magazines, etc., is all damaging to women and to men and to people. And it’s important because, as I’ve said before, humans build culture through story and then live in that culture. So I agree with the premise of this book. But then he says shockingly clueless, asinine, nonsense things about women being, I don’t know, more pure and shit, and then I realize that fundamentally, we don’t agree about anything at all.

So here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to read it. When I come to a passage that blows my mind, I will share it with you and share my reaction. So you get to, like, read the book in my head.

Wait, where are you going?

Okay, for those of you sticking around, here goes:

From television to the Internet, women are portrayed as stupid, shallow, parasitical bimbos who will do anything for money and fame – anything, from dating men solely for their money, to having sex with horses . . .

See, I’m with him . . . until the “having sex with horses.” I mean, I know that kind of porn exists but . . . it’s hardly mainstream. You have to be looking for that kind of thing to find it. And it’s always existed, and it’s always existed in a “wow, this is the sickest shit we can think of” kind of way. Not in a “all women are totally willing to bang horses” kind of way.

(Fun fact: Jason and I both had to read The Golden Ass in our respective Latin classes. It’s the only Latin novel to survive intact or something? It’s got sex with a donkey. Well, okay, the donkey is a person temporarily trapped in a donkey’s body. But neither the prostitute having sex with the donkey in front of a live audience nor the live audience know that.)

(Funner fact: We still have a copy of this book on our bookshelves. Look, it’s not all donkey sex, okay?)

It is often said that one of the most accurate measures of a society’s moral state is how it treats its most vulnerable members – its women and children.

See, he’s mad that the feminists don’t love him, but this is the fundamental thing he doesn’t get. Feminists don’t want to judge society on how well they treat women as their most vulnerable members. Where women are vulnerable, power is being wielded pretty much exclusively by men. Feminists want women to not be the most vulnerable members of society. We don’t want to be equated with children, Shmuely, even if that equation grants us some protections. We want to wield roughly half the power.

This is what he has to say about “Joe Millionaire”:

And yet, the show’s revolting premise wasn’t met with angry protests by the viewers. No feminist organization made a significant stink about it. Nope, there was no feminist picket line outside Fox studios. Instead, women watched the show by the millions and loved it.

Now, for those of you who don’t know, “Joe Millionaire” was a reality show on Fox in which several women were taken to a villa in Italy or some such thing and told that they were vying for the affection of the millionaire owner of the villa, one Evan Marriott. Only at the end of the series would they reveal that good old Evan was in fact a construction worker making less than $20,000 a year. Then the girl he’d chosen, “Bachelor” style, would have to decide if she wanted to stick with him anyway. It was obviously a big joke for Fox, an attempt to prove that women are, in fact, gold-digging whores, and apparently no one considered that a) reality television is not reality, and b) a woman could conceivably be aghast and offended by Evan Marriott’s participation in such a joke, rather than turned off by his lack of money. (I understand there was a second season, with someone else as Joe, but I don’t get why.) In any event, Shmuley seems to think there was no feminist reaction. There was plenty feminist reaction. Shmuley, for your reading pleasure, I offer you Jenn Pozner’s Reality Bites Back. I know it was published later than your book, but she’s been doing her work for years, and feminists like the ones at Bitch Magazine have been commenting on this stuff, like, as their main function. You’re just not paying attention.

[E]very day I receive about fifty junk e-mails with headlines like the following: ‘Teen whores and sluts who want their mouths stuffed with _____”; “Tear her Womanhood Apart,” “Dumb bitch blondes who are so stupid they only know how to ______”; or the especially inventive and disturbing, “This girl loves being ravaged by her horse.”

First of all, you guys, having typed that quote, I am going to get the weirdest shit in my search engine terms stats this week.

Second of all, “Womanhood”? Those e-mails aren’t using the term “womanhood.” You couldn’t use _____ for “pussy” and “cunt” the way you did for “cocks” and “suck cock”? (And if my search engine terms weren’t going to be awful before . . . )

And finally, Shmuley, what in the hell is going on with your e-mail? The usual dirty spam is more like, “Elongate your Dong!” and “Hot Asian Teens!” And even that is pretty easy to get rid of. You gotta get an e-mail client with a better spam filter, dude.

I know a less mature person would snicker and imply that you were only getting this e-mail because you were looking at some extremely dirty sites for your own personal pleasure. I do not believe that to be so. I just believe you are an old, old man with no clue how to use the Internet.

Comedy Central’s South Park [Hey, I thought TV shows got “”, not italics.] aired an episode about Paris Hilton in 2004. The name of the episode was “Stupid Spoiled Whore.” The highlight is where the Paris Hilton character puts a pineapple in her vagina to compete in a “Whore Off” with a gay sadomasochistic teacher from the local school. To top her stunt, he then puts the entire body of Paris Hilton into his anus. This edifying spectacle is follow by his speech about the horror of becoming a stupid spoiled whore. How could a national network get away with portraying women in such a negative light? Easily. They could say that Paris Hilton already portrayed herself this way. They’re just following her lead.

Oh, Shmuley. You really are an old man. “South Park” is a cartoon. The whole episode (which I saw, oddly, since I didn’t think I’d watched “South Park” since, uh, 1998, but apparently I have) is not about how awesome Paris Hilton is, or about how women are all like Paris Hilton. It’s about the exact same thing your book is about – that a culture that reveres women like Paris Hilton, you know, “stupid, spoiled whores,” is a culture that is terrible for women, for girls and for people in general. It’s a culture that honors the ridiculous and the disgusting – the Whore-Off. They are making their point with vulgarity and satire. You are making your point with old-man preachiness. But you are in fact making the exact same point.

Much more than men, when women behave in a sleazy fashion, they compromise something essential within. Sex without love for a woman offends her most innate sensibilities, even if she is not fully conscious of it. Lovemaking for a woman, unlike for a man, is an internal rather than external undertaking. It is literally opening oneself up for invasion . . .

Yeah, Shmuley, I don’t know why the feminists are so mean to you.

Listen, not for nothing, but if we’re going to do this sex-as-war thing, couldn’t one say that men are subjecting themselves to a siege? Being, uh, surrounded and all? I mean, I wouldn’t say that, because I don’t think of sex as war. But if one wants to come up with war-related sex metaphors, uh, why isn’t mine as good as yours?

In past ages, four noble attributes characterized a woman. She was deemed to be:

1. A creature of superior dignity and grace, interested in love over money, and in a rich inner life rather than a shallow outer life

2. A spiritual intimacy seeker, unwilling to surrender to a man who was not her soul mate

3. A strongly productive but nonaggressive team player

4. A nurturer and comforter, capable of uplifting man to heights of insight, nobility, and pleasure that he could otherwise scarcely comprehend

Hahahahaha! Shmuley, you kill me.

As we all know, The Past was one giant monolith. All points in The Past are the same as each other, and all people at any given point in The Past thought exactly the same way. And what they thought was, women should never have to surrender to anyone but their soul mate, because they are creatures of superior dignity and grace.


Okay, so after that one, he talks about the terrible archetypes promoted by reality TV of women – gold digger! bimbo! – and the resulting archetypes of men – crotch-scratcher! porn addict! – and then there’s this:

In the Middle East, the brutal belligerence of the once great Islamic world is a supreme example of the consequences for a society that denies women public roles and influence. Arab mothers regularly extol their suicide-bomber children as martyrs and one wonders how, in a culture where even the nurturers have become bloodthirsty, we will be able to bring civilization back from the brink.

Wow. I don’t even know where to begin with this incredibly offensive, short-sighted, narrow-minded, self-righteous, bloviated bit. I think I’ll just stick to criticizing you on your own terms and point out that the women who have suicide-bomber children don’t even watch “The Bachelor.”

In 2004, the biggest-selling relationships book in the United States was coauthored by a man and a woman, both of whom were screenwriters for Sex and the City. The book is called He’s Just Not That into You, and its premise is that a man who treats a woman poorly does not have a real character flaw, but rather “he’s just not that into her.” The book tells women to stop blaming men for being jerks, and just accept that they have a right not to like any specific woman that much: If he doesn’t like you, move on and enjoy life. Amazing, isn’t it? A book that says if men treat women like garbage, it is because, essentially, they are just not hot enough.

Look, I have my own problems with He’s Just Not That Into You. Maybe I’ll write about it sometime. But for the most part, it’s not about men treating women “poorly,” it’s about men not acting like they’re head over heels in love with you. Because they’re not. I don’t know about y’all, but I do actually think that men have a right not to like any specific woman that much. Just like women of grace and dignity should be permitted not to surrender to anyone who is not their soul mate. Right, Shmuley?

Three quarters of all divorces in America are initiated by wives. And unlike husbands who, when they leave their wives, are nearly always going to the arms of another woman, less than 10 percent of wives who leave their husbands are entering into another relationship. Indeed, the vast majority never remarry. But they would rather be alone than be with a husband who is seldom affectionate, rarely helps with the housework, and stares at other women’s cleavage to boot. Since the chances of divorced women remarrying are statistically remote, these women are prepared to be alone, perhaps for the rest of their lives, rather than continue to live with men who seem incapable of valuing them.

There is a good point buried somewhere in there. It is interesting that women initiate divorces more often given that they are less likely to remarry AND by some accounts are more likely to take the steeper financial hit.

BUT Shmuley is making a few big assumptions here:

1. People understand statistics and probability and apply them sensibly to their own lives.

2. People are good at predicting what’s going to make them happy.

3. It’s the men who’ve changed, and not women’s circumstances.

Look, I am really, really willing to bet that in that simplistic monolith known as The Past, men were just as likely to withhold affection, fail to do housework, stare at other women’s cleavage (or ankles, or whatever), and be as incapable of valuing women as they are now, if not moreso. But women didn’t used to initiate divorce as much, and in fact, divorces didn’t happen as much. But there are lots of reasons for that, depending on when “in the past” you’re talking about:

1. Divorce was either legally impossible or so outside the normal social order as to be unthinkable.

2. People didn’t expect marriage to be what we expect marriage to be in terms of emotional fulfillment, so the fact that their spouse was unappreciative or inactive was an annoyance, not a sign that you were in The Wrong Marriage.

3. People died earlier. You know, before they could get sick of each other.

4. People were more reliant on their spouses for economic viability (pre-Industrial Revolution).

5. Women were more reliant on men for their earning power (post-Industrial Revolution) and therefore couldn’t leave.

Obviously, this is a complicated issue and if you’re interested, I recommend HIGHLY Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage: A History, but I really think we need to give space to the idea that some of the rise in divorces in the last fifty years is a sign that people no longer have to stick with people who make them miserable.

And that people are really bad at predicting what will make them happy.

On his mother:

She gave her life to us, and she instilled within me veneration for women in general, and for women like her in particular. No sacrifice was beyond my mother.

Ah, yes. Jewish men and their mothers. There is no love like it.

I saw women as divine creatures who exhibited a unique nobility of spirit. I observed their consummate devotion to all that is precious in life, and I noted that they were garbed with a dignity that made them appear almost angelic.

Once again, Shmuley, I can’t imagine why feminists don’t cotton to you.

As is common for orthodox Jews, his schooling as a teenager took place in a same-sex environment, with a same-sex girls’ school nearby.

Distant and elusive, women became even more divine in my eyes.

See, that’s the problem. Women know perfectly well that maintaining this illusion of superior grace, dignity, purity, blah blah blah, requires distance and elusiveness. We want to participate in the actual world instead.

We looked at these girls as if they were seraphs of heaven whose gentility moved us even from a distance. I remember, too, that our gazing was devoid of lust. We weren’t looking at them like horny teenagers. Instead, we looked at them with a sense of jubilant wonder.

Yeah, sure, Sparky.

We knew that these heavenly creatures had emotional softness and comfort to offer that could take away our loneliness and pain. They could make us feel cherished and worthy.

Dude, you have a host of psychological issues you need to look into. But please, let me clue you in. Women don’t want to be your teddy bears any more than they want to be your blow-up dolls. Objectifying is objectifying; it doesn’t matter all that much which object you are.

So then these same girls get hollered at by a store owner on Ben Yehuda street.

I was in shock. How could a man raise his voice to young women? Did he realize to whom he was speaking? These were not men at whom he could yell. These were young ladies: beautiful, gentle young ladies who deserved reverence rather than chastisement. How could he be so blind to the aura they carried?

Shmuley, you say on the one hand that where women embody dignity, grace, etc., men are inspired to become gentlemen, and that’s the whole problem with the world, that women don’t act like ladies, so men act like brutal boars, and then on the other hand you observe that these dignified, graceful girls, these seraphs of heaven, failed to turn the shopkeeper into a gentleman. Are you not getting the point here?

Look, if a woman is complicit with a culture expects her to be compliant with male sexual demands, that her body be open to their eyes and their desires, that she act like she wants nothing more than to be the giggling bimbo bouncing on one of their legs, then when those same men violate her in some way – yell at her, attack her, whatever – she has little defense. She hasn’t learned to defy men; she’s learned to please them. Saying “No,” or “I don’t like that,” or “Get the fuck off of me, asswipe” becomes really incredibly difficult to the point of unthinkability.

But if a woman is complicit with a culture that expects her to be a gentle seraph of heaven, a repository for all of a man’s emotional needs, the means by which he becomes a gentleman, blah blah blah, then, likewise, she’s going to have a hard time saying “No” or “I don’t like that” or “Get the fuck off of me, asswipe,” too. Because both positions put her in a relationship with men that’s about them, not her.

And this delusion you have that men behave better to their teddy bears than to their blow-up dolls is just that – a delusion. Men “in the past” raped and abused and mistreated women. Men now in communities like yours, religious communities that hold up women as closer to God, rape and abuse and mistreat women, especially if those women reveal a chink in their angelic armor. Not all men, but enough that women do know, no matter how much you deny it, that the pedestal is no better a place for them than the gutter.

We don’t want to live in a world where it’s our responsibility to act so angelic that men are inspired to protect rather than mistreat us. Because absolutely everything is wrong with that world. It’s a world that expects women to be angels, not people. We are, in fact, people. It’s a world that expects men, at heart, to be animals, not people. You are, in fact, people. It’s a world that offers women no protections or defenses against men who choose to be animals. It’s a world where women are still dependent on the men around them to have a place and a purpose.

You want to be hailed as a feminist hero, an Abraham Lincoln leading the Negro out of slavery. (Yes, he really says that. No, seriously. He makes that comparison. I am not making this up.) But when the land you show us just has a different sort of cage, we’re not going to follow you. And you pout and you stomp and you insist that it’s only because we’re so blinded by our chains or we’re willfully misunderstanding your point and that’s why we won’t let you lead us but we’re not stupid. You can insist all you want that the pedestal is awesome, but we know. We’ve been there, and we know that sure, we can be cloaked in angelic grace, but the minute we show an ankle or fart, it’s over for us. (Not to mention that, at no point in The Past were all female persons granted equal access to a pedestal. Why not ask some of those actual female slaves you’re so comfortable using in metaphor about that?) We don’t want to be cloaked. We want to be people. And we don’t want to spend our lives hauling your asses out the muck.

You guys, I’m only on page 43. I don’t think I can go on.

Lessons To Unlearn From Glee – Season 3, Episode 8

Well, this was quite the hot mess of an episode. Does anyone remember Sectionals performances being so damn boring before?

The lesson: Hold on to sixteen as long as you can. The inexplicably hotter and more charismatic Sam – who’s been moonlighting as a stripper – gives this advice to Quinn, directly quoting John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane.” Because Quinn seems determined to become a mommy, two years after having had her child. Remember?

The truth: I wake up every day and thank God I never have to be sixteen again.

I’d take nineteen, though.

This was the most muddled message of the episode, really. I mean, Sam’s delivery was supposed to be taken seriously, but then Rachel, also seriously, exhorts Quinn to “grow up” regarding her desire to out Shelby and Puck’s relationship, and then New Directions sings Jane Jackson’s “Control,” about how much it sucks to be young and listening to everyone else tell you what to do, and then . . . oh, forget it. I don’t give a shit. Too much of a muddled mess.

Although it’s worth mentioning that Sam, who delivers the line, is working as a stripper to help support his family. So it seems “sixteen” is less an age than a position of privilege.

Also? Hearing the kids sing “Jack and Diane,” while somewhat predictable a choice, would have been a lot more entertaining than most of this episode.

The lesson: It’s immature to turn a teacher in for having sex with a student. Rachel strongly advises Quinn not to do it because after all, Puck is eighteen and it would ruin Baby Beth’s life.

The truth: Even if a student is eighteen, it’s gross to sleep with them. Because you’re still their teacher. Most colleges have rules against professors hooking up with undergrads, even though almost all undergrads are over eighteen, because it’s gross and wrong to have that much of a real-world power differential between lovers.

I know whole communities exist around getting off on power differentials between lovers but usually, they’re creating those power differentials where they don’t actually exist and that’s why it’s fun and not squicky. (Well, sometimes there’s also squickiness, but you know what I mean.)

And yeah, Quinn was being immature about her reasons for turning Shelby in. But that doesn’t mean Shelby is right to have had sex with Puck.

The lesson: You can just transfer in and out of schools at will, regardless of where your parents live or what school you’re in now, just to perform in singing competitions.

The truth: I am pretty sure you can’t, actually.

The lesson: As a privileged middle-class kid, you can totally look down your nose at what your less fortunate classmate is doing to earn money and still have that person love and be loyal to and follow you.

The truth: No, you can’t. Finn remains a jackass, and Rachel is occasionally one, too.

The lesson: A song that is an ode to the red Solo cup exists.

The truth: Well, alright, then.

And finally,

The lesson: Follow your dream of a career in the performing arts no matter what.

The truth: It’s really, really hard to make a living as a dancer, or an actress, or a singer. Many, many, many talented people exist, and maybe one in a hundred of them – maybe one in a thousand – will ever be able to support themselves doing what they love.

Look, Harry Shum, Jr. is a-freakin’-mazing, and it’s easy to say that if a kid could dance like that he’d surely make it. But if you saw who else auditioned for that role, you’d see a whole bunch of amazing dancers. Most of whom will never be able to support themselves exclusively through performing. Because them’s the brakes.

I think Mike Chang should pursue dance, and I think his father should let him. But I also think he should take him to see a production of A Chorus Line, and then remind him that the stories he’s hearing of what dancers have gone through – those were all dancers who got the job.

ETA: Kate’s is up.

Can I Just Say This?

Women came forward about how Herman Cain sexually harassed them, you know, pressed uninvited and unwanted sexual attention on them while holding the threat or the promise of their financial well-being over their heads, and his poll numbers went up. Supporters of Cain suggested that these women were just lying to get attention, or that they were being paid, or what have you. But Herman Cain’s campaign raised so much more money after these women came forward that some (and by some, I probably mean Jon Stewart) jokingly suggested that the Herman Cain campaign itself was paying them.

Then a woman came forward about having a consensual extra-marital relationship with him for over a decade, and his poll numbers plummeted to the ground and he withdrew in, like, a week.

So in the minds of likely Republican primary voters – marriage is sacred but women are stupid, lying whores?


And, in other news, something published in The New York Times has irritated me.

The feminist megastar Naomi Wolf has written a column in defense of little girls liking princesses, which is surprising to me given what I know of Naomi Wolf, which is maybe not much. And look, those of you who know me know that I have a little girl who f-ing loves princess, particularly the Disney variety, and while her extreme adoration of them and of all the glittery, girly, goofy products that come with them leave me feeling chagrinned, I don’t actively object. I liked the Disney movies growing up, too, and I don’t think there’s any real harm in her liking them.

But the column is a little goofy, a little discombobulated, and a little beside the point. (I know I can be all three of those things. But, you know, this is my personal blog. I do it for free and I am read by, I think, my aunt and my sister’s friends and maybe one or two of my friends. She’s Naomi Wolf and she’s being paid by the New York Freakin’ Times.)

She starts off with some fluffy nonsense about images of Kate Middleton and do we even need princesses as, like, a job description any more when the world is so grim? And I’m kind of going, well, until all countries that still have a royal family decide to dissolve that system, we’re going to have literal princess, i.e., daughters of kings and/or queens, or women who marry sons of kings and/or queens, so we’re probably also going to have images of those people. I mean, we don’t need the Kardashians, but they exist, and their claim to fame is even more tenuous than Kate Middleton’s. And the world has been grim and still had princesses before. Like during the Crusades. Or the Black Plague. So . . . what’s your point, exactly?

And yeah, I think for now, no matter how feminist a mommy you are, you’ve got a strong chance that your little girl will go gaga for princesses at some point or another. But then she says, “Little girls are obsessed with princesses for the same reason little boys are obsessed with action heroes. What other female role model can issue a sentence and have the world at her feet? What other female figure can command an army, break open a treasury . . .” And that’s something that needs a lot of unpacking. Like, first of all, why aren’t there more girls obsessed with action heroes instead? Why aren’t there more female role models that can issue sentences and have the world at their feet? Or command armies or break open treasuries? (I mean, there are, but for some reason she dismisses Hilary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice as being less powerful than princesses, and with less nice outfits. And hey, she’s got a point about the outfits. The minute I can order a grown-up sized, grown-up-looking green Tiana ball gown, the one that looks sort of like a water lily in dress form, I will do so.) And hey, if Zoe aspires to be powerful and commanding, great, but she could also aspire to be kind and loving, scholarly, inventive, creative – a host of other things. Why is power supposed to be the most alluring value to feminist-mommy me? And . . . what Disney movies are you watching, Naomi Wolf? I haven’t seen a princess do any of that shit.

Wolf talks for a long time in the column about Princess Di and Princess Kate (Can we talk for a moment about why does she spell Kate with a K when she’s Catherine with a C? Why isn’t she Cate? Am I the only one bothered by this? Yes. I guess I am.) and the British class system and how princesses are just like working moms these days, juggling their lives and whatnot. (. . . Sure.) But if this is an article about preschoolers who are obsessed with princesses, who cares about Princess Di and Princess Kate? My daughter has no idea who those people are. She saw pictures of Princess Kate around the wedding, while we were at the grocery store (When I explained who she was and that those were pictures of her wedding, Zoe demanded to see pictures of the kiss.) but Princess Kate definitely does not occupy the head space that Aurora, Belle, and all their cohorts occupy. The Disney girls; that’s who my daughter means when she says “princess.”

So what does Wolf have to say about those chicks? Not much. “They are busy being the heroines of their own lives. In a scary face-off, Anastasia kills off the evil Rasputin – and saves Russia. Mulan, in drag, helps defeat the conquering Huns – also saving her family and her country. Belle releases her enslaved beloved from the curse of his enchantment. . . . Even that slightly annoying Cinderella . . . is not so bad if we see that the glass slipper fits because she is nice to little creatures – and that it cannot fit her stepsisters not so much because they are ‘ugly’ as because they are unkind.”

Now, I do have an encyclopedic knowledge of these films, not so much because I love them but because in addition to currently having a three-year-old daughter, I had significantly younger siblings and thus spent a good portion of my teens as well as my own childhood watching them. So let’s start with the nerdy things. Anastasia is not a Disney movie. And yes, she defeats Rasputin, and yes, the face-off is scary, but at that point, in the narrative of the film, she’s not saving Russia, just herself. (And I guess 1920s Paris, which is important to save, but Rasputin didn’t have it in for Paris; he just didn’t care what else he destroyed in order to kill Anastasia.) And Mulan, while being the ass-kickiest, most feminist-friendly Disney heroine, is not, literally, a princess. She is often included in the Disney-Princess-marketed things, but she is neither is the daughter of a king nor does she marry a prince. She also saves her country both in drag and out of it; the first time, when she’s in drag, the villain doesn’t really die because it’s a movie and you can never trust the villain to be really dead the first time. The second time she’s in girl clothes.

And seriously? Cinderella’s glass slipper fits because she is kind? The stepsisters’ don’t fit because they’re unkind? No. I’ve seen the movie. Cinderella has tiny feet. The stepsisters have comically large feet. Much is made of their comically large feet and Cinderella’s dainty, beautiful ones. Yes, Cinderella is kind, although if one were to do some sort of psychological reading of the film, one might conclude that Cinderella reaches out to the mice and birds because she doesn’t have anyone else in the house to love. Okay, I’m being a grouch. She’s kind. But the Prince doesn’t really know that she’s kind, and neither does the slipper. She’s rewarded for being tiny and pretty.

Belle is a complicated one. I have read that Beauty and the Beast was sort of Disney’s apology for not making The Little Mermaid feminist enough. But for my money, The Little Mermaid is more feminist, if also more obnoxious. The Little Mermaid gets dinged for two things on the feminist front – that Ariel has to change in order to be with her man, and that she gives up her voice to get her man. On the first issue, Ariel starts the movie already wanting to be a human. We open on her searching for human stuff in a human shipwreck, and then singing an ode to all her human stuff in which she expresses her longing to be “part of that world.” It’s not even so much seeing Prince Eric that is her impetus for actively seeking ways to become human – it’s when her dad destroys all her human stuff. I think I’ve written this before, but in a way, Ariel is like those hipster boys who love anime and dating Asian girls – Ariel is sort of fetishizing Eric for the culture he belongs to, in which she already immerses herself. So she’s kind of obnoxious. But she’s not changing herself for a man; she’s changing herself because she wants to.

And the giving up her voice thing drives me the craziest, because it’s like those Christian groups who hate on Harry Potter and quote that line about, “There is no good or bad, only power” as an example of why Harry Potter has bad values even though the villain says that line. The villain in The Little Mermaid is the one who convinces Ariel to give up her voice, even though we can see that Prince Eric is totally in love specifically with her voice and forgoing it makes landing the man much, much harder. The movie is doing the exact opposite of advocating that girls give up their ability to speak to land a man.

Belle, on the other hand, does the Stockholm Syndrome thing. I mean, sure, she likes to read, which nerdy bookish girls like me love. And sure, she rejects the obnoxious, handsome, popular man who thinks girls shouldn’t read or think. And she can certainly stand up for herself when need be. And the movie is really good; the visuals are great and the songs are top-notch. I love watching this movie. But in terms of feminism? A pretty girl falls for a beastly guy who treats her bad but totally lurves her and is made better by the power of her kindness and beauty? Not so much. She sings about wanting “adventure in the great wide somewhere,” but apparently settles for one adventure, the adventure of being held prisoner in an enchanted castle a few hours away from her home village. She “releases” the Beast by doing nothing more pro-active than kissing him when she thinks he’s dying. It’s not an objectionable action, but it’s hardly the work of a feminist hero.

Other princesses are really not so bad. Jasmine may not be the main actor in the story, but I love the way she picks up on Aladdin’s trickster ways and masters them quickly. Rapunzel is a little excessively child-like and naive, but she’s also strong and sure of herself and resourceful. The Princess and the Frog is not a great movie – the pacing is weird and they spend too much time as frogs which I’m not so into, plus I can see why maybe the African-American community did not embrace the movie whole-heartedly – but Tiana pretty much kicks butt. (And the songs are good, too.)

And in terms of opening treasuries, leading armies, etc. – we never see that stuff from Disney princesses. Ever. They don’t function as political figures in any way, shape, or form. (Remember, Mulan is not a princess. And she doesn’t command an army; she just gets four guys to follow her lead. And yeah, she saves China, which kicks ass. But doesn’t come with any extra power as far as I can see, except the power to avoid a serious grounding from her father when she gets home.) The only instance I can remember of a Disney princess attempting to use her “I’m a princess” power is when Jasmine orders the palace guards not to take Aladdin into custody – and it doesn’t even work! Because Jafar, the palace advisor, outranks her! And yeah, at the end of Tangled, they talk about how happy the kingdom is to have Rapunzel back and how she’s a good and wise ruler and whatnot, which echoes the power that the British princesses apparently have to “simply bestow, with the power of [their] presence, a sense of magic, excitement, and healing” that Wolf talks about. But the movies aren’t really about politics. They’re really romantic comedies, usually with music, and animals who talk or at least have strong personalities. And that’s fine. Zoe can watch romantic comedies. I just don’t think I can buy into a statement like, “Don’t worry if your 5-year-old girl insists on a pink frilly princess dress. It doesn’t mean she wants to subside into froth; it just means, sensibly enough for her, that she wants to take over the world.”

The truth is, little girls do like princesses for the same reasons boys like action heroes – because they represent the extremes of gender identification at an age where identifying one’s gender is super-important. In other words, girls love princesses because they are figuring out how to be girls, and boys love action heroes because they are figuring out how to be boys. And I think the heart of the dilemma for feminist moms is that, first, many of us are not into gender essentialism and are sort of squicked out by the idea that our daughters are tying to figure out how to “be girls,” but also because the femininity that these princesses embody is imperfect. There is a lot of emphasis placed on being pretty, landing a man, etc. And it’s not that I object to romance as a reasonable life goal for women, obviously, but when all the Disney movies featuring girls as main characters are romances, whereas the ones featuring boys as main characters are frequently about something else, the cumulative effect is annoying.

I’m not really sure what Naomi Wolf is trying to do in this article. If she’s trying to justify the love some people have for seeing stuff about Kate Middleton, fine, but that’s got nothing to do with little girls. If she’s trying to justify the love little girls have for Disney princesses, she doesn’t write very much about that, give very good examples, or make any sense at all, really.