Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich

Ever since the Kaavya issue (which seems to be over, which I suppose I should be glad about), I keep worrying that I am not correctly citing my sources on here. I don't put a works-cited type link at the end of every entry, and I certainly don't always say "I found this on x website." I always wonder - when it comes to blogging, what can you take credit for? If you found a link to something (say, that Malcolm Gladwell article) on another site (say, Galleycat.com), do you have to credit them? Who told them about it? How did they find it? I just wonder where the lines are drawn. At any rate, I'm not getting advertising money or anything for this little ol' blog and I have about 4 readers (of which almost none comment, which is sad), so I am not so worried about ripping off the results of better bloggers' research.

Moving on - the reason I bring this up is because while reading the Bookslut blog I always come across interesting things, like this article written by Bookslut founder and blogger Jessa Crispin. I don't need to say again how I haven't been educated in feminist issues and things, but I have to say that reactions like hers sort of piss me off, even if books about how to be a better housewife piss me off more. (I think that goes without saying, so instead I'll cope with my problem with her.)

I have a nagging suspicion about my generation, which is that in a way, women have become obsessed with the idea of having it all. As in: women now are under tremendous pressure to have children, be the perfect mom, wear the perfect clothes, have the perfect job, and somehow not break down under all the pressure. Hence books like those that piss of Ms. Crispin so much - with titles like The May Queen: Women on Life, Love, Work, and Pulling it All Together in Your Thirties. Shit, I would like to pull it all together - and preferably before my thirties. All of the women I know are brilliant, ambitious people, and none of them want to settle for second best - and all of them are paranoid about their future and their ovaries. Because their futures are more compromised than that of a man, or at least because they are more away of that compromise - they worry about how to have kids and be a doctor at the same time, or how they are ever going to meet someone if they are going to be trying to get tenure all over the place, or how they are going to make it anywhere in any business. Men I know have different worries - usually it seems like they are wondering about what they are going to be doing for themselves - how they are going to negotiate their future in a tough job market, how they are going to be making a mark. I haven't heard a guy worry about his love life or his kids in a long, long time (Mike and Joey - if you are reading this, I think you may be the exception). So it's like he gets to eliminate a whole other variable.

I think it's remarkable how many women at Stanford who plan on taking time off to take care of their kids - and they're hardly old enough to drink and won't be having kids for years. They are facing tough compromises. Like I said - no wonder there are so many books about how to get your shit together.

I wonder, then, if the best way to react to those books is with utter scorn, or with a little dose of understanding for the perspective. I suspect that the books go too far - and there is definitely something disturbing about our country's newfound obsession with housewives (Desperate Housewives replaced Sex and the City - what does that mean? Of course, I would like to point out that even Carrie, who loved her city best of all, "couldn't help but wonder" about great loves and kids and all that jazz) - but something about Jessa Crispin's kind of reaction bugs me. Maybe it's just the title - "Leave Her Vagina Out of It." What if I don't want you to? I think it's important not to - for several reasons. First of all, I said already that women are facing different problems from men, which need to be taken into account or at least recognized (if not by pop-self-help-lit). Second, if I learned anything in cultural psych/race studies classes, it's that you never get anywhere towards a more progressive politics or equal society by pretending differences don't exist. And no matter what you tell me about testosterone deprivation in the womb or whatever (I don't remember my Human Behavioral Biology), women are not just underdeveloped men. I will borrow a term from my youth and say, "Duh."

Next, I think it's silly to not "think about my femininity" - at the very least it is important to think about it the way you think about your hometown or the college you went to - it's an important part of your development and the person you have become, no matter how hard you work to reject the whole annoying concept now. I know I faced some minor challenges as a woman and I think I still do - in academics and looking ahead to that scary future when my eggs run out before I've settled in a real career path and augh all that (I borrow from a conversation that Laurel and I had freshman year when we calculated out how many eggs our hormonal systems forced to disintegrate and dissolve per year, and how many we would then have left at the age of 35. We were in Human Sexuality. Excuse us for being paranoid). I wouldn't be me if I had been a boy - or if I had been treated the same as a boy. And if it hadn't been for Barbie and all those female images in movies, I wouldn't have the same distorted view I have of interpersonal relationships and body images (even though I have to say at least I am aware of them). But my point is that you can't leave being female out of it because that would be leaving too important of a part out of the equation, and you will come out on the other end worse off.

I recently read an article by the same Jessa Crispin in none other than that paragon of "alternative" femininity, Jane magazine. I used to love Jane because its writers were shameless about their hangovers and their prescription drug abuse and their non-slutty promiscuity (although the modifier may be debated). They never left being female out of it - that wasn't their problem. But recently I grew to not like it (and eventually cancel my subscription) for the same reasons that I don't like Jessa's article here: It's occasionally, or even often, needlessly alternative, to the point that it looks down on the issues that 90-95-100% of women are actually facing, and focuses instead on all those characteristics that supposedly make up a strong woman, like subverting your boss and surviving cancer and trying to get a tubal ligation because you are too lazy for normal birth control (get a 10-year IUD for Christ's sake! It's probably cheaper and safer!). And Pamela Anderson, who is apparently awesome because she dedicates herself to animal rights and boobs and flaunts her sexuality. Jane used to be good because it was honest, and even though I kind of have hope for the new editor (and sort of feel vindictive now because the real Jane, namesake, actually left the mag to be a mom), I am mostly disappointed because instead of being smart, it just got snarky, and its shamelessness became show-offy and its features never seemed plausible (someone went without sex for six weeks?!? Stop the presses). Can't there be a middle ground between female sterilization and birthin' 12 babies? (I think, again, it's called birth control.) Or a magazine (or something) that can strike a balance between
The May Queen: Women on Life, Love, Work, and Pulling it All Together in Your Thirties and Jane?

In the long run, I think Jessa Crispin should be able to get sterilized if she wants (although I give credit to knowing doctors who tell her that she might change her mind, which is possible for anyone although not guaranteed), and I don't plan on reading any of those "Getting it Together" type books that tell me how to cook the perfect quiche and write the perfect legal brief and get the perfect summer beach body in 10 minutes or less a day. I think that's the point. In between the new housewife image (or the old housewife image, whatever it may be) and the new, fab single gal image (which I don't really trust), there has to be some kind of negotiation. Do we have to go to the opposite extreme in order to find a real place for a real modern woman? Do we really have to choose between kids and a career?

Or is that the kind of question that got us here in the first place?

Pablo: You're the expert on feminism. You weigh in.


Sara said...

ok, fine, i wasn't posting comments b/c i forgot my username from your roadtrip america blog, and it seemed like such a big waste to make a new one. but alas, upon reading your reproach, i gave in. let's see how long i remember this one...

1. i agree with you about jane- it's turning into more whiny than witty, and, to be quite honest, every time i read it, i get the distinct feeling that i wouldn't like the writers if i met them. and a lot of the articles feel self-indulgently chosen. but oh well. it's cheap! haha.

2. i also think that if jessica whatever really wants a tubal ligation, fine, go ahead, but i think her attitude is crappy and immature (ditto on the IUD suggestion). if i were a doctor (when i am a doctor?), i wouldn't give it to her either, i don't think, without extensive ethics committee consultation so that i would have lots of documentation to show that she was competent to make the decision, and she did it of her own insistence. people are bitches and will sue for anything, even if they gave permission. plus, i don't think she's really thought it through, and even she portrays the whole exchange as a pregnacy scare/post-abortion freak out that evolved into a fuck the system campaign.

3. i can't believe she bullied her boyfriend into a vasectomy!

~Beckie said...

Hmmm ... can you say "amen" to someone who writes a blog basically about questions? Oh well. "AMEN" Emily! Reality does bite! Now that I'm at a slightly higher pressure school than Whittier, talking to the women in academia makes me often re-think my career path. The woman who "has it all" is truly a myth ... or she "has it all" but is freakin' miserable (talk to most profs or women in high-powered, male dominated jobs). It seems like the whole women's lib-thing gave us more choices, but not necessarily improved ones.

One one hand, I get really pissed off when people talk about the "inherent biological differences between men and women " (usually they are talking about intellect). On the other hand, I want to scream at those who are dismissive of my concerns about balancing kids with becoming a doctor, "Ovaries have much earlier expiration dates than testicles!" No happy medium. Can't have it all.

I would like to say that one problem with trying to "have it all" is that there is never an expectation that when a married, heterosexual woman tries to have a family and a career, there needs to be a total change in the roles of the man and the woman in that situation. Do you know why men don’t worry about having to balance a family and career? (Okay, besides the ovary/testicle rant of previous paragraph.) They don’t have to do both FULL TIME! Yes, there are exceptions, but the fact remains that the “typical” working father did not also have to be the primary caregiver of his children while maintaining a house! The majority of the time, women do not make the choice to do something different so much as they choose to do something (for 40+ hours a week) IN ADDITION TO WHAT THEY HAVE BEEN DOING FOR YEARS! Guys do more housework and more taking care of kids, plus no jokes with each other about being “Mr. Mom”. More fluid gender roles would definitely alleviate the problem (in addition to lots of other problems).

I think I have procrastinated working on my paper enough. I don’t know if you were talking about me in your blog, Em, but thanks for the venue for ranting.


PS--I don't know all of the details about the whole tubal ligation story, but if I knew that I was going to be with someone for the rest of my life and that we never wanted kids, I better not have to bully him into getting a vasectomy! He better volunteer! I'm not for people feeling like they have to do something. I'm just saying that it would give me pause to stay with someone who didn’t volunteer, or who had to be bullied. When you make a list of the tangible (cost, risk of complications, etc.) and not-so-tangible (um, hello, haven’t you been putting artificial hormones of questionable safety into your body for the past decade? It’s his turn to do SOMETHING.) pros and cons of tubal ligation versus vasectomy, any man who has to be convinced … well, the vasectomy is the least of your problems!