Archive | Social Criticism

“Financial Infidelity” Isn’t Cheating

Not long ago, The New York Times reported a list of “money disorders” linked to our economy. Overspending. Underspending (hoarding); serial borrowing (we all know what that is); financial enabling (too much money forked over to adult kids); and so forth. Stars like Wynona Judd (overspending), admitted to once buying too many cars and Harleys, but doesn’t anymore.  

But “financial infidelity” caught my eye: “Cheating on a spouse by spending and lying about it.”

Oh dear: Is that a disorder?  If I told my spouse what, say, a new ski helmet costs (which I won’t buy, but still, mine is a little shaky on my head), he’d wonder about my sanity, not to mention the new goggles required to fit over that ski helmet. I repeat: I’m not doing it, so don’t call Richard and tell him I’m cheating on him). Continue Reading →

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Achievement

That women are now the majority of the workforce is not a terrible thing. So how come, with every new achievement of women, there is a corresponding outcry about the “end of men!”? When did anyone ever cry “The end of women!” throughout all the previous centuries during which men were the majority of the workforce?

I know men aren’t thriving right now, for a host of reasons beginning with the economy and including a dramatic sea change in social structure. But when coverlines (and here I mean like the Atlantic’s) undermines one gender’s success by linking it to the other’s failure, they’re playing an old power game that women have no interest in: The If–you’re- not- one- up, you’re-one-down idea of power.  For one thing, women are not at the top of their game just yet: It’s worth remembering how very few women are really at the top (for more about this, see Facebook C.O.O. Sheryl Sandberg’s wonderful TED talk on YouTube). And while women may be outnumbering men in the workforce, they aren’t being paid the same salaries as men.  As it stands,  women will reach the age of sixty and have accumulated a million dollars less than men of sixty who have had exactly the same job.

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Fun

For a survey I was conducting some years ago in a woman’s magazine, I asked readers:What do you think the primary purpose of marriage is? Among the options offered were the obvious ones: To have a family. Monetary stability. Settling down. Sharing a life. I offered one, though, that stuck out in this roster of noble reasons for wedlock: “To have fun.” Of the 5,000 respondents, twenty-four percent checked that one.

I’d expected some resistance to the pleasure option, since, if marriage isn’t sobering, sanctified, and serious, what is? Ever since the Puritans turned the pursuit of happiness into a frenzy of righteous self-improvement, Americans have opted for betterment over pleasure. We are suspicious of enjoyment for its own sake (pleasure has to improve our blood sugar levels). It’s as though what’s good for you long ago won out over what feels good. But what was special about these readers who chose what we called “The Pleasure Marriage” is that, when I interviewed them individually some time later, they were still having fun. Their marriages, of the ones I was able to find out about, were the happiest.

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Ambivalence

A group of young men were complaining to me the other night about their live-in girlfriends. “In three months, my fiancée has been home nine nights out of sixty-two,” Elliott said. “The other nights she’s playing tennis, learning French, seeing her friends.”

“That’s terrific,” I said.

“What’s so terrific? I never see her.”

So I got to thinking about the difference between a man’s desire for more “space” and a woman’s. We ‘ll readily call his “commitmentphobia,” “intimacy problems” and “terror of dependence.” We (make that I) champion hers as “autonomy,”  “independence” and “growth.” I think it’s because for so long, a man’s “I need more space,” was a creepy code phrase for “I’m outtahere.”  A woman, though, tends to mean that she needs more independence, more room for growth and self-expansion within the relationship. 

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Love, Lives and Scare Tactics

A very long piece in The Atlantic this month has pointed out several things we’ve been talking about in my books and blogs for over a decade. Which only illustrates the extreme disconnect between what has been going on statistically in this country for years and what the culture wishes to deny. The author of this piece, “All The Single Ladies,” Kate Bolick, tells us many things, among which are that marriage has changed. That women, who are on the ascent in the workplace, no longer need men to put a roof over their heads, which frees them to choose men for emotional rather than strictly financial reasons.  That many men, who are not on the ascent in the workplace and aren’t earning as much as they once did, are not as traditionally “eligible” as husband material of yore…which means choosing a husband for financial reasons isn’t a winning proposition. That traditional marriage was predicated on the men-as-provider; women-as-nurturer model, and if we still have a yearning for that model, we have a decidedly shrinking chance of getting it.

First, notice how The Atlantic entitled its two major articles this year regarding women’s ascent in the workplace and the shifts in the marriage landscape. The first was “The End of Men?”, and this one, “All The Single Ladies.” Both are Scare Titles, reminiscent of newspaper headlines in the 80s that sent those women hoping to find husbands OUT of the workplace and back into the home, while  recapitulating the preposterous idea that if women do well, men plummet. Continue Reading →

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On Women Running the World

As a passionate advocate for women, and obviously therefore an advocate for putting women at the helm not only of corporations, but of cities and countries, I nevertheless think it’s dangerous to suggest that women are so benign, so aggression-free, that all violence would vanish if we alone were running things.

 The front page review in Today’s New York Times Book Review section is of Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard who has written brilliantly on linguistics, says that violence in our era has decreased more than it ever has, and for a host of reasons– one of which is the effect of women. Noting this, the reviewer, Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton, writes, “The empowerment of women does, Pinker argues, exercise a pacifying influence, and the world would be more peaceful if women were in charge.”

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Coming up Next!: The Weird Fun of Banned Books Week

It’s weirdly fun, on the cusp of Banned Books Week, to look at the titles of books that have been banned: Gone with the Wind; To Kill a Mockingbird; Beloved; The Great Gatsby; The Catcher in the Rye; and, of course, Ulysses.  And the bylines: The authors of the aforementioned, along with Voltaire and Defoe, Chaucer and Aristophanes, Rousseau and Paine, Pascal and Steinbeck and Hemingway and Faulkner and Twain.

Okay, “fun” may not be quite the right word (although Brave New World was banned as recently as 1980 for making “promiscuous” sex “look like fun”). But can’t you just see censorship committee members, one more sanctimonious than the next, poring over page after page to find a “filthy” word or an “indecent” scene? Oh, the outrage these men must suffer in their noble venture! The vicious arguments they must have over the subtle differences between “lewd” and “obscene”;  between “filthy” and “indecent”!  What a responsibility! And all to protect us from…..from what?  Alice Walker’s The Color Purple was banned for its “troubling ideas about race relations, man’s relationship to God, African history and sexual relations,” all of which troubling ideas are the reasons she wrote it.

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Who’s Sabotaging Teenage Girls?

     In any story, whether we read it or see it on film or in a store window, we have to know  who  is speaking. Whose voice is telling us what story? Whose point of view is it?  A  great  story at the moment, spoken by the Census, is about women’s increased  power. Women are  now the majority of the workforce; the majority of managers; the majority earners of  undergraduate and graduate degrees; the majority owners of wealth.

So, who is narrating the story of this photo in Victoria’s Secret window in Fairfield, Ct.?  (We added the type to illustrate where it might have been more appropriately shown) Odd  that the moment when women are powering ahead, storefronts and magazine covers  feature skinny young girls not only made  up to look like fashionable adults, but posing in a  way that clearly suggests  subjugation—as  does the girl above. Whose viewpoint is this, do  you think? Who’s telling girls about to inherit a legacy of unprecedented power that their  REAL power lies not in their education and their upcoming careers, but rather, in looking  like baby hookers,  pouting and bruised and with their arms up in their air as if in chains?  Are storeowners telling this story so they  can sell underwear? Perhaps. Photographers,  who want to make their mark? Maybe.

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Lucy Stone: A Place of Honor on National Women’s Equality Day

One day, when I was seventeen, I approached my father with questions about love,  like Why should a woman marry?  This confused him because he and my mother loved each other, their marriage was good, and their other daughter, my older sister, was already also happily married.

Nevertheless, I said..  Why? And what’s this “obey” business?  

We exchanged ideas. He was patient. “So: you want a Lucy Stoner marriage, is that it?” he said. Thankfully, since I didn’t know what a “Lucy Stoner marriage” was, he went on to tell me about his early brief marriage to a writer named Hagar Wilde that ended on friendly terms. “We had a Lucy Stoner Marriage,” he confided. They had lived in Greenwich Village, he told me, but she had insisted on a separate studio, one outside their home, for her work. (Hagar, by the way, wrote the famous screwball comedy with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, “Bringing Up Baby,” which I later decided was successful because she had a place of her own.) I hadn’t heard about his first marriage, of Hagar, or of a “Lucy Stoner marriage,” whatever that was, until then. He also told me that he and my mother did not have a Lucy Stoner marriage.

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Our Money, Our Selves

How come a woman reaches the age of sixty having accumulated one million dollars less than a man of the same age who has had the same job? As we approach National Women’s Equality Day on August 26th, I’m thinking of that startling, stubborn pay difference—our 77 cents to men’s dollar—and of what it takes to end it.

 One of women’s greatest quests is an internal one: a search for self-knowledge, self-authority, self-expansion, self-esteem. While this focus on “self” may sound idle—or, as the culture has long claimed, “selfish”–to those who see political activism as solely external, it’s clear to me that this quest is what will determine our monetary future. Only if each of us understands our own psyche, as well as the collective psyche of women over time, will we have mojo for change. The selfless woman, heralded still as being “good”, will never feel good enough inside herself to make a big difference outside.  In the words of the poet Adrienne Rich:

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