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29 Februar 2008 @ 23:20
That dweam within a dweam  

What follows is the body of a letter I have just written to the director of circulation and reader services at The Atlantic Monthly. Because really, if I wanted to read the witless contumely of sexist trolls, I could do so for free on the Web; I don't need to pay to have the stuff delivered to my door.

I have just seen Lori Gottlieb’s piece titled “Marry Him” in The Atlantic’s March 2008 issue, and so I am writing to ask you to please cancel my subscription at your earliest convenience.

I am asking you to do this not merely because I disagree with the burden of Gottlieb’s article, which seems to be that women should abandon romantic views of marriage in favour of more pragmatic ones, and that they should “settle” for whatever sort of husband they can get. In fact, I think the time is ripe for a thoughtful reconsideration of what marriage means, and of whether it is reasonable to expect that domestic partnership should always be based on romantic love. Such serious analysis is not, of course, what Gottlieb offers; instead, she gives us a few shallow overgeneralizations based on the experiences of herself, her immediate circle of friends, and the characters in her favourite sitcoms, and patronizingly concludes that what every woman wants is a husband and children.

If this were all, then I could dismiss “Marry Him” as a piece of reactionary fluff—idiotic, but not important enough to warrant cancelling a subscription to a magazine that normally carries more substantial fare. What I cannot tolerate is the malicious false dichotomy Gottlieb directs against her readers in the following passage:

Oh, I know—I’m guessing there are single 30-year-old women reading this right now who will be writing letters to the editor to say that the women I know aren’t widely representative, that I’ve been co-opted by the cult of the feminist backlash, and basically, that I have no idea what I’m talking about. And all I can say is, if you say you’re not worried [about getting married], either you’re in denial or you’re lying. In fact, take a good look in the mirror and try to convince yourself that you’re not worried, because you’ll see how silly your face looks when you’re being disingenuous.

In other words, Gottlieb tells us that on the matter of her readers’ feelings, she is a greater authority than they are, and she pre-emptively attacks anyone who might dare to take issue with her. This verbal bullying is despicable, and the ostensibly light-hearted tone of the piece cannot excuse it. (“Can’t you take a joke?” is the transparent apologia of bullies everywhere.) The Atlantic’s decision to publish “Marry Him” was a reprehensible lapse of editorial judgement, and I have no desire to subscribe to a magazine that insults its readers.

 
 
Nuværende humør: disappointeddisgusted
 
 
 
Eric Bourlandebourland on 1. Marts, 2008 05:13 (UTC)
That sounds a lot like typical Atlantic crap. I canceled my subscription too, a long time ago, under similar circumstances.

Gottlieb's a goofball.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 2. Marts, 2008 02:59 (UTC)

Hmm. I had only been a subscriber for a few months; maybe I was too generous with the "normally carries more substantial fare" bit.

I confess that I wondered briefly whether Lori Gottlieb might be related to Sondra Gotlieb, the amateur pugilist whose blitherings have occasionally graced the pages of the Grope & Flail.

Michellemsagara on 1. Marts, 2008 05:35 (UTC)
Very nice letter on your part, though.

I admit that I don't always understand why, in a society where so many marriages don't survive, we as a culture aren't looking at alternative households, alternative arrangements to a very narrow traditionalist view.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 2. Marts, 2008 03:08 (UTC)

Thanks!

At one point in the article, Gottlieb mentions that both she and a friend of hers had babies conceived with donated sperm, because they wanted children and didn't have husbands. I don't see why she and her friend shouldn't simply "settle" for each other and set up housekeeping together—if she really believes that the important thing is to find someone to run a family with, not necessarily the love of one's life, then being heterosexual should really be no obstacle to her marrying a woman.

Michellemsagara on 2. Marts, 2008 03:14 (UTC)
I don't see why she and her friend shouldn't simply "settle" for each other and set up housekeeping together

I realize that this was in no way your intention, but I have to admit that I'm now curious about the article in question. When my cousin was visiting from Japan (I was born and have lived my entire life in Canada; she was born and lived her entire life in Japan), she said -- and her English wasn't good, while my Japanese was non-existent -- that love and marriage are not considered the same thing in Japan, manga and anime aside.

But we have such unrealistic expectations, I think, about romantic love in our society.

I should add that I'm married with two children and the standard mortgage, for the sake of position statement.

Edited at 2008-03-02 03:16 (UTC)
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 2. Marts, 2008 03:40 (UTC)

There is a very, very good article that could have been written about marriage and romantic love, and about how the relatively recent presumption that they should go together became so entrenched, and about how we might recover what was good about the old view within the context of a society with more modern views about individual freedoms. Gottlieb's article is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike it. You might think, for example, that such an article should have something to say about same-sex marriage, but Gottlieb's position on lesbianism seems to be akin to Queen Victoria's: she doesn't acknowledge that it exists. (Gay men, however, do exist, primarily as confidantes or even consolation-prize husbands for straight women.)

Michellemsagara on 2. Marts, 2008 03:50 (UTC)
fwiw, having had the aforementioned 2 kids? I think way too much emphasis is placed on romantic love if you plan to start a family. Because you won't have much "romantic" time together for a loooooong time, and because there is something very visceral about your own children. Yes, I realize they're probably also the other person's children -- but on some level it simply doesn't matter. There are no fights as bad as the fights you can get into about child-rearing, and none of our litmus tests for suitable Happily Ever Afters seem to involve parenting. And the last time I checked, the highest divorce rates? They occur after child #2 is born.

I'm not sure I understand the "consolation prize" husband part of that, though. Was she explicit?

I married my best friend. This has worked, for us, but I would hesitate to ever give anyone else advice on building marriages or familial relationships, because we're all different, and we all want or need different things.

I stand in awe, otoh, of people who can single parent and stay sane.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 2. Marts, 2008 18:10 (UTC)
I'm not sure I understand the "consolation prize" husband part of that, though. Was she explicit?

No, that was a somewhat uncharitable paraphrase on my part. She just alludes to the notion that, when one is "settling" for a husband, sexual orientation is sometimes one of the criteria on which one might be prepared to relent:

"I just want someone who's willing to be in the trenches with me," my single friend Jennifer told me, "and I never thought of marriage that way before." Two of Jennifer's friends married men who Jennifer believes aren't even straight, and while Jennifer wouldn't have made that choice a few years back, she wonders whether she might be capable of it in the future. "Maybe they understood something that I didn't," she said.

If this paragraph had appeared in the context of a more intelligent article about domestic partnerships, I certainly wouldn't have used the phrase "consolation prize," but I was trying to evoke how Gottlieb would see it, given her general view that every woman (a) wants to marry an ideal man and (b) should marry some man.

Michellemsagara on 2. Marts, 2008 20:30 (UTC)
If this paragraph had appeared in the context of a more intelligent article about domestic partnerships, I certainly wouldn't have used the phrase "consolation prize," but I was trying to evoke how Gottlieb would see it, given her general view that every woman (a) wants to marry an ideal man and (b) should marry some man.

I think that a) everyone starts out wanting to find the ideal person, and b) no ideal people actually exist. I'm not sure why, when we're well aware of our own imperfections and the imperfections of our friends & family, we have some hope that we can find someone who is perfect who will, you know, love us unconditionally and forever, while being a range of other things that are socially desirable at the same time.

I think that our concept of love, initially, is the idealized love you get from your parents, and the misery of the early years is the misery of transitioning from that concept to a more adult sense of partnership, something that is at base more realistic.

But the concept of "settling" is, itself, a bit offensive to me, because it implies a second best, and since living with anyone is hard, and it requires your best effort, it derides and holds in contempt something that should be valued and built.

And that's sort of the point: You build things. You have to build things. Family, friendship, relationships -- all of them; it's building the metaphysical house in which you live.

It occurs to me that I am only barely short-circuiting a bit of a rant, and I should probably not do this here (rant, not short-circuit).
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 2. Marts, 2008 23:45 (UTC)

You're certainly welcome to rant here as much as you care to; on the other hand, more people would be likely to read your rant if it were a separate post in your own blog rather than buried in the comments here.

Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 2. Marts, 2008 03:47 (UTC)

On a completely unrelated note, I've just been struck by the formal similarity between our userpics: stand-up collar, funny hat, bespectacled eyes looking straight ahead, left shoulder up, right shoulder down, with long hair visible behind it.

Michellemsagara on 2. Marts, 2008 03:53 (UTC)
On a completely unrelated note, I've just been struck by the formal similarity between our userpics: stand-up collar, funny hat, bespectacled eyes looking straight ahead, left shoulder up, right shoulder down, with long hair visible behind it.

O.O

LOL!!!

Mine was done a long time ago by a University friend who then went on to illustrate children's books while I was writing novels: Ruth Ohi.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 2. Marts, 2008 18:17 (UTC)

That's really cool!

I made mine using this toy.

Henrytahnan on 1. Marts, 2008 07:49 (UTC)
But, but, their cryptic crossword is so good!

In all seriousness, I hunted down the article and started reading, and that paragraph leapt out at me as well. Though I was already off-put by ask any soul-baring 40-year-old single heterosexual woman what she most longs for in life...: the insult is more implicit there, but it's there, insofar as the corollary to "All 40-year-old heterosexual women want a husband and kids" is "Any such woman who says otherwise just isn't being honest."

What a prick.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 2. Marts, 2008 03:19 (UTC)

It's so cryptic I can't even find it. Are you sure you're not confusing The Atlantic with Harper's, or maybe even The Walrus? Or is it just that there isn't one in the current issue?

Yeah, the article was pretty much insulting throughout; I just picked the most blatant example to quote in my letter. And I'm sure The Atlantic was deliberately trying to be "edgy" or "provocative" by publishing this shit; they used a compressed version of the same passage as a pull-quote (pull-paraphrase? Let's just say call-out), with the nastiest part in red ink for good measure:

If you're a single 30-year-old woman and you say
         you're not panicked about your marriage prospects,
               then either you're in denial or you're lying.
Henrytahnan on 2. Marts, 2008 22:26 (UTC)
A few years ago, The Atlantic made the terribly clever choice to stop putting Cox and Rathvon's puzzle in the print issue (where it had been since September 1977) and offer it only online and only to subscribers. We puzzle folk marked that as the beginning of the magazine's decline.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 2. Marts, 2008 23:43 (UTC)

Ah! Well, that was perverse of them.

I wish it were possible to subscribe selectively to parts of publications—I'd like to be able to get the Saturday books section of the Grope & Flail, for example, without all the rest of it. And I could really do without the "Wheels" sections of my Saturday Star. And, of course, I'd like to be able to do the cryptic crossword I didn't know The Atlantic had, without supporting or being subjected to garbage like Gottlieb's.

Vizcacha: Smug Duckchillyrodent on 1. Marts, 2008 15:52 (UTC)
Good letter.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 2. Marts, 2008 03:19 (UTC)
Thanks!
(Anonym) on 1. Marts, 2008 18:16 (UTC)
Gosh. I must be in denial, or lying, or unable to bare my soul. I wasn't "worried" when I was thirty - and I still am not, 24 years later.

Also still not married.
theridger on 1. Marts, 2008 18:17 (UTC)
Gosh. I must be in denial, or lying, or unable to bare my soul. I wasn't "worried" when I was thirty - and I still am not, 24 years later.

Also still not married.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 2. Marts, 2008 03:23 (UTC)

Well, clearly that's impossible. Gottlieb knows how you really feel, even if you don't!

love, play & inquirytrochee on 1. Marts, 2008 21:06 (UTC)
oh, bravo. I read that article the other day because it was being passed around with outrage among various feminista blogs I read. It made me want to cancel my subscription too -- and I don't have one.

Well-written. I hope they print it.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 2. Marts, 2008 03:28 (UTC)

Thanks. I'm torn between being glad that I had subscribed, so that I was able to send a message by cancelling my subscription, and wishing that I had never subscribed, so that I wouldn't have read this crap and The Atlantic wouldn't have any of my money.

I sent it to the circulation director, rather than the editor, so I don't think there's any chance they'll print it. (It's also a bit long for a letter to the editor.) But I do hope they will read it.

(Anonym) on 5. April, 2008 20:45 (UTC)
thank you
thats it, dude
(Anonym) on 26. Marts, 2013 09:47 (UTC)
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