Ladytalk: Slate’s XX Factor Can Suck It

Dear Millicent,

As I bet you know, Slate revealed XX Factor yesterday, its lady blog, with the tag line “What Women Really Think.”   The tag line irks me.  It reminds me of some scotch ad from the sixties, where a sultry woman has an eyebrow raised at a man in an ascot holding up his drink.  It suggests that one needs an answer to that messy mystery of “broads.”  And then it alienates–either men are the audience for the blog b/c they desperately (or at least, when their partner is mad at them) want to know the answer–or the thinking women are showing all the other women what Women are thinking.  They shout for the whole crowd.   Am I overthinking it?  I should check the blog and find out.  It also reminds me of YM, but with YM, I would have read it like the bible and thought “oh, so this is what we are thinking!”

There has also been critiques of the site on Feministing, Broadsheet (who interestingly makes all the ladyblogs into a big neighborhood where certain houses (Jezebel) get TPed),  and Jezebel which is where I first heard about the site.   They call particular attention to a string of ‘Feminism is dead” stories that the site launched with, meanwhile promoting goo-gah essays about the importance of Betty Friedan.  XX Factor wrote a response to the critiques, Jessica Valenti pulled this quote:

Susannah Breslin writes:

Apparently, if you launch a website for women in 2009, the most important question is whether or not it’s feminist. At least, that’s what you’d think, judging by today’s launch of the women-oriented website you’re reading. Only, the funny thing is, I thought feminism was dead. I mean, didn’t we kill it already?

She then goes on to hope that the XX Factor is bigger than this.  This interests me because:

  1. It seems as if three to five years ago there were a handful of sites that came forward and decided to offer content that was for women but not about mascara or models.  They built their readership based on unique formulas of gathering news about women’s issues that weren’t fully presented in all media outlets, and displaying a strong likeability by putting the real girl in the narrative (ambiguous, disgusting, vulnerable, tenacious, full of work and worry, and fucking smart).
  2. These sites (for me, I found Feministing first, and then Jezebel, and a little Bitch PhD), built a loyal readership who snarked and said “hey, she’s just like me.”  They have challenged the need for tabloids and fashion mags.  They sometimes do a better job of both, and for free.  They also don’t insult us (I’m leaving the commenters out of this).
  3. Other, larger sites realized they were missing something (I could be wrong, but one could argue that Feministing is the grand honcha of this blogging style), and wanted in.  Like any heightened element of culture, the idea was shined and softened and presented to a larger audience.  Broadsheet and XX Factor seem like this part of the cycle to me.
  4. And, now, an editor thinks it dumb that the feminism identity matters.  Perhaps they want to bring on the audience that is afraid of feminism, but likes smart conversation.  The audience that thinks feminism is only for the irate and itchy.  This seems adolescent and poorly thought out to me.
  5. A pet peeve of mine is when a celebrity that kicks ass is asked whether or not they identify as a feminist, and they say something like, “well, I’m all for women, and humans, but I’m not a feminist.” Even my beloved Kate Winslet, and It girl Sarah Haskins have done this.  Why can’t one of them say “Yes. I am a feminist, and if you know somebody with a uterus, you should be one too.” Which is what I honestly want from all my blogs, and magazines, and friends, and family.  I want the New Yorker to say, of course we are feminist.
  6. And what I mean by this is–feminism isn’t divisive.  Would Kate Winslet say she was a humanist? Probably? Would she publicly support civil rights? Probably? It is a label that shouldn’t need the pause.
  7. Why do so many of the smart sites for mature ladies insist on using pink and purple so much? Is it to announce that is is for ladies and by ladies? Kudos to Broadsheet for going light on the pink, and to Jezebel for going whole hog with hot pink.
  8. This all boils down to the fact that I think XX Factor has made a mistake.  Their font is pink.  They are shirking feminism like it’s something only the needy or angry would cling to (just like the solo kid in highschool that proclaims all couples as stupid), and they are trying to seem likeable by talking about Kate Gosselin’s hair.  They are trying too hard in all the wrong ways.

And, brava to  Feministing and the other blogs that were out there trailblazing all this so well that we now get to argue about these things, and watch as the cool thing that everybody wants to mimic and sell isn’t pokemon or tight pants, but a forum for engaged and real discussion about women’s issues.

Penvy Is A Bad Word, I Swear I Know

Dear Millicent,

In a surprising gesture of affection, my cat has decided to take a nap on my back while I type.  It is really a gesture for warmth, but I am interpreting it as affection, and that she thinks of me as a really big cat.  Queen cat.

Onwards! As the wise have said since the early nineties, let’s talk about sex.  Speaking of sex, I was perusing Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint today, and there is an early scene in the sex-addled book where the narrator is constantly masturbating, even jumping up from dinner complaining of a stomachache in order to go masturbate.   He’s thirteen, his parents’ are banging down the door of the bathroom, and his mother is desperately worried about the state of his “poopie,” because diarrhea has been his reason for locking the bathroom door.  The moment that grabbed my attention (by the way, all the verbs available to me seem overactive in this paragraph–I guess erections have that effect) was that he furiously finishes himself off mostly to prove to himself that while the rest of his life is controlled by his mother, he and his cock can do whatever they want.

And then I was reading on Jezebel today about how there is an argument that men suffer in marriage because they have to stifle their inner douchbaggyness. That they cheat and go to titty bars because their wives control the rest of their world.  This again seemed to be refuge in the autonomy of being able to stick a dick somewhere, or as jezebel so aptly says:

That cure, in fact, is to rebel against one’s wife or girlfriend as though she is his mother, lying and doing things that he himself knows are wrong and self-destructive, in order to prove that he is not ruled by anyone but his own penis and sense of self-entitlement.

And so, I realized how novel that idea was to me…the idea of the freedom and self assertion through the actual assertion (dare I say insertion) and pleasuring of a body part–that men feel their are in touch with their power through their prowess of penis (I know, I’m getting carried away).  What surprised me about this idea is that I couldn’t quite think of an equivalent as a lady.  My interpretation of my sexuality has usually been about granting access (even with oral sex), but never any power in what I could stick and where–never in what I could do to other people as much as what I could allow to be done to me.   Which has also led to much more worry about what could be done to me (part of the typical stance of caution and protection).  This sounds darker than I mean, but I have to say that it showed me a possible difference in ideas of male and female sexuality that I have accepted as normal.  Men might have anxiety about performance, and have to hide erections, but their joy in their body is power and immediate identity.   For women, it might be more about growth and acceptance, the joy in the body comes from exploration and a kind of self love (oh! how silly all language gets when masturbation is the topic!)…which seems like it is leading me to a little bit of penis envy…which I think is sloppy logic on my part.  What it comes down to is, I don’t think masturbation or rampant doing it is an ultimate “fuck you” to my lack of control.  A distraction, yes,  but an empowering bordering of my selfhood…not so much.

Speaking of penis envy, I was reading recently about somebody famous going on and on about how men are jealous of women because they can have babies, give life, all that stuff.  And yes, women can do those things, but it seemed hilarious to me that nobody famous ever said that men were jealous of women’s menstrual cycles (really, quite an important part of the whole power to give life thing).  Which is maybe why I find the ladyparts a less symbolic place for identity and sovereignty.  Is it because women are intimate with their bodies on a monthly basis at the unpleasurable demands of menstruation that we accept its vitality and work involved without making it the fulcrum of what we can do in the world?  It’s difficult to imagine a girl gleefully unwrapping a tampon and reveling in what she and her vagina are gonna do one day.    She can do things, and with her vagina, but the two just aren’t as hand in hand as boys and their pizzles. That’s right, I said it. Pizzle.

More thoughts shortly (all adjectives are also cracking me up in such close proximity to penis talk),



Bildungsroman BigFun!

Dear Millicent,

I just finished reading Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, and the ending very much reminded me of an old Jezebel post from this summer about the quarter life crisis versus the return of Saturn.  You know, how everybody in their twenties tends to have a moment where their world breaks a bit, and it is often framed as, oh are you 27 or 28, must be your return of Saturn? Or, oh, are you isolated and living in Tokyo, you lucky full-lipped thing?  They did a great job or parsing the subject, pretty much boiling it down to the flummox before we get a sign that our life is going to make sense.  In the Jezebel writer’s case, she got a job, and calmed the fuck down.  This calming does seem to depend on that very important thing (job, plan, opportunity) actually arriving (which I liken to the comet Dimmesdale sees in the sky in The Scarlet Letter).

Lessing’s characters seem to go through a similar process, all self scrutiny and intense panicked thought, until, voila, jobs and marriages are agreed to. Then it is a fast, slap-of-the-hands, end.  Which, brings me to the bildungsroman ending where the young hero, after his or her adventures, has to decide whether to return and join the community through marriage or job taking, or keeps going into the wilderness, decidedly a lone wolf (much like the Amish rumspringa tradition).  Molly and Anna are not immature women, and their decisions arrive in middle age, after children and full histories.  They also need less of each other once their decisions have been made, much like Scarlett leaving Bill Murray and going off to her future, probably publishing her first book through her richie-pants connections and going on to write provocative things about how boring the culture class in America is.  I want to puke on my future version of her, and also be her, wear her clothes, and write her scathing richie-pants words.  But that is not the point.  I wonder if we leave behind the structures of support we find in the wilderness when we agree to go back to the fold, something like Tarzan waving good-bye to the apes as he puts on his tuxedo.  But, isn’t part of why Tarzan is awesome is that he never actually does that? He and the apes keep in touch?

Back to the bildungsoman, there is something in this…is all angst calmed by an acceptance of purpose, with the search being traded in for any answer at all?