Msnowe's Blog

The Pill v. Ms. Rip Van Winkle

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on December 6, 2010

New York Magazine says that we’ve been sleeping all these years. If anything, our culture, laws, politics, etc., do nothing BUT remind us we’re women. Hypersexed women. Dowdy asexual women. Grizzlymama women. Feminazi women …. There is never a time we are allowed to be anything but women. So to suggest we’ve collectively forgotten is laughable.

Lest we forget

Waking Up from Waking Up from the Pill

Vanessa Grigoriadis wrote the cover story, “Waking Up From the Pill,” in New York Magazine’s latest issue. As an occasional reader of the mag, msnowe picked it up (hoping it would impart the same kind of interesting tidbits that say, the recent article/N+1 excerpt on hipsters did a few weeks prior).

No such luck. For a magazine that hopes to keep us up on the current trends of the NY intellectual world and beyond, this article was disappointing, and fraught; fraught with the Lilliputian musings and inductive logic that one would come to expect from right-wing wonks. This story on contraception was more a study in contradiction.

As any good critic of US politics will tell you, when you start waving around the rhetoric of Fear by invoking Freedom as a misused and misunderstood privilege, you can get into trouble, not to mention land wars in the Middle East. But this article begins with the simple byline:

Fifty years ago, birth-control pills gave women control of their bodies, while making it easy to forget their basic biology—until in some cases, it’s too late.

Freedom, Complacency, and Fear. There you have it–the accusatorial and sensational triumvirate of scare journalism.

As the article rightly summarizes—the pill was developed and made legal 50 years ago for reasons completely separate from the woman’s hope of greater personal sexual control (it was more about population control and Cold War eugenists’ fears of developing countries and their growing populations). But as we often see (perhaps to a larger extent today), unholy alliances between divergent groups (like feminists and McCarthyist wackos) are how some things that are actually good for society get passed.


msnowe doesn’t know what 20-somethings Grigoriadis was looking at when she wrote that “women’s twenties are as free and fabulous as they can be, a time of boundless freedom and experimentation, of easily trying on and discarding identities, careers, and partners” (please don’t say “the girls in Williamsburg”). But you would be hard pressed to find women of that description outside of reality television. You know what? We’re in a recession. msnowe has been in NYC for a sizable chunk of her twenties—and not to get overly anecdotal here (because that is, after all, what we’re accusing the author of being), but msnowe’s friends are in publishing, they are accountants, law firm lawyers, and public school teachers. Some were laid off in the past few years, but most are just worried about being laid off. My peers and I might enjoy the sexual freedom that comes with experimentation and youth, but most are not so carefree as it may seem to this journalist—many are trying to climb up the precarious professional ladder (at a mere percentage of a male peer’s wage). Many have trouble paying for birth control, which although it is now included in many insurance prescription plans (and coverage only started in the early ‘aughts, due to backlash from women’s groups when they saw that HMOs immediately added newly approved Viagra to their plans), it can still cost a woman up to $60 a month to refill the prescription.

(“The cost of birth control pills, and lack of access to them for some women, also plays a role in the unintended pregnancy rate in this country. While a fair number of insurance companies today do cover oral contraceptives, there are often big co-payments or high deductibles involved, making the pills unaffordable for some,” Source)

It is incredibly presumptuous and elitist (i.e. moneyed, “keep your hands off my government” elitist, not necessarily culturally elitist), to accuse the greater number of women, even if you’re only looking at NYC, of being so cavalier with a decade of their lives. This article starts with a gala at the Pierre, and truthfully, it doesn’t ever leave the champagned ballrooms of privilege.

msnowe will concede the point that the Pill does, in some cases, aid in a loss of the basic personal biological cycles unique to each woman–because that is exactly what women are signing on for when they prescribe to the pill–it is one of the benefits, along with less premenstrual pain. But that does not allow women to forget that they are in fact women, capable of childbearing for a slightly varying window of years. To say that women are not reminded of it, or don’t know it themselves is clearly beside the point. The article says:

“It [the Pill] changed the narrative of women’s lives, so that it was much easier to put off having children until all the fun had been had (or financial pressures lessened).”

All the “fun”? That parenthesis is larger than the author would like us to believe, while the inflammatory statement in the beginning is what we should take home, according to her non-research. The advent of the Pill brought with it the increased expectation that women were no longer allowed the benefits of being the reproductive gender. It was if businessmen the country over, independently in their corner offices said to themselves: “now that the women in my company have the cheap-ish and easy ability to never get pregnant or go on maternity leave, if they really value their position, they wouldn’t compromise their careers by doing something as foolish as getting knocked up—that is for some other company’s women to decide.” So the Pill might have given women more sexual choice, but it narrowed her professional choice. In the early Pill days, before the business world had readjusted to the “equal opportunity” career woman, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor took off time to have a family and then worked her way back up to the highest court in the land (she also graduated at the top of her law class at Stanford, but still no one would give her a job except as a secretary). Today, that path has been blocked completely by the presumption that any “serious” career woman would be committed entirely to work, with no time made for children/family (as exemplified by our two newest, childless justices). msnowe isn’t saying that the past business model was better for women (it was worse, for sure), but unfortunately, we have traded in that one for the mirage of parity—this is just an inequitable plan parading as a solution. The Pill was and is a good thing—society twisted the freedoms the Pill made available into a whole new form of oppression divorced from any hormone treatments. If ANYONE forgot that women are fertile for a certain number of years, it was the outside societal forces telling women to work harder and longer (perhaps harder and longer than men just to get recognized as a value), not women forgetting their own bodies.

Of course, that leads msnowe back the long section on IVF covered in the article. As the journalist reports, IVF costs, on average, “$15,000 per cycle including medication.” The median household income for NYC a few years ago was around $38,000. You adjust that salary for the incredibly high cost of living in the city (average monthly rent for a studio apartment in a crappy part of Manhattan is probably around $1,500), and there is no way that most women could afford these treatments. As the income gap has widened between rich and poor, so has the ability of the richest of the rich to hope for and purchase more ridiculous things, such as babies that they froze 20 years ago as eggs and sperm. These treatments, and costly adoptions, are only for those at the drug galas, and perhaps Gossip-Girl type characters 25 years down their fertility roads. The author claims that freezing women’s eggs in their twenties to have babies in their late thirties and early forties “may be the world to which many are heading.” The affluent myopia of that statement is almost laughable—as if the whole world of women could be carried to that world on their salaries. msnowe says almost laughable because sadly, there is some type of women who think this type of IVF is a solution and they are the very same ones writing articles like this—disregarding the greater population of women.

It would be remiss of msnowe not to mention the incredibly snide and harsh tone of the article, on top of all errors it contains. Here’s an example:

“Suddenly, one anxiety—Am I pregnant?—is replaced by another: Can I get pregnant? The days of gobbling down the Pill and running out to CVS at 3 a.m. for a pregnancy test recede in the distance, replaced by a new set of obsessions. The Pill didn’t create the field of infertility medicine, but it turned it into an enormous industry. Inadvertently, indirectly, infertility has become the Pill’s primary side effect.” (my italics.)

First off, the threat of pregnancy, for a woman who doesn’t want to get pregnant, is a concern. But to say women “gobble down” a Pill, and then run out to a drug store in their underwear at 3AM like some half-assed version of Bridget Jones’ Diary is another thing altogether. To escape reading this paragraph without imagining chickens running around with their heads off is almost unavoidable—and besides, the women that Grigoriadis is talking about would never do such a thing—they would send the doorman or their wide-eyed lover to discretely purchase what they needed. To say women have a “new set of obsessions” implies not only that they are all unhealthily attached to their “scary” fertility (a modern-day version of “hysteria,” where women’s wombs float around and bump into other organs and cause fits of unintelligible havoc), but that they are always filled with irrational obsessions—it’s just that this evil Pill has given them a newer one.

My parting question is this: What, exactly, does this author propose to be the answer? Is she saying we should stop the Pill, and all rely on the rhythm method, or whatever this “Fertility Awareness Method” is? Because that, dear reader, would set us back 50 years. Discuss.

For further reading on this lovely journalist, check out her NYTimes wedding announcement!

OMLG, they met at Burning Man! (aka druggie fest!)


Can we just?

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on September 27, 2010

New. Not improved.

Can m.snowe just take a second to say something here?

Why the heck do people tell me that there’s anything at all charismatic about Sarah Palin? Everyone, right, left, center, or center-right, is telling me that “hey, you can say what you will about her politics, but Sarah Palin is such a great speaker and public force/instigator!”
Really? Can we just stop that?

Sure, her crowd loves her. But stop telling me that I’m supposed to be moved, as a woman, when I see something like this. This, to me, is perhaps the most evil, backhanded, abusive thing that could be done to a woman out there. This is a woman-on-woman fight (and not the kind that ends with kinky music and make-out sessions) Palin is the woman who votes against equal pay acts, and pro-choice bills, etc. But now I’m supposed to at least admit I find it inspiring? It is bullshit. As Orenstein touches on in this article, the ad and all the poison that cascades out of this woman’s mouth into a pool of raw sewage posing as slick empowerment is really incredibly vacant bosh. Not only do women have to combat plain old run-of-the-mill anti-feminism and misogyny, now they have to decipher what is parading as women’s empowerment, but is truly operating to destroy them.

And another thing: Where did this “dispowerment” originate? Who’s evil hands pulled the levers behind all this? Well, you can bet they weren’t manicured hands. People like Palin were plucked from relative obscurity by those with the power in Washington. “Malleable? Check. Pretty? Check. Knows how to shoot a gun? Check. Let’s call it a day, boys!”

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“I figure those books are for women”

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on September 22, 2010

Zeus: "Shit, it's a girl."

m.snowe used to be a complete literary classics snob. She was trained in such a fashion (during undergrad) to worship Shakespeare and Milton through to Henry James, and wince at the idea that anyone worth their salt was still alive and writing–literary merit was judged by history, not current critical review. Anything vaguely modern was about as seasoned and complex as a sprinkle of Mrs. Dash by comparison to Hardy, or Lawrence.

Well, m.snowe got over that and learned to appreciate the writers we have today, or perhaps had a few years ago, anyway. Because, complete snobbery is never  a good thing. It alienates possibilities, and limits imagination. m.snowe wanted to discuss this small lesson in literary openness with eyes towards the recent Franzen kerfuffle, which is mostly an issue exploited by the press to drive up everybody’s exposure (whether it’s Franzen’s publicity people, Picoult’s, or Weiner’s, or Oprah’s for that matter–everybody wins). But there are some interesting notions of authorship and audience that seem to have unknowingly walked into this petty spit ball fight, unawares.

To do a little backtracking on the whole “Franzenfreude” debate that’s happening right now, m.snowe picked up a copy of The Corrections–she’s about 200 pages in. [Look for a review shortly on the blog. In a weird social experiment, m.snowe has picked this book for her own book club–she is interested in gauging the reactions of just the sort of people who Franzen was scared “wouldn’t get” his book.]

Then, to further backtrack, I decided to revisit the controversy behind The Corrections’ critical reception and his initial break with Oprah’s book club. m.snowe just finished listening to the 30-minute interview Franzen gave in October 2001 on NPR to Terry Gross.

Here’s a section of that interview that I’ve transcribed:

Terry Gross asks about Franzen’s The Corrections being chosen for Oprah’s book club, and how he feels about it.

JF: “So much reading in this country, I think is sustained by the fact that women read while men are off golfing or watching football on TV or playing with their flight simulator or whatever.   I continue to believe that, and now I’m actually at the point with this book where I worry, I’m sorry, ummm, I had some hope of actually reaching a male audience [chuckle] and I’ve heard more than one reader in signing lines in books stores now, ‘You know, if I hadn’t heard you, I would’ve been put off by the fact that it is an Oprah pick, I figure those books are for women, and I would never touch it,’ and those are male readers speaking. So I’m a little confused about the whole thing right now.”

Terry Gross: Asks about audience and book’s interpretations.

JF: “It is first and foremost—it’s a literary book, but a fairly accessible literary book. It’s an open question how big the audience is to which it will be accessible…there’s going to be a lot of “what was Oprah thinking?”

p.s. Franzen makes sure you know, through the course of the interview, that this is a show “which he’s never seen.”

Like Franzen–I think a lot of us, especially those of us with a touch of literary elitism in us, have a lot of objections to Oprah’s book club. M.snowe has been known to go out of her way to make sure that the book she purchases, even if it happens to be an Oprah pick, does not have that Oprah sticker on its cover. (She practices the same avoidance for books that are later made into movies and have film stills on the cover.) This is mostly because I resist the idea of being told what to read by Oprah, or feel I shouldn’t have to advertise that I lacked the personal choice and commitment to make an independent literary decision. If Oprah and I arrive at the same conclusion about the quality of the book, okay fine. At least we got there separately.

Despite understanding part of Franzen’s concerns towards the O Book Club, he expresses other sentiments in his NPR interview that concern m.snowe much more.

1) The idea that authors dictate audience. m.snowe, using her background in publishing, can tell you that sometimes the author is the absolute worst at identifying their audience of likely readers. Sure, you can write your book on certain topics, in a style and choice of presentation that you think might appeal to the target you’re aiming at. But that’s about it. Think of a book (or any piece of art) as a child, a tiny Athena Nike bursting out of your head. Sure, you created her, fostered her, give her the best education and opportunity (you’re a god!), but she can still drop out of school and smoke pot in your basement, or even worse, sell out to the evil corporate world (i.e. the Oprah show).

You don’t get to define your art with anything else except with what it is.

2) Obvious gender stereotyping in Franzen’s statement. Why are men the only ones who play golf, watch football, or play with flight simulators (no one plays with flight simulators)? I could assume that was supposed to be in jest, but still it’s degrading to the large population of men who aren’t going home after their blue-collar jobs to guzzle beer and slap around their wives (not to mention the women who do go home after their blue-collar jobs, to drink beer, watch football and beat their husbands, or heaven help us, the non-heterosexuals who might also reject such petty notions of modern masculinity/femininity!) . I suppose Franzen might think it noble to “get dudes to read,” (which is silly, plenty of dudes read) but I don’t think that was what he wanted anyway. Perhaps he just wanted all the literary dudes to read.

3) Denigrating the lady-readers.  Franzen makes it pretty clear that he’s not interested in the female demographic. He notes that men, most likely high-brow, critical male readers of literary fiction (all of them) are his clear target audience. While he acknowledges more women are likely to read his book, he equates having his book pegged by women as a good read as tantamount to sullying his brand in terms of street cred. Argue if you must about the idea that The  Times and the establishment aren’t only focused on white male writers, but notice that even the white male writers want an audience basically composed of clones of themselves, and somehow having a larger female audience makes the book less “literary.” (Insert your own musing about the fact that women read “chick lit.”)

Linda Miller, in 2001, talking about The Corrections and its Oprah controversy, and a theory on publicity for literary books:

“The sad and petty truth is that far too many book lovers don’t really want a good book to reach a large audience because that would tarnish the aura of specialness they enjoy as connoisseurs of literary merit. I’m not just talking about egghead critics here, since there are just as many people who stand ready to condemn “hip and trendy” or “too clever” books they’ve never taken the trouble to read. Behind what a friend calls the “get him! syndrome” — that reflexive impulse to take pot shots at any author enjoying “too much” attention — lies the deeply unattractive tendency for book people to act like stingy trolls sitting atop a mound of treasure they don’t want to share. If they did, it would be a lot harder to use their reading habits as a way of feeling better than other people.”

One reviewer in NYMag had the following to say about Franzen’s reaction to the media attention:

“This is the mission he’s always been on: He wants to help restore Serious Literary Fiction to some place of importance in our culture, the kind of place where a Time cover isn’t so notable. He’s just finicky about how, exactly. He wasn’t up for doing it via Oprah’s Book Club, so it’s quite likely that he’s not thrilled about being chattered about in a way we normally reserve for, say, Jon Gosselin.”

A larger question arises out of this: does anyone who really appreciates literary fiction also appreciate pop-culture gossip? Clearly, this current debate has proved that some people do. The extreme tension here is whether high and low brow can come to an understanding, or sometimes meet in the middle brow. Some people will push for a disrobing of the emperor. Others will quietly keep their books on pedestal-like shelves. (Also, it would be good if we could re-wire people to recognize that what interests men isn’t automatically more high brow than what interests women.)

To sum up: It’s no coincidence that deifying and demonizing go hand in hand. At the end of the media’s field day, this author is neither god nor monster, same for his detractors and defenders. But the  larger ideas, latent or otherwise, that are lurking behind this one specific incident, will roar again sometime soon, with some other “controversy.”

More reading: This post, entitled “Too Cool for Oprah” sums up the old controversy.

Test Tossed Erroneous

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on June 10, 2010


–“In humans, the hormone [testosterone] seems to motivate for rational decision-making, social scrutiny and cleverness, the apparent tools for success in a modern society” (Source).


–During a woman’s menstrual cycle, testosterone levels rise and fall.

–Testosterone levels are at their absolute highest level for women during the pre-menstrual phase (i.e. pre-ovulation phase right before their period occurs).


–Women who are “premenstrual” are irrational. PMS is a bitch for all involved, especially men.

Please allow me to analyze all these bits and pieces. If all these things (the facts, assumptions, and studies) are actually true, then:

Women who have “PMS” (are pre-ovulation) are actually at the point in their cycle when they are as close as they will ever be to having a similar level of testosterone as compared to men. Many assume/believe that testosterone allows people to think rationally, scrutinize things, and be clever. Yet, when women have high testosterone levels, they are commonly assumed to be irrational, emotional, big soggy messes of creatures. So, basically, something up in those bullets has to be wrong. I’m not going to conjecture a guess because assumptions are what caused this illogical mess in the first place. But let’s just say that when there is a sizeable difference in the sexes (like different hormone levels), the sex in power might be tempted to exploit those differences for some sort of power-grab. Even if they make that grab before the science is there to support it. We all remember the orignal meaning of “hysteria,” right? Yeah, Plato, etc., thought that the uterus could wander around inside a lady and fuck with her other organs. That’s hysterical.

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Pretty Pretty Princely Princesses?

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on April 27, 2010

Can you be The Prince AND a Princess?

Here is a New York Times article that ran yesterday in the business section, entitled “Do Nice Gals Finish Last?” The article quickly covers many aspects of payment structures, mostly in terms of sex and relative pay. The most informative piece of the article is probably this link, which makes no assumptions as to why, but analyzes the salary data of 108 occupations and breaks down the divergence in earning power for men and women.

Because there are a fair few pages of notes and lots of charts and graphs to analyze, let’s just look at the highlights of the report:

  • Overall, the weekly median income for full-time male workers in 2009 was $819. For women, it was $657. This is a “gender” wage gap of 19.8%
  • Of the 108 occupations analyzed by gender, only 4 exist where women consistently earn more money than men (those are: “other life, physical, and social science technicians; bakers; teacher assistants; and dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers”).
  • Women earn less than men in all ten of the most common occupations held by women.
  • One of the largest gender pay gaps is for physicians and surgeons. Women in these positions earn, on average, 64% of their male peers.

This is just a sampling.  You can read on to see how deep the rabbit hole actually goes. There are many things m.snowe would like to draw your attention to in this article.

Before we get to the heavier lifting, just some light observations:

  • This article is written by a woman–a rather scholarly woman who has written many books on the intersection of gender and economics. One wonders if it would ever be written by a man.
  • The title of the article “Do Nice Gals Finish Last?” is a throwback to the staid phrase, “Do Nice Guys Finish Last?” But the original phrase is talking about finding a suitable mate, not finding salary parity among genders. Somehow, equal pay for women has to be equated to men finding a suitable sexual partner? Immediately, the social imperatives thrust upon both genders are driven to the fore, as if we could forget them for one second anyway.

So now, to the article.

First, Folbre explains that the theory of productivity and pay are not necessarily (or usually) linked for even the highest of earners in the US. Then she presents the evidence that men are still earning much more than women at the same jobs, at the same level of productivity. Then she asks the following questions:

–“Does the gender pay gap imply that women are less productive than men?”

–“Or do men reap rewards for characteristics that don’t actually increase their productive contribution?”

Since she’s already dispatched the first question by providing data on how productivity is not linked to pay, she quickly settles in to debating the second question for the rest of the article. The first important thing to remember is that this is not the only possible variable that allows men to “reap rewards” in the form of higher wages. It does not include all the other possible aspects of gender discrimination: basically anything you might find in an “old boys club” setting. But let’s disregard that for a moment.

–“Social scientists have long observed that a “Machiavellian personality” tends to enhance economic success.”

Folbre explains that what seems to be a majority of women lack this tendency towards Machiavellian business behavior, whereas more men have these personality traits. These traits include: aggressiveness, conscientiousness, and the propensity for lying, cheating and stealing. Here is the big finish:

–“One could argue that women who want to be nicer than men even if this proves costly shouldn’t complain about the gender pay gap. But one could also argue that pay differences among all individuals — as well as gaps between men and women — reflect differences in personality, preferences and principles as much as productivity.”

Folbre makes a key distinction about individual personalities, but it’s clear from the gender gap in salaries that women are somehow more prone to be “nice.” First, “being nice” is different from altruism. Second, women don’t necessarily “want” to be nice. This is a social and behavioral topic that we’ve all heard way too many times and shouldn’t have to be repeated. Women are told, from the moment of birth, to be docile, agreeable, non-confrontational, whether they like it or not. Stereotypes abound. We’re even still trying to separate out the gore, monsters, and explosions, and designate that only little boys have the right to call it their territory. Even if it was the case (which it is not) that women wanted to be “nicer” in all business situations, who is exactly at fault for that, when women were nurtured to be so?You teach a woman that she will be labeled as a heartless bitch if she veers off the path of least resistance, and then refuse to reward her equally when she plays by the rules? Sounds like the most evil form of discrimination there is–creating and nurturing in order to enslave.

And then, who is to say that the recognized “Machiavellian personality” is the best way to run businesses? Last time we checked, “lying, cheating and stealing” isn’t exactly the kind of behavior that finds itself on company mission statements. If anything, we should take some cues from the financial crisis of the past few years. One could be almost certain that the fat cats running those banks were The Princes Machiavelli would’ve been proud of.

So here’s two humble suggestions:

–Stop telling young girls to be docile and smile and nod as their brothers are allowed to throw punches.

–Reevaluate the way you evaluate business worth.

In the end, Folbre comes to a similar conclusion:

“A different question comes to my mind. Shouldn’t we try to reward nice behavior? We could start by making stronger efforts to penalize bullies and cheats.”

Further Reading:



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You Learn Like a Girl

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on April 9, 2010

If they could work together...

m.snowe comes across this pitch every now and then. The story goes like this: presentation of data on how females are doing well in school, and at an increasing rate. Then the comparison with male classmates. Then the question of just what must be done to “even the scales” on how we teach both sexes, as if this debate is all about bringing educational performance rates to a 50/50 ratio. Fine. It’s great to constantly revisit anything that has to do with the way we approach pedagogy, and what works, and what decidedly fails.

Enter Nick Kristof and his Op-Ed piece for the Times on March 27. m.snowe is not wont to criticize a man who has used his weight at the NYTimes to illuminate ongoing injustices against women across the globe. But hey, if those who seem to be on our side get things wrong, they should be told, for everyone’s sake.

The first paragraph:

“Around the globe, it’s mostly girls who lack educational opportunities…Yet these days, the opposite problem has sneaked up on us: In the United States and other Western countries alike, it is mostly boys who are faltering in school.”

The first sentence is completely accurate. Traditionally, and still in many (mostly developing or third-world countries) women lack the educational opportunities of their male peers. This means that governments, social systems, and familial customs prevent females from access to education, or only provide a certain degree of education that they feel is “fitting” for women, as compared to greater opportunities available to men.

But the second sentence already reveals Kristof’s either innocently skewed or intentionally incorrect bias: The opposite of girls lacking educational opportunity is not boys “flattering” in school. The true opposite would the denial of educational opportunity for boys. Historically, females have been denied access to education, regardless of their attitude for intense study. This is diametrically opposed to being given the same opportunities and not performing on an equal level. The only thing that has categorically changed in terms of men’s education is the (hopefully) equal access given to female peers. Boys aren’t being denied any type of education based solely on their sex–they are not performing as a group in comparison to women as a group. Both groups are being provided with the same opportunities. It’s up to each individual male or female to achieve. Even if Kristof is referring to this opposite as a “gender gap” between males and females in reading skills, this initial implication of unfair advantage to women is a complete falsification.

Kristof says:

“The latest surveys show that American girls on average have roughly achieved parity with boys in math. Meanwhile, girls are well ahead of boys in verbal skills, and they just seem to try harder.”

Again–same access to educational opportunity. Women seem to “try harder“? Is he tiptoeing around implications of aptitude, and merely saying that like a woman’s ability to say, stay home and clean house, women also have a higher tolerance for mundane, uninteresting tasks? Oh, thanks. What a compliment! So, like especially “gifted” children, perhaps all men are just so advanced they can’t stand the “mundane?” Please.

m.snowe isn’t sure what Kristof wants to imply about women with that quote, but he makes his opinion clearer when he says this:

“Some educators say that one remedy may be to encourage lowbrow, adventure or even gross-out books that disproportionately appeal to boys. (I confess that I was a huge fan of the Hardy Boys, and then used them to entice my own kids into becoming avid readers as well.)

Indeed, the more books make parents flinch, the more they seem to suck boys in. A Web site,, offers useful lists of books to coax boys into reading, and they are helpfully sorted into categories like ‘ghosts,’ ‘boxers, wrestlers, ultimate fighters,’ and ‘at least one explosion.'”

Another “disproportion,” according to Kristof: that boys inherently prefer ‘gross-out” books. While Kristoff sights actual data about educational performance at the beginning of his OpEd, he has now shifted into decidedly un-quantified territory–a scary land of gender bias.

With this statement, Kristof is making the unfair leap that boys and girls always like different things, that girls like “boring” (Kristof’s characterization) things, and boys unanimously appreciate blood, guts, and gore. Sure, some boys like that, just like some girls like Barbie dolls. But is that nature or nurture? And classroom by classroom, there are many boys who are drawn towards more traditionally “feminine” tastes, and vice-versa for females. While Kristof suggests that the Hardy Boys books are a good place to start with your sons, m.snowe can tell you she grew up devouring those stories, as well as the Hardy Boy-Nancy Drew Super Mysteries, and she’s a she.

As much as Kristof is clearly trying to help boys with his article, he is reinforcing stereotypes that ultimately restrict both gender’s ability to expand and explore during their education. Sure, make “gross out literature” more available if you want to encourage more reading for kids (of Both genders) who like that kind of stuff–because there will be boys and girls who like it. But, don’t intentionally try to steer boys to it and away from other things they might truly enjoy. Telling boys and girls what they “should” like is doubly dangerous–they will either feel stifled and constricted by their lack of choice or feel ashamed and question themselves for not liking what “they should,” and also possibly feel the need to hide their true feelings out of fear of being an outcast.

Also, one minor note that m.snowe would like to point out. The article also includes this:

“Mr. Whitmire argues that the basic problem is an increased emphasis on verbal skills, often taught in sedate ways that bore boys. ‘The world has gotten more verbal,’ he writes. ‘Boys haven’t.'”

As an important aside, it is a common misconceived notion that men speak fewer words than women in the course of their days and weeks. This has been proven false; both men and women verbalize around the same amount of words per day or week.

Has Kristof ever thought for a second that characterizing the current state of education as a segmented problem of the sexes only exacerbates the problem he thinks is at hand? His last sentence tells it all in terms of his own gender bias, and what he thinks about allowing boys and girls the option to choose for themselves what they want to like:

“If that means nurturing boys with explosions, that’s a price worth paying.”

To m.snowe, this means war. She’s ready and rarin’ to fight, explosions and all.

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Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on November 10, 2009


m.snowe is chock full o’ lady stuff to share from the past few days…

Ariel Levy writes on this in the New Yorker. (False memory syndrome is scary shit).

m.snowe got to see The Dinner Party, finally.

Thoughts on The Party?:

m.snowe liked the span of this piece. Never having seen pictures, only reading descriptions of the work, the concept was clearly different in practice than as msnowe envisioned. It was offset from all the other exhibits, and the lighting was intentionally low. If lucky enough, you received a small booklet to explain the “famous” lady table settings that you could flip through as you explored each section of  the piece. Admittedly, (shamefully,) msnowe needed the booklet in order to know about many of the ladies, especially those towards the beginning or middle of the walk around the exterior of the triangle. This fact, that msnowe’s own lady-knowledge was lacking, was upsetting, especially given her penchant for knowing these things. But also, how is it that one table could possibly contain most of the influential women in history? Because msnowe thought of all the ladies she’d like to see at this table before viewing it, and the exhibit wasn’t missing any of them. How can it be just one table? Even with a floor that scribbles on many other names as well? And how could msnowe not know all their stories? If there was such a table, and it was filled with 39 of the most important male figures throughout history, would it possible to not know every single, blessed one? Even just having the name ring a bell? The ignorance was at once excusable and completely unreasonable–rational yet enraging. We live in a world that  for most of its history has been unconcerned with female triumph (i.e. history is written by those in power).  What also bothered msnowe  (not as much, but still quite a bit) were the place settings themselves. Why does everything have to be vulvar petals and porcelain lips? I know Georgia O’Keeffe was an influence in this, but if there was a male dinner table of dominance (um, we already have plenty of those in real life anyways, one might add), would they need to have knives shaped like penises? Wouldn’t the men be celebrated by their accomplishments and not necessarily their bait and tackle? Don’t get msnowe wrong here, lady-hood should be celebrated, every bit including the genitalia–but isn’t defining a woman by her parts the antithesis to equality? Difference should be respected and accepted, not defining and segregating. If someone writes an amazing novel, or paints an amazing picture, they should be toasted for their talents, not their genitals (or skin color, or orientation, or age, etc.).  msnowe supposes that any piece of art which tips the scales away from phallic imagery is still doing some good. And msnowe also freely admits this piece belongs to another time, one where the celebration of all things female was a necessary reaction to a hostile world view. This was a revolution after all. Regardless of your artistic bent, it’s important not to forget that. Because as Levy explains in her New Yorker piece, the worst kind of feminism is one void of feminists.

Speaking of a lady-void, did you see this shiznit? Obviously, Publisher’s Weekly didn’t feel it necessary to invite any of the amazing lady writers to dinner.

Also, this is just catchy.

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