I scan the gossip rags in the supermarket aisle, tear up at tender moments, choke up in emotional dramas (such as Hallmark commercials), read chick lit and women's lit, and leave most of the yardwork and tech stuff to my husband.
I am not a big sports fan (excluding hockey, but I don't follow it and store stats in my head like my husband does, and, according to my husband, worst of all, I've been known to applaud a brilliant play even if done by the opposing team).
In short, in many respects, I am a shining model of the female stereotype.
This has been bothering me for a while, and I've been remiss in figuring out why, but over the past few months, it's been slowly coming together for me.
A male reporter was actually instrumental in helping me lay the first brick in the answer wall. New York Times writer David Carr wrote a fairly scathing judgment of women, particularly those on the Internet, based on the success of the Sex & the City movie and a poll about popular Web sites for women.
[Sex & the City], a big-screen take on the long-running HBO series, left critics scrambling for synonyms for the word “vapid” and true believers in a state of bliss.
“I’m coming back like, oh, about 30 times,” said one young woman, tottering out of the premiere on the kind of shoe-like contraptions that suggested she had internalized one of the franchise’s core messages.
. . .
And what are readers interested in? This week, it was wedding trains big enough to require their own ZIP codes, shoes that cost as much as cars and loving loutish men who do a poor job of loving them back. Jezebel live-blogged the public premiere of “Sex and the City,” (in flip-flops no less, how very 2.0), Journal Women looked at the implications of combining cleavage and pinstripes, Glam went wall-to-wall with “Shoes and the City,” Shine had video interviews with the franchise’s four principals. SheZoom had a five-part deconstruction teasing apart the ethos of the show. Some sites sat out the hype, with The XX Factor preferring to focus on the tidy pleasures of a “Daily Show” spoof of the show and Divine Caroline, a West Coast site, focused on issues closer to home and office, such as, “Why do guys think it’s appropriate to adjust themselves in public?”
Quippy flippant comments aside (and he doesn't spare men of his scorn either, in fact, they might fare worse) for some reason, Carr's article stung, largely because of his ending, which read, "After so many years of being on the wrong end of what (male) media executives choose to dish up, women have taken matters into their own able hands. So far, it’s a shallow revolution, but one that carries deep implications."
I wish he had expanded on what he thinks these deep implications are, because at the end of the day, I was left to imagine he meant "ah ha, women are exactly that which male marketing executives have always imagined them to be: that is, to wit, ridiculously obsessed with pointless issues such as shoes."
I imagined that to be the case because he called the women's presence and new dominance on the Web a "shallow revolution."
I wrote to Mr. Carr (oh yes I did) and said:
Sarcasm aside, I agree that in some sectors it has been a shallow revolution, completely replicating the vanity-geared magazines for women. However, it's not exclusively so, and angling in that way ignores a wide variety of additional sites and endeavors on the Web lead by women.
You caught up with Lisa Stone of BlogHer but failed to notice that BlogHer is a powerhouse group much beyond the shallow. In addition to charitable activities and the largest gathering of online women and women in online business, BlogHer offers a wide range of topics of deep and introspective nature, reflecting all types of women.
Then, even though I concluded with the point that I'd like to see him similarly judge men for their hobby and fluff sites, I felt dissatisfied with my response.
What troubled me?
It finally hit me recently that what bothered me about my response was that it was defensive, and through that, appallingly bought into the patriarchal cultural belief that feminine pursuits are frivolous and unworthy.
I didn't need to hold up a placard and inform Mr. Carr that there was much more than fluff on the Web, and he wrote back and told me this himself, "If I gave the impression that those sites were the only thing going on on the web, that's my bad. I know there is plenty else to click from. part of what I was reacting to a list of leading women's sites from ComScore, but I know that a million flowers are blooming, including your sites."
I understood that he was reacting to the fact that the highest scored sites were those that seemed shallow, such as quick fixes for shiny noses and which celebrities broke up last night.
I responded, incorrectly, to the idea that he was missing the Other that was out there, growing, and strong. Places with strong and radical discourse, intense evolution. Things that I thought deserved the props and respect more than slamming the fluff sites.
When I went back recently and re-read the article, I saw how off-base my reply to Mr. Carr was. In his article he conceded the male fluff and that fluff was inevitable and acceptable:
Besides, I realize we are all, like it or not, having a moment with “Sex and the City,” no more or less frivolous than the Super Bowl. It’s just odd that while there has been a significant advance in sites by and for women, much of what is being produced replicates, rather than revolutionizes, the template set down by women’s magazines for decades.
“The lack of evolution is disappointing to me,” said Caterina Fake, one of the founders of Flickr.com. “Back in 1996, it was going to be this brave new world where women were finally going to take control of their stories, and to me, it is often more a crushing sameness.”
When I boiled it down, I realized he wasn't thinking simply, as I accused, that, ". . .the hobby sites were vast in quantity yet insubstantive in quality, and that there was little of substance on the Web when it came to sites created by or for women." he wasn't, as I further accused, missing that there was much of substance and quality by and for women out on the Web.
He got it. He was just disappointed that there was more fluff and the fluff sites scored highest. For a second, I shared his disappointment and the scorn of Caterina Fake.
Women finally got the market control and opportunity to dominate the Web and what did we do? Created fashion slam sites such as fugly.com and frou frou sites "with an edge" such as Jezebel.com (celebrity, sex and fashion for women).
David Carr and Caterina Fake were right, I thought: we blew it. Our radical and awesome sites such as the deep sections and charitable endeavors of BlogHer, Moms Speak Up, MOMocrats, and others were simply overwhelmed by the shopping, fashion, and celebrity gossip sites. We were whispers in an echoing hall of "blah blah blah...wtf? did you say politics? oh la, that's not fun!"
I break with the stereotype of women when it comes to the list of leading women's sites from ComScore. I don't tend to scan fashion or gossip sites. My time is limited, and I'm more likely to hop on alltop to see in one glance what the other politicos are punditing about.
Lately---as much as I love kirtsy and think the entire endeavor and group of people are great---I've even felt alienated by kirtsy because, well, it got too girlie for my tastes. I'm not interested in wedding tips (been married fifteen years), how to green my reception (again with the married forever and a day), how some uber skinny celebrity tells me I can diet to look just like her. At last kirtsy browse, I didn't even see one thing in the most popular items that I wanted to click through, much less vote for, and that seriously depressed me.
Is that all women really want, the most? I worried.
Is kirtsy a microcosm or a larger issue? I went to see what was up on the front page, and popular, as well as what the editors had picked. It seemed to prove Caterina and David right even more:
Botox, fashion, summer makeup, games, gift cards, and celebrity gossip.
But before the big sigh could even leave my mouth, a second thought occurred to me.
At BlogHer, we were doing the usual squee, hug, you look fab, and demurring, "What? Who? Me? With this crazy frizzy hair?" From that came several things.
My friend Sarah said, "I can't believe I flew all the way to BlogHer and we're talking about hair products!"
My friend Maggie said, "Are you getting MADE UP?"
My friend Deb said, "That's it, Julie, I don't want to hear you volley back one more compliment about how you look. Just say thank you! Because you are the one looking good!"
Go ahead, take a minute, put it together.
What do you see?
Many women are, in general, interested in self-care products, things that make them look better, and other areas of interest such as fashion and celebrities. But we aren't supposed to be, and the truth is, this is a limited topic for most of us. It's fine for a bit, but then we're ready to talk about the Rest.
Kirtsy isn't wrong; it's simply reflecting back the major common denominator among the vast majority of women. Frivolous topics are mind candy, and an easy relating point that breaks the ice, like chatting about the weather, only maybe a teensy more interesting to a lot of women who might not happen to be meteorologist buffs. But then comes...the Rest.
The fluff? Is actually...a fluffer.
How diverse and contradictory are the messages, and internal desires.
But not anymore, not for me, not on this subject.
Let me bold this because in a way, it's my lead, and it's very buried:
The botox, the lotions, the fashion advice, and so forth is merely a thing most women are interested in, but it's not necessarily the thing we are most interested in. That last bit varies wildly.
I had a lot of fun fun fun and many intense and insightful discussions and experiences at BlogHer. In my pocket of memories, I cherish most of all:
* the one on one with Cyn in my hotel room where we discussed politics
* the amazing and insightful, honest and sharing conversation Gwen, Deb and I had at a diner while waiting for our flights
* the hurried last minute conversation with Sarah, while we sat, bleary-eyed, on the last day, hair wet, faces void of artifice, and discussed where we'd like to go with our writing art
* the powerful intimate panel with fellow political junkies, and the awesome plank planning session with MOMocrats and Silicon Valley Moms
* the personal discussion about the treacherous trap DIY home remodeling and working with family can be with Backpacking Dad
But I also enjoyed the free makeover, the hair product idea sharing, the fabulous rose pattern jacket at Macy's and pointing out outfits and shoes we'd look spectacular in with Amie, Kelly, Jaelithe, Steph, and Cyn. I had fun joking around and being a silly goofball, trading quips with my fellow BlogHerteers, and so forth.
And why shouldn't we?
The front page of kirtsy and the highest rated ComScore women's sites might relate most to frippery, but that's simply because it's the largest common denominator. Underneath that are vibrant and strong interests that even David Carr would call a deep and significant revolution.
I'm still more likely to scan the political section of alltop on a daily basis, and you're more likely to find me at sites that others might call complicated, but if I have an "issue"---such as a desire for whiter teeth---I'll be Googling or searching in kirtsy, to find the best info I need in that moment, and I'll be awfully glad for it.
The nice thing about getting to be my age, you see, is that you are about ready to drop the shoulds and adopt an attitude of who cares about that sort of thing.
I'm beyond thinking I need to be whatever other people think I need to be: more deep or less deep, more frivolous or less frivolous, think more or think less, more practical or less sensible, more into the nicety gestures like sending gifts to bloggers in the mail, or being the Most Popular on Twitter.
It's been a journey the last month and a half, but I think my absolute favorite souvenir from BlogHer was a staggering realization: I'm simply not that into worrying any more about whether you think me, my life or what I do is worthwhile, and you know, I'm really okay with that. Now that's radical, and that's a deep implication.
In the immortal words of Michele, from Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, one of the best movies ever (and yeah, I like it, a lot, and I'd choose to see it before A Room With a View even):
[ Romy ]
ALL I EVER WANTED WAS FOR PEOPLE TO THINK... THAT WE WERE BETTER
THAN WE WERE IN HIGH SCHOOL. AND NOW WE'RE JUST A STUPID JOKE,
JUST LIKE WE ALWAYS WERE.
[ Michele ]
CAN I TELL YOU THE TRUTH?
I NEVER KNEW THAT WE WEREN'T THAT GREAT IN HIGH SCHOOL.
I MEAN, WE ALWAYS HAD SO MUCH FUN TOGETHER.
I THOUGHT HIGH SCHOOL WAS A BLAST.
AND UNTIL YOU TOLD ME THAT OUR LIVES WEREN'T GOOD ENOUGH, I
THOUGHT EVERYTHING SINCE HIGH SCHOOL WAS A BLAST.
I THINK WE SHOULD GO BACK OUT THERE AS OURSELVES... AND JUST HAVE
FUN LIKE WE ALWAYS DO. THE HELL WITH EVERYONE ELSE.
I might rock the stereotype sometimes, and boost the ComScore of so-called shallow and frivolous Web sites, but I think that's fine. It's not all and it's not even most, it's just the most common.
I grew up in the age of feminism and had it beaten over my head to the point that I get the post-feminist guilt (omg am I capitalizing enough on my freedom and opportunity?) and post-feminism rejection (the hell with that, I'm going to stay home and raise my kids despite the PhD from Harvard because I want to, and I can).
To that end, any article that promises to help me overcome my major obstacles---keeping my house clean enough, green enough and cooking healthy meals---will snag my attention. But so will ones about the current political races, human rights issues, and the state of humanity around the world.
So David Carr, you were on the right track. Women sometimes teeter on high heels and see "vapid" movies more than once, but that doesn't make us shallow. It doesn't mean our revolution failed. It means we know how to indulge our frivolous side. You stopped before you reached the station, Mr. Carr, you needed to expand on the deep implications and realize that the Rest does matter, even if it doesn't cap out at the top of ComScore. Nothing is ever as simple as ranking, and the Rest might very well outweigh the top scorers.
I won't apologize for boosting frivolous rankings because I've rejected the idea that common feminine interests such as fashion are frivolous, and that frivolous equals unworthy. All work and no play would make us all very dull indeed, in fact, a bore. It would make us bores. So I celebrate that we all have our various frivolous indulgences, whatever they are, and encourage you to believe that they are not just worthy, but are, in fact, enriching.
Hump Day Hmm for next week---get your big kid britches on people, because I'm going to ask a lot of you and I hope you join in: what stunning realization has enlightened you recently or at some point in your life and caused you to take a turn, either in your life path or in your thinking? And...what happened next?
Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission.
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