December 16, 2009

"If I were Judith Warner writing in the New York Times about my daughter I could write about it."

I don't — I can't — use the raw material of my home life for blog posts. Maybe you think I do, but basically, I follow a rule against it, and I only reveal little things around the edges. I'd love to use lines from breakfast-table conversations and riff on them, and maybe this post is an example of that. It's something I just said. But, really, this post is about how I can't do that, and I've been noticing how much these various female columnists do. They don't research what's happening in other families or even pretend they are writing about some third person. They just go right ahead and talk about whatever is right there in their home and make casual generalizations about what people are like these days.

Like Judith Warner, writing in the NYT this week about her daughter:
... my elder daughter, Julia, is now in 7th grade, which means, of late, that she lives in a world filled with endless girl dramas of the most unfortunate and, alas, ordinary kind.

As I watch her attempt to make sense of all this, I try to keep a respectful distance. There is no greater error, I’ve come to think, than for a mother to get down in the emotional mire of her daughter’s girl stuff. It is undignified. Inappropriate, even. And ultimately, judging from what I’ve seen thus far, it’s deeply toxic.

So I try to sit back and act like an adult.
Ironically, Warner is writing about keeping aloof from her daughter's dramas. But that is her home life. The daughter has "endless girl dramas," and the mother has adopted a "respectful distance" strategy of parenting. But part of that "respectful distance" is blabbing about the dramas in the New York Times. Well, that is a kind of distance.

I won't "get down in the emotional mire" with you. I'll climb up here onto my mainstream media perch where your problems can be summarized as "stuff," and the story will be about me and my distance (and — read the whole thing — what life was like for me when I was young).

Warner gives her daughter some modest cover even as she uses her for a jumping-off point. And, to be nice, I'm going to assume the daughter read the column and approved the revelation. I'm also going to imagine that there were other, more revealing column drafts that touched off one of the daughter's endless dramas and got rewritten.

And here's Hanna Rosin, writing about the nonproblem — supremely non — of having a husband who loves to cook: "The Rise of the Kitchen Bitch — Ladies, it’s time to reclaim cooking." I've already complained about the endless Elizabeth Weil article in the NYT about a husband who cooks too much, and Rosin — an admirer of the Weil piece — is following on with a my-husband-too. You have a man who (somehow) cooks too much? I have a man who cooks too much. It's the way we brag now. Whatever it is, pretend it's a problem. Rosin writes:
My husband is not a tenth [as bad as Weil's husband]. He is a food snob but not obsessive; he is fast and has dinner on the table by 6:45, in time for us all to eat together. The problem is more subtle and at least half my fault. Before we had kids, we both loved to cook and did it prodigiously and with great joy. After we had kids, everything changed. When we got home from work, we had the choice of cooking or hanging out with the kids. I always chose the kids. When I did cook, it was out of a sense of duty and obligation, while he continued to feel the joy.
Ahem. So you have a great husband. You have great kids. You got a choice of cooking or playing with the kids in the pre-dinner time slot and you chose the kids — because you're a great mom as well as a great cook — and this went swimmingly well for both you and your husband and now... now you can even generate a popular column — it's #1 on the DoubleX "most read" list — out of how it's really this resonant modern problem.

This is the style of these relationship columns for women these days. Write openly about your own family. Of course, it's fundamental that you have a lovely, happy family — and that they won't get any less happy and lovely if you make them your material.

66 comments:

chuck b. said...

I'm glad I wasn't born female, frankly.

Robin said...

Who ARE these people? Oh, maybe that's why the NYT is bankrupt and that part of Slate is being cancelled.

Dark Eden said...

"alas, ordinary..."

Heavens no!

And ladies: Most men, if we are honest, will admit we like a hearty home cooked meal as much or possibly even more than a good roll in the hay.

If you are too modern and progressive to cook, we're going to do it ourselves, possibly even better than you. If that bothers you, its your problem.

Quayle said...

Let me get this straight, after feminism trashed the perfect wife and home syndrome, now all the feminist-leaning women can do is write about their.....perfect husbands and home?

Is that it?

Well, that certainly is progress.

PatCA said...

So, IOW, they are emotional vampires. Very au courant!

pm317 said...

I agree totally with Ann here, but I must say that her "meade" pictures and "meadehouse" one liner references sometimes are an intrusion too -- but it is her personal blog and not some mainstream media and she is allowed that much indulgence as a new "bride".

I am not immune to gloating about a husband who can cook but I did it in front of a few trusted friends and colleagues who would not mistake my enthusiasm. The fact that there was hot food waiting at 9 pm after you drove for 40 minutes and had spent the day teaching two classes and in countless meetings was prone to ecstatic exaggeration anyway.

Henry said...

At the end of the day my wife does the cooking because she is an astronomically better cook than I am. I play with the kids because I am made of rubber.

class-factotum said...

will admit we like a hearty home cooked meal as much or possibly even more than a good roll in the hay.

Part of the reason a friend divorced his wife was that she was a stay-at-home mom who did not clean the house or cook. He was tired of coming home from work to a dirty house and having to prepare his own meals.

t-man said...

Hmmm. What could be a common cultural thread among Judith Warner, Hannah Rosin and Elizabeth Weil?

I wouldn't extrapolate their need to overanalyze their own lives to women in general.

traditionalguy said...

Elin Woods should start a new Blog about the daily thoughts of a Sweedish Divorce' and her Tiger cubs.

ricpic said...

For the mostpart females are unbearably pedestrian in their interests.

Darcy said...

I would have loved it if my mother had even just really listened to my teenage girl dramas. It was a painful time for me and she was oblivious and too busy. I would never have been proud to say I stayed aloof from that if I'd had a daughter.

And yeah, the kids don't like you sharing anything like this. It's a betrayal and I hope she did run it by her daughter.

Darcy said...

*smacks ricpic* :)

Brian said...

Harrumph. I read that Rosin piece. She calls her husband a "bitch" --- in public, where thousands and thousands of people will hear. She's nominally talking about his kitchen skills, but she's also telling us that she has a husband who will put up with her publicly dressing him down (in crude and emasculating terms, no less). Is that a feminist brag, or a feminine lament?

MadisonMan said...

ricpic, I don't see why your comment isn't true for men either.

MadisonMan said...

...and I don't see why these female writers don't realize that what they are writing about is nothing new. And I rarely read a new insight from them.

Lynne said...

I find it really interesting that you should bring this up. I've been complaining to my husband for a while now that female bloggers seem especially prone to making their blogs all about *them.*
I've stopped reading a number of female bloggers due to intrusive 'me-ism.' I walked away from one that was all 'My life is so haaard and now look- this news headline just makes it even haaarder. It's all about Me, Poor, Pitiful Me!', and another that wound up being 'See how much smarter and hipper I am than these yahoos I'm reporting on! It's all about Me! Glorious Me! Gorgeous Me!' and another: 'As you all can see (by virtue of your excellent taste in reading me), I'm obviously an under-appreciated genius just now coming- however reluctantly- to understand the true depths of my breathtaking talent. I could never have done this without your tasteful worship of Me, Glorious Me, National Treasure Me.'
Yeesh.
Some bloggers just seem to troll for worshippers. Me, I read around for facts and interesting news.
Call me boring.

wv- respoide: a fancy faux-French term referring to taking a break from pretentious bloggers.

Darcy said...

LOL, Lynne.

peter hoh said...

Pastors face a similar decision regarding how much of their family life is included in their sermons.

Lem said...

Its a post Sex in the City - the family years.

Sarah said...

I have to admit I occasionally find those pieces fascinating (it makes me seem like a really awesome wife in comparison, which I always like, and my family as the epitome of normal) but I do agree that it's weird behavior on the part of the authors to write it. A mommy blog wherein you share the cute things your kids do with family and friends scattered over the country is one thing; an article in the New York Times whining about your husband/lauding yourself as a saint for putting up with such-and-such is entirely another.

holdfast said...

Rosin is married? Are there Russian male order grooms now?

I think I wrote in a previous comment that women like Rosin are why I married a Schiksa - I cannot for a moment imagine being married to someone like that, let alone parenting children with her.

Lem said...

Pastors face a similar decision regarding how much of their family life is included in their sermons.

I recall my fathers sermons seemed more fiery after a fight with my stepmother.

Republican said...

A side-effect of the tell-all mommy/wife blogging, are the women who actually read the stuff and believe it defines a standard for how they should be living, or what they should be aspiring to in their marriages and lives.

They are buying into the fantasy.

Ick.

ps: I wouldn't want my mom to write about her relationship with me. What a violation of privacy and trust!

traditionalguy said...

Seriously, the Professor is giving out some good advice to the other female writers about everyday life experiences a la a twitter tweet with 3000 words. Abusing another's secrecy expectations is an act of infidelity...and how does that help you look good? We say that someone who shops our information around as a way to ingratiate themselves with others is NOT a friend. That is only a Papparazzi activity. If one wants friends, then one must be a faithful friend. Otherwise one is saying that family members are fair game to be mistreated routinely since they have nowhere else to go...like prisoners under a life sentence.

Theo Boehm said...

Using home life as these writers have done is a prime example of a non-problem itself.

Writers such as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Longfellow, and Mark Twain,and composers such as Schumann and Richard Strauss used scenes of domestic life in their works to good effect. It's questionable how "raw" this material was--in Strauss' case it was pretty--but the fact remains that personal revelation has been a staple of literature at least since Rousseau and Boswell in the 18th century.

If there is a problem here, it is twofold:

1. You may use your children as subjects for your work, but how much do you want to reveal? Who can read Longfellow's "The Children's Hour" without at least a lump in the throat? But Longfellow was using his moments of domestic joy for the larger truths he saw in them. There is very little revelation about the details of the personalities and problems of the children. Longfellow certainly went much further than Althouse ever has along these lines, but he did so artistically and beautifully.

Which brings up:

2. The current writers are dreadful bores, writing crap. If they used their domestic lives to better effect, Althouse wouldn't have written the post, and we wouldn't be having this discussion.

What a reviewer might have written then would have been along the lines of what was said of Strauss about "Ein Heldenleben:" What kind of egomaniac would presume to write something like this, including the musical depiction of his domestic love life?

But accusations of egomania are best leveled against the talentless, for people like Strauss and Longfellow well deserved their egos.

The same cannot be said about the hapless Ms. Warner.

Theo Boehm said...

I should have said, "Simply using home life, as these writers have done...."

Not worth the trouble to delete and re-do. Sorry.

Paul Snively said...

Dear God in heaven, is there anything more tedious than reading anything by writers whose only apparent skill is leafing through their thesaurus to find a different combination of words to describe the utter banality of upper west side New York experience?

Roger J. said...

Would someone just put a bullet in the NYT and finish it off?

Lem said...

In defence of Judith Warner..

Its not a bad as Kate Gosselin.

Judith Warner was only a prison guard ;)

Sam U. said...

I follow a rule against it, and I only reveal little things around the edges.

I totally appreciate the way you keep your private life private. Heavens, if you didn't, then all kinds of details about your personal life might become fodder some for some dumb article in the NYT!

Keep following that rule, Althouse! And you keep up the good work too, Carl Dean!

Gabriel Hanna said...

Sandra Tsing Loh is the worst. In theory she is reviewing books for the Atlantic, but instead spends her whole column talking about how her husband was so boring she had to cheat on him and get divorced and how all her friends are
either doing the same thing or thinking about it.

I could much more easily forgive my wife for cheating, than for blabbing on about it to a national audience.

lyssalovelyredhead said...

Women who consider themselves feminists often bemoan the fact that so many young, ambitious women do not want anything to do with the label.

This is why. Feminists like Hanna Rosin and the rest of the Double X crew, that's why. Gals like me don't want to be associated with whiners who would call their perfectly nice husbands a "bitch."

Baby, you can share my kitchen.

- Lyssa

Synova said...

It seems to me another example (along with feminism itself) of how women marginalize their own contributions.

I suppose I get the idea that women like connecting personally and perhaps this explains personal stories and commentary about home and relationships, but it doesn't work, then, to turn around and complain that you're not taken as seriously as men are taken. If your interests are narrow, then they're narrow.

Complaining that your husband likes to do the cooking seems to be beyond moronic, and no one making that sort of complain should be taken seriously about anything whatsoever.

As for Judith Warner... bravo for the idea of pushing back against "helicopter" parenting, but boo-hiss for bringing poor Julia into it, who undoubtedly does not feel that her dramas are at all "ordinary."

ricpic said...

I love a love smack from Darce. /:->)

Madison Man: I'd say the percentages are somewhat higher among women than among men of those with next to no interest in the world beyond the personal.

former law student said...

It's been a while, and I can't readily find her columns on the web, but didn't Anna Quindlen do the same thing in the New York Times some twenty years ago? First in "Life in the Thirties" and then in "Public and Private"?

Women writing about their lives was a fixture in the old Datebook section of the SF Chronicle. Adair Lara wrote about being a single mom with an alcoholic dad, and Susan Parker wrote about what happens when your athletic husband is suddenly quadriplegic.

John Lynch said...

I thought the Weil piece was about how miserable she was and how loathsome she found her husband. I didn't take it as bragging at all.

My Dad had a saying, "If you look at anyone really closely, we're all pretty weird." Families are all pretty bizarre to an outsider.

I agree that writers shouldn't generalize too much from their own experience, but isn't that all they really have? If you can't write about something you have in common with many other people then why would anyone else care?

If you do research into many other people then it just becomes a statistical exercise.

If it's just a few people, then you're still choosing who to write about and it's the same problem. I suppose the writer could find more interesting people to write about than themselves...

I take pieces like this as an indicator of how a certain class of woman thinks their life should be lived, and what problems they should have. It's interesting as far as it goes, but it has almost nothing, NOTHING to do with my life. My wife's main problem with me is that I don't get paid enough. Both our hours got cut. THAT's real life to us.

muddimo said...

Read the article. Ugh.

Ralph L said...

My late housemate used to complain about the "estrogen-soaked brains" of his serial girlfriends.

The self-centeredness may stem from protecting the uterus and its offspring from the rest of the world. The husbands are in the kitchen for some peace.

Theo Boehm said...

Gabriel Hanna said...
Sandra Tsing Loh is the worst.

Totally true.

In my rambling comment upthread, I said said that accusations of egomania are best leveled against the talentless. The talented have their reasons for egos of a certain size.

Ms. Tsing-Loh is marginally talented, so she may be forgiven the self-possession she needs to be a clown.

But Sandra Tsing-Loh IS nothing but self-promotion, and her self-love has finally done to those near her what all such love affairs eventually do.

Compared to the ill-effects of Tsing-Lohvian kissing and telling, what Judith Warner does is as harmless as one of those chatty group letters you get from barely-remembered acquaintances at Christmastime.

Bissage said...

Six Domestic Banalities.

Michael Hasenstab said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Hasenstab said...

When I did cook, it was out of a sense of duty and obligation, while he continued to feel the joy.

Cooking as a metaphor for their sex life. Sad.

That nugget is really what Warner's article was about. Not her daughter, not the family unit, but the withering of her marriage; the loss of the lust she and her husband may have had for each other in years past. The dull complacency of a marriage gone untended in favor of career and self-actualization.

The other 97% of her article was to cover that self-confession with drivel about her Warner, her husband and their daughter. She know that it's there; but she doesn't want us to see it.

Ralph L said...

My s-i-l still rules her kitchen. My bro cleans up, since she can't load the dishwasher correctly.

Omnibus Driver said...

You left out that witch Joyce Maynard. Her daughter is far more forgiving than I ever would have been. And what's with the newspapers and magazines that publish this crappola and try to convince us it's good journalism, anyway?

Cedarford said...

I believe Althouse is dishing good advice to women that start as writers and wannabe journalists - Taught at school that the only authentic wellspring to their writing is their personal lives and those they intersect with. Who then write on subjects completely outside the experiential - but who are by then inherently unable to write without dragging in daughter's lesbian experimentation or the co-worker with breast cancer into a film review, a piece on traffic gridlock in Atlanta.

I think Anne compartmentalizes well, and when she mentions her ex or JAC or her nephew on tour --it tends to be their public persona, what they have done in the public eye, basic facts...

Meade?

I disagree with this commentor's premise:

pm317 said...
I agree totally with Ann here, but I must say that her "meade" pictures and "meadehouse" one liner references sometimes are an intrusion too -- but it is her personal blog and not some mainstream media and she is allowed that much indulgence as a new "bride".


First, Meade is an interesting guy and not a bore. Certainly not an "intrusion". And if he had not exposed facets of himself, most likely he and Athouse wouldn't have formed a relationship. But he didn't expose all he is on a Blog. Like Althouse, he shares some things and not others.
It is fairly patronizing though, to suggest you will "indulge" Anne talking about Meade, suffer through it, because you know honeymoon periods call for forebearance.
And her photos of him? Meade is what the Aussies call "easy on the eyes". I think he's a guy's guy, and when I showed a couple of the summer honeymoon in Colorado pics to my wife, he got the newborn and puppydog treatment - "Awwwww, look how CUTE he is!!"

Ralph L said...

dishing or dissing?

Joyce Maynard really went over the line, but her daughter's stated objections were ridiculous. Her mother grossly violated her twice, once in the NYT, and she's upset about the depiction of third world medical care. Apple didn't fall far from the tree.

Donna B. said...

Meade, cute like a newborn or puppydog? Oh no.... Meade is not that kind of cute.

Most people don't mind when others gush over their newborns or their puppies. Most will even let you cuddle them and rub their bellies.

Somehow, I just don't see this happening at Meadehouse.

Obviously C4's wife and I do not use the same dictionary :-)

wv - fouffet: all the fouf you can eat.

Pogo said...

I would rather read the ingredients on a box of Cheerios than a human interest story in a newspaper.

The opening paragraph -no, the first sentence, really- fills me with ennui, a nameless dread borne of death's gaping and infinite void, a feeling of horror that can only be cleansed by reading a review of last night's city council meeting in which the matter of street lights in the new subdivision came to a fever pitch, and the issue was tabled so the city manager can interpret the applicable ordinance.

Hell isn't other people.
Other people are just fine.
Hell is reading about other people's endless dramas of the most unfortunate and ordinary kind.

Mike K said...

The most obnoxious example of this was the male NYT writer who did a feature story on his girlfriend's abortion. The saddest bit probably totally eluded him but I remember it with a cringe. It was where she declined a glass of wine because it might be bad for the baby that she planned to abort in the morning. At that point, I knew she was not the one who was enthusiastic about this event.

kentuckyliz said...

People who lack gratitude for the good people and things in their lives deserve to lose it all and suffer.

Whiners.

Hopefully these guys have their antennae up for women who will appreciate them. Allo allo allo!!!

John said...

I have a firm rule: I never speak ill of my wife to anyone, anywhere, at anytime. If I have a problem with her, I'll speak to her privately. But any criticism never leaves the privacy of our marriage.

Bitching about one's husband in national publication is very disrespectful.

Dewave said...

I don't mind reading human interest stories. I just mind reading human interest stories of the most banal and uninteresting kind, which is apparently the kind of lives these women lead.

In a way, the utter self centeredness and dogged determination to be a victim with a problem illustrates the absurdly pampered and spectacularly insular nature of their lives.

In the real world, wives complain because their husbands have to spend too long at work in order to support the family. In NYT land, wives complain because their husband spends too much time in the kitchen.

Truly, they are the Narcissistic Generation.

OldGrouchy Doug Wright said...

AA: Good for you.

However, some of your most fascinating blog postings have been about your travels, especially down to Ohio and Indiana, in a travelogue sense, especially your photos.

Still, those really weren't about your intimate experiences, thankfully.

Lastly, you might be able to make it as another "Dear Abby" but God forbid that'd be on your present blog.

Penny said...

""If I were Judith Warner writing in the New York Times about my daughter I could write about it.""

But that would make it fiction. Damned good fiction, I bet, but fiction nonetheless.

This is 2009, and "fiction" just isn't where it's happening right now.

Calm down all you political junkies out there. Yeah, yeah, I know. It's ALL fiction, all the time...over there. >>>>

William said...

I am not widely read in this genre of literature. Years ago I did read Fear of Flying by Erica Jong. In that novel she apparently felt that writing honestly about her own shortcomings (nudge, wink) gave her carte blanche to write mercilessly about the flaws of every significant person in her life, including her husband.....I know male novelists have done it all the time, but it seems more of a betrayal when women do it. And OK, that in itself is an unfair judgement, but that's the way life is: unfair.

Penny said...

William?

A man who doesn't read much fiction read "Fear of Flying"?

Oh well. I suppose it's understandable. I'm not much of a history buff, but I have one.

lucid said...

@althouse--fabulous post, ann.

i have always found judith warner's combination of supposed sensitivity and her actual narcissism impossible to stomach.

Peter said...

Well, I'm not a New York sophisicate but if my wife ever called me a bithc in a national publication she would come home to find all of her clothes in the front yard. If I were in a real good mood I would not have the sprinkler on.

Then again, I'm just a redneck but I do not denigrate my family to outsiders. If I have a problem with my wife or with any of the grown kids I settle it in private, and they with me.

What in the ever loving blue eyed world is wrong with these city people?

Leland said...

Write openly about your own family.

Worked great for Lileks.



wv: pubpress I'm just not amazed by this anymore...

がんこもん said...

I would say that DeWave hit the nail precisely - these writers live in a cocoon of fantasy not unlike that enjoyed by the fake 'celebrities' who desperately seek face time in people magazine (ie. the Kardashians).

Speaking about one's partner in a derogatory manner outside the marriage is despicable. One should always try to address the issue with one's mate first. Period. Rosin and Weil are pathetic excuses for real journalists as well as being shallow, selfish and narcissistic. They don't know just how good they have it.

As for using one's family as material, I think that it is fair game, but one should respect the feelings of those about whom you write. I agree with Peter - if someone called me a 'b*tch' in print, that person would not be pleased with my reaction. And vice-versa - if I ever called someone close by that type of description, I would deserve anything he or she chose to do in retaliation.

ken in sc said...

About women who reveal secrets about their men--In my experience, most women don’t have the “You and me against the world” type of loyalty that many men feel for their wives. Instead, they have a, “Us women against the world” point of view. And guess what hubby; you aren’t one of the girls. You don’t get the same degree of loyalty that a girl friend gets.

mark said...

ann, you are too tough. seems you have driven the poor girl out of the blogging business:
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/17/hello-i-must-be-going/?hp

From today's blog, "today marks the last time I’ll be writing Domestic Disturbances. The online column — this transposing of my life onto the Web — is coming to an end." awwww

Z said...

Let's just state the obvious- they are bad writers. Excessive use of personal pronouns in writing and using your own life as explicit subject matter is amateurish and would be marked down in any high school class. And, unless its Winston Churchill writing his memoirs, people don't really care about the details of writers lives. If they think it makes them seem relatable, no, it just makes them appear self-centered and uncaring.

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