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The Naked and the Conflicted
January 2, 2010 9:21 AM   Subscribe

In her essay, The Naked and the Conflicted, Katie Roiphe compares the directly sexual writing of Roth, Mailer, and Updike with the more timid approach adopted by America's new batch of male novelists. "We denounce the Great Male Novelists of the last century for their sexism. But something has been lost now that innocence is more fashionable than virility, the cuddle preferable to sex." [SLNYT]
posted by billysumday (123 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why don’t we look at these older writers, who want to defeat death with sex, with the same fondness as we do the inventors of the first, failed airplanes, who stood on the tarmac with their unwieldy, impossible machines, and looked up at the sky?

The answer came immediately to me: because they were nasty, tiresome old bastards who hated us. And by us, I mean women, as I generally do when speaking to myself. I once threw a Robert Heinlein book against a wall, but it wasn't because his ideas were more powerful than mine. Is Roiphe an adolescent, that she mistakes what's infuriating for what's inherently good?
posted by Countess Elena at 9:37 AM on January 2, 2010 [37 favorites]


I really liked that essay. I'm not sure she's right in her argument about a large-scale cultural turn:

This generation of writers ... are good guys, sensitive guys, and if their writing is denuded of a certain carnality, if it lacks a sense of possibility, of expansiveness, of the bewildering, transporting effects of physical love, it is because of a certain cultural shutting down, a deep, almost puritanical disapproval of their literary forebears and the shenanigans they lived through.

But she is completely correct in the comparisons of the sex scenes. Updike et al wrote such tangible and tactile scenes, compared to the tentative ones in some of the newer writers she mentions.
posted by Forktine at 9:38 AM on January 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Interesting. A thought:

Mailer/Roth/Updike were both upending taboos and reinforcing then-contemporary elements of masculine sexuality in their work. Their books, by their young selves, are still popular, still read. Additionally, as they aged, they incorporated their own real-life problems with literal and/or figurative impotence into their works.

Eggers et al. are upending new taboos, in a way, but they are also reinforcing their own contemporary elements of masculine sexuality in their work. The heroes of their books are not mega-dicked lotharios, but are instead thoughtful, flighty, and neurotic. This is, in a way, taboo - most men would not brag in contemporary society over how they had refused sex, or second-guessed sex, or had tried to incorporate their own ruminations on feminism into their sex life. And as what had previously been liberal now becomes taboo as well, a remark saying a woman was "still" beautiful at 32 is also a taboo - just not from conservative mainstream.

On the other side, these tenuous, boyish, neurotic tendencies are also a reflection of not only the neurotic elements to heterosexual male sexuality that have always been present, but also of the neuroses which would be present in the sort of introspective, narcissistic, bookish man who has chosen, in his career, to become a novelist. Contemporary mores on parade.

In addition, we can still read those Updike/Roth/Mailer books, and it would no longer touch the critical mainstream to write as they had. Together, these different generations of writers are touching on different concerns, and no book, career, or generation could ever hope to capture the entire sweep of any one idea.

From this essay, I also get the sense in some sort of disbelief, displeasure, and/or devaluing from the author towards these "new", "boy"-ish authors. Why is their sexuality more boyish by being more neurotic, confused, and thoughtful? That this is the sexuality of boys implies that this is a mode to be grown out of on the journey to be a man. But was not the mega-dicked sexuality of Norman Mailer also a bit immature?

Another thought:

I just read The Death of Bunny Munro yesterday, and I wonder what Roiphe would think of that.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:48 AM on January 2, 2010 [22 favorites]


Elena, I once threw a John Updike against the wall.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:53 AM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Forktine: "Updike et al wrote such tangible and tactile scenes, compared to the tentative ones in some of the newer writers she mentions."

The one I remember is the scene in Rabbit Is Rich where the protagonist, having arrayed his newly purchased investment of gold coins on his wife's pubic mound, tries to insert one into her vagina, as if into a vending machine.

It was suitable to the character, I suppose. But nothing in the other Updike fiction I've read [surely very few have read all of it] makes me worry that he found it a difficult scene to write.

And the mention of Mailer reminds me - apropos of the Countess' comment - of one female author's observation that some men express their hatred of women by marrying a lot of them.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:57 AM on January 2, 2010


Can't we all just get along?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:01 AM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


TLDR: women have no idea what they want.
posted by armitage at 10:03 AM on January 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


yes they do
posted by Zambrano at 10:11 AM on January 2, 2010


they want pizzaaaaaaaaa
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:13 AM on January 2, 2010 [13 favorites]


I keep waiting for Katie Roiphe's cultural moment to be over, for her readership to drift away to nothingness as people realize that her penchant for blaming every perceived negative cultural change on "The Feminists" is incredibly intellectually lazy. In Roiphe's world, there is apparently no room to reflect on the effects of younger authors coming of age in an era reacting against the '60s, after near-pornographic writing in literature was losing its power to shock (as Stitcherbeast points out), and that they would've been in one of the first generations to have had their risk/reward calculations around sex affected by HIV and the panic around it in the '80s. No, it's all the fault of feminists in Roiphe's world, and that critique is just. so. boring.
posted by EvaDestruction at 10:13 AM on January 2, 2010 [31 favorites]


Philip Roth: A Real American Asshole
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:15 AM on January 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Not getting enough, apparently.

Whatever it is, there isn't enough on the planet to fix Katie Roiphe.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:16 AM on January 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


women have no idea what they want.

unless they say to hell with it and write their own novels - which, i'm sure you've noticed, they do
posted by pyramid termite at 10:16 AM on January 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


I read "Katie Roiphe," held my breath, and thought "here we go again" and ah-yup. Her name filled in the rest, as predictably as ever. I really don't like being one of those Mehfites as we're a dime a dozen, but seriously: meh!
posted by ifjuly at 10:21 AM on January 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


More precisely, for a character to attach too much importance to sex, or aspiration to it, to believe that it might be a force that could change things, and possibly for the better, would be hopelessly retrograde.

The fluidity of Updike’s Tarbox, with its boozy volleyball games and adulterous couples copulating al­fresco, has disappeared into the Starbucks lattes and minivans of our current suburbs, and our towns and cities are more solid, our marriages safer; we have landed upon a more conservative time.


The more simple answer is that the enthusiasm for sexual excess that arose in the 1960's and 1970's for those generations is on the ebb. If the diminishing of society's rapt fascination in sex is appearing in modern literature, it's something I can applaud. Society, at least American, is already too hyper-sexualized as is and it's a path that began back in those decades.
posted by Atreides at 10:26 AM on January 2, 2010


Second-wave feminists campaigned against male chauvinist pigs; new generation of feminists wonder where all the D.H. Lawrence-approved bad-boy manly men went amid the horde of SNAGs. The real classics never do get old, do they?
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:31 AM on January 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't know if I've ever read a sex scene in a novel that didn't make me wish I could unread it. To me they all read like Bad Sex In Fiction entries. On one hand you have the explicit attempts to impress/shock, on the other you have the over-intellectualized beanplating, and in the middle are the comparatively straightforward descriptions, most of which add little to the narrative beyond "They had sex."
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:34 AM on January 2, 2010 [11 favorites]


The avoidance of sex by these new mail authors, I would think, has much less to do with narcissism (being "too cool" for sex) than it does with an increased level of neuroses surrounding the sexual act on the part of the authors themselves.

Or, if the level of neuroses is the same, there is decreased pressure to overcompensate for them with sexual bravado. They aren't in danger of being called pussies.

Except by this Katie Roiphe person, anyway.

And let me also say that I have no interest in reading a sex scene written by Jonathan Safran Foer. Weird.
posted by Darth Fedor at 10:42 AM on January 2, 2010


This supposed downturn in "then I grabbed her boob" literature, written by straight men for straight men couldn't possibly have anything to do with the virtually simultaneous uptick in hardcore porn, could it?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:49 AM on January 2, 2010 [8 favorites]


of one female author's observation that some men express their hatred of women by marrying a lot of them.

Right, because why bother what talking about what those women were expressing.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 10:49 AM on January 2, 2010


She's right, you know. American writing is totally pussified these days.

I'm gonna make it up to her; I resolve to write one red-blooded, manly-man sex scene on MetaFilter every day for the next thirty days.
posted by jason's_planet at 10:58 AM on January 2, 2010 [9 favorites]


I don't know if I've ever read a sex scene in a novel that didn't make me wish I could unread it. To me they all read like Bad Sex In Fiction entries. On one hand you have the explicit attempts to impress/shock, on the other you have the over-intellectualized beanplating, and in the middle are the comparatively straightforward descriptions, most of which add little to the narrative beyond "They had sex."

It helps if one doesn't divide books into "scenes" to be categorized. Then the parts that contain sex don't stand out from the parts that contain driving, fighting, or playing bridge. An added bonus is that the reader is no longer so presumptuous about the author's motive vis-a-vis "attempts to impress/shock."
posted by aswego at 11:01 AM on January 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's the estrogen in the water.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:04 AM on January 2, 2010


Until I started reading MetaFilter, I would never have guessed that throwing books was something that apparently quite a lot of people would actually do. When I don't like a book, I generally just put it down.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:04 AM on January 2, 2010 [16 favorites]


Eh, I see plenty of sex in fiction, but I probably read more genre fiction than Roiphe does. There was a time when mainstream literature was a great deal more mainstream that it is today, where to be a neo-Roth or -Updike has you getting dangerously close to being a poet w/r/t wide readership, and those that hang in there are probably much more self-conscious as writers than most, and are afraid to find themselves in the year-end wrap-up of bad sex writing, and are just generally not confident of their abilities to portray sex in a non-ludicrous fashion. (Or violence, for that matter, or really much of anything that normal people look for when reading a book for fun.) I don't discount neuroses and puritanism as causes, however.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:16 AM on January 2, 2010



I don't know if I've ever read a sex scene in a novel that didn't make me wish I could unread it. To me they all read like Bad Sex In Fiction entries. On one hand you have the explicit attempts to impress/shock, on the other you have the over-intellectualized beanplating, and in the middle are the comparatively straightforward descriptions, most of which add little to the narrative beyond "They had sex."


Read something by Yasunari Kawabata.
posted by lubujackson at 11:18 AM on January 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


When I don't like a book, I generally just put it down.

Me, too. Although I was at a friend's house years ago and a picked up a novel (The Blind Knight by Gail Van Asten). I had read about half a page when my entire body sort of convulsed and threw the volume across the room just as it dawned on me how bad the writing was. Yup, my body staged a tiny seizure to protect my brain. So it happens.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:26 AM on January 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


I once threw a John Updike against the wall.

Now there's some purple prose.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:29 AM on January 2, 2010


I resolve to write one red-blooded, manly-man sex scene on MetaFilter every day for the next thirty days.

On first pass, I read the resolution as "man-on-man sex scene", and, um, well . . . would you consider taking requests, jason's_planet?
posted by EvaDestruction at 11:34 AM on January 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is Roiphe an adolescent, that she mistakes what's infuriating for what's inherently good?

She is an adolescent in that she mistakes what's infuriating to her mother (feminist novelist Anne Richardson Roiphe) for what's inherently good.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:37 AM on January 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


I don't think it has anything to do with feminism, but a lot to do with male awareness of AIDS and paternity tests. Besides, having grown up in a more highly sexualized culture, people under about 45 or so didn't grow up with the same social taboos. Used to be that writing or publishing a book with a lot of sex in it was scandalous; at some point attempting to censor a book with a book with a lot of sex in it became the scandal instead.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:41 AM on January 2, 2010


I don't like sex in fiction either, whether it's megadick-sex or sensitive-neurotic-sex. I'm reading a book of John Cheever stories right now, and it's just such a relief. Whenever sex happens, he just writes, "An hour or so later, when they were putting their clothes back on..." and moves on with what he wants to say.

Philip Roth: A Real American Asshole

I'm not really a fan of Philip Roth, especially not The Human Stain, but that was quite possibly the most obnoxious piece of blogwankery I've ever read.
posted by nasreddin at 11:42 AM on January 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


would you consider taking requests, jason's_planet?

If it's man-on-man literary sex scenes you're doing, then I'd definitely like to read an account of a sexual assault on Dave Eggars by Norman Mailer.

I bet Katie Roiphe would buy that as well.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:44 AM on January 2, 2010


Sys Rq has it. It's bizarre that Roiphe treats the "literary world" as something wholly separate from all other influences, including one of the biggest influences of all on present-day sexuality—Internet porn.
posted by limeonaire at 11:47 AM on January 2, 2010


Two writers come to mind: Erica Jong, Nicholson Baker.
posted by anshuman at 11:49 AM on January 2, 2010


David Foster Wallace, the fallen exemplar of Roiphe's Good, Sensitive Guys, articulated his generation's opinion of Roth, Mailer, and Updike in a pan of Updike's Toward the End of Time.*
I'm guessing that for the young educated adults of the 60s and 70s, for whom the ultimate horror was the hypocritical conformity and repression of their own parents' generation, Mr. Updike's evocation of the libidinous self appeared redemptive and even heroic. But the young educated adults of the 90s -- who were, of course, the children of the same impassioned infidelities and divorces Mr. Updike wrote about so beautifully -- got to watch all this brave new individualism and self-expression and sexual freedom deteriorate into the joyless and anomic self-indulgence of the Me Generation. Today's sub-40s have different horrors, prominent among which are anomie and solipsism and a peculiarly American loneliness: the prospect of dying without once having loved something more than yourself.
*Wallace's discussion of literary ethics is of course poignant and illuminating, but the best part of the review is his autopsy of Updike's misplaced genre priorities: "Total number of pages about deadly mutant metallobioforms: 1.5. Total number of pages about flora around Turnbull's home, plus fauna, weather and how his ocean view looks in different seasons: 86..."

Good? Sensitive? Sure; but Wallace also had a largely unexplored talent for withholding mercy.

posted by Iridic at 11:56 AM on January 2, 2010 [23 favorites]


Not sure about Mailer, but Roth and Updike very well might be unread and unknown in 70 years, bourgeoisie literature from a time past - like the majority of American middle-class literature - forgotten.
posted by stbalbach at 11:56 AM on January 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


Wow-- I've thrown an Updike across the room too! I think he's the only author that's gotten such treatment.
posted by obloquy at 12:00 PM on January 2, 2010


I'm not really a fan of Philip Roth, especially not The Human Stain, but that was quite possibly the most obnoxious piece of blogwankery I've ever read.

Hear, hear. I left to read it and came back to say that was quite possibly the only piece of writing that could get me to give Roth another try. Point-missing and small-minded.
posted by palliser at 12:14 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Until I started reading MetaFilter, I would never have guessed that throwing books was something that apparently quite a lot of people would actually do. When I don't like a book, I generally just put it down.

I downloaded a free e-book once from Tor. Unbeknownst to me, it was one of those tall-red-haired-women-who-fights-sexy-demons-and-talks-to-herself novels.

I clicked the close icon SO HARD, my G5 tower unit flew across the room.

But yeah, balls-to-the-wall sex in novels has definitely been replaced by either oh-shit-what-does-this-mean sex or I-fuck-all-the-time-what-I-want-is-a-connection sex. For those of us who 1) know what it means and 2) have a connection it's pretty boring (although an anatomy textbook disguised as a novel would be pretty boring too).
posted by infinitewindow at 12:21 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Two writers come to mind: ... Nicholson Baker.

Baker certainly writes about sex, but it's good writing only insofar as you accept his authorial limitations, mainly his inability to write about sex except from the perspective of a completely neurotic porn addict with fantasies as improbable as his addiction. That perspective is mainly the subject the The Fermata, but Vox fails because he's unable to give the female character a different perspective. He's basically writing an episode of phone sex with himself.
posted by fatbird at 12:22 PM on January 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


I don't think I ever actually threw Updike, but I did have a very violent reaction to Rabbit, Run.

The problem is, I think, is that the kind of "sexual adventures" typified by Roth and Updike are simply dated. Great, dude, you're obsessed with your dick and really love sex. I think the present generations just don't buy that as liberating, or even interesting, anymore.

Anyway, I wonder if Roiphe approves of modern writers like Tucker Max? [text nsfw]
posted by yarly at 12:30 PM on January 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Philip Roth: A Real American Asshole

The Human Stain is nothing short of a hysterical screed disguised as fiction written by an arrogant and self-absorbed old man uncomfortable at the prospect of women and non-whites usurping the position in society that he (mistakenly) feels entitled to.

Doofus, you missed the point.

When I first went to college I was already 24, and I felt distinctly uneducated when I got there.

I hope that feeling hasn't receded, because your ability to understand what you read is apparently missing. Saying "bitch" and "motherfucker" ten times in a sentence won't save boring, self-important, strains-to-be-iconoclastic writing.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 12:31 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I always heard if you didn't throw Kafka ('s books) across the room you were doing it wrong.
posted by shothotbot at 12:40 PM on January 2, 2010


When I don't like a book, I generally just put it down.

And then I go looking for people who actually liked it and pick a fight (using only words, mind you).
posted by philip-random at 12:42 PM on January 2, 2010


She's so close to being Ann Coulter at this point. Katie, honey, the men who will like you more for being a misogynist are assholes and misogynists who aren't worth your time.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:43 PM on January 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


I hate to derail, but I love fatbird's comment about Nicholson Baker, who made me wonder briefly what time-space-wormhole alternate-Earth Vox and Fermata dropped through. There is no society or group apart from Koreshian Death Cults in which people fuck and are fucked and think about fucking and talk about fucking the way they do in these books.

Paraphrased from Vox:
"I sent her a memo with a single asterisk on it every day in which I'd masturbated to the thought of her the night prior. In response, she came over and we masturbated to porn while sitting next to each other."

What happens in real life:
"I sent her a memo with a single asterisk on it every day in which I'd masturbated to the thought of her the night prior. In response, I was correctly branded an insane grade-A creep who will eventually commit a mass-murder."
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:45 PM on January 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


You know, I actually do like Philip Roth. The Dying Animal is a beautiful book. But that's emphatically not because of the "imaginative quest" represented by the sex scenes -- it's a book about the most tender and fundamental of human emotions, as well as the ultimate folly of the alpha male's "virility" that Roiphe praises so much. On the other hand, Rabbit Angstrom is repulsive - there's nothing redeeming about him, not the sex or masculinity or anything else. Even if Updike didn't intend it, Rabbit's sexual obsession makes him a tragic figure, but a pitiful one, not heroic.
posted by yarly at 12:53 PM on January 2, 2010


wonder briefly what time-space-wormhole alternate-Earth Vox and Fermata dropped through

Sorry, that was me. I was on a "business trip" to Earth-616 and left the gate open. Fun place, 616, but you get dehydrated really fast.
posted by The Whelk at 12:54 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


The only book I've literally thrown against a wall in a fit of rage is my grade 13 math textbook.

I have no regrets.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:59 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Regarding the throwing of Updike against walls and Roiphe's anecdote of the Roth book tossed in the subway trash, it happens to women writers, too. I knew an old lady in the 1960s who got Mary McCarthy's The Group from the library. She was so shocked at the sex in it that she ripped the book to shreds. Then she told the librarian what she had done and reimbursed them for the cost of replacing it.
posted by beagle at 1:00 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I sent her a memo with a single asterisk on it every day in which I'd masturbated to the thought of her the night prior.

Good God. Can we ban English majors from writing and let people who speak real English write instead?
posted by jock@law at 1:04 PM on January 2, 2010


Fun place, 616, but you get dehydrated really fast.

Odd, since it's right on the lake and in a humid valley.
posted by jock@law at 1:09 PM on January 2, 2010


Do you wanna...do it?

I dunno...do you?

I dunno...

She rolled over and began sucking on her thumb. He pulled his mint-edition Tin-Tin comics out of his Brooklyn Industries bag, two thin paper shawls for these two fragile human molecules beneath the eternal Mongolian sky, whose children, as they'd sworn to Twee Abstinence International, would know that there were quirky alternatives to dickin'.
posted by clockzero at 1:10 PM on January 2, 2010 [18 favorites]


I was on a "business trip" to Earth-616 and left the gate open.

Does anyone else remember Nicholson Baker's scripting run on Iron Man? That 300-issue arc in which Happy Hogan ruminates on his sexual history and the modern condition while changing a furnace filter was pretty wild.
posted by Iridic at 1:14 PM on January 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


"We denounce the Great Male Novelists of the last century for their sexism. But something has been lost now that innocence is more fashionable than virility, the cuddle preferable to sex"

Similar to the recent nostalgia for sexy 60s-era gender roles we've been seeing over Mad Men (Also expressed in the recent glut of essays we've seen from educated women lamenting their passionless marriages to men who don't conform to traditional standards of manliness).

It's not an accident that this generation of intellectuals have preferred books by men with ambivalent sexuality and by women with non-ambivalent sexuality.

If the 60s authors were the thesis, and the 90s authors were the antithesis, expect some sort of Hegelian resolution to male sexuality from the next generation of authors in the 2010s or 2020s.

Human nature will ultimately re-assert itself in a way that intellectuals will learn to embrace.

... In a way that will more closely resemble my own smug tastes and expectations, of course.
posted by dgaicun at 1:27 PM on January 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


The problem is, I think, is that the kind of "sexual adventures" typified by Roth and Updike are simply dated.

I think Roth is a little different simply because his "adventures" are so hyperbolic--check it! Philip Roth is not the only guy in town who wants to MASTURBATE ON A GRAVE--but I definitely have that reaction reading Updike. It reminds me of all those great movies from the seventies that were obsessed with wife-swapping and adultery and also with "ballbusting" and "emasculation," like that one where Elliott Gould has to sleep with prostitutes because his wife's BALLBUSTING makes him impotent, or Carnal Knowledge where Art Garfunkel and Jack Nicholson walk around a bunch and talk about getting BALLBUSTED all the time, and by the end the only way Jack Nicholson can get an erection is by making some poor lady say a bunch of insane cockworship to him, like, "It's RISING. It's RISING. Virile. Domineering." (Here's the scene. NSFW obviously, and for some reason subtitled in Spanish.) Those movies seem, apart from their artistic merits, like total artifacts of their time. Updike strikes me the same way when I read him now, as does Richard Yates. Actually, hold on, this article has a Yates anecdote that typifies the sort of mindset I'm talking about:

Yates was, apparently, a relentlessly traditional man, who believed that women should have babies and stay at home. He cleaved to the unreconstructed rigors of alcoholism, Brooks Brothers, and homophobia. His biographer records an incident in which the novelist and his first wife were tussling over how to work the car heater. When she proved to be correct, he exploded, “Well, cut my penis off!”

On the subject of the article, the point that Katie Roiphe seems to be missing is that, far from being novels of virility, these are novels of deep, deep anxiety. Apart from the question of what women want, the question of why she would want men to have to return to that kind of anxiety is a profound one. If that mindset is to return, not only do women have to return to the old constraints, but men have to return to the old misery.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 1:29 PM on January 2, 2010 [21 favorites]


Can we ban English majors from writing and let people who speak real English write instead?

Baker wasn't an English major. His degree is in philosophy.

Most of the writers who are derided as "English majors" didn't major in English at all.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:41 PM on January 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


The problem is, I think, is that the kind of "sexual adventures" typified by Roth and Updike are simply dated.

That was the impression I had, to an extent, that the 60s allowed sexual conquistadors to give their behavior a veneer of anti-authoritarian free love. Today, there are male authors who can create sexually-minded male characters who, while you might not be entirely sympathetic with then, are at least not portrayed as Dionysian sex gods. Haruki Murakami, for one, can create refreshingly flawed yet not despicable "virile" male protagonists quite well.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:54 PM on January 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


That was the impression I had, to an extent, that the 60s allowed sexual conquistadors to give their behavior a veneer of anti-authoritarian free love.

More like, the 60s was a backlash to the repression of the 50s and the stress of the 40s and 30s.

In the 50s, all these soldiers who'd been off to war when they were just kids were now being encouraged to go home, marry the girls who'd been waiting for them, and get office jobs and be responsible family men. Picture it - one minute you're 18 and spending every day with a gun in your hand praying to God you don't get your brains shot out, then the next minute you're 21 or 22 and you're married and you're buying a gray flannel suit and the VA has sent you to live in Levittown, then the next thing you know you're 35 and you've got two kids and you're still married and all you all ever talk about with your friends is kids and illness, and then the next minute you're waking up and you're 38 and your own kids are 18 and talking about Free Love and you're thinking, "....wait a second, they look like they're having a damn blast -- what happened to MY chance to sow wild oats?"

Sometimes if you've been a good boy scout for too long, the pendulum really swings way far into the other side when you finally snap.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:13 PM on January 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


I was going to say that this a very regional, niche (new american lit) discussion but Murakami was thrown in as counterpoint. Would you read an essay like this on the Le Monde I wonder?
posted by lucia__is__dada at 2:13 PM on January 2, 2010


would you consider taking requests, jason's_planet?

No, ma'am. I cannot, for I am an Artiste. I reject the pressures of the marketplace and the vulgar, effete literary establishment. I remain faithful to my own aesthetic vision, even at great personal cost.

"Shearith stood outside the dragon's cave, her chainmail glinting in the morning sun. She could hear his rough breathing from deep within. Something stirred inside her. She was a veteran of hundreds of battles, no stranger to the swing of the double ax overhead and yet, she felt her knees buckle slightly as she considered what this new adventure would bring."

"She abruptly stirred from her reverie. There was the unmistakable scrape of a claw against the cave floor."

"The dragon had awakened."
posted by jason's_planet at 2:38 PM on January 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


the question of why she would want men to have to return to that kind of anxiety is a profound one.

excellent point!

Those movies seem, apart from their artistic merits, like total artifacts of their time. Updike strikes me the same way when I read him now, as does Richard Yates.

I think that Revolutionary Road was actually kind of nuanced, in that it's a folie a deux between April and Frank, and their despair & delusion are depicted equally. Frank has his affair, but there's something so obviously unpleasant and unredeeming about it. I guess Yates seems to be passing judgment on the characters in a way Roth and Updike don't - there's certainly no adventure there - just delusion.
posted by yarly at 2:44 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Most of the writers who are derided as "English majors" didn't major in English at all.

s/English majors/self-styled English purists who write stiltedly in an effort to sound educated/
posted by jock@law at 2:45 PM on January 2, 2010


"Literature" /= "reality."
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:07 PM on January 2, 2010


The failure of Roiphe to get beyond binary thinking about gender roles and human beings is her primary problem and shows the shallowness of her ideas (and IMO, reveals that the only reason she gets published is her usefulness as a weapon against feminism/breakdown of gender restraints/social control).

The idea that women, if they don't go for manly men who are nothing but barely-restrained violent rapists, must instead make do with men who are, well, women (the misogynist view of women), i.e., weak, incompetent/impotent, passive, and pitiable, is a hoary old cliche.

It's just more gender-policing, more of this neurotic/psychotic obsession with a definition of "manliness" that is really about maintaining the old hierarchies. Men are being warned; if they stop dominating, they will become womanly, impotent, and less-than. Because anything not "manly" is always inferior. And women are being told to gender-police, to not let men step out of this narrow role.

I mean, this shit was around in the 19th century, when cartoons against women's suffrage showed small weak effeminate men being carried around by big butch pants-wearing women, as a warning what would happen if you let women get the vote/rights.

As another shot to the head of this zombie idea, I'd like to mention the recent studies that showed that men who do more housework get more sex. Because it turns out lots of women actually like it when their partners aren't raging assholes, even find it sexy.
posted by emjaybee at 3:08 PM on January 2, 2010 [23 favorites]


Or does anyone think people have less (or cleaner, or more tender) sex than they used to?
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:12 PM on January 2, 2010


A simple fact: there are things (including books) that men like. There are other things (books, romance novels, films) that women like.

I had read the piece here posted early this morning in my paper, and I was impressed by the carefully made distinctions between Then and Now. I am not sure exactly what accounts for this but it is there.

ps: like those earlier authors or not; like the later writers or not, nothing can be as deeply
stupid and silly and worthless as the piece posted as comment titled Roth is an Asshole.
posted by Postroad at 3:18 PM on January 2, 2010


Or does anyone think people have less (or cleaner, or more tender) sex than they used to?
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:12 PM on January 2 [+] [!]


Yes, actually, the feminist backlash people blame feminism for the decline of macho sex all the time.
posted by yarly at 3:28 PM on January 2, 2010


Until I started reading MetaFilter, I would never have guessed that throwing books was something that apparently quite a lot of people would actually do. When I don't like a book, I generally just put it down.

Well, I was young. I felt bad, as I recall, because it was a library book and the spine was banged open a bit. I can only remember throwing one other book, but it was Camille Paglia's fault. Mailer's books are protected from being thrown -- it'd be like throwing a bowling ball, with ensuing property damage.*

She is an adolescent in that she mistakes what's infuriating to her mother (feminist novelist Anne Richardson Roiphe) for what's inherently good.

Aha! Now we see the violence inherent in the system. I understand that Alice Walker's daughter Rebecca is working in the same vein.

* I remember reading Ancient Evenings as a eleven-year-old or so, after rummaging around for books about Egypt. My mother would have thrown it if she'd known.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:28 PM on January 2, 2010


Unfortunately, the unholy spawn of Mailer and Roth turned out to be Laurell K Hamilton, and a generation of men just said, "Fuck it. You know what? - I'd rather just cuddle."
posted by Sparx at 3:39 PM on January 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


That Rage Against the Machine Blog writer is a fucking moron:

[Roth] is utterly incapable of the the most rudimentary forms of empathy and understanding that give a good writer the ability to capture human experience and emotion.

Complete opposite of the case. But it's nice that she can judge his 40 novel career based on just two of 'em. Fine, don't like his stuff--I can understand he's not for everyone... but that blanket statement is ignorant beyond belief. There's more empathy and understanding in the 175 pages of The Dying Animal than in most other writers entire outputs.

I've only ever thrown one book in my life (and I've read all of Roth's)--Paulo Coelho's Veronica Decides to Die. What a piece of shit.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 4:16 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's just more gender-policing, more of this neurotic/psychotic obsession with a definition of "manliness" that is really about maintaining the old hierarchies. Men are being warned; if they stop dominating, they will become womanly, impotent, and less-than. Because anything not "manly" is always inferior. And women are being told to gender-police, to not let men step out of this narrow role.

This bears repeating. Feminism: good for the vast majority of the human race.
posted by kersplunk at 5:00 PM on January 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I found Roth's The Breast in my dad's home library when I was eight, and read about as far as the part where part of his transformation into a breast included his penis becoming the nipple, before I put it back on the shelf. That image is still burned into my mind as one of the singularly weirder things I had ever read, and would read for a number of years. It's only 78 pages long, so it might be worth finishing if for no other reason than to know what he was trying to say with this.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:15 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


And by "his transformation" I mean the protagonist of the story; not my dad.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:18 PM on January 2, 2010


The older I get, the less patience I have with the young.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:29 PM on January 2, 2010


I can't believe some people are taking this terribly argued and uninformed rubbish so seriously. Roiphe, who clearly isn't reading much outside the mainstream literary canon, cherry-picks a few convenient examples to serve her thesis (Eggers, DFW, Benjamin Kunkel), while completely ignoring the considerable volumes of literature (written by men and women; I don't see why an author's gender should matter if this is essentially a generational argument) that continues to tackle daring or even absurd sexual topics. And if you can't even bother to mention the Bad Sex Award in an article that purports to probe into how fictional sex is now perceived by the public, then you simply haven't done your homework. Surely, how readers and critics perceive literature should factor into a piece that purports to deal with how "the heirs apparent have repudiated the aggressive virility of their predecessors." Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones, which took home this year's Bad Sex Award, certainly featured ridiculous sexual description, but I don't think Littell's "jolt that emptied my head like a spoon scraping the inside of a soft-boiled egg" could be called, in all seriousness, a repudiation -- given how that little episode went on for pages near the finale.

There are plenty of contemporary novelists taking chances with sexuality, if your reading tastes don't steer, as Roiphe's do, towards the vanilla. Brian Evenson's Last Days (2009) comes immediately to mind. There's a scene in which a mutilated woman strips before a self-mutilated clique. It is both a disturbing and an absurd scene, the rare literary moment that strikes an array of disparate emotions, but that says much about the way we objectify sex while creating a more surrealist Portnoyesque moment. But beyond this, has Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho been so quickly forgotten? What of the comic sexual embarrassment frequently found within Jonathan Ames's work? Or the uncomfortable sexuality explored in Rupert Thomson's The Book of Revelations? Or the disturbing sex often found within Iain Banks's work? (Or do we disqualify Thomson and Banks because they're British? I just don't follow the logic. Or must we conveniently elide them to serve this essay's sudoku-like approach, where one conveniently fills in this predetermined puzzle with numbers that line up.)

Roiphe's hysterical ignorance comes through like an insensitive investment banker running away from a vagrant when she throws David Foster Wallace into the "often repelled and uncomfortable when faced with a sexual situation" category. Hardly. You don't have to scratch DFW's oeuvre too hard. Unless, like Roiphe, the only fucking thing you've read of DFW is Infinite Jest. Take the title story of The Girl with Curious Hair, which features a young woman who permits a yuppie to set off matches on her skin (teaching the story lost Jan Richman her job a few years ago). And what of the unsettling sexual feelings contained within Brief Interviews with Hideous Men?

That all of this uninformed folderol, passed without a single editor looking into any of this, was printed in the ostensible Paper of Record reaffirms the crepuscular state of American cultural journalism, which has not seen vibrant daylight for some time. It is populated by vampires who cling to their jobs like passengers on the Titanic and who turn any remotely fresh talent into ground chuck. These marsupials aren't interested in thoughtful pieces. They're interested in names and phony controversy. And the hilarious thing is that Katie Roiphe, a vitiated dunce more noxious and backwards than her fellow XX misogynist Caitlin Flanagan, is still considered a name by these folks, who haven't had a handle on things since about 1991.
posted by ed at 5:56 PM on January 2, 2010 [38 favorites]


ed, you may read my favorite as the online equivalent of a standing ovation.

That fucking rocked.
posted by jason's_planet at 6:05 PM on January 2, 2010


The article is interesting for me in a lot of ways. Henry Miller and D H Lawrence, who they cite as precursors to Updike/Roth/Mailer, have always been much more interesting to me, but I never really thought about it in generational terms. I just thought they were better writers. But now I look at it, it's obvious to me that the worlds Miller and Lawrence (especially Miller) wrote about were more like my own than those 60s guys. The 60s guys are so privileged, so American, so of their culture, it never connected with me (I'm Canadian). However, I also sympathize with the sense that the worldview and the (non)sexualized characters represented by those 90s guys is incomplete—but I understand why it's like that, as pointed out in the article and comments above.

I'm a writer of fiction myself, and I feel like I'm still dealing with that stuff—the massive impact of 2nd-wave feminism on the cultural consciousness I've inherited, and that a lot of people I know have inherited. It's one of the reasons I feel like, even though I've never been in a relationship with a man, a significant amount of my relationship-related writing is about gay relationships. If I wrote about women in the graphic, aggressive, borderline-predatory way that I sometimes write about men, everyone I know—especially all the women—would think I was a misogynist. No one would talk to me. However, when I show my female friends stories I write about gay relationships between men, in which I feel like I don't have to hold back any brutality or selfishness, they praise them as “stark” and “honest,” and believe me to be a good writer and a good guy. (FWIW, this seems like an interesting force on my creative direction, and I don't resist or particularly resent it.) Likewise, they, my female friends, and the culture at large, are totally fine with the incredibly objectifying sexuality of a woman like Lorrie Moore, who is one of the most respected literary writers of her generation, and who consistently writes about men with whom the female protagonist is bored, dissatisfied, smarter than. The men are interchangeable props with dicks. When I talk to my female friends about this, they say “that's just how the world is now.” I spoke to my mother about Moore: she said (a little bit heartbreakingly): “After so much time being subject to patriarchy, maybe women feel like it's their time now.”

I think my mother is exactly right. I think a lot of women do feel like it's their time now. “The boys did it to us; now we'll do it to the boys.” Here at Metafilter, I hope I don't have to point out how fucked up that is. Obviously, I am not the boy that wrote that sexist stuff; nor are any of my male friends of my generation. The idea that women deserve “payback” on men is no more morally justified than the idea that the current generation of blacks of South Africa deserve payback on the whites their age; or that black descendants of slaves in America deserve payback on contemporary whites; or that contemporary Jews deserve payback on contemporary Germans. And yet, similar to how I hear stories of the rampant racism among my Jewish friends' grandparents, so it seems to me that the feeling that this casual, systemic vigilante payback is justified is reasonably widespread among the young women I know, many of whom are artists and writers, like myself. “What's the big deal?”, I hear when I sometimes bring this stuff up. “The patriarchy is still in full effect. We're just fighting back a little.”

To which I would reply, I fully support the right of any artist to create any kind of art they feel like making. I don't think Lorrie Moore, who is just the rarefied tip of the iceberg, should be censored; just like I don't think, eg., Antichrist should be censored. It's really the critical discourse that disappoints me. Any work of art with even vaguely misogynistic tendencies is, at least in liberal circles, shouted down from all angles, as it should be. However, art and writing today that is as massively misandrist as works from the heyday of misogynist art were misogynist get applauded for 'representing the perspective of women'. Which, as strange as it might seem, I believe is a good response to those works of art; however, I'd also like to see people point out their misandry.

The problem is that is misandrist representations of men make women feel powerful, just as misogynist representations of women make men feel powerful. Art that subjugates those of whom you are afraid—art that pumps up the protagonist with whom you identify to cartoonishly heroic stature—is very pleasing to consume. As morally destructive (to both the culture and the consumer) as I believe this kind of art is, I support its right to exist. I would, however, I feel a lot better if the critical reception of it in the popular discourse was a little more balanced.

With respect to the 90s male writers this article's about: they are uniformly very much of the mainstream American discourse, just as their 60s counterparts were, and they've also uniformly intentionally placed themselves there because they want to be a part of that particular conversation. Their writing was written for publication, and written, whether they'd admit to it or not, with a certain readership in mind, just as my writing is influenced by how I think my friends will think of me when it's public. As such, it seems pretty obvious to me that the somewhat sexually-innocent characters in Eggers, Wallace, et al, are only a result of those writers' personalities insofar as their personalities are cultivated reflections of the cultural landscape to which they imagine themselves to belong, and to which they have/had to tailor their expression in order to be accepted.

tl;dr: It's the culture, not the writers.
posted by skwt at 6:17 PM on January 2, 2010 [12 favorites]


I've thrown a fair bit of Bret Easton Ellis in my day, though now I'm old and wise enough not to pick it, or anything like it, up in the first place. I threw Glamorama down between the bed and the wall so that it could sit and think about what it did wrong for a few months before picking it up and putting it strategically on a shelf where there is a non-zero chance that it will get rained on. What a terrible book.

Maybe, if I may generalize, this book throwing is a proxy for going up and throttling the author. And all these insufferable asses who get published with their sexual hangups and violent revenge fantasies just hanging out there for the world to see and judge are just doing it for some form of absolution from their readers. Well, they're not getting any from me. I find them repulsive. Just like Ms. Roiphe. I won't make generalizations about culture, but just personally, I find erotic fantasies masquerading as literature fantastically boring and impute that the author is so gormless as to find his own sexual issues fantastic enough for publication. Really, I care about as much as about what he had for lunch. Actually, I shouldn't use a gendered pronoun here, all authors are subject to this criterion. I don't need additional information about people's sexual brains... I just need good words and stories and ideas and facts that I didn't have before.

And now back to my scheduled evening of wine and writing a post-humous letter to DFW.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 6:44 PM on January 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


and it's just such a relief. Whenever sex happens, he just writes, "An hour or so later, when they were putting their clothes back on..." and moves on with what he wants to say.

If you're relieved that nothing of consequence is said between those two points then I submit that, while you might yourself be doing it right, you're asking for it to be depicted wrong.
posted by Cyrano at 6:47 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't believe some people are taking this terribly argued and uninformed rubbish so seriously.

Well, ed, mostly I like to read Metafilter discussions on absurb rubbish so I can see posts like yours. Favorited.
posted by emjaybee at 6:51 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't see why an author's gender should matter if this is essentially a generational argument

Gender is critical to Roiphe's argument, though: her pearl-clutching is specifically about the state of the latest generation of mainstream American literary men, as they are the ones who have been, in her mind, emasculated by the feminist bogeywomen into a state of virtual sexlessness. (Note that the only female author named is Kate Millet, for Sexual Politics). It's a minor point in your argument, ed (which, by the way, is one of the better ferocious critiques on any topic I've read recently), but gender is foundational to Roiphe's short-sighted and misguided argument, because if gender isn't in play, she can't flog her favorite dead horse: the havoc wreaked by the fearsome feminists.
posted by EvaDestruction at 6:57 PM on January 2, 2010


I liked Glamorama. I think. By which I mean I finished it without feeling compelled to throw it against anything ... although I did feel like I'd been hit by something. Maybe I was just punch-drunk.
posted by philip-random at 7:42 PM on January 2, 2010


Maybe, if I may generalize, this book throwing is a proxy for going up and throttling the author.

I refained from throwing Magical Thinking because I wanted to be sure that if I did throw it, it would hit Augustin Burroughs square on his big bald head.
posted by The Whelk at 7:57 PM on January 2, 2010


The problem is that is misandrist representations of men make women feel powerful, just as misogynist representations of women make men feel powerful.

Like what? I can't think of a single truly misandrist work of art that's been a popular success in the last 30 years, but misogynist bullshit still sells like hotcakes. Who is the female equivalent of Tucker Max, for example? Who is the female equivalent of Steve Harvey?

If you compare the "oh ha ha men are all little boys who think with their dicks" Sex and the City-style patronizing (matronizing?) to the angry misogynist rantings of Roth and Mailer, you're comparing apples to really violent oranges.

I am no more in favor of "oh ha ha men are all little boys who think with their dicks" than I am in favor of "oh ha ha women love shoes and shopping and can't park a car and only have sex when they want something," but those are both sexist attitudinizing, not misogyny or misandry.

If we listed every book that was "oh ha ha women love shoes and shopping" as misogynist, guys would go nuts about how "women don't have a sense of humor" and "aren't there more important things to worry about?"

American Psycho is misogynist--it's about raping and killing women as self-actualization. Some pink book with a martini glass and a high heel on the cover that's all about how some lady's husband doesn't understand her so she has an affair with the cabana boy is sexist as fuck (and probably at least as much toward women as toward men), but it's not misandrist. Even if the husband is a stupid lout who never gives her an orgasm or takes out the trash, that's still not the same as glorifying rape and murder because women are evil suppurating cunts.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:17 PM on January 2, 2010 [8 favorites]


her pearl-clutching

Ooh, double-super-secret irony!

Fascinating to me (in that 'hey, not everyone is like me!' kind of way) is how many people posting here say that they find overt and explicit sexuality out of place and unwelcome in literature.

I'm out on the other end of that particular spectrum. It's through literature that I have a chance to glimpse, maybe even to understand slightly, the human experience. Sexuality is one very important part of that, and I want to read about it. Sometimes it's titillating, sometimes alarming, sometimes boring, but it's always interesting. I'm not saying that anyone else is reading wrong, or that your favorite book sucks. But seeing this discomfort makes much clearer to me the appeal of some of the writers who are popular but who I find uninteresting.

Since the article was about male writers, I don't think her inattention to female writers is a mistake. But I do think that the glaring absence is any discussion of gay male writers -- have their treatments of sexuality and sex changes as much, and in the same ways? In other words, is her argument about male sexuality, or about straight male sexuality?
posted by Forktine at 8:26 PM on January 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


American Psycho is misogynist--it's about raping and killing women as self-actualization.

Patrick Bateman, the principal character (and villain) in American Psycho, is a misogynist for whom raping and killing women is a form of self-actualization. The book itself is a little more difficult to pin down than that.
posted by philip-random at 8:32 PM on January 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


Likewise, they, my female friends, and the culture at large, are totally fine with the incredibly objectifying sexuality of a woman like Lorrie Moore, who is one of the most respected literary writers of her generation, and who consistently writes about men with whom the female protagonist is bored, dissatisfied, smarter than.

Help me out here--can you point to particular Moore characterizations that you take issue with? I can see how you might find her male characters slightly bland and slightly absent, but I don't see the misandry. In fact, the strongest common thread that I can see among her male characters is that they are mostly kind men--often in contrast with her female characters, who are generally depressed, cynical, caustic and self-absorbed.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 8:46 PM on January 2, 2010


Metafilter: you're comparing apples to really violent oranges.
posted by emjaybee at 8:52 PM on January 2, 2010


I picked up and read one of the Rabbit books in my teens, and unfortunately I didn't throw it against the wall. The end result is I was left with a massive distaste for literature as such. Now whenever I think of picking up a book that the New York Times Review of Books recommends, I hear a little voice in the back of my head saying "It'll be just like "Run Rabbit Run", and I immediately retreat back to the genre fiction shelves.

So the problem really isn't the sexuality of any particular generation, it's that John Updike is allowed to publish things that might be read by impressionable young minds.
posted by happyroach at 9:06 PM on January 2, 2010


Against a wall? I threw a copy of Madame Bovary right out the window and let it lie in the yard until it dissolved under the ministrations of the Vancouver rain.

About Roth I can say little other than when I was about 12 my parents left a copy of Portnoy's Complaint lying around the house, which I of course read, and that for a number of years thereafter I suspected all my male teenage friends of masturbating with and onto raw liver.
posted by jokeefe at 9:52 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Roth: (ḕ•⸁⸑⸁•ḕ)

Eggers: (づ。◕‿‿◕。)づ
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:58 PM on January 2, 2010


Like what? I can't think of a single truly misandrist work of art that's been a popular success in the last 30 years, but misogynist bullshit still sells like hotcakes. Who is the female equivalent of Tucker Max, for example? Who is the female equivalent of Steve Harvey?

You know, you're right, I was equivocating between misogyny/andry and “sexist attitudinizing,” which is a better phrase for what I'm talking about. What I'm talking about is more mild: it's more Sex and the City. That's the thing it seems to me that Lorrie Moore is the uptown version of. So you're right, it's not a problem on the scale of Roth/Mailer (although I agree with philip-random that American Psycho is a complicated case in that on one level it's obviously “supposed” to be satire/an allegory about yuppie culture); my rhetoric was overblown.

However, if we can agree that Lorrie Moore objectifies men approximately as much as say, Henry Miller objectifies women (or that there are enough similarities present that it's reasonably debatable), my problem is that when I try to talk about that with my female friends, the response is often not “That's interesting, how so?” or “I know, I noticed that too,” but something closer to “Well, even if that's true, it's our time now!”

It seems that generally, among the girls I know, even the ones who have never cracked a feminist book or blog in their lives, it's understood that All Sexist Attitudinizing Is A Very Bad Thing when it comes to men's of women; but the same complaint in reverse is met with blank stares, defensiveness, and/or historical tit-for-tat justifications.

So, maybe I don't have very understanding friends, I don't know. I'm interested in hearing other opinions.


Help me out here--can you point to particular Moore characterizations that you take issue with?

Pretty much every story in Birds of America, if I recall correctly, although I don't have a copy in front of me. It just seems to me that every man in that book is an idiot who never gets the jokes of the female protag, and is described as like "an actor," and the reader is supposed to assume he's a total flake.
posted by skwt at 10:12 PM on January 2, 2010


I really like Updike, especially his Rabbit novels and short stories, mostly because his writing is so real and documents what life can be like. In terms of his attitude towards women, it's also just one point of view.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:35 AM on January 3, 2010


This whole thread seems to assume that writers all write characters who are like themselves, and glorify them. Which would be awful in any generation, and I know that some of these guys skirt that. But both Roiphe's essay and the attacks on it might be better if they talked about how flawed characters are the norm in literature, and generally much more interesting.
posted by msalt at 12:44 AM on January 3, 2010


However, if we can agree that Lorrie Moore objectifies men approximately as much as say, Henry Miller objectifies women

Until she starts having multiple-page scenes where she and her friends pay a male prostitute to let them piss up his ass as a beginning point for the evening's sexual hijinks, no, actually, I don't think we can agree that Moore and Miller are on the same page regarding objectification. I'm sure you could say that her characters sometimes fit into stereotypical roles, and she isn't always digging for the positive in some of her male portrayals, but dude -- Miller? Really?

It seems that generally, among the girls I know, even the ones who have never cracked a feminist book or blog in their lives, it's understood that All Sexist Attitudinizing Is A Very Bad Thing when it comes to men's of women; but the same complaint in reverse is met with blank stares, defensiveness, and/or historical tit-for-tat justifications.

So, maybe I don't have very understanding friends, I don't know. I'm interested in hearing other opinions.


I think that either you have some pretty shallow friends, or you are seeing evidence for something that is maybe more nuanced in reality. Yes, women now have the option of going out with their girlfriends and hooting at naked men on stage and talking loudly in raunchy terms about cute guys. But the overall culture is still more "Girls Gone Wild" than it is "Cougar Ranch" -- there is still a thousand times more objectification of women than there is of men, and the objectification of men rarely is as nasty and violence-driven as is the objectification of men.
posted by Forktine at 6:10 AM on January 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


The best book on male sexuality ever. And he's of the generation between the Roth and Mailers and the Eggers et al.
posted by jonmc at 7:16 AM on January 3, 2010


But the overall culture is still more "Girls Gone Wild" than it is "Cougar Ranch" -- there is still a thousand times more objectification of women than there is of men, and the objectification of men rarely is as nasty and violence-driven as is the objectification of men.

To me, this smacks of: “What's the big deal?”, I hear when I sometimes bring this stuff up. “The patriarchy is still in full effect. We're just fighting back a little.” What you say is true; however, it's exactly the defensiveness I'm talking about. The fact that male of objectification if women exists does not excuse or justify the female objectification of men.

Until she starts having multiple-page scenes. . .

This is unfair. Their styles are totally different, so the way their objectification works is totally different. Miller describes lots of graphic, casual sex (although I don't recall anything even close to what you describe except in Under The Roofs Of Paris, a book he wrote as dollar-a-page porn), although never with the cold disdain of Roth, it seems to me. On the other hand, Moore's protags just drip with disdain for their boyfriends. But it goes beyond that: even the minor male characters, if they have a bit of dialog, are bumbling idiots. It's to a point where Moore's whole view of men starts to seem like "I hate them." On the first hand, I never got that sense with Miller. Miller's alter-ego, or whatever you wants to call it, leaves his wife, but he also falls in love with women, and does multi-page rants just as long and enthusiastic on the amazingness of those women as his sex passages. I've read about half the total works of both authors, so I could be missing things, but these are my impressions.
posted by skwt at 10:44 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


The fact that male of objectification if women exists does not excuse or justify the female objectification of men.

No, but the scope of the former (systemic throughout society) somewhat trivializes the latter (Fabio on a book jacket).
posted by Sys Rq at 10:56 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


However, if we can agree that Lorrie Moore objectifies men approximately as much as say, Henry Miller objectifies women

I've never read anything by Lorrie Moore but I did have a Henry Miller thing going for a while, particularly his later stuff (ie: not the rocks off sensationalism of the Tropics) which, in the end, were a lot more about love than sex. In particular, the conclusion of NEXUS comes to mind, wherein a friend tries to engage Miller in helping him woo a young woman he's got the hots for. As I remember it, Miller finally just tells the guy shut the fuck up and proceeds to tell him (for a few pages) what LOVE really is:

It's something that once felt will NEVER go away; it's a permanent pleasure/affliction even if its "object" has never returned it, perhaps never even known that you felt it for her/him; it's something that changes you fundamentally, forever, a strange and mystical suffering that was never necessary but you could never have known that if you hadn't first suffered it; it's the Rosy Crucifixion.
posted by philip-random at 11:13 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


However, if we can agree that Lorrie Moore objectifies men approximately as much as say, Henry Miller objectifies women

What Forktine said, basically--I don't think you'll find many people who do agree that Lorrie Moore is a female Henry Miller, or that she objectifies men to an equal degree. She writes about husbands, brothers, sons, fathers, lovers, friends, and men in relationships together--that is, she casts men in a wide variety of roles. The men in Birds of America, which you mentioned, include a Fulbright winner, a constitutional law professor, a scholar who is "finishing the second draft of a study of First World imperialism's impact on Third World monetary systems," an Afrikaner novelist (based on J.M. Coetzee), a screenwriter, an ex-anarchist, and a lawyer addicted to Trivial Pursuit. She often includes a male friend in a story who is the protagonist's "joke partner," and their scenes together consist entirely of the two characters trading quips, which puts them on a fairly level footing. Her male characters have faults, certainly, and are sometimes backgrounded or a little flat, but they are written as plausible human beings, a status which the women in the books we've been discussing often never reach. If you're getting blank stares when you cite Lorrie Moore as the female equivalent of a Roth, a Mailer, an Updike, or a Miller, it may be because you're not making a credible comparison.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 12:31 PM on January 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you're getting blank stares when you cite Lorrie Moore as the female equivalent of a Roth, a Mailer, an Updike, or a Miller, it may be because you're not making a credible comparison.

Beautifully put, and absolutely true.

When we're talking about misogyny in the American novel, we're not talking about "oh women are silly and only worry about interior decorating and don't get our jokes." We're talking about a portrayal of women as non-persons, as disposable cum receptacles to be mocked at best, killed at worst.

Sexism is thinking that people of another sex or gender are silly. Misogyny and misandry are thinking that people of another sex or gender are not actually people.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:04 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


No, but the scope of the former (systemic throughout society) somewhat trivializes the latter (Fabio on a book jacket)

Right, fine, I agree. But so what, I'm not allowed to talk about it because it's a lesser problem? It impacts me personally quite strongly. I'm more of a feminist than a lot of my female friends. All I'm asking for is a little mutual support.

If perhaps my comparisons aren't exactly equal or that my rhetoric is a little overblown, consider how hard it is to make a point that no one seems to want to hear. In my opinion, that's the reason why so much second-wave feminist rhetoric was overblown and too extreme, like "all sex is rape" and "there are no differences between the sexes." Now that the climate is a bit different, in part thanks to those thinkers, feminist arguments can afford to be more nuanced. I'm definitely not saying that the position women were in in the 60s/70s was anything like the position men are in now. But I understand what it feels like to try to talk about being made to feel objectified by a work of art, and being told "Shut up, look how good you have it."
posted by skwt at 2:19 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


But so what, I'm not allowed to talk about it because it's a lesser problem?

I'm allowed to be all concerned about viruses for Macs (analogy: misandry in modern novels by women), even though there are what, maybe one or two? Certainly I've never had to run anti-virus programs on my macs, at any rate. But I'm allowed to be as concerned about it as I want; that's my right, certainly.

But if my concern is computer viruses that actually impact people (analogy: sexism in general), then I'd better spend my energy on actual computer viruses (mostly Windows and maybe Unix, right?). Certainly virus threats to Macs are part of that problem, but it's a small part of it, and one that is a lot less pressing than the latest worm making its way through my friends' PCs.

Sure, it's a silly analogy, and I'm enough of a dunce about computer security (as I'm allowed to be, from my Mac tower of privilege) that it could even be totally wrong. But the reality is, women are objectified in nasty and constant ways in literature; men are occasionally stereotyped and somewhat unsympathetically portrayed. If sexism in literature is a problem that you want to address, start with where it is really bad, and work your way towards the Fabio covers.
posted by Forktine at 2:29 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm more of a feminist than a lot of my female friends. All I'm asking for is a little mutual support.

Calling sexism against men "misandry" and comparing Lorrie Moore's "men are bland dopes" to Norman Mailer's "women are animals who need to be fucked and/or killed" isn't going to get it for you. Not from me, anyway.

Yes, female objectification of men is bad, just as female objectification of women is bad and male objectification of men is bad and male objectification of women is bad and the objectification of and by genderqueer and intersex people is bad.

Now it's your turn.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:50 PM on January 3, 2010


second-wave feminist rhetoric was overblown and too extreme, like "all sex is rape"

I think we covered this on MeFi pretty recently but I'm having trouble finding it. Here's this, in the meantime.

skwt, you sound like a good guy. Consider this a friendly heads up that many women won't take your feminist credentials seriously if you throw that quotation around.
posted by naoko at 5:46 PM on January 3, 2010


But if my concern is computer viruses that actually impact people

Listen to yourself. I'm telling you that the way Lorrie Moore writes impacts me negatively. I think I've laid it out pretty clearly. I'm not saying I want people to stop caring about sexism against women. I'm saying that it would be nice if, when I talk about how sexism against men impacts me, I weren't met with analogies whose goal it is to illustrate how the problem I'm telling you I face doesn't actually exist, or is so insignificant that only a paranoid freak would be concerned about it. I find that analogy pretty offensive and hurtful.

If sexism in literature is a problem that you want to address

Sexism in literature is a problem I want to address, but I don't see why I shouldn't spend at least some energy on the kind that impacts me most directly. There's a quote I saw once, I can't remember where, that goes something like: "if you pity me, I don't need your help, but if your fight is my fight, let's take up arms together." While in theory this seems a bit counterproductive, I recognise the practical reality that maybe the people best suited to fight wrongs against a certain group are members of that group themselves, not only because they best understand it, but because they're motivated by their own self-interest. I don't think I've said anything even approaching the idea that sexism against women should be ignored or isn't important. I apologize if my comparisons implicitly trivialized sexism against women. I just find it hard for this message to be heard.

I think we covered this on MeFi pretty recently

Yeah, I know what you're referring to, that guy getting multiply called out for misattributing it to I think Steinem and not Dworkin. As I say, I'm sorry if my rhetoric is sloppy, but I've had a hard time trying to be heard on this. As an aside, even though Dworkin may not have actually said or meant that, it was an idea that was picked up by the culture regardless of her intentions. I know people who have gone through periods where they believed it.
posted by skwt at 8:00 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sexism in literature is a problem I want to address, but I don't see why I shouldn't spend at least some energy on the kind that impacts me most directly.

I suppose there's a difference between saying "literature that I consider sexist towards men is hurtful to me" and "literature that I consider sexist towards men is just as great a societal evil as sexism against women". No one will begrudge you righting wrongs you see committed upon you. I think the argument in this thread is that sexism against men in literature, while it does exist, has not done nearly the same amount of damage, is not nearly as deeply ingrained in our culture, and is not continuing to hold the genders apart to the extent that sexism against women in literature does. Therefore, if we want mutual respect and equality between the genders, sexism towards women would be the more pertinent problem to address.

Think of it this way: when it comes to any social injustice, they're all bad, of course, but human beings have always organized different types of injustice in terms of degrees. A man who steals a purse does not get the same sentence in court that a man who killed nine people with a shotgun in a McDonald's would. Addressing the severity of the damage that one social injustice does does not dismiss the damage done by other forms of social injustice. It's simply a recognition of the scale, the greatness of its impact.

This is not, of course, to belittle how sexism towards men affects you, personally. It's obviously hurtful and damaging to you. But I think whenever these discussions come up, it's important to have in mind the scale of the injustice we're talking about, in order to address our social ills as accurately as possible.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:16 PM on January 3, 2010


I find that analogy pretty offensive and hurtful.

Well, my intention wasn't to be hurtful, much less offensive, and I'm sorry if that's how it came across.

I'll be honest, though. My first reaction is that sexism against men, in contemporary literature written by women, is a really, really minor issue. I'm not saying that it's nonexistent, just that it is a vanishingly rare element in books that I've read.

But having said that, I'm totally open to being enlightened on this, and am willing to believe that I've just been reading over misandry without noticing it. Could you point to other examples of this by other critically-acclaimed writers?

I suspect that worse than being hurtful was my initial reaction of dismissal. So I'm stepping back and am genuinely open to getting a new perspective on this if the evidence supports it.
posted by Forktine at 8:43 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Okay, this thread is making me crazy, and I think I have to quit it. I'm genuinely thankful though for you guys engaging with me. I see how some ways I was talking about it before were wrong and counterproductive and distracted from the problems of my own I was trying to express. I also appreciate MSTPT's point that even if I'm being self-interested, "sexism against men in literature . . . is not continuing to hold the genders apart to the extent that sexism against women in literature does."

Forktine, I appreciate the willingness to build bridges. Moore is certainly the most critically-acclaimed; other stuff that comes to mind off the top of my head is more like Sex and the City type stuff. You're right, everyone's right, that comparatively, it is a minor issue. Thanks for taking me to task on my expression of it.
posted by skwt at 9:23 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Moving away from canon, I'd just like to add Clive Barker's Imajica and China Miéville's Perdido Street Station for their positive, gender-bending interspecies depictions of sex. The former, especially, is a book almost obsessed with sex and the phallus, which begins as almost harlequin in its depiction of gender roles, and deconstructs itself as the book goes on, terminating with a rejection of traditional masculinity and male gender. Not to say it isn't problematic!
posted by mek at 11:19 PM on January 3, 2010


Against a wall? I threw a copy of Madame Bovary right out the window...

I loved this!

You... were being ironic and making an obscure literary reference to a passage in Madame Bovary, right....?
posted by jock@law at 5:43 AM on January 4, 2010


Possibly. But sadly, the hurling of MB did actually take place on a summer's day circa 1989. Sorry to disappoint.

I've also thrown Tom Robbins and Heinlein across the room too, but there wasn't a window at the end of those trajectories.
posted by jokeefe at 7:53 AM on January 4, 2010


There is a famous part of Madame Bovary that does, in fact, involve ejecting the written word out of a window. And to bring it full circle to this discussion, it was as a symbol of orgasm at the end of a very graphic but very symbolic and implicit depiction of sex. Even though you might not have meant your comment that way, I'm gonna keep reading it that way, because it's too delectably (if unintentionally) clever not to.
posted by jock@law at 8:44 AM on January 4, 2010


This essay was a wake-up call: people still don't understand that Portnoy's Complaint is satire?
posted by grobstein at 1:40 PM on January 4, 2010


I don't believe there's such a thing as "sexism against women." (Before anyone knee-jerks, please read on. I definitely believe that many women are subject to daily unfairness and ill-treatment.) I think "sexism against women" is a convenient phrase that doesn't actually point to anything tangible.

Let me clarify and say that I DO believe that many men (and women) believe that women are inferior to men -- and they ill-treat women because of that view. And that's terrible. There is a pervasive prejudiced dogma in our culture and we need to eradicate it. We need to deal with the attitude, because it's a cause -- maybe the main cause -- of the unfairness.

Put bluntly, too many people think it's okay to treat female people badly, and we need to devote huge amounts of resources to deal with that problem. The PROBLEM is that a lot of PEOPLE are being treated unfairly. The CAUSE is warped attitudes towards women.

Let's say that I an employer and 100 of my employees are women. If I pay them less than my male employees, then we can definitely say that I am being unfair to Alice, Jennifer, Amy, Margaret, Susan and so on. We can say that with confidence, because we can point to each one of those women as they hold up their paychecks.

We can also make a very good guess that I am unfair to them because they are women. Let's take all ambiguity away and say that I'm honest about it: "I don't like women, so I pay my female employees less than my male employees."

Now we know that, due to my views about women, I pay Alice, Jennifer, Amy, etc. less than I pay their male colleagues. We are still squarely in the realm of objects that we can point to and and clearly stated (or easily inferred) agendas.

I am not doing anything to "women," because there's no such object as women.

My actions might prompt other CEOs to act in the same terrible way. Maybe I'll start (or further) a trend. This is not a trend that affects women. It's a trend that affects Sarah, Cindy, Arlene, Michelle, Leslie, etc. BECAUSE they are women.

Why is it wrong to do what I'm doing?

Because it's wrong to treat people unfairly and I am treating people unfairly. Those people happen to be women and I'm treating them unfairly because they are women, but I am still not treating "women" unfairly. I am treating specific people unfairly. Specific people with specific allergies and specific shoes and specific pets...

It is wrong to treat a person unfairly.

If there are two people and I treat them both unfairly, it is not more wrong to treat the first person unfairly than it is to treat the second person unfairly. It is equally wrong to treat BOTH people unfairly.

WHY I'm treating them unfairly or how-we-group-the-people-I'm-treating-unfairly (e.g. into a group called "women") ONLY matters if it helps stop the unfairness. In other words, if it will bring about less unfairness in the world to say "Grumblebee is treating women unfairly," then we should do that. It's a nuts-and-bolts issue.

But that doesn't change the fact that the actual unfairness was delt to specific people.

Let's say we fine me for being "unfair to women." I figure that I can afford only a certain number of fines. So I start treating most of my female employees fairly. But because I hate women and can afford a few small fines, I figure it's worth giving up SOME cash to indulge my misogyny. Of my 100 female employees, I now treat 98 of them fairly -- all of them except for Laura and Vicky.

As head of the Stop Unfairness To Women Foundation, you decide to stop pestering me and start pestering Cortex, who runs another company. He has 1000 female employees and he is unfair to all of them. Your foundation has limited resources, so you make the choice to move on from trying to stop injustice at my company to trying to stop it at Cortex's company.

I think that's a wise choice. However, it does NOTHING for Laura and Vicky. They are still people who are treated unfairly by Grumblebee. They are not being treated a little less unfairly because their group -- women -- is being treated a little less unfairly.

If an individual man, George, is suffering because he's being treated unfairly -- maybe due to sexism -- that is WRONG. It is not less wrong than the women who are being treated unfairly. Because "women" aren't being treated unfairly. People -- Laura, Vicky and George -- are being treated unfairly.

We are now going to have to do something terrible but necessary. We are going to have to say, "George, we're very sorry, but we're not going to try to alleviate your suffering. We agree that you're being treated unfairly, but we have limited resources. More women are being treated unfairly then men -- and we're lumping you in with the group of men (whether you consider that your group or not) -- and choosing to help the women, instead. Because life, money, political clout, empathy, sympathy and mental energy are short."

I am not making fun of this statement. I do the same thing. What else can any of us do?

But it's Sophie's Choice.

It makes me feel terrible to ignore anyone's suffering, so it's very tempting for me to justify doing that -- to say "I'm ignoring George because he's a man, and his group hasn't been treated as badly than women have." George may or may not see himself as a member of that group, but I'm tired and I have to let that be his problem.

I refuse to engage in the lie that injustice towards one person is worse than injustice towards another person. I must live with my guilt that I spend more time righting one wrong than I do another. I am acting badly, but I don't see that I have a choice.

Let's call things what they are.
posted by grumblebee at 4:43 PM on January 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've also thrown Tom Robbins and Heinlein across the room too

You are considerably stronger than your pictures would have led me to believe! [NOT SEXIST]
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:24 PM on January 4, 2010


Pfft. Under the graying hair and tending towards stout (okay, fine, let's just say well-padded) figure are the muscles of a jungle cat! Nay, a lioness, tossing around male authors with abandon! My displeasure is a thing to behold, so it's best if we both agree that although I may look deceptively like a middle-aged woman, the vengeful ninja of my true nature is just below the surface.
posted by jokeefe at 12:59 PM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


The PROBLEM is that a lot of PEOPLE are being treated unfairly. The CAUSE is warped attitudes towards women.

grumblebee, I have enormous amounts of respect for you, but I don't see what you're getting at here. This is different from sexism how?
posted by jokeefe at 1:00 PM on January 5, 2010


Sorry I wasn't clear. Here's my point.

When there's a lot of concern over a particular group that's being treated unfairly, someone inevitably pops up and says, "Hey, what about me? I'm being treated unfairly, too! Why don't you care about me?" Sometimes the person who is doing that is being sneaky. He's trying to steal focus from the real group that's in need of help. But that's not always the case. Sometimes he really is being treated unfairly.

My ethics say this: if I treat two people with equal amounts of unfairness (e.g. if I hit both of them), both of my acts are equally bad. There's no way my unfairness to person A is more unfair than my unfairness to person B.

If I am equally unfair to Alice and Bill, then I am doing two equal wrongs.

Yet what I hear all the time is "No, Bill, what's been done to you is NOT as bad as what's been done to Alice. Because Alice is a women. And, historically, women have been treated more unfairly then men."

What you're doing if you say that is forcing both Bill and Alice into categories that they may not have chosen for themselves. Bill might not identify as a man; Alice might not identify as a woman. History tells of the perils of classifying people against their will.

Repeatedly, throughout my life, I have been told things like, "If you -- a man -- think you're a victim of sexism, then talk to other men about it. If that's really an issue, then men need to organize and do something about it." Except I'm not a man. I have male genitalia, but I don't self-identify as a member of a group called "men."

(I also don't think of you as a member of a group called "women." You, of course, are free to think of yourself that way. If you are ever treated unfairly, and you ask me how I feel about it, I'll tell you I think it's horrible. It's horrible because you, a person, are being treated unfairly. It's not a problem because "a woman" is being treated unfairly.)

Let me be clear in saying that I think it's VERY important that we deal with the embedded, institutionalized cultural habit of sexism. If you think I'm saying sexism doesn't exist, that's not what I'm saying. If you think I'm saying it's less important to deal with than something else, that's not what I'm saying either. In my opinion, the top three problems we face as a planet are The Environment, Racism and Sexism. To me, no other problems come close. I'm deeply concerned about those three.

My guess is that I'm being confusing because I'm saying (a) I don't like it when men speak up and are told "Go away! You don't have a real problem the way we do; and (b) we shouldn't spend as much effort dealing with sexism against men as we do dealing with sexism against women. Does that sound like a contradiction? It isn't. I'm saying I think some men DO have a very real problem. I'm also saying, "Sorry. That sucks, but we're not going to do anything about it."

If you -- a female -- are being treated unfairly, the REASON you're being treated unfairly may be sexism. And so we need to stop that reason. But the sexism that is hurting you is not hurting some entity called "women." There's no such thing. There are only individual people.

There are way more problems in the world than we can deal with all at once. We have limited resources. This is why, when there's a discussion about sexism, and a guy speaks up and says, "Hey, I'm a victim, too," we need to push him away. BUT THERE'S ONLY ONE ETHICAL REASON TO PUSH HIM AWAY, AND I ALMOST NEVER HEAR THAT REASON STATED.

I never hear this: "Sorry guy, it sucks to be you, but we don't have time to deal with your problems right now. We have limited resources, and the smartest way of fighting unfairness is to put all our resources into fighting sexism against women, because that's going to help the most people -- people, not women."

Instead, I hear people tell the guy that he's making things up, he doesn't know what it REALLY feels like to be treated unfairly, he is trying to steal focus or, that his "group" hasn't been treated as unfairly as some other group. (And if he doesn't see himself as being a member of that group, well, that's too bad, because we do.)

I have a lot of sympathy for that sort of justification, horrible as it is. It's sucks to make Sophie's Choices. If you can only save one child from a burning building, you're going to have an overwhelming desire to justify the reason you left the other one behind in some way that doesn't make you look bad.

I don't think I've ever heard ANYONE say, "Sorry, we don't have the resources to help you," yet that's a very common reason why people don't get helped. It takes backbone to be honest about it.

Bottom line: it hurts me whenever someone says, "I'm suffering" and gets rebuffed with no sympathy. That's horrible, horrible, horrible. It makes me sick to my stomach. We can't always help everyone, but at least we can say, "You're a fellow human, and I see that you're suffering. I'm sorry I can't help, but I feel for you."
posted by grumblebee at 8:17 PM on January 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Except I'm not a man. I have male genitalia, but I don't self-identify as a member of a group called "men."

You are conflating self-identification and how one is perceived by others. I could choose to call myself black and maybe I'd even believe it -- but taxis are still going to stop for me, because the way I'm treated (be that discrimination or privilege) has everything to do with how others see me and almost nothing to do with how I self-identify.

So I'm happy for you that you are able to transcend, in your head, categories like "man" and "woman" and so on. But you are still treated well or poorly based on other people's perceptions of those categories, and for better or worse that's the way the world works.

But the sexism that is hurting you is not hurting some entity called "women." There's no such thing. There are only individual people.

I disagree, and I think you are playing (though quite obviously in earnest) semantic games here. Even as individuals, we are treated sometimes as members of groups. (The easy example is slavery -- a person perceived as "white" could own a person perceived as "black," regardless of any self-identification. Our current society is less stark, but still categorizes and allocates by perceived group.)

So sexism certainly hurts individual people. But it also hurts categories, or groups, of people. Those are not contradictory statements. And it can be really complicated -- Margaret Thatcher attained high political office at a time when, by and large, those paths remained closed to women-as-a-group. The lack of opportunities for women played a role in creating an opening for one woman.
posted by Forktine at 8:32 PM on January 8, 2010


You are conflating self-identification and how one is perceived by others.

No.

From my post:

- I also don't think of you as a member of a group called "women." You, of course, are free to think of yourself that way. [There I make a DISTINCTION between the way I think of someone and the way they (may) think about themselves.]

- And if he doesn't see himself as being a member of that group, well, that's too bad, because we do. [Same distinction.]

I could choose to call myself black and maybe I'd even believe it -- but taxis are still going to stop for me, because the way I'm treated (be that discrimination or privilege) has everything to do with how others see me and almost nothing to do with how I self-identify.

I agree 100%. I think I have made a massive failure to communicate. I can't even imagine disagreeing with this.

you are still treated well or poorly based on other people's perceptions of those categories

Agreed, which is why I said, "the REASON you're being treated unfairly may be sexism. And so we need to stop that reason."


Even as individuals, we are treated sometimes as members of groups.


Agreed. As I said in my post, "if he doesn't see himself as being a member of that group, well, that's too bad, because we do."

You didn't say anything about my main point, which is: Bottom line: it hurts me whenever someone says, "I'm suffering" and gets rebuffed with no sympathy. That's horrible, horrible, horrible. It makes me sick to my stomach. We can't always help everyone, but at least we can say, "You're a fellow human, and I see that you're suffering. I'm sorry I can't help, but I feel for you."

With deep sadness (because I think this is so important), I am going to quit posting here, because I have twice failed to be clear, and I don't know how to be clearer. I blame no one else. The failure is all mine. I am available via memail.
posted by grumblebee at 6:37 AM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


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