(I) Mean (All) Girls

I heard Tina Fey on Fresh Air today. She was talk­ing about a scene where her char­ac­ter Liz tries to con­vince a new writer, Abby, that she doesn’t have to use a baby voice to get ahead. “You can drop the sexy baby act. And you can use your real voice.”

This is my real voice, and I this isn’t an act. I am sexy, baby. Get used to it.”

Tina goes on to to say, “That, to me, was what the sto­ry was about, that it’s just such a tan­gled-up issue, the way wom­en present them­selves. Whether or not they choose to, you know, as I say, put their thumbs in their panties on the cov­er of Max­im. And the way wom­en judge each oth­er back and forth for it. It’s a com­pli­cat­ed issue…”

She also men­tioned the dif­fi­cult reac­tion Olivia Munn had received for hav­ing sexy pub­lic­i­ty pho­tos tak­en for her work on The Dai­ly Show. “If she were kind of an aggres­sive, kind of heav­ier girl with a, you know, Le Tigre mus­tache, pos­ing in her under­pants, peo­ple would be like : That’s amaz­ing, good for you. But because she is very beau­ti­ful, peo­ple are like : That’s — you’re using that. It’s just a mess. We can’t fig­ure it out.”

This isn’t new. I’ve heard wom­en com­plain for years about how their harsh­est crit­ics are oth­er wom­en. My most recent ex-wife is beau­ti­ful in a strik­ing way, and more than once I’ve over­heard her friends swear at her under their breath when she walks in the room before giv­ing her a warm wel­come.

Books have been writ­ten, stud­ies com­mis­sioned, class­es taught to explain this Janu­sian behav­ior in wom­en. From the idea that some wom­en have more testos­terone, which makes them more accept­ed by men and less tol­er­ant of a domes­tic life — and which makes them loathed by all the wom­en who have more estro­gen — to the notion that the fem­i­nist rev­o­lu­tion wasn’t pow­er­ful enough to remain vital among wom­en over time, which reminds me of col­lege lec­tures about how the Mex­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion petered out as it hit the jun­gles south of Oax­a­ca. What is in those jun­gles that makes it so hard for the ide­als of fem­i­nism to take hold ? Shoe trees ? Rivers full of skin­ny water ? I nev­er real­ly bought the­se expla­na­tions, but I didn’t have one of my own that was any bet­ter.

But then the oth­er day I was catch­ing up with a friend who is a ter­ri­fic writer and a new mom. She was telling me about a younger male cowork­er who hits on her and who she believes needs help for his sex­u­al “addic­tion”. “It’s revolt­ing. He always talks about ‘bang­ing’ chicks. I always feel so bad for the girl in that equa­tion.”

Absent­mind­ed­ly, I said some­thing like, “Unless she likes it, of course.”

Non­sense. Any wom­an who claims to enjoy sex with­out hav­ing the goal of falling love is delu­sion­al and I can guar­an­tee you she was molest­ed.”

I was pret­ty tak­en aback by that. There wasn’t much use in argu­ing the point since I’m not a wom­an and couldn’t prove to her sat­is­fac­tion that’s so wrong it’s com­i­cal. But lat­er that nigh it struck me how often my wom­en friends explain their feel­ings about a sub­ject by speak­ing for all wom­en.

Hey do you want to go with me to the gun range and shoot some rounds,” I asked one of my wom­en friends. She had nev­er done it before and had no inter­est, which was fine, but instead of say­ing no, she said, “I’m a girl. Girls don’t shoot guns for fun, David. That’s a part of the man-penis-indus­tri­al com­plex,” which I have to admit is a great line. 

Of course wom­en shoot. Even some of her friends shoot, but she doesn’t real­ly acknowl­edge that, or she’ll make a qual­i­fi­ca­tion like, “Of course Katri­na has a gun. She was car­jacked when she first moved to LA.” But that is an excep­tion that proves her rule. I could explain that the shoot­ing range is packed with wom­en on their lunch break who like to let off a lit­tle steam, that shoot­ing a pis­tol is actu­al­ly ther­a­peu­tic and relax­ing. But there is no use in say­ing any­thing like that because there is noth­ing a man can say to con­vince a wom­an she doesn’t speak for all wom­en.

When Oskar was a baby, I often took him with me on errands around town. I can’t remem­ber how many times I was stopped in the mar­ket or at the car wash by wom­en who were con­vinced I was hold­ing him wrong or had swad­dled him incor­rect­ly. “How do you know?” I learned to ask, after hear­ing some­thing like that more than a dozen times.

It’s a wom­an thing. We just know,” they’d say. Nev­er mind that I’ve been a father three times and have changed count­less dia­pers, can swad­dle in my sleep, and know how my sons like to be held so that they are calm and com­fort­able. Nev­er mind that I know many wom­en who would find hold­ing an infant to be nerve wrack­ing and unpleas­ant.

I think why “it’s a com­pli­cat­ed issue” for wom­en like Tina Fey is that wom­en tend to assume all wom­en are the same as they are.

Men don’t do that. A man will crit­i­cize oth­er men, but not because they aren’t like him. Instead, he’ll do it because he has an idea how all men should behave, includ­ing him­self ; more often than not, he’s hid­ing the fact that he isn’t liv­ing up that that ide­al. We aren’t sur­prised that the secret­ly gay Repub­li­can Con­gress­man is a man or that the abu­sive meth addict Priest is a man, because men are Janu­sian in a whole dif­fer­ent way.

What’s wrong with men is prob­a­bly far more tox­ic and dan­ger­ous than what’s wrong with wom­en, but the fix is the same. Stop think­ing we know any­thing about any­body else oth­er than our own self. And even then don’t be too sure.

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