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SEXIST BEATDOWN: Exciting Trends in Loserdom Edition

TRENDS! They affect us all. Like: Remember slap bracelets? I sure as shit do. One’s LIFE was determined, in large part and in second grade, by the number and quality of one’s slap bracelets. Or: Leggings for pants! There was a time when people — and not always laughable people — engaged in such a method of butt-covering! Or: Blogging! Ha ha ha, BLOGGING. Yeah, that was a good idea! Keep on going, Internet nerds! And yet: There is a specific variety of important writing dedicated to covering the trends of the day, so that you can catch on to them fifteen minutes too late after even your mom knows about them and, thus, be totally uncool. This is the “trend piece!” And when it comes to ladies, it is… disturbingly predictable, actually?

Because: Are you rich? Are you married? Are you pregnant? Are you fancily clad? Well, whichever of these four important Lady Success Sectors you’re lacking in, better GET TO IT. Because the New York Times is about to publish an exposé on what a loser you are. You know, again. Oh, also: Do you have a chicken farm and a fixed-gear? Or any artisanal cheeses? Do you brew your own beer and knit sweaters out of your hair and make recyclable menstrual pads out of old New York Times Magazine issues? Are you sleeping with Das Racist? ALL of Das Racist? Including Dap? Yeah, get on all of that, too. In between bearing gorgeous tow-headed babies to your legally contracted husband and posing on your immaculate — yet tousled! Trend piece people, they’re just like us! — white linens with your lifemate and/or spawn.

Here, Amanda Hess of TBD and I discuss the many ways in which your uterus has fallen out of fashion!

SADY: Amanda! I have an exciting trend amongst the ladies, which you may wish to report upon!

AMANDA: A startling number of us are expressing our femininity through motocross.
SADY: Motocross. GChatting. In a few exciting and specific incidences, drinking Coke Zero while GChatting about trend pieces, is a trend, amongst the ladies! Ladies, in growing numbers, wish they could smoke inside! Ladies, oftentimes, are very happy with the sweaters they’re wearing right now! Truly, the possibilities for respectable and absorbing journalism regarding the genders, THEY ARE ENDLESS.
AMANDA: They are. The truth is that I often enjoy pieces about weird stuff that is suddenly going on among a select group of people.
SADY: Oh, sure! The Observer’s reportage on the “urban tomboy” validated my entire existence! You can’t take that away from me.
AMANDA: I just wish they wouldn’t extend that select group of people to entire genders, so much!
SADY: Right. Because, oft-times, they just end up re-iterating the same thing. Which is that feminism ends with women unwed, cradling sacks of potatoes with pacifiers stuck in them due to their childlessness, and men are just unhappy and broke and unable to find a lady they want to do it with. Which is really hetero, but also: Insulting! Even to the heteros!
AMANDA: Yes. I mean, and I recognize that many of these writers are likely aware of how ridiculous these arguments are. I do have a soft spot for absurd arguments. Like the writer arguing that a new skirt-fluttering, blackberry-clutching, bike-riding mass of women is taking over the streets of New York City. That’s obviously just a flight of fancy bolstered by some pretty photographs. I just wish the Times would also make some space for thoroughly anecdotal pieces about how feminism is not in fact destroying anything.
SADY: Yeah. And you can’t blame the paper behind the “hipster beer belly” for sometimes just wanting to take a bunch of pictures and be like, “trend! ‘The’ ‘hipsters’ are slightly older now than they used to be, also drink beer, probs have more sedentary jobs now! STYLE.”
AMANDA: I welcome any excuse to take some photographs of aging hipsters and then crop them at the neck to emphasize their shame. There just has to be a point where the Times, AT THE VERY LEAST, recognizes that “small but growing” is code for “three people I found on the corner two hours before deadline,” and that people really aren’t buying it anymore. Thanks in large part to Jack Shafer. Thank you Jack Shafer.
SADY: Haha. Yeah. But why does tying things to feminism at random keep working? Like, here is a sentence from an article e-mailed to me by a reader: “Could this be part of the reason why one in eight Australian men experiences severe depression in their lifetime?” Ten guesses what “this” is, Amanda. TEN GUESSES!
AMANDA: Um … genetics. Weather patterns. Water source poisoning. Australia more boring than portrayed in films. Depression just more common than reported.
SADY: I would also have accepted “appearing in an Australian trend piece entitled ‘The Bloody Hipsters Have Beer Bellies Now, Mate’”
AMANDA: Haha. OK, so it’s feminism?
SADY: YES IT IS. But, you know. Article written by a lady. True by default!
AMANDA: Right. That’s not sexism. Women’s liberation, as we all know, has also been blamed for the decreased happiness of women.  Although I am officially tying women’s unhappiness to the increase in trend pieces analyzing why women are not happy.
SADY: As the saying goes, “behind every great social bummer, lies a great woman, weeping for her never-to-be-born children and thumbing her well-worn copy of Lori Gottlieb’s book on settling.” I really like Vanessa Grigoriadis’s writing, and bet she’s a great lady, but I’m still kind of baffled by that piece on the Pill, the thesis of which seems to be, “if you wait until 40 to have children, you will have the difficulties associated with getting pregnant at 40, also the Pill somehow something something.” “Woman Uses Condom, Reports Not Getting Pregnant, Weeps.” I’m just unsure what the solution or point was, other than the time-honored YOU ARE A LOSER moment delivered by all trend pieces on women, which in my case came right here: “Even most die-hard feminists were still married at 25 and pregnant by 28.” WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT. THEY WEEEEERRRRRRRE. I’M FUCCCCCCCCKED OH MY GOD I FAIL I FAIL IT ALL EVERYTHING oh, no, wait, that’s like factually wrong.
AMANDA: Simply consult the intensive reproductive studies completed exclusively among women identifying as die-hard
feminists.
SADY: Like, somehow — hold on a moment while I blow your mind — trend pieces on women always seem to boil down to (a) women generally are sad losers, or (b) these specific women lead lives of sparkling organic vegan locally-sourced Brooklyny riding-a-fixed-gear-in-a-fluttery-skirt-with-an-iPhone-to-text-their-boyfriends-at-their-indie-band’s-rehearsal perfection, and therefore YOU SPECIFICALLY are a sad loser. And should be pregnant by now. With your husband’s baby. Whom you have already married. And who lives in your brownstone, that has two stories, and a refrigerator stocked entirely by the local Farmer’s Market. I CAN’T DO IT NEW YORK TIMES! I CAN’T DO IT ALL! IF I COULD TIME TRAVEL BACK TEN YEARS AND IMPREGNATE MYSELF WITH DAS RACIST’S BABY I WOULD! PROBABLY VICTOR VASQUEZ SPECIFICALLY! BUT HEEMS IS ALSO OKAY!
AMANDA: In other words, AN INCREASING NUMBER of feminists are voicing their regret about not sleeping with a small but growing number of Das Racist members.
SADY: Women, increasingly, wish aloud for time travel devices to aid them in this quest.
AMANDA: But the pill story is also a very complicated way of saying, “women do not know what is good for them.” Which, I mean, I understand that sometimes women don’t always plan for fertility problems, but what is the potential solution? Having babies when you don’t want to have babies yet, if ever?
SADY: Right. It’s the idea of the Pill as “tricking” women into having less awareness of the fact that they might be infertile later on that stands out. Women didn’t want to have babies; they took a medication so as not to have babies; later, they wanted to have babies, and it was hard. I don’t see a trick here. I see something that’s like a lot of other life decisions. If only I’d studied harder in school, I could have gotten into grad school. Now, that still might be a possibility, but it will be harder. If I’d pitched that magazine, I could have written for them. Now, I still could, but it’s going to be hard. Sometimes people make the decision that’s right at the time, then face difficulties later on. It’s not the Pill’s fault. It’s not the fault of women for not taking up some random dude on the street and forcing him to marry them on the eve of their 25th birthday so they can get pregnant. It’s life. You can’t always get what you want, when you want it. The end.
AMANDA: Right. I mean, I am hoping that the reason these stories gain traction and end up in major publications with impressive bylines is because the other story, “woman has baby and ends up finding it more difficult to do some other shit she wanted to do,” is so common it is boring?
SADY: Yeah. But it’s also pretty flagrantly a class thing. I mean, we have “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” and stuff occupying just as much space in the culture. But the message is: Stupid poor people! Always getting pregnant instead of grabbing their bootstraps! If something makes it into NYM, it’s a different story. Sad rich people! Always wanting to get pregnant and finding it difficult!
AMANDA: Haha. God. Yeah. I believe “housewife dismayed that she cannot embody both a feminist and maternal ideal turns to chicken farming” also falls into this category
SADY: Yeah. “Hip young men overthrow patriarchy with giant beards, tea parties,” is another one of those things. Like, I’m so glad your antiquing is working out for you, Daddy Parentsbucks! Meanwhile, folks is getting beaten up for being perceived as too feminine. But whatever. TURN UP THE FLEET FOXES AND POUR THE TEA! THE MISSUS IS MAKING ARTISANAL CHEESES OUT BACK!
AMANDA: Right? That’s why I was pleased to see Peggy Orenstein, in that femivore piece, aaaaalmost straight up say, “this may only actually be a trend among people who are besties with fancy New York Times reporters.”
SADY: Yes. And yet, if I see one more softly lit photo of young-ish, handsome, white people from Brooklyn posing with their angelically tousle-headed blonde twin boys like they’re auditioning for Taylor Swift’s “Mine” video, I’m giving up. On life. If I ever have a child, you will know that child, for it will have peanut butter all over its face and will be setting the cat on fire. Such are my realities.
AMANDA: Yeah, I mean, that’s the danger of building a prestigious newspaper, then downsizing it. You get a lot of great writers who, whether before or after they are deemed accomplished enough to work for the NYT, are quite fancy. And then perhaps they don’t always have the time to use their skills to report on topics further afield, and they end up writing about their friends, and the zany new trends in which they are engaging. The bigger problem, then, is the assumption that people outside that sphere of influence actually engage in that behavior.
SADY: Right. It ends up being really hegemonic and classed and often racialized. And then you have someone go into a K-Mart and act like it’s some Hell Dimension, with no acknowledgement of the reality of the folks who are reading it. It’s really super-easy for me, and for anyone else who covers a certain subject, to get tunnel vision and be blind to the realities of folks who don’t spend as much time with that subject. But when you’re trying to cover How People Live, the silliness engendered by that tunnel vision just becomes hugely apparent.
AMANDA: Absolutely. I mean, if you must publish frothy trend pieces, at least diversify your reporter pool.
SADY: Yeah. Although “Increasing Number of People Heard To Yell “FUCKING G TRAIN” At Four In The Morning While Debating Whether Taking A Cab Would Literally Bankrupt Them” isn’t quite so fluttery-skirt fantastic.

23 Comments

  1. emjaybee wrote:

    This is why I read you instead of NYM.

    Oh, and when this piece got posted on Metafilter, and many of us ladies suggested it was patronizing, one or two dudes (I assume) were VERY CONCERNED that women DID NOT KNOW ABOUT LOSING THEIR FERTILITY AS THEY GOT OLDER and thus, why were we dissing NYM for performing this valuable service to the ladies? Because we’re very dim, possibly because the Pill rotted our brains. Or something. Didn’t we understand? Stories about waiting too long to have a baby were about SCIENCE, and therefore, we were being too sensitive!

    Friday, December 3, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Permalink
  2. Samus wrote:

    This morning, I was thinking about how someone should write a tongue-in-cheek trend piece about the recent trend of trend pieces. A Sexist Beatdown about trend pieces is even better, though! And eerily timely, considering that I WAS just thinking about this today, partly due to that awful “birth control pill turns out to be exactly what it says on the tin” piece in NYM.

    Friday, December 3, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Permalink
  3. Sarah wrote:

    That Australian Punch article made me incredibly mad. And flabbergasted. And annoyed at all the supportive comments.

    In some ways both glad and embarrassed on behalf of Australia that it made its way to you.

    Friday, December 3, 2010 at 8:31 pm | Permalink
  4. Siobhan wrote:

    The NYT is continually upset that it can’t pull off the Financial Times magazine (“How to spend it!”) so it tries to cater to a notch or three down the class pole. (“Don’t live in an actual palace? Make your own artisanal cheese!”)

    Remember how they did an entire magazine on the ladies and their successes and you could tell cuz it was pink?

    Yeah, continual fail.

    Friday, December 3, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Permalink
  5. Niveau wrote:

    In a way, I’m glad the NYT thinks these things are important enough to publish, because they lead to engaging feminist commentary which makes me laugh so hard my belly starts to hurt. On the other hand, they publish them, ugh.

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 1:08 am | Permalink
  6. xtinA wrote:

    Oh lordy I been chompin’ on this NYT trend piece nonsense all week and it’s a breath of fresh air I tell ya to read you two batting that ball’o'shit back and forth until it totally disintegrates-big love!

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 3:35 am | Permalink
  7. k not k wrote:

    OH MY GOD. INSTANT CLASSIC. Excuse me while I dismount from my fixie, smooth my fluttery skirt, and update my popular social networking website profile with a link to this article.

    I may or may not be considering stenciling the entire text of it onto an attractively run-down concrete wall in my neighborhood using organic dyes I concocted from locally sourced red beets, or weaving the entire article into a tapestry constructed from the yarn I spin myself out of the wool from my life partner’s Mongolian yak farm.

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 7:30 am | Permalink
  8. Erin wrote:

    But here’s the thing about the NYT (and other elite newsources that specialize in publishing female authors but only when they write about Ladytopics from a very affluent, NY, professional, white, straight viewpoint, a la the Atlantic). The Farmer’s Market buying ladies that have babies and breastfeed them and put cloth diapers on them are also Destroying the Universe. So you are either a pathetic, stupid loser or a pathetic, stupid loser, and either way you are both Destroying Feminism and Destroying the World through Feminism. Those women, they can’t seem to get anything right! Because their choices (parenting choices or choices to not-parent) are ALWAYS WRONG.

    As for losing one’s fertility with age, I think there are women who fall into the category of Don’t Think this Will Happen to Them, but no matter what what people with fertility troubles need is medical information and an end to the shamemongering aimed at them for desiring children. Apparently (according to the NYT) the only thing worse than women who do (not) have babies or do (not) shop at farmer’s markets are the ladies using fertility treatments! The IF community in particular is always grateful to the NYT for its thoughtful contributions to this issue!

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 9:32 am | Permalink
  9. ritchey wrote:

    total instant classic. I am emailing this to everyone on the earth. Also I love how “artisanal cheese” became a central joke. Somehow sums it all up.

    Also what’s the big deal with having babies? Maybe it’s okay if some people wait too long to have babies and then can’t have babies and then deal with it and get on with their lives. Is this truly THE WORST result of a youthful life decision we can think of? What about: smoking! Not going to grad school! Never learning to skateboard! Taking out too many student loans! Wearing high heels for so long your feet get all gnarled and sore! Never paying your parking tickets! Doing too much heroin! Eating a shitty diet! OMG WHAT WILL YOU DO WHEN YOU GROW UP? But no, the only truly irrevocable, devastating thing would be if you did stuff in youth that made it hard (“hard”! Not even “impossible”!) to get pregnant later. For then the sole point of your existence on the planet is destroyed!! WARE THE IDES OF GLORIA STEINEM

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 9:59 am | Permalink
  10. Erin wrote:

    @Ritchy: I understand what you’re saying and take the point. Reproduction does not determine our value as human beings, and that’s a position we as feminists need to fight for. On the other hand, please don’t minimize the sufferings of the infertile community and their struggles to have families. To many people the inability to have a child IS devastating. (Of course IF results from many many causes only one of them is “waiting too long.”) They may get on with their lives, but it is often a very painful process.

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Permalink
  11. AnthroK8 wrote:

    Oh God. I love artisanal cheese. I really, really do. Like, I spend money I don’t have on it, rather than spending I don’t have on fluttery skirts.

    Hey… maybe I can be the center of a trend piece all about feminist women in their 30′s who have no children and have caused themselves financial ruin by buying artisanal cheese. Feminism caused the financial collapse!!!!!!

    Also… this is brilliant. Thank you.

    Sunday, December 5, 2010 at 3:00 am | Permalink
  12. I know writers don’t write their headlines, but whoever wrote headline/subhead for that New York piece went beyond sensational and irresponsible. . . it strongly implies that the pill actually medically causes infertility. It’s bad enough the anti-choicers have spread this bunk about abortion, do we really need it about the pill?

    You’d think something (birth control) that almost all heterosexual women choice to use at some point in their lives would be uncontroversial. Is it too much to ask for a fucking celebration of something that has aided so many women? The author needs to listen to some Loretta Lynn.

    Sunday, December 5, 2010 at 8:43 am | Permalink
  13. Also! Data is your friend: according to the CDC, the average age of a mother at the birth of her child has indeed gone up in the last thirty-some years, from 21.4 in 1970 to 25 in 2006. Most of that change was in the 70s and 80s (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db21.htm)

    Now, of course the author isn’t talking about women, she’s talking about affluent NY career women. Now, if you want younger motherhood to be more of AN option, (not the only one,) for these women, which I think it should be, what these women need is more flexible careers that won’t punish them for taking time off, national child care, national health care et. fucking cetera. But that’s boring and retro to write about, no? Better to speculate that these over-educated women somehow don’t know that taking something to prevent themselves from becoming pregnant will prevent them from being pregnant – until they don’t take it any more, but they’ll be so confused by those irregular periods!! I mean, was the implication not that a good unplanned pregnancy was the solution?

    Sunday, December 5, 2010 at 8:50 am | Permalink
  14. ritchey wrote:

    @goldennotebooks: YES!!!!!

    Sunday, December 5, 2010 at 9:01 am | Permalink
  15. felicia wrote:

    What about mullets. Were those ever in style. Or bell bottom pants. I have a sneaky suspicion that those were never popular and we are the victims of a leftist plot to make us think that they were once all the rage.

    Monday, December 6, 2010 at 1:01 am | Permalink
  16. Mazarine wrote:

    This dialogue made me laugh out loud.

    Reading NYT less and less these days because it does seem to be primarily the stories of white New Yorkers who are either entertainers, doctors, or lawyers who can only afford one maid, it’s so sad, with extra Judaism for spice, yeah, NYT, that’s diversity.

    If it’s not slut-shaming, it’s why aren’t you married/pregnant yet. If it’s not some style piece to show why you’re not hip enough to live in the city, then it’s how quaintly horrible places outside the city are. It’s so… ONE-SIDED! And misogynist! And classist! And racist!

    I used to buy into the NYC and NYT mystique. I used to live there. Now I’m really glad I don’t.

    Mazarine

    Monday, December 6, 2010 at 1:37 am | Permalink
  17. drinkwater wrote:

    To me, one of the bigger offenses of the NYT article on “Bicycle Chic” were some of the bicycles.

    Hey, Topaz Page-Green! Oil your dang bicycle chain! Where are you going on that thing? 10 feet? Vintage does not mean neglected, just old.

    Monday, December 6, 2010 at 4:47 am | Permalink
  18. Itamar wrote:

    There’s a related, but slightly different genre of writing in the New York Times’ Style section that’s worth noticing. Perhaps it should be considered a subgenre of the trend piece. The best definition my wife and I could come up with is that it focuses on the way upper class people present themselves to the world. Stylistically, it opens with a sentence that establishes Jane Doe is sufficiently upper class, e.g. “Jane Doe, 43, from A Fancy Neighborhood is a Rich Professional.” Soon after, typically the second paragraph, there’s a quote from Jane Doe.

    A classic example:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/09/fashion/09STEAK.html

    Occasionally other newspapers do similar things, but they’re never quite as classic examples of the form as the NYTimes ones. This one is pretty good, but e.g. the Upperclass Person only appears on page two:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/31/AR2010053103127.html

    Monday, December 6, 2010 at 8:22 am | Permalink
  19. Samantha B. wrote:

    Vanessa Grigoriadis *is* a great writer, but I’m still LIVID about her trend piece on bipolar disorder. Per Grigoariadis, it’s a fun and fashionable diagnosis. Cool! I feel with it! Except that because she herself has been diagnosed as mildly bipolar, she feels comfortable writing passages like this, “The Mood Disorders Support Group, which met on Friday nights at Beth Israel Medical Center, brought real people with these problems into my life. It was still strange to break bread with people who had been hospitalized, more than once, or the pixie with black pigtails who kept nine medications in her handbag, pulling them out one by one to expound upon the benefits, and stranger still when I realized how distinctly some people’s moods shifted from week to week, sometimes black, sometimes benign. But there were also some people there who sounded familiar, in particular a 26-year-old banker, a graceful Indian-American woman with long black hair and onyx eyes that didn’t seem so much to give off light as refract it.”

    So those of us who actually struggle with our symptoms are just plain icky, but if we just have a smattering of manageable symptoms, then we can co-opt some sort of creative, sexy cachet of the disorder? It’s a positively revolting piece. And, to get maybe inappropriately Marxist on your ass, it’s hard for me not to read these pieces as having more to say about the capitalistic impulses of contemporary journalism than they do, say, actual lived experiences. If we don’t need to know about the HOT, NEW thing, then we don’t need to pick up NYM or the NYTM. And if we aren’t fundamentally insecure about our relationship to the HOT and NEW thing, then we are significantly less susceptible to the stuff advertised within the pages of NYM and NYTM.

    Also, I tend to think that some of what makes Girgoriadas and her ilk eminently palatable writers is probably also what makes their pieces the written equivalent of a 30 minute sitcom. It’s just fucking tidy. It goes down easy, because all the errant bits and pieces- the things that make for intellectual complexity- are tied up into a tidy narrative bow. And that’s not to say that Girgoriadis et al. aren’t consistently putting forth astute commentary, just that they don’t leave a lot of space for legitimate inquiry on the reader’s part. They aren’t presenting a cache of information so that the reader might reach a conclusion; they are pre-packaging conclusions like something off of an assembly line. I find it pretty insulting as a reader, and I find it really, really super-insulting as a woman that this is the consistent approach of pieces specifically targeted to me.

    Monday, December 6, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Permalink
  20. Oddrid wrote:

    In other words, AN INCREASING NUMBER of feminists are voicing their regret about not sleeping with a small but growing number of Das Racist members.

    BRILLIANT. Thanks so much for this needed commentary.

    Monday, December 6, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Permalink
  21. Kathleen wrote:

    Can we have *one* fertility piece that makes the obvious point that getting pregnant at 40 is statistically *harder* than getting pregnant at 25 BUT NEVERTHELESS, STATISTICALLY, IS NOT THAT HARD. ie, if you wait until 40 for the most part it’s still gonna be okay. It’s just not okay for a higher proportion of 40 year olds than 25 year olds. It’s just fine for the majority, That’s super, super, different than “the odds are absolutely against you”. THEY AREN’T. The odds are *relatively* against you. The odds are still really good. Same deal with having kids with issues — higher rates than for 25 year old moms, but still the vast majority of the time everything is just fine. For reals.

    Waiting to have kids (if you want them), if you want a serious career, is a good idea. A really good idea. That’s why women do it, duh. Younger ladies: the absolute odds are ON YOUR SIDE. so much energy is put unto obscuring this basic fact.

    Monday, December 6, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Permalink
  22. Kathleen wrote:

    into.

    Monday, December 6, 2010 at 3:04 pm | Permalink
  23. Tanya wrote:

    “Leggings for pants!” or “Leggings for trousers!” as we say here in the UK, where people are actually doing that, again. I’ve seen at least 3 people doing it in my white middle class neighbourhood and could therefore put together a trend piece on it.

    Also, treggings! These are leggings, but made from an ever so slightly thicker material, thus making it acceptable to wear them as trousers if you are too self-conscious to wear leggings as trousers. Also, more offensive, jeggings – jean leggings! Leggings with a sort of denim texture-look printed on! Ewwwwwwwww! BAD TREND. (But not as bad as that trend for knowing the pill stops you having babies and therefore taking it to stop you having babies, obv.)

    Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 8:00 am | Permalink