Feminine Failure

I usually kill herbs, despite my most fervent efforts at watering and pruning. I rarely cook my boyfriend dinner, and am consistently the token girl to bring the 6-pack to the potluck instead of a side dish. But still, I live to eat and am passionate about food. I take great joy from meals together, fresh ingredients, and an intelligent cheese and wine pairing. And thus it follows, that like many citizens of this modern world, I subscribe to blogs that teach me about this subject of interest. Actually, food blogs are but one of the many categories of blogs that I have faithfully tracked over the years. Personal blogs, photo blogs, design blogs, fashion blogs, culture blogs; all have taken residency in my Google Reader for significant amounts of time.

Photo by Maggie Stein.

The rise of art, décor and design blogs has brought unprecedented accessibility to art. Be they visual artists, photographers, master DIY crafters, or writers, we are no longer distant observers to their artistic contributions. We walk alongside them- feeling intimately acquainted with their inspiration and processes, and even their pets or favorite mojito recipe. Blogs inspire art in the daily and mundane, and fellowship for the journey.

Like most women, I aim to be well rounded. And like all women, I have talent, strength beyond the size of my muscles, and some odd idiosyncrasies. But recently, creeping remorse follows my expended energies, whispering for all that I can do, there is much more that I cannot.

With the proliferation of web forums, a new competition has been born, particularly amongst women. We have begun believing that we can maintain a comprehensive aesthetic over every sphere of our life, and do it economically and organically. Blogs today show us that we can, and should, become masters of accomplishment in our crafts, gardens, kitchens, homes and wardrobes, and do so with thriftiness and an effortless and innate artistic touch.

So can we bake, assemble, and frost our three-tiered cakes and eat them too? Can we pursue careers, and still be artists with our homes, activities, dining palates, and musical tastes? The emerging idea that is caught amongst many young women is that modern American womanhood– a life lauded for our opportunity for independence– is yet contrarily bound by expectations to be completely nested at a very young age.

Recently, I’ve found myself justifying my action, or more my inaction, on the domestic front. Then the inevitable happens– I collapse. I read about how any given blogger threw together a dinner of fresh vegetables from the garden, local grass-fed beef, herbs picked that morning, and topped with a simple but elegant multi-berry tart for dessert.  All served on her vintage thrift-store-find china, the food was framed with a display of lush, fresh wildflowers, no doubt in a mason jar. Apparently this exhibition only took her a short 30 minutes to complete, not counting the time it took to snap and upload these casual photographs to share with us.

I watch this show from my living room, knowing too well that I do not do this, and could not do this with such ease and flippancy. My palms begin to perspire, the screen shrinks rapidly from my eyes, and I slam my laptop closed, all as if the Gestapo of femininity has uncovered my façade and now knows I’m failing. I read decent books, shop at the farmers’ market, and frequent great concerts, and yet the strange invisible hand that governs the expectations of my gender possesses me to feel that I am not enough.

Inherently, the blogs I follow are not at fault. It is only my interpretation which predicates their perversion. When I overwhelm my mind with calculated photographs and quippy captions of posed stories, I fall almost subconsciously into the assumption that these lives are real and attainable, and that these paraders seem much happier and more beautiful than I am.

In this age of internet remoteness and social media connectivity, blogs are but shadowy alternatives to conversations and physical interactions. As comparisons arise, between my life and the woman within the monitor, I lose– because I am competing against a manipulated image of an idealized persona. I am Sisyphus, and Femininity the mountain I climb to no avail.

The real detriment here is that creativity, the original intention behind most blogs, will soon be lost to human degradation. As blogs become the means to achieve our ends, whatever those ends may be, fame, wealth, happiness, we create from selfish aim, and we observe from a deficit. Blogging is, or can be, after all, an art form. And like all art, there is a certain subjective level of commercialization that brings the corruption of the creation. At these points, when art quietly panders more to sales, we must ask ourselves: to what end are we creating? For it is in the striving of insecurity towards a nebulous standard that every artist will fall, lost in the adulterated purpose of his act. There is always difficulty in creating, and a willful determination required to be an artist and to live an art filled existence. But this is not born from a sinking inadequacy; no, it springs from an acknowledgment of your call to create.

Because in the end, the height of my Womanhood is not measured by what I do, but who I am. The quality of my character is not measured with a yardstick, nor by the height of my tomato plants. The real fruit of life is not found in traffic numbers or tutorials, but in the qualitative depth of living in love.

For men and women alike, the day we believe our very identity to be defined by our abilities and duties, we become an idea, a drape of fabric hung loosely without grounding or foundation. We are a mirage of realness, running towards a fantasy built on impossible expectations. We lose ourselves and thus lose everything.

So please take me with my 6-pack and my inability to sew. I am fully woman, capable of bearing the emotions of the world within my heart, though my herbs still wither. And take every other woman as the same.

Feminine Philanthropy

From the New York Times Magazine: The Power of the Purse.

Remember the concept of “sisterhood”? That quaint relic of an idea that women owed it to other women to crash through ceilings and navigate a male world? It just might be taking new root in a most unexpected place – among women with money. There are more women controlling more wealth in the U.S. than ever before. (Of those in the wealthiest tier of the country – defined by the I.R.S. as individuals with assets of at least $1.5 million – 43 percent are women.) And unlike the women who preceded them – old-school patrons who gave to the museum and the symphony and their dead husbands’ alma maters – these givers are more likely to use their wealth deliberately and systematically to aid women in need.

McCain, Barack and 30 Rock

There’s only enough time in the day to choose between watching last season’s comedy shows online and reading the news. Of course, I choose 30 Rock – an NBC show about insecure, work-driven variety show producer Liz Lemon and her boss Jack Donaghy.

Liz (Tina Fey) is the “godless, glassy-eyed Clintonista.” Jack (Alec Baldwin) is the Reaganite who is dating Condoleeza Rice. It’s the same political head-butting without all the pontification – the racial guilt and gender angst of the swinging American voter, told in a way that shows it’s really all ridiculous.

30 Rock even anticipates political headlines. For example, in one episode, Jack struggles to find a celebrity entertainer for a John McCain fundraiser. They can only drum up a decrepit anti-Semite and Jack pouts, “The Democrats have all the good celebrities.” In recent real life, just the ancient, ugly Jon Voight defended John McCain, while the enamored Scarlett Johansson claimed to be engaged to Barack Obama and the inspired Ludacris wrote Obama a song:

Said I handled his biz and I’m one of his favorite rappers
Well give Luda a special pardon if I’m ever in the slammer
Better yet put me in office, make me your vice president
Hillary hated on you, so that b**** is irrelevant.

Like other white American voters, Liz carries the crushing weight of racial guilt. Her aspiration to color blindness makes her both excruciatingly conscious of race and judgmental towards anyone who is conscious, too. In one episode, she dates an impossibly tedious black man who collects tote bags and blogs about missile defense systems. She bristles when Jack calls the man a Black (although it’s his last name) and brushes aside Jack’s warning about the cultural tensions he and Condoleeza Rice experienced. Liz can see past all that: “When I go home I am just riding on a subway car of scary teenaged people.

Her attempt at racial blindness is scrambled when the man accuses her of racism when she won’t go out with him again. She makes a plea that neatly sums the bulk of our racial drama: “I truly don’t like you as a person. Can’t one human being not like another human being? Can’t we all just not get along?”

This election has scrambled America’s attempts at racial blindness, too, dredging up both white racism and white racial guilt, proving that it may be impossible for anyone – even Barack Obama – to run a color-blind campaign right now. When white voters listed race as a deciding factor in their primary votes, they were twice as likely to vote against Barack Obama. But did racial guilt motivate the others who voted for Obama? In the words of Stuff White People Like, white people like Barack Obama “Because white people are afraid that if they don’t like him that they will be called racist.” Why can’t we just dislike our candidates as people?

There’s racial guilt, and then there’s gender angst. Liz is the unhappily liberated woman. When intern Cerie gets engaged to an old, rich man she’s known for three months, Liz gives Cerie a feminist pep talk that quickly transitions to racking self-doubt: “You’re so young, Cerie! There’s no big hurry to have babies. I mean there are other things in life, like having a career and working and … having a job and … working.” Cerie’s shallow self-assurance always shatters Liz’ self esteem: “You can have a career at any time. But you only have a really short period where you can be a young hot, mom.”

Liz follows it all with a bout of hysterical baby-crazy sobbing (“What if my junk goes bad?”), some “trawling for seed,” a period of denial (“My body is trying to make me think I want to have a baby but my body is not the boss of me. My brain is!”), some deranged baby-stealing and finally the hollowly-ringing feminist mantra: “Maybe it’s impossible to have it all – the career, the family. But if anyone can figure out how to do it, it’s me.”

But she doesn’t even have the willpower to break up with her beeper-selling boyfriend or stop eating Cheetos laced with bull semen. She’s trying to live out dreams that contradict reality: We can be happy (all alone), eating Chinese takeout (while worrying about our weight) after coming home from our important (stressful) jobs! But it’s easier to cling to false definitions of fulfillment and happiness than face the fact that we’re neither fulfilled nor happy. It’s easier to say race doesn’t matter than face the embarrassing truth that we still can’t just dislike each other as people.

There’s the ambivalence inherent in our guilt and angst, and there’s also the ambivalence of balancing our guilts. This is why the Democratic primary produced so much anxiety: It pitted racial guilt and gender angst; so while some feminists endorsed Obama, other feminists decried them. All of this internal tugging creates the swing voter, and the hunt for the swing voter’s heart drives campaigns. Liz – the godless Clintonista – is one of them herself. In a litany of humiliating secrets, she confesses, “There is an 80% chance in the next election that I will tell all my friends that I’m voting for Barack Obama but I will secretly vote for John McCain.”

But why? Why do we have to choose between our insecurities? Most of us are complicated people, like Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan), a “forward-thinking” black guy who likes the fact that the GOP supports lower taxes and guns but can’t turn his back on his people by becoming the celebrity face of the Republican Party. So he ditches this GOP commercial: “My fellow Black Americans, Dr. King once had a dream, a dream that we all share – to build a 200 foot high wall to keep Mexico out. And he also hated the estate tax.” And replaces it with this one: “Black people: Don’t vote! Just don’t do it! In the amount of time it takes you to vote you can play three games of pool! Three!”

Maybe Kenneth – the sunny, Bible-quoting, innocent Kentuckian – has the best solution: “I don’t vote Republican or Democrat. Choosing is a sin so I always just write in the Lord’s name!”

Oh, wait. As Jack points out, “That’s Republican. We count those.”