And Now for Your Daily Moment of Terror

The VIDA numbers about who gets hired to write what about whom are out. It’s worth reading the quotes they include with the pie charts, but be warned, you will be queasy. Then head over to Catherine Lacey’s post, which ends with “So, yeah, it’s a vicious cycle, blah blah blah, but one thing you can do about it is be a woman and work hard and submit everywhere until you cannot be ignored.” which makes me feel like “Hell yeah!” and “But don’t these pie charts kind of show that it doesn’t matter how hard I work or where I submit, because I’ll still be ignored?”

And then I feel a little angsty.

Edited to add: Oh lord, I forgot to link to Lacey’s post. Here.

It is Against Policy to Blog About Work

So I am not blogging about how I saw the final pages for a project I’ve been working on for years, like half a decade kinds of years. And they are beautiful. So beautiful. Full of color images and beautifully laid out and just everything I hoped it would be.

The thing about this project that makes me wish it were more affordable for regular people is that it’s probably some of the most delightful porn you’ll ever see–people who look like they’ve having a good time and who like and enjoy each other. I didn’t really realize how much of our imagery, even the stuff that’s just supposed to be ‘sexy’ and not straight-up porn, relies on tropes that don’t really have to do with people looking happy. So, it’s really jarring, even though, in real life, the vast majority of my sexual experiences have been way more “hurray!” than “uhrungh” (or whatever the noise you’re supposed to make when your eyes are half shut and your mouth is hanging open like you are a zombie with a good make-up artist), to see a culture’s erotic imagery revolve around a lot of moments of “hurray!” is disconcerting.

Even if that’s what sex normally looks like to me, it’s not what “sexy” looks like to me. So, it’s cool and wonderful to see images of people who look familiar.

Or, you know, it would be, if I blogged about work.


What I’m trying to get at is kind of two-fold. One is that “ugly” is obviously a boogey-man word like “fat” or “slut.” It doesn’t have to have anything to do with objective reality. You can be “ugly” and look like Edith Wharton. You can be “fat” and be a size four. You can be a “slut” and be a virgin. They’re just words that are supposed to connote that you have no value and that it’s your fault you have no value. (It’s important to understand that these words wouldn’t really work if there weren’t people who were “objectively” fat or ugly or slutty, too. It’s one reason that dismantling the alarm over women having sex is important for getting rid of slut-shaming and “slut”-shaming. If there’s no such thing as a slut, being a “slut” has no sting. Same with being fat. If genuinely being fat were just seen as a medical condition and not as a moral failure or a measure of the lack of one’s worth, being “fat” wouldn’t matter.)

And that’s part of what baffles me about the whole Franzen affair. He’s a writer for a living. Hell, some folks would argue that he’s our best living writer (I would not be among those folks, obviously). And he’s using a word for its boogey-man meaning? I mean, not just using the word, but putting such faith in its boogey-man meaning that he thinks he can use the boogey-man meaning to evaluate and understand Wharton’s work. In public! As if it’s real deep thinking and insight!

This leads me to wonder if Franzen does not know that “ugly” is a boogey-man term. I find this a pretty alarming possibility–that a student and master of the language like Franzen could so fundamentally not get how language works. Wasn’t he called a fag in school? Did he really think that showing kids he was straight would end that? Did he really think they were just mistaken? It’s not like boogey-men words apply only to women.

But the other thing I keep thinking about is that it’s possible that Franzen looks at Wharton and sees someone who is objectively ugly. Which means that, for Franzen, when he goes out into the world, there’s only a very narrow sliver of people who are “beautiful” and everyone else is “ugly.”

This is how he’s been trained up (or trained himself) to see the world–that someone like Wharton is “ugly.”

I mean, I think it’s obvious how believing yourself to be in the position of judging someone by her looks and assuming that your judgement of her is universal and extends even to her own self-undertanding is pretty vile and hilarious.

But I want to get at a slightly different thing. He believes himself to be an objective judge and yet cannot recognize how his seeming objectivity is affected by his skewed view of the world–one in which most people are hideously ugly.

It’s as if you’ve been told that it’s your job to sort cards into piles and you decided that the only two piles are red and green. And yet, a third of your cards are purple but you’ve just been lumping those in with the red, because you can’t wrap your mind around there being more than two piles. But still you would call your cards properly sorted and act all hurt when people point out that they’re not.

Is there ever a moment when a guy like Franzen asks “I wonder why I thought there were only two piles to begin with?” let alone “I wonder why anyone thought I should be a sorter?”