Saturday, January 06, 2007

Do women like bad news books?

Do women like bad news--that is, bad news about themselves--books? Los Angeles Times columnist Meghan Daum asks that question in her column today.
SPRINKLED AMONG the novels and political tracts I received for Christmas was a clothbound piece of candy called "The Female Thing." It was written by Laura Kipnis, a Northwestern University professor best known for 2003's "Against Love: A Polemic," and its cover is a frontal photo of a woman's toned, depilated thighs, hips and belly, one hand posed sassily on her hip and the other holding a thin leaf over her privates. Naturally, I plucked it from the stack immediately, leaving Richard Ford and Jimmy Carter to lay in pitiable wait.

It's not my job here to review books, so I won't get into too much detail about the contents of "The Female Thing." Which is probably good, because while I found it a little bit fascinating and a little bit exasperating, I'm not entirely sure what the book is trying to say. Its frequent refrains about the tension between "femininity and feminism" puts it squarely in the camp of woman-centered punditry that makes me want to throw books against the wall, then instantly retrieve them and fret that I've lost my place.

Dozens of books like this are published every year. You can spot them by their tendency to juxtapose references to boob jobs and Manolo Blahnik shoes with words such as "subjugation." They like to use the word "bitch," strictly in a "take back the vocabulary of our oppression" sort of way. They appear to be targeted at a reasonably intelligent (i.e. NPR-listening, HBO-watching, buying-the-Jimmy-Carter-book-but-not-reading-it-right-away) audience. An intelligent female audience, that is. I'm not sure whether any man on Earth has ever read one of these things, but if he did, I suspect he'd make the very wise decision to turn gay.

According to this literary genre, contemporary American women are conflicted, confused, vain and bitter, not to mention (choose one; we're all about choice) undersexed or oversexed, underemployed or overworked, man-hating or desperate for a man. We are also apparently even more obsessed with dirty socks than were our Stepford forebears.

This is not the kind of stuff you brag about on your resume or in an online personal ad. So why have so many women — cultural critics, novelists and self-help gurus alike — built their careers on this humiliating form of advertising copy? For all the lip service we pay to the opportunities born of feminism, why does our most impassioned rhetoric come from a place of weakness and frustration?

The simple answer...
Meghan Daum's The Quality of Life Report is the subject of a forthcoming "page 69" test.

--Marshal Zeringue