I like a good catfight as much as the next guy, so I was happy to see that two women writers were having at each other. Even without the visuals, it was great fun.
On the one side is Tracy McMillan, who writes scripts for The United States of Tara and Mad Men. On the other is a Jezebel columnist who calls herself Morning Gloria.
Commenters all seem to call her MoGlo, but it appears that her real name is Erin Gloria Ryan. Out of respect for the Jezebel commenters, I will call her MoGlo.
Last week McMillan tried to explain in the Huffington Post why her girlfriends had not yet found husbands. Link here.
Having spent many hours listening to them bemoan their singlehood and ask her for advice, McMillan decided that she must have a certain amount of authority and expertise on the subject. After all, she has been married three times already.
McMillan is a writer. She knows how to use language. And she knows that when you are offering advice that everyone thinks they have heard already, you need to make it feel fresh and new.
I for one am not going to tell a woman how to talk to other women. Girltalk is not my bailiwick.
Provocatively, McMillan declares that her imagined girlfriend is not married because she is: a bitch, shallow, a slut, a liar, selfish, and not good enough.
It would have been easier to blame men or the economy, but McMillan seems to believe that women have a lot more control than they think over whether or not they get married.
Morning Gloria sees it differently. In fact, she takes some very serious offense at McMillan’s attitude. Given her skill at feeling aggrieved, MoGlo adopts a defensive crouch and comes out counterpunching. Link here.
Less skilled as a writer than McMillan, MoGlo falls back on a feeble attempt at satire. She even includes her own sarcastic list of the reasons why women are not married. It amounts to a litany of complaints about men.
Forget for a moment McMillan’s tart language. She is simply saying that if a woman wants to walk down the aisle she ought to conduct her life as though that is her goal.
I have said it before. Many people have said it before. McMillan puts such a sharp point on the idea that it risks getting through to everyone ... except MoGlo.
Becasue MoGlo is really saying that she has every right-- conferred by the Constitution and the sisterhood-- to behave however she likes, and that she deeply resents any suggestion that her own behavior has anything to do with her singlehood.
She thinks that the fault lies with men.
She does not know it, and I hope you are kind enough not to tell her, but she has thereby completely disempowered herself.
In many ways, this is the most interesting part of it all. McMillan offers some very sound, empowering, if not entirely original advice, and MoGlo rejects it out of hand.
It shows us why the most difficult part of giving advice is finding someone who is willing to take it. Why do people reject good advice? Often, because accepting it would require that they accept that they have gotten something wrong.
Most people would rather go down with the ship because it makes them feel like captains, even when they aren‘t.
Be that as it may, let’s take a look at McMillan’s advice. Let’s do what MoGlo failed to do: examine the substance of her ideas. Beyond the salty language, there is very little that ought to be controversial.
McMillan starts by saying that women are angry bitches and that, instead of being kind and nice, they are bringing their rage into their relationships. Where does she think they learned to be angry? Some learned it in therapy: “You probably don't think you're angry. You think you're super smart, or if you've been to a lot of therapy, that you're setting boundaries. But the truth is you're pissed. At your mom. At the military-industrial complex. At Sarah Palin. And it's scaring men off.”
She continues: “Female anger terrifies men. I know it seems unfair that you have to work around a man's fear and insecurity in order to get married -- but actually, it's perfect, since working around a man's fear and insecurity is big part of what you'll be doing as a wife.”
Second, McMillan accuses women of being shallow. No woman wants to be considered shallow. She might be able to accept that bitchiness is empowering, but she will not sit back and be accused of being shallow.
For women, “You’re shallow” are fighting words.
It sounds provocative, don’t you think. But McMillan really means that too many women are looking for all the wrong things in a man and are thereby ignoring the one thing that really matters in choosing a husband: character.
I have often made the point myself. So much so that I am happy to step aside and allow McMillan to explain it.
In her words: “When it comes to choosing a husband, only one thing really, truly matters: character. So it stands to reason that a man's character should be at the top of the list of things you are looking for, right? But if you're not married, I already know it isn't. Because if you were looking for a man of character, you would have found one by now. Men of character are, by definition, willing to commit.”
She continues: “Instead, you are looking for someone tall. Or rich. Or someone who knows what an Eames chair is. Unfortunately, this is not the thinking of a wife. This is the thinking of a teenaged girl. And men of character do not want to marry teenaged girls. Because teenage girls are never happy. And they never feel like cooking, either.”
Note that McMillan even offers some respect for the good that is found in many men. Just the kind of idea that would offend MoGlo.
For her third point, McMillan tells her girlfriend to stop acting like a slut.
As you know, that is a fighting word. And, yes, I do know that sex positive feminists like Jaclyn Friedman have embraced the term and their own inner sluthood because they think that slutting it up is therapeutic and makes you a better feminist.
McMillan is right, of course. In her words: “Hooking up with some guy in a hot tub on a rooftop is fine for the ladies of Jersey Shore -- but they're not trying to get married. You are. Which means, unfortunately, that if you're having sex outside committed relationships, you will have to stop. Why? Because past a certain age, casual sex is like recreational heroin -- it doesn't stay recreational for long.”
McMillan blames it on oxytocin. Since oxytocin does not discriminate, a woman should exercise judgment before becoming intimate: “And since nature can't discriminate between marriage material and Charlie Sheen, you're going to have to start being way more selective than you are right now.”
I’m not sure why this is controversial advice. It is not news. In truth, I don’t even want to know why it is controversial.
In her fourth point, McMillan accuses women of being liars. In my own experience women are extremely unlikely to be liars, so we need to examine the point more closely.
McMillan is really saying that women sometimes lie to themselves by refusing to look the cold, hard truth about their relationships in the eye. In another context, it means that they believe too much in hope and change.
Meaning that when a man tells a woman that he is not available for marriage or a relationship, she might ignore his explicit statement and imagine that he will eventually change his mind.
In McMillan's words: “It usually goes something like this: you meet a guy who is cute and likes you, but he's not really available for a relationship. He has some condition that absolutely precludes his availability, like he's married, or he gets around town on a skateboard. Or maybe he just comes right out and says something cryptic and open to interpretation like, ‘I'm not really available for a relationship right now.’”
I would add that when a woman thinks that a man is going to change his mind she should understand that she is expecting him to go back on his word and his commitment.
Which commitment, you might ask? The one he made when he told her that he was not ready for marriage. If he changes his mind then he is breaking a commitment. If he breaks a clear commitment then he lacks character.
Why would a woman be looking to marry a man she does not trust to keep his word?
As if these qualities were not bad enough, McMillan adds that her unmarried friends are selfish.
Again this is not flattering. McMillan believes that women are not getting married because they spend all their time thinking about themselves, airing their grievances, and demanding that men cater to their needs.
In her words: “If you're not married, chances are you think a lot about you. You think about your thighs, your outfits, your naso-labial folds. You think about your career, or if you don't have one, you think about doing yoga teacher training. Sometimes you think about how marrying a wealthy guy -- or at least a guy with a really, really good job -- would solve all your problems.”
How can a woman overcome her self-absorption. McMillan suggests that motherhood will cure any woman of her self-centeredness. She might also have suggested taking care of a pet.
Finally, she suggests that women are having trouble finding husbands because they think that they are not good enough.
McMillan offers this as a twist. It asserts that women are being undone by their own lack of confidence in themselves.
They believe that they are not good enough to find a husband or else that they do not believe that they have enough to offer. Thus they seek out men who are above them, whether in status or income, and believe that the man will raise their flagging self-esteem.
If a woman thinks that marriage is therapy then she has surely had too much therapy.
McMillan concludes by saying that marriage is about what you can give, not what you can get from it. Marriage is about giving love to someone who does not seem to merit it. Once a woman learns that she will learn how it feels to love someone.
In her words: “The bottom line is that marriage is just a long-term opportunity to practice loving someone even when they don't deserve it. Because most of the time, your messy, farting, macaroni-and-cheese eating man will not be doing what you want him to. But as you give him love anyway -- because you have made up your mind to transform yourself into a person who is practicing being kind, deep, virtuous, truthful, giving, and most of all, accepting of your own dear self -- you will find that you will experience the very thing you wanted all along:
Does this feel like satire to you? Does this feel like the most offensive idea you have every heard? You really have to ask yourself what is going on in MoGlo’s mind. Why does this sensible, if provocatively expressed, advice impel MoGlo to pen an uninteresting screed that is more about herself than the issue at hand?
Because, here is the kicker that I saved for last. If you read MoGlo’s list of ten more reasons why a woman cannot find a husband, you will notice that they are all in the form: damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
Where McMillan talks to her girlfriend like an adult and emphasizes character development, MoGlo is worrying about fellatio, about the seeming paradox that a woman is damned if she is good at it and damned if she is not.
Clinically speaking, this is nothing more or less than depressive thinking. The classical definition of depression, as Martin Seligman explained, is that a person finds himself facing two choices each of which, he has convinced himself, is equally bad or futile.
Believing that he can do nothing positive, he gives up and quits.
Tracy McMillan has offered young women a series of great ideas for how they can improve their relationships with men, even to get married. For a junior feminist like MoGlo, those are fighting words. Go figure.