Thursday, April 4, 2019

A Victim of Cultural Misogyny

Another week, another piece of arrogant stupidity from New York Magazine advice columnist, Ask Polly. Before even examining the letter, I will reveal that Polly trashes the woman for her blind self-loathing and her black and white thinking. And, of course, Polly recommends therapy, because she did not notice that the woman is already in therapy. How else do you think that she made her life into such a mess?

Happily enough, we do learn that the letter writer is a woman, though we do not know which gender her loving partner is. Naturally, this makes it all the more difficult to appraise her situation. It is of no consequence that this makes our job more difficult. It is of consequence that today’s young people are incapable of making life decisions because they do not know the nature of their relationships. We do not know whether she wants to marry her loving partner, to have children with her loving partner, and so on.

For now, she is living under the cloud of an ideology that has told her that she must be all things to all people. She is a modern woman. She has drunk the feminist Kool-Aid. She thinks that she owes it to the sisterhood to become a lawyer. And, to be totally independent and autonomous. So, she is a casualty of feminism, and of course no one notices.

Polly misses the point entirely, but the truth is, the woman who calls herself Legally Losing It is a casualty of the notion that women should have it all. Credit where credit is due, Michelle Obama set women straight by telling them that, yes, they can have it all, just not all at the same time. That single piece of advice would have simplified LLI’s life immeasurably. Naturally, Polly is too busy trashing the woman to think of it… or of much of anything else.

Anyway, LLI is 26. She is finishing college. This makes her a late bloomer. But she is also working full time. She even has a partner with whom she occasionally has sex. She even goes to the gym.

Evidently, as noted, LLI is also a casualty of therapy. Here are some excerpts from her interminable letter:

I’m tired. Right now, I’m working full time in a law firm while also going to school full time. Most of the people my age have already graduated from college and moved on to grad school or their degrees, but I took a different path and I’m just now finishing up my bachelor’s degree so I can, hopefully, go to law school.

My job is a lot, and I’m only just scraping by there. I put in my 40 hours every week, and I still come out way, way behind schedule on everything. It’s the kind of job where I really should be working late and on weekends, but I can’t because I already don’t have enough time at night and on the weekends to get my schoolwork done.

I’ve felt really proud of myself for surviving this impossible amount of work. It’s hard – I’m tense and stressed and anxious all the time, and I cry daily about how I can’t do it anymore, but I’m still doing it. And, knock on wood, I’m doing okay in spite it all — I’m not thriving anywhere, but I haven’t irreversibly dropped the ball on anything, either.

At the same time, I’m clearly doing too much. I feel guilty for getting eight hours of sleep every night. I feel guilty when I have sex, or go to therapy, or exercise, or take a long hot shower. I feel guilty for writing this letter now, on my lunch break, when I really should be reading for school. Am I really committed and working hard if I do things other than work? I obviously need to take care of myself, but I really, really need to be doing work and everything else feels like self-sabotage.

My incredible, supportive partner and I have been talking about the possibility of me finding a job that is more part time so that I can be more balanced and maybe even take on more schoolwork to get through undergrad faster. I am so, so fucking tired and miserable and constantly on edge that all I want to do is quit, pare down my responsibilities, focus on finishing up this stupid fucking bachelor’s degree so I can just move on. But I’m afraid to quit my job because I don’t want to be a quitter. I’m a lifelong quitter. Until now, I’ve quit every hard thing the minute it got hard. I dropped out of high school because I was too depressed to function. I have dropped every sport, craft, and friendship once it got complicated enough to require real work from me. I am so tired of quitting. I feel like I have a lot to prove, and I’m entirely too weak to prove any of it.

Quitting my job would also mean that I wouldn’t have money to keep going to therapy, or to keep going to my gym (which is always the highlight of my week), or to keep buying art for my walls or the occasional date-night cocktail. And it means that I’d be a quitter, someone who tried something big and gave up when it got hard.

We do not know why she dropped out of high school. We know nothing about her family background or her social life. We do not know enough to brand her a quitter, though we suspect that her highly challenged therapist has taught her that she is a quitter and that she should not make changes in her life because that would constitute quitting. Polly trashes the woman. She should really be trashing the therapist. It’s the therapist’s stupid theory that’s in question here, along with her unrealistic expectations.

Polly says that LLI needs a part time job, and we generally agree. And yet, we would also like to know the money situation. Why is supportive partner not helping out? Is the partner a male or a female? We don’t know. What does the partner do for a living? We do not know. So, we have two totally autonomous individuals who have something that resembles a relationship… but who cannot share financial burdens.

So, LLI wants to be a lawyer. The salient point, which she raises herself, is whether she has the talent to do so. Apparently, no one thinks that she does:

This is all without even addressing the shame I feel for being a bit older than most undergrads and for not going to a “good” school. I get the vibe that some of the people in my life (teachers, co-workers, friends) think I might be a little silly for aspiring to be a lawyer. The people who know me best are excited for me and so supportive, but people I don’t know well (but who do know the legal field) aren’t as enthusiastic about my future. People I respect, who are otherwise kind to me, tend to use my current school as a punch line and clearly think that it’s only for stupid, low-achieving failures.

It feels so unfair. Despite how proud I am of all this work, I’m still so ashamed of what I am doing and how hard I have to work at it. It doesn’t matter that I’ve come so far and that my life is unrecognizable from where I was just a few years ago — I’m still working really hard to barely scrape by in my job and at my crappy school.

If law is not the right career path, it is not the right career path. If she is not suited for the legal profession she is not suited for the legal profession. If she has gotten the idea that she must do it anyway, then clearly she will exhaust herself, not because she is overworked but because she does not have the talent or the ability to succeed at law. Without the talent, the job will be a constant strain. This woman needs to figure out where her talent lies and not to try to live up to someone’s idea. Especially when most people around her are not encouraging her current course. She works at a law firm. People at the firm do not think that she is lawyer material. This is not telling her to kill herself trying to become a lawyer. Duh.

Of course, Polly does not believe in anything like talent and ability. She believes that the people who are telling LLI that she is not well suited for the law are really expressing their own doubts about their own careers. It’s an appalling way to tell a woman who cannot succeed in the law and who cannot do well in a fourth rate college that she should ignore the verdict of reality.

Polly says this:

If people who work in law question your pursuit of a law degree, I guarantee that’s because they question their own pursuit of a law degree. You should ask less questions about how worthy they think you are, and ask more questions about whether or not a career in law is worthy of your energy and intelligence. I’ll bet a lot of lawyers would tell you — like they told me when I was considering a law degree — that they’re unhappy with their jobs. Instead of making everything that happens a verdict on you, gather more information about the specific kind of law you want to practice and listen closely, with an open mind, to what people tell you about it.

Bad advice, as you might have expected. If LLI does not have the aptitude for the law perhaps she has an aptitude for something else. You never know. For now she is forcing herself to be and to do things for which she is not suited.

For whatever it’s worth, Polly ends up telling her to get off the treadmill and to enjoy life. It’s vapid, as expected, because it does not define what it means to enjoy life. And it does not tell LLI how to put some purpose in her activities, to put a new purpose in her work and to find a new direction. We do not and should not expect her to find enjoyment by taking warm baths and indulging in sybaritic pleasures, do we?


trigger warning said...

Thank Heaven Polly did not waste her time in law school. We have one of those in my neighborhood. He eventually adopted inactive Bar status and is now selling life extension supplements via infomercials... not all that different from what Polly does, but more lucrative.

Sam L. said...

Maybe, off the top of my head, she should take a time-out on what she's doing now, and get a job at McDonald's, while sorting out her mind.

UbuMaccabee said...

Wait until she fails the bar exam, or if she should finally get through, on the 3rd try, she then gets her ass handed to her in court. I foresee a long, long relationship with therapy--and pills.