September 5, 2016 § Leave a comment
On the afternoon of December 25, 2015, you would have found me on Tinder, swiping right and largely left while on vacation in New Orleans. The people who spend their Christmases flexing phalanges are exactly who you’d image: atheists, fellow Jews on holiday, and those whose family ties fall somewhere between nebulous and nefarious. But there was more in the air for me than just Mistletoe Swampwater Daquiris (a thing), for this was to be my first Tinder date. Was I excited??? No. We all know Tinder’s a big pile of shit.
But I reasoned — and my travel companion Daniel concurred — that Christmas is an ideal time to acquiesce to the thrills and repugnances of modern dating. Tindering on vacation means that every date is destined for long-term doom, which was oddly comforting. Vulnerability, that old “getting to know someone” standby, was squashed like a muffuletta between a tourist’s incisors. Hallelu!
Given all of this plus the fact that very few things are open on Christmas, I hopped onto Tinder with Daniel faithfully Grindring by my side.
Getting a date
Once you decide you’re OK with online dating, the next step is to actually find a date. This part, as it turns out, sucks tremendous garbage-dump juice. Weird gender succubi take shape here, I hate to report: males tend to swipe on everything while females tend take on a more reactive role.
Initially, I responded to everyone who wrote to me because how do you really know who’s a schmuck and who, heart be still, is a non-schmuck? How do you suss out a good match in this vast and pixelated libidinal sea? It feels cruel to so casually ignore and reject people — and dozens of them, and in microseconds! This is why anyone who reached out to me with anything non-perverted received an answer.
If you think this logic is sane, I’ve got some sad news for you, homies: it isn’t. You may have noticed that the internet brings out the worst in people, and online dating is a breeding ground for nuisances, depravities, and rotten gender hullabaloo. We have not yet figured out how to translate the best of humanity into technology.
But who’s got time for all this half-baked intellectualizing? Certainly Daniel and I did not. Swipes were accumulating and vacay time was ticking. And eventually Daniel threw down the gauntlet: “Please pick a schmo so we can go eat 10,000 beignets at Cafe Du Monde.” So I buckled down!
And finally, someone seemed to pass the test. His name was Ray (his name was not actually Ray), and he was visiting New Orleans with a friend as well. We all decided to meet at a famous Irish bar in the city center, one of the few places that was open on Christmas.
Prepping for the main event
It goes without saying that a reduction in sobriety was needed beforehand. So Daniel and I made our way over to Carousel, a rotating cocktail lounge that, despite its name, is not filled with carnival tchotchkes. Allegedly they perfected the Sazerac here (which was invented, also allegedly, at an eponymous bar across the street). I don’t care much for Sazeracs, or for spending $16 on cocktails, but I was going on a Tinder date soon! Butterflies were brimming, banshees were traipsing my intestines about to and fro, and days of beignets were bungling about somewhere in the same vicinity. Suddenly, I scrambled to hit the giant red panic button that would eject my tuchus into the sky.
“I want to bail. Let’s just hang out the two of us. Screw men!” I probed.
“Oh, stop being a child,” Daniel said. He’d already found a guy on Grindr 200-feet away and was engaged in his own mini-glowing-screen romance.
“I just hate first dates. Or want to meet someone in a normal way. Or something!”
“This is a normal way! Look around. There are a hundred people here, and all of us are congregating in the groups we came in with. Most people just look at their phones, get wasted, and hope for some connection while avoiding it all. So if it takes an app to meet someone now, then who cares?”
“I guess so…”
“Plus, I’m going to be with you. And if it’s terrible I’ll just pretend someone died and we’ll leave.”
Boy had a point! Some friends, no matter how much liquor you ply them with, simply wouldn’t be down to join you on your first real app date. This is not the case with my beloved Daniel.
So we imbibed more, chatted on mundanities, obscenities, and philosophies. Feeling jazzed by the conversation along with the actual jazz pouring in from the side streets, my resoluteness sharpened. Soon we made our way over to the wackass bar where it was all slated to go down.
Once we arrived, Daniel and I grabbed a new set of libations and headed to the grated metal tables outside, next to a flaming fountain and vulturesque waiters. They glided by in frantic figure eights, donning oversized leprechaun-green suit jackets that I suspect have been in establishment circulation since the ‘70s.
“You must be Rachel and Daniel.” TinderDudeGuy Ray had found us.
The first thing I noticed was his shirt, a vintage green short-sleeve button-up, speckled with red palm trees, penguins, and skiing figures. It was a pattern befitting of hipsters today, though I am certain that at the time of its manufacturing a designer promptly found himself at the unemployment office. Ray felt familiar to me instantly because of that shirt: strangely, a thought of my college boyfriend came to me. Ray was undeniably cool, an easy smile, his stupid shirt, a supremely serene and positive demeanor. I was instantly attracted.
We moved over to Ray’s table, joining his friend and two girls they’d met earlier. You’d think the group dynamic might make the date awkward, but everyone was interesting and extremely fun to drink with, and I exhaled.
Ray and I talked of the usual things, what we’d seen thus far in New Orleans, what we did for work, etc., and then religion inadvertently came into it.
“What’s on your necklace?” he asked. “I feel like I’ve seen that somewhere before.”
“Oh, it’s a Jewishy thing.” I’d worn it that night because I liked the pattern, but I’d forgotten what the words across it even meant in Hebrew. I wondered what it might imply to him.
“Are you Jewish?”
“Yep. But you know, Jews are like a race and a culture and a religion, so I don’t know how much that explains things.” Hoo boy, here we go. Now we’d have to talk about God!! I’ve no aversion to God talk, but it’s not exactly on the “top 10 sexy things to talk about on date one” list. I continued, “What about you?”
“I’m not religious, but my family is Muslim and that’s how I was raised.”
“Well, that would explain why we’re both here on Christmas.”
He laughed, I relaxed, and a cheers was had. As we got more comfortable, we cracked our shells a bit, let some yolks spill out into the oxygen, tested what was safe and what would be reciprocated. At some point I noticed him angle his chair towards mine, and soon after he kissed me (#holla!) — but I tried to minimize the PDA because I am not a goon and knew I already owed Daniel 1,000 drinks for giving up a perfectly good Grindr date to attend my heterosexual-filled date.
We spent a few hours all together at the bar, drinking electric-red frozen monstrosities that seized our hearts with palpitations, before we headed to the streets, brass jazz trumpets spilling out onto the hot pavement and chattering crowds pinging like a timpani. I was reminded traveling’s insouciance, of meeting strangers below a new city’s smattering of stars and sky.
It was not what I expected from Tinder. Ray was smart and handsome and not a serial killer. His face had such a subtle softness to it, and the kind of eyes that put you at ease — two wells of sincerity, two gemstone yolks that would have appeared too intense if they weren’t framed by such a kind face. I could see sorrow there too. And I found myself completely endeared.
When we got outside, Ray and I separated from the others so we could wander alone for a bit. We talked about how in many parts of this world, and in virtually every other time period, our night together would never have materialized: thinking of my grandparents in New York and their Jewish traditions, his grandparents in Turkey and their Islamic traditions — seemingly universes apart, and yet, all people who found, built, and survived in a community in which religion was integral. It didn’t feel weighty, but we mused a bit on it anyway. Embedded in the words was an overwhelming sense of self-determination and the luck of birth. Even just that we were both privileged enough to own phones, ones that geo-locate some version of romance for you whenever you want. The neurons contemplated: ridiculous life, surreal times, fortuitous atoms tapping toes — perhaps to an Armstrong jangle.
Eventually we called it a date, I wound my way back to the hotel, and crawled in next to Daniel, who was happily splayed out in a frozen daiquiri coma. Ray and I actually met up a few more times throughout the trip too, which was a nice surprise. Daniel reassured me that I hit something like the dating app jackpot, and this kind of experience is fairly unusual. “Cool!” I thought.
But that is, you know, it. The denouement tied up a thing that was drama free to an absurd extent. Which is what I’d assumed going in: future tense, null and void; vulnerability, vanquished. It came into view when writing this: Ray is not really a focal point, though the whole narrative allegedly surrounds him. I don’t think of him outside the scope, the arc, the memory anchored by the brain and not the heart.
Extrapolating the meaning of life, just because!
Romance is Proustian. I’m reeled into the vastly different cities I’ve traveled to that somehow enfolded such similar elements: for instance, I am back to age 21, with two Canadian men we met in Paris who roamed around with us for the weekend. I sentimentalize those days and use ridiculous language to describe it, like this: my profligate Parisian days, bleeding with wine and museums and wide soft-bricked streets, one of the boys and I pairing up, kissing at 2 a.m. by rose bushes beside the Seine, which was so corny we shook our fists in the air. And then a group of men passed us, smiling, asking us if we were engaged, we told them yes, they bought us shots, and my boy asked me, stars and liquor exploding in his irises, “Are we falling in love in Paris?” And I laughed because I did not know what to say, I never mistake love for something else, but I did not want to damper his excitement, and I was so happily swept up too. And we hid on a hostel staircase until the sun rose, and then the men left, and I remember my boy’s gait, the back of his head, walking away, and though we’d said otherwise, I knew I would never see him again.
And I felt that way again with Ray as it was happening, it was packed into every step though I could never explain that to him: it was young, fizzy, the world a wholly possible thing, a human whose life forever intersects with mine but also knowing never again.
Daniel said, “Why couldn’t you see him again? You live in New York. Everyone comes through New York.” He wasn’t wrong, but your guts tell you no despite the fact that you don’t believe in premonitions. It doesn’t bother you. Whirlwind romances are best severed quickly. An amputation preserves the fantastical whole. You’ve been through this before and you can rest on that.
It circles back to a fairly simple thought: once you find people you connect with, it doesn’t matter how you found them. It is a miracle when you zoom out and consider it. Because you carry all of your life with you when you meet someone. You bring it into every room as you pick your lips upwards, expose your cuspids, draw out your palm, and say “Hi” to a new person, who is also, amazingly, doing the same thing.
It’s not baggage, and even if it was, there is no moral qualifier to it. It’s why even though I felt odd going on Tinder in the first place, interacting with another person is still just that. It’s the same groping — sweetly, but groping — to connect, because it is what they refer to as the “the good stuff in life” and it is what everyone you know is looking to do.
April 3, 2016 § Leave a comment
It’s been awhile! Let’s hop into my life and times, for those who may be interested in my life, times, or lifetimes.
Work (and commuting) stuff
I started a new job! Now it’s less new. The work is wonderful, and pretty much my only complaint is that the commute is about as cozy as Chinese water torture. Given that having a job you enjoy is an absurd privilege — one which I do not take lightly, having once slung dog poop out of designer dog crates to pay the taxman — I would still like to put forth that the horrors of the L train during rush hour cannot be overstated.
How can I possibly convey the 9 a.m. commute from Brooklyn to Chelsea? I will try: think of people watching at the airport, then remove all the charm and spirit of human curiosity. Why is this so? Well, my friend, it’s difficult to find anyone charming when your chin is shoved into their armpit. Second, you become a Sapien Tetris piece: your shoulder is jutting out to the right. Your weight finds itself concentrated upon a singular, wary shin muscle. And your face — in case you forgot — is shoved into a stranger’s armpit. And even the most hygienic armpit is still, at the end of the day, an armpit.
Then, the temperature. It is not uncommon to find oneself pouring sweat, unable to remove a layer because even a phalange’s quiver is inconceivable in such crammed quarters. This is followed by the abrupt freezing of toes, nose, pantyhose, and all sorts of bodily ohs! as you step above ground and bow at the behest of the is-it-winter-or-not clime. Maybe you reach your 11th Avenue destination. Maybe you Wikipedia both gangrene and heat stroke. Or maybe you pick up a habit of shoving old people aside and blasting DMX’s …And Then There Was X without bothering to put on headphones in crowded public spaces. Either way, it is a veritable “fire and brimstone” situation.
Other than that though, I like my job a lot. Really! I can’t remember where I read this, but I came across a formula for workplace happiness that burrowed into my brain jelly: you need to believe in the company mission, feel fulfilled by your responsibilities, or love the people you work with. I have all three. So I’m counting my lucky stars, blessing the Year of the Monkey, and blowing smooches to my evil-eye charm bracelet for warding off the dybbuks of Greenpoint. If you don’t know what a dybbuk is, I’m not the best person to tell you, but you should watch the opening scene of a A Serious Man and befriend some bubbes.
Interior design stuff
My roommate Jesse and I have finally, after a year and some change, conquered our decor needs. He possesses a much stronger aesthetic sensibility than I do, so I probably slowed this process down a bit. But more than anything else the delay has to do with an allocation of resources. For example, I have a heinous Ikea lamp in my room that I’ve had since college. Truly truly, it is an ugly thing. But it turns off and on as lamps ought to do, and utility is more important than style at this point in my bank account’s lifecycle. I’d rather buy myself a cheese platter (utility!) than go hunting for a new lamp (style!).
Jesse isn’t like this. First, he’s dietarily restricted and is now avoiding dairy for some perfectly noble gut-related reason, so lamps outrank cheeses at the moment. Second, he knows a special item when he sees one and where to place it and why it matters. It is as if every object he picks out represents some interesting facet of his personality, as if when you step into our living room, you get the vibe of his soul. And so he invests in it. And I admire it, even though I don’t totally relate to it. It feels like a far-off “adult” thing to be concerned with. We go into shops all the time and I see his irises widen with possibility: fancy spoons that match wide-rimmed jam jars, woven Chilean rugs hanging from cerise walls, piles of decorative bowls placed everywhere because empty bowls are a thing now apparently. If I owned a home I might commit to these furnishings, but as a renter who has a tenuous relationship with her landlord and walls infested with lead poisoning, I’m happy to hold off for now. The good news is that it doesn’t matter how I feel about it. I get to reap the fashionable benefits of Jesse’s eye for éclat, and I get to enjoy having a home that does not resemble a hurricane more than I would be able to do if it was just me living by my lonesome.
One of the main motivators for the decorating spur is Jesse’s disdain for fluorescent lighting, which has experienced exponential growth over time. It seems he finally couldn’t take it, and now we have interesting lamps in every room. We also have scented candles up the whazoo. Other notable things: flamingo wallpaper surrounded by a gigantic Van Gogh-grey frame, a green marbled chess board (pining for a wayward black bishop), an un-scuffed copper serving platter displaying four bottles of passable liquor, homemade potpourri, a bookshelf with a row reserved exclusively for female authors, a white-clay cradle, suspended by braided cord, that holds the tiniest succulent you’ve ever seen, and a cartoonish faux taxidermy mini-zebra head, which I am against but have since relented.
Here is something I’ve seen several times in NYC: you walk into someone’s apartment — someone who has taste, flair, and probably some disposable income, but not necessarily — and their decor elicits a jaw drop and an audible yip!. New York apartments come crumbling, plagued with locusts and the aforementioned lead poisoning, and built for roughly ¼ of the space you require. To make that look nice means a lot. So, I shall ride Jesse’s sensational coattails to wherever he takes us, to whatever bespoke canteens may land upon our kitchenette on any random Tuesday.
I’ve been following our country’s political life. As usual, the situation is dire! It feels like we’re all in a circus from a lost episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, where the whole planet is doomed to stay inside a tent and watch a show against their will for all eternity. Having our Facebook feeds full of shareable memes parading as facts doesn’t help matters much either, though I can’t begrudge people for trying to connect about something important on a platform that connects us all, for better or worse. I was writing up a much longer post about politics, but it’s kind of rambling and purposeless, and like most things that feel purposeless, I feel I should abandon it. Also, perhaps the last thing the Internet needs is another white person pontificating about politics on her personal blog.
I still have not done my taxes, but I’m HOPING today is the day I get my rear in gear, be-hind in line, butt out of its rut, ass on blast, and tuchus into H&R Block. Uncle Sam waits not for the aged teens of generation aught.
Embarrassingly late to TV stuff
I watched Breaking Bad for the first time. It’s so good. Totally get why you were all into it.
I’ve been writing this post for too long stuff
I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions because who cares! That being said, I want to do and improve upon lots of things! This might seem like a random bullet point, but I’ve been writing this blog update on and off since January, so I thought I’d just leave this in for 2016 kicks.
More to come stuff!
Quite soon (tomorrow or the next day) I will update you about other things in my life, things about dating and New Orleans and charcoal pore strips, tentatively entitled “love in the time of Drake.” Originally all of these updates were just in one post, but then this entry would have come out around seven pages, which would amount to about seven minutes of reading time, which is about four minutes longer than the Internet attention span.
Chit chat at ya soon, humans who read this!
July 29, 2015 § 1 Comment
When one happens to be a female holed up in New York, such as, say, our beloved narrator, one must inevitably utter (or get an eardrum full of) the age-old adage, “What the hell is up with the men in New York?” The type of people who live in New York, and therefore the type of people you date in New York, really do feel particular to this city. Of course, this point has been editorialized ad nauseam. Men suck, women suck, everyone who identifies in any other way sucks as well, big whoop, what else is new, you’re thinking? Fair enough, dear reader. But this goes beyond the garbage that’s out there on gender—whether it’s bad biology (men have a cheating gene!) or cultural constructions (men will be men and men sometimes cheat!) or shareable listicles (the top 10 boyfriends who will cheat on you before you’re 30 and the 15 cats you will subsequently own before finding the love of your life due to this one secret no one is telling you about!). It feels at times like there are concentric circles billowing outwards of New York and men and my own pre-conceived notions of love and dating and (dare I write romance? Well, I for one am fine if I have to chuck that out with the patriarchal bathwater—and simultaneously, may I add, giving that proverbial baby a whole other slew of analyses to mull over).
I realize one of the worst things a New Yorker can do is talk about what makes New York so different from everywhere else. But I’m having a nugget of a worry! I fear New York is potentially de facto wrapping my wrists in invisible chains. I say this because every other human in every other city in the U.S. is tying the knot (according to my Facebook feed, at least). In NYC, that pressure just doesn’t exist for 20-somethings in the same way. The only reason marriage has even come up on my radar is because of Facebook, which leads me to the conclusion that everyone else in the country must look at New York like a playground for people delaying adulthood to perverted extremes and throwing Monopoly money around. It feels like that sometimes! Which is why it’s shocking to me that my peers have apparently gotten their lives together. Or, at least, together to the point that they’ve found it a feasible and even desirable prospect to join their own lives with another person’s life. Marriage is for people who understand how credit scores work and have an interest in learning seasonally-inspired pancake recipes and things of that nature. Truly another echelon of existence from the typical New Yorker I associate with, people who say things like, “I will be Seamlessing burritos for the next three days and also I don’t have a 401K and also I just puked on the steps of Trash and Vaudeville.”
If I had to guess, I’d say that the rest of the country’s wedding bells hit a sonic peak around age 25, then crescendo to bachelor parties in Montreal at age 28, and on and on until the last cacophony of hashtags (#HappilyEverSteinenberg), maybe around age 32, are finally put to bed (somewhere in Bali or Croatia, according to the honeymoon Instagrams). Meanwhile, back in New York, we tend to go out not with a bang or a whimper but rather a middle finger, and not until age 45+ for men and unknown if ever for women (shout out to the UES facelift and the male-female ratio imbalance, respectively).
But who gives a shit if someone in Wichita got hitched last Saturday? Good for them! Go Wichita. Well, I agree! None of this would actually be a problem for me, esteemed reader, if I didn’t think that someday, maybe, I’d like to try living in a different city. I love it here, of course, the way one loves a mole you can’t seem to save up enough money of to remove. But sometimes I think life is too short to not try a few metropolises on for size. And anyway, as should be obvious, living in NYC is basically just forking over your entire life’s savings to go to a continuous party that other people are writing about and profiting off of while you’re simultaneously developing a panic disorder on a G train that’s stuck underground.
So if I ever do go to a different city, let’s say when I’m 37 and single and doing grown woman things, well, I might arrive only to find myself an insta-leper. Mid-30s seems to be around the the time in the average New Yorker’s life cycle when a person such as myself might start to think about marriage. But it is not so in other cities. Men in Chicago will have punched out a few kids who are old enough to rattle off the Cubs’ lineup by that point. Men in LA will be well into Holy Matrimony Round 2, and already seeing returns off their children’s robust probiotic yogurt commercial reels. And I can only imagine what grandfatherly state men anywhere below the Mason-Dixon line will be in. Thus, I may find myself having to return, by default, to New York, just so I can continue to go on dates with single men who, too, would be considered boorish or alien in any other setting. For all the festering cesspools of garbage one has to deal with while living here, and believe me, there are many (garbage here is a metaphor for piles and piles of more actual piles of garbage on the sidewalk), it is kind of nice to be reminded that no matter what, you aren’t a freak.
Let’s be real: it’s pretty damn hard to be a leper in New York. The other day I saw a man in a Wall Street suit and a clown wig with a gigantic flute in one hand and a book on Nietzsche in the other, and he was blasting Naughty By Nature, and his face was totally deadpan, and no one even looked twice at him!! It was awesome! Even this man blends! Why I think that bodes well for the dating scene is probably how I wound up here in the first place.
A related thought: It’s unfortunate that a byproduct of dating men here is that one has to resist the urge to categorize the ridiculous people you find yourself going out with (the digital strategist who’s into Sun Tzu, caffeine, and feet; the RoR developer with a penchant for fair trade turkey jerky and barbiturates, etc.)—the kind of groups I’d be quick to deem as misogynistic if the gender roles were reversed, and that is a place I don’t want to go to. Even for humor! Of course, humor is a natural impulse when dealing with the dating world, as humor often serves as our attempt to one-up the horrors of the human condition (among which is the dating world). But you know, it is also what makes living and dating in New York as a (relatively) young person so fun. There are so many ridiculous people and wonderful nights and stories to have while single here—like a man on the C train drawing your portrait on a napkin, or going to a 5-course dinner in Meatpacking with a banker one night and eating tuna from the can with a Bushwick painter the next, or having a first kiss on the bridge from Greenpoint to Long Island City, or having a first kiss anywhere— it’s kind of hard to imagine giving all of that up. Particularly when you still don’t care about making seasonal pancakes for someone else.
I don’t want my love life to read as a bad Elite Daily article, though as a writer, the impulse is at times to sell one’s love life. The fodder is deep and rich in New York, and internet blogging vacuums tend to pay a few pennies for “women’s lifestyle” drivel. I’m ashamed that there have been times that I’ve thought of my experiences with men as packageable article headlines. Because as a writer, I’m supposed to be good at making headlines out of life. And because it’s easier to make sense of “likes” than love. But I like to think well of people, and people includes men, and when I tell stories about them I want them to be stories that conclude with how terrific they are, because I want men to think women are terrific, too, and I want to consider holistically the good and bad in humanity, and come out on the side of it being alright. Maybe it sounds extreme to go from dating to your stance on the human race, but if you want to commit “til death do you part” to someone else, it seems to me that you should have a few solid ideas about what “someone else” even means to you and the kinds of things you want out of life. Of course, this isn’t the first thing you want to probe about when you’ve had seven vodka sodas and you’re dancing with a dude you just met to “Bitch Better Have My Money.”
When you live here, even for a year, you get good at the New York dating thing (or the, he’s not my boyfriend but we’re kind of together but it’s also open millenial thing). I’m good at meeting the men of New York where they’re at, even if where they’re at is a place that seems insane to the rest of the world, or if they’re workaholics, or if they’re wonderful but they want to travel the world to build a yoga startup, or if they have the tendency to swallow up as many women as they can until one sticks in their baleen, despite their most aggressive filtering, despite the fact that they were only able to do so by casting out as many women as possible to always be floating nearby.
I’m less good at finding men who can meet me where I’m at. Maybe it’s because it’s hard in life to really know where you’re at. And when you’re on Facebook and you see people in Wichita get married and that feels so foreign from where you are, and when you read about people’s impressive promotions, and see an e-map of their staggering 5am long-distance runs, and their impossibly free and soulful decision to give up their day job and travel around South America to learn about coffee farming—well, it’s hard to be a univocal protagonist, knowing what you want and where you’re going and even just where you stand. But you suspect your friends are going through it, too. And you see all your friends on these dating apps, and it’s like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Love and Boning. Tinder at the bottom, a date for oysters in the East Village in the middle, and at the top I don’t know if it’s marriage and kids or just being able to afford your apartment and look at yourself in the mirror and know that you are trying to be a good person.
May 13, 2015 § Leave a comment
As a BritBrit scholar, someone asked me how Britney’s latest single “Pretty Girls” could be feminist. I’d argue that the song offers an alternative means to processing a fairly terrible universal female experience, street harassment, and attempts to find empowerment and redemption through female celebration.
Let’s start with Britney’s first verse.
Hey, don’t you know that it’s always the same?
From Australia ’round to LA
You can betcha’, wherever the girls go, boys follow
We be keeping them up on their toes
They can laugh, but they don’t get the jokes
Just you watch, they’re so predictable
(Some things don’t change…)
Britney acknowledges a global female experience here, not just from a geographic standpoint but also a historical one (“…it’s always the same”, “some things don’t change”). But with this acknowledgement also comes an expression of inevitability, a sentiment that could, quite frankly, be pretty depressing—but it’s also understandable both as an emotional reaction and as an intellectual standpoint given the longstanding narrative of female oppression. Yet, rather than frustration or despair, we get a playful, party summer beat paired with the confident vocals of a notably less-autotuned Britney, indicating that instead, women can find a cause for celebration. Men are following women here, and in the context of this verse alone, it’s due to the uniqueness of feminine wit and understanding of the world (“We be keeping them on their toes/ They can laugh, but they don’t get the jokes”). We see women as having some insider knowledge, they are “in on the joke”. One gender following another isn’t exactly the goal of egalitarian gender relations, but it does provide a refreshing framework in which women can carve out a sense of power even given a global structure of patriarchal oppression—and male behavior is still participatory (they are laughing, after all), though it highlights a discrepancy in truly seeing and understanding the female experience.
Let’s take a deeper dive into Britney’s second verse (my personal favorite):
Tell me, is it true that these men are from Mars?
Is that why they be acting bizarre?
Every time I walk out of my house it’s like, “Hey, baby!”
They don’t see me rolling my eyes
They buzzing around me like flies
They got one thing on their minds
(Some things don’t change…)
Here the “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus” trope gets a shout out (and also lends itself to the Geena Davis “Earth Girls are Easy” video inspiration. But perhaps more interestingly, for Britney fans this instantly hearkens back to the track “Alien” on Britney’s latest album, which is a powerful thread running through Britney’s career as she moved from early themes of romantic loneliness (“My loneliness is killing me,” “You thought that I would be lonely?” “My loneliness ain’t killing me no more”, etc.) to a tragic or matter-of-fact isolation caused by her “alien” cultural status, depending on where the perspective may lie). This verse explicitly comments on the communication gap between genders through street harassment, how at its best its a nuisance, but more poignantly, how men fail to truly “see” the female reaction (eye rolling). What’s interesting about “Pretty Girls” is that it argues that male’s failure to see the female reaction is doing a disservice to them. It’s an unusual and empowering view in which males, not females, are the ultimate losers in the male attempt to gain power through harassment. Women and feminists are absolved from the sole burden of changing or policing male behavior, and instead the onus resides with men to realize that their true best interests lie with a higher purpose and their redemption lies only through empathy. For women, it’s like, hey, we might go outside and get harassed, but instead of getting depressed about it, let’s wear 80’s neon bangle earrings and leopard print crop tops and go dancing at the club with our gal pals while we also pretend to be aliens because life is both very fun and very weird!
Two things to note in the chorus (and I imagine these are the issues that people first pick up on from a cursory radio listen):
All around the world, pretty girls
Wipe the floor with all the boys
Pour the drinks, bring the noise
We’re just so pretty!
All around the world, pretty girls
Jump the line, to the front
Do what we like, get what we want
We’re just so pretty!
The first train of thought is this: “Pretty girls = female focus on appearance as a means to achieve power = bad.” But there is a real universal sense in the song that all women can be “pretty girls,” given that nearly all women have experienced some kind of harassment (ostensibly based on their appearance, though we all know harassment is about male power, not female appearance, right?). Britney doesn’t mention anything in regards to what, exactly, makes a pretty girl a pretty girl—what she offers is only the female wit and worldly understanding discussed previously (Iggy mentions “slim waist, thick cake” in her rap, but I’m ignoring her entirely for this analysis because I don’t like her that much for a bunch of other problematic issues that I won’t get to here). It doesn’t read as “pretty” based on limited definitions of what actually defines appearance, but rather, that “pretty” is a societal baseline for which all women must associate with or compare themselves to, and instead of submitting to despair at that system, women can in fact enjoy their lives by pouring some drinks, doing what they like, and getting what they want.
The first line of the chorus is the other thing to address: “All around the world pretty girls wipe the floor with all the boys.” Again, one gender wiping the floor with another is certainly not a feminist goal. And my first impulse was to try and understand how a man might feel hearing that in a club. But I couldn’t help but think that all the men I know who would wince at that line or feel uncomfortable have not expressed any discomfort to me at a club when they hear the endless barrage of rap and pop music that disparages women. There is a lyrical canon that trashes women or debases the daily experiences of womanhood, and in true double standard fashion, when a female expresses the same aggressive sentiments towards men that men have expressed towards women, they are accused and judged in a way that men have evaded as it is so pervasively “the norm.” But again, this song isn’t about women leading the charge for men to save themselves from themselves. In the case of women expressing hostility, frustration, or a desire to dominate men, it is within the context of a history that has told them that only the opposite is possible, that what they are saying is a fringe statement amongst a status quo that has dictated their oppression for centuries. Keep in mind that radical feminists have held the position that given the history of male domination over women, the only means to an egalitarian society is to unite in personally confronting men, who consciously constructed patriarchal domination, or to completely destroy the institutions of the patriarchal society (marriage, the workplace, and heterosexuality, among others). To internalize the treatment of women and flip it on its head, and to do so in a playful song that asks for women to celebrate rather than shoulder the exclusive burden for gender reform or play into stereotypes of female empowerment as aggressive misandry, is actually one of the more palatable and watered down forms of female discontent given human histories of radical rebellion.
But it would be a mistake to go the other way then, and assume that because Britney and Iggy are part of the “pop machine”, that nothing they do or express can have a powerful message that is also shared by activists, that because the song is poppy and radio ready, that their message is always sugary and should always be written off. In this sense, Britney has created a balance that is incredibly rare and particular to this moment in history, in which females in positions of power are celebrating some aspects of feminism in a way that casts the widest net, leveraging their popularity to the lowest common denominator—something we devalue in a culture of elitism, but in reality, represents one of the most influential and powerful means to spread a message. And because Britney refers only to “girls and boys” in the chorus, the listener is left with the notion that only in growth, stemming from empathy, will girls and boys both reach their full potential—to come into fully realized men and women, both operating on the same page.
April 7, 2015 § Leave a comment
Back in December, my co-worker Suri and I put together a workshop on Britney Spears. To both of our surprises, the workshops sold very well, and then they continued to sell out, and then some media outlets deemed our little corner of the Britosphere worth covering. Most of the press has been flattering or sweetly curious, some have been incredibly confused, but either way, I’m happy that I get to talk about “Blackout” while meeting like-minded feminists and pop-lovers over cheap beer on a regular basis.
All dates are sold out at the moment, but we’ll be at Bluestockings Bookstore on May 4th for a free event at 7pm.
You can sign up for our newsletter here, and be the first to know when we add new dates: britneyworkshop.tumblr.com
Check out some of the press:
And one of my personal favorites, from Inquisitr, “Britney Spears Fans Sign Up for Workshop On Icon: Is Christina Aguilera 101 Next?” (The answer: hell no.)
More updates to come. For now, I’d be remiss if I did not conclude with this prolific quote, and one of my personal favorites, from our very own Sage Spears:
“Baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby (oh baby), baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby (oh baby), baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby (baby), baby (baby), baby.”—Britney Spears, “Ooh Ooh Baby”
February 6, 2015 § Leave a comment
Mimicking the graceful, directional flight of the geese, so too did my bank account plunge southward this winter. Unlike the geese, I couldn’t understand why things were going the way they were going. I had neither a dramatic increase in spending nor a decrease in income. My behaviors were consistent: get up, ride the subway smashed between 400 armpits of other people who just got up, guzzle (free!) coffee at work, purchase lunch and sometimes cocktails after work, maybe cook an egg on the weekend. Sure, sometimes I have to buy a gift for someone I love, sometimes I have to buy a new pair of shoes because the heel of my winter boots started to fall off and I tried to superglue it back on and ultimately it was not a prudent fix. But that’s about it spending-wise for this one!
So when things took a turn for the broke, I handled this issue the way any New Yorker would: I kvetched incessantly with confusion, hostility, and occasionally, a healthy dollop of wit to anyone who would listen. They responded the way most New Yorkers respond: aggressively calling me out on everything I’m doing wrong.
The first thing I was taken to task for was my lack of cooking. Sure, in the narrative of my day, this stands out as the obvious choice for the overspending culprit. But the whole concept of cooking is actually a serious anecdotal debate that occurs among two discrete factions of New Yorkers. In one group, you have The Cookers. They just loveeee to cook and tell you all about how they make a giant vat of turkey chili in their slow cooker every Sunday so they have food for the whole week. These people are often coupled up, meaning that they themselves are not forced to eat chili for lunch and dinner for the next 7 days straight, but that between two people, they save a lot of money and they just loveeee how it brings people together. It’s nice, in a saccharine way. Naturally, in the other camp are the Non-Cookers. It’s not that this camp is lazy and uncaring. A lot of them really like food. In fact, it is people in this group who made the term “foodie” a thing you’re supposed to hashtag. They love experiencing the vast restaurant scene of the city, or having diet diversity (Thai one night and Indian another night and Mexican the third), or are simply busy and everything can be delivered in New York for really not that much more money than what you would spend if you were cooking for one. And yes, of course, you could also just be lazy and a bad cook and fine living off of a diet of cheese and Chinese takeout.
Clearly, for me, being a Non-Cooker wasn’t keeping my bank account robust, and I was up for trying something new. So, I tried to cook some stuff! And it went okay! Yes, one time I dropped my phone in a pot of boiling water. Yes, one time I nearly sliced my stomach in half by trying to open a vacuum sealed bag of turkey bacon with a chopping knife. (I was holding the turkey bacon package against my stomach, and holding the knife the wrong way. Lesson learned!) And yes, guilty as charged, I brought a sad salad to lunch at work. But you know what? A few things I made were pretty good, too! And I didn’t hate doing it!
Yet still, to my disbelief, the bank account continued on its merry way of plummeting. So the other theory posited, after the cooking one, was that I should stop socializing quite so much (this is represented by “cocktails” in the narrative of my day). I’ve learned something about adulthood in New York, and that is this: meeting up with a friend is always done over a beer or a cocktail. I don’t know why. We have a lot of other things we could do here. It’s the largest city in the U.S. after all. But if you want to see any of your friends ever again, you’re going to a cocktail bar in Brooklyn or the LES. And as well you know, buying cocktails in New York is essentially willingly participating in your own robbery.
To be frank, I know nothing about cocktails. But I’m good friends with several people who know quite a bit about them. And they have explained to me that given the price for quality ingredients and the absurd cost of commercial renting in NYC, what most bars charge for cocktails is actually “fair.” This may be true, but if a vodka soda costs $18 to cover operating costs and upkeep your bar, then what’s fair is also incontestably terrible. So now that we all agree it’s terrible, we are led only to one conclusion: it is insane to have bars in New York. We need to start going to more house parties with $7.99 handles of Kamchatka vodka as if we are 17-year-olds. But since I am not going to start the Kamchatka house party revolution, because I am clearly quite busy fulfilling my own Maslow’s hierarchy at the moment, I wondered how I could circumvent the system while still maintaining my friendships. And the answer hit me quite suddenly. I should invest in a flask! I said this out loud at work, and as it turns out, someone had a flask they didn’t need at the office (this is normal, I work at a startup).
So not only did I have a flask on my side, but I also began suggesting alternative activities to drinking at bars, such as drinking a $6 gallon of wine at my place or playing board games or seeing some free art or getting a coffee because I have Starbucks gift card.
After modifying both my food and social behaviors, I checked my bank statements online, anticipation dripping from my fingertips. And lo and behold! I was still just another broke 20-something in New York. No change whatsoever! I joked that someone must be stealing from me because it made no sense. And with that, I sort of just gave up and accepted the terrible status quo of my terrible savings account.
But, dear readers, something wonderful happened to me tonight. I found out that slowly and discreetly, someone has been robbing me!! Someone has been stealing smallish amounts of money for months that really added up!! It all finally makes sense. I’m elated! Why was it so hard to detect? Because apparently the person robbing me is also a New Yorker, and like me, they are spending my money on food and cocktails.
November 20, 2014 § 1 Comment
I dyed my hair blonde again this past week. It takes a very long time, four hours or so. You sit in the chair while someone paints your hair in thin strands with a wooden brush, first the back, then working towards the front. It’s painstaking and expensive. For some reason, when you go blonde the dye itself is purple. I’m not smart enough to know why it’s purple, or really, what the hell kinds of toxins they are actually putting into my hair. The dye’s texture is like something from a childhood haunted house, the goop you’d stick your hands into when the lights are all out, those soon-to-be-expired grapes passing for zombie brains or eyeballs. The fact that this thought actually crossed my mind should be an indication of how often I frequent salons.
When it was time for the dye to sit and dry, my stylist asked if I wanted a magazine. Instead I pulled out my book, Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot.” I got a bit self-conscious. Why do I have to be such an asshole and pull out this seven-pound Russian book in the middle of a salon? A minute or so later, the receptionist walked by and talked to me a bit about “Anna Karenina.” She was having a hard time getting through it, but thought it was just starting to get good. Another hairdresser joined the conversation, mentioning the movie. Then several other girls getting haircuts started to chime in, somehow the topic shifted to horror movies, and then the whole salon was chatting about bad B-grade films. We weren’t discussing anything important – at one point “The Human Centipede” came up – but everyone had something to say and it culminated in a very good joke by one of the stylists and everyone laughed.
I thought of my grandmother, then, and how for her entire life, she loved going to beauty parlors (her term). Even at the end, in the assisted living home, she went to get her hair done every week. It seems shallow. But it was a real social space for her as a woman to connect with other women, one of the few precious spheres afforded to women of her generation outside the home, and she held it sacred. Going to the beauty parlor for her, a poor New York Jew from an immigrant family, was a luxury, a duty, and I suspect most importantly, a community. Watching her in there chatting with all the women, both as a child and then caring for her as an adult, made celebrity gossip and nail polish something quite substantial, actually.
It can seem shallow. You know early on that your beauty is what matters, and simultaneously that caring about it, that talking about it – the women who diet obsessively and spray tan, who have extensive morning makeup routines, who get their nails done and pontificate about it as if it’s a philosophy final thesis – this is superficial and silly. Men hate women who go on and on about this. Women hate women who go on and on about this. But it’s a hard ask of society, to tell us to stake our identities to something, and put systems into place that ensure it’s enforced upon us, and then tell us we are crazy or stupid for internalizing it and claiming that it is important in our lives. I prefer to critique the cultural machinery then the women it produces, but maybe that’s because I am a feminist or just read “The Beauty Myth”, though I’d like to think that it is really just a basic empathetic, moral stance. Either way, when I was at the salon, laughing at the stylist’s joke, I thought of my grandmother, who went to beauty parlors every week for 70-something years. And I thought that the group of us had managed to carve out a nice space for ourselves for a Sunday afternoon, while we all partook in something that I’ve heard referred to as “superfluous.”