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Thursday, October 06, 2005

ed board goes people magazine?

Ladies and Gentlemen, the great public discourse of Harvard University:
I’ll be a 21-year-old bridesmaid next summer. Twice. And not for an older sister, thrice divorced aunt, or former babysitter (the usual suspects), but instead, for two fellow Harvard gal pals. One graduated with the class of 2005, the other plans to walk with me in ’07. Your initial reaction, of course, is disbelief and despair: if the national divorce rate is pushing 50 percent, what are the chances a young couple could actually make marriage last in a society that entertains itself by watching “Desperate Housewives” and the Home Shopping Network. Don’t mind my pessimism—it merely serves to explain away my own status as a bachelorette. But honestly, a young bride seems so “Little House on the Prarie,” so “Spears and Federline,” certainly not the stuff of which successful relationships are made.
Mmmm, good point! I honestly had never thought of that. Maybe I need to talk to more of my "gal pals"! This brand new Crimson Editorial Columnist concludes:(more in expanded post)
So while I’m no expert on engagements (do I need repeat that I’m very much single?) and haven’t found my final self at a mere 20 years of age, I am pretty sure that when it comes to marriage, times are a-changing, again. We have watched and now question the new but older mothers around us, mothers who are spending their lives juggling the home and the office, torn between summers on the shore and summers in the shop, and shifting from Blackberry to ballet class. I don’t want this sort of balancing act, and much of my generation seems to agree. Bring on the boys, the vows, and the baby carriages.

First things first, though, I’m on the prowl for a bridesmaid dress. Make that two.
Setting aside for a moment that the author is essentially advocating for a return to the Leave it to Beaver family and gender roles model, is this kind of writing seriously what passes for serious political discourse? Am I really reading the editorial page of the great Harvard Crimson, pipeline to the New York Times and definer of reality for Harvard University, the most prestigious (rightly or wrongly) university in the world? Wow, gag me with a spoon.

Luckily, she a columnist, so let's see where she takes us on this magical journey in two weeks!

11 Comments:

At 9:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen to that!

 
At 9:16 PM, Anonymous Deborah Ho said...

One should note, however, that the editor of the New York Tmes recently responded to the question of what they NYT looks for in an editorial with, "What's popular. We're interested in what's popular." (That may not be an exact quotation)

...so, there you have it. I think it's just a part of a national trend that is not at all surprising. The entertainment industry, and even televised news has become increasingly escapist and detached. for example, the genocide intervention fund (GIF) reported 50 times more coverage of michael jackson than darfur on the major networks.

It's an ongoing battle, as I see it, for readership and for "in-touch"-ness. The Crimson's ed page is often criticized as being too full of itself and too aggrandizing, so something lighter would appear to be the quick fix. Then again, the relationship between media and reader is a two-way street: media may educate and present readers with certain information in certain forms, with certain biases, but they also have to bend with their readership and change to fit their wants and interests. So blame society, if you will--though we're detached, harvard's still a part of it.

 
At 12:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"lighter"? I understand your desire for quality writing and hard core analysis -

BUT - just because it comes across as fluffy doesn't mean it's not something worth seriously contemplating.

And in this particular case: seriously contemplating how upsetting the phrase "bring on the boys, the vows, and the baby carriages" is. It's one thing to support a woman (or man's) right to choose a specific lifestyle but it's another altogether to promote it in such a fashion.

 
At 5:51 PM, Anonymous sarah lafleur said...

Since when did editorials have to be political?

I don't think she's advocating for a return of "Leave it to Beaver," as you put it. She's merely stating that there is a new movement among Harvard female undergraduates - supposedly the smartest, most talented and ambitious women in the nation - to take the road less taken (or taken a long time ago) by marrying early.

Her comments about there being too many "options" are right on point. Women at Harvard are expected to want everything: not only the perfect husband and the perfect family, but also the perfect career and the perfect life-work balance. We feel the pressure to embrace "the feminine" (am I sounding like a Social Studies concentrator?) but are simultaneously competing in a less-than-female-friendly work force to prove that we too, can have a successful, 6-digit career. What's worse, we're mislead into thinking that not wanting one or the other means that we somehow didn't make the best of our opportunities (and what's a greater crime in America?).

But many women of our generation know better: we saw our mothers struggling to achieve it all and we saw them suffer through it. (I know I did, at least.) And now, there's a counter-reaction to that. Why be unhappy trying to achieve everything rather than be happy by achieving one thing?

So this article wasn't written in the most academic manner possible; still, she made me, and I'm sure quite a number of other Harvard women out there, realize that there -are- Harvard women out there who have made the decision to "narrow down" their future options. Her message (I think, and I'm completely assuming) was that it's okay to not not want it all. You're not "selling out" if you decide to marry young. And perhaps that message is pretty political after all...

 
At 8:10 PM, Blogger katie loncke said...

To echo anonymous's comments, it's not the content of the piece that's troubling, but the shallowness and insensitivity with which the author approaches it. As Sarah points out, the topic is 'political' and certainly worthy of attention and serious dialogue. Bikini Politics (which, in a recent post, also has some choice words about cambridge common), had this to say about the trend:

"The stigma against choosing family may be lessening. A recent New York Times article, which is making rounds as an e-mail forward, reports the trend of young college women increasingly including the raising of children among their goals, often planning to scale back working in order to stay home with family. Polling data suggests that this trend might not be isolated among women, either—fully 70% of college freshmen of both genders say that raising a family is 'essential' to happiness. I proudly count myself among those young women who look forward to raising children, and I think that this goal is just as important as the goal of attending graduate school and developing a satisfying career."

While the NYT reference and statistical data may make this take seem more ‘serious’ (whatever that means), it’s still overly simplistic. What’s being left unsaid in the dialogue about this supposed reversal of the "stigma against choosing family?" At least two vital underlying issues are missing from the debate:

1. It's about time men got in on the action.
Stepping back for a second from the question of whether women are ‘selling out’ in deciding to favor family, let’s take a broader view of the situation. If the majority of “freshmen of both genders” value family, then why are women apparently the only ones re-prioritizing raising kids and pursuing career goals? The fact is, while men and women may value family equally, women's valuation leads them to "scale back on working in order to stay home with family" more often than men. Must be that maternal instinct thing, right? Call me 'anti-family,' but I believe that men are just as capable as women of being loving, caring, attentive, wonderful parents, and I am disheartened to see that for many people, it's still a foregone conclusion that if one parent (of a heterosexual two-parent family) decides to sacrifice work time for family time, it will be the woman. I'm not saying women shouldn't value spending time with their kids, or even prioritize family time over professionalism. I'm just saying it's about time we extended the same options to men, de-stigmatizing the role of the stay-at-home dad who elects to dedicate his energies to nurturing his children at a critical stage of their lives.

2. They call themselves 'Planned Parenthood' for a reason.
While the trend among women to choose babies before business seems to span political leanings, let’s not forget that the specific issue at hand here is 'family planning', a matter with deeply political implications. I'm talking about birth control, people. Current trends toward restricting contraception availability, epitomized in the FDA’s shameless conduct regarding the decision on over-the-counter status for Plan B (a scandal so outrageous it prompted the resignation of two of their own: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/06/AR2005100601386.html ), and also evident at a decentralized level (for example, individual pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception on ideological grounds) reduce women's control over their reproductive health, restricting their ability to plan for their futures.

As someone lucky enough to even contemplate how to comfortably balance kids and career (a luxury unavailable, for example, to most low-income women with families, including many of the female workers Harvard employs), I hope to see that freedom of choice extended to everyone, regardless of gender. Let's create a culture that values 'fathering' as much as 'mothering'--or better yet, simply good 'parenting.'

At the same time, let's recognize the gender-specific implications of family planning decisions. This means supporting women and their freedom to determine their own destinies by offering informative, empowering, reality-based sex education in schools (with abstinence included as an option, but not the only one) and expanding, not limiting, access to emergency contraception, which tends to decrease, not increase, risky behavior among users, and helps avoid unwanted pregnancy, thus reducing demand for abortion (hey--something we can all agree is good!).

Anyone else want to play “Spot the Underlying Assumption?” ☺

 
At 2:17 PM, Anonymous Stephen Dewey said...

Andrew, I am getting kinda sick of your insulting everything that you don't agree with as not being "good public discourse." If it had been about a lesbian couple getting married, I bet you would have been all over it, even though it would still have been pure anecdotal social commentary. Constantly chastising others for not having sufficient discourse is a tiresome, unproductive and frankly snobbish thing to do.

 
At 2:30 PM, Blogger andrew golis said...

And by "you sick of me insulting everything" what you mean is you're sick of me insulting you and this writer. I don't agree with Paloma's writing about this same topic on her blog, but she takes it seriously and writes with serious arguments that don't make her sound like she's giggling.

That's the thing for me. It's not the opinion. I strongly disagree with the opinion itself (for the reasons other writers have sited above). What frustrates me (as well as some of the people above and some people at the Crimson itself) is that this is not serious writing. She's not seriously engaging the issues, she's not a good writer, she's not exploring the implications of what she's saying. The depth of her writing is cocktail hour in Boca (or whatever she said), not high-level political discourse. And yes, I do value that because I think it allows us to explore the real issues at hand, just like I don't value you calling Cindy Sheehan crazy with no explanation because it does no one any good, it is purely rhetoric.

The people writing above have actually addressed the ISSUES, challenged each other to think, gotten to broader implications. There's is the kind of writing and thinking that should populate a serious intellectual community.

AND, by the way, as Paloma noted to me, frivolous female writing and politicking (she was talking about Miers), makes other women and people who agree with them look bad by association, which is the same reason I don't like knee-jerk lefties who make broad accusations against the right that are backed up only by superficial vitriol.

 
At 2:58 PM, Anonymous Stephen Dewey said...

Actually, this has nothing to do with your insulting me on hpu-open. You're assuming that all of a sudden I'm making this personal when in actuality, I'm in no way motivated by our hpu-discussion. At the very most, the hpu-discussion got me to read Cambridge Common more, which has given me the opportunity to read more of your writing and form an informed opinion of it.

In fact, I agree with some of the things that you and other people say on Cambridge Common. In general, I think it's actually a good blog. My post here is to criticize you for one aspect of the blog that I am bothered by. There is no need for you to make it personal.

I disagree with you on the value of this student's writing. You say that you don't like it because it doesn't address the underlying issues or explore their implications... but is this the only time a Crimson op-ed has been like that? Are you prepared to say that any op ed that describes a personal perspective or an anecdotal story is poor writing if it doesn't end with a moral? If so, then your position is consistent. But if not, then I think that your strong objections are motivated not by her style of writing but because you disagree with the content of her writing. That's fine, but in that case, attacking her style is disingenuous.

If all writing was purely practical and only focused on arriving at a closer approximation of political truth, then perhaps articles such as this could be condemned. But I think that that is an overly limiting approach to human communication.

I don't like that you referred me to the authors above as if they can teach me a lesson or two about substance. You never addressed any of the issues they're addressing in your piece. The sum of your content was to attack her piece as not "serious political discourse."

Whether or not you are aware of it, I think that your accusations about shallow writers who don't adequately consider the issues have become a means of disqualifying from debate people whose ideas you don't like. You attacked me for the Cindy Sheehan email, but it's funny that you never found the time to join in any one of the literally hundreds of substantive debates we've had over hpu-open over the course of the past two years since I've arrived. I think if you had bothered to read those emails you would have found that we did (and do), in fact, consider the issues.

I apologize for the tone of my comments because it is not my intent to reignite some sort of bruising debate or to make myself enemies with you. I think actually that I want the same thing that you do, or at least something similar to it, namely political respect in the arena of debate. That's why I criticized you for your dismissive treatment of this article (you even say yourself in your most recent post that you "made fun" of it, which doesn't strike me as dealing with the issues). For my part, I'll admit in light of the ensuing discussion that my comment about Cindy Sheehan being a psycho was not productive for political debate and therefore I should not have written it. All I'm saying is you need to follow your own advice and stop being so dismissive of people you disagree with under the guise of elevating debate.

 
At 3:31 PM, Anonymous Yi-Ping said...

Having discussed this editorial with several other students over the past few days, I think that the issue is a little more complicated than just bad writing. Sure, whatever points there are in the editorial are made in a pretty shallow way and the simpering tone of the whole piece is distracting, if not downright irritating. But the problem goes past the tone and directly to what this tone implicates. The frivolity that Andrew and others rightly detect is maddening not, I think, because it seems to be coming only from the superficiality of the writer's position. It is also clearly betrays the writer's own elitist assumptions. The entire article drips and oozes with the self-satisfaction of privilege, of the kind of ignorance and flippant disregard for socioeconomic reality that is born of privilege. "If...I must sacrifice a few years at Morgan Stanley," "torn between summers on the shore and summers in the shop, and shifting from Blackberry to ballet class"...not to mention casual references to in vitro, overseas adoption, and her aunt's husband's "yacht in Boca." Does anyone know how much in vitro or adoption from China costs? Perhaps I'm mistaken, and some other close reader can enlighten me as to what crucial point the mention of the yacht was meant to support. In my mind, the only thing which an allusion to a yacht does is bury any possibility of acknowledging the kind of socioeconomic reality that makes postponing marriage a necessity for women who don't have Daddy's trust fund to fall back on. Feminism continues to matter because society doesn't allocate positions of self-respect and social standing to the vast majority of women as a matter of course. To be sure, if you go to Harvard and your notion of female empowerment is being able to throw an engagement party for others of your social class while flaunting a huge rock, then you may not need to get and keep a job. The reason I found that editorial disgusting was because that point, as obvious and sinister as it is, was never directly addressed. If the Crimson wants to foster a real dialogue about the complicated issues surrounding marriage, love, class, and social justice, they should not allow the already over-represented viewpoint of a few privileged students to speak for the rest of the university. Such articles are neither entertaining nor educational. Or, as I've heard many other students say in response to the editorial: if someone wants to advertise to the rich boys at her school that she is eager and available to marry them, why should the rest of us care? It's not that we aren't concerned about her dating life, it's not that we find her self-complacence and self-regard nauseating...it's that this issue affects all of us, and those who don't have the awareness or capacity to address it from the kind of perspective it deserves shouldn't waste our time.

 
At 1:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't goto Harvard and have stumbled across this blog and simply wanted to respond to Andrew Golis. I think it's incredible that just because you, Andrew, do goto Harvard you think you know it all. I do not pretend to be as eloquent or as great a writer as you, my friend. But you just don't get it. You call the article frivoulous, and yet you at the same time were so upset by what you read created this discussion. If it were indeed so frivilous, why let it bother you and waste our time and yours by arguing so heavily against it, considering "she isn't even a good writer." That's a lame excuse for not understanding the purpose of the article.

 
At 12:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stephen Dewey a leftist. We're not kidding.

 

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