Tuesday, November 08, 2005

MoDo For Dodos

There have been so many extended reviews of her new book that I won't need to buy it, I will have read or had summarized the good parts.
Salon.com Life | Yes, Maureen Dowd is necessary: "One of the book's most telling through-lines is the series of fictional pronouncements about singleness that have lodged in Dowd's brain: Kristin Davis' 'Sex and the City' wail 'I've been dating since I was 15! I'm exhausted. Where is he?' and Holly Hunter's lament in 'Broadcast News,' 'I'm beginning to repel the people I'm trying to attract.' Then there's Bette Davis' disquieting disquisition as Margo Channing in 'All About Eve,' the one that begins, 'Funny thing about a woman's career -- the things you drop on the way up the ladder so you can move faster,' and ends, 'Nothing is any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed and there he is. Without that you're not a woman. You're something with a French provincial office or a book full of clippings, but you're not a woman.'
But critics like Roiphe and Parker doth protest a bit too much. Against what? Maureen Dowd's single status? Her claim (backed up by Sorkin, who tells New York that Dowd was "more independent than [he] would like") that men are intimidated by her and that that may be one reason why she has not settled with a partner? If so, they are confusing critical observation with hostility in a way that suggests they are leery about any woman who does not subscribe to the notion that men are the central and governing force of women's lives. There is something terrifying in the realization that Dowd appears not to agree with Margo Channing that without a bed-mate she is "not a woman."

For thousands of years, heterosexual mating has been rooted in the fact that women have needed men: for reproduction, for financial support, and, Dowd quotes her mom as proclaiming, for "heavy lifting." Now, even as Dowd jokes that feminism's success lasted a nanosecond and frets about women who "no longer want to become the men they wanted to marry," the life that she's living is a veritable revolution, one so profound and nerve-jangling that Dowd skirts it with humor. We point out her flaws so that her situation cannot, must not, exemplify a new norm: Women really don't need men anymore.

That doesn't mean that many of us don't want them. But we don't need them, and to absorb that -- not just as a slogan but as a reality that shakes up all our assumptions -- is uncharted territory for both sexes. All of Dowd's bawdy satirizing pads this book; her tongue is so firmly in her cheek that it's hard to tell what she's saying. It reads like a symptom of ambivalence and confusion: Am I really saying men aren't necessary? Do I really think that's true? It suggests that she is wrestling with her own unease about conditions for which she has no solid models. According to her friend Leon Wieseltier, Dowd has "never found a man she loves enough to marry," a luxury that previous generations of women have not enjoyed. She tells Levy that when her dying mother wondered aloud whether her daughter would ever settle down, her response was: "Not everybody gets everything." It's a powerful assessment, both in its admission of desire and in its sparse, unemotional truth. It says that a husband might be a perk, but not a baseline requirement for fulfillment. "
I don't have as much in the material way as the women being discussed, but I agree with the sentiment. I think men are wonderful and entertaining creatures, just more trouble than you anticipate and if you pick the wrong one it isn't all peaches and cream.

Besides, I already bob my head when I am out in the world, I can't do it at home too. My dad was busy teaching me not to give up my seat to anybody, then everybody was surprised when I became a woman and kept on sitting.

Oh well.

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