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As I have noted before, Prudie, the Slate advice columinist, has strict standards of gender performance that the women she writes about regularly fail to meet. Some of them don't dress in a feminine enough manner or know how to apply makeup. Some of them object to being maritally raped. And some of them have the temerity not to give a shit about the six hairs on their areolas that their boyfriends find inexplicably revolting -- the horror! Her list of women who fail true femininity keeps growing and growing.

Therefore I was pleasantly surprised with a recent Dear Abbie column that could have turning into gender policing, but didn't. It was about body hair on women, a subject that hits Prudie's buttons. The writer to Dear Abbie complains that his wife no longer shaves her legs after 25 years of marriage. He thinks her leg hair disgusting and wonders what to do.

In response, Abbie provides a little relatable context for the man, saying that perhaps the woman is freeing herself from a tedious routine in the same way that a man who has shaved his face for years for his job might grow a beard after retirement. Abbie also adds that the letter writer should put up and shut up.

I like that Abbie's response, first, provided a frame of reference that the letter writer might understand. Her analysis of the woman's leg hair as  rejection of an obligation turns the focus away from the offended man and onto the woman, who probably has perfectly reasonable motivations for doing it -- motivations that have nothing to do with the man [gasp]! Abbie's reframing allows her to identify the real problem: the letter writer's belief that the woman owes him hairless legs. She objects, saying that, instead, the letter writer owes the woman respect. if anyone needs to change, it's him, not her.

Wow, an advice columnist with a healthy respect for bodily autonomy! Will wonders never cease? I think I should start reading Dear Abbie as an antidote to Dear Prudence.

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In today's Dear Prudence, a letter writer wonders how to deal with her husband, who cannot handle the fact that one of his kids is really attached to her transitional object. He has even confiscated it from her!

Great move, genius. Now you have a crying kid who worries that her blankie is gonna die, and it's all because you're a miserable, insecure control freak at best and an abusive asshole at worst.

Try developing a functional sense of empathy, and give the kid back her blankie! This could end up being one of those memorable experiences that she'll always, on some level, feel upset about. I'm not sure you can comprehend, though, how you may have justifiably earned your child's lifelong mistrust and hostility because your head is jammed way too far up your own rectum for you to see anything but your own navel.
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Bah hah hah hah hah! 

In answer to someone who is extremely bothered by the fact that their wife enthusiastically enjoys YA fiction: "Gift her a nice Franzen box set, a fresh copy of Infinite Jest or the complete works of Dave Eggers, so that she may better learn to center her recreational reading around fictional middle-aged white men instead of fictional people who aren’t as important and interesting as they are."
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Just in case you thought last month's anti-fat advice column from Slate's Dear Prudence was a fluke, here she is recycling the same rant for Valentine's Day.

Letter writer: "I like this guy, but he's gained 20 pounds in the past year, and he doesn't brush his teeth before bed. I'm in the health industry, so I'm very concerned. What do I do?"

Prudie: "I see you're worried about fatty there croaking from diabetes and you raising your kids alone. So give him an ultimatum: A) No kisses till he starts brushing regularly. B) Either he gets his fat ass to the gym on a slimming program and stops stuffing cake in his piehole, or you're outta there. P.S. People without teeth are hilarious. Also ugly."

This response, like last month's, reveals Prudie's hangups and preoccupations. In both cases, she assumes that the fat people in question will, if they continue their current behavior, become shamefully disabled and eventually die, probably from complications from diabetes. Then their poor wives will be alone, so tragically alone, forced to raise the kids by themselves.

It's so multiply offensive. In no particular order, there's the clueless assumptions that fat people are axiomatically unhealthy. There's the nasty, cruel jokes at the expense of people with disabilities. And there's the heterosexist idea that a single mother and kids is not a real family, but something pathetic, unnatural and inadequate.

If Prudie really wanted to give helpful advice, she should encourage the letter writer to talk to her boyfriend and find out more about his childhood relationships to dental hygiene, sugar, diabetes and food in general. She should also ask him how he's been doing in the last year physically, mentally and emotionally. The first subject could shed some light on why he has poor dental hygiene; maybe he never had toothbrushing habits modeled, or he's scared of the dentist, or there was that one time his uncle called him Buckteeth, so he has really ambivalent feelings about his mouth in general. The second subject could provide context for his weight gain; maybe he's feeling lethargic, or he's lost his appetite, or his tastes have changed, or he's eating in part due to boredom, anxiety or depression. Heck, maybe his thyroid's off!

With this information, the letter writer and her boyfriend can, if they feel so motivated, better figure out the actual contributing factors to his poor dental hygiene and his recent weight gain, instead of attacking the symptoms. They can then consult the appropriate health care providers or social supports and work from there.

I know, Prudie; I know...that's too much work. Far easier to focus on the symptoms and use emotional bribery to combat the eeeeeeeeevil fats.

Didn't anyone tell you that ultimatums never work?

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This gem is from Monday's Dear Prudence, a trove of crap:

Letter writer: "I'm in my late 20s with a husband and a young daughter. My husband, who has a familial history of thyroid problems and high blood pressure, has gained nearly 100 pounds in the five years we've been married. He has developed liver problems and high cholesterol, OBVIOUSLY because he's so disgustingly fat.

"I exercise and eat healthily and encourage him to do the same, but he resists, calling me a nag. He's a grown man, but I'm so concerned about his health that I refuse to treat him like an independent agent. How can I further insult him by infantilizing and objectifying him?"

Prudie: "Fat people are gross. They're also stupid lazy slobs who don't eat right or exercise and can't perceive that their fat is killing them. KILLING THEM I SAY!

"Oh had a question there. I strongly recommend going to a 'bariatrician,' a.k.a. someone with lots of letters after their name who gets paid handsomely for bullying people into losing weight and supporting the lucrative, ultimately futile diet industry.

"I also recommend even more nagging and shaming. Project for your husband a future in which he lurches from health crisis to health crisis and where you have to take care not only of your daughter, but also his fat lazy ass. That should motivate him into the spiral of shame and self-hatred that makes people lifelong devotees of the 'bariatric' industry.

"Good're gonna need it. At the rate your husband''s going, I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up wheelchair-bound, never to walk again, because he's such a tub of lard. Then he'd be fat and disabled, and that would just be...[ralllllllphgack].

"Excuse me. On second thought, forget the 'bariatrician' and the extra nagging. Just do the world a favor and put him out of his misery now. Poison his cupcakes."

What a sad, bitter, lonely, empty life she must lead to be so full of hatred toward fat and/or disabled people.

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In the most recent Dear Prudence, a 27-year-old guy writes that he has no trouble with his girlfriend's body hair...except for a scattering of hairs on her chest and particularly around each of her nipples. He is really bothered by these hairs on her chest, to the point of suggesting that she remove them. He envisions a future with her, but also foresees the death of all lust unless she gets rid of her chest hair. Prudie responds by recommending permanent removal in the form of electrolysis.

Let's get this straight...1) Chest hair on women is completely unacceptable. 2) A woman who does have chest hair and doesn't give a shit should get rid of it because her partner gives a huge, disproportionate shit.

As for 1), God forbid that women be anything less than completely hairless except for head hair because then they'd "look like men," and we can't have people transgressing cultural norms of femininity because then the world would explode.

As for 2), I reject the axiomatic assertion that, in a heterosexual partnership, if a man can't accept some aspect of a woman's appearance, the woman should change to suit his preferences. And we're not talking "Please brush your teeth before you kiss me" type of requests; we're talking inscrutable, inconsistent, irrational requests like "Your armpit hair and pubic hair and leg hair and arm hair are 100% A-okay, but lose those 12 nipple hairs of yours, or else this relationship is seriously doomed" sort of shit. That's ridiculous, trivial, nitpicky and insulting, once you think about it. Claiming that you love your girlfriend passionately except for her dozen chest hairs makes me wonder what secret complaints the chest hairs are standing in for.

My advice has everything to do with the boyfriend and nothing to do with the girlfriend. First, buddy, either put up and shut up, or find a partner who lacks nipple hairs and the ability to object to your controlling, nasty demands about her appearance.
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I'm active on 2 message boards for 1:6 scale figs. On one of them earlier this week, a heterosexual, married woman posted some pictures of her vampire dolls with an inexpensive Barbie subbing for one of the expensive vampire characters that she had not purchased, but wished to. She wrote, "Hubby says no more. At least until Christmas..." In other words, her husband told her that she can't buy any more figs till Xmas.

So her husband issued her an ultimatum about what she can and can't do in pursuit of her interests, and she just accepted it. That's not an interaction between equals; that's an interaction between a superior [husband] and a subordinate [wife]. Where does her husband get off, thinking he can control his wife's interests? Why does she accept his control without complaint?

I know why. Her husband probably earns and controls most of the money in their marriage. I bet she's financially dependent on him. Both of them think of the money as all his because it mostly flows from his job, his inheritance, blah blah blah. Both of them also think that, because it's his money, he gets to dictate its distribution. Therefore, he graciously permits his wife to have interests that involve spending money...well, until the interests become too expensive, in his estimation, at which point he forbids the continuation of his wife's interests because she is taking something away from him. She should be sacrificing for his preferences and wellbeing instead! I mean, God forbid the two approach their relationship from a standpoint of equality, mutual respect and support, rather than a standpoint of sexist, transactional manipulation.

I see the same type of interactions play out on DOA, a forum for people who like Asian ball-jointed dolls. I've heard the following story several times: a young, heterosexual woman writes that her boyfriend feels a deep, shuddering repugnance towards BJDs, not infrequently to the point of forbidding his girlfriend to get any more of them. The poster, of course, feels deep distress and wonders what to do.

Answer: Cultivate relationships with people who respect you and your interests. If a family member, friend or partner tries to control your interests, they're trying to control you because they don't like you the way that you are. They're trying to control you, especially if you're a woman and your interlocutor is a man, because they've internalized the sexist societal dread of autonomous, equal women. They're scared of you. They probably even hate you. Do the world a favor, and surround yourself with people who believe in and practice love instead of fear.

Anyone who says, "No more dolls till Xmas!" instead of "Let's work on our financial goals together" and "You do what you want with your hobby money, as long as you're happy and not hurting anyone" will be kicked to the curb. Anyone who says, "The dolls or me!" as an ultimatum will promptly be dumped in favor of the dolls. That's because I respect myself, while the other person obviously does not.
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A letter writer in her late 20s writes in Prudie's latest Slate column that she and her husband have negotiated the following boundaries: One time, they were drunk, and he was horny, but she did not want to have sex, so she shoved him away. They now agree, that, if they are drunk and/or sleepy, they should secure each other's consent before having sex. Good? Good!

Then they both got drunk. Her husband did not ask her consent, but she "went along," in her words. She concludes, "I can’t fathom how he could have ignored our agreement. Should I just drop it or am I right about feeling abused?"

In response, Prudie comments derisively on college codes of conduct that advise consent in sexual situations each time the participants start a new activity. She then contrasts such requirements to interactions in a married couple, where, she says, "implicit consent" can be assumed.

Prudie winds up by insulting the letter writer as "prim, punctiliious, punitive," while suggesting that the letter writer is abusing her husband: "Living in terror that expressing one’s perfectly normal sexual desire could end one’s marriage, and freedom, is itself a form of abuse."

Bloody hell, can we all see what's wrong with this response? The letter writer's husband forced himself upon her without obtaining her consent, as previously agreed. Why yes, in fact, that is rape. That's a problem!

Even if one has a hard time wrapping one's head around the fact that this interaction is rape [this is apparently Prudie's problem], one can at least admit that the letter writer's husband overrode a clearly stated boundary and thus disrespected the letter writer's autonomy and agency. This is also [at least] the second time that he has behaved in a similar manner. This is a red flag for, at worst, an abusive asshole and, at best, an individual so inculcated with cultural misogyny that he really needs to grow up and learn how to treat women like people before attempting further relationships. That's also a problem!

Prudie does not recognize these problems, however, because she is too busy making fun of the letter writer and talking out her ass about her ideal concept of marriage. Apparently, her vision of marriage includes unlimited license for one partner to rape the other. If the victim doesn't put out or even dares to feel disturbed about his or her agency being disregarded, the victim is being a poor partner. The victim's oversensitivity is stifling the rapist's "perfectly normal sexual desire." Don't you know that expecting a relationship based on mutual respect and enthusiastic consent "is itself a form of abuse?" The problem is all in the head of the victim, who should be lying back and thinking of Dan Savage. :p

That's rape culture right there: victim blaming, victim shaming and valorization of the rapist's feelings and experience over the victim's. And that's a problem!
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I was justing listening to Dan Savage's Savage Love podcast 289, in which a teenaged boy called up about expressing romantic interest in another teenaged boy, who happened to have Asperger's. This was the occasion to bring in British counselor Maxine Aston to discuss challenges and special considerations when communicating with people with Asperger's.

I immediately hopped over to Aston's Web site to investigate her credentials. She has a Master's of Science in health psychology. She specializes in counseling people with Asperger's and people who love people with Asperger's. She's also written a bunch of articles and books about people with Asperger's in relationships with non-Asperger's people. Sounds pretty qualified, right?

WRONG! The About Maxine section tells all: She writes, "I was once married to a very special man who was affected by Asperger syndrome..."

Pardon me while I barf! As far as I can tell, Aston does not have Asperger's. However, she presumes to be an expert on people with Asperger's because she's objectified them for years and years by studying them.

You can tell she has objectified people with Asperger's because she uses the dismissive and condescending term "very special" to refer to her ex with Asperger's. In my experience, the term "special" is frequently used by non-disabled people to place disabled people in a separate, subhuman category where they become silent, inspirational symbols instead of fully respected human beings. In fact, when I hear a non-disabled person describe a disabled person as "special," I interpret that word as a derisive insult. Aston does not respect people with Asperger's; instead, she feels pity and contempt for them.

Aston arrogates the authority to discuss Asperger's syndrome because of her neurotypical privilege. Paradoxically enough, she is assumed to be an expert in Asperger's syndrome precisely because she does not have Asperger's syndrome. She may be an authority on people without Asperger's in relationships with people with Asperger's, but that doesn't automatically make her an expert in Asperger's syndrome. The experts in Asperger's are the people who know what it's like to experience Asperger's day in and day out because they themselves have the condition. But they are frequently marginalized by the non-disabled majorities who participate in their objectification and suppression, therefore making it very difficult for people with Asperger's to communicate their experiences.

Man, now I have even more of a reason to loathe Dan Savage. Instead of having some people with Asperger's on to discuss their perceptions, communciation and advice, he perpetuated the dehumanization of people with disabilities by calling in a neurotypical "expert." Way to go, Dan Savage!

P.S. Is it pronounced "ass per gerrrrs" or "ass per jurrrrrrs?"
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I read advice columns for the same reason I watch mediocre TV shows. I gain entertainment not only from the stories told, but also from the advice supplied by the columnist and, frequently, the commenters. Plus there's always the opportunity to castigate the TV show or the advice column for how good it could have been.

Before I go into critiquing the NYT's most recent Social Qs, let me just say that the only advice column I can currently take seriously is Captain Awkward. She's a person with no official credentials to tell other people how to live their lives, but she, along with the trenchant commentariat, manages to provide practical, straightforward, explicit, helpful advice to the questioners. Be warned, though; she does use sexist slurs ["bitch" and "dick"], as well as ableist adjectives ["crazy"]. Despite her failings, I approve of her generally open-minded approach.

Now back to my original subject. In the most recent Social Qs, a letter writer says that her daughter's future mother-in-law loves Fifty Shades of Grey, a BDSM romance novel. "As a feminist," the writer dislikes the books and wonders how to respond when the future MIL asks the writer what she thinks of the books.

Philip Galanes, author of Social Qs, advises the following:

Engage your future in-law, mother to mother. Steer clear of judgmental terms like “offensive,” but try to get to the bottom of her excitement. Say: “I’d hate for a man to treat me or my daughter that way. What do you think the big appeal is?” She couldn’t object, and it might start an interesting conversation.

Good advice. When someone asks you your opinion of something controversial with which you disagree, you can neutrally state that you have a different view and, if you're interested, attempt to start a more general discussion and go from there. Of course, you can react in other ways [for example, "I don't really feel comfortable talking about that" is also perfectly acceptable], but this is a polite option.

I agree with the advice, but I resent the snide tone in which it's delivered. Galanes spends one paragraph of four answering the writer's question and the other three making sneery judgments about BDSM. In effect, he undermines his advice to be respectful and tolerant about things you don't know anything about by being derisive and dismissive about a subject with which he is [clearly] unfamiliar. Wow, he's really shoring up his credibility.

Besides an anti-BDSM stance, I also detect some misogyny in Galanes' response. Romance novels are predominantly read by women and, for that reason, are frequently not taken seriously, especially by male critics. Galanes' incredulity that female readers could find romance novel tropes interesting seems to subserve his distaste with Fifty Shades of Grey.

P.S. We're not even getting into the letter writer's assumption that feminism is incompatible with BDSM.
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Recently a young woman wrote to Dear Prudie, Slate's advice columnist, saying that she is a self-described "tomboy" who dresses in casual clothes in accordance with the lax requirements of her job. Her boyfriend has been bugging her about wearing "more feminine clothes" and "makeup application lessons." He thinks her personal style makes her less employable. The letter writer wants to know what to do: "Should I change this about myself because he wants me to?"

Prudie answers by telling the letter writer a resounding YES. She advises the letter writer, "Dress for the job you want." In Prudie's view, this entails getting a personal shopper, visiting a makeup counter and reading Marie Claire and other women's magazines.

This incredibly stupid response enrages me. First of all, Prudie is collapsing two topics into one. The letter writer wants to know about how to deal with her boyfriend's campaign for her increased femmey-ness. She also mentions her boyfriend's belief that her self-presentation hurts her job prospects. Prudie rolls both topics into a single answer by focusing on the connection between the letter writer's style and her employability.

Let's separate out the two subjects: first, this "Dress for the job you want" stuff. I agree with the concept here, but I object to the execution. Members of the workforce today are expected to conform to ideals of professionalism, including adherence to an implicit or explicit dress code. Fine...follow the dress code. If you're in that aspirational phase of your career, it's always better to overdress than underdress.

However, Prudie assumes that aspirational dressing means going all femme. No, it doesn't. Less femmey work clothes for women exist, though they are few. I know because I am wearing them. :P Stop implying that "femme" is the only correct gender presentation for professional women, Prudie.

Second, let's deal with the letter writer's annoying boyfriend. He knows that the letter writer's gender presentation is more butchy rather than femmey, but he keeps trying to change it with a suspect justification about it affecting her employability. Basically, the letter writer's boyfriend does not accept her gender presentation, instead preferring to police it.

This is the real problem. Her boyfriend is trying to control her. Attempts at control combine with nagging to create resentment. Resentment leads to conflict and general nastiness.

Assuming good faith on the boyfriend's part, I have advice for him: He should express his preference and state his reasons once, then shut up about it and wait for a cue from the letter writer. If she wants to pursue his suggestion, fine. If she puts him off or ignores him [which it kind of sounds like she's doing], he should be perceptive enough to notice that she does not wish to pursue his suggestion, and he should keep his gender policing to himself.

I also have advice for the letter writer: She should consider the general concept of aspirational dressing, but ignore everything else Prudie says. She should pursue a change in her gender presentation only if that's what she's truly interested in, without anxiety or coercion. However, she should also know that her gender presentation is perfectly fine the way it is and that it is possible to be a butch professional woman. Either way, she should tell her boyfriend to quit with the gender policing. If he doesn't, she should get a better boyfriend, one whose head won't explode at the thought of a woman wearing a pantsuit to an interview.
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...I listened to a podcast of Dan Savage's on which Ira Glass [of This American Life fame] was a guest, and oh my was like a symphony of irritatingness. Two self-congratulatory, smug, recursive assholes thinking they're the wittiest thing since [insert really witty thing here]. Dan Savage is quickly becoming a so-bad-it's-good pleasure.
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Dan Savage, a gay male advice columnist who writes for the Seattle Stranger, has some cachet among liberals/Democrats/progressives as being queer-friendly, pro-kink and open-minded, but he still has lots of privilege as a thin, white, rich, cis, married, U.S. man. I've collected several criticisms of his advice which should make you think long and hard before calling this columnist helpful, progressive and open-minded. In no particular they are...
Read more... )
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Advice columnists can sometimes give terrible advice, with Prudie from Slate being no exception. Being very cross with the cissexist, misogynist, fatphobic, ableist advice columnist Dan Savage, I was pleased to read some advice of Prudie's that made sense to me.

The questioner, a 27-year-old woman with a blankie, noted that her significant other did not like the blankie. Prudie said that, "after talking with blankie" [hah!], the questioner should let her significant other know that the blankie is not going anywhere. Prudie described the blankie as a harmless object that fills the space of lucky charm or security object in the questioner's life, and the blankie should not be derided or dismissed, as it is not doing the questioner any harm.

As someone who still enjoys snuggling with the teddy bear that I received for my first birthday, I approve of this message.


Sep. 6th, 2007 08:51 am
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On podcast 45, in response to a woman who thinks that S&M represents emotional disability and mental sickness, Dan Savage points out that S&M is PLAY, and he says, "What S&M is is cops and robbers for grown-ups without your pants on." Now I'm just imagining law enforcement professionals chasing crooks out of a bank in a completely serious context, except all parties are lacking pants. :p
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If advice column letters are each novelettes waiting to be written, what better omniscient narrator to have than the intelligent snarkmeister Dan Savage, who writes weekly sex advice columns for The Stranger?



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