Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Trouble With Women.

The no. 5 most-popular headline today at The Washington Post was "The Trouble With Men."

Well played, WaPo, well played. Even a media cynic like me, hardened as I am to cheap headline ploys, had trouble resisting such an invitation.

Sure, I have my own ideas about the trouble with men (chafing stubble; blind, universal devotion to Zooey Deschanel, AC/DC and Monty Python; cigars; a weird need to beat each other up, even when they like each other), but I wanted to see what someone else thought. (As an aside, I'm going to start using this headline technique more often, starting with the title of this post!)

It turned out that the column was as easy as the headline: Let's use the Schwarzenegger and IMF chief scandals to make generalizations about men and cheating, complete with a humdinger of an opening: "What is it with men and sex?"

As an intro to incisive social commentary, that seems comparable to "What is it with humans and breathing?" or "What is it with puppies and chew toys?" or "What is it with teenage girls and boy bands?" I mean, do you really need to break it down?

The troubles with this column are many. First of all, it lumps together consensual infidelity with an alleged (and it's important to say alleged, even though the column basically convicts "DSK" anyway) rape. The justification for that gross oversimplification is that both incidents supposedly demonstrate male abuse of power.

The fact that this "abuse of power" conceit was derived from statements by the writer's wife does not mitigate its inherent sexism. He lumps together Schwarzenegger, Mark Sanford, Bill Clinton, John Ensign, John Edwards and Newt Gingrich as examples of power abusers. Does anyone think that Rielle Hunter was "taken advantage of"? Or Mark Sanford's lover? Do we need to assume that, whenever a prominent man commits adultery, the women involved are powerless and naive?

Of course, men in power have a long history of exploiting women, either criminally or morally, which is why this line of reasoning is both facile and cheap. To blame these recent scandals on a disease of the modern "alpha male" is ridiculous. Chris Rock put it more succinctly and more scarily (at the 2:10 mark): "A man is basically as faithful as his options." The men Mark Miller cites were weak, and allowed circumstances to triumph over morals; but they weren't necessarily predators, nor can their lovers be characterized across the board as victims.

However, a recent study suggests that Miller does have reason to link power with infidelity. Apparently, both women and men who consider themselves to be the shit are more likely to be cheating fools. We just don't see this played out publicly as much among women in power. More often, we see women in power (Oprah, Hillary) portrayed as closeted lesbians or asexual.

Miller's column neglects to mention several mostly non-political scandals, such as those of Tiger Woods and Jesse James (or, if he wanted to cite criminal cases, Kobe Bryant and Eliot Spitzer). To me, what's salient about these stories is not so much that the men are cheating or the idea that they are abusing power. It's the fact that they have created such huge schisms between their public and personal lives, and also, in some cases, the apparent indulgence in unprotected sex. Dudes, why, especially when you are cheating, so much unprotected sex?

Women are cheating, too. Are they also resorting to illegal and dangerous means? Why does anyone of either gender, -- in an age of supposed sexual liberation, gender equality, psychological enlightenment and oversharing -- still feel the need to commit such destructive clandestine behavior? To me, these are much more compelling topics to explore than the sadly well trodden ground of "hey, men sleep with underlings and commit sex crimes."

Music: "Creep"

Wednesday, May 04, 2011


Hello, friends. How is spring treating you?

I decided to usher in the season by: sneezing copiously, bitching about the unseasonably cold weather in D.C., wearing compression stockings (which is a separate post) and getting a "Sun Safety Kit" from Sephora. "Sun Safety Kit" translates to "lots of beauty samples that seem like a bargain but probably are not and yet are irresistible."

For those of you who have actually seen me, it might surprise you to know that I have a beauty product addiction. Nonetheless, it's true. It's built into my DNA. My childhood memories involve my mother transforming herself via drawers full of cosmetics before meeting my dad for their nights out at Houlihan's in Chevy Chase. Where Proust's key sense memory was of madeleines, I remember Oscar de la Renta perfume. I liked to waltz in while she was getting ready and say, "Hi, Tammy Faye."

To this day, she has drawers and carousels booming with products, and is a V.I.B. (Very Important Beauty Insider, i.e. prime spender) at Sephora. And though Sephora is truly genius at marketing products, my mom has sold me (a mere Beauty Insider) more things than any Sephora salesperson ever would or could. (Me: "I want this Tokidoki emery board set, but it seems so silly." Her: "Why? You know, that's about the same price as you would pay in the drugstore for emery boards. And you know you'll use them. Oh, I like that case!")

Yes, I'll do the frivolous Tokidoki and the high-end skincare products and the Nars makeup that somehow evinces a lifestyle I no longer live. But kits and "deluxe samples" are my drug of choice. They allow you to flirt with various brands without really committing. They give you the quick hit in a world of long, plodding commitments to lotions and powders that overstay their welcome and sit silently judging you for leaving them to languish in the drawer. "I cost $28 and you loved me two years ago! Why are you letting me go to waste? I won't be ignored, Christina..."

I wasn't always this promiscuous. For a long time, I felt very loyal to Shiseido. That's because, when I was about 15, my mom took me to the Shiseido counter at Woodward and Lothrop (or Woodies, as it was known) in Montgomery Mall, where we got a consultation and subsequently bought some products. I underwent the "Makeup Simulator," which was very high-tech in the olden times, also known as the '80s.

It was all so seductive. Firstly, it was adult. As a teenager, I was being invited into the world of mature secrets, which for women involves various sera, tonics and masques (that's with a "que") of indeterminate but significant value. Second of all, it involved transformation, which is something any teenager desperately, desperately wants, especially if her looks are plain and her bangs are -- well, you can see the picture. Third of all, there were many smells, which in my experience is second nature to women but seems to confuse men. Fourth of all, it involved lists and cataloguing: My needs were boiled down to checkboxes such as "enchanting eyes" and "a touch of color."

Shiseido was my first.

Everything about the brand corresponds to what's appealing about many Japanese things: simple, beautiful packaging; the evocation of purity, of being immaculate; not too little, not too much; a sense of science uniting with nature. (Similarly, Tokidoki, which is a Japanese name but an American company, represents the other side of what's appealing about many Japanese things: cartoony, childlike packaging; mini, mini, mini; totally artificial.)

That's why it's sad to find myself estranged from Shiseido now that we have more information about what we are putting onto our skin every day, thanks to the Environmental Working Group and others. Of the 50+ Shiseido items in EWG's Cosmetics Database, none falls into the "green" range. It has not signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, and apparently it conducts tests on animals.

To be honest, I haven't been super attuned to the animal-testing issue. I have been super attuned to the human-testing issue. I am convinced that the epidemic of cancer in women is linked to the beauty industry. I have no scientific proof for this. It's just common sense. The only way we can protect ourselves is to avoid products that we know to be toxic.

I bought my last Shiseido product several months ago. Unfortunately, we've grown apart, and it's time to break up.

Music: "Mirror in the Bathroom"