Search This Blog

Friday, February 25, 2011

Why I am the Worst Person in the World

Last night, Sprout woke up at 0230 having miraculously, at some point earlier in the evening, removed his pull-up from underneath his zip-up feety pajamas. His bed was soaked. His entire room smelled like pee.

Not having any desire to deal with the resultant mess, I took a cleaned and re-jammied child into my bed for the rest of the night (lovely Hubband put the sheets in the wash).

The two hours that followed can only be described as a beat-down. It was like a tiny death-match. Flailing limbs, arms, legs, noggin rained down upon me like the tiny crashing waves of fury. Sprout would roll over, and his arm, flung with sleepy abandon, would crack like a whip into the back of my skull. Two tiny three-inch feet, thrust in slumbering unison with contradictory velocity directly into my unsuspecting kidneys. At one point he actually head-butt (head-butted?) me directly on the bridge of the nose. I have no idea what made him so active but he would not. fall. asleep.

I tried a number of times to politely request that he desist with his abuse. Calm, quiet, monotone mommy:

"Buddy, I'm going to need you to lay more still, okay?"
"Hey, stop flailing around so much, okay Bug?"
"Sweetie, it makes mommy's kidneys hurt when you kick her like that, m'kay?"
Silently, I would clutch the pillow and will myself to sleep. I had had a long day at work. One more long day loomed, with clients, and issues, and divorces and legallegallegal words. The green numbers glowingly mocked me as they slid past on their inexorable march toward infinity. I was a zombie. I was going to be a zombie. All I wanted to do was SLEEP.

The third kidney-punch in one night was apparently too much for my fragile sleep-deprived psyche.  I rolled over:


His big, brown doe eyes opened wide and the cutest, softest smallest voice ever responded:

And that is why I am the Worst Person in the World.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Possibly the Funniest Thing I Have Ever Read

Hyperbole and a Half seems to capture the main essence of what we're talking about here...


Holy Shitballs, Batman.  I just looked up my “ideal” body weight. Ostensibly, the purpose of this was to bolster my planned article about how I think I’m overweight despite scientific evidence to the contrary.  Instead, the result has turned the trajectory of this whole article on its head.
Popular culture and fashion magazines aside, our society is based upon the idea that there are, to certain questions, scientifically correct answers. Science is used as a purportedly “neutral” identifier of the ideal body type.  But even scientific medical and psychological information can be challenged.  For example, many studies have come to the conclusions that fat people can be healthy[1] weight is not always controllable by diet and exercise[2]; weight to a certain extent is predetermined by genetics[3]; and that diets may be the reason people get fatter.[4]
I have never been at a point where I was truly happy with my weight. As I have said before, the infestation of popular culture with dumb skinny bitches messes with my competitive spirit. I would like to think that I am smarter than the majority of them, and that I have willed myself through some of the most difficult experiences this country has to offer (law school and boot camp come to mind), so how can they figure out how to be skinny and I can’t?
Uncomfortable honesty time (ooooh, I really  don’t want to type this): I am 5’4” and right now hovering at 140. This is about 5 lbs over what I typically consider my “healthy” weight, and 11 lbs more than what I consider my “race” weight (i.e. the weight I prefer to be when running endurance races, due to impact on my joints/ less to carry.) I am muscular and have always weighed more than I look. I wear a size 8 comfortably and a size 6 fitted.
The following are my “ideal” body weights according to these websites:

Whaaaa? Talk about failure. I am, according to the average of the above, twenty-three pounds over my ideal weight.  This got me thinking: ideal for what? Certainly, a 97 lb woman would not be “ideal” for carrying wounded Marines, or full battle-gear. Could a 97 lb woman have the endurance to run an ironman? Or have a baby? As any personal trainer will tell you, muscles weigh more than fat. Thus, the scientifically “ideal” woman is…well… weak.  Could it be that as women become stronger outside of the home, the “ideal” becomes smaller and weaker as a way to perpetuate women’s internalization of subjugation?
Slimness is one of the primary physical indicators of female success. Failure to be slender, in the eyes of society, is evidence of a woman’s failure to work hard enough.[5]  But body size is determined not only by diet and exercise, but by many other factors including genetics [6] age, gender, nationality, social class[7] and environment.[8] A very successful woman will likely still feel the societal pressure, while a similarly situated male will not. Think of it as the Oprah/Limbaugh dichotomy.
“Ideal” body images, and scientific “ideal” weights without reference to body composition, etc, add to the conundrum of failure by pitting a woman quite literally against herself. Assuming that all resources are to some extent limited, how much of our limited psychological resources do we consume battling ourselves over physical appearance?

[1] Ernsberger, P. and P. Haskew. 1987. Rethinking Obesity: An Alternate View of Its Health Implications. Journal of Obesity and Weight Regulation 6: 58-137
[2] Stunkard, A.J., and M.McClaren –Hume. 1959. The Results of Treatment for Obesity. Archives of Internal Medicine 102, 79-85.
[3] Stunkard, id.
[4] Bennett, W. and J. Gurin. 1982. The Dieter’s Dilemma. New York: Basic Books.
[5] Banner, L. 1983. American Beauty. New York: Alfred A. Knopf
[6] Stunkard, A.J., T.I.A. Sorenson, C. Hanis, T.W. Teasedale, R. Chakraborty, W.J.Schull and F. Schulsinger. 1986. An Adoption Study of Human Obesity. New England Journal of Medicine 314 (4): 193-97
[7] Atrens, D.M. 1988. Don’t Diet. New York: WIliam Morrow.
[8] Beller, A.S. 1977. Fat and Thin:  A Natural History of Obesity. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, Ltd.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


I hate almonds. I really, truly, with a burning firey passion, hate almonds. They are awful. They are like eating little wood chips.

And yet, they are on every list of healthy foods that athletes should eat.

So, every day, I muscle my way through a 100 calorie bag of raw, unsalted almonds.

I feel like one day I will begin to like them. One day my palate will adjust itself to enjoythe simple, healthy things in life. 
Not yet. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Caveat Emptor

I often wonder if my husband regrets marrying me.

I feel sorry for him. Perversely, I typically feel sorry for him at times when he infuriates me the most. My husband has been cast in a difficult, if not impossible, role. He is a privileged white male married to a radical feminist. He readily identifies as a "feminist" and knows enough to hate it when I call him a "white male,"  but he has difficulty accepting that his privilege makes his life experience fundamentally different from those who do not benefit from similar status.

Difficulty accepting privilege is not his fault, nor is it unique to him.  When faced with privilege, white males often think that to be associated with privilege "takes away" or "minimizes" the hard work associated with their life achievements.  This is not so. Instead, take the example of golf. A hole-in-one on a PGA-rated course is a difficult achievement by any definition, no matter who you are. However, a hole-in-one may be more feasible if one has a driver, than say, a  5- iron. Or a putter. Socially-valued biological differences can be seen in a similar way.

As described by Allan Johnson in his book The Gender Knot (1995)[1],  a social group is superior to the extent that the society in which it exists is dominated by, identified with, and centered on said group. They key aspect of white male dominance is oppression, which creates and sustains power differences between the dominant group (D) and the oppressed group (O). Oppression includes not only superior positions which allow D to acquire greater income and wealth, but these superior positions allow D to mold social culture in ways that serve D's interests (for example, control of the content of media and the passage of legislation). If Ds occupy all of the positions of power, then D as a group become identified with superiority even if most D are not powerful in their individual lives.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Sent to me by one of my favorite people:

Moderate giftedness has been made worthless by the printing press and radio and television and satellites and all that. A moderately gifted person who would have been a community treasure a thousand years ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of work, since modern communications put him or her into daily competition with nothing but world's champions.
                                                           -Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., novelist (1922-2007) 

Media makes the champions in all arenas easily accessible. Chrissy Wellington, Martha Stewart, Anne Marie Slaughter, I measure myself to all and find myself short.

Against whom do you measure yourself?

Saturday, February 19, 2011


I want to talk about control. Specifically, self-control as it pertains to food. A woman’s control over amount of food, type of food (vegetarian? Organic? Raw?), and body weight are such a huge part of “doing femininity”[1]  in a way that is almost overwhelming. My self-control (or lack thereof) is likely the predominant source of my failure feelings on a daily basis. Almost every morning, one of the first thoughts I have is one of regret and failure for something that I ate or drank the day before. [2]
The average person makes at least 200 food related decisions every day.[3] 90% of these are done without conscious awareness. An inactive person burns 1,200 calories on average, and most modern individuals are fairly inactive unless we are making the mindful decision to work out (which can be added to this base rate). Running, one of the highest calorie burning activities, burns about 100 calories per mile. To burn off one Hershey’s Kiss, I have to run one-quarter of a mile.
Self-control has long been linked to morality. Perhaps because of its connection to the seven deadly sins. Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy, and pride all concern emotions and appetites, and emotions are historically associated with the female in the Aristotelian tradition of the male/female dyad (reason/emotion).  Recall any chocolate commercial aimed at women, using the words “sinfully good” or “indulge yourself.”
As discussed earlier, women, in the Western theological tradition, are historically seen as inherently sinful.  Women’s physical bodies tempted men into lust, and were therefore seen as having a greater bent for sin. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, ascetic practices of eating and fasting proved the practitioner’s ability to overcome the temptations of the flesh (appetite and sexual desire). [4] One document, written for monks in the fifteenth century, stated “it is impossible to extinguish the fires of concupiscence (doing it!) without restraining the desires of the stomach.”[5]
Perhaps because of the perception of women as more prone to sin, women have historically been particularly attracted to fasting as a means of self-discipline. See, for instance, Rudolph Bell’s book about self-starving women, Holy Anorexia (1985), that gives an account of women officially recognized by the Roman Catholic church as saints or holy women. Self-starvation was a means to establish an independent identity and garner recognition within the church.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mailing List/ Housekeeping

Readers, I have a mailing list. If you would like to be a part of the Failure Project, or be notified when new posts come out, shoot me an email:

Cookies are still on offer. I have two batches going out this weekend (Thank you Jeremy and Adrien! You rock!) The offer is this: if you promote this site somewhere and send me a link and your address, I send you homemade cookies. Om nom nom.

Finally, if you are here you should "follow" this site. This shows publishers that people actually read it and will buy it when they pay me to write it (hooray!).

Thanks everyone. For everything.

Natural Mother

There is nothing natural about motherhood.  The ideal of motherhood many women internalize as the standard has been termed the "motherhood mystique."[1] The motherhood mystique captures the popular belief system in which being a mother is supposed to be "natural, easy, and always enjoyable, and that optimal child development requires a full-time mom." ... Right. Raise your hand if your motherhood experience fits that description. Better yet, send me an email- I want to interview you for the book.

I was an idiot about motherhood before I became a mother. Take a conversation, repeated on more than one occasion with multiple people:
                Them: "So, are you going to breastfeed?"
                Me: "Well, yeah. It's the healthiest thing."
                Them: "Okay, well have you read up on it/ engaged a lactation consultant/ some other research about breastfeeding?"
                Me: "Um, no."
                Them: "Well, don't get discouraged, it's always difficult the first time."
                Me: "Why does everyone keep saying that? I'll figure it out. We're mammals. It's in the name. By definition we are required to be good at this."
(All the mothers in the audience groan.) Like I said, I was an idiot.

Popular media perpetuates and exacerbates the motherhood mystique by the use of almost universal portrayals of "happy, calm and competent mothers,"[2]  Good mothers are patient, nurturing, kind, soft-spoken. [3] Take, for example, a content analysis study of mothers in Parenting magazine:[4]

"the images do not reflect the stressful nature of parenting. Stories about difficult situations were typically accompanied by blurry photos or drawings in which the mother's face was turned away from the viewer, thereby erasing her emotions. Visual portrayal of mothers' negative affect was limited to cartoons, which trivialize the anger, stress, and frustration inherent in managing difficult children or situations by provoking laughter.”
Motherhood is supposed to come naturally, it is supposed to be easy. Any woman who is impatient, loud, annoyed or otherwise at the end of her rope is seen to have something wrong with her. To break the code of silence on this is to be labeled a "bad mother." Some women break the silence with reckless abandon, see Nikki at momswhodrinkandswear, my new favorite site. But breaking the code of silence is dangerous, and she regularly has to remind readers that her site is humor, even then she has many detractors. Even I have been guilty of the bad-mother reaction. While pregnant for the first (and thus far only) time, I ran into a woman with a two year old. She started asking me about my maternity leave, etc and made the following statement:

"I love X more than anything in the whole world. But let me tell you, by the end of my maternity leave, I was ready to get back to the office."

My reaction: bad mother. What a horrible thing to say. What mother wouldn't want to spend every waking moment with their child? But by the end of my maternity leave, I was pulling-my-hair-outready to get back to the office. That woman and I have since become best friends.

One of the base level disconnects that creates the environment in which women feel failure is the unintentional conspiracy of silence with regard to the difficulty of mothering.  An integral part of this project is to break that code- to acknowledge that the challenges we face are difficult and complex. We, both as women and society, tend to minimize the difficulty of the challenges we face, both interpersonally and professionally. By minimizing the problem, we magnify what we perceive to be our failure to overcome it.  

In short, this shit's hard, and that's okay.

[1] Hoffnung, M. (1989). Motherhood: Contemporary conflict for women. In J Freeman (Ed.) Women: A Feminist Perspective (4th ed., pp 157-175) Mountain View, CA: Mayfield
[2] Chrisler, J.C. & Johnston-Robledo, I. (2002) Raging hormones? Feminist perspectives on premenstrual syndrome and post-partum depression. In M. Ballou & L.S. Brown (Eds.) Rethinking mental health and disorder (pp. 174-197). New York: Guilford.
[3] Chrisler & Johnson (2002)
[4]Molina, C., Johnston-Robledo, I., & Babler, A., (2000) Images of women in Parenting magazine. In J.C. Christer (Chair) Sociocultural images of women and their possible effects of life goals, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. Symposium presented at the meeting of the Association for Women in Psychology, Salt Lake City, UT.  Following description taken wholesale from Chrisler, J.C. 207 Presidential Address: Fear of losing control: power, perfectionism, and the psychology of women. In Psychology of Women Quarterly, 32 (2008) (pp. 1-12) Blackwell Publishing.

War of the Worlds

Here's a fun little project for any of the skeptics out there. You know who you are, those who think the world can't possibly be as gendered as we present here, or that gendered experiences and reactions simply aren't as "real" as we (I) think. Go to Google and type "lawyer in office." Then go to Images.

What do you see? 

NARY A WOMAN TO BE FOUND. Striking, isn't it?

You see pictures like this:

And this:


And this:

(what was he thinking?)

In fact, you have to sort through forty-two images of lawyers, including this guy before you get to an image of a female lawyer:

(hilarious, but not a lawyer)

The image one finds (finally) is a stock image from Google of a model posing as a lawyer. I don't know the algorithms associated with Google content, nor the inner workings of the interwebs. I do know that Google is so ubiquitous that its name has become a verb (thank you Dane Cook).  As such, it is a quick, albeit superficial, indicator of the modern zeitgeist with regard to a given topic.

Why is it that the collective consciousness resists so tenaciously the idea of a powerful, educated woman?

I did the above Google search yesterday when two of my worlds came crashing together, with predictably messy results. Sprout got sick around noon, and couldn't go back to school. I had client meetings all afternoon, it was too late to cancel. Husband was mostly free, but had a mandatory meeting at 1400, expected to last an hour. I rearranged my schedule so that I had between 1400 and 1500[1] free. Sounds like clockwork, right?

Except it wasn't.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Standards vs. Ideals

Let us talk for a minute about the difference between a standard and an ideal. These two words are often, unfortunately and imprecisely,  used interchangeably despite their drastic difference in meaning. The genesis of the contemporary conflation of these two disparate concepts is unclear, but perhaps by defining and delineating the space between the them, we can shed some light on why (modern women especially) seem to equate the two.

Ideal: a level of perfection that exists only in the imagination; conforming to an ultimate standard of perfection or excellence; the idea of something that is perfect.[1]

Standard: a level of quality or excellence that is accepted as the norm; a basis for comparison; a reference point against which other things can be evaluated. [2]



The "standard" that modern women tend to internalize is, in a majority of cases, thoroughly unrealistic and should be defined as an "ideal." Ideals, by definition, can only be achieved or even approached by a small minority of those who strive to achieve them. If too many people begin to achieve the ideal, the ideal must change in order to maintain its "extraordinary nature."[3] In fact, at the very foundations of Western philosophy, Platonic Idealism defines an "ideal" as a form which does not exist in this world, but only in the realm of ideas.[4] An ideal, therefore, is an abstract concept that allows us to identify the imperfect reflections of objects within the temporal sphere.

In the past, it was understood that an ideal was to be admired, but that we were to each attempt our personal best, that standard we had both the strength and ability to achieve. Modern culture has changed such that it requires individuals to target the ideal as their goal rather than the standard. Because the ideal is, by definition, unnatural, extremely difficult and potentially impossible to achieve, failure and disappointment are inevitable.[5]

Sound familiar?

Why is it that our culture encourages the internalization of the impossible?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Milestones and Cookies

We're over 2,000 hits! Hooray and Huzzah! I appreciate all of the kind words and support, you all have been more helpful than you know. I am diligently collecting all of the daily routines, responses, and other lovely wonderful delicious bits of information and insight you have sent me to incorporate into the book.

Speaking of delicious...

The offer is still on the table. Whether via Facebook, Twitter, Email, Billboard, street sign, whatevah... if you promote this site to people who don't yet read it, and send me proof and your mailing address (mailing address is key here, people) I WILL SEND YOU HOME MADE COOKIES. Cookies, people! They're good, just ask the people that have already received and consumed them.

Friday, February 11, 2011


I've gotten a lot of great comments on this site. But I got, by far, the best comment I've gotten thus far from Anonymous. It was this:

"Militant, ain't ya sister?:

Eff. Yes. I. Am. 

Keep reading, Anonymous. I like your style. 


The week has officially wiped it's ass with me, resulting in the roaring return of the Pinot Noir bandit (=me, only slightly more awesome). However, I am constantly researching, digging, reading and extrapolating to bring you the most interesting and thought provoking book possible. As such,  the following is something I read in my research today that pissed me off: 

"While women's labor force participation continues to rise, along the their relative economic equality in the household[1] the increase in men's share of domestic work and childcare has been modest[2]. In the US, men's participation in domestic tasks has increased approximately five hours per week since the mid-1960s, but remains just a third of the contribution of women.[3] At least part of the increase is the result of over-reporting in light of changing social perceptions of gender roles."[4]

This resulted in a giant pink-highlighter "WTF" next to this paragraph.  So wait, not only are things not changing, but men are taking credit for more change than is actually happening? (W T everloving F. Cue the Pinot Noir bandit.)[5]

The above reading coalesced perfectly with the following:

(1) An email that my mom sent me. My mom sends me forwards. A lot. She's gotten better (I no longer receive forwards about the Red Hat society, or the most recent Snopes-debunked myth) but this one actually seemed to encapsulate a large portion of what we discuss here:

"Housework was a woman's job, but one evening, Janice arrived home from work to find the children bathed, one load of laundry in the washer and another in the dryer. Dinner was on the stove, and the table set. She was astonished! It turns out that Frank had read an article that said, 'Wives who work full-time and have to do their own housework were too tired to have sex'. The night went very well. The next day, Janice told her friends all about it. 'We had a great dinner. Frank even cleaned up the kitchen. He helped the kids do their homework, folded all the laundry and put it away. I really enjoyed the evening.' 'But what about afterward?' asked her friends. 'Oh, that.......... Frank was too tired.'"

Okay, it's dumb. But it's true. Just ask Dr. Gupta. 

(2) The same information, in science-y language, was posted on CNN two days ago, see the article here.

So, yeah.

…..and exit bandit stage left.

[1] Sorensen & McLanahan, 1986
[2] Berk, 1985; Blossfield & Drobnic 2001; Coverman 1983, 1985; England &Farkas 1986; Gershuny 2000; Greenstein 1996; Hochschild 1989; Lennon & Rosenfield 1994; Presser 1994
[3] Bianchi, Milkie, Sayer & Robinson 2000
[4] The Gendered Division of Domestic Labor and Family Outcomes. Price Cooke, Lynn. Nutfield College-Oxford University.
[5] I take this opportunity to refer readers to this post, in which we unequivocally establish that this is neither a man-bashing site (men are, by and large, very nice people) nor do we believe that the weird social perversions of gender roles are the "fault" of the individual male. However, we do live within a weird social structure that creates occasionally both hilarious and grotesque (in the Baroque sense of the word) outcomes. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Patriotism and Individuality

Abigail Adams kicks ass. Anyone who doesn't know how much ass Mrs. Adams kicks should rapidly acquaint themselves with the woman that was unafraid to give a written smackdown to the President of the United States of America. Twice.

"Emancipating all nations, you insist upon retaining absolute power over Wives," she wrote to her husband in 1776, while John Adams was serving in the Continental Congress. "Do not put such unlimited powers into the hands of the husbands, remember all men would be tyrants if they could."

The American Revolution had a peculiar impact on women's roles in the United States. Specifically upon marriage and the expectation of the woman therein.

Prior to the Revolution, family was a model for church and state, each institution had its own hierarchy, with authority residing in the head.[1] The head of the family, church or colonies, was expected to control its members. Indeed, John Winthrop, Massachusetts Bay's governor, explained in 1645 "a true wife accounts her subjection her honor and freedom, and would not think her condition safe and free but in subjection to her husband's authority." The husband retained full control over the wife, and children, family finances, decisions, and was the "conduit through which God's blessings flowed." Absolute subjection of wife to husband was the norm and expectation.

When absolute monarchy fell out of favor in during the English Revolution of 1688, the absolute patriarchy of the domestic sphere was also subject to ideological assault. "If absolute sovereignty be not necessary in a state, how comes it to be so in a family?" asked kick-ass proto-feminist Mary Axtell in 1706.

The Revolution, and the upheaval that accompanied it, shone a light on women's roles as producers of homemade goods (which allowed boycotts of imported goods), and supporters of the cause either via fundraising or direct support. The war further forced women to spring into the arena of public affairs (difficult to avoid if one's town was bombarded).  With the "stress of the first modern revolution" women were "suddenly assumed to be capable of sharing a highly valued and rational political sentiment: patriotism."

The idea that women were capable of sharing the sentiment of patriotism set the stage for women to be considered as individuals within the domestic relationship as well. Thus, as a result the Revolution, the conceptualization of marriage shifted from the authoritarian patriarchal marriage, to what has been termed "companionate marriage," i.e. a marriage based on affection, esteem, friendship, and consent. Some contemporary authors termed this "matrimonial republicanism."

So what's the point?

The seeds of equality for American women were planted as recognition of their contribution to something outside the home. This can be contrasted to the progression of women's rights in other western cultures, in which women's rights and suffrage proceeded as a part of the burgeoning recognition of the rights of man (humans). As such, the individuality of the American woman is in historic context based on her occupying and external, or multiple, roles. Could this be one of the small seeds that had led  to the overextension of the modern American woman?

[1] Heh heh heh heh…heh heh heh.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Overcoming Beauty

I have a deeply ambivalent  relationship with the concept of "beauty." I would argue that most successful women fall somewhere on the spectrum between "conflicted" to "deeply ambivalent" to even "tortured" in their relationship to the idea of physical beauty. We, doctors, lawyers, physicists,  feel as though we should be above the pull of social forces that tell us that we must be slender, beautiful,  and aesthetically pleasing.  We are intelligent women able to hold the ridiculous physical demands to the light and know that they are socially constructed and unattainable.  Many of us are even able to reject portions of the social ideal. But let me tell you one thing: any woman who says that she doesn't care what she looks like is lying.

This topic is so multi-faceted one could write a book focused solely on it. Heck, I just might. Beauty as power. Beauty as conformity. Beauty as "natural." Beauty as a reflection of inner "good." Beauty as one's utility. Beauty as control.

The focus of this article, however, is the fundamental idea that beauty is natural, and that any failure to be beautiful is a failure of the individual. The Western image of female beauty is incredibly difficult to access and articulate,  in part because, although the physical manifestations of beauty have changed wildly over time, the normative language appears to be timeless. Conception of beauty as "natural," "virginal," and "pure" appear to be neutral, while instead serving as imposition of  dominance over the female body that is often unconscious and unexplainable.

In the foundations of Western philosophy, internal and external beauty are inseparable. Beginning with Plato, Cicero and Aristotle's Rhetoric, academic literature  made no distinction between beauty  (pulchrum, decorum) and utility or goodness (aptum, honestum)."[1] Inner beauty was inextricable from outer beauty, as evidenced in writings by John la Rochelle, in which he writes that honestum is the elemental ingredient in beauty "truth and beauty were… both defined in terms of form: truth was the disposition of form in relation to the internal character of a thing; truth was the disposition of form in relation to its external character."  Alexander Hales wrote "the good is distinguished from the beautiful by intention…the nature of the beautiful consists in general in a resplendence of form, whether in duly ordered parts of material objects… or in men, in actions." The Platonic stance, then, in which the physical form is merely a replica of an intangible ideal, is that the physical form of an individual is a external expression of their inner moral reality. The most beautiful is the most real.[2]

Let me break it down. Think Wizard of Oz. Bad witch, the one out to get Dorothy and her little dog too? Ugly. Glenda, the Good Witch? Beautiful.  Bam, Western philosophy.

Robert of Blois echoed the standard line that the  essence of female beauty is moral.[3] And Thomas Elyot put it most clearly in his The Defence of Good Women, in which he wrote that truly beautiful women were temperate, gracious, and moderate.[4] Those women who had to work the least at being outwardly beautiful, then, were presumed to be the most moral and godly. [5]

If we track this theory back into this post, in which we discuss the idea that women are presumed to be innately flawed, and combine it with the above, the outcome, then, is that a failure to be beautiful is a moral failure on the part of the individual. Indeed, the "democratic rhetoric of beauty" in the twentieth century[6](discussed by Banner in her amazing book American Beauty,) is the the belief that anyone can attain beauty, thus all women should try to be beautiful. Therefore, unattractiveness is evidence of a woman's failure to work hard enough.

There are all sorts of things wrong with this. I get it. But I am also subject to it.

For instance, I truly believe that if I eat enough organic fruits and veggies, and drink enough water to float a barge, that I will have beautiful, glowing skin. Nevermind that I am 30, sundamaged, and probably the only way that I will ever "glow" is if I get into a horrible highlighter accident. I truly believe that the reason that I have terrible skin is my inner failure to eat and drink what I should. Maybe I just have genetically doo-doo skin, but the implication remains- I should be naturally "fresh" and "dewey."

Pure honesty? I honestly, truly believe that if I put my mind to it, I could be as skinny as a supermodel. Intellectually, I know this to be false. I also know that I should be above society's conventions and should be comfortable with being healthy and strong. I also know that a supermodel would in no way be able to stand up to the physical rigors of my job. To a certain extent I have made peace with this, but on a level that I cannot deny, I feel that my failure to be supermodel skinny is a failure of effort and willpower.  Whether this is a function of "high-achieving" is unclear.  I have been able to accomplish almost every goal, professionally academically and athletically to which I have put my mind, thus my failure to attain "glowing" and "skinny" is particularly grating. Especially when reality television shows a plethora of dumb skinny bitches. If they can figure it out, shouldn't I?

It shouldn't bother me, but it does. So sue me.

[1] Eco, U. 1986. Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages. New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press.
[2] Lowe, B. 1994. Body Images and the Politics of Beauty: Formation of the Feminine Ideal in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Westport, CT.: Greenwood Press.
[3] Reginier-Bohler, D. 1988. Imagining the Self. In G. Duby (ed.), A History of Private Life. Vol 2, Revelation of the Medieval World. Trans. A Goldhammer. Cambridge, MA.: Belknap
[4] Elyot, T. 1940. The Defense of Good Women (1540). Ed. E.J. Howard. Oxford, OH.: Anchor
[5] Lowe, B. supra.
[6] Banner, L. 1983. American Beauty. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 

Monday, February 7, 2011


Small request for all of you people who regularly (or semi-regularly, or occasionally, or rarely) check this site. If you would go through the (admittedly ass-painful) process of "Following" it. This shows the publisher that I have people that like what I write.

Which is important, because I want someone to pay me to write it.

Thanks people. I appreciate all of the support.

Reminder: Pimp my blog, send me the link, and I send you homemade cookies. It's that easy. Email me with the link to where you pimped the site and your mailing address: Pimp. My. Site.

Daily (Parenting) Fail

The Ideal Me (IM) spends rainy days doing crafts projects with her children. They cut shapes out of foam and play Play-Doh. They later cuddle under blankets to watch a classic Walt Disney movie with hot chocolate. (Or, in my super-ideal world, they don't even have a TV.) This Sunday, the rain had been incessant, but did nothing to dampen the unremitting energy of my sweet mamamamama

The blur on the right hand side is Sprout.

He is, in this picture, playing in the indoor playscape at Chik-Fil-A.

Let me tell you a few things about this picture:

1)  He has on no shoes or socks. (His choice.)
2)  He has on blue sweatpants 2 sizes too big, and a Michigan State basketball jersey, sleeveless. He has on NO underwear.
3) He has figured out how to surf the entirety of the slide to the left on his feet, jump, land, and keep running without pause.
4) At least twice there was serious crying emanating from the glass-encased-habitat. I am reasonably sure that my son was either the cause or the source. That place is like Lord of the Flies.

Heeeere Piggy.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Day I Got Stuck in Court.

Have I ever told you about the day I got stuck in Court?

One of the hugely problematic areas in the professional female experience is that of being pregnant. Pregnancy is physically obvious and exclusively female. It is the most inescapable manifestation of  "female-ness" that cannot be mitigated while in the workplace. Despite all of the physical and behavioral modifications adopted by women to neutralize  their femininity and be perceived as equals in the workplace, pregnancy is gigantically uncomfortably and inescapably there.

The author has had the distinctly preposterous experience of being pregnant while on active duty in the United States military. In one of the last bastions of all things alpha-male, her experience was appropriately ridiculous. 

My pregnancy is recorded, for all posterity, on the record of the criminal conviction of Sgt X. We were in a motions hearing prior to trial, and had begun the preliminaries when the judge noticed that the outer door to the courtroom had not been closed prior to the start of proceedings. He asked the prosecutor (me) to close the door. There are a number of formalities that need to be gone through before entering the 'well' or the area in front of the judge, so it was simply easier to sidle to the side between the heavy, oak counsel table and the wall to reach the door. Well, easier for someone who is not seven-months pregnant. For someone who is seven months pregnant, the exercise sounds like this:

Judge:  "in the last hearing on the record, defense counsel for the accused stipulated that…<long awkward pause>...Trial Counsel, are you okay?"
Me: "Yes your.... <grunt> Honor, I ....<grunt> am..hmmpgrrr..:
It is, unfortunately, an appellate court requirement that all goings-on in the courtroom be verbalized on the record. It is called "protecting the record" and prevents a case being overturned on appeal because an Appellate Court judge doesn't know what is happening. On this day, protection of the record took the following form:
Judge: "Trial Counsel, ah…well…um, let the record reflect that trial counsel is currently stuck between counsel table and the wall. Trial Counsel is unable to move. Defense counsel, will you please enter the well and pull out the table to assist Trial Counsel?"

That was it. The day I got stuck in court. Recorded, transcribed, and kept for all time. 

Friday, February 4, 2011


 A recent story on NPR was about how technology never dies, any technology that has every been created in history is still made, somewhere, by someone. Paleolithic axes? Check. Steam Powered Cars? Yep. Hand Threshers? Sure. Because a large portion of my brain is now fully preoccupied by the Failure Project, this immediately brought to mind the above article. My mom sent it to me when I got married.[1] She was only sort of kidding.

As has become clear in my research on the project, women's roles, too, never die. Once something has been predetermined to be a woman's "role," then no matter how many other roles are added, that role never dies. Take for instance, a conversation I recently had with my husband, after his boss had us over for dinner:

Me: "We need to have them over for dinner here soon."
Him: "Why?"
Me: "Because that's what you DO."
Him: "Why?"
Me: "They just had us over for a very nice dinner, and you feel no compunction to have them over to our house for dinner at all, do you?"
Him: "Nope."

He grinned and walked away. The point was lost on him. But it was clear that the role of "social manager" and "entertainment director" of the family was a responsibility I felt that was not shared. In the 40s or 50s, with the male as the sole breadwinner in the home, and the female as the homemaker and party-planner, this difference in perceived responsibility would be understandable. But, with equal or mostly-equal professional responsibilities for both spouses increasingly the norm in the majority of households, why is it that we cling to our historical roles? Consciously or subconsciously, one article argues that it is because we are acting as gatekeepers to protect our identity as nurturers- an identity threatened when we are at work all day.

Think about the identities that women have adopted over the years that we have not shed: nurturer, homemaker, beauty, virgin, professional- we must be both professionally accomplished, but adequately feminine and aesthetically pleasing. Strong, but slender. Sexually appealing, but not threatening.

It brings to mind another anecdote, this one from my neighbor. She and her husband work essentially the exact same jobs, with almost exactly the same hours. They have one child, she does all of the childcare. One day, at the end of her rope, she brought up to him that she was running ragged trying to work, take care of their spawn, do all the laundry, keep the house clean, make meals, etc. Because he paid a certain amount per month to get all of the yard work done (law mowed, hedges trimmed, various and sundry other tasks), she should it would be only fair if they were able to get someone once every two weeks to just clean the kitchen and bathrooms. Otherwise, she said, she would simply lose her mind. Keeping the house clean in addition to her full time job and everything else was just driving her over the edge. His response?

"But Honey, our house isn't that big."


What other roles have women had historically that anachronistically carry through to today?

[1] She has kind of a dark sense of humor. As me sometime about the double cheeseburgers we ate in the waiting room of the cardiac ward while waiting for my dad to get out of a quintuple bypass. No kidding.

Thank you to for the pic. It's one of my favorite sites and should be one of yours too.