On Monday, it was the VIDA/Riverhead fundraiser at the Brooklyn Brewery. I’ve got this brutal hacking cough that alternately sounds like deep bronchitis and wheezy consumption, so I was an ideal party guest. Particularly at a party where ladies were assembled to meet and champion other ladies. I followed a friend around, kind of a networking wingwoman, because handing cards out looks more sensible when you’ve got a friend to introduce. She blew me away—I’ve never seen anyone hustle so hard for poetry. I met an extraordinary woman who writes for places that I admire, and when I finally put two and two together, I realized she’d written pieces I admire, too. I left Williamsburg feeling like my feathers had been ruffled, like I’d been slowly startled into awareness. But I couldn’t quite pinpoint what I’d figured out.
On Thursday, it was that piece in The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter. Of course these days Facebook is gathering up network trends and lets me know helpful things like “nine of your friends are discussing foot-binding” or whatever so I can know how to fit in. All people I’ve ever known shared this article (it’s already the most-read piece in the site’s history), so I read it, top to bottom, last night, even when it really stopped bearing any relation to my life or the life I envision, five or ten years down the line. The part that stuck was the generational divide. I think a lot of younger lady bloggers have noted it, too.
The striking gap between the responses I heard from those young women (and others like them) and the responses I heard from my peers and associates prompted me to write this article. Women of my generation have clung to the feminist credo we were raised with, even as our ranks have been steadily thinned by unresolvable tensions between family and career, because we are determined not to drop the flag for the next generation. But when many members of the younger generation have stopped listening, on the grounds that glibly repeating “you can have it all” is simply airbrushing reality, it is time to talk.
Older ladies prescribing what I think is rightly characterized as “feminist credo”. It’s an issue worth examining, but maybe not here; this week has been about impressions, mediations on a theme, and looking back on it, I don’t really think I understand what it means to be a woman, in Anne-Marie Slaughter’s world—college-educated, ambitious, simultaneously desiring a family and a super-career—and in VIDA’s world, where people pitch articles and are published regardless of gender or sex. I don’t know if I was supposed to glean any answers from the articles or the conversations. But I’m going to keep trying.
In between, on Tuesday, it was Sheila Heti. I haven’t read How Should a Person Be?, or anything else by Heti, but I went to her reading at powerHouse Arena and she was just lovely—gracious and brief and a little skeptical when some of the questions from the audience were not-so-hot. So maybe it’s best to leave it with a passage she read that evening, on ladies.
One good thing about being a woman is we haven’t too many examples yet of what a genius looks like. It could be me. There is no ideal model for how my mind should be. For men, it’s pretty clear. That’s the reason you see them trying to talk themselves up all the time. I laugh when they won’t say what they mean so the academies will study them forever. I’m thinking of you, Mark Z., and you, Christian B. You just keep peddling your phony-baloney genius crap, while I’m up giving blow jobs in heaven.