Friday, October 10, 2008

Envy and the Great Sex Columnist Layoff of '08

Over at Salon, Tracy Clark-Flory writes about all the sex writers whose columns are being cut, and she and her interviewees articulate some of the thoughts I've been having ever since I started to hear about this, and why I can't find myself feeling entirely sympathetic:

Susannah Breslin, a reporter who runs the blog Reverse Cowgirl, argues that sex writers have, for the most part, been held to a lower journalistic standard. “Sometimes people become sex writers because they screw a lot, not necessarily because they can write well,” she told me in an e-mail.

On a similar note, Broadsheet’s Sarah Hepola, formerly an editor for the smart sex mag Nerve, said the traditional shock-and-awe approach to sex columns doesn’t work. She finds “the frustrations of a real person grappling with sex — the lack of it, the absurdity of it, the frustrations of it” more compelling than reading about, say, being tied up in a dominatrix’s dungeon and being flogged with a cat o’ nine tails.

Often times, instead of learning about the emotional and intellectual facets of a stranger’s sex life — and, most interesting, those contradictory cross-currents — I have felt an unwilling participant in their exhibitionistic fantasy.

Most of the sex writers out there are (or play the role of) young conventionally attractive hipster women in large urban areas, who routinely get invited to partake in the sort of activities I never did/will. I've noticed for a while that lists of "best sex blogs" tend to feature young women almost exclusively, either as writers (if it's a writing-centric blog) or as models (if it's an image-centric blog). There's a lot of looks privilege and social privilege going on there, it seems. (And yes, I'm aware that it's a very relative and localized privilege that results from the whole "sex class"/"no-sex class" idea, that many folks are loath to call it privilege at all, that social interaction isn't perfect for anybody, that if I'm not careful I'm going to be indistinguishable from an MRA, etc.)

But what it comes down to is that I'm not all that outraged at the cancellation of all these writers' columns. Some of that is just that those columns don't connect with me, the way that a lot of writing about financial advice for the under-35 set doesn't work for me because I'm not a well-paid IT professional with more money than I know what to do with. And while that sort of thing (either writing about money I don't make, or sex I'm not going to have) can be interesting, it doesn't resonate very well. Some of it is simply the idea that nobody is owed a job, especially one as seemingly cushy as that.

But a lot of what it is, to be honest, is envy. (While I don't get all that jealous, I can be quite an envious person, and sex is one of the most reliable triggers for that; I can hear Lili Taylor's character from Say Anything... screaming "That'll never be me!" whenever I read about or hear about that sort of thing.)

It's not just that it's about comparing experiences; it's that the preponderance of that particular perspective crowds out everything else, and there's no acknowledgment that this sphere has room for folks like me. (Oddly enough, financial writing doesn't do this nearly as much; though the classism of it irritates me, I don't find myself wanting to be rich nearly as often as wanting to be desried.)

I know the whole thing is petty. I know I'm overstating the case, and that there are other perspectives out there on this topic. I know from a justice perspective it's less important right now to worry about how young women write all the sex columns and far more important to focus on the fact that they're excluded from the rest of the newspaper, and I know that the CEO who treats his/her job as an entitlement is far more deserving of my ire than the writer who does. I know that if I'm interested in making a change rather than whining, I'd provide an alternative voice or support those who do. And I know that it's especially shallow these days, when I have less reason than ever to feel ugly and undesirable. But dammit, sometimes I am shallow and envious and selfish and petty and just want what someone else has.

5 comments:

jt said...

So...before I respond more fuly, let me make sure I'm clear. The crux of what you're saying here is, I don't have this so no one should!

Tell me if I'm wrong. I would very much like to be wrong.

jt said...

Or more fully. Erg.

jfpbookworm said...

The crux of what you're saying here is, I don't have this so no one should!

Tell me if I'm wrong. I would very much like to be wrong.


jt: you're wrong. :P

Sure, that phrasing is one of the ways envy expresses itself. But I'm not so far gone as to fail to recognize that dealing with that feeling is my own responsibility.

I'm really not advocating any kind of policy here, just exploring my own opinions on all this. Which may not be of interest to anyone else, but it's my blog.

Besides, this is the sort of privilege where removing it from some doesn't help anyone else - what makes it privilege is that ideally everyone would have it, but some don't.

jt said...

Absolutely, this is your space to explore your opinions and ideas. I'm just trying to reconcile the concept of someone identifying as a feminist and then taking, what appears to me to be, such an anti-feminist stance.

You told me I was wrong, but then told me I was right: Sure, that phrasing is one of the ways envy expresses itself. But...dealing with that feeling is my own responsibility.

I am all about dealing with feelings, exploring them, picking them apart and examining the pieces...just forgive me for not really seeing that happen here. I see some attempts to justify what you're feeling (take the last line of the post), but not actually deal with it or try to approach it objectively.

I'm not familiar with all of the bloggers involved, but I can say with some authority that at least three of the women associated with this issue - Dacia, Regina Lynn and AAG - are intelligent, articulate, dedicated writers. Their content happens to include sex. The content does not diminish the quality of their work, nor the effort and care that goes into it. This is their work and they deserve to be paid for it. To imply otherwise reeks of either being uninformed or, I'm sorry to say, anti-feminist.

Again, your blog. If you wanna whine, it's your space to whine. You don't have to be outraged by this. You don't have to relate to the bloggers in question.

You also don't have to judge them for writing about sex.

jfpbookworm said...

I'm not familiar with all of the bloggers involved, but I can say with some authority that at least three of the women associated with this issue - Dacia, Regina Lynn and AAG - are intelligent, articulate, dedicated writers.

This is their work and they deserve to be paid for it. To imply otherwise reeks of either being uninformed or, I'm sorry to say, anti-feminist.

Oh, they are fine writers, and sexuality is certainly a valid topic. Thing is, I'm pretty sure there are plenty of writers out there who don't get those kinds of opportunities, and the demographics of professional sex writers suggest some reasons that hit a few personal buttons.

Like I said, this is one of those forms of privilege that's best cured by extending it to more people, not taking it away.

Their content happens to include sex. The content does not diminish the quality of their work, nor the effort and care that goes into it.

Excuse me? Did I actually say anything remotely to this effect?

I am all about dealing with feelings, exploring them, picking them apart and examining the pieces...just forgive me for not really seeing that happen here. I see some attempts to justify what you're feeling (take the last line of the post), but not actually deal with it or try to approach it objectively.

The metaphorical door's thataway.

Seriously, I realize that the last line can come across as one of those "I'm a jerk, so don't expect me to answer for me actions" excuses, but it's taken me years to even admit the sort of things I have in this post, and so... yeah. Try not to let it hit you in the ass on your way out.