What Gets To Be Successful

Read Heather andthis, via the crack den, and then come back here to talk to me about women and money.

Because what runs through both those stories (and I’ve been kicking Heather’s around in my head for a while now) is quite simply the idea that we should be ashamed that women make money. Let me not sugarcoat it, in Heather’s case: Male authors for hundreds of years have been making bazillions peddling thinly fictionalized versions of their own twisted familial shit to anybody who’d listen, making the reading public their therapists as they dealt with alcoholism and child abuse and incest and charming eccentricities like putting out cigarettes on four-year-olds’ arms. Nobody has ever, ever, ever implied that those men were anything other than literary geniuses whose harsh lives fueled their stunning creativity and whose oft-fatal mental illnesses were just symbols of their specialness. Any concerns about them essentially writing poison-pen letters to ex-wives and ex-lovers and ex-friends in the public eye have been far outweighed by their fucking Nobel Prizes. Let’s not pretend this is something it isn’t.

I’m biased because Heather’s writing about her depression was incredibly valuable to me, and because, as a non-mother, I’ve enjoyed an actual realistic window into what it might be like someday. Heather’s concerns about the impact of her work on her child are between her and her work and her child, and everybody in the comments trying to make it about their noble concern for her innocent babe is kidding himself, this isn’t about the kid. This is about a chick writing about chick things for (mostly) other chicks, and people getting pissed at her because she got book and movie deals out of it, because that somehow doesn’t “get” to be successful. They can’t just say that because it makes no fucking sense, so they cloak their bullshit in this concern trolling about exploitation. Deep down, nobody gives a fuck about Heather writing about her family. They give a fuck about Heather making MONEY from writing about her family. How dare she? She ought to be ashamed. And because she isn’t, we’re going tomake her ashamed by appealing to her guilt as a mother.

Heather’s blog is about her family. Would I have a blog like that, as open and personal? I don’t have kids, I don’t know. Mr. A and I had a long conversation this weekend about how old our fictitious kid would have to be before we’d let him walk seven blocks to the community pool by himself, would that interest people? No fucking clue. (He said seven, I said ten, we both said, “you’re fucking crazy.”) Does posting pictures of your kids online seem like asking for trouble? It has, to me, in the past. But it’s not up to me, is the thing. The only thing that’s up to me is whatI write about. That’s what’s really pissing off the concern trolls. They don’t get to make the decision about what this woman can do with her life: write about it, not write about it, make money off it, not make money. This blog is about the political and journalistic, but don’t think for one second they aren’t personal to me, those things. You all know more about my relationship with God than my priest does. Those things that lift us up and make us shout with joy, those things are personal, no matter what they’re about, and if you came to me and told me I don’t “get” to write about those things, I can’t say I’d react with any generosity.

(The whole stupid wank also reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what advertising is. It’s not selling content; she’s not “selling her child.” It’s selling the attention of readers to advertisers. You’re selling eyeballs, not stories. The stories might bring the eyeballs, but more often than not, marketing brings the eyeballs, even in blogworld.)

That’s what runs through the second bit, about Sarah Jessica Parker and the movie being made about that sucky, overmarketed show she used to be on. That she feels she should have to downplay money, should have to reduce it to something “vulgar” and wrong, that she doesn’t really care about, that’s what I got out of it. That she makes her clothing line about equality for plus-sized women and women of color instead of about, “I wanted to make clothes and make them hot and sell shitloads of them and get rich as hell.” Somehow, it would be déclassé for her to say exactly that. And hey, maybe she really has convinced herself that making ugly shrug sweaters that can look ugly on everybody equally is her life’s mission. Whatever, far as I’m concerned, but she shouldn’t have to apologize for doing what she does unless everybody should, so cloaking it in this faux-piety just smacks of shame.

If Heather’s story is about people about making women feel bad about what they earn, the SJP piece says that plenty of women already do.


11 thoughts on “What Gets To Be Successful

  1. No matter what you (or anyone) writes, no matter who you write it for, there will always, *always* be someone who will criticize it. Jesus himself could come down and write the Great American Novel to end all Great American Novels, and there would be people climbing out of the woodwork to call it inauthentic because, after all, Jesus hasn’t been living among us lately. I don’t think it necessarily has anything to do with money. People criticize because doing so makes them feel better than those they criticize. (Note: I speak of the gratuitious criticism so rife on the toobz, not criticism intended to make X better–the writing, the world, whatever)
    That said, I think Sarah Jessica Parker is saying the things she does because it’s *expected*–those who have money aren’t supposed to want more. (Hence the commenter to Dooce who criticized her because “she has it good.” As if those who “have it good” are supposed to just STFU)
    Look, whatever you think of SJP, she’s an actress who does what she does because she likes it. She enjoys acting. In the Hollywood world, if you want to keep acting, to have the power to choose what you will do, you have to keep yourself in the public eye. I thought of Catherine Zeta-Jones doing those ads for whichever cell phone company it was–she didn’t need the money, but she wasn’t actively making a huge number of films at the time (motherhood can do that), and the ads were a way to keep people aware that she was out there. SJP is marketing herself here, nothing more, nothing less. And there’s absofuckinglutely nothing wrong with that.
    What’s wrong is that in order to market herself effectively, she has to talk about “vulgarity.” That says a lot more about US than it does about HER.

  2. washington university is giving phyllis schafly an honorary degree.
    enough said.

  3. *applause* As near as I can figure, it isn’t seemly for women to be ambitious like that. Women are still really only supposed to be ambitious by proxy, or within a certain, narrowly-defined class of things in which society has deemed it acceptable for women to be ambitious. It’s okay for women to want kids and the nice house in the suburbs, and a comfortable upper-middle-class life, but only if she achieves it through marrying the right man, even still.
    Thisis the culture, after all, where high-performing female executives get passed over for promotion because their superiors think they should act and dress “more feminine” (this actually happened to a Morgan Stanley executive, and also to a friend of mine!); where the world’s biggest retailer is involved in a huge class-action sex-discrimination suit against women, and where it’s still considered to be anything other than political suicide to be a legislator and be against pay-parity laws.
    Most of the pressure is, of course, not that overt. It’s usually more like people asking, “Are you sure that’s what you want?” or (the dreaded) “So, when are you going to settle down and have some kids?”
    The thing is, financial autonomy ispower — the power to change one’s life for the better, the power to make one’s own decisions, the power to kick the asshole to the curb and get one’s own place, and the idea of women having actual power in the main way it counts in this hyper-capitalist culture still scares a lot of people…

  4. I admire you for even taking this one on, because it’s a big layered onion-like thing. Yes, there is one simple fact that it’s somehow not seemly for women to be prosperous. The layers, though, are all the “whys” underneath that. It’s power, it’s sexism, it’s cultural mores, it’s conservative politics, and it’s all the subniches too, including the one that says someone else out there can, and SHOULD, be outraged/concerned that someone over here that they don’t even know is raising their child in a fashion that the first someone finds objectionable. And the other side of which is that me and you and all the other grownups who watch movies and television, read books, and listen to music in which FICTIONAL people curse, have sex, take drugs, and other wise engage in all manner of FICTIONAL behaviors, are supposed to fucking curtail our consumption of such product because somewhere, somehow, some unsupervised child might just see the same thing by accident, design, or via neglect.
    Sally Mann caught the same shit for her photos, Sharon Olds caught the same shit for her poems, and as you note, it’s not just about kids. It’s about women, power, money, self-validation, self-choice. Amanda Marcotte has done some great things in her young career and she’s also made some recent boneheaded errors. And running throughout the by-now predictable hullabaloo raised by both the good and the bad things is that she’s somehow overstepped,that she’s getting away with something, that she’s not a good feminist, that she should be less emotional, that she should be less intellectual,that she SHOULD be ashamed for fill-in-the-blank. And some of her male peers have done parallel things good and bad, and hullabaloos have been raised by same, but you won’t find that same type of shaming, that same kind of outrage about SHOULDs, about seemliness, about usurpation, tresspass and boundaries.

  5. Virgo, in the past I’ve tended to put it down to simple busybodiness, that we all want to tell other people how to live. But there is a marked difference in that men may be told “you shouldn’t do that” but women are told “you shouldn’t do that and how DARE you even think it, and you should be ashamed of yourself, what kind of example are you setting?”
    And, UGH, you know?

  6. BuggyQ – although I’m not sure how far I’d agree with you, it really bolsters your argument when you think of all the critics that Jesus had. Not to mention what they did to him.

  7. Wow. Money. Hot Button! Noblejoanie and I had a great talk about this at the Eschacon 08. (Who is, by the way, a truly wonderful person. I’m so glad I met her).
    I rarely feel like I’m meeting the traditional “male” roles. Captain of Industry, provider of worldly goods. Especially when it comes to money. When I do, I feel uncomfortable. In one year of my life I made a lot of money. I remember feeling guilty about it. “How dare I make this much money when teachers with Ph.Ds are making a pittance!” Never mind that it took me years to reach that point in my life and people got a lot of value out of my work, I still was able to talk myself into feeling bad about it. So, of course I started pulling back from it, and guess what? The money went away! Whee! Now I could go back to the comfortable place of being the poor DFH. After my father died I realized that his desire for success and money wasn’t a refutation of his previous life as a poor son of immigrants. But some people in his family felt that way.
    I think that this money is bad/vulgar is something that the right wing throws at liberals. And since THEY have embraced having tons of money as a good at all times they can’t be wounded by this. And if you DO have a positive relationship with money and you make a LOT of it they assume you will want to be a Republican.
    If you don’t they call you a “limousine liberal” so you just can’t win.
    If you are rich and want to help the poor they say, “How dare you want to help the poor, you aren’t poor!” They can attack you from any direction.
    And the right wing and the concern trolls know that they can attack you from either direction. I actually worry about this myself and noblejoanie and I talked about it. I realized that I want people know that I’m not rich. But I DID have money at one time. I know and have worked with some very rich people. I actually think I want to have money again in the future. I think that people won’t begrudge me the money, but then I’m sure there will be plenty of concern troll and right wing people who will snear. So I want to address the issue with my friends and as noblejoanie reminded me, “It’s okay to have money.”.
    And one more thing, I think religion (at least for me) has a lot to do with my views about money. One of the big tricks of the evangelicals (and the Calvinists before them) was to talk about money and success in relationship to your faith.
    It’s very interesting when you actually look at what Jesus said about the poor.

  8. Comment 1:
    There’s also a double standard that, if a woman lives her life online through personal blog posts, pictures and social networking applications, she is somehow a whore or a self-promoter who is fair game for sexual and moral harassment by trolls. Female “narcissists” are unacceptable, thanks to the still-present rules about how men and women should behave.
    Comment 2:
    These concern trolls should then start at home and stop their children from watching TV. That’s endangerment if I’ve ever seen it.
    How much you are willing to divulge is a very personal thing. My husband doesn’t like being mentioned on my blog or having his pictures plastered all over Flickr, so he goes by D. Like we never go out in freaking public together.
    What a majority of these “concerned” parties don’t understand is how much is NOT said on the blog. They don’t get how much a blog cannot possibly convey everything and, Jesus Christ, if someone really wants to kidnap me or my stuffed monkeys, they don’t need my freaking blog to do it with.
    As if somehow everyone else’s lives are these fucking fragile things that need to be monitored and censored 24/7. But point out how they are endangering their own, mostly by closing minds and hearts, and you get squawking and feathers flying.

  9. MapleStreet: Heh, indeedy. And I’m not sure I entirely agree with me, either. Rereading my comment, I sound a lot more certain than I really feel.
    Maitri: I think you hit on something I was trying to say, and can’t quite put into words. I think a lot of the desire to criticize has to do with projection. That is, a person reads something on the internet that makes him uncomfortable because it reminds him of his own failings (or those of people close to him), says to himself, “Jeez, I sure wouldn’t say that!” and then makes the leap to, “So nobody else should say it either!” Nobody wants to be reminded that they aren’t living up to their own expectations (even when those expectations are unrealistic and/or unhealthy). The more uncomfortable they are with their own faults, the more vitrol they spew. I think this happens even more with issues relating to parenting, simply because parental relationships are so deeply felt.
    Oddly, that reminds me of a message board devoted to one of my guilty-pleasure TV shows. I got into it pretty hard with another poster over the direction the show was taking one of the characters (one with whom I identified deeply). The other poster was really over the top with her criticism of the character, to the point that I was worried that she was taking it too seriously. Over time, it became clear that she, too, identified with the character–but in a lot of negative ways. While I was willing to forgive the character her faults (and forgive the writers for giving them to her), this other person couldn’t forgive those faults because they were hitting too close to home. It became an extremely uncomfortable exercise in self-flagellation, to the point that I left the board rather than watch it.
    But it also made me much more conscious of that tendency in myself. If I need to deal with my issues, I’d rather not do it in public.

  10. BuggyQ. Excellent points. I think about that whole “identifying with the characters game. I also know the whole, “Having a fight with someone on TV who represents you or your family members” game. And that is what is interesting about fiction.
    *I* know sometimes that my attractions and problem with Right Wing Authoritarians who represent parent figures. And I have to remember that not everyone realizes that trying to work out your issues with TV characters (or online personas) is the same as working it out with your family.
    One thing that is interesting with Dooce (who I really think is funny) and her website is the interaction she has with the people. I read one of the comments, the woman said, “I have to stop myself from going to booksignings and begging her to be my friend.” I go to some book signings from Anne Lamott and she gets the same reactions. She gets some live concern trolls or comments to her about how she raises her child and people who love her and want to be her best friend. But since she isn’t on line as much as she was when she was on Salon she doesn’t get it as much.
    One thing about women authors vs. male authors. The ones that Athenae talks about above. Do you suppose the men have the same level of concern trolls? Do they listen to them?
    “Hey Mailer, crappy parenting and husbanding, but good writing!” Do they get a pass because they aren’t EXPECTED to be a good parent where as a woman is? I think that is the case. Maybe we should work this double standard just to point it out. “Novelist X who was a terrible parent shows great promise as a brilliant writer, but his parenting skills really should be questioned because he is writing about how bad he is as a parent.”
    I THINK we hold our men to a higher standard in parenting than, ‘Well he didn’t kill the baby so I guess it’s alright.” But then again that is still the stereotype in commercials and tv and in the few stories of stay at home dads.
    That was why Rosanne Barr’s joke was so great. “If the kids are still alive when my husband comes home I’ve done my job.” Because that really IS the standard for when men “babysit” their own children. Low expectations? You bet.
    and that kind of sucks.
    When I was growing up I didn’t want to be one of those helpless stupid guys that were portrayed on TV and in the movies. I learned to sew, cook and change a diaper. It also meant that when I saw ‘frail pink things” (I we used to call the screaming women in horror movies), I could feel okay with disliking them because I had strong women friends who disliked them too.
    The rise in competent women has be great for me. But for men who have their identity defined by competing and winning with others it can be confusing. I’m so fortunate to have smart competent women as friends. But I still have the specter of the old ‘You have to be the captain of industry and big money maker” running in the background of my mind. I don’t like it but it’s there. I know that Dooce and her husband had to deal with that issue too. It becomes like the female rock star who has a husband who becomes her manager. Lots of issues there for men who aren’t comfortable in their own roles and in their own skin.

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