The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Dear Feminists: You Think Too Much

Posted on | August 29, 2015 | 75 Comments

Not everything has meaning. Not everything requires critical analysis. Not everything is in need of a theory to explain it.

Some things are really simple. They are what they are, and the temptation to intellectualize everything should be resisted. Consider, for example, a New York Times column by Emily Witt:

Who could be cynical about the rise of friendship? In recent movies, female friends have banded together to shoot guns from trucks (“Mad Max: Fury Road”) and sing a cappella (“Pitch Perfect”). On TV, they have spooned in Greenpoint (“Girls”) and found common ground in prison (“Orange Is the New Black”). Their stoner antics (“Broad City”) have liberated us from the slob dads of sitcoms. Once limited to sassy supporting roles, female friends are now the primary source of romantic tension themselves: making passive-aggressive phone calls, taking baths together, serving as sugar daddies, lying to each other, busting ghosts. Unlike traditional romance, friendship doesn’t force us into archaic gender roles or complicate our professional or sexual independence. It’s now the boyfriends who are vestigial, appearing only in bit parts like “timid suitor” or “obnoxious co-worker.”

(This is because feminist bloggers now instantly attack any movie that doesn’t pass the lesbian-approved “Bechdel Test,” and everybody in Hollywood is scared to death of feminist bloggers. In order to satisfy blogger demands, males can never be heroic in movies, nor can any woman be cast in the role of “hero’s girlfriend,” let alone “damsel in distress.” Third-wave feminism requires that males be “vestigial,” because women must be so “empowered” that men are either peripheral characters — clowns and tagalongs — or else sinister villains representing the Oppressive Patriarchy.)

Running parallel to this artistic phenomenon, however, is an anthropological one. Lately, we’ve been inundated with images of real-life best friends, triumphantly displayed. It’s difficult to get through a day on the Internet without looking at photos of women flaunting the depth of their intimacy by posing over dinner or watching television together in matching pajamas. We now flick through images not of celebrity couples but of celebrity friends: Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj eating hamburgers in matching varsity jackets; Taylor Swift with Karlie Kloss, Lorde, Selena Gomez, Ellie Goulding, Lena Dunham, her cat Olivia, the entire runway lineup of a Victoria’s Secret show; the U.S. women’s soccer team. The meme factories have responded to the popularity of pictures of best friends with maximum output, harvesting groups of women posing on beaches and in limos from celebrity Instagram feeds and presenting them in slide shows . . . and labeling these images as “#friendspiration” and “#squadgoals.”

(Note the use of the authorial “we” here. Who is “we”? Why does Emily Witt presume that everyone is plugged into the same Internet feeds, so that they are “inundated with images” and it is “difficult to get through a day” without seeing the phenomenon she describes?)

Picture-perfect groups of friends on Instagram make me wonder whether Bridget Jones’s idea of “smug marrieds” could also apply to “squads” and why “The Stepford Wives” hasn’t been re-envisioned with a friendship plot. The portraits seem to be asking a lot of impolite questions: Do you have as many friends as we do? How did you celebrate your birthday? Do you regularly drink prosecco over plates of fruit at Ralph Lauren’s Polo Bar? Have you betrayed your gender by preferring the company of men? You don’t have a friend with whom you publicly exchange photographs of your manicures? What’s wrong with you? If female friendship is so uplifting, then why do these photos make us feel the opposite — unbalanced and unsure?

(Again with the authorial first-person plural. Emily Witt presumes to know how “these photos make us feel,” when she’s actually describing how they make her feel, i.e., envious of the lives of the celebrities whose photos she sees while obsessively checking the online feed that inundates her with these images. Clearly, “we” need to log off Instagram, get outside more often and, perhaps, ask “our” therapist to adjust the Prozac dosage.)

I used to think that friendship as performed for an audience would end with middle school, but the past 10 years of technology have changed that expectation.

(Obviously, she’s one of those unhappy-childhood types who are forever reliving their middle-school identity crises.)

In social media, friendship gets fixed and mounted. It loses its dramatic tension. It becomes a presentation of happiness, an advertisement for friendship rather than an actual portrayal of it. Sometimes, scrolling through photos of women I know looking carefully hungover in front of a perfectly composed brunch, or lying on a blanket in a park in crop tops, or posting screenshots of their exuberant text messages, I’m reminded of something Marnie once said on “Girls”: “I thought that this would be a good opportunity to have fun together and prove to everyone via Instagram that we can still have fun as a group.”

(If you ever find yourself thinking about life in terms of lines from a Lena Dunham HBO series, it’s time to have that talk with your therapist about the appropriate Prozac dosage.)

Mimicking the advertiser’s strategy, these pictures of delightful fun inevitably provoke a feeling of lack or longing in the consumer of the image.
When I think of depictions of friendships that have moved me, I find myself thinking mostly of books — of those passages in novels that illuminate friendship by its moments of thorniness, by the heartbreak it can cause.

(Of course! It’s about characters in novels. People who read too much fiction think everything is about characters in novels, in the same way people who spend too much time on Instagram think everything is about people on Instagram.)

Real friendship is complex. It’s the sadness of Elizabeth Bennet when her friend Charlotte Lucas marries the odious Mr. Collins in Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” It’s Leah and Natalie’s complicated dance of haughtiness and need in Zadie Smith’s “NW.” It’s the once-a-week limit Vivian Gornick has with her friend Leonard in “The Odd Woman and the City” (because men can be friends too). The best works of art about friendship resonate by showing how our closest friends have a way of ruining our attempts to present ourselves as perfect; how those picturesque moments are belied by other truths.

(My friendships have never been “complex.” Never once in my life have I engaged in a “complicated dance of haughtiness and need,” probably because I don’t sit around reading novels, filled with a bittersweet nostalgia for middle school or obsessively staring at pictures of Taylor Swift on Instagram. Seriously, lady, you need to have that discussion with your therapist about your Prozac dosage.)

Friendship stories might have replaced tales of romantic love, but the best ones stop themselves from purveying easy clichés of their own — whether clichés about feminist solidarity or about mean girls (sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the two). Close friendships are worth celebrating — but it is how they look at their least photogenic moments that proves their veracity.

And so concludes this New York Times mini-essay. Emily Witt is to Instagram selfies what Hannah Arendt was to Adolf Eichmann.

Curious as to who wrote this bizarre column, I found her online bio:

Emily Witt . . . has degrees from Brown, Columbia, and Cambridge, and was a Fulbright scholar in Mozambique.

Oh, that explains it. Those of us who went to state universities didn’t sit around reading novels or having “complex” friendships that were a “complicated dance of haughtiness and need.” Nor do our daily lives as adults consist of scrolling through celebrity Instagram photos, wishing we could hang out with Lena Dunham and her friends.

Only if your Daddy can afford to send you to elite universities (annual tuition at Brown, $46,408), followed by several more years of postgraduate education, can you indulge in that kind of stuff and then get paid by the New York Times to share your thoughts about it using first-person plural pronouns so that you presume to speak for a “we” who share your peculiar obsessions. Speaking of peculiar obsessions, Emily Witt (who got her bachelor’s degree at Brown in 2003, majoring in Portuguese and Brazilian Studies and Art Semiotics) wrote an 800-word article for the New York Times with the headline, “In Praise of Sensible Panties,” which included sentences like these:

“Good design is as little design as possible” is one of the famed German industrial designer Dieter Rams’s Ten Principles for Good Design, and in the underwear from Swiss brands like Zimmerli and Hanro, as in a Braun appliance from the 1960s, Rams’s mandate for elegant minimalism finds fulfillment. . . . .
A country’s underwear preferences say a lot about its ideas of the erotic. . . .
Ultimately, what intrigued me about the underwear I saw in Germany had something to do with its directness — the way it resisted gendered ornamentation of the body.

You see? Even your underwear must be subjected to critical theory, if you’re an intellectual with degrees from three elite universities.

You really have to feel sorry for her Dad. Just imagine Mr. Witt’s conversations with his golf buddies.

“How’s your daughter?”
“Fluent in Portugese and resisting gendered ornamentation.”

This is why you should keep your kids as far away from the Ivy League as possible. Even if you could afford the tuition, you’ll still have to pay for a lifetime of therapy and Prozac.



75 Responses to “Dear Feminists: You Think Too Much”

  1. Burn_the_Witch
    August 29th, 2015 @ 10:11 am

    “It’s difficult to get through a day on the Internet without looking at photos of women flaunting the depth of their intimacy…”

    Thankfully, I seem to be on a different internet.

  2. robertstacymccain
    August 29th, 2015 @ 10:19 am

    I know, right?

    It’s as if there is this whole other Internet which only 30-something Broiwn graduates read.

  3. NRPax
    August 29th, 2015 @ 10:24 am

    I wonder if there is also an alternate universe with happy feminists.

  4. Dear Feminists: You Think Too Much | Living in Anglo-America
    August 29th, 2015 @ 10:27 am
  5. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    August 29th, 2015 @ 10:30 am

    They think too much? Thinking has little to do with this…emotions, yeah, thinking no.

  6. robertstacymccain
    August 29th, 2015 @ 10:48 am

    But you see, a feminist is just a female intellectual who spends all her time thinking about the experience of being female, oppressed by the patriarchy. I keep calling it a racket, because it’s really just a full-employment program for women with liberal arts degrees: “Here, let me explain this in terms of gender roles. Now pay me.”

  7. utroukx
    August 29th, 2015 @ 11:08 am

    I think we’ve been given a clue to the problem of feminists/feminism: they’re all mentally/emotionally stuck in middle school.

  8. physicsnut
    August 29th, 2015 @ 11:28 am

    they are just desperate to get their left wing message out – any way they can. I would not call it ‘thinking too much’ – more like advertising too much.

  9. PCachu
    August 29th, 2015 @ 11:40 am

    Of course there is.

    The catch is, they also have goatees.

  10. GUEST
    August 29th, 2015 @ 12:02 pm

    The bottom line is we all need to spend less time sitting on our bums consuming media (television, internet, movies, books [though book are generally less numbing than the others]) and more time actually living our lives. If Emily Witt were out for a walk through the park, or was out to dinner having a conversation or was tending a garden or playing with her dog or cat or any of a million other things she could be doing beside sitting on her butt consuming media, she would find herself a lot less “inundated with imagery” that bothers her.

  11. NRPax
    August 29th, 2015 @ 12:05 pm

    That’s different from this world? Oh right; to get a goatee, they would have to shave the facial hair. Never mind.

  12. SouthOhioGipper
    August 29th, 2015 @ 12:25 pm

    “Only if your Daddy can afford to send you to elite universities”

    Does she even have a daddy? Because no father I know of would allow this nonsense to continue from his daughter. I have a feeling she is the daughter of a highly successful and professional single woman who found a good enough looking guy to knock her up, then promptly dropped him to raise her “political act” on her own.

  13. Son of Liberty
    August 29th, 2015 @ 12:29 pm

    It is not that they think too much, it is that they do not think critically. They rationalize everything to fit their own view, instead of being their own “10th man.”

    I see this from the right too. The economy is always going to collapse into Weimar-like conditions (the progressive fascists will do anything and everything to prevent the conditions for a revolution that would end their agenda), gun confiscation is always around the corner (it can happen with truly delusional leadership, but the left already dominates everyone through abuse of the legal system, control of Corporate America and vote fraud).

  14. Renaissance
    August 29th, 2015 @ 12:52 pm

    Is Emily Witt a trust fund baby?

  15. Lulu
    August 29th, 2015 @ 1:30 pm

    I think she needs to get married and have children (I admit I’m assuming she’s not) — then she will not have the time or inclination to intellectualize celebrity social media or worry about her place in the world as determined by her interactions or the perception of others of her interactions with friends (taking care of children may force her to mature out of middle-school or at the very least be too tired to think about it).

  16. RS
    August 29th, 2015 @ 1:41 pm

    What’s interesting is that the Emily Witt types fancy themselves to be truly cosmopolitan. In reality, they are hopelessly parochial, inasmuch as for them there is no world between the Appalachians and the Sierra Nevada, nor south of the Potomac. Further, what she has written is the 21st Century equivalent of digesting supermarket tabloids. How is she different than the fat chick in a trailer deep in the Ozarks fretting about whether Miranda Lambert is getting divorced or being bummed out because the “beautiful people” down the road live in a new double-wide while you’re stuck in 50 year old Airstream with a clogged toilet?

  17. RSM: Feminists think too much | Constantinople (Not Istanbul)
    August 29th, 2015 @ 2:40 pm

    […] From The Other McCain […]

  18. Daniel Freeman
    August 29th, 2015 @ 2:54 pm

    Oh, I don’t know. I wouldn’t say that it’s difficult to get through a day on the Internet without looking at photos of women flaunting the “depth” of their “intimacy” (IYKWIMAITYD), but they aren’t hard to find either.

  19. concern00
    August 29th, 2015 @ 3:05 pm

    Why are there even jobs for those hopelessly overqualified in pointless studies? A society progress on the backs of those who contribute and build; not those who presume to tear down.

  20. Fatherless
    August 29th, 2015 @ 3:15 pm

    Spot on. Now please write the book version. Will buy.

  21. John Bradley
    August 29th, 2015 @ 3:23 pm

    Some of us even proactively search them out, the passive ‘innundation’ being somewhat lacking.

  22. Fatherless
    August 29th, 2015 @ 3:25 pm

    Is the Pope Catholic?

  23. Blue
    August 29th, 2015 @ 5:06 pm

    The point of critical theory, post modernism, structuralism, post-scruturalism, semiotics, cultural studies, or whatever they decide to call it, is to teach you that life is meaningless, and all ideology, and politics is relative and about nothing more than the wielding, and accumulation of power.

    I took a film course many years ago, and of my fellow students, a female grad student got into a debate with my professor, and argued that there was no more aesthetic, or cultural value to say the Andrew Dice Clay film, “Ford Fairlane”, and for sake of argument, and because it was so long ago, Ingmar Bergmans “Persona”. They went back and forth for awhile, when my frustrated professor said, “So, it’s all just meaningless, is that it?”And she answered, “yes, I’m afraid so.” I remember thinking, wow! all that knowledge, studying, and schooling to reach such a sad, empty, and miserable conclusion. To take it a step further, this is what the state wants you to think.

    A demoralized people without a belief in some greater meaning to life whether it be God, family, or even art, and replaced with hedonistic atheism, is an easily controlled people who can be lead like lambs to the slaughter. This is what attacks on faith, religion, and spirituality represent.

  24. RKae
    August 29th, 2015 @ 5:42 pm

    If this stupid Pope keeps going the way he’s going, we might have to just go back to the “bear defecating in the woods” question.

  25. RKae
    August 29th, 2015 @ 5:45 pm

    But just think: There’s also an alternate universe where they are unhappier!

    (Now I have the Zappa song “Planet of the Baritone Women” stuck in my head!)

  26. Renaissance
    August 29th, 2015 @ 5:50 pm

    These days, that depends. 😉

  27. Dana
    August 29th, 2015 @ 6:20 pm

    One would think that underwear would be the most “gendered” thing around, given that it is designed to be worn on the parts of our bodies in which the sexes are the most different.

  28. Dana
    August 29th, 2015 @ 6:24 pm

    Except, of course, that it isn’t a full-employment program at all. Rather, it is a program which provides employment for university professors, but there are few other jobs for womyns’ studies majors, and far more wimmins’ studies majors than such professorships.

    In truth, it is an unemployment program for most of them.

  29. Burn_the_Witch
    August 29th, 2015 @ 7:19 pm

    That thought hadn’t escaped me. At least that fake intimacy has more consumptive value than conspicuous friendliness on social media.

  30. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    August 29th, 2015 @ 7:22 pm

    My message to her: Develop a skill that is useful and people will pay you for.

  31. RS
    August 29th, 2015 @ 7:32 pm

    As for the overwrought analysis of the the most prosaic aspects of life, it’s worthwhile to remember Sigmund Freud’s dictum: “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

  32. Dana
    August 29th, 2015 @ 7:42 pm

    That is a thoroughly capitalistic and cisheteronormatively patriarchal statement, and I denounce you for it.

  33. Prime Director
    August 29th, 2015 @ 8:22 pm

    The Tables Turned

    UP! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
    Or surely you’ll grow double:
    Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
    Why all this toil and trouble?

    The sun, above the mountain’s head,
    A freshening lustre mellow
    Through all the long green fields has spread,
    His first sweet evening yellow.

    Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:
    Come, hear the woodland linnet, 10
    How sweet his music! on my life,
    There’s more of wisdom in it.

    And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
    He, too, is no mean preacher:
    Come forth into the light of things,
    Let Nature be your teacher.

    She has a world of ready wealth,
    Our minds and hearts to bless–
    Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
    Truth breathed by cheerfulness. 20

    One impulse from a vernal wood
    May teach you more of man,
    Of moral evil and of good,
    Than all the sages can.

    Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
    Our meddling intellect
    Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:–
    We murder to dissect.

    Enough of Science and of Art;
    Close up those barren leaves; 30
    Come forth, and bring with you a heart
    That watches and receives.

    William Wordsworth

  34. Prime Director
    August 29th, 2015 @ 8:31 pm

    We murder to dissect

    Spare what you love the analytical knife

  35. DeadMessenger
    August 29th, 2015 @ 9:23 pm

    Actually, this sort of thing is probably side-splitting to the typical Times reader.

  36. DeadMessenger
    August 29th, 2015 @ 9:30 pm


  37. DeadMessenger
    August 29th, 2015 @ 9:34 pm

    But then she’ll post endless tiresome photos of babby’s first b.m. and babby’t first drool.

  38. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    August 29th, 2015 @ 9:37 pm

    I would not trust her to make me a drink!

  39. DeadMessenger
    August 29th, 2015 @ 9:38 pm

    We should ask Caitlyn.

  40. DeadMessenger
    August 29th, 2015 @ 9:41 pm

    Or maybe Barry’s corollary: “Sometimes wee-wee’d up is just wee-wee’d up.”

  41. DeadMessenger
    August 29th, 2015 @ 9:43 pm

    If I were a man, I sure as heck wouldn’t.

  42. DeadMessenger
    August 29th, 2015 @ 9:44 pm

    ELB is racist! >:/

  43. Mike G.
    August 29th, 2015 @ 10:57 pm

    Makes me think of titties and beer. (Excuse my French)

  44. Steve White
    August 29th, 2015 @ 11:14 pm

    There’s a point. It’s always “teachable moments” for these folks, even when it obviously isn’t.

  45. Steve White
    August 29th, 2015 @ 11:15 pm

    Some of them end up working in the offices of the Deans of Student Affairs at colleges around the country. That’s why we have the new rape laws.

  46. DeadMessenger
    August 30th, 2015 @ 12:03 am

    Totally O/T, I’d like to talk about Vox’s book, and his platform for SFWA presidency. I don’t read a lot of SF/F, I read 99% non-fiction. But when I DO read SF/F, it had better be good, and I depend on the Nebulas to tell me that. In other words, as usual, Vox makes perfect sense. Even though I prefer his non-fiction. 😀

    I wish Stacy would hit this with a blog piece.

  47. Bob Belvedere
    August 30th, 2015 @ 12:10 am

    Well put.

    It is Nihilism, which is where all Leftist Thinking ultimately ends, where all Ideologies end.

  48. Bob Belvedere
    August 30th, 2015 @ 12:11 am

    He uses Tucks.

  49. Bob Belvedere
    August 30th, 2015 @ 12:12 am

    Barry has being doing the Golden Shower on us for nearly seven years now.

  50. Daniel Freeman
    August 30th, 2015 @ 1:35 am

    I plan to read it tomorrow. (Been busy job-hunting, which is my least favorite thing in the world.)