Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Planet Oprah

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For a stunning example of men being from Mars, ask one to tell you how he feels about Sarah Jessica Parker. Better yet, ask my husband Karl.

"The adjective 'vile' comes to mind," he scoffed.

He also, for reasons I'll never fully understand, is quite certain SJP beats the livers out of husband Matthew Broderick. "Seriously," he told me, "the guy looks like a battered wife."

I have only seen Karl react this way once before, when he unleashed his wrath on Oprah Winfrey, whose eponymously named magazine was among the slew of women's magazines I was reading as part of a yearlong experiment to better my life through the how-do wisdom of glossies like Cosmo, Glamour, and, of course, the big O herself. I chronicled the good, the bad, and the unfortunate choices in lipstick on the pages of my memoir, Up for Renewal: What Magazines Taught Me About Love, Sex, and Starting Over.

Up until then, I had thought SJP, who was (in)famously awarded the title of unsexiest women alive by readers of Maxim, was an anomaly, hated by men for the same reasons women loved her. But then I started reading Oprah's rag and realized that she holds an equally powerful dividing rod.

The truth is, I can understand why a woman like Sarah Jessica Parker instinctively confounds men. She is powerful but she is not a looker. Unlike, say, Angelina Jolie, whose power is accepted, entrenched, and monetized in her booby sex appeal, SJP, the personified middle finger to conventional beauty, is not a touchable commodity. And yet, despite turning off legions of laddie mag readers and inspiring a website called sarahjessicaparkerlookslikeahorse.com, Ms. Parker has earned more than her three aesthetically acceptable SATC co-stars combined, thanks to a series of lucrative advertising deals.

And Oprah? Despite being an unimaginable gazillionaire, her appeal lies in her shape-shifting ability to be every woman to all women (the empathetic shoulder to cry on, the fun-loving girlfriend, the spiritual optimist). And let's not forget about her literal shape shifting. But women, I truly believe, aren't as visually driven as men. That she has attained her status as Queen of Media by showing up five days a week on television and once a month as covergirl of her own magazine looking less than perfect is quite a feat of confidence, considering that both mediums trade in perfection.

But with Oprah, it goes beyond her physicality. What I think men find most troublesome about Oprah is her capacity to take over the world. Their world. Their women are following another leader on a way more personal level. Oprah has literally invaded their homes - from kitchen to bedroom. This is so much more invasive than Hilary Clinton, who remains comfortably lodged in the political domain. My husband used to (loathingly) refer to my desire to "talk about our relationship" as my WWOD (What Would Oprah Do) moment.

Which is all sweetly caveman. Yet if we women expect men to make fun of our deities, how do we explain a gender traitor like Kitty Kelley who takes such literary delight in trashing Oprah for much of her book's 544 pages? In raking Oprah through the anecdotal coals—she's an out-of-control diva, she looks like the walking dead without makeup, she's bisexual (but not sexy bisexual like Megan Fox)—Kelley's visceral reaction is, dare I say, a bit unbecoming for a woman. (Now if David McCullough had written this biography. ...) In this age of Oprah, it just doesn't seem right for one woman to so gleefully take down another.

But then again, selling a book can be such an ugly business.

Presented by

Cathy Alter is a DC-based writer and author. Her articles, essays, and reviews have appeared in local and national newspapers and magazines including the Washington Post, Washingtonian, the Huffington Post, Self, and McSweeney'sMore

Cathy Alter is a DC-based writer and author. Her articles, essays, and reviews have appeared in local and national newspapers and magazines including the Washington Post, Washingtonian, the Huffington Post, Self, and McSweeney's. Her book, Virgin Territory: Stories from the Road to Womanhood (Crown) was released in 2004 and her memoir, Up for Renewal: What Magazines Taught Me About Love, Sex, and Starting Over (Atria) was released in July 2008 and is now available in paperback.

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