THE WEAKER SEX
In the October issue, Sandra Tsing Loh explored what happens to a marriage when, as is increasingly the case, the wife becomes the primary breadwinner.
I’m happily married to a man who is actually the four-husbands-in-one-man Loh says all women really want. Our marriage is not perfect. We disagree on big issues. Sometimes he doesn’t wipe the counters down just as I would. But he challenges my views in positive ways; he reminds me that I take myself too seriously and that the kids will be okay if I don’t pack every lunch, or if I miss a school event or two. Loh does not understand what it means to commit your life to another. It’s not about what is best for you; it’s about sacrificing your desires and wants for the good of another. While that might sound terribly moribund, nothing brings me greater satisfaction or a better sense of purpose than serving my family. Loh is an entertaining writer, but I can’t figure out why she continually attacks an institution that undergirds everything that is valuable in society.
I couldn’t help but notice how low love and sexual chemistry ranked on Loh’s list of romantic priorities. In fact, they apparently didn’t make the list at all. Neither appear in the rundown of her four husbandly ideals, although Mr. Y, who gets the most ink, scores points for being so sexually disinterested that “he could even be (or appear to be …) gay.” Could this explain her only partially ironic idealization of the 1950s, that golden age when couples slept in separate beds and no one wasted time talking about their messy emotional or physical needs? Does Ms. Loh really think that Mad Men–era husbands or wives were content? I wouldn’t trade places with anyone on that show for all the gin in Manhattan, but then, my marriage is just getting started. Is this what we foolish, passionate youngsters have to look forward to—a love life where we end up commodifying the ones we care for like so many line items, and where marital gallows humor is our only recourse?
Suppose you’re the purportedly perfect man—a guy who has the qualities of Messrs. X, Y, Z, and Q all rolled into one. Why would you want to spend 90 minutes, much less a lifetime, with someone who’d rather scream at you than change a lightbulb herself?
Perhaps these Atlantic pieces are assigned and written with only women in mind, and this columnist is the only heterosexual man who finds them interesting enough to read all the way through. Another possibility is that the magazine’s actual editorial mission is to disabuse bachelors of any notion that it might be nice to be married.
Excerpt from a Wall Street Journal blog post
What I increasingly read in The Atlantic is a hammering-away at feminism that is told only from the perspective of upper-class professional women. In their control-freak worlds, men and children never measure up—mostly, it would seem, because these women haven’t had contact with young men, who are not like the straw men so frequently scorned.
The idea that feminism is over because it has succeeded would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic. The No. 1 killer of women in Afghanistan is childbirth; four women every five minutes are raped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I could cite more evidence, but since you can’t seem to get your women writers to look up from their navels, perhaps they haven’t taken a look at the rest of the world. Oh, and there are class issues in this country, in case you haven’t heard.
Perhaps it’s time to bring in some fresh voices to write about women; the constant reflection of a world that looks exactly like your feminist correspondents’ is no longer interesting.
Sandra Tsing Loh replies:
I think many readers missed my point. This essay was not on the institution of marriage in general, but on what happens when the wife becomes the primary or sole breadwinner, working 50 or 60 hours a week to bring in a high-six-figure salary. While representative (as I indicated in the piece) of only the highest 5 percent or so of the U.S. population, the example of my friend Annette was, I thought, striking, as it etches our gender issues in sharpest relief.
Although Heather Dill’s love of serving her family is commendable, nowhere in her letter does she say that she is the primary or sole financial supporter of the household. If she were, would it not be up to her to forgive her husband’s failure to pack the children’s lunches or attend every school function, rather than the other way around?
James Taranto seems to have skipped over the definitions of the four husbands to conveniently recast the wife as a simple shrew. The “perfect man,” a combo of Messrs. X, Y, Z, and Q, would not have to be reminded four evenings in a row to change a lightbulb. (Detail-oriented Mr. Z or Mr. Q change lightbulbs without being asked twice—if that’s something Taranto can’t even imagine, then I suspect he is more of a feelings- and conversation-oriented Mr. Y.)
Lorraine Berry’s apparent definition of feminism (a term not used in the essay) mixes apples and oranges. Perhaps the most applicable Third World parallel to this First World piece (which cites similar gender dynamics in Japan) would explore what marriage looks like in a country such as Rwanda, where, because of severe genocidal loss of the male population, women have had to take over many jobs. The cultural metrics would clearly be different, but I think that study would be very interesting.
Finally, to the young and still wonderfully in-love Erik Yates, my advice for keeping your romance fresh over the next few decades? Don’t have children! Or don’t have children in the context of a dual-career marriage. Then neither party will come under the type of trying-to-do-it-all stress that makes one, on a harried weeknight in a dark garage, scream over a lightbulb.
Continue the conversation: For an ongoing discussion about the new gender economics, visit TheAtlantic.com’s recently launched Sexes channel.
The October issue featured a special report on American schools.
As a teacher of writing for 43 years, I agree categorically with Peg Tyre’s “The Writing Revolution” and the program at New Dorp High School, which focuses on teaching the basics of analytic writing, in every subject matter, in order to increase student performance. Teachers at every level, in every discipline, should stress that all good writing is creative: it creates understanding in the reader, and it may create goodwill or, in the case of an application letter, a positive introduction to a person who would make an excellent employee.
Phillip H. Hey, M.F.A.
Professor Emeritus, Briar Cliff University
Sioux City, Iowa
I remain wary of the one-size-fits-all tenor of Peg Tyre’s article, as if we’re supposed to think, Oh, it’s the writing, it’s the linking words, it’s the sentence structure—that’s the answer to our national educational challenges. It may very well be that New Dorp’s success depended less on identifying this silver bullet and more on the school’s methodical approach to uncovering precisely where its own population of students was most deficient; locating an appropriate, proven solution; and implementing it with buy-in from teachers who were part of the problem-discovery process. Would every school reach the same conclusion about the importance of teaching writing skills? Perhaps, perhaps not; maybe some schools would be correct to identify other areas more worthy of attention.
I was disappointed that a proven technique for improving reading and writing skills was not mentioned. Fifty-plus years ago, I was fortunate to first encounter The Atlantic in my high-school English class. As the first member of my low-income family to take college-prep classes, I found exposure to The Atlantic to be an adventure, and a very effective tool. It helped me finish high school, college, and graduate school with honors.
Richard Melia, Ph.D.
Amanda Ripley writes in “Why Kids Should Grade Teachers” that student surveys should be linked to teachers’ salaries and promotions. But everyone can tell a story about how they hated a teacher and gave him or her low evaluation marks. Then, years later, they realize that the difficult teacher was right—it was the student who was too young or not ready to hear what that teacher wanted/hoped/worked like crazy for them to hear.
I gave one of my greatest professors low ratings in a class where he seemed to be pushing me on something I just did not get at the time. I later became a teacher myself, and had students who raked me over the coals (no doubt costing me merit raises and promotions), only later, as seniors and alumni, to come up to me and say, “Remember that class? I hated you. But now I totally get what you were doing, and you were right! Thank you!”
Alumni are the best reviewers.
Amanda Ripley replies:
I agree. My best teachers were the ones no one really liked. But whether that antipathy translates into low scores on student surveys depends entirely on which questions the survey asks. Think about a teacher who pushed you. What would you have said back in high school if someone had asked whether you agreed or disagreed with these statements? My teacher doesn’t let people give up when the work gets hard. In this class, my teacher accepts nothing less than our full effort. Students in this class treat the teacher with respect.
Those items come from the survey featured in my story. It’s a smart survey. That’s why the results correlate with student improvement on tests—because those teachers are pushing their students to work hard, and the students know it. Even if they don’t like it.
I am dismayed to see that Nicole Allan, in “A National Report Card,” chose to blame the teachers union for poor performance in the past and extol the virtues of charter schools in the present when discussing the state-run Recovery School District in post-Katrina New Orleans. First, the educational bureaucracy was removed along with the union. Second, Katrina led to an exodus of low-income families. Lastly, the colorful bar graph does not provide a comparison between the public schools and the charter schools today, but only a comparison of the schools then and now. The public schools may in fact be better than the charters.
J. David Young
Nicole Allan replies:
J. David Young is right to point out that after Hurricane Katrina, the teachers union wasn’t the only element of the New Orleans education landscape to undergo radical change. The local educational bureaucracy was indeed eliminated, and per-pupil spending nearly doubled. The perception that Katrina drove poor students out of New Orleans schools, however, is false. By 2007, more students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch than in 2004, before the storm.
The state does not offer a comparison of charter schools’ test scores and traditional public schools’ scores. But some 80 percent of New Orleans students now attend charters, and the city’s test scores are up by almost 60 percent from 2007, not to mention from before Katrina. Wherever one stands in the loaded debates over teachers unions and charter schools, it’s clear that in the chaotic years after Katrina, the charter structure was one of many factors that gave New Orleans schools the freedom they needed to regain their footing—and then some.
In “New Advocates, New Ideas,” Rachael Brown did not fully describe Educators 4 Excellence when she said the group “counterbalances the teachers unions.” We started our organization to give teachers more opportunities to learn about education policy, network with policy makers and solutions-oriented colleagues, and take action to advocate for policy change that will lift student achievement and the teaching profession.
Teachers are incredibly supportive of changes in evaluation, accountability, and pay structures, among other measures—as long as they come with the supports we need to succeed. Our 7,000-plus members stand as evidence that it’s possible to be pro-union and pro-reform.
Sydney Morris and Evan Stone
Co-Founders, Educators 4 Excellence
New York, N.Y.
Frank Rose explored the evolutionary advantages of talking about oneself (“The Selfish Meme,” October), citing a study that suggested humans may get a much bigger neurochemical reward from “disclosing their own thoughts and feelings than from reporting someone else’s.”
Frank Rose outlines an experiment that claims to demonstrate that expressing one’s own opinions and personality traits activates the dopamine center of the brain and is therefore akin to other rewards such as food, sex, and money. The experiment he briefly described, however, is insufficient to justify such a conclusion, because an alternative explanation is at least equally plausible. Experimenters compared subjects’ reactions to being asked about their opinion and that of others, and found a significant difference. Would it not be logical to conclude that being asked for one’s opinion can be interpreted as a show of respect by the questioner, which in turn enhances one’s perception of his/her own superiority, social standing, and power, and is therefore rewarding? Answering the question reinforces that effect. Being asked about others’ opinions is substantially different.
The September issue featured “National Velvet,” a poem by Maxine Kumin. The poem shares its name with a 1944 movie starring Elizabeth Taylor, as well as the 1935 book from which the movie was adapted. In the poem, Kumin describes Taylor “soaring over fences / on The Pie, her first love, a piebald horse.”
“National Velvet” is charming, but totally inaccurate. Enid Bagnold’s wonderful book told the story of a girl winning the Grand National Steeplechase in England on a piebald gelding. Elizabeth Taylor did not ride a piebald horse in the MGM movie. She rode a chestnut thoroughbred, thus eliminating a key point of the story.
Maxine Kumin is a fine poet, but she certainly has a wild imagination.
Walnut Creek, Calif.
Maxine Kumin replies:
Was it my wild imagination or poetic justice that conflated Bagnold’s piebald with the thoroughbred chestnut horse Liz Taylor rode in National Velvet? It’s been 68 years since I saw the movie and 75 since I read the book as a horse-crazy 10-year-old. Thank you, Marisa Samuels, for setting the record straight.
MIX AND MATCH
Online readers used some colorful—and in many cases dire—language in their responses to October articles. Can you match the snippets below to the stories they reference?
1. “Demographic apocalypse” 2. “This is going to sound wicked facetious, but we need better pens.”
3. “Can’t win the game? Move the goal posts.” 4. “Money is not speech—it’s property.”
5. “The Four Husbands of the Gynocalypse”
A. “The League of Dangerous Mapmakers,” by Robert Draper
B. “The Weaker Sex,” by Sandra Tsing Loh
C. “The New Price of American Politics,” by James Bennet
D. “The Ballot Cops,” by Mariah Blake
E. “The Writing Revolution,” by Peg Tyre
ANSWERS TO “MIX AND MATCH”: 1.D 2.E 3.A 4.C 5.B