Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Someday they're going to erect a statue to her in this town

This actually has something to do with the series of upcoming posts on the trouble boys are having in school, particularly the last paragraph.

The only writing I find more annoying than Caitlin Flanagan's is that of people writing about how annoying Flanagan's writing is.

Flanagan writes about "women's issues" for the New Yorker and the Atlantic---her appearance in the latter is more proof to me that my paranoid suspicion is correct, that in the not too distant future the magazine will have turned itself into a glossier version of the defunct American Spectator, as soon as the publisher can dump Cullen Murphy and Jack Beatty or put them out to grass the way he did with fiction editor Michael Curtis and replace them with the likes of P.J. O'Rourke and Mark Steyn. But nevermind.

Flanagan is a supposed feminist who despises feminists and writes lightheaded---sorry, lighthearted---essays all with a single theme: "My life may not be perfect, but compared to yours it's heaven and next to you I'm a saint among mothers and wives."

What really annoys me about her work is that every now and then, without varying her theme, she writes things I agree with and even admire.

I start off one of her essays expecting the worst and she defies my expectation completely, so I start the next one hopefully, thinking it'll be as good as the last, and wind up throwing the magazine across the room three graphs in. She's the cause of constant intellectual whiplash and it drives me nuts.

It's no wonder, though, that her motherlier-wifelier-sex kittenier-but-still-feministier than thou attitude ticks off other women. Unfortunately, it seems that most of them feel called upon to respond in the same vein.

Oh, yeah?---they tend to say---Well, my life is just fine, thank you. In fact, it's darn near great and how dare you suggest somebody as smart and good as I am might have made unwise or selfish choices. Why, not only have all my life choices been the right ones for myself, all women would be better off if they lived and thought just like me, as well!

Except Maud Newton.

Maud despises Flanagan with the pure, withering, angel-approved contempt that a self-confessed sinner and chronic backslider has for the minister's wife and her klatsch of church ladies.

Maud's objection to Flanagan isn't that Flanagan's criticizing her, Maud's, life. It's that Flanagan can't even imagine Maud's life or any real human being's life, come to that.

Maud's feminism is not idealistic or the least bit self-aggrandizing. It's a perfect expression of the personal is political in that it sees people as persons and persons, in her experience, female persons as much as male persons, are crazy.

They're not just crazy, they're foolish, too. Mixed up, confused, conflicted, blind to what's good for them, too open to what's bad and so inclined to make very bad choices, to walk off cliffs and out into traffic, to go right where they should have turned left, to make a thorough hash of their lives and then they'll go and try to impose their cracked opinions, rotten choices, and other forms of self-descructive insanity on other people as the model of how to live the good life.

She's not as complete a cynic as I am. I don't think she believes that people stink and they are stupid.

But she makes allowances for their being often both. She knows that there's no heaven on earth and life is mostly a struggle to get over last week's disaster.

Of course, I don't really know all this about Maud. I'm making assumptions based on things she has written on her blog, particularly her habit of presenting herself, despite being a lawyer, a talented writer, and an all-around smart cookie, as the comic victim of her own incompetence and the absurdities of life in New York City, and her affection and admiration for the novels of Harry Crewes and Graham Greene, neither of whom tends to portray human beings as heroes and heroines or life as a bowl of cherries.

At any rate, the way Maud goes after Flanagan's posing for a monument to Motherhood appeals to what passes for feminism in me---my belief that life is unfair, unpredictable, mostly disappointing, and hard enough without lots of other people telling you how to live it so people---persons---should generally be left alone to figure it out for themselves and choose the best way for them to get through it.

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