Ladyblogs and Me
A Perverse Romance
I don’t think my fascination with ladyblogs makes me less of a man, strictly speaking. I mean, it does, but so what?
I read them all the time. Jezebel first, of course, but also XOJane, Dear Coquette, Heather Havrilesky’s rabbitblog, and others. I find more of them every week. As for why I like them, I’m still trying to piece that together. I shouldn’t like them. The culture of these blogs derives from the kind of highly intelligent, self-possessed, and pugnacious women I am terrified of to this day. I first encountered them in the early aughts, when I began dating after my divorce. Having been disappointed in my long-cherished dream of sleeping with stewardesses, I was spending a lot of time on Nerve.com, and not getting very far. The women I met there were a spirited bunch, unmoved by even my sprightliest patter. They saw through me in a minute. I was something of a drag king, having bet the house years earlier on an exaggerated and theatrical masculinity, and this they found more contemptible than amusing, a reaction they rarely took care to conceal. Later, of course, my butch facade would begin to crumble, but long sections of it still stand, as much a monument to anxiety as the Great Wall of China.
My encounter with these women and their third-wave feminism were, of course, horrifying. My first Nerve girlfriend, a Wagnerian performance artist named Moira, made me listen to records by a singer called Peaches, a sort of cross between Ethel Merman and The Violator from Spawn. I still think of Peaches to this day, whenever I find myself with an unwanted erection. I read Bust, which I had hoped to be an upscale version of Juggs, but instead was some sort of alternative-culture magazine with lipstick ads. More significantly, I had a fleeting glimpse into the fierce and insular world of Moira’s circle of friends. From what I could gather, they all looked up to a Seattle woman named Kathleen Hanna, who was like their Steve McQueen. They all were oddly proud of their polysexuality, which seemed rather theoretical than real. When Moira gave me the mitten, as was bound to happen sooner or later, I drifted away from them, but the damage had been done.
When a few years later I was writing Grub Street, part of my job, as I saw it, was to read all the other important blogs. This naturally included Gawker and, its spinoffs, including Jezebel, which seemed primarily to be about the right of fat people to wear tight clothes. Given the intensity of my self-loathing as a fat person, I was immediately drawn in. I began to shoot off long, animated, and hostile comments, which were invariably deleted. In time I tired of arguing about Beth Ditto and began to read the non-fatness-related parts.
These moved me. The problems that the women there wrote of so scathingly were, in so many ways, ones that had haunted me for most of my life. These included the mindless hostility of strangers; the omnipresent awareness of not being hot; being smarter than the people around you without their realizing it; the invisibility and disregard, so galling to any person of spirit. I liked, too, knowing about things that were secret from the other straight guys, such as microagressions, slut-shaming, and the genius of John Galliano, the Christian Dior designer who later got in hot water for making Hitler jokes. I then moved to XO Jane, attracted by the druggy disclosures of Cat Marnell, a writer of genius powered entirely by speed, skankiness, and absolute truth. While on Marnell, I picked up on the still-anonymous Coke Talk, her wiser and less reckless West Coast counterpart, who writes the greatest advice column of all time. I read first-person confessions with titles like “I Felt Bullied During Birthing” and “My Middle School Nurse Shamed Me for Having Big Boobs.” I learned about mansplaining and Nice Guy Syndrome and the Bechdel Test.
I was just cherry-picking, of course. I did the same with Myrmecos or The War Nerd. I found in the ladyblogs a rich source of memes and buzzwords, and that was it.Wasn’t it? To my dismay, I was coming to identify with these annoying women, and take their discourse seriously. I was unnerved but excited, like Peter Parker when he found he could crawl on walls. Take microaggressions, those tiny slights and indignities women apparently experience regularly, and whose cumulative weight helps to give ladyblogs their winning truculence. While I considered myself above reproach in this department—anyone offended was obviously just being oversensitive—the concept made sense to me as a bookish nerd. Galliano was another one; I first experienced a shock at how lyrical his designs where, how ably and inseparably he mixed the poetic and the perverse. I came to appreciate Galliano, even to the point of admiring his mockery-proof persona, one which had, in truth, far more in common with my own bombast that I was ready to admit. I even got drawn into their preoccupation with body issues, albeit in a perverse way, defending Barbie’s proportions, for example, or reading pro-ana boards with a sympathetic eye. (Cat Marnell is my current thinspiration.)
Somehow, the ladyblogs laid down their claim upon me. I still don’t understand how. Is there something effeminate in my character? I am Jewish, after all. Is there possibly some Jungian impulse at play? The Anima, heckling me from the wings? That didn’t seem to be it. Was it just my lifelong desire to know about things other people didn’t? Was I a quisling, an Alan Alda, a cad in feminist camouflage? That wouldn’t make sense; I was married, and my interest in other women was / is generally limited to furtive leering on buses. It’s possible that my marriage had something to do with it; my wife is fiercely intelligent, understands me a MRI-like thoroughness, and happens to be steeped in alternative culture and queer theory, two more things I am horrified by. She is very perceptive, and likes me much more than I do, and doesn’t hold my conflicted personality against me. I talk to her a lot, and I listen to her more than you might expect, and I am interested in the way she sees things. Is that it? That might be it. I can’t say at this point.