Today’s headlines—“Stick a Fork in Weiner” (Daily News), “Weiner’s Rise and Fall” (New York Post) and “In Chaotic Scene, Weiner Quits Seat in Scandal’s Wake” (New York Times)—are not only delightful reminders that differences in journalistic syntax and heft are alive and well, but also serve as food for thought, whatever you are grilling this weekend.
Weinergate, Weinerfest, or whatever you want to Wein, it was perhaps most jarring for me when my lovely sixteen-year-old daughter, recently back from the prom, asked this question:
“Why would he want to check himself into a mental institution for this? It’s just what men do.”
I include the prom detail about my daughter to emphasize this: She has a lovely boyfriend, father, brother and two grandfathers, as well as a number of guy friends. She likes men. But she wasn’t kidding, or meaning to be particularly disparaging, when she made this remark: She was stating what she saw to be the truth.
Are we raising a generation of young women, and perhaps more problematically, young men, who think this is just what men do?
Is it possible that my son’s recent obsession with joining the army is just a cry for clarity? Does he want to be a man who knows what he is supposed to do? Who knows what the rules are? Who knows right from wrong?
And do women know these things?
Maureen Dowd never disappoints, but her recent column in the Times on the subject of Weinergate about men who “marry up and date down” did contain a glaring omission. If the trend is for men to marry up, then barring discussion of same-sex couples, is it not also the trend for women to marry down?
When did women and their personal agency cease to become part of the marriage conversation? While any adjective describing one woman or man as “down” or “up” in comparison with another sends chills down the spine — who are we to judge? — it seems effeminizing (perhaps a companion term to emasculating, raising an interesting question about why we don’t care enough about this concept to have a commonly used word for it) to discuss marriage as a men’s decision.
In the novels of Jane Austen, the “marriage market” is orchestrated by women, who, one would think, still play some role today in deciding their life partners. While the trend for women seems more of a concern—why do exceptional women marry down?—this decision on the part of men is nothing new. In Gatsby, high-class Tom marries established Daisy but has an affair with gas-station-dwelling Myrtle. He also is found in a car, soon after his marriage, with the chambermaid of a hotel. This seamlessly blends both of Dowd’s primary reference points—he who pursues women who happen to be at work in a hotel, and he who strays soon after marriage.
The difference between Fitzgerald’s novel and today’s trend is that in 1925, Daisy would not marry “down” for Gatsby, but apparently today she might. Let’s talk about her.
I am concerned for my daughter not only because of the men she sees in the news but the way women are referenced there. Is it women’s actions that should concern us, or the way they are discussed? Why should an exceptional woman marry a man she knows has issues? Why shouldn’t she?
I think we should all pay attention to the way we talk about these affairs, or as Ray Carver wrote, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Language matters. It shapes thought. Before we say what men do, and what women do, and before we call someone “up” or “down” or anywhere in between, we should remember who is watching, listening, and learning from our behavior. Students learn how to behave not just from books, but also from what they read in the newspapers.