Tag Archives: Kayla Corcoran

Hey, Pretty Girl, I’m a Sexist Lover

12 Sep

by Kayla Corcoran

“You can bet you make this ol’ boy’s day, hey pretty girl, won’t you look my way,” Kip Moore croons out of my headphones, singing about the “long and winding ride” of life with his “pretty girl.” Moore advises us in his chorus that during this ride, you “better have the right one by your side” because “time moves faster than you think.”

Over the course of the song, Moore spots a “pretty girl” at a bar somewhere and flashes forward through their entire life together, right from the first dance to the day he dies (yes, this moment in the song is just as morbid as you’re imagining it to be). This “long and winding road” is full of defining moments: bringing the “pretty girl” home to meet his momma, buying a house, having a baby, etc. The only thing that remains stable in the life that Moore constructs for him and the girl is her prettiness—over the course of three and a half minutes, Moore sings the phrase “pretty girl” fourteen times.

The song might be titled “Hey Pretty Girl,” but there’s something else going on here that deserves to be noticed: yes, pretty girl, you guessed it—sexism!

There’s no denying that Moore employs the phrase “hey pretty girl” to appeal to all women. After all, had he chosen to sing, “Hey Amanda, won’t you look my way?” only women named Amanda could imagine “build[ing] some dreams” with Kip Moore. The vagueness allows Moore to pursue individual connections with each of his listeners, and you might even find yourself thinking, “Yeah, cool, I could be that pretty girl. I like apple trees.

You don’t want to be that girl. Here’s why:

“Pretty” is pretty much the only characteristic that Moore attributes to this woman.  This woman, apparently, who does nothing on her own except to give birth to their baby, for which Moore gives her his highest praise: “Hey pretty girl, you did so good.” That woman just gave birth to your child, Kip! Might you want to try being a little less patronizing? Not even in the moment of childbirth is Moore’s love referred to as a “woman.”

The only time the woman is referred to as anything other than a “pretty girl” is during the last stanza—the moment of death that I mentioned earlier. “Hey pretty girl, when I see the light, and it’s my time to go, I’ll thank the Lord for a real good life, a pretty little girl and a beautiful wife.” In the culmination of this song, the “pretty girl” goes from being a “pretty girl” to “a beautiful wife.” What a move!

The woman in this song is presented only as two things: a girl and a wife.  There is nothing wrong with the life choices presented in this song, and there is certainly no reason to say that this woman is unaccomplished because there’s no mention of a career. The problem is that this woman is presented as so one-dimensional that she has no interests or talents other than being pretty, falling in love with Kip Moore, and having his baby. Come on, Kip, give your fictional wife some credit. She must have hobbies.

Moore’s not the only country artist to invoke seriously problematic gender stereotypes in his songs. People often complain about rap music’s objectification of women, but I see an equally disturbing image of womanhood presented in country music.

Here’s a quick catalog of my favorite sexist lyrics in my favorite country songs:

  • “Back down a country road, the girls are always hot and the beer is ice cold.” I see what you did there, Jake Owen. Clever juxtaposition of temperatures between girls and alcoholic beverages. Women love nothing more than to be compared to inanimate objects.
  • “Crazy girl, don’t you know that I love you?… Silly woman, come here, let me hold you. Have I told you lately? I love you like crazy, girl.” I’m not sure, Eli Young Band, why she doesn’t know that you love her. Maybe it’s because you repeatedly call her crazy and silly? Let me know how that works out for you. Don’t even get me started about how this music video exploits the very serious issue of mental illness.
  • “All them other boys wanna wind you up and take you downtown, but you look like the kind that likes to take it way out, out where the corn rows grow, row, row my boat.” Aside from the fact that “row, row my boat” is a terrible euphemism for who-knows-what, I really like the part when Luke Bryan disses all those other guys for having no idea what this girl wants, only to make his own assumptions about what she desires based on not talking to her even a little bit. The whole song is actually a clever exercise in Luke Bryan convincing the girl that she wants what he wants. Bravo, friend!
  • “Hey girl, what’s your name girl, I’ve been lookin’ at you, and every guy here’s doin’ the same girl…I know you don’t know me but I can’t leave here lonely.” Hey, Billy Currington, next time you try to pick up a girl at a bar, you might want to start by not insinuating that you’re not taking no for an answer when you ask her to go home with you. She does have to say “yes,” you know.
  • “And all the angels up in Heaven started singing, ‘All it’s missing is a pretty thing,’… let there be cowgirls for every cowboy.”  Obviously Chris Cagle and I have different interpretations of the Old Testament, but the suggestion here that women’s sole reason for existence is so that every cowboy can have a cowgirl is blatantly offensive. Kip Moore’s over here like, “At least I referred to her as a ‘girl’ and not a ‘thing’!”

It’s an old joke that you get a lot of things back when you play a country music song backwards: according to Rascal Flatts, “Ya get your house back, ya get your dog back, ya get your best friend Jack back…” and so on. I’m beginning to think that we should add “female agency” to that list, since it seems to keep disappearing in a lot of these songs.

Of course, all generalizations have plenty of exceptions. There are country music artists, both men and women, whose songs don’t fall into a misogynistic trap of what women are supposed to look like or how they are supposed to act. My fear is that there’s a perception that country music as a genre is somehow more “wholesome” or “nicer” than other types of music, when that’s not always the case.

Pills on Pills

14 Jun

by Kayla Corcoran

Forty-five minutes after first dialing the number on the back of my insurance card, I’m still on hold with Blue Cross Blue Shield Anthem as I write this blog post. My cell phone burps out obnoxious elevator music on speaker beside me on the desk as I type. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning: Africa.

Not in Africa, exactly, but in a manner of speaking. In the middle of June, I’ll be leaving Boston to spend the next two months in Rwanda, where I’ll be participating in a social entrepreneurship project in rural Rwanda.

Still on hold. Now the count’s at fifty minutes.

Traveling to Rwanda means, among many other (and better) things, vaccinations and medications. I’ve already gone to the travel clinic for five shots: Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Influenza, Polia, and Tuberculosis. Unfortunately, Malaria continues to be a threat in Rwanda. I’ve opted for Doxycycline because some of the other pills have psychotropic side effects and I don’t really dig crazy dreams. The RN at the travel clinic wrote me a prescription for 87 pills and sent it to the pharmacy. Enough pills for each day in Rwanda plus time before and after.

I’ve been disconnected once already from the insurance company; this is the second call I’ve placed. Both times, I was greeted by the automatic voice generator that kept stating, “I don’t understand what you said,” when I tried to recite my insurance policy number out loud for “more personalized care.” “For more personalized care, I’d actually like to speak to a human being,” I mutter. “I don’t understand what you said,” comes the automated response.

Seventy-one minutes later, the BCBS representative with whom I’ve been speaking for the past hour (let’s call him Paul) checks in again to thank me for my patience. He’s already tried calling three different internal numbers (one of which he was disconnected from and another of which rang unanswered). He’s also phoned my pharmacy to talk to them. “Can I call you back on Monday?” he asks. “No, but thank you,” I respond. “I’ll continue holding, as I’ve done for the past hour. I’d like to get this situation resolved by the end of the day.” I’m practically an expert now at holding (let me know if you need any tips!). He tells me that my case will be transferred to a senior representative, but they’ll need to do a bit more research before above-mentioned unknown person can get back to me. “Do you mind if she calls you back in an hour?” he asks me. I sigh. Of course I mind, but what can I do? “No, that’s fine,” I whisper into the phone, feeling my case slipping out of my hands as it drifts into the murky blue abyss of BCBS.

I still haven’t told you what the problem is and why I picked up the phone in the first place, so while I’m holding, I’ll fill you in. In addition to needing a two-month supply of Doxycycline to avoid getting Malaria, I also need a three-month supply of birth control. Ah, yes. Therein lies the problem! Needing a three-month supply of birth control is obviously suspicious. I must be up to some really crazy things.

This morning, before this ridiculous phone call, I opened the crinkly white paper bag from the pharmacy only to find a very small orange bottle filled with thirty capsules of Doxycycline. “Um,” I said to my mother, “where’s the rest of it?” “Here,” she said, handing me one package of Mononessa. “I mean, where are the other pills and the other two packages of the Mononessa?” I asked. She shrugged. “They wouldn’t give it to me.”

The insurance company won’t authorize more than a thirty-day supply of any medication.

I’m not sure if the insurance company understands how antimalarial or birth control pills work, but in case they’re unaware, I’ll gladly share! Doxycycline is a daily antimalarial pill, which means it actually needs to be taken every day in order for the medicine to work effectively. Birth control works the same way. One pill every day. As tempting as it is to play Rwandan roulette and ration out my thirty Doxy pills over eight weeks, I think I’ll get my kicks another way.

Hence, the phone call to my insurance company.

After the robot lady got done talking about how awesome BCBS is and about how she didn’t understand what I was saying, I pressed zero for the operator. I spoke with someone about my problem. She put me on hold for ten minutes. “I’m sorry,” she said when the elevator music shut off. “I don’t have access to do anything. Let me transfer you.” Sure, no problem. The waiting game began.

Ten minutes later, I was on the phone with Paul, and I explained my problem again: “The travel clinic prescribed me a two-month supply of Doxy and the gynecologist prescribed me a three-month supply of birth control. The pharmacy will only give me one month of each. I’m travelling to Rwanda in two weeks and I’m not going to have access to a pharmacy. Can you please authorize a vacation override for these prescriptions so I can travel with the medication that I need?”

This is when Paul put me on hold and started making all of those other calls that I already mentioned above. In between the second and the third call, he picked up the line. “Kayla, are you still there?”

“Yes, Paul.”

“I’m getting the run-around from everyone around here, and I can’t seem to find any answers. I’m going to try a third number. From what I understand of the policy, though, you’re allowed to have two vacation overrides within a period of one hundred eighty days, but they must be thirty days apart.”

“Sorry?” I asked. From what I understand of the policy, you can’t go on an extended vacation and have two medications at the same time. From what I understand about the policy, I’m being asked to choose: antimalarial pills or birth control.

“I know,” Paul said. “I’m just as frustrated about this now as you are.” I want to believe Paul. I want to believe when he says that he empathizes with my problem that he really does understand the panic I feel about being away from home for two months without access to the medication I need. But I doubt that Paul has ever had to choose between antimalarial pills and birth control. “What’s the number for your pharmacy?” he asked, and I gave it to him. He put me on hold again.

“Okay,” he says when his voice crackled back to life on my phone. “The pharmacy can’t do anything about it today. Their system won’t allow it since there has already been action today on those prescriptions. And they can’t actually find the scrip for the Mononessa.” Now we’re all caught up to minute seventy-one when Paul offers to do some research and call me back on Monday. I politely decline and ask to speak to a supervisor. I’ve already invested an hour and a half on this problem today, and if today is any indication of how long this process is going to be dragged out, I don’t have time to wait until Monday to figure out if the pharmacy can actually fill my prescriptions.

I get bounced around to three more people before I get a supervisor, who informs me that she’s spoken to the pharmacy and the prescription company and that I’ll be able to pick up both prescriptions tomorrow. Huzzah! She tells me that in the future I’ll need to order my three-month prescriptions online because there are no restrictions or need for vacation overrides online. “What’s the difference between buying at the pharmacy and buying online?” I ask, wondering why I had to go through the disaster this afternoon just to pick up my prescriptions at the pharmacy.

“It’s cheaper for the insurance company,” she responds, “because they don’t have to send the medicine to the pharmacy. In truth, I’m not sure why you even called this number or how you ended up speaking with us.”

“I called the member number on the back of my insurance card,” I stutter.

“Yes, well, we only deal with the medical side of things. Most people don’t realize that we’re a different company than the drug providers, even though you pay the one premium. You should have called them directly. Instead, we did that for you,” she hisses.

“Why didn’t the very first woman I talked to tell me to hang up and call the drug company directly?”

“Well, I don’t know. But you shouldn’t have called us.”

Thus ends my phone call with the friendly folks at BCBS, but as I have yet to pick up my prescriptions because I’m not allowed to today, who knows what fun adventures await me tomorrow?

My point, after all of this, is actually two sub-points: first, it is clear that the insurance system in this country is deeply flawed. While it is true that I know very little about economics, I do know that it might be a good idea for health insurance companies to prioritize the needs of their clients over their own interests (they’re going to make money no matter what). The RN didn’t prescribe me 87 Doxycycline pills because she thought, “Hey, 87 is a fun number! Let’s go with that!” She prescribed 87 pills because that’s what I needed, and the insurance company gave me 30 pills because that’s what the insurance company wanted.

I’m not afraid to stay on hold for three hours and to demand to speak to someone who actually has the ability to solve my problem. But there are people who are afraid or who can’t fight with these people, and this is my second point. What about people who have more complex medical problems who only get bounced around? What about the people who file claim upon claim only to discover that they’ve all “never been received”? What about fifteen-year-old girls who are looking to be put on birth control but have no idea how to navigate this web of insurance benefits? What about the people who hang up after only one person tells them “no”?

This is a feminist issue because it is an everyperson issue. Why are we making it difficult for people to gain access preventative medications? Why are we saying to young women, “Hey, that’s cool if you want to travel and try to make a difference, but you’ll have to jump through ten hoops to get enough birth control to take with you on your trip, if we even decide to give it to you at all”? The process is ludicrous.

My suggestion to BCBS and the rest of the insurance companies out there is this: for “more personalized care,” try caring about the person on the other end of the line.

Chick Lit

11 Jun

by Kayla Corcoran 

Here’s a story for you: there’s this twenty-something girl—let’s call her Jane Everygirl. Jane lives in a major metropolitan city, which more than makes up for her slightly-less-than-glamorous job. She is funny and clumsy, and by clumsy, I mean that Jane occasionally trips over her own feet in way that’s still cute enough to attract James Toogoodtobetrue, her hot neighbor over in Apartment 6B. James is smart and just a little too successful (and did I mention that’s he’s uber hot?). “I can’t believe my luck!” Jane says wistfully to her friends Suzie Hasitall and Kate Rollswiththepunches over drinks, “He’s just so perfectly amazing!” Cue Jane’s daydream about their classic wedding and blond-haired future children.

Here’s where the story takes a twist (hint: it’s not really a twist at all). James Toogoodtobetrue does something dumb that proves exactly why he just can’t be trusted. In to sweep up the pieces is Charlie Obliviouslycute; he’s the shy guy who’s been lingering in the margins the entire time, gorgeous and secretly harboring the gosh darn sweetest crush on Jane Everygirl. He’ll stand there, looking at his feet, and say something like, “Jane, I love the way you always eat your pancakes with a spoon/pronounce your “j”s like “g”s/cry when you see pink balloons!” Fill in the blank with whatever annoying quirk it is that is supposed to make Jane endearing (preferably something that no one actually cares about). Suddenly, Jane Everygirl is now Jane Charliesgirl, and they’re dreaming together about their blond-haired children.

In a recent article for The Atlantic “Chick Lit is Dead, Long Live Farm Lit,” Emily Matchar argues that these types of books, with their “hot pink covers featuring martini glasses and Manolos,” are a dying—if not, dead—breed. Replacing them, Matchar writes, is a new genre of farm lit books, where Jane Everygirl and her fellow archetypes abandon Manhattan “in favor of slower, more rural existences, scrappily learning to raise goats on idyllic Vermont farms…instead of pining after Mr. Big, they’re falling for the hunky farmer next door.”

Maybe chick lit as it was originally conceived in the early nineties is no longer the chick-lit-du-jour, but it’s certainly not dead. Replacing Jane Everygirl with Jane Farmgirl and relocating her to upstate New York or a sleepy beach town on the coast doesn’t change the basic structure of these plots or hide the fact that the genre as a whole does a lot of generalizing about women’s experiences.

According to the most reliable of sources, Wikipedia, the term “chick lit” originated as slang for “female literary tradition,” eventually coming to stand for a kind of second-wave Feminist understanding of the female experience. It’s a genre that’s home to many famous and well-loved books: Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series, Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada, and Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, among others.

Let’s talk about the term “chick lit.” The implications of this categorization are problematic for so many reasons, but here are my top three: 1) By branding itself as “chick lit,” the genre lumps all women together, never accounting for diversity of experience; 2) For a genre called “chick lit,” the books that belong to it certainly revolve a lot around men and; 3) By naming one particular type of genre as “chick lit,” there’s a subtle (or maybe not-so-subtle) snub that other literature is not for women.

Chick lit is the women’s genre, right? Wrong. I doubt that all women like reading these types of books. These books are filled with cookie-cutter women: oftentimes young, white, average-sized women who have large enough salaries for it to not be a prominent factor in the book’s plot. Occasionally Jane Everygirl will gripe about her rent or having to use mismatched dishes, but when’s the last time a chick lit novel featured a heroine who was poor or living below the poverty line? Rarely do these books feature women of color or women who identify as LGBTQ. We almost never read about heroines who are in the Peace Corp, women who are running the magazine for which Jane Everygirl works, or women who are struggling with balancing work and home life. Chick lit very rarely features women who are marginalized or who are in high positions of power. Somehow these experiences don’t scream, “Beach read!” and are therefore discounted as light-hearted and fun. Ironically, making the chick lit heroines as “average” as possible in order to appeal to a wider reach of readers only limits the genre. If chick lit were really a genre for women, then it would at least pretend to appeal to a range of women’s experiences.

And then there’s this issue: for a genre proclaiming to be all about women’s experiences, there is sure a lot of talk about men in these books. The women that populate the pages of chick lit books are usually smart and fairly successful (if a little boring). But they are not independent. As much as it takes independence to live alone in Manhattan or on a farm (if you’re reading Matchar’s version of chick lit) milking goats, these women are always pining after men, convinced that their lives will be complete when they find “the one.” Frustratingly, these women will often be mildly attracted to every man that comes across her way in the book. Why do the women in chick lit books fall apart at the first sight of any guy with dark hair and rolled-up shirtsleeves? Besides making the assumption that all women are attracted to the same two archetypal men (James Toogoodtobetrue and Charlie Obliviouslycute), chick lit books perpetuate the false idea that women lose control when confronted by these men (or all heterosexual men). The larger problem is that snagging Mr. Hotstuff is often the climax of the book (no pun intended). Newsflash, Jane: finally hooking up with him doesn’t mean that all of your other problems are solved or that they magically disappear. These books make it hard to believe that women care about things other than men.

Let’s not forget that chick lit is marketed as literature for women, by women. What does that mean for all of the other books floating around out there? Are women not meant to relate to the themes that crop up in Emerson’s poetry, Stoppard’s plays, Zadie Smith’s novels, and Tom Clancy’s books? Come on now. I learned more about myself from Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried than from Emily Giffin’s Something Borrowed, and that book is about War! This is not to deny that some books will resonate differently with certain kinds of audiences, but The Great Gatsby is just as much for women as is The Devil Wears Prada. Chick lit presents a limited scope of what kind of material women are capable of reading: light, fluffy books filled with less-than-complex issues that can be read on the beach and then forgotten about. For a genre with roots in second-wave Feminism, it doesn’t have a lot of faith in women’s abilities to do much, be it the reader or main character.

And yet I keep reading these books, and so do thousands of other women, and it’s evidenced in the fact that writers keep churning out these nondescript books every other month. I understand that by buying these books, I’m only perpetuating the existence of a genre that I think is mediocre, but I don’t necessarily want to advocate for the disappearance of these books altogether. What I don’t understand is the necessary existence of the term “chick lit”—why can’t we just stick the books under the “Fiction” section and call it a day? Sure, it doesn’t alleviate the fact that these books don’t do a lot to advance the modern feminist plight, but it’s certainly a start.

The Vocabulary of Feminism

29 Mar

by Kayla Corcoran 

Like every fifth-grade vocabulary quiz, this blog post starts with a word bank:

educated           rights                     to equal            to teach

citizen               position                 gender             forbidden

to oppose          young woman      to struggle        traditional

to be aware       vote                        assembly         to demand

Now, for the test: Using only these words, please make your argument defending the Feminist movement’s right to exist.

Prompted by the vocabulary in our new chapter, my Arabic professor decided that our class would stage a debate about the necessity of advocating for women’s rights. She divided our class into two sections: those who would argue that Feminism remains relevant today and those who would argue that Feminism has overstayed its welcome in the face of all the progress that women have made. Partially because I spend half of Arabic class wondering what is actually going on and partially because I couldn’t seriously believe that the professor was asking us to debate Feminism, I laughed incredulously and asked, “Is this a joke?” She shushed me and told me to stop using English. I took her admonishment to mean “no.”

She divided the class arbitrarily into the pro-Feminist group and the anti-Feminist group. Even though I found myself on the pro-side, I felt uncomfortable about the debate. I am not unaware that the point of the debate was not to convince ourselves one way or the other about Feminism. The point of the assignment was to practice using our vocabulary and forming comprehensible sentences. Nevertheless, the situation felt strange. As it turns out, however, the uncomfortable nature of this debate turned out to be a blessing: it taught me a thing or two about how we address Feminism and the conversation that surrounds this complex network of issues.

What I learned comes in the form of another question: did you notice that the vocabulary list with which I provided you at the beginning of this post didn’t include the words “sexuality,” “birth control,” “health care,” “domestic violence,” “double standards,” “lesbian,” “choice,” etc.? In class, I couldn’t mention any of these things even though I feel that they are relevant because I didn’t know how to say them in Arabic. For the majority of the times when we speak about Feminism, we speak about it in our native languages without the same inability to express ourselves. But just because we know how to say the words does not mean that we always use them. We cannot talk about Feminism if we are not equipped with the right words and with all of the words, and we are not doing Feminism any justice if we cannot talk about it.

And we need those words. When I joked that the vocabulary list didn’t include “birth control,”  someone else in my group joked that birth control wasn’t relevant to our debate. On the contrary, it is incredibly relevant—both the word itself and the acknowledgment that Feminism today encompasses so many more points other than “rights” and “gender.” If we debate the relevance of Feminism in those terms, then Feminism is in danger of being irrelevant. If we’re only talking about women being able to vote or to hold jobs outside of the home, then we don’t need Feminism any more. Mission accomplished.

But we’re not only talking about women being able to vote and to work anymore (and even these issues are still more complicated and less “equal” than we’d like to think they are, especially if we move beyond the United States). In debating the relevance of Feminism with a limited vocabulary, we miss the nuanced version of what Feminism has become, and that version includes a lot more words besides “vote.” The women (and men) who fought for women’s political rights laid the groundwork for us to engage in a more complex dialogue about Feminism. This nuanced version of Feminism is the kind of Feminism that we need today—the kind that examines the intimate roles that Feminism and gender relations serve in the lives of modern women and men who are voting and who are working but who are struggling with other social inequalities.

Just as society, for centuries, did itself no favors by clinging to the idea that women were intellectually and physically inferior to men, we are not going to do ourselves any favors by clinging to ideas of what Feminism has meant in the past—whether it’s “suffrage” from the beginning of the twentieth century or “bra-burning” from the sixties. We are not going to have fruitful conversations and constructive debates about Feminism if we cannot articulate how it is that Feminism has changed from these past conceptions. There was a time for suffrage and there was a time for bra-burning, and today can still be a time for those things, but it is also a time for other things. We are wrestling with questions appropriate to our own historical moment, and we should also acknowledge that these questions vary across communities and individual experiences.

If we, as individuals, don’t know why Feminism is relevant to us, then it is no longer relevant. So, my friends, I leave you with an invitation ripped right from the pages of Candide: cultivate your garden of Feminist vocabulary and never stop cultivating it. Learn to ask yourself why Feminism is important to you and embrace the fact that your ideas may change over time. In short, be better than a fifth-grade vocabulary quiz.

The MILF Diet

26 Feb

by Kayla Corcoran

Let me begin by writing that I am a lover of books. It’s the first prerequisite for being an English major, and I am a highly indiscriminate reader. So please understand that I am serious when I write that there are not of lot of books that I dislike considerably (and by dislike considerably, I mean despise with a burning passion). Up until now, in fact, I wasn’t sure that any book existed that I couldn’t find a way to like just a little bit. But then I found Jessica Porter’s The MILF Diet. And it made me want to gouge my eyes out with a rusty spoon.
Naturally, I’m now going to share it with you.

The full title of the cookbook is The MILF Diet: Let the Power of Whole Foods Transform Your Body, Mind, and Spirit…Deliciously (2013). Well isn’t that a mouthful. First, for those of you who don’t know what a “MILF” is, I’ll let Ms. Porter explain: “These days, ‘MILF’ has become a compliment. While other names for sexy women have remained stuck to the brothel floor, ‘MILF’ has picked itself up, crawled out the door, and marched with pride into the local health food store.” Wait, I’m sorry. When did that happen? Porter continues, writing, “What’s best about ‘MILF’ is that the term was generated by men, for men. It’s not some politically correct label we’re trying to shove down their throats. Perhaps the term ‘MILF’ is evidence that a healing is going on in our newly minted males…Maybe it’s because there are just some very sexy mothers out there, pushing their carts at Whole Foods. No matter its origins, I’m suggesting that we co-opt this term and wear it with pride.”

Like the word “MILF” itself, there is so much going on with Porter’s description. I admire her ability to see the silver lining of the “MILF” cloud, but I hardly think the word’s best feature is that men thought it up. Porter misses the mark on this one by several yards. Men did not invent “MILF” to empower sexy mothers: men invented “MILF” to objectify women. And if “MILF” is “evidence” that men are “healing,” why do women need to “co-opt” the term and reclaim it if it’s already so great?

I’m all for women taking control of their sexuality and adopting whatever words they believe best fit that project, but let’s consider the implications of “MILF” a little more closely before we jump on the adoption bandwagon. “MILF,” which stands for “Mother I’d Like to Fuck,” implies that there are certain mothers with whom one would have sex and others with whom one would not. In other words, some mothers are sexy and some mothers are not. Let me make this clear for the record: pregnancy is a beautiful and miraculous act. To suggest that any woman who has given birth is anything less than sexy is to ignore the fundamental miracle of the woman’s ability to carry and conceive a child. Giving birth imparts its own kind of transcendent sexuality upon mothers, and that sexuality is far and above any kind of surface distinctions of what it means to be “smoking hot.”

But, fine. Let’s concede for a moment that Porter might have some semblance of a good idea operating in her cookbook. Encouraging women to embrace their sexuality can never be a bad thing. Unless, of course, you define exactly what that sexuality must look like and how women should get there. What kind of sexuality are we talking about anyways? It’s a certain “feminine je ne sais quoi,” Porter writes, that comes from being a “soft and receptive force.” “Remember, you radiate a powerful, womanly, nourishing force. Your very essence makes a man feel strong and alive.” The sexuality that Porter encourages women to embrace is the same misogynistic sexuality that society has been imposing on women for centuries. Why is it that a woman’s essence must make a man “feel strong and alive”? A woman’s sexuality is for no one but herself, and that means it may look nothing like Porter’s idea of sexuality, which is apparently something like being the “head pom pom waver on Mother Nature’s cheerleading squad.”

In case you do want to be a “card-carrying member of the Yin club,” make sure you buy lots of whole grains. They are the only way of becoming a true “MILF” because they are where “the female body finds its peaceful home again.” Porter wisely advises us that “sea vegetables will make your skin all dewy and your hair stronger and shinier. Bye-bye, tracksuits! Hello, cute tennis outfits! Your DILF won’t know what hit ‘im.” I am one hundred percent for healthy eating. But I cannot get behind Porter’s advocating for healthy eating as a disguised attempt to force all women into a narrow box of what it means to be sexy (you are only allowed to wear tennis outfits, apparently). Yet again, Porter concludes her argument with how the man will feel about a woman being healthy. Not how the woman will feel (only how she will look).

There is so much wrong with this cookbook. Not only does Porter include a recipe for DILF fried rice, but she encourages women to embrace their sexuality even as she rigidly defines for them what that sexuality is allowed to look like. The most fascinating and frustrating part of the entire charade is that Porter does this all in the guise of Feminism. Porter’s cookbook, which has received rave reviews on Amazon, promises that the MILF diet will help you “find your own inner balance and a whole new dimension to your feminine power.”

Feminine power? There isn’t one ounce of Feminism in this cookbook, and the entire project is an embarrassment to those critical works that have done so much for the Feminist movement. Emily Bestler Books released The MILF Diet on January 1st of this year, making Porter’s book an almost direct descendent of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, which was published fifty years ago on February 19, 1963. It is disconcerting that the very “je ne sais quoi” problem which Friedan’s provocative piece took as its subject in 1963 becomes something to be eagerly sought after and worshipped in Porter’s modern cookbook.

Let us remember that ordinary objects are not exempt from their influence on Feminism and how we think about gender. Conscious consumerism can help eliminate these types of ridiculous products in the future. For now, we’re left with Porter’s “sexy and vital” cookbook and a faint hope that The MILF Diet contains a recipe for gouged-out eyeballs.

The Boyfriend Question

24 Jan

by Kayla Corcoran 

Even though I know the question is inevitable, it always takes me by surprise when a relative at a holiday party aggressively inquires about my dating life. “Are you seeing anyone?” they ask, leaning in closer to my face as if this uncomfortable proximity might ease the tension. “No,” I respond, annoyed that the first question I’ve been asked is not about my classes or my job, but about my relationship status. The relative almost always follows my curt response by asking why I don’t have a boyfriend. Suddenly, my single status is not a choice, but a horrible problem to which I must immediately find a solution.

“I’m focusing on other things at the moment,” I chime back cheerfully. “I’m really enjoying my classes, particularly English, and I’m also busy with extra-curricular clubs at school, plus I work at the library.”

“Don’t worry, you’ll find someone soon!” my relative says as she pats me on the shoulder, ignoring everything else I’ve mentioned. She’s too busy pitying me as I quite obviously languish in my sad state of actually believing that school is a worthy consolation prize for not having a boyfriend.

It’s not an uncommon exchange, and lest you think you’ve never been on the receiving end of “the boyfriend question,” it appears in other, sneakier variations. Sometimes, it’s masked as an observation: “It looks like you’re still single, huh?” (to which the only appropriate response is, “It looks like you’re still nosy, huh?”). Other versions include questions about whether or not there’s anyone special in your life. Most people in my life are special, so I find this question strangely vague. There’s also the version in which the speaker is certain that you are in love with so-and-so, but that you have simply forgotten: “What about so-and-so who you like so much? Remember how much fun you had that one time?” Um, no, you just made that up. Another favorite of mine is the backhanded compliment: “I think it’s wonderful that you’ve decided to do other things. Not everyone is meant to get married, you know.” Thanks so much, distant relative, for divining my future in your tea leaves. Let’s not forget the question about your sexual preference: “Um, I hate to ask this, but…do you like girls?” This question is incredibly disrespectful on so many levels that I never know where to start.

It’s exhausting. It’s also exhausting for my relatives, apparently, who are confounded because I’ve appeared at yet another family function without a guy by my side. For some reason, however, the question must be asked because the strange situation demands an explanation. And so “the boyfriend question” keeps getting asked because it looks enough like someone is taking the time to be interested in your life. Do not be fooled. “The boyfriend question” is as concerning as it is jarring and rude.

Aside from the obvious intrusion of privacy that I do not appreciate, “the boyfriend question” and its implications are, at the very least, unhealthy for young women (and young men, for that matter, though my guess is that men experience less of these situations than do women). A woman is not made or broken by her relationship status, but societal acceptance of “the boyfriend question” has placed relationship statuses on a higher plane than other interests or occupations women may have.

The other dangerous consequence of asking young women why they don’t have boyfriends is the attitude that single women are somehow the lesser because of it. There must be something fundamentally wrong with a young woman who doesn’t have a boyfriend, even more so if the young woman in question doesn’t seem too concerned about this gaping hole in her life.

Don’t worry! You can fill that hole if you only figure out what’s wrong with you! There are dozens of quizzes online and in women’s magazines telling you what’s keeping you single. Seventeen Magazine’s “Why Don’t You Have a Boyfriend?” quiz is comprised of seven complex and serious questions compiled by professionals to help you diagnose your problem. Question 1 reads: “What do you do when you see that h-o-t soccer player who scored yesterday’s winning goal?” There are only three options to choose from because every young, single woman would conceivably do one of the following: “a) Half smile and kind of look away. b) Congratulate him on a good game. c) Playfully pat his cute little butt, guys’-locker-room style.”[1] What a relief to know that I’ll never have to be single again as long as I sexually harass strangers after they play sports! How stupid of me for not having thought of that before.

Nice try, Seventeen, but not having a boyfriend is not a problem to be diagnosed, and even if it were, it wouldn’t come in the form of a multiple-choice quiz (are you kidding me?). It can be an active choice; it can be that having a boyfriend is not the sole aim for a young woman; it can be that the young woman hasn’t met anyone she likes; it can be the circumstances. It could be any of these reasons, but there also doesn’t need to be a reason. It can just be. And the sooner we let it be, the sooner we can empower young women for being themselves, regardless of their relationship statuses.