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The Absence Of Women In Food Criticism Is No Mystery: Chicagoist

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On its face, the fact that men dominate food criticism seems like a mystery. Walk into any food writing event and there are plenty of women. Why is this particular subset of casting judgment upon food, restaurants and chefs such an exception - especially since it sounds like such a cool and interesting job? I mean, who wouldn’t want to get paid to eat at restaurants and then talk about what they liked or didn’t? Is there any reason to believe that women are somehow less opinionated about the food they eat, or less articulate at explaining those opinions - or at least deemed so by society at large? A few publications, such as LA Weekly and Grub Street, have explored the issue by speculating about gender differences or whether discrimination plays a role.

But if you were at a food writing event and looked around a little more and talked to some of the women there, the mystery would likely fade. First of all, a large number of female food writers are young. When was the last time you saw an ad for a food critic position? There aren’t many jobs in the field, and many of the most prestigious publications don’t accept applications from just anyone. They recruit, and they don’t seem to look very far.

For example, The New York Times has picked its most recent restaurant reviewers from their already established staff. Eater’s newest food critic hires are long-established critics, many of them refugees from moribund print publications. If you wanted to fossilize the past’s inequalities and prevent diverse new writers from gaining prominence, you couldn’t chose a better method. It’s no coincidence that they aren’t particularly diverse. It’s not just that they are mostly men- they are nearly all white and from similar middle-class backgrounds as well. For all the talk about what’s missing if women’s voices are absent from criticism, where’s the soul-searching about other voices that just aren’t there?

Of course there are are entry-level food writing positions out there, but making lists of the latest restaurant openings or restaurant specials for some PR-invented “National Pretzel Day” isn’t exactly the best way to prepare people for thinking critically. Most entry-level pipelines at major publications seem like pathways to nowhere and many of them are even unpaid internships, further limiting the kinds of people who can enter them. They’d do better to open the restaurant reviewing playing field up to people from other backgrounds and judge people on their writing rather than their resumes if they want truly diverse perspectives.

What are the few available food writing jobs like? High quality data doesn’t seem to be readily available. The few salary numbers out there seem high, but don’t appear to account for the fact that many review positions are no longer full-time jobs. A lot of publications use freelancers for reviews. Many of the food critics I know make this work by having other jobs that provide high-quality health insurance, a 401K and other benefits. Or they have a spouse with such a job.

But more people working an extra job might struggle to make the extra efforts that critics from the golden age of food writing were able to do, like Ruth Reichl with her elaborate disguises. Making time to do multiple visits is also a challenge, as is paying for all these meals. Many publications have slashed or completely cut budgets for reviews. And those that do still have food criticism often require that review meals be expensed, which involves paying out of pocket for the meal and then filing for reimbursement, which may be a struggle for young people on tight budgets. Which might be why so many of these positions are filled with people who are able to get money elsewhere- from other jobs or from their parents.

Tight budgets are common enough in the field, but many food writers enjoy non-salary benefits like free media dinners and drinks. Some publications have a policy against reviewers taking advantage of these benefits for ethical reasons. It makes sense, but it could be hard for a writer to cover a culture where $200 tasting menus are extolled when they have to subsist on boxed pasta for most of their meals.

And then there are tight budgets at the publications themselves, which have left the few young people in these jobs without mentors. People complain that some of the reviews from young writers don’t follow any sort of particular standard, but what else can we expect from a job where there is no training or mentorship? And when someone is lucky enough to have a mentor, it’s likely they came from that aforementioned golden age when writers didn’t have to freelance aggressively to make ends meet or worry about hit counts and search engine optimization.

In addition, it’s the non-reviewer food writers who get all the perks. They often have inboxes full of offers for free stuff, and find that restaurants welcome them with smiles and free drinks. Reviewers meanwhile might have inboxes full of hate mail, and find some restaurants unwelcoming - occasionally to the point of unceremoniously kicking them out. Some reviewers are even blamed for destroying businesses.

It’s easy to choose not to be a food critic. The jobs aren’t available. And even if they were, there are plenty of great reasons to avoid them. It’s not a mystery. It’s a job that sounds great, but the reality is very different except for a very small number of lucky people, most of whom got into the field when there were more stable jobs to be had. Sexism plays a role, but the bigger issues are harsh economic realities and the fact that the big publications seem to make little effort to bring in new voices.

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"Eater’s newest food critic hires are long-established critics, many of them refugees from moribund print publications." YEP. "Of course there are are entry-level food writing positions out there, but making lists of the latest restaurant openings or restaurant specials for some PR-invented 'National Pretzel Day' isn’t exactly the best way to prepare people for thinking critically." YEP. "People complain that some of the reviews from young writers don’t follow any sort of particular standard, but what else can we expect from a job where there is no training or mentorship?" YYYYYEEEEEEEEPPPPPPP.
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The Believer - If He Hollers Let Him Go: Dave Chappelle 

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Discussed: Ohio’s Rolling Farmland, Hippies in Tie-Dye, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Kanye West, Oprah, A Simpler Way of Life, Seventy-Year-Old Comparative Literature Professors in Birkenstocks, Negritude,Thurgood Marshall, Black Activism, Patrice Lumumba, Stepin Fetchit, Richard Pryor, Dick Gregory, Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson, Hemp Stores, Reuben Sandwiches, Dusk in Yellow Springs


Although the city of Dayton is small and has been hit hard by the decline of industry, in Xenia and Yellow Springs the land is green, fecund, and alive, even in the relentless heat of summer. Xenia is three miles from where the first private black college, Wilberforce, opened, in 1856, to meet the educational needs of the growing population of freed blacks that crossed the Ohio River. Yellow Springs, a stop on the Underground Railroad, was initially established as a utopian community in 1825. In 1852, Horace Mann founded Antioch College and served as its president. During the ’50s and ’60s, Antioch and Yellow Springs were hamlets of anti-McCarthyism and antiwar and civil rights activism. Today there are a lot of hippies and there’s even more tie-dye. Between the villages, you can drive over rolling hills and pastures and not see another car for miles, and only far off on the horizon will you be able to spot a farmhouse.

I spent a week in this part of Ohio, and during my stay I was invited to do all sorts of things with people of all kinds—rich and poor, white and black. I was invited to go flying, dig for worms at midnight, and plant raspberry bushes. My request to drive a tractor was turned down, not because I don’t know how to drive but because the tractor had been put away. In Ohio, there is space for people to do what they want. There is a lot of land, plenty of it. This is where enslaved people ran to, certain that they had finally evaded capture. This is where America’s first prominent black poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar, wrote “We Wear the Mask.” And somewhere in the midst of it all is Dave Chappelle’s home.

From above, everything seems smaller and less complicated—or at the very least things are put into perspective. From a plane at thirty-five thousand feet it was much easier for me to understand why Dave Chappelle quit his hit TV show, Chappelle’s Show, and said goodbye to all that, and didn’t stop until he got home to Yellow Springs, Ohio. When news of his decision to cease filming the third season of the show first made headlines, there were many spectacular rumors. He had quit the show without any warning. He had unceremoniously ditched its cocreator, his good friend Neal Brennan, leaving him stranded. Chappelle was now addicted to crack. He had lost his mind. The most insane speculation I saw was posted on a friend’s Facebook page at 3 a.m. A website had alleged that a powerful cabal of black leaders—Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby, and others—were so offended by Chappelle’s use of the n-word that they had him intimidated and banned. The controversial “Niggar Family” sketch, where viewers were introduced to an Ozzie and Harriet–like 1950s suburban, white, upper-class family named “the Niggars,” was said to have set them off. The weirdest thing was that people actually went for such stories. Chappelle’s brief moment in television had been that incendiary. It didn’t matter that Chappelle himself had told Oprah on national television that he had quit wholly of his own accord.

Chappelle didn’t seem to understand that these rumors of drugs and insanity, though paternalistic, were just the result of disbelief and curiosity. Like Salinger’s retreat from fame, Chappelle’s departure demanded an explanation: how could any human being have the willpower, the chutzpah, the determination to refuse the amount of money rumored to be Chappelle’s next paycheck: fifty million dollars. Say it with me now. Fifty. Million. Dollars. When the dust settled, and Chappelle had done interviews with Oprah and James Lipton in an attempt to recover his image and tell his story, two things became immediately apparent: Dave Chappelle is without a doubt his generation’s smartest comic, and the hole he left in comedy is so great that even ten years later very few people can accept the reason he later gave for leaving fame and fortune behind: he wanted to find a simpler way of life.

You know you must be doing something right if old people like you.

—Dave Chappelle

Dave Chappelle was in his teens when he first appeared on the comedy-club circuit. He was twenty-three when he and his friend Neal Brennan wrote Half Baked, a now-classic stoner flick about four hapless friends who try to enter the drug-dealing game so they can get bail money for their friend Kenny, who has landed in jail after inadvertently killing a cop’s horse. They were young and had no expectations except to have fun and be funny. They certainly had no idea Chappelle’s Show, another collaboration, would become the most talked-about show on television. But early into the show’s first season, critics at the New York Times would take notice of Chappelle’s “kind of laid-back indignation” and his “refusal to believe that ignoring racial differences will make anyone’s life better.” What Brennan and Chappelle were doing every week was so unusual that the Times declared that “it almost looks like a renaissance for African-American humor on television.”

Chappelle’s comedy found fans in many worlds. At a recent barbecue in Philadelphia, a friend of the host dutifully but disinterestedly interrogated me about my life, and got excited only when my mother let it slip that I was working on a piece about Dave Chappelle. “Aw, man. I miss that guy,” he said. “He was my friend. I really felt like he was my friend.” I hear this a lot, usually from white people, and usually from white people without many black friends—like this seventy-year-old comparative literature professor in Birkenstocks. Part of what made the show so ingenious was that Chappelle’s racial invective found friends in strange places. With a regularly broadcasted television show, Chappelle was finally able to display what writer and activist Kevin Powell described in an Esquire profile as a “unique capacity to stand out and blend in, to cross boundaries and set up roadblocks.” Almost overnight, Chappelle became America’s black friend. He was a polyglot. He told Powell that, growing up, he used to “hang out with the Jewish kids, black kids, and Vietnamese immigrants,” and it was apparent that Chappelle had used these experiences to become America’s consul and translator for all things racial. More than any comic of his generation, he lanced the boil of how race works and also prodded at how nuanced race had become. “Sometimes convention and what’s funny butt heads,” Chappelle confessed to Entertainment Weekly in 2004, “and when [they do], we just err on the side of what’s funny.”

Besides race, three things make Dave Chappelle’s comedy innovative and universal: wit, self-deprecation, and toilet humor. This is the same triumvirate that makes Philip Roth’s writing so original. Woody Allen’s movies, too. Chappelle had a keen sense of the archetypal nature of race, and understood just as acutely how people work on a very basic level. In a Chappelle’s Show sketch about the reality show Trading Spouses, a black man sits on a toilet in a white family’s house and flips through a copy of People magazine while taking a dump. He looks up: “Who the fuck is Renée Zellwedger?” In another sketch, a stodgy, Waspy white man (Chappelle in whiteface) lies in bed with an attractive black woman in classy lingerie. He wants her. But he wants to make love with his pajamas on.

Chappelle did such a good job of truth-telling, on every subject, that nobody knew what to do when he just stopped talking. In no way did his quitting conform to our understanding of the comic’s one obligation: to be funny. To talk to us. To entertain us. To make us laugh. We aren’t used to taking no for an answer, to being rejected, especially not by the people who are supposed to make us smile. Especially not by black men who are supposed to make us smile. And yet Chappelle did just that. And so, like everyone, I wondered what had happened. What had happened, and, more so, what had brought Chappelle to—and kept him in—Yellow Springs?At a stand-up appearance in Sacramento in 2004, a frustrated Chappelle lashed out at his hecklers from the stage, yelling, “You people are stupid!” So what was it about this small college town—where hippies slipped me bags of Girl Scout cookies, where Tibetan jewelry stores and fair-trade coffee shops dotted the main street, and where kindly white ladies crossed the street to tell me my wild hair was giving them life—that made it more satisfying than celebrity or fame?

Even before Chappelle himself, politely but firmly, turned down my interview request, I had begun to suspect that the keys to everything he was doing politically and culturally—block parties with Erykah Badu, videos with Mos Def and De La Soul, and campaigning for young black candidates like Kevin Powell, who stressed social responsibility—were interests deeply informed by his parents. His mother is a historian and his father was a dean of community services and a professor of music. Edward Countryman, the American historian, has pointed out some worthwhile context: “Until John Hope Franklin joined the University of Chicago in 1964, no black person held a senior rank in a major history department that encouraged research and trained doctoral students.” But Chappelle, like Kanye West, grew up in a home where black activism and black leftist thought were the languages of the household. No wonder, then, that both Chappelle and West have wrestled so bitterly and publicly with their sense of responsibility to and also their failure to meet those same obligations. “It’s a dilemma,” Chappelle told Kevin Powell. “It’s something that is unique to us. White people, white artists, are allowed to be individuals. But we always have this greater struggle that we at least have to keep in mind somewhere.” Chappelle’s throwback kind of celebrity and his many concerns about “social responsibility” are faintly reminiscent of the work that his mother, Professor Yvonne Seon, did in the ’60s and ’70s as a scholar of the Negritude movement.

In 1939, the poet Aimé Césaire would return to his island homeland of Martinique, in the Caribbean, after spending years in Europe. The move would prompt his book-length piece of prose poetry, which André Breton would call a masterpiece: Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (Notebook of a Return to the Native Land). Césaire, a gifted writer, was sent to Europe as a young man to study in the center of the French-speaking world. Once there, he reunited with his childhood friend Léon Damas and a young Senegalese poet and future president named Léopold Sédar Senghor. Together, as black men in France, they attempted to educate themselves in a culture where the word negre was inherently a pejorative. To cope while living under the double bind of colonialism and racism, they created “Negritude,” literally a “Blackness” movement.

Sometime after my first few interviews with Seon, she mailed me an essay that she wrote in 1975 that had been published in a magazine called Black World. The issue features Muhammad Ali on the cover, and in her essay Seon describes Negritude as being more of a sensibility than a literary movement that is fixed in the past. To me, more than anything, it voices the dilemma her son would experience decades later:

When one speaks of Negritude, one may be speaking of either of two quite different things. In its narrow definition, Negritude is a literary movement of the late 1930’s. In this restricted sense, it represents the use by Black French-speaking poets, of the techniques of French Impressionism to break away from French culture and to give creative expression to an inner, African self that had been hidden away. But the broader, more important meaning of Negritude has to do with a process isolated and identified by these poets. It is the process by which Black people, who have been cut off from and made to learn to know themselves again, come to accept themselves, and begin to believe in (i.e. to value) themselves.

Seon was born in Washington, DC. Her father was a fair-skinned man who was adopted by a black woman. Although he self-identified as black, by all accounts he looked Greek. He was also blind. On the day Martin Luther King Jr. was shot, Chappelle’s grandfather was on a city bus and overheard rumblings of a beat-down about to happen to a white fellow on his bus. That guy’s gonna be in trouble, he thought. He did not realize that he was the white man being threatened. This anecdote about his grandfather would inspire Chappelle’s “Clayton Bigsby” sketch—the unforgettable short mockumentary about a blind white supremacist who does not know he is black.

Beginning in 1944, Seon’s mother worked as an administrative assistant for the NAACP. Seon tells me about early memories of sitting outside of NAACP meetings and waving hello to the organization’s chief counsel, Thurgood Marshall, who was working on the cases that would dismantle the Jim Crow laws. In the ’50s, when Africa began to hammer off its colonial shackles, her family found itself in the front lines as black American allies.

“My mother was very much one of the people who was paying attention to what was going on in Africa; she knew the ambassadors, we went to the celebrations of independence. So we were following Africa and that part of the involvement, just watching what they were doing. We were aware of the avant-garde, the people who were questing for liberation in Africa.”

Seon was twenty-two when she met Patrice Lumumba, the young, energetic prime minister of the Congo, at a society mixer. That same afternoon, he offered her a job. She went home and asked her parents for permission, and they came back and talked with Lumumba. It was agreed she would fly to the Congo and help Lumumba, who, unlike Ghana’s President Kwame Nkrumah, didn’t have a college degree or much of a background in government. Instead, Lumumba was a beer-selling postmaster who had crushed one of the most dehumanizing, despotic colonial regimes with pure rhetoric and was now learning how to establish a new nation. She made plans to leave in the winter, but on December 1, Patrice Lumumba was arrested. “The hardest part was not knowing,” she says. In the weeks to come they found out: Lumumba had been murdered, most likely by American and Belgian operatives; Lumumba’s pan-Africanism, his vision of a unified Congo, and his utter lack of patience had alarmed the West so much they had had him killed. (Belgium apologized in 2002 for its “moral responsibility” in the murder.)

But here is the part you should remember if you want to understand Dave Chappelle’s unbridled wit and compulsion to be free: a young Yvonne Seon still decided to take off for the Congo, not knowing what to expect, but knowing that her contact there—a man who was being mourned by Malcolm X and Che Guevara, whose death incited outraged protests all around the world— had been murdered. She needed to fulfill her promise to the dead man and his hope for a “history of dignity” for African people. “We were very much aware that if America was going to have its independence, our independence was tied to the independence of the African countries. And I personally believed at the time that African Americans would not be able to get civil rights until Africa had won its independence, that the two things were interrelated.” Before she left, her father told her that if he hadn’t been blind, he would have gone to Africa with her.

When she returned to the States two years later, Seon attended graduate school and met her husband, William David Chappelle (who died in 1998), in those times of great hope and unrest. In the late ’60s, they came to Yellow Springs to visit friends for the weekend, and, besotted with the town’s counterculture, diversity, and leftist vibe, her husband didn’t want to leave. When Chappelle was two, his parents divorced, and his father returned to Yellow Springs to teach at Antioch while his mother stayed in Washington, DC, with the children. Dave Chappelle has said of his childhood, “We were like the broke Huxtables. There were books around the house; everybody was educated to a college level. We used to have a picture of Malcolm X in Ghana. Last Poets records. We were poor but we were cultured.”

When they reached the age where he and his siblings could start “running the streets,” his mother sent them to Yellow Springs to live with their father. Chappelle returned when he was fourteen. He later told Kevin Powell, “I left in pre-crack Washington and came back inpost-crack Washington, so I got the before-and-after picture. It was literally jolting, like, what the fuck happened? My freshman year of high school, over five hundred kids my age were murdered.”

In addition to the typical growing pains that accompany adolescence, Chappelle found himself having to navigate what he described to James Lipton as being “a very segregated city, especially at that time. Statistically speaking to this day—statistically speaking—there’s not one poor white person in Washington.” DC was a far cry from Yellow Springs, and he struggled to adjust to the culture shock. It was his mother who gave him a copy of a magazine with Bill Cosby on the cover. Chappelle felt instantaneously connected to the comic. When he finished reading, he says, “I put it down. And it was like: I’mma be a comedian. And, man, I’m telling you, I could see it so clearly, so clearly, man—this is it. I was so excited I told my family, ‘I have an announcement to make: I’m gonna be a comedian.’”

Because he was fourteen and his mother took him to gigs around the city, other comics called him “the kid.” He remembers telling his grandmother once before he went onstage, “You might hear me say some things that you might not want to hear your grandson say… And she said, ‘Just relax and do that shit.’ I was like, Wow. I had never heard her curse!”

Over lunch in Ohio, Seon tells me, with the same optimism as every other time we’ve talked, about the years she spent in Kinshasa. Her stories are populated with dangers she still seems impervious to: Évariste Kimba, a prime minister who soon succeeded Lumumba, was also executed, and the Congo was at the start of a long period of war. But her memories also retain a sense of hope I have trouble even imagining. “You know,” she says, “I’ve never gone back to the Congo, because it is difficult, you know, to look back at a place that was so full of possibilities and see what has happened. That is always hard to see, isn’t it?”

There is a strange moment in James Lipton’s interview with Chappelle where the comedian discusses his decision not to attend college. “I was the first person in my family not to go to college, that had not been a slave.” The audience laughs. I can never tell if they realize that he is serious.

In his fantastic profile of Muhammad Ali, Hunter S. Thompson writes that “the Champ, after all, had once hurled his Olympic gold medal into the Ohio River, in a fit of pique at some alleged racial insult in Louisville.” The medal was a symbol of a white world that Ali “was already learning to treat with a very calculated measure of public disrespect.” Like most people of the post–civil rights generation, I think that Chappelle, whose family had long been free, educated, leftist, and radical, had hoped that his success would not need to follow that same militant path. Despite the fact that four in ten white Americans do not have any black friends, and more pressingly, that all too many workplaces are integrated only in theory, I think Chappelle hoped that he could bring Yellow Springs’ open-mindedness to the world. For a while he did, but then he became aware that his brand of humor was not without a history and was forced to acknowledge its context. Next came conferences with suits at Comedy Central about his use of the n-word and his being chastised in the press, and finally he was humiliated and called insane. Like Thompson once wrote of Ali, Chappelle was put through “one of the meanest and most shameful ordeals any prominent American has ever endured.” Without knowing his history, Dave Chappelle’s decision to figuratively toss his gold medal into the Ohio River does seem like a bizarre, illogical act that abbreviated a successful career on its ascent. But was it illogical? Hardly. Revolutionary? Possibly. To turn his back on Hollywood, to walk away from the spotlight because it was turning him into a man he didn’t want to be—a man without dignity—was a move that was, in a way, Chappelle’s birthright, his own unwieldy kind of Negritude.

There’s no friends like the old friends.

― James Joyce

“I wasn’t crazy but it is incredibly stressful,” Dave Chappelle explained to Oprah on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2006. With his mother sitting in the front row, he was trying to explain why ten months years earlier—without explanation to his wife, to Brennan, or to his bosses at Comedy Central—he had quit his show.

“I would go to work on the show and I felt awful every day,” he said. “I felt like some kind of prostitute or something. If I feel so bad, why keep on showing up to this place? I’m going to Africa.” Five years have passed since that interview, and Brennan has gone on to write for President Obama at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner and to work with comedians like Amy Schumer and Chris Rock. Brennan repeats to me how much he respects Dave, but he tells me that being “trashed” by Chappelle on Oprah still bothers him. In 2011, he told a reporter: “You know, for a black artist that’s beloved to go on TV and say he was victimized by a white corporate structure, that is like white-people nectar, it’s like white liberal nectar, like, ‘Oh my god, this young black man has been victimized.’ Dave did real well from the show, you know. There was a huge benefit to Dave. So the idea that somehow he was victimized . . . My experience was he wasn’t victimized and that it was a matter of pressure and needing to eject from the pressure.”

Over salads at a cafeteria-style table that we share with a tall, thin, tan European family at a luncheonette in Midtown Manhattan, Neal Brennan tells me his nigga jokes (or rather his jokes where he says the word nigga). Two weeks earlier, in New Orleans, I had hung out in the whitewashed wings of the Civic Theatre and watched Brennan direct his first Comedy Central one-hour special. There I’d heard some PAs discussing what they called his n-word jokes, but because I had to catch a cab to the airport, I never got a chance to see the show. In New York, sitting a few feet from each other, I tried to prepare myself for the inevitable, but each time I thought about it my hands had instinctively cocked and curled into fists under the table.

Brennan says Chappelle’s Show told two stories: “What it was like to be a dude, and what it was like to be a black dude.” He grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs and is a former altar boy, the youngest of ten kids in a large Irish Catholic family. He is very thin and he has what he himself calls a “roguish charm.” Brennan is really, really funny and quick. He wears a uniform of jeans, sneakers, and a T-shirt. He has large ears and wide eyes and spiky hair that is often gelled to a point, cockatoo-style. As we talk, I realize that I recognize many of his expressions from the show. Brennan tells me that as a writer he knows how to shape and structure a joke. He directs the jab. “My job and life are basically just saying, ‘Hey, say this.’ Say, ‘Doctor says I needs a backiotomy.’”

Brennan met Chappelle when they were both eighteen. Everyone else in the New York comedy scene was in their late twenties. “Comedy,” he shrugs and sighs deeply, “is incredibly racially integrated. Probably the most diverse workplace there is, and it’s not clannish—there is a table at the Comedy Cellar where we all go, and you can look around some nights and it is Mexican, white, Jewish, black. You are friends based on your comedy ability, not based on your age or something. Like race is almost irrelevant.”Brennan studied film at NYU during the day, and at night he stood outside and worked as the annoying guy who yells, “Hey! Come inside and check out the comedy show!” Chappelle had moved to New York to do stand-up and was working in Washington Square Park, learning from a street comic named Charlie Barnett.

Neal and Dave had similar sensibilities: they liked the same movies (Spike Lee Joints), the same music (hip-hop), the same TV shows (Family Ties). It was kismet. “Chappelle had been on all of these pilots and had been paired with all of the wrong writers, wrong actors; like no thought to chemistry. Just: ‘He’s a hot writer and you’re a hot stand-up,’” Brennan says. Entertainment Weekly would say of Chappelle’s first sitcom: “The worst thing about Buddies is that it makes racism boring.”

Years passed, and Brennan left New York to live in Los Angeles and write comedy for Nickelodeon, but he stayed in touch with Chappelle. Their film, Half Baked, was totally unexpected and came about quickly. In fact, they had only a month to outline it. “We pitched it. Universal sold it in, like, March, and we were shooting it in July. Which is crazy. Really crazy. But we didn’t know anything because we were, like, twenty-three.”

From the moment they arrived on the set, Brennan says he knew that something was off about the production. “First of all, it should have looked more like Kids and Trainspotting. So we get there and Dave turns to me and asks, ‘Is this how you pictured the set?’ And I go, ‘Nope.’ And he goes, ‘Me neither.’” Neal shrugs again. “But again, twenty-three. And there is just nothing you can do. I’m not a fan of the movie. Dave’s not a fan of the movie.”Directed by Tamra Davis, Half Baked was released in 1998, the same weekend as Titanic, and flopped. Brennan and Chappelle stopped talking for a while. These silences are themes in their friendship. I ask him why. “I guess not wanting to acknowledge responsibility, negative association, you want to leave the scene of the crime. Like having a child die and the parents want to get a divorce.”

It would be the first defeat in a series of many. After Half Baked, Dave bought his “Fuck you, Hollywood” farm, sixty-five acres of land in Ohio. He was living there and having a tough time professionally. Killin’ Them Softly, his one-hour special, came out in 1999. Brennan is blunt about it: “No one cared. But Killin’ Them Softy is a great one-hour special.

“Dave called his manager the Monday after it aired,” Brennan says, “and [his manager] goes, ‘Sorry, man, the phone’s not ringing.’” That is how it was. It cemented a sense within Brennan and Chappelle that show business is built upon what’s hot and what’s not, and, worse, that show business is random, anti-intellectual, and often pretty far behind. “We were the underdogs. We were left for dead and came from behind and did CPR on ourselves.” He pauses and peers over the heads of the towheaded European family sitting next to us. “To give you a sense of things, this is how little respect Dave was getting: we pitched Chappelle’s Show to one station and they literally looked at us like we were lepers. Like, because Chris Rock had just gone off the air, they were like, ‘Chris Rock is everything and you’re nothing, Dave.’ Then we walk up Fifth Avenue and pitch it to Comedy Central. They buy it. And it becomes the show. And now Chappelle’s Show has sold three million copies on DVD.” (It remains the world’s top-selling TV-to-DVD series.)

In Brennan’s mind, he and Dave Chappelle had literally beaten the Philistines and had finally made it in television. But, as Chappelle told Oprah, this was not at all true. When Brennan discusses the demise of the show, he discusses it as a conflict about renegotiating the terms of the third season. Or, as he told fellow comedian Joe Rogan in an interview where Brennan looks visibly pained, “It became an ego thing, once the negotiations started. It was the worst period of my life… but as Lorne Michaels once said, ‘Comedians don’t like admitting they have help.’” Brennan says that at the height of the contretemps, they both said awful things to each other. When Chappelle discusses his exit, he does not deny that things went haywire, but he attributes it mostly to his discomfort with the material, the politics of the show, and the climate on the set. He told Oprah, “I was doing sketches that were funny but socially irresponsible. It was encouraged. I felt I was deliberately being encouraged and I was overwhelmed.”

I ask an older friend who is black and a theorist of sorts what he thinks about Chappelle’s Show. I get an answer that surprises me with its vitriol: “Chappelle was at the end of the one-hundred-and-fifty-year minstrel cycle and fifty years after the height of the civil rights movement and ten years after the beginning of Southern hip-hop and in the midst of the most coonish aspects of dirty South hip-hop. He wrung the last bits of potential energy out of taboos that had been in guarded reserve that show niggas as violent, unintelligent, unlettered beasts. And he portrayed niggas that way (while maintaining an ironic distance from those caricatures). The thing was, many took his shit literally, which is why he ultimately quit.” I go back and watch “The Mad Real World” sketch, a spoof of the MTV reality show. In the sketch a white man moves into a house full of black roommates and, in the ensuing weeks, his father is stabbed while visiting, his blond girlfriend is turned out by two guys, and the living room is regularly transformed into a makeshift nightclub. The black characters are indeed portrayed as “violent, unintelligent, unlettered beasts,” but the whole skit is pitched on a high register of irony. When I ask Brennan how he dealt with backlash about the show’s use of the n-word and its edgy racial humor, he objects. “As much as people say that about Chappelle’s Show, no one ever got pissed. People ask, ‘Were you worried?’ and it’s like, no, because it was all founded on real, empirical observations and lived lives. Like, that ‘Real World’ sketch was a discussion we had been having for a decade about black people on The Real World. The guy who pulled the blanket off the girl was Dave’s best friend. So we knew what that shit was like.

“Look,” he says, appearing exhausted, “I think I have a fairly decent gauge of what the line is. It is not perfect, but, like, I say the n-word eight times in my stand-up. And it works. People can tell if you mean it. And the other thing is I never say it, I’m always paraphrasing someone. And… I open up by shitting on white people. And pedigree. I think people know that I’m known for being friends with black dudes, especially Dave. And I talk about that, I talk about being called it. I talk about the first time I was called the n-word. I get called the n-word every day. I can show you texts.”

Scrolling through his phone without looking up, he tells me, “So it is a weird thing where you expect me to inhale something and not exhale. And people are like, ‘You can’t say that.’ But I get called it every day. Constantly, for twenty years.”

Later on, Brennan brings up an idea first posited by the psychologist Beverly Tatum about the ways we tend to segregate ourselves as we get older and grow apart from our friends of different races. Neal tells me, “It’s like when black kids sit at the lunch table with only black kids, and the white kids sit with white kids. I think it is just like, ‘Well, they look like family.’ It is just some animal shit. It is safety.” When I read Tatum’s book, she says something that sticks with me: that so often the difficultly in discussing race is about working around the divide of that which we do not know. As I listen to Brennan talk, I think about how he is right, that comedy is different. Comedians live for the joke and the joke alone. White writers have long written jokes for black comics with great success (my favorites being Ed. Weinberger for Bill Cosby and Louis C.K. for Chris Rock), but at the same time none of this goodwill can negate the possibility that Chappelle experienced what his mother had written about twenty years before: the desire to “learn to know himself again.” And that for all the post–civil rights progress we have made, it is possible that you could be best friends with someone of a different race without being able to enter worlds and spaces that they can, or in the way that they do.

After two hours of remarkably easy conversation, I can tell it is time for the moment I’ve been clenching my fist about. Maybe he had needed to feel me out. Neal Brennan, who definitely embodies the best of the easy wit of Chappelle’s Show, goes for it.

“The joke in my act is: ‘It is so bad I call myself it when no one’s around.’ It will be lunchtime and I’m like, Nigga, you need to eat. And I’m like, Who are you talking to?”

My hand unclenches. His n-word joke reminded me of the weird moments when I’ve been around young white men who identify with hip-hop culture and who, for some strange reason, despite their stated best intentions, need to access that word as proof that they are accepted or acknowledged by the community they are involved with. They do not realize the hubris and dominance inherent in the act of wanting to use that word. Brennan’s joke is a joke on those guys, but it is also, inadvertently, a joke on himself. I think he knows this. Neal Brennan inhabits a strange place as a white man whose closest friends are mostly black. But what, if anything, does that mean? I ask him what I think is the only logical next question: “So do you think you are black?”

“No!” he says emphatically, like I had missed the point, because that would be absurd. “I also think that is a silly thing. Like I’ve never spoken Ebonics.”

“Do you think that you’re a racist?” I ask, but not because I think Brennan is any more racist than any other white person, especially if racism is viewed as a system of white privilege and unearned benefits. I ask this because part of knowing where the line is is knowing where you situate yourself along it or against it.

“Uh, I think that everybody is racist. It is a natural human condition. It’s tribal.”

Another evening, Brennan and I talk about what the ride of success felt like. He remembers hanging out at a club in Arizona where he and Chappelle were approached by a white fan who was loose with his use of the word nigger and who praised Chappelle for making it so funny. “It was awful,” Brennan recalls.

The thing is, I like Neal Brennan. And I got the joke, I think. But when he first told it to me, there was an awkward silence that I think both Brennan and I noticed. The cafeteria seemed to swell with noise. And for a brief moment, my head clouded, and there was nothing I could think of to say, so to get out of the silence, I did what was expected: I laughed. When I got home, this troubled me deeply.

You can’t say anything real when it comes to race. That’s why Bill Cosby’s in such trouble for saying black folks have got to take responsibility for their own lives. I spoke at my high school last week and I told them, ‘You’ve got to focus. Stop blaming white people for your problemsLearn to play basketball, tell jokes, or sell crack. That’s the only way I’ve seen people get out.’

—Dave Chappelle

Last time I was down South I walked into this restaurant, and this white waitress came up to me and said: “We don’t serve colored people here.” I said: “That’s all right, I don’t eat colored people. Bring me a whole fried chicken.”

—Dick Gregory, Nigger

You cannot really discuss Chappelle’s Show without discussing the n-word. One also cannot discuss the n-word without discussing Dick Gregory. Neal Brennan and Dave Chappelle weren’t even born yet when Dick Gregory bounded onto the American comedy scene and asked to stand flat-footed or to sit down and be spoken to like a man. Yvonne Seon tells me that when Dick Gregory campaigned for president in 1968, “we all had our eyes on him.” Dick Gregory is a larger-than-life sort of man. To reach him, you have to get past his wife of fifty years, Miss Lillian. “You were lucky,” Gregory tells me. “She is tough. She once told the president I’d have to call him back.”

Although things have slowed down from the days when he commanded a weekly rate of something just shy of fifteen thousand bucks, when the only peers in his earning bracket were Woody Allen, Mort Sahl, and Lenny Bruce, Dick Gregory is still on the move. All of his activity is made even more remarkable by the fact that he is now eighty. He still runs and does regular juice fasts, and his long white beard makes him look like a Methuselah among men. And maybe he is. Richard Pryor once said: “Dick was the greatest, and he was the first. Somebody had to break down that door. He was the one.”

Before Dick Gregory, there were no elegant black men in comedy. The generation before Dick Gregory’s grew up on Stepin Fetchit, the stage name of a black actor named Lincoln Perry and one of America’s most famous black personalities for more than twenty years. These days it is difficult to find clips of Stepin Fetchit and the existing films are rarely shown. Stepin Fetchit acts like a shuffling, befuddled fool, and because of this many of Perry’s films have been deemed offensive. Little remains to show his enormous influence on- and off-camera: he was the first black A-list actor, a millionaire during the Great Depression; he owned a fleet of limos and sports cars and he employed a retinue of Asian maids and butlers. He carried guns, he wrote essays for black newspapers, he was handsome, he was a Hollywood outlaw—but none of that mattered on-screen. On-screen he stooped his neck, and dropped his bottom lip, and acted as shiftless and stupid as possible. Stepin Fetchit is the id figure, in characterization only, that sits on Chappelle’s shoulder in one of his skits and demands that Chappelle make himself happy and order chicken during a flight. It is not the chicken that is the problem, it is the familiarity of the characterization. That whether Chappelle liked it or not, whether Dick Gregory liked it or not, this was the precedent.

“When the Playboy Club brought me in,” Dick Gregory recalls, “up until then you could sing, you could dance, but you could not stand flat-footed and talk and just tell jokes, because the people upstairs didn’t want folks to know just how intelligent black folks were. [The Playboy Club] brought me in, though, and it opened up the floodgates. Now,” he says, “Will Smith’s movies alone have made three billion dollars.” Dick Gregory’s gig at the Playboy Club started in 1961, and three years later he would write his memoir, entitled Nigger. This is the part of his dedication to his mother that is often quoted:

“Dear Momma—Wherever you are, if you ever hear the word ‘nigger’ again, remember they are advertising my book.”

When I suggest to Gregory that he used his comedy as a weapon, he shouts, “What?” so loud I get scared. “How could comedy be a weapon? Comedy has got to be funny. Comedy can’t be no damn weapon. Comedy is just disappointment within a friendly relation.” Chappelle, he says, was very good at it. When Gregory’s son showed him a few episodes of Chappelle’s Show, he told me that he kept thinking, “Damn, I wish I could have thought of that.” Then Gregory volunteers to tell me the names of the three greatest comedians of all time, and in a proud and awesomely fraternal way, he says, in order: “Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and Mark Twain.”

“Yes,” I say. “But isn’t it difficult to be that profane and that profound, in droves, especially as Twain in Pudd’nhead Wilson?”

“Did you say Pudd’nhead Wilson?” Gregory shouts.

“Yes,” I say, scared again that I’ve said the wrong thing.

Pudd’nhead Wilson! Brilliant stuff! I could kiss you! Mmhm,” he says. “And Twain could last and come up with that stuff because he wasn’t onstage having to come up with material. But listen,” he says, waiting a beat. “Nobody said comedy was easy.”

Dick Gregory admires Mark Twain’s audacity as a white man to discuss race in America. He hates the idea of concealing the word nigger behind euphemisms like the n-word, and he seems to think it should be a shared burden. “Before Twain, no white people would ever write about lynchings. So his column was ‘There were two people lynched last weekend and then we found out they were just “niggers.”’ And then he did the whole article about how the good Christian church people were there. And the white women brought their babies and children were selling Kool-Aid and lemonade, like, ‘So what? They were just niggers!’ That was the first time that anyone in history wrote anything like that, nothing about those gatherings had ever been written about lynching! That had never been done before! And like that, that is comedy!” When I ask Estee Adoram, the lovely, legendary, no-nonsense booker at New York’s best comedy club, the Comedy Cellar, what sort of person becomes a stand-up comic, the first thing she says is “A very brave person. A person willing to be laughed at.”

When I read about Twain saying the word nigger, in the exact same way Neal Brennan did, it does not raise the hairs on my neck. I do not think we want censored comics. But I’m given pause. Estee tells me she can sense when there is “an unfunny bitterness behind the joke.” The fun of humor is the way it pushes at the boundaries. The joke is indeed a tricky thing. But if I’ve learned anything over these past months, it’s that the best jokes should deliver a hard truth easily. It is the difference between asking girls in the crowd how their butt-holes look—a roast my sister and I endured one night at a comedy club—and mastering the subtlety of the uniquely American art form of stand-up comedy. Dick Gregory has a joke for me:

So I’m standing at the airport and I see this white lady talking to her daughter. Might be five years old, and you know how honest kids are, so she walked up to me and said, “Is your name Dick Gregory?” And I said, “Yes.” And she said, “My mamma says you have a tail.” And I said, “Yes, and you tell her my tail is in my front.”

Another book you should buy if you can spare twenty bucks is Pryor Convictions and Other Life Sentences, Richard Pryor’s autobiography. In it, he tells of a dinner party thrown in his honor by Bobby Darin. Pryor is seated across from Groucho Marx, who told him “that he’d seen me on The Merv Griffin Show a few weeks earlier, when I’d guested with Jerry Lewis.”

It hadn’t been one of my better moments—Jerry and I had gotten laughs by spitting on each other, and Groucho, it turned out, had a few things to say about that.

“Young man, you’re a comic?” he asked.

“Yes,” I nodded. “Yes, I am.”

“So how do you want to end up? Have you thought about that? Do you want a career you’re proud of? Or do you want to end up a spitting wad like Jerry Lewis?”

The man was right… I could feel the stirrings of an identity crisis. It was coming on like the beginning of an acid trip. Groucho’s comments spoke to me. “Wake up, Richard. Yes, you are an ignorant jerk, pimping your talent like a cheap whore. But you don’t have to stay that way. You have a brain. Use it.”

The next sentence? “The thing was, I didn’t have to.”

The thing about Chappelle is that he wanted to use it, and he knew how. There is no doubt that Chappelle’s Show is his finest work, but the block party that he put on and filmed in Bed-Stuy in 2004 is also a revealing production in the sense that we get to see the comedian almost at rest, listening to the music he enjoys with his celebrity friends. I was there, both in the crowd and backstage, and there was a remarkable amount of solidarity, love, and exuberance even in the drizzly September rain. The kind that I can’t forget. Watching a triumphant Lauryn Hill resplendent in cream slacks and a Yankees cap, reunited with her bandmates from the Fugees. Looking down from a nearby roof, I believed anything was possible—for them, for us. Chappelle was the kind of celebrity who wanted to reach out to fans who looked like him, and it was clear that as much as he aspired to universality, he realized that “the bottom line was, white people own everything, and where can a black person go and be himself or say something that’s familiar to him and not have to explain or apologize?” So sometimes it was very nice to have, as the comic himself said, “Five thousand black people chillin’ in the rain,” like a Pan-African Congress right off of Putnam Avenue.

When I ask Yvonne Seon what she thinks about the n-word and how easily it is used these days in hip-hop culture, she says, “There has always been a tendency to try and rehab a word that has been used as an epithet for you. It’s a way of claiming something that hurt you, hoping that you can say, ‘Now this word won’t hurt me anymore.’ It’s a part of the attempted healing. When James Brown sang, ‘I’m black and I’m proud,’ that is an example of how he tried to rehabilitate that word. Because there was a time when I was growing up when you didn’t call anybody black unless you wanted to get knocked into next week. There was too much shame involved.”

“Do you think—” I start.

And she laughs and cuts me off with a question. “Do I think, like, ‘I’m black and I’m proud,’ ‘I’m a nigga and I am proud!’ could exist?” We both laugh at the absurdity, and also the very real possibility, of that song. “Hm,” she says. “I have trouble with the word nigga. I associate that word with lynching, violence, and hate, and I don’t associate the word black with that. But I do associate the word nigga with that history. So it’s not a term that I could ever use easily or encourage the use of. There have been articles written about teaching this history, and we’ve discussed them in my black studies class, but what usually happens is that the class eventually decides that they’re going to be part of the movement against the word nigger. Once they understand what the history is and what the word means, they stop using it and they encourage their friends to stop using it.”

“It is about choices,” I say, feeling guilty for a lot of reasons before she demurely stops me.

“Yes, it always is,” she says, “about choices.”

Just being a Negro doesn’t qualify you to understand the race situation any more than being sick makes you an expert on medicine.

—Dick Gregory

Tamra Davis, the director of Half Baked, is feeding her children, so she can’t say out loud the last lines of the movie she directed. These are lines she had to fight for, and, along with Brennan and Chappelle, she had to try to convince fifteen studio executives that they deserved to be in the movie. She tries to talk around the lines, but finally she whispers, “I love weed, love it! Probably always will! But not as much as I love pussy!” She giggles. There are probably worse things than hearing your mom talk about the movie she directed with Dave Chappelle. Tamra Davis is nonchalantly cool, despite having the distinction of having directed the early movies of Adam Sandler (Happy Gilmore) and Chris Rock (CB4). She grew up in California and has been around comedy all her life. Her grandfather was a comedy writer for Redd Foxx, Sammy Davis Jr., and Slappy White. She understands comedy instinctually, and knows that the difference between a writer and a comic is the energy and love a comic must bring to the stage, to the audience.

Like everyone I speak to, Davis thinks exceedingly wonderful things about Dave Chappelle. The man has a hagiography; I hear it from everyone: from Neal Brennan to a former executive of Comedy Central, who tells me, “I have so, so much respect for Dave. He is a great guy.” For all the bridges he has supposedly burned, Dave Chappelle is beloved. Tamra Davis is the most direct. “I just really think his voice is an important voice to be heard. I’ve spent my life working with young people who all of a sudden get launched into an incredible position of celebrity and fame and it’s very, very difficult to handle. And people handle it in different ways. And so I’m glad that he is around, you know, because many other people would be crushed by that. Having to have that inner dialogue in your head, knowing that everybody is talking about you. It’s a very difficult thing to have to navigate.”

What separated Dave Chappelle not just from Neal Brennan but also his fans is that he was suddenly vaulted into the awkward position of being the world’s most famous interlocutor in a conversation about race—the one conversation no one likes having. Yes, it is hard to look back. But it’s easy to understand why Chappelle was done with being misread, tired of explaining, finished talking. As Brennan, and then everyone else, told me: the man turned down fifty million dollars. You will never get him to speak with you.

“Beware, my body and my soul, beware above all of crossing your arms and assuming the sterile attitude of the spectator, for life is not a spectacle, a sea of griefs is not a proscenium, and a man who wails is not a dancing bear.”

—Aimé Césaire, Notebook of a Return to the Native Land

When a chance came to visit Yellow Springs, I had no expectation that Chappelle would be there. But I wanted to see it. In Yellow Springs, I met Yvonne Seon. We had a good time. We discussed my wedding, we discussed Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and she introduced me to her family. It was a lovely day. Idyllic, even. On my way out of town, I felt tired, so I stopped for some coffee at a local coffee shop. As I was paying, I saw a few guys out back in the garden, talking, and then I saw Dave Chappelle, in a weird white tank top that strained to contain his muscles. No longer lean. Well-defended.

So at a cash register in Yellow Springs I stood and watched as the person I had so badly wanted to talk to walked toward me. But when he said hello, I made a decision that—until my plane ride home—I kicked myself for. Moving on pure instinct, I simply said hello, turned and finished paying my bill, and left.

Did I mention that the light is beautiful at dusk in Yellow Springs? The people walk the streets, going to the grocery store or looking at the theater listings. There is a café that was once a house on the Underground Railroad that now serves delicious Reuben sandwiches and plays disco music. People say hello in passing, kids with Afros zip by on scooters. It is small-town America, but with hemp stores. I didn’t want to leave, because it seems like an easy place to live. Not without its problems, but a place with a quiet understanding that conversation is the minimum for living in a better world. You know, simple things.

At a memorial for his father a few years back, standing next to his mother at the podium at Antioch College, Dave Chappelle ended his speech by thanking the community of Yellow Springs. “So,” he said, “thank you to you all for giving my father a context where he could just exist and be a good dude, because to be a good dude, as many good dudes have shown you before, is just not a comfortable thing to be. It’s a very hard thing to aspire to. And so thanks for honoring him, because sometimes it is a lonely, quiet road when you make a decision to try to transcend your own demons or be good or whatever he was trying to do here.”

In my car’s rearview mirror, it doesn’t seem strange to me at all that I am watching America’s funniest comic standing in a small town, smoking cigarettes and shooting the shit with his friends. Like everyone else on the street, one friend is white, the other is black—the only difference being that they are with Dave. But here Dave is just Dave. Totally uninterrupted, unheckled, free to be himself, free to have a family, and land, and time to recover. Time to be complicated, time to be a confessed fan of fame who one day decided that it was important to learn to be himself again. Chappelle took a drag on his cigarette, and laughed, and it was apparent that he was doing what he said he wanted most in life: having fun and being funny. So, for better or for worse, I took this to be my answer.

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4 days ago
"For all the post–civil rights progress we have made, it is possible that you could be best friends with someone of a different race without being able to enter worlds and spaces that they can, or in the way that they do."
San Francisco, CA
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Jennifer Lawrence And The History Of Cool Girls

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What’s your favorite Jennifer Lawrence moment? When she tripped on the way to accept her Academy Award, or when the paparazzi snapped photos of her drinking Veuve Cliquot straight out of the bottle? Or maybe it was the ease with which she regaled Conan O’Brien with a tale of butt plugs, or the Vine of her spilling mints in the middle of press conference? My personal moment happened backstage at the Oscars, when, with the help of a mildly lecherous Jack Nicholson, she turned the normally banal post-win interview into a master class in charm. He sneaks up on her, she freaks and fangirls out, they do some weird flirting, and when Nicholson leaves, Lawrence just loses it: “OH MY GOD,” she gasps, her face in her hands.

And there it was, my moment: I loved her. I had admired her acting years before, in

Winter’s Bone

, but this was something different. From that point forward, I was powerless before her charm. But what made that exact moment — and others like it — so effective? Stars are charming all the time. Anne Hathaway, who also won an Oscar that night for Best Supporting Actress, is a veritable charm machine. But that’s just it: Hathaway seems like a very talented, very well-programmed


, while Lawrence seems like a weird, idiosyncratic, charismatic


. She’s never polished; she’s always fucking up. On the red carpet, in paparazzi photos, and in acceptance speeches, she seems to just “be herself,” which means anything from flipping off the camera to reacting with horror when someone spoils Season 3 of


on the red carpet. She is the living, breathing embodiment of

Us Weekly

’s “Stars: They’re Just Like Us.”

But is Jennifer Lawrence really just like us? She has a stunningly beautiful face and an equally fantastic body. She’s now nominated for her third Academy Award, and she’s also the star of the highest-grossing movie of the year. She’s award-collecting director David O. Russell’s favorite new muse. She’s operating on another level.

Then again, she’s also the girl who has gastrointestinal distress and talks about it on national television. She grew up in Kentucky on a broad swath of land, where, as the kid sister to two older brothers, she spent a lot of time fishing and tomboying around; in her own unfortunate


, “I was so dykey.” Her nickname was “Nitro,” and instead of spending time at Claire’s with the middle school girls after school, she played on the all-boys basketball team. By the age of 14, she was pushing her parents to take her to New York to start her acting career — just in time to extract her from the high school gender politics that could have made her self-conscious of the sort of frankness we now so closely associate with the J.Law image.

And it’s an image that keeps amplifying: She may have shed her tomboy pastimes, but she still loves fries, pizza, and Doritos — which she recently confessed to getting all over her American Hustle costumes. She talks about food, and her voracious appetite, constantly. She photobombs like a boss. She hates exercising and promises to punch anyone who says “I like exercising” in the face. Girls love her, guys desire her. I love J.Law, you love J.Law, everybody loves J.Law.

But, no, she’s not like us. She’s like a perfect character out of a book. Specifically, a book by Gillian Flynn called Gone Girl (currently being developed into a David Fincher movie), in which a main character describes a very particular yet familiar archetype:

“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.”

The Cool Girl has many variations: She can have tattoos, she can be into comics, she might be really into climbing or pickling vegetables. She’s always down to party, or do something spontaneous like drive all night to go to a secret concert. Her body, skin, face, and hair all look effortless and natural — the Cool Girl doesn’t even know what an elliptical machine would look like — and wears a uniform of jeans and tank tops, because trying hard isn’t Cool. The Cool Girl has a super-sexy ponytail.

The Cool Girl never nags, or “just wants one” of your chili fries, because she orders a giant order for herself. She’s an ideal that matches the times — a mix of feminism and passivity, of confidence and femininity. She knows what she wants, and what she wants is to hang out with the guys.

Cool Girls don’t have the hang-ups of normal girls: They don’t get bogged down by the patriarchy, or worrying about their weight. They’re basically dudes masquerading in beautiful women’s bodies, reaping the privileges of both. But let’s be clear: It’s a performance. It might not be a conscious one, but it’s the way our society implicitly instructs young women on how to be awesome: Be chill and don’t be a downer, act like a dude but look like a supermodel.

You probably know someone playing a Cool Girl in real life, and you probably resent her — unless you’re a straight dude, in which case you probably think she’s great. But Lawrence performs Cool Girlness with such skill, such seamlessness, that it doesn’t seem like a performance at all. I’m not suggesting that Lawrence is intentionally inauthentic, scheming, or manipulative: Rather, like all the Cool Girls you know, she’s subconsciously figured out what makes people like her, and she’s using it. But is this persona truly “cool,” or is it a reflection of society’s unreasonable and contradictory expectations of women?

Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images

Jennifer Lawrence is by no means the first nationally visible Cool Girl. Olivia Munn, Olivia Wilde, and Mila Kunis are recent also-rans, but the Cool Girl has a genealogy that traces all the way back to silent Hollywood. Famous Cool Girls are women who became stars during periods of societal anxiety over increasing freedoms for women, and as people quietly wondered whether women, once emancipated, would become homely, castrating bitches. Cool Girls have been proof positive that a woman could be liberated and progressive and yet pleasing to men, both in appearance and in action.

Yet the Cool Girl’s cool is ephemeral. We’ve been anticipating the J.Law backlash for months, but if and when it comes, it’ll have less to do with Lawrence and more to do with the need for a new articulation of the Cool Girl to keep the myth alive. This is an anxiety that needs constant soothing, and one star can provide only so much reassurance. One minute you’re cool, perfectly balancing the progressive and the regressive, but when that balance falters, you’re too much, too sexual, too loud, too performative, and the cultural backlash sweeps you under.

Clara Bow never stopped moving. On screen, in interviews, running from one date to the next, even standing, she was like toddler constantly rocking back from heel to toe. She had short, flaming red hair, a thick Brooklyn accent, and horrible manners; instead of dining with the stodgy Hollywood elite, she spent her weekends hanging out at the USC football games, flirting with the players, including a young, pre-stardom John Wayne. Over the course of the ‘20s, Bow became the flapper par excellence: In films like Dancing Mothers, she drank and danced the Charleston and rode in cars with boys; in It, she became the biggest star in the world — and the first Cool Girl.

Photoplay Magazine Publishing Company

As a kid, Bow spent most of her time trying to play with boys: hanging out at the dirt baseball diamond like a scene straight from a

League of Their Own

. But she was the Madonna, not the Rosie O’Donnell; as she recalled in a three-part fan magazine profile, “I always played with the boys. I never had any use for girls and their games. I never had a doll in all my life. But I was a good runner, I could beat most of the boys and I could pitch.” As she aged, the tomboy stuck: Even in high school, she wore hand-me-down skirts and old sweaters: “I didn’t give a darn about clothes or looks. I only wanted to play with the boys.”

But it didn’t matter how much Bow dismissed clothes, or makeup, or other girls. She had the one thing that a girl really needs to succeed: a stunning face. And it was that face, entered into a magazine contest, that earned Bow her chance at stardom. At first, she struggled to find roles — her face was round and innocent, but her eyes gave off something wild and electric. She couldn’t play the slinky, vampish roles then dominated by Gloria Swanson, but neither was she a Mary Pickford-esque good girl. Where Swanson was angular, Bow was round; where Swanson moved languidly, Bow ricocheted across the room.

Bow didn’t fit the Hollywood mold — but then, over the course of three manic years, she transformed the mode entirely. The vamp and the good girl were out; the flapper, of which Bow was labeled the most vibrant example, was in. Everyone knows the flapper stereotype: endlessly dancing the Charleston, with drop-waisted, heavily fringed dresses and finger curls. But that’s just the Halloween costume version of the flapper. Flappers were, in truth, an amplified version of the “New Woman” — a type that F. Scott Fitzgerald famously described as “lovely, expensive, and about 19.” After the first World War, the continued spread of modernity, combined with growing rights for women, made it possible for more and more young, single women to move to cities, where they lived with other women, went to movies, road streetcars, and used their wages to buy things, especially clothes.

By the mid-‘20s, the cities were filled with millions of these New Women, and the most visible and vibrant ones, including Bow herself, became the flappers of the public imagination. Bow rarely wore the fringed dresses we associate with the type; instead, she wore a cloche-style hat over her unruly, flaming red hair, along with drop-waisted gauzy shifts and a noted lack of bra. But Bow was no waif: She had luscious, perky breasts; the effect when she bounced across, however, wasn’t obscene so much as joyful.

On screen, Bow’s characters reveled in everything: walking, dancing, drinking, flirting, even just being in their own bodies. There’s a perfect scene from Dancing Mothers when Bow fights her way into a suitor’s apartment, grabs the cocktail shaker from the butler, and takes a huge drink, and shivers with delight as the alcohol makes its way through her body.

See the way everything about her feels like a wink? How natural and easy life seems to her? Textbook Cool Girl. Clara Bow wasn’t just hot: She was fun. She never nagged, or stayed home watching rom-coms; she never complained, or was scared or shy. She had loads of “It” — a word that came, in the late ‘20s, to stand in for sex appeal. But It was more than just sexiness. As defined by Photoplay, It was a “sort of invisible aura that surrounds your being and bathes you in its effulgence” — and anyone with It is “always utterly un-self-conscious and perfectly indifferent and unaware of anyone’s interest in her. The moment self-consciousness enters into the affair, ‘It’ departs.”

Bow acknowledged that the It quality attributed to her came from her “fearlessness”: “Perhaps I’m just a regular girl, a tomgirl, one that doesn’t think of men much, maybe it’s my indifference to them.” And therein lies the crux of the Cool Girl, adapted from One Direction: She doesn’t care if she’s beautiful; that’s what makes her beautiful.

Bow’s nonchalance was by no means limited to the screen. She showed up for interviews in outfits thrown together from her closet (in 1927: “a white flannel sport outfit — no sleeves, very short” with “white kid sandals, no hose, and a jaunty little blazer cap”), she loved to gamble, and she plowed through men. Gary Cooper, director Victor Fleming, Gilbert Roland, Yale student Robert Savage — she was engaged (and quickly unengaged) to them all once she grew tired of making out with them. She was a man-eater, but it wasn’t on purpose: She just loved hanging out with men, and “engagements” were the easiest way to do so.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

And for a while, Bow’s strategy worked perfectly. At the height of her popularity, she received 45,000 fan letters a week — and her trademark “bee-stung” lips and red hair were emulated en masse, sending sales of henna through the roof. But by 1930, the public began to grow weary with her. She found herself “engaged” to yet another man, but instead of celebrating the new dalliance, the press ridiculed it. When the still-engaged Bow was caught in Dallas flirting with her very married doctor — all while exchanging sexy telegrams with actor Rex Bell — she didn’t seem like a Cool Girl so much as a caricature of one. She began amassing giant gambling debts, claiming not to have noticed the difference between $14,000 and $1,400, and the gossip columnists began to tease her openly about her weight gain.

But things were about to get much worse: In the fall of 1930, Bow discovered her former hairdresser and current confidant Daisy DeVoe had been skimming her accounts. Bow fired her immediately and filed charges against her, but before the case went to trial, DeVoe took her revenge, selling “secrets” of Bow’s private life to a local tabloid. The “secrets” were total bombast — Bow slept with dogs; Bow slept with the entire USC football team; Bow had every strain of VD — and everyone knew the paper was trash. But they stuck: Bow was, after all, a confident, shameless girl; who’s to say she wouldn’t have behaved that way?

And so the patina of Cool Girl left Bow behind. After a humiliating trial that damaged Bow more than DeVoe, she retreated to the desert with new husband Rex Bell. An attempted comeback, making light of the allegations against her, fell flat. In the depths of the Depression, the flapper — and, by extension, Bow — wasn’t a Cool Girl, or an It Girl, but a tired, forgotten woman who quickly receded in the public imagination. Today, the biggest star of the late ‘20s is remembered mostly via Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon, which reproduced the most salacious of the tabloid rumors about her. But for a handful of years in the late ‘20s, Bow was the bee’s knees.

Getty Images / Hulton Archive

As Bow was receding from Cool Girl light, another star was gearing up, however slowly, to take her place. Carole Lombard would become one of the definitive screwball heroines of her time, best known for her manic turn in My Man Godfrey and for becoming the love of Clark Gable’s life. Screwball heroines are, in truth, just variations on the Cool Girl, generally distinguished by their ability to keep pace (verbally, mentally, slapstickally) with the boys. They might wear fine clothes, but they’re never shown primping or mooning; like all Cool Girls, they’re effortlessly beautiful, but that beauty is matched by either wit or charm.

Like Bow, Lombard started out as a tomboy: She was playing baseball in the streets when a scout singled her out and cast her in A Perfect Crime. She spent some time as a Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty, and with her marriage to the dashing William Powell, she became the focus of fan magazine gossip. But her image was flat: In publicity shots, she was always frowning, and had a bored look that seemed to communicate over it.

But Lombard just hadn’t found an image that worked — until, that is, Howard Hawks cast her in

Twentieth Century

. Suddenly, Lombard, vaunted for her “femininity” and “sophistication,” was a madcap fireball streaking across the screen. The dark eyeliner and slicked hair that had made her look menacing was gone; in their place, dancing eyes and a slightly unruly bob. The role made her into a legitimate star — and completely changed the tenor of the press around her. Before, she was featured in articles like “Carole Lombard’s House Is a Background for a Blonde!”; now the newly single Lombard was “Hollywood’s Practical Joke Girl.” And she threw the


parties: At one, she arranged for compressed air spouts to be hidden throughout the house to surprise women as they passed by.

Over the next four years, Lombard’s image morphed more and more into that of the Cool Girl. She told Motion Picture that girls had two choices: Be modern (drive, play bridge, read, keep up with the latest plays, go in for sports with zest) or be a wallflower. She shit-talked snobbery in all its forms, declaring, “I can’t STAND affected people.” She was an excellent shot, and her house overflowed with animals, including dove, ducks, dogs, and a Bantam rooster. She regularly answered the phone with crazy accents, and refused to keep a standard dinner hour. As a fan magazine article on the “Lombard Asylum” made clear, she drove everyone around her bonkers — and they absolutely loved her.

Lombard was more sophisticated than Bow, but she had the same bald enthusiasm for life: “I love living,” she declared. “Eating, sleeping, and waking up again, skeet shooting, sitting around an old barn doing nothing, my work, taking a bath, talking my ears off, the little things, the big things, the simplest things, the most complicated things — I get a kick out of everything I do while I’m doing it. If I don’t love what I do I don’t DO it!” And she did it all with what she called “A Man’s Code”: In a 1937


article that reads like a Cool Girl guide book, she explained how, like a man, she never kissed and told; like a man, she paid her share; like a man, she maintained a sense of humor about everything. If women live by these rules, according to Lombard, they can be equal to men — but only if, above all else, she “keeps feminine.” In other words: Don’t give a shit, but

be hot


Lombard’s coolness was further ratified by her pairing with Clark Gable: Hollywood’s leading star and ultimate cad. The two had first met while co-starring in No Man of Her Own in 1932, but Lombard reportedly found Gable intolerable. When they met again at a friend’s “nervous breakdown”-themed party, Lombard arrived by ambulance, carried into the party on a stretcher — much to Gable’s delight.

Gable was technically married to his second wife, from whom he’d been separated for some time. But the Hollywood press loved a star romance and, with the help of Gable’s studio, crafted a series of narratives that helped make the romance look like destiny. Gable was a man’s man; he loved being dirty, being in the woods, doing man things. His first wife had been 20 years his senior; his second wife was a drag. But Lombard! She was a Cool Girl, and she was ready to go hang out at hunt camp with Gable.

That’s not even an exaggeration: Once linked to Gable, Lombard managed to become even


. A relationship didn’t make it her dull, or boring, or silly: She showed that a girl could be devoted


stay awesome. She and Gable rode around Ventura Boulevard in an jalopy, dressed in dirty overalls. They went to hole-in-the-wall Mexican joints before it was cool. She beat him at skeet shooting; she whupped him at tennis. He bought a ranch in the San Fernando Valley; she bought a ranch beside him.

But Lombard was no stage-nine clinger: No Cool Girl chases a dude. While all this was going down, she was negotiating a choice contract with Paramount, with even better terms than Gable’s. With choice of director, co-stars, and ultimate control over her publicity. It was an unprecedented deal, for a man or a woman — and highlighted just how un-passive she was, even if she was coupled with the uber-masculine Gable. When Lombard and Gable married in 1940, Lombard didn’t become his subject so much as his equal: They were constantly playing jokes on one another (Gable’s birthday cake to Lombard: “TO MAMMY ON HER 75TH BIRTHDAY”), and she hung out in the mud with him at hunting camp among the dudes, bagging her limit every day. As Motion Picture explained, “Carole is a man’s girl. Clark is a man’s man.”

Precisely. In short order, Gable and Lombard’s marriage became the envy of Hollywood — the Cool Girl meets her match, and they live happily ever after. But with the start of World War II, all Hollywood stars, male and female alike, were called upon to do their patriotic duty: appearing in training films and, most importantly, touring the nation selling war bonds. Which is precisely what Lombard was doing in her home state of Indiana when, on her way home, her plane crashed into the Sierra Nevadas, killing all on board. It was a national tragedy, and Lombard was broadly considered one of the first victims of the American war effort.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Lombard’s tragic death also preserved her in Cool perpetuity: She never grew old, or un-hot; the public never grew annoyed of stories of her knee-deep in the muck, and their marriage never had the chance to publicly fall apart. But Lombard’s Cool Girl was specific to the pre-war, Depression era: Her brand of fun was not only distinctly DIY, but focused on reaffirming the masculinity of the men around her. She had power, but that didn’t mean men didn’t — a crucial thought amid the thoroughly emasculating era of widespread joblessness, when many men’s sole understanding of themselves was unmoored.

It’s impossible to know how Lombard would’ve adapted her image to the changing times, and how her audience would’ve responded. What we do know, however, is that she died before the world had time to grow weary with her — which is, in no small part, why she lives on as a paragon of Cool Girlness, equal parts gorgeous and chill, effervescent and effortlessly sexual.

Your reaction to the name “Jane Fonda” depends wholly on your age: under 20, and she’s the lady from Monster-in-Law; under 35, and she’s the hero of your mom’s aerobics videos; under 55, she’s Hanoi Jane, the woman your dad cussed about at the dining room table; under 80 (and of a certain disposition), and she’s the progressive feminist gone rogue, the embodiment of all that plagued the New Left and the hard turn to the right that followed. But before Fonda was any of these things, she was the coolest thing the ‘60s had seen — a mix of fresh-faced Americana and potent sex appeal.

To understand young Jane Fonda, you have to understand what her father meant to mid-century America. Henry Fonda’s image was inflected with honesty, frankness, and indelible American work ethic; Jimmy Stewart was her godfather. As a teen, Fonda went to the best private schools, eventually spending two years at Vassar, but that’s when her all-American image began to crumple: When she realized she was wasting her father’s money and her friends were all waiting around getting MRS degrees, she took off for Paris, where she thought she’d become something like an bohemian artist.

So far, so cool: Cool Girls either have endless supplies of social capital or endless means of appropriating it. But as Fonda later explained, she was a crap painter, and returned back to the states in the late ‘50s, where she found her way to the Actor’s Studio and tried to connect to the electricity pulsing through Brando, Newman, and others espousing the Method.

While building her technique, Fonda took some modeling gigs — looking very fresh-faced on the cover of Vogue — and eventually landed a role as a cheerleader in Tall Story, a B-picture produced by her second godfather, Josh Logan. The role was pure cheesecake, but it put Fonda on the map: One review declared she had “a smile like her father’s and legs like a chorus girl.” From the beginning, however, Fonda was positioned as something a bit different: unlike a Hollywood glamour girl, Fonda was “surprisingly frank,” and refused most makeup, especially lipstick. In interviews, Fonda emphasized her lack of self-confidence: She was skinny before skinny was cool; small-breasted when Marilyn Monroe was the ideal.

Which was probably why it took Fonda so long to break through — that and her refusal to rely, at least wholly, on her father’s connections. Throughout the early ‘60s, she took a string of B-role parts, none remarkable. But she kept talking to the press: In 1961, she most famously asserted that “marriage is the bunk!” At this point, Fonda began to become something more than the sum of her privileged parts: She wasn’t following the Hollywood script. She told the Boston Globe that Vassar was a “one-idea school,” declaring, “If there’s one thing I’d hate to become, it’s a suburban housewife. I’ve never seen one who wasn’t so exhausted by her husband and kids she wasn’t ready to kill herself” — a startling sentiment when Hollywood’s leading female stars were Doris Day and Debbie Reynolds.

Fonda talked openly about her years in analysis, rebuking the publicity men who tried to hush her up. She was “almost masculine” in her “strongly held opinions”; she had an IQ of 132, she chewed two sticks of gum at a time, she bummed cigarettes from cabbies, and she loved staying up all night to paint, talk, whatever. She was like a ‘50s Beatnik — obsessed with art, Europe, the urban — yet, in her politics especially, she was anticipating the rise of the counterculture.

She got away with it, even without a hit movie, for two reasons: her father and her beauty. As one interviewer remarked, “Jane Fonda looks exactly like her father. Same clear look. Same boyish shoulders and long legs. Every now and then I had the upsetting feeling I was admiring Henry Fonda’s ankles.” Her beauty was natural. She always wanted to be a boy, and felt most comfortable around them. She was confident in herself and dismissive of those who weren’t.

In 1964, Fonda was fed up with her American parts, and sought out the French director Roger Vadim, best known for his marriage to French star Brigitte Bardot, whom he directed in …And God Created Women and transformed into an international sexpot. He’d also had a public affair with Catherine Deneuve, fathering a child yet never marrying. Along with Godard and Truffaut, Vadim was the embodiment of the French New Wave — the ultimate in cool.

With Vadim, Fonda made two very European, very New Wave films, both involving a not insignificant amount of nudity — enough, in fact, for the film to be banned in Italy, and


to buy shots from the set and publish them in their 1966 issue. These early Vadim films had little success stateside, but no matter: The photos spoke for themselves.

As Vadim explained, he was helping Fonda be “more herself.” Unlike other Hollywood actresses, she could “let herself go: it’s the difference between Doris Day and Marilyn Monroe.” And the nudity wasn’t slutty: “There’s nothing wrong with nudity if it’s tastefully done,” she told the Chicago Tribune. When Newsweek ran a story about “The Permissive Society” in 1967, they put a picture of Fonda, naked from behind, on its cover.

Today, that sort of blatant self-objectification is par for the course: Everyone from reality stars to Jennifer Aniston has taken their clothes off for the covers of




. Yet at the time, Fonda’s nudity signaled a distinctly new direction for female stardom: If her father, and the female stars who rose through the ranks with him, were still posing for respectable studio shots, then Fonda was not only fleeing the American studios altogether, but making the core of Hollywood stardom — namely, sex — explicit, instead of cloaked in layers of Freudian innuendo. Many people didn’t embrace Fonda’s new sexual image, but its very existence was a testament to the ever more porous boundaries of American morality.

But is nudity tantamount to cool? Not exactly. What made Fonda “cool,” then, was the honesty with which she talked about the nude scenes; with the same sort of frankness that she discussed her years in therapy, she admitted that she often had to take “a couple of drinks and some tranquilizers” to relax enough to get naked. She might look like Bardot, but beneath it all, she was still a bit of a bashful American girl.

And then there was


. Today, the film reads as pure camp, but at the time, Vadim and Fonda were trying to do something distinctly subversive with it. Sure,


was a sci-fi sex goddess; but the future was also an opportunity for a woman to wield an almost patriarchal power. It wasn’t a joke, or a spoof, or trick: It was high-minded and political, yet pulp.

Was Fonda in on the joke? Was it a joke? That was the tension that made her cool. But over the next two years, the casual, self-mocking tone, the very heart of the Cool Girl, began to fade. She’d still make frank comments like “Sure, I’ve taken pot. But I prefer a good drink,” though she was also vowing that she’d never feed her newly born daughter anything out of a can. She was “an exponent of bralessness” and called all foundation garments “stupid harnesses,” but she was talking a bit too much about how she got all of her clothes at local flea markets. Very gradually, the Cool Girl-ness seemed less like her authentic self and more like a very serious and high-minded performance.

Take the example of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They, in which Fonda played a disillusioned Depression-era girl who enters a dance marathon in hopes of winning the grand prize. It’s an amazing performance, but the film’s premise — and its devastating ending — lack the whimsy, tinged with ridiculous, that made her early image fascinating.

Fonda was nominated for an Oscar, but this wasn’t like Lawrence’s nominations or the swirl of winning sound bites that accompanied them. Because weeks before the ceremony even took place, Fonda’s image took a drastic turn to the left. On March 8, 1970, she was arrested with a group of Native Americans trying to occupy Fort Lewis outside of Seattle; from there, she began a whirlwind tour of college campuses, speaking out against the United States involvement in Vietnam. At University of Maryland, she declared that “the army builds a tolerance for violence, and also a tolerance for losing one’s constitutional rights. I find that intolerable,” and she was banned for life from Fort Meade for seeking antiwar support from current GIs. When asked whether he and Fonda would be seeking divorce, Vadim responded, “At the moment, Jane’s making a revolution and I’m minding the baby.”

Over the course of the next year, Fonda’s politics only became more pronounced. She allowed the Black Panthers to use her New York condo as a meeting place; she announced plans to launch an investigation of Vietnam war crimes; she was arrested on drug smuggling charges in Cleveland. The “drugs” were vitamins, but the arrest highlighted just how much of a menace Fonda had become to the American government. She sold her home and her wardrobe; she fasted in Colorado and declared herself “a revolutionary.” She only stopped protesting long enough to play a call girl in the feminist masterpiece Klute, earning her second Best Actress nomination in three years. The va-va-voom hair had already been shorn in 1968 for They Shoot Horses, but now Fonda sported a distinctive shag — what we’d call a mullet — maintained, according to reports, by a male barber. She wore a shapeless military coat and pantsuits; she traveled to Vietnam to experience firsthand what the men of her generation were experiencing, eventually earning her the moniker of “Hanoi Jane.”

The Cool Girl had gone rogue, and the world soured on her accordingly. Fonda had embraced sex, sure, but she’d always been a tomboy. In the early ‘60s, the outspokenness and rejection of norms of femininity had made her seem a bit madcap and awesome; taken to its natural extension, she became an unruly, un-American woman — and most certainly not “cool.” Between 1971 and 1977, every film she touched flopped, and she gradually became the signifier for the misguided and ultimately impotent aims of the New Left. Her image would only be rehabilitated in the 1980s with a hard swing to the right, a marriage to one of the least cool capitalists, and an embrace of aerobics. The Cool Girl, then, turned Soccer Mom.


We’d like to think of “cool” as connotative of something progressive, even radical. But Cool Girls are neither, at least not precisely. We love them because they seem to offer an alternative to the polished, performative femininity visible in both our stars and our peers. Because they “don’t give a shit”; because they don’t truck with the regulations and rules of dating and mean-girling that prove so infuriating. But to be “cool” is to tread a fine line between something different, something almost masculine, but never anything too masculine, or assertive, or independent. The Cool Girl can talk about poop, and video games, and eating Doritos, because those things are ultimately benign: Even with her short hair, Jennifer Lawrence still has the body and the face and the wardrobe that conforms to dominant beauty ideals.

We say we want to be Jennifer Lawrence’s BFF, but what does that mean? Like Bow, and Lombard, and early Fonda, she’d be so incredibly fun. But would she challenge us to think differently about ourselves or the world? And if — or when — she does, will we still like her so much?

We dispose of even our most beloved female stars with startling swiftness, changing celebrity best friends the way 7-year-olds switch real ones. The Cool Girl will stay safe, but what does our swift embrace and rejection of its proxies communicate about our standards for women in the actual world?

Stefania D'Alessandro / WireImage

CORRECTION: Jennifer Lawrence told her amazing story of butt plugs to Conan O’Brien. An earlier version of this piece stated that it was David Letterman, who probably would have been considerably more embarrassed. (2/28/14)

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17 days ago
This piece is so great. "One minute you’re cool, perfectly balancing the progressive and the regressive, but when that balance falters, you’re too much, too sexual, too loud, too performative, and the cultural backlash sweeps you under."
San Francisco, CA
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BLAH: A Lifestyle Magazine for the Depressed Woman

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Are You a BLAH Girl? Take Our Quiz and Find Out!

Pick the phrase that best describes how you feel about yourself on a typical day:

a) My 12-year-old self would be disappointed
b) Mayor of Crap Town
c) Have lost all connection with self, am dry husk
d) This isn’t a good time

Getting Out of Bed

What fresh hell is this? Oh, daytime. Is there a point? Well, can you still feel the crushing weight of existential dread pressing down, forcing the air from your lungs until each breath is more shallow and desperate? Yes?

Congratulations, there is no point. Hit the snooze button just right and you can relive this horrifying realization of your own cosmic irrelevance two or three more times in the next 30 minutes.

Prepping Your Face for the Bathmat

So you made it out of bed before peeing yourself and now you need a rest. But the couch is way too far away and you’re not yet ready to admit that you won’t be bathing today. Again! What to do? Why not just slide down off the toilet and take a rest on that nice, plush bathmat? The one the two of you bought on your last trip to IKEA together, when you had so much fun pointing out all the couples fighting with each other. Remember how you took that bathmat and the new shoe rack he bought you to your favorite neighborhood bar and laughed about it? You were a fun girlfriend. What’s that smell? Probably mildew. This place is a shithole.

The Latest Fashions for Shut-Ins

Is it clean? Wear it. Is it dirty? Have you smelled it? Wear it. Is it on you right now? Keep wearing it. Is it chafing? Cut the waistband.

Wine Pairings for Yet Another Night In

When choosing the right wine for your Saturday night at home alone, let your nose guide you. If it smells like alcohol, you’re on your way. Red goes well with rich, hearty fare like Pepperoni Pizza Hot Pockets, while white nicely compliments lighter cuisine like Pepperoni Pizza Lean Pockets. Breathing note: after opening the wine, pour yourself a glass and leave the bottle on the kitchen counter. Sit down and drink the glass. This counts as one glass per sitting. Repeat as necessary throughout the night. You are definitely not an alcoholic if you’re only drinking one glass per sitting, even if the sittings are twenty minutes apart; it’s science. You definitely are getting fat, though.

People Who Just Don’t Get It

Your parents. Your boss. Your friends. Everyone.

Spotlight on Health: Lexapro or Lexa-con?

Yes, you’re still on antidepressants, but it’s just temporary, to get you through a rough patch. Only ten milligrams a day. Maybe fifteen if you’re on your period. Your therapist agrees that it was a bad idea to try to get off of it in the first place, so what does your mom have to say now? That you have a weakness of character? Well whose fault is that? You didn’t ask for this family. 

New Advancements in Staring

Possible places to cast your lifeless gaze: the wall, the ceiling, a muted television, the lips of whoever happens to be speaking, the bracelet you admired at an art fair that he bought in secret and saved for your birthday, piles of dirty laundry, a pan of brownies with all the edge pieces cut out, pictures from when you were too young to know what a disappointment you would be, the nest of your own hair piling up in the corner, your side-of-knee fat, the phone, the floor.

Holiday Travel


Profile: That Smug Couple Next Door

There’s something sad behind her eyes, don’t you think? Especially when she talks about her husband. Have you ever actually seen them together? They barely touch. She seems to spend a lot of money on clothes, but she always looks a little droopy. He’s decent-looking, but probably afraid of being alone. I feel sorry for people like them, spending Saturday night with their boring couple friends playing board games about resource management or some shit. Drinking craft beer doesn’t make game night less lame. He kind of had a thing for me once but I thought his head was too pointy.


ARIES: World of shit; TAURUS: Don’t bother; GEMINI: Give it up; CANCER: Glass totally empty; LEO: Stop looking at me like that; VIRGO: We all die alone; LIBRA: Goddamn it where’s the corkscrew; SCORPIO: No one will ever love you; SAGITTARIUS: Bottomless pit of despair; CAPRICORN: You’ve peaked; AQUARIUS: Your sister is the pretty one and the smart one; PISCES: Who cares.

Katherine Carlson is a writer and teacher in New York.

Art by known genius Maya West

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17 days ago
San Francisco, CA
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An Iranian Emigrant Woman Searches the World for a Sense of Home

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A few nights ago, I met an old friend for dinner at an Afghan restaurant in the East Village. He came from his uptown finance job, wearing a suit and carrying a long umbrella. I came from a downtown café where I had been writing, my hair a messy knot. In terms of work, lifestyle, and interests, we couldn’t be less alike. And yet, ordering our food was seamless. Though we hadn’t sat down for a meal together in years, we assumed we would eat family style and chose the foods that belonged to both our cultures, the ancient stuff that both Persians and Afghans claim—eggplant stewed with lamb, basmati with raisins, yogurt and cucumber. Before long we fell into talk of his native Kabul and my native Isfahan with great nostalgia. Though we had each left as children under dangerous circumstances, we had never talked about it in any depth. We didn’t meet in an exile community, after all. He went to Harvard. I went to Princeton and we met as 22-year-old yuppies at McKinsey. Back then, we cringed at any mention of home.

Back then, we lied a lot.

Now at 34, after decades spent living and working in Europe, Asia, and on both American coasts, we marveled at how our disparate lives resembled each other in this one respect: we were uprooted, always searching for home. He showed me his college admission essay (posted on the Harvard College website) and it was all about freeing his young heart from the memories of Kabul and trying to make California home. I wonder if it worked. Maybe—it sure as hell never worked for me and I suspect that, in writing out the story, he was trying to convince himself.  He let me read the essay on his phone between bites of lamb. The last lines read: “Perhaps one day I will go back to see what is left after the years of war and strife and once again relax in our old backyard, or go to pick apples in an orchard in the Maymana district. But I will go back only to visit.”

Maybe to the admissions officers at Harvard, these lines showed resolve, hope, willpower. To me, it read like a boy under unfamiliar blankets, telling himself stories, repeating again and again, I love it here, I love it here, I love it here. This is precisely what I did at ten years old. This is what I do today, in every strange bed on every strange continent where I find myself suddenly living, a victim of my own wandering nature, the immigrant girl still flailing somewhere down deep.

“You seem much more authentic,” my friend said over dinner, “really comfortable in your skin.”
To me this is the highest compliment. To be authentic. Not a liar. I wonder if he is aware of this, given his own experience as a child immigrant. We’re not alone in our strange ways, after all. Many of our friends are thirty-something exiles, people who moved to the states at ten or eleven and grew up hungry to succeed in the Western way. Many of us grew up in poverty and became super-educated, over-achieving, highly nomadic. Displaced to the core, we fell into our work. We made money. We saw the world. And now …  a certain conversation keeps recurring: what is this skin I now inhabit? Where did home go? Why didn’t it wait for me? Is this instinct, or this one or this one, the natural or the refined, artificial version of me?  

As a child in Isfahan, I never wondered about the genuineness of anything I did. Of course this was me—who else would it be? I went to school with children that looked and talked like me, who found the same jokes funny and ate the same dishes for lunch. My father was from a small village that I visited every weekend, and even this didn’t make me an outsider. That tiny township, two rivers in the middle of a desert, claimed me as its own. I belonged to it. I showed off my village-girl accent, hamming it up for my Isfahan classmates. I had respect—I delighted in it.  

Then my mother took me (and my younger brother) out of Iran to escape the war and the hostile regime, and I spent two years as a refugee in Dubai and Rome. The Iran that had been my entire identity began to fall apart. My home country had tried to kill my mother; they had chased us out; they had terrified me and shook my hinges loose. I had lived through bombings and threats to my life and much uncertainty. In the refugee communities, my mother taught me English, working her fingers raw to erase other people’s old school books, every trace of pencil gone so that I could finish each assignment with integrity. In Rome where we were allotted three meals a day but had little disposable income, she would take our dinners from the night before and make sandwiches from them, hanging them outside on the balcony so that we could eat them the next day at the American school an hour away. Other refugees would then save our lunches while we were gone, so that we could eat those for dinner.

Because of such pains taken at giving me an American education, I began to hope and dream about our new life. I obsessed about having a house again. Once we get to America, I thought, I’ll have a real school, and lots of friends my own age.  I’ll still be essentially me, because people will see and love something in me that my mother and father, and my family in that riverside village, saw and loved. 
But in those first immigrant years in the early ’90’s, everything was a struggle. Nothing was easy or given, and my instincts were useless to me. So I stopped trusting them, becoming a little unnatural in my demeanor. My hair and accent were wrong. My clothes were old and out of fashion. Each basic activity took a second of doubt, and those seconds added up. Having attended three years of Isfahani school, I made all sorts of mistakes, kissing my girlfriends hello and goodbye, inviting my teacher to dinner in front of the class.

Over the years, growing up American, my brother and I learned to become other people. And we learned to claim authenticity for everything we did. This became an issue because we now had more than one culture to choose from, and so it was important to convey that we weren’t faking—faking would be a heavy failure because it would prove we weren’t assimilating. Thoughts and behaviors and interactions that were taken for granted by our peers were, for us, one of two distinct ways to live. Simply “being normal” was an active daily chore.

After a few months in Oklahoma, I realized that there was a ladder, each person stacked up according to her worth, and I was at the bottom. I learned that my school’s ambition for me was that I go unseen. I learned that I was strange and so the best I could do was to fade to the background. No one asked about Iran, not even my teachers, who chastised me for not knowing the 50 states as well as the other children. In math class, where I was three years ahead of my classmates, they chastised me for goofing off. I squinted to see the top rung of the ladder, and it was far beyond what Oklahoma could offer. So I began to hope for that.

I had no desire to look back on Iran, or my old life, wanting nothing to do with it. I wanted to be extraordinary here, to be a successful and authentic American. I hated being asked where I was from. Sometimes in school I lied about it. I imagined myself growing into a confident woman, a New Yorker or a Bostonian. The idea of marrying an Iranian man was so disgusting to me that my family often teased me about it. I learned to adapt quickly, lost my accent and, at 18, had my distinctive Persian nose altered, a decision I’ve recently come to regret. 

For a decade I suffered, and for another decade I lived a kind of immigrant fantasy. I grew wings. In my adult years, I never lived in the same city for more than three years (in fact, I get anxious when I start to acquire too many things, when I and my possessions become too ungainly to relocate overnight). I made a home in six cities and three countries and collected two citizenships. None of it felt remotely permanent. I unpacked in each new spot already anticipating the next move, throwing away every non-essential scrap, selling furniture, buying everything in a single easy-to-match splash of color. I adapted in a week, filled any holes in my heart, found a new espresso place, emailed alumni lists to find new friends, and moved on. Every few years the itch to uproot returned and I scratched it.
In a moment of rest, I looked up, waiting for contentment to arrive. But something crucial was missing. Home. Roots. No country felt natural to me.  

One day in Amsterdam, I stumbled upon a small teashop called Mezrab, a refuge for Iranians, for music and storytelling. It was serendipitous and so I started going there, just to see. Then the elections of 2009 were stolen, the Green Movement sprung up around the world, and everything changed, for me and for a large segment of our young, previously disengaged diaspora. I went to protests and talked about Iran. I read and read. I wore green discreetly here and there. I remember wondering as I did so, is this authentic? Is this the real me, or am I doing it for another reason? But the drive was so intense. Suddenly, I wanted to spend all my time around these Iranians, to wallow in the scent of home. I considered visiting Isfahan for the Persian New Year. How wonderful it would be, I thought, to see previous generations who look and act like me. How amazing to share a Norooz with a large group of relatives and be able to pinpoint why I have this habit or that quirk, this nose or this mouth. Maybe nothing I do would seem strange there. Maybe I could sit on a cushion and sip tea and test out my instincts—and have them be right.

I began to listen to Iranian music.

Soon I fell into a private infatuation with an exiled singer called Vigen, possibly the most revered musician of my homeland. I didn’t tell too many people about it. Then, a few months later, I sent one of his songs to an Iranian-American friend of roughly my own generation. He too was hearing it for the first time. He was blown away, and he showed it to his mother. “It was as if she became a young woman again,” he said, “swaying to the music with her eyes closed.”

This image of her, a woman I’ve never met, dancing around her American living room after decades away from home, becoming a young girl again, moves me. What a thing to try and picture: a mother glimpsing backward, inward, resurrecting her natural self with music.

Who is my natural self?

“You are a liar,” I have been told by more than one close relative.

“You are a chameleon,” one of them said, “You will change yourself entirely to fit the next thing you want to be. You’re very good at it, and I don’t trust that.”  

Am I a chameleon? A liar?  
Maybe. I am reminded of a William Maxwell line that speaks to me. You ought not to trust me … because all my life I have been a stranger to myself.

Lately I’ve tried to befriend Iranian exiles. There is a gulf between us. They comment on my accent. I don’t understand their slang, though I’m delighted when it’s explained to me. Sometimes they become cruel when they hear names like Princeton and Harvard. I proudly confess my love of Vigen, that I’m versed in his hundreds of songs. They find that cute, because he is our parents’ idol. They have their own. “There’s an entire underground music scene in Tehran, you know. Modern music.”  
My Iranian-American friend, maybe because of his mother, seems to understand the obsession. “Isn’t it funny,” he says, “With all our sophisticated tastes toward world music and culture, we basically end up in love with the Elvis of our own.” He adds, and I shiver, “You can never get it right.”

You can never get it right.

You work and work and follow the rules. And you still end up in love with the damn Elvis of your village. In my experience, that’s when you freak out and fall into a pattern of migration, always fitting in, never finding an ending point. You look for security in experiences. You suck the marrow. You suck so much marrow. You suck marrow until you’ve got a little of everyone, of every place, somewhere inside you and you are no longer purely one thing. You are made up of other people, other places. Then you sit back and wait for happiness. It doesn’t come. You listen to Vigen. People call you a liar. I’m not sure what happens next.
Did I suck too much foreign marrow? Could my soul have been lost somewhere along the way, in my struggle to survive and to flourish in the West?

Some nights I sit at home, listening to Iranian music. I cook Persian food for my friends in New York. But, let’s face it, I’m no Iranian anymore. 

“You can have wings or roots,” My favorite professor at Harvard Business School said, during an inspiring final class, “not both.” Wings, I thought, an easy choice. But maybe my professor’s tradeoff wasn’t such a no-brainer. I have wings but no place to land, and so I am constantly circling.

Rumi, the great Persian poet wrote, There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss and the ground.
I think that, finally, after much searching, I have come to a tentative understanding and peace with the issue of home and honesty. Maybe being your truest self, your best self, is about kneeling and kissing each ground upon which you’ve touched down. Some people are blessed with one trajectory, one identity, roots and family. Others have to keep adapting, start over again and again, caught between locations, always longing for a place that fits. They could ignore some of what they’ve experienced, missing entire aspects of themselves. Or they could struggle daily to honor each and every attempt to rebuild. To me, that means respecting the girl in the headscarf learning Farsi letters as much as the woman in Amsterdam straining to remember those letters. It also means drawing on all my exile stories to create art, weaving Farsi thoughts and English words and all of my tangled roots and mismatched feathers into stories that are somehow truer than the facts, because they are complex and messy and they come from that unchanging place inside that I keep trying to reach—the voice of my truest self.

 And that may have to be enough.

The dark side of all this is that now I know that authenticity will mean a life-long search for home. Iran may never again resemble my memories. And are those memories even reliable? In talking about the past, says Maxwell, we lie with every breath we draw. My Iran may never have existed. Or, maybe one day I’ll go back to it and it will find me unpalatable and spit me out. But maybe it won’t. Maybe it’ll all cycle around again and I’ll retire to the Caspian Sea. Or maybe I’ll just pack up my music and my spices and live my own version of Iran, wherever I am (authenticity be damned; I’m a storyteller!). And some nights I’ll sit down to dinner with this or that uprooted friend and we’ll eat family-style, maybe show each other some relic of an old life, talk a little of home and think, “How comfortable you seem in your skin.”

Dina Nayeri's debut novel, A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, was published by Riverhead Books in 2013 and was a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers pick. Her work is published in over 20 countries and has appeared in Granta New Voices, Salon, The Southern Review, Glamour, Marie Claire, and elsewhere. She holds a BA from Princeton, an MBA from Harvard, and an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop, where she was a Teaching Writing Fellow.

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17 days ago
"we learned to claim authenticity for everything we did. This became an issue because we now had more than one culture to choose from, and so it was important to convey that we weren’t faking—faking would be a heavy failure because it would prove we weren’t assimilating. Thoughts and behaviors and interactions that were taken for granted by our peers were, for us, one of two distinct ways to live. Simply 'being normal' was an active daily chore."
San Francisco, CA
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Paternity leave blues | Al Jazeera America

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Lately, it seems all the women in my neighborhood are pregnant. Must be something in the water here in Brooklyn, or a procreative byproduct of a cold winter. Whatever the cause, the maternity wear in evidence as I stroll down the block makes me think about those early days following the birth of my first child, when my then-wife and I were weaned from the sweet consolations of the hospital nurses and sent home. So home we went, with little more, it seemed, than a free package of diapers, an infant slumbering in the brand-new car seat and the memory of the lactation consultant’s breast-feeding lecture slowly undermining my wife’s self-esteem.

And then the work began. Well, not right away. Those first couple of weeks weren’t so bad. Mom may have felt a bit poorly, as they say in the lesser Victorian novels, but the kid slept most of the time, the delivery-room adrenaline still coursed through my veins, and the women — her mom, my mom, aunts, older sister, younger sister, well-meaning female friends, the socialist-vegan lady down the hall with the gluten intolerance and the cats — descended, bearing sage advice and a brusque dismissal of my attempts to care for the baby. The workload was bearable. I even answered a few work emails, snapped a lot of pictures, wrote several drafts of my memoirs.

I got to hold the youngster, of course, took my turns rocking him to sleep, made a big show of changing diapers so everyone knew that I was a modern sort of dude and expected to be involved. I was ignored, for the most part, or condescended to or corrected by our mothers, whose infant care experience ended in the 1970s. And then, soon enough — exactly two weeks, in fact — I returned to the office, leaving my careerist, high-earning wife to the three-month child care boot camp we call maternity leave. During that time, she went completely bonkers from isolation, love, responsibility and lack of sleep. But when it ended and she returned to her job, she had been permanently transformed. Gone was the person she had once been, replaced by a skilled, fully functional parent.

When my wife returned to work, it was to a night-shift job. She remained home with our child during the day, and I took charge of him in the evening. It was then that I finally got my chance to be involved and take some responsibility for the baby, which was great and good and wonderful — until the realization set in that I hadn’t the faintest idea what to do. I’d been home for only two weeks. There had been no boot camp for me, no fatherhood trial by fire, and all my wife had left me was a couple of bottles of defrosted breast milk, one of those play mats with BPA-safe whale-shaped rattles attached to it, and the mandate to just take care of it. That, and the utter certainty that when Mom — an old pro by now — got home she would enumerate the ways in which I had done everything wrong, or at least not precisely the way she wanted it done. And how could it be otherwise? I was at that point a parenting incompetent, a novice, a newbie, one who had no chance to catch up to the blessed, all-knowing mother, brimming with tricks, lessons and naptime subterfuges acquired during her crucible at home.

Early parenting anxieties

Everyone knows that maternity leave is important. It allows mother to bond with baby. The time also gives mothers the chance to learn how to parent. Despite this obvious fact, America’s work policies do not reflect this knowledge. What’s more, they also do great disservice to fathers, who have the same need for time to bond with their children and to learn how to parent.

Mothers reading this story may not sympathize with my early parenting anxieties. That period when the menfolk trot blithely back to work? It’s a vacation compared with the maelstrom of diapers, screaming, and mom-group comic-opera to which they are subjected. What’s more, most American women don’t have the option of leave, as my first and second wives did — I have a son from my first marriage and two daughters with my current wife — to figure out this whole child-rearing business. Ours remains the only industrialized country in the world that does not guarantee mothers some form of paid leave after childbirth, according to a report from the Center for American Progress. We are, in that regard, united with the high-minded folks in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Papua New Guinea. As for the states, only California, New Jersey and Rhode Island require paid family leave, but not, mind you, at full pay. 

I look back on my time learning how to take care of my first child, with a nod to the Peace Corps, as the only traumatic experience I’ll ever love.

We do, of course, have the Family and Medical Leave Act, but that protects only unpaid leave of three months, a slim privilege when you consider that only about half of Americans — federal workers and those at companies with over 50 employees — qualify for it. Nor can we count on our private-sector employers. The Family and Work Institute’s 2012 National Study of Employers found that just 58 percent of U.S. companies offered some paid leave to mothers, usually through their temporary disability insurance plans. Only 14 percent do so for men. Worse, the trend toward full compensation during maternity leave has declined in recent years, from an unimpressive 14 percent in 2005 to a shameful 9 percent in 2012. Numbers on companies offering paid paternity leave, apparently, are so inconsiderable as not to be included in the study.

To be fair, women have ample reason to be skeptical of our good faith; fathers haven’t exactly leaped at their meager opportunities. A 2012 study found that 88 percent of fathers turned down paid paternity leave when it was offered. Just 32 percent of women did. Another 2012 study, my favorite, was conducted among professors at the University of Virginia and noted that even when both mother and father took paid family leave, only three out of the 109 male participants actually performed an equal share of the child care, even in homes with an avowed gender-neutral ideology.

And me, did I do my share? Lamentably, I did not, at least with my first child. I wanted to, I meant to, I aspired to, despite my inherent laziness and genetic aversion to difficult tasks. Partly, as described above, I felt excluded and unfit, a lame excuse and one that was both true and stupid: No one knows how to be a parent until he or she is one. The point is, even though I take some responsibility for my fate, I wasn’t exactly afforded the best chance to succeed. Whatever the causes of my ineptitude, I ended up paying for it. 

Doing more

I look back on my time learning how to take care of my first child, with a nod to the Peace Corps, as the only traumatic experience I’ll ever love. I was far from a natural father, and it took a lot longer than three months to attain the parental self-assurance my son’s mother had developed during her leave. In some small part, the dissolution of our marriage correlated with my insistence on equality as a parent, which may not have actually been deserved, at least not at that point. (Two and a half years after the birth of our child, we separated and eventually divorced.)

Paternity leave, paid or otherwise, probably wouldn’t have changed my fate. The more biologically deterministic among us might say that leave wouldn’t change anything: Mothers are better parents because they are mothers. I tend to think not, but who knows, and quite frankly, who cares? In the sliver of the world in which I live, men are being asked to do more to care for their children, and many of those same fathers are asking, in turn, to do more. Developing the necessary skills, rapport and confidence won’t be achieved through paternity leave alone, but it’s a start. This strikes me as an admirable, equitable goal, one that has ramifications for both our collective home and work lives, not to mention the well-being of fathers, mothers and children alike.

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21 days ago
Our approach to maternity and paternity leave as a nation is such a fucking travesty that it makes my head hurt just thinking about it.
San Francisco, CA
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