Roaring like a lion

There is no font size big enough to make men care

Here’s what I’m looking at this morning. Roni Horn’s “Pink Tons” from 2009. I wish I could put it in my bedroom, rest my coffee on it while I’m getting dressed.

Women are losing their shit, according to the major newspapers and periodicals, and to social media, all the group threads, desperate phone calls. People keep saying women have lost a lot in the pandemic, but really, the pandemic has just exposed our precarious “equality” as a lie and brought new scrutiny to the gendered imbalance of labor and expectations that has always been here.

Last night my friend Elise texted me Jessica Valenti’s piece “Is Divorce the Only Answer to an Unequal Marriage?” and wrote, “I feel like I know your answer to this question.” It’s true, I have long been saying, only half-joking, if you want your husband to do more domestic labor, divorce him. But I know there are complications, big ones, like love, family, duty, history.

Still, I would love to read more “takes” from people in non-hetero or even non-romantic partnerships or those who have renounced marriage altogether. I find there is a defensive energy to a lot of the conversation on social media, likely because many of the women writing on this topic are in heterosexual marriages. Everyone is like Yes, totally destroy the patriarchy, but *my guy*? He’s trying!!

Valenti is great on the subject, as usual, though she does come down on the side of preserving marriage, arguing we should show men they actually have a greater stake in it than women (who are more likely to initiate divorces).

I took a screenshot of one comment under Valenti’s tweet about her piece:

I have seen this a-ha moment. And though it may not, in many cases, be worth the anguish of divorce, it’s powerful.

In the piece, Valenti also writes:

Take media coverage on women and the pandemic. Nearly every headline is some version of “Covid forces women out of the workforce,” rather than the much more simple and truthful "men’s refusal to equally parent rolls back women’s progress.” 

Imagine if instead of quotes from harried moms, we saw profiles of men trying to explain why their time and work is more valuable than their wives’. What if there were magazine covers framing this as a national scandal: Men across the country do nothing as the women they love lose jobs. 

Why is the coverage organized this way? WHERE ARE THE MEN? This is something I shout nearly every day, out loud, into the husbandless quiet of my happily divorced home. (Kudos to my boyfriend for listening and responding thoughtfully to this jeremiad yesterday while doing the dishes. He’s trying!!)

Last Sunday’s New York Times included a section called “The Primal Scream” about women being at a breaking point.

I was pleased to see this kind of urgent coverage, and also disappointed that men did not contribute, that they may not have even been asked to. As far as I know, they did not post about it, comment publicly on it. New York Magazine’s issue on women reaching their breaking point was all over my timeline, but I didn’t see a single post or comment from a man.

In other words, the question “is anyone listening” to women really means “are men listening” and it is simply rhetorical. My abiding pessimism about this is starting to make me feel like Andrea Dworkin, but THERE IS NO FONT SIZE BIG ENOUGH TO MAKE MEN CARE.

They will not willingly cede their power. We must face it: we write mostly to each other. We rage in a closed loop. It is not only lost employment, the logistical nightmare of balancing work with virtual homeschool, meal planning, and laundry, that calls forth the primal scream. The thing beneath that, the thing that is making many of us reach a breaking point, is the devastating realization of something we already know, a knowledge that lives in our bones: on the whole, men do not care. Not even enough to do the performative-but-compulsory momentary work of re-posting and hashtagging their support, the way white people do with racial equity content. Let alone to do the real work. It’s too personal, or too awkward, they risk losing too much, they fear being “canceled,” looking insincere, or—and my hunch is that this is true for many—they don’t feel anything at all. We are millennia-deep in misogyny; why would they.

It’s grief we’re feeling. An old grief in new garb. It’s heavy. That grief, that sadness, also doesn’t fit in a headline or a special issue—it’s a mess—so it isn’t getting its due. But more and more, I think that it—sadness—is what needs to find expression. That we need not more pink pussy hats, but a collective caterwaul from somewhere deep.

I think of the thing Carrie Nation, the wack job temperance crusader who gave me my book title, said from a Wichita jail cell around 1900: “You have put me in here a cub, but I will come out roaring like a lion, and I will make all hell howl.

Whew! I’m cooking, reading about cooking, reading old food writing, and finding it wonderfully comforting. This week I made cranberry and Meyer lemon scones (which I obnoxiously pronounced sconn, as on the Great British Baking Show), a mango cheesecake with lime whipped cream—a Nigella Lawson recipe that really disappointed me. I should have gone with this Nik Sharma one. And more Tartine country bread, which is just mind-bogglingly delicious and perfect. Actually worth the two days it takes.

This week I read The Cook, a strange French novel about the professional trajectory of a single-minded male chef, narrated by a woman who it seems might be or have been in a relationship with him. It’s a very short, lovely meditation on food that manages to be both sensuous and linear, disciplined. It’s the story of a career, but I liked it a lot.

I also went to the bookstore—Walden Pond Books in Oakland, a great one—and bought these two almost absurdly pretty dot books, which have both been on my list.

Life imitates Instagram far more than Instagram imitates life.

I finished listening to Megan Giddings’s Lakewood, an eerie novel about medical experimentation, race, and precarious life under capitalism. And am now listening to Emily Nunn’s The Comfort Food Diaries, which makes me laugh and makes me hungry on my walks.

A few good things I read this week:

  • This brilliant entry from Mary Retta’s newsletter, “on vibing”

  • This review by Elizabeth Hanna Rubio of Savannah Shange’s Progressive Dystopia in the LARB

  • Margo St. James’s obituary—she was a pioneering advocate for sex workers’ rights. I wrote a tiny thing about the Hookers Ball she threw in 1974 here