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Pauline Millard

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Elizabeth Wurtzel As a Cautionary Tale

Posted: 01/08/2013 11:02 am

Elizabeth Wurtzel has quite a piece in this week's New York magazine, in which she laments how her life -- despite her early successes -- has added up to a whole lot of nothing. Like most people, my initial reaction to Wurtzel's piece was eye-rolling annoyance. Even with her top education, she missed the boat on basic life skills such as relationships and savings accounts. Shame on her.

As the day wore on, though, I realized we should use the piece as a teachable moment. There are many other Wurtzels out there. Even in Manhattan, a place where women have more opportunities than possibly anywhere on the planet, there are ladies like Wurtzel, watching their lives pass them by as they live in perma-adolescence. It's not just for the fellas anymore.

You could blame it all on feminism, at least in the theoretical sense. As women, we let each other get away with things under the guise of feminism. Feminism, by definition, allows women to do whatever they want outside of the trappings of the patriarchy. A lot of women, though, confuse "the patriarchy" with being an adult. It's fine if you don't want to get married or have kids, but that doesn't mean that you should blow your earnings by filling your home with Hello Kitty toasters or other uselss paraphernalia. We all know women like this. The feminist lesson is to not blindly do whatever you want (sleep around, spend wildly) but to make sure we are taking care of ourselves in practical ways such as paying attention to our finances and relationships.

The rhetoric and ethos of female relationships also frowns upon calling a woman out on her nonsense. We are trained to be polite and supportive, at least when it comes to personal relationships. (But go ahead and conquer Capital Hill!) So for your friend who has a great job who is now making jewelry and considering yoga teacher training, it would be considered rude to try to squash her dream and talk some sense into her. The yoga studio is not going to her offer her a 401K or pad her savings account, things that will be important when she can no longer do pigeon's pose. But it's her choice! Her journey! Hakuna Matata!

Even by writing this piece, I will likely get flak for being cruel. But there is a difference between being mean and being honest. Whenever I say something to a group of women that is brutally honest I get looks of shock. (She waited too long to have kids. She relies too much on online dating.) As if I'm breaking some Girl Code that I never agreed to follow.

Maybe we need to be careful about flying the feminist flag too much. I, personally, know a few bang the drum feminists who need their boyfriends to pay their rent or whose long-term partners are sleeping with women much younger than them. I'm pretty sure they know about these indiscretions, but for whatever reason they will not act on them. Maybe they need the money or a father figure for their daughters. None of it is very "feminist." But I am entertained by the hypocricy.

The point is that we have it all wrong. It's not more feminism and empowerment lip service that we need; it's authenticity. It's a new year and a perfect time to try it out the honesty principle. The next time a friend is going off the deep end, say something. Be rude. Hurt her feelings a little. While you're at it, take stock and see if you are, in fact, living like an adult, and not as a giant baby. Are you one of those women who claim to be very "picky" in dating, which is really a euphemism for being a gold digger? (Oops. There I go again. Too much honesty.)

I have had a handful of these conversations in my life, but the friend was 100% of the time a guy. A guy doesn't have a problem telling you what's up. Polite is not part of the equation.

Have you ever been in a room full of men where one of them does something boneheaded? It takes about three and a half seconds for someone to razz him about it. If a woman does the same, everyone just smiles politely and then talks about her afterwards. What if someone had called out Wurtzel on her one-night stand of a life while they made better choices? Maybe she wouldn't be living in a crappy rental in Chelsea.

 

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