too much typing—since 2003


you've come a long way, baby - now get back

I live in a weird sort of media bubble: I don't read every day's newspaper, I don't watch every night's TV news, and I don't listen to NPR every day (you probably guessed I'm not a talk-radio fan). Instead, I tend to read things in weekly or monthly journals of opinion, or occasionally online - but by the time I get to them, certain trends have peaked and become subjects of analysis rather than action before I even know they exist. One example: the media zoo surrounding one Dr. Judith Steinberg a/k/a Howard Dean's wife. Katha Pollitt (whose common sense, insight, and humor make her a personal hero of mine) points out in last week's issue of The Nation just how out of touch with most people's daily lives the media's perception of First Ladies is. The model seems to be something like National Den Mother, descending the stairs in heels and pearls into a wood-paneled rec room while bearing a plate full of cookies and a glass of milk. In "Mediaville," Pollitt writes, "it's always 1955." (And I thought the Super Bowl ads' ideal audience lived in 1963 - who knew that football fans were so fashion-forward socially?) As usual when bizarre moral panics grip the media, grotesque hypocrisy is barely kept under wraps. Diane Sawyer, who's married to Mike Nichols but uses her birthname professionally, queries Steinberg about her not changing her name to "Judy Dean"; professional journalists, many of them women, wonder why Steinberg can't up and quit her medical practice to follow Howard around the country like a faithful puppy (would they quit their jobs to follow their spouses around?).

At one level, I find the whole thing terribly sad: the women I know, and love, have their own lives, careers, and interests, and are far better people for it; and I would have thought that by now, we would be used to that concept. And perhaps most people are: maybe the real problem, once again, is who makes up the media and the political and economic elite. I hate to trot out overused cliches (like "trot out"?), but once again, F. Scott Fitzgerald got it right in noting that the rich are different from the rest of us. Some anecdotal evidence: in addition to my teaching job, I work part-time in a tax-accounting firm as an administrative assistant. In that position, I have access to the tax records of the firm's clientele, whose incomes put them, for the most part, firmly above the 90th percentile in terms of income and wealth. It's always surprised me what a large percentage of wives in this group are Mrs. Never-Had-a-Job; for these folks, apparently, it really is 1955, and Spousal Welfare is alive and well. So perhaps someone like Dr. Steinberg seems more of an aberration to those folks than she does to most people, or certainly to people like me, for whom Steinberg's career, persona, and fashion decisions seem utterly normal and unremarkable. And that is more than merely sad: that the leadership of the nation can be so out of touch with most people's daily lives. I wish I could say I was surprised.

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