Talking Points Memo: The Tiffany’s same-sex marriage ad is radical and retrograde

Today, Talking Points Memo published a piece that I co-wrote with Zach Wahls, a nationally-recognised LGBTQ rights advocate, about Tiffany & Co.’s new ad campaign:

Symbols—both the inclusion of same-sex couples in ad campaigns and marriage rings themselves—are powerful, especially in an increasingly shareable digital world, and the Tiffany campaign tells us a lot about the progress of LGBTQ rights in America. It also tells us just as much, and perhaps more, about the gravitational pull of the wedding-and-marriage industrial complex.

In other words, the Tiffany’s ad is just as retrograde as it is radical.

There’s certainly something radical about the presence of a gay couple in a Tiffany ad (insofar as any diamond ad can be radical). Tiffany is, after all, the zenith of marriage industry. As cultural symbols go, it doesn’t get much more powerful than an engagement ring from Tiffany. In popular culture, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s to the 2002 Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy Sweet Home Alabama—in which the heroine’s wealthy boyfriend proposes by taking her to the Manhattan Tiffany flagship after hours, flipping the light switch, and saying, “pick one”—the brand is synonymous with romance, wealth and high cultural capital, all of which are widely considered desirable.

You can read the whole thing here.

BuzzFeed: The paradoxical rise of the public marriage proposal

I had a piece at BuzzFeed last week, about the way that social media and new attitudes toward marriage have reshaped the way we live our love lives today:

Late last year, a grand romantic gesture went horribly awry. A Dutch man in a town near Utrecht hired a crane to use in a spectacular marriage proposal — the plan was for him to be lowered into his girlfriend’s garden as he sang to her, and for him to then pop the question. Alas. The crane fell over and smashed through neighboring roofs, resulting in the evacuation of 32 homes, international news coverage, and the amused pity of readers around the world. Thankfully, no one was hurt, and she said yes.

As someone who has watched a lot of romantic comedies — they were the subject of my doctoral dissertation — this story caught my eye. In order for a romantic comedy to come to a “happy” ending (that is, with the couple united, and presumably headed for monogamous heterosexual marriage), they must first be reunited, having been parted by the various obstacles to their love. Then she writes an article about him and stands on the baseball field in front of a huge crowd, waiting for him to show up and accept her apology, or he drives to her apartment in a white limo blaring La Traviata out the sunroof and climbs up her fire escape to declare his love. Or he stages a flash mob in Grand Central Station, or stands outside her window with a boom box, or interrupts her at her place of work to propose in broken Portuguese, or shows up at her press conference to ask her a big non-work-related question. You know the drill.

The unnamed hopelessly romantic Dutchman is an extreme example of how the ways in which many of us experience and express love have changed in recent years. Our collective desire to make a spectacle out of our love, and our unprecedented ability to broadcast and share that spectacle, have produced a visible and dramatic shift in the culture of romance. Today, we perform love, and consume it, as never before. And yet, the popularity of marriage is fading among young Americans. It’s a fraught and fascinating paradox, one of several that mark contemporary romance culture.

You can read the whole thing here.

The Guardian: Women writing online series

I had the privilege of doing an interview with The Guardian‘s Sarah Galo last month, as part of her series on women who write online:

What is some advice you have for women who want to write online?

You don’t have to be perfect. You can’t be, and you won’t be, so don’t get hung up on trying. There’s a freedom in the knowledge that perfection is not an option. But there’s a responsibility, too: it means that you will make mistakes. And you have to be prepared to screw up in public, and be held accountable in public, and apologise in public, and learn from those mistakes in public. This sounds like a challenge, but it’s actually a gift: it’s a way to be part of the kind of public discourse most of us wish we had, one where people are allowed to be wrong but are held accountable – and hold themselves accountable – when they are. It’s also a challenge, because screwing up can hurt other people and it doesn’t feel great for you, either. But it is also inevitable, and the best thing you can do is learn from it. And other people will learn from it, too: I’ve learned a lot from seeing my role models succeed in public, but I’ve learned far more from watching them learn from their mistakes in public.

You can read the whole thing here.

Reuters: Racism is a reproductive rights issue

My column at Reuters last week was about what happens when we deny Black children a childhood: we deny Black parent their reproductive rights.

Generally speaking, Americans understand reproductive rights as being about abortion, and sometimes, about birth control. In the mainstream understanding, reproductive rights are about the right to prevent or end unwanted pregnancy. But reproductive rights are about more than pregnancy. Reproductive justice is not just a matter of making sure that women only become mothers if and when and in the manner they choose – it’s also a matter of making sure that, when they choose to bring children into the world, they don’t bring them into a world that is disproportionately dangerous for those children.

In short, racism is a reproductive rights issue.

“For one’s children to be random, unwitting blood sacrifices to the prejudice of faceless others is not freedom,” wrote Katherine Cross at RH Reality Check, in the wake of Michael Brown’s death at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. “To have reproductive freedom means, among many other things, that your choice to raise a family will not be revenged upon by collectivized prejudice wielding batons and handguns.”

This is not a new argument, but it’s one that has been denied the mainstream attention it deserves. In the wake of the Grand Jury decision that Wilson will not be indicted for killing Brown, that is changing. NARAL Prochoice America, one of the nation’s largest reproductive rights organizations, is on the record endorsing the argument that, “You deserve to parent your child without fear that he or she will be hurt or killed. Freedom from violence is reproductive justice.”

You can read the whole thing here.

The Washington Post: Where’s the political rom com we’ve been waiting for?

I have a piece at Post Everything today, about how our current political climate has made the political romantic comedy all but impossible:

In 2014, it’s hard to imagine a Republican and Democrat going out for dinner, never mind strolling down the aisle. And at their core, rom coms require compromise: a “battle of the sexes” that must conclude with a sexy cease-fire. In recent politics, there is no such spirit of compromise: There’s no happy ending, just the beginning of a new election cycle.

Today, the division and the vitriol we see in our real-world politics make the notion of a political romantic comedy almost unthinkable. American politics is unprecedentedly polarized in 2014, with the 114th Congress looking to be more reactionary and bellicose than ever, and with Americans increasingly disaffected with their elected representatives in D.C. and with the president. Convincing audiences that it’s possible to fall in love in politics – that it’s possible to cross the aisle in the name of love – is a pretty tough sell. If Romeo and Juliet couldn’t make it work in a town divided by ancient grudge and new mutiny, why would we imagine that your standard rom com couple could make it work in Washington, D.C.?

You can read the whole there here.

Reuters: Gender, sex, power, and stillettos

I have a piece at Reuters today, about how wearing high heels can affect other people’s behaviour toward a woman – and what that finding tells us about gender, sex, power, and attraction:

A new study out of France’s Université de Bretagne-Sud in finds that men are more likely to lend a helping hand to a woman wearing high heels. In the study, social psychologist Nicolas Guéguen found that men were more likely to answer survey questions if the woman asking them was wearing heels than if she was wearing flats. Similarly, Guéguen (who has also tackled the research question of whether carrying a guitar case makes a man more likely to succeed in getting a woman’s phone number) found that men were more likely to help a woman pick up a dropped glove if she was wearing heels.

That high heels change how straight men respond to women is hardly surprising. After all, high heels change the way you walk, the way you stand, and the way your clothes fit your body. As a culture, we have decided that the alterations heels produce in how women carry themselves are desirable, a decision we’ve stuck to for over 50 years. In recent years, the trend pendulum in high heels has swung toward atmospherically high, with platforms and hyper-narrow stiletto heels giving way, recently, to 1990s-nostalgia in the form of chunkier heels. These are, in the grand scheme of things, relatively minor variations; our cultural penchant for high heels is entrenched, and it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.

Some have questioned this study’s methodology, and not without reason, but its findings raise some interesting questions. Are men more likely to respond to women in heels because they find them more attractive, and are they more likely to answer survey questions from or help an attractive woman? Or are the men who help a woman in heels pick up her glove correctly perceiving that a woman in heels is in fact, physically, less stable than a woman in flats, and might therefore be more likely to need their help? Or, more interestingly still — and more troublingly — does a woman’s perceived instability and vulnerability make her more physically attractive to some men?

You can read the whole thing here.

Reuters: Eminem’s Taylor-induced temper tantrum

My latest at Reuters is about Eminem’s newest lyrical outburst, a rap in which he fantasizes about beating a young pop star until she’s unconscious:

I can’t get inside Eminem’s head – and I’m quite sure I wouldn’t want to, given the chance – but I suspect that his outburst against Del Rey had little to do with Del Rey herself, despite its specificity.

The real reason may be his fear that time has passed him by, and the very group he has so-often victimized in his lyrics — young women — seem to be running circles around him.

Exhibit A?

Taylor Swift, the 24-year-old phenom who is arguably the biggest pop star in the world right now (fret not, BeyHive, I’m sure your queen will reclaim her crown soon) released her fifth album, “1989,” in late October after months of buildup and publicity. The hype was justified: 1989 is a great album, and it’s been hailed as such by everyone from NPR’s music critic to current king of rap Kendrick Lamar.

It’s also a record-breaking album: It sold more than 1 million copies in the first week of release. The last time that happened was more than a decade ago. To be precise, it was in 2002. And the album in question? Eminem’s “The Eminem Show.”

You can read the whole thing here.