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May 19, 2003

These Girls These Days

Friedrich --

There's some fuss out there about David Brooks' Atlantic article "The Return of the Pig" (readable here). Brooks writes in his piece about Maxim magazine, and about what significance there is to be found in the new laddishness generally.

Which makes me ask two questions. 1) Isn't this piece about five years behind the times? And 2) Hasn't anyone looked at the young women's magazines recently? They're as coarse and slap-happy as Maxim.

Remember Cosmo? Well, the young woman editor who replaced Helen Gurley Brown revved the magazine up with thwacka-thwacka graphics and has given it a Riot Grrrl kick in the pants. It's now full of aggression and attitude. Some sample features and featurettes from a recent issue:

  • Spat of the Month: "His burping and farting really skeeve me out."
  • Butt-Ugly, Not-to-be-Believed Bridesmaid Dresses
  • 5 Times It Really Pays to Act Ballsy
  • Hot for Higher-Ups
  • Add Oomph to Newlywed Nooky

Jane magazine is similar, if slightly (I'm guessing here) hipper and more upscale. But it has the same MTVish design and the same you-go-girl ethos. Some features, items and pullquotes from the current issue of Jane:

  • He's Small But You Love Him (a reference to his length, not his height, and illustrated with graphics of sex positions)
  • Sima and Jason Don't Really Like Each Other. Booze Works Wonders.
  • If You Screw Like You Drive, I'll Walk
  • "Britney makes want to beat the living shit out of her. She's a total fake, with the crappiest live show since the Brady Bunch performed."
  • The Truth behind Brad Pitt's Expanding Boxers

Do you hear the same haw-haw horselaugh I do? The same Whoosh! Pow! Yeah! Haw haw haw haw! Actually, the 22ish-year-old women I run into these days laugh just like that, as though using a vulgarity or doing something greedy is a great personal triumph, like winning the British Open. Take that, Maxim.

Sensitive zeitgeist detector that I am, I've picked up a few related signs-of-the-time too. One is the way a number of 30ish-year-old women have been complaining recently to me about 22ish-year-old women. Granted, women turning 30 often do complain about younger women. These recent complaints, though, seem a little different than the usual. They're delivered with a look of concern and outrage. The younger women are badly behaved. They're self-centered. They've got no conscience. They do evil shit. Something, it gets conveyed to me, has gone wrong in the culture generally.

Thinking (as, despite all, I sometimes still can't keep myself from doing) with my own smaller head, I notice that I don't find these 22ish women alluring. They're certainly physically attractive. They're bright and shiny. They're proud and aggressive. They're healthy and big. And all I get from them is an initial Fwoof! (Then they're off somewhere, going Haw haw haw...) There seems to be nothing more to them than that initial Fwoof. We used to say "Is it real or is it Memorex?" I guess these days we might say "Is she real or is she Photoshopped?" And I find that I couldn't care less. I find nothing mysterious there -- nothing worth pursuing. Maybe the point of these girls is that you're meant to lie back and let them take charge.

Do you think I'm onto anything here? I confess that I've been wondering for some years now when girls and young women would start getting out of hand. It couldn't go on forever. Girls have been at the center of the culture for decades now. So much has been poured into them -- encouragement, understanding, self-esteem. And their brains have been inoculated against actual thought with tons of PC career nonsense. What's to get their way? Nothing, apparently. You've seen the same articles I have about how much better girls are doing than boys these days, I'm sure. (Here's a piece on the topic from BusinessWeek.)

But when nothing's in the way, evil shit can indeed start to happen. Perhaps some inner governor has broken down -- everything about these young women is frank and poppin' and out there. And -- though I feel like a tiresome old coot for saying this -- where's the soul? Where's the mystery? Where are the inner resources? (I'll be fascinated to see how this generation handles it when they start encountering failure, frustration, illness, death -- all of which tend to require you to dig deep to deal with. But what if you don't have any "deep"?)

Hey, I'm all for women getting out there and showing us their stuff. And what a relief it is that American women finally seem to have shaken off some of their physical inhibitions. But does that have to mean ugly behavior, horse laughs, and the end of poetry and femininity?

My take is that boys and young men these days are demoralized and larva-like, and are acting out cartoonish fantasies of manhood largely because they're so clueless about what it might be to actually be a man. Girls and young women, though ... I dunno. What do you think? American girls these days: Over-entitled? Too much confidence? OD'd on self-esteem? A little too full of themselves?



posted by Michael at May 19, 2003


Don't know a lot of 22-year-old women so can't answer. It's possible. (I did read one breathless quote from a 20-year-old about how sex was such great exercise (no emotional component,just a good workout), and she coo'ed "I weigh 120 pounds and I eat like a horse, so I must be doing something right!" I wanted to tell her---"Metabolism, kid. If you're still eating like a horse at 30, you can f*** your way around the world and you won't weigh 120 pounds," but I refrained. But, I must say, a few of those headlines are generating some haw-haw's (at least a good chuckle) in this more-than-a-couple-years-over-22-year-old. "He's small but you still love him"???? What a benevolent soul, to still love him. I'm sure they think that qualifies as 'depth.' What's unemployment compared to putting up with THAT?

On the other hand, I understand that you worship the ground Britney walks on, but the review of her live show might just be...accurate.

Posted by: annette on May 19, 2003 12:25 PM

I've always thought Philip Larkin's "High Windows" ended less in ecstasy than nihilsm: "the deep blue air, that shows / Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless."

Posted by: Mike Snider on May 19, 2003 12:26 PM

It will be interesting to see how this social trend plays out, Michael. I have no clue as to what will result. I just hope my wife and I can steer our daughter into more useful and legitimately fun avenues of life. Our daughter is the only one on the block who has a bedtime, so I'm optimistic on her chances.

As for boys, Christina Hoff Sommers' "The War on Boys" is a bracing overview of what to save them from. If this new one of ours on the way is a boy, and if he comes home saying the teacher says he has to wear a dress tomorrow, those responsible will yearn for the days when things were settled with a band of peasants with torches.

Posted by: Yahmdallah on May 19, 2003 1:16 PM

Perhaps if men were as inventive as the chihauhau, you would feel differently about confident 22-year-old poodles:

Three handsome male dogs are walking down the street when they see a beautiful female Poodle. The three male dogs fall all over themselves in an effort to be the one to reach her first, but end up arriving in front of her at the same time. The males are speechless before her beauty, slobbering on themselves and hoping for just a glance from her in return. Aware of her charms and her obvious effect on the three suitors,
she decides to be kind and tells them, "The first one who can use the words "liver" and "cheese" together in an imaginative, intelligent sentence can go out with me."

The sturdy, muscular black Lab speaks up quickly and says "I love liver and cheese."

Oh, how childish," said the Poodle. That shows no
imagination or intelligence whatsoever."

She turned to the tall, shiny Golden Retriever and
said "How well can you do?"

Um. I HATE liver and cheese," blurts the Golden Retriever.

My, my,"said the Poodle. "I guess it's hopeless.
That's just as dumb as the Lab's sentence."

She then turns to the last of the three dogs and says,
How about you, little guy?"

The last of the three, tiny in stature but big in fame and finesse, is the Taco Bell Chihuahua. He gives her a smile, a sly wink, turns to the Golden Retriever and the Lab and says......

"Liver alone. Cheese mine."

Ho ho ho.

Posted by: annette on May 19, 2003 2:31 PM

Isn't Brooks always safely behind the times, by at least a couple of years? Excellent insight on chick rags. As a connoisseur, I can tell you that Cosmo Girl is a terrific magazine, very sharp. Jane is written for an alarmingly ignorant audience. Not clear is this an error on the part of Ms. Pratt and CO or an accurate assessment of their market. (e.g., While there is an editorial assumption that readers have some general, if not personal, information about oral sex, once read an article in which the idea of flossing your teeth was entirely new and required explanation.)

In other notes from an eclectic reader, non-hip hop black magazines and newspapers still advocate old-school, church-going family values.

Women have, as far as I can tell from reading books, done evil shit. However, women have usually been smart enough to lie about it. Consider how a Blair Hornstine type would present herself in an Austin or Wharton novel and, I hope, you can see the difference between evil shit past and evil shit in contemporary America.

Despite what your friends in their 30s tell you, I'd peg the origins of the current attitude on gals who got their self-esteem boosted in the 70s. They do, and I realize this makes me sound like a crone, seem to lack inner resources. Or as I like to put it, quoting a woman who knew all about the evil shit that women do, "there is no there, there." It seems the cause is being "goal oriented" rather than being taught how to do things and to appreciate doing things. As far as I can tell, boys are still more likely than girls to have old-fashioned, learn as go you go, self-contained, hobbies. When you grow up without that, and when you grow up in a world were everyone is your audience, just waiting to cheer your next A or soccer goal or blue ribbon, well, why would you develop any freaking autonomy?

To rant further, if you look at Beauty and the Beast for several centuries, the fairy tale is about a girl who finds herself alone, and during the long hours and days alone, begins to understand who she is and what matters to her. (Once a day, she has a difficult confrontation, and must use her own resources to handle it.) When post-Walt Disney got a hold of the story, it became the story of a girl who was surrounded by adoring and helpful household object who sang and danced for her day and night, a gibbering cheering squad to guide her every move. Although the plot change was probably driven by an eagerness to show off animation, the new story, I think, illustrates the way little girls expect to be treated. (Sure, the beast has something to do with male sexuality, but sometimes a beast is just a garden-variety boogey man. B&B and several other fairy tales seem to be much more about the strength one develops in solitude and reflection, or in slipping out on your own.)

Here's my message to the young ladies of today: "You have not achieved equality with boys until you blow up a shed! Think you can do anything the other gender can do? Get back to me when you wreck a bike." This message tends to alarm the parents of young ladies today, but I say, what's the point of not having your own children if you can't be a bad influence?

Posted by: j.c. on May 19, 2003 3:13 PM

My fiancee is in the age bracket in question. When we met, she in many ways resembled the girls under discussion here.

Following me from the very large house we had into living in our car for a year after the dot-com crash was, to say the least, a character building experience.

She now is disgusted by the likes of these 22 year old girls, and is somewhat ashamed that she was like that at all.

SHE attributes it to all of the PC self-esteem nonsense cant of 'feel good without accomplishment, and a ribbon for everyone' that she was fed for years in school.

It's only one data point, but it bears out your thesis in spades.

Posted by: David Mercer on May 19, 2003 3:28 PM

Sorry...not following David's point exactly. If accomplishment was the focus---why live in your car for a year? Why not get a job and an apartment of her own? You could have moved in with her.

I hardly think being willing to be homeless is character building or necessary in order to not be an overly cocky ditz. And being willing to be homeless as long as you "have a man" to be it with hardly bears out jc's point.

Posted by: annette on May 19, 2003 3:38 PM

Oh my Annette! Your observation caught me off guard. I'm in awe.

Posted by: laurel on May 19, 2003 4:48 PM

Nice joke Annette, but isn't that two sentences?

Posted by: Aaron Haspel on May 19, 2003 5:54 PM

Because we lived together, and were supported entirely by my income, which collapsed overnight when the shockwaves from the NASDAQ collapse got felt in the consulting industry. If we'd thrown in the towel 6 months earlier in my company, we could have done something like get other jobs, but everyone wanted to hold on and try to pull it out of the fire, so to speak.

It was the vultures of creditors circling our collective selves that caused a rapid collapse into living in our car .

It was the shock of living on the street that caused her to realize that the world does not revolve around you alone. And the struggle back into financial viability and society from the bottom that made her realize that self-esteem comes from accomplishment.

And I wasn't at her side 24/7, sometimes one of us had to wait in some damned food line while the other went and looked for a job; dodging crack heads without pissing them off when you're a 115 pound female toughened her up a bit.

And I wasn't meaning to say that homelessness is essential to character building, it often has the opposite effect. Merely that what she learned about her self the very hard way made her come to think she'd been sold short by all of the 'empowering, esteem building' nonsense she'd been fed in school.

Posted by: David Mercer on May 19, 2003 5:56 PM


After reading this post and a number of your other ones making similar kinds of generalizations, all I can say is, you seem to hang out with a lot of obnoxious people. I'm sure it would be nice if your observations of a handful of 22 year old women could be expanded into an attack on PC, self-esteem boosterism (a phenomenon certainly deserving attack), but most of the 22ish women I know are perfectly nice, reasonable people. Yes, a lot of them talk PC BS, but they're basically goodhearted, and I believe they will grow out of that phase. I find 22ish men a lot harder to deal with: macho posturing gets old fast.

Posted by: JW on May 19, 2003 6:13 PM

Aaron--by george, you're right--it IS two sentences. I guess it should have said "Liver alone--cheese mine!"

Posted by: annette on May 19, 2003 7:18 PM

JW: goodhearted they may be, but what's the road to hell traditionally paved with?

Well-menaing folks with a little power and a lack of knowledge have caused much ill in this world, typically due to an uninformed view of true human nature and the law of unintended consquences.

New York's smoking ban is recapitulating San Francisco's in some of it's more unintended effects: people smoking more on the street, and littering it with cigarette butts. NYC doesn't seemed to have figured out the next surprise yet, which is that they all wash down into the storm drains, and clog the sewer systems and end up in the ocean (or maybe they have, and I missed that in all the coverage).

What's that got to do with PC driven excess self-esteem of young girls? Well it's that kind of 'We know what's good for you' PC groupthink that leads to disastrous social engineering.

Posted by: David Mercer on May 19, 2003 7:26 PM


I'm not trying to suggest that I've never met the kinds of women Michael is talking about. I have. I choose not to spend my time with them. The 22ish women I do spend my time with don't sound like what he's describing at all.

That said, I agree with you about the dangers of well-meaning folks. I just don't think the phenomenon Michael is describing has much basis in the reality outside his urban, mediacentric worldview.

Posted by: JW on May 19, 2003 7:48 PM

Michael, it's okay that you're not attracted to 22-year-old girls. They're probably not attracted to you either. But that doesn't have to represent some social ill, it most likely has more to do with biological/reproductive imperatives, hormones, stuff like that.

You don't take it personally, do you? Because you shouldn't. There are plenty of girlies posting on your website these days, so that should bring you some comfort. And this is genuine: I was touched by the exchange between you and jc re "Gimme, gimme, gimme. I want I want I want" and the word "charming."

I'm looking forward to a posting on the virtues/evils of sportscars. DHEA. Extended European vacations and the lovely people to be met. Have you got something like this in the works?

I do enjoy reading the Blowhards, but this and Friedrich's previous post make such an exceptional set of bookends.

Gotta jet. Fwoosh.

Posted by: M on May 19, 2003 9:33 PM

Michael, it is my impression that the audience captured by Jane and Cosmo Girl (and Maxim, for that matter) is actually small compared to the entire population of 20-somethings. I know that these magazines do move the cuture in some amorophous way, and that they do have influence, but I still like to think that no one outside the usual media/pop culture corridors are reading them with any regularity.

Posted by: Gerald on May 20, 2003 8:31 AM

Gerald, the Mountain Dew LiveWire crowd buys plenty of magzines. Perhaps you live in a city with strip malls and convenience stores. If so, I suggest you visit either a convenience store or a strip mall drug store. Buy a Popsicle. Go outside where the cop is standing and position yourself where you can both chat with the cop, enjoy your pop sickle, and keep an eye on the magazine rack. Hang out and observe the people who buy Cosmo Girl, Teen People, Twist, YM, Allure, and etc. Or, just keep in mind that the Southland Corporation doesn't stock merch that won't move.

Posted by: j.c. on May 20, 2003 1:21 PM


Good points, thank you. As it happens, I live in New York City. I was merely hoping that the rest of the country does not consist in what I see around me.

Posted by: Gerald on May 20, 2003 3:52 PM

Well, living in NYC is lots of fun, but if you hang around a newstand without appearing to be buying, I'm pretty sure someone will try to sell you drugs. Or maybe I just look like someone who needs smoke, smoke, smoke, ssst, smoke?

Posted by: j.c. on May 20, 2003 5:15 PM

Happy to admit to having an urban, mediacentric point of view -- which is partly why I enjoy comparing notes with other folks on topics like these. It's a fishbowl here, full of silvery fishies swimming in overlapping circles and staring at reflections.

Though I'd certainly make the case that media styles -- at least the ones that work -- do count for something. An awful lot of sweet-tempered, non-urban young women these days are wearing thongs, showing off bellybuttons, putting sparkle on their faces, and plotting out exciting and fulfilling careers...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 21, 2003 9:45 PM


But I still don't think there's any real difference between now, and say, 15 years ago, except that some of the styles have changed (but feel free to explore to deeper cultural meaning of the thong, if you want to). I'm just not convinced that the generalizations you're making are anything more than the usual reaction to the next generation, which have been going on since, like, forever.

On the other hand, I do agree that contemporary PC dogma has helped to produce a certain kind of go-getting woman. I wouldn't limit this kind of woman to 22ish, more like 18-50+, with most of them that I actually meet in their thirties, and bitter about it. These women don't make up the majority of women in America. They may, however, make the most noise in a "media" sense of the word.

Posted by: JW on May 22, 2003 9:14 AM

Hi JW -- Well, sure, both sides of this can be argued -- there's continuity (life goes on), and there are diffs (styles change).

From where I sit, a new generation seems to come along about every 5-7 years. The '50s generation was something, the boomers were something, the Xers were something, and now we have the post-crash, post-Xers. Various subcategories (older, middle-period boomers, younger boomers, for example) in each one of these categories. I'm not making this up. These cohorts are quite striking,everyone notices them, and everyone talks openly about them.

I do find these developments fun to take note of and muse about. Whether there's any significance to my doing so, well, depends on your point of view, doesn't it? I tend to find that behavior and self-presentation styles are at least sometimes part of a larger package, and I have a good time trying to tease a little something out of this. Tatoos on respectable kids, for instance -- an interesting development. But of what? Fun to think about. Girls accepting thongs as a standard part of what it is to be a standard girl -- another interesting development. (Here's my posting about thongs.) Incidentally, if you don't think there've been some changes in the standard-girl package over the last 15 years, I can put you in touch with a bunch of non-media-world parents who'll disagree.

On the same level of importance as wrestling with fundamentalism and terror? Of course not, which is why I use a light tone discussing these things. An amusing and sometimes intriguing aspect of life's passing panorama? Well, for me, sure.

But I guess you don't think so. Why not?

By the way, the typeface you're using on your new blog looks pretty crappy on my computer (PC, Windows 2000, IE 5) -- it's so big that type from one line overlaps the type on the lines above and below it. Anything to be done about this?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 22, 2003 10:39 AM

My goodness, you've given great thought to the subject of thongs!! But I do think you're wrong--South American and European women were wearing thongs back in the 60's even. But I think one reason they've grown in average popularity is Jane Fonda and the workout revolution, which did start in the late 70's/early 80's. There are just more female rears which look enticing enough to be shown, than there were in the pre-workout 50's. The thong is a monstrosity on any woman without the rear to show it off. As Edith Head always said, "If it's not pretty, don't show it." (Plenty of men who remove their shirts in the summer could take this advice to heart). No accident she won like 8 Academy Awards for fashion design.

Posted by: annette on May 22, 2003 4:42 PM

Hey Annette -- And I vow to continue to give this vital issue the kind of close attention it demands!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 22, 2003 9:48 PM

Some of the behavior you noticed in 22ish-year-old women reminded me of being an adolescent boy. That same type of posturing, the shocking profanity, the graphic sex talk seems pretty harmless to me when I think of boys trying to act tough, to be macho, without any real experience in sex or relationships.

Of course that kind of stuff eventually went out the door when I started dating and learning about not pissing off the person I was with.

Posted by: Matt Leonard on May 24, 2003 5:09 PM

"Liver alone--cheese mine". Ho ho. Thank you, Annette!

Posted by: Felicity on May 25, 2003 8:27 PM

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