One of the bittersweet aspects of caring and learning about feminism and social justice is discovering how many of the things you love aren’t really that good for you. You’ve adored a celebrity or a movie or a book for years and years, and it means so much to you for so many reasons, and then you grow up a little bit and learn some things about how the world works, and your ability to think critically gets sharper and more nuanced, and it slowly, grudgingly dawns on you that you can’t, in good conscience, love that thing anymore because it’s harmful in some way.
A while ago I was really committed to removing anything from my life that in some way demeaned or insulted me, or women generally, or any oppressed group. And for the most part I do this easily and gladly. (Really, as far as social justice activism goes, it doesn’t get much more passive than that.)
But the reality is that you can’t cut EVERY troubling, “problematic” thing out of your life. I mean, you can, but often what that means is that you’re not left with much. Whatever, I don’t have to explain this problem to you. You get it.
I have problematic faves of all types–shows, music, clothes, people–but this list will focus in on one category: the old white guy. Here are some of the ones I love with a cringe or two.
Bill reminds me of my childhood. He reminds me of when I was very very small and my dad was always complaining about something that “Bush” did, and I’d wonder why he was so angry at a shrubbery. And then Bill Clinton took over from the shrubbery and my dad wasn’t mad anymore.
There is nothing I can say about Bill Clinton that hasn’t already been masterfully put to words by John Mulaney in The Comeback Kid, his brilliant stand-up special that I’ve watched probably a dozen times. He was a good politician and a good president all while being kind of a charming sleaze (although of COURSE those traits go together), and he’s said some rather icky things on the campaign trail for Hillary this year, especially when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement. Bill! Stop making stump speeches and pontificating on social issues when you clearly don’t know what you’re talking about. Stick to being thrilled about balloons.
Joe Biden (can you tell I started writing this after the DNC?)
Joe is adorable. He has had a very heartbreaking life and gives me a weird sort of maternal urge to cradle his head on my breast and croon lullabies. He was very unfair to Anita Hill back in the nineties, which is not forgivable and I will not forget. There’s also one too many photos of him getting weirdly affectionate with women. However, he recently married two gay White House staffers at his home and tweeted a picture of friendship bracelets on Barack Obama’s birthday. One time in the 1970s he ran after a guy who had stolen a woman’s purse and took it back. You can’t help but love him.
I grew up listening to Keillor telling his small-town, sadmouth stories on Prairie Home Companion, and while I don’t listen anymore, every time I hear the opening bars of the theme song I feel very warm and happy and safe. Let’s be honest, PHC is Not Very Good, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have positive feelings about it. (Also, I wonder if its Not Very Good-ness is supposed to lend it a kind of charm?)
So anyway, this guy. Every woman character on his show is either a sonsy, bustling, in-your-business mom or a sultry, sexy dame. There is always, ALWAYS a reference to the tightness of a woman’s pants. GK is all like “I’m still horny lol” and “kids today are terrible and don’t know what Real Art is,” but you know what? When he goes into the Lake Wobegon monologue at the end I don’t even mind that much. This is very similar to the Bill Clinton issue, where I just have too many happy memories associated with this greaser to fully give him up.
I read so many Bryson books in high school. I loved his humor, his adverb-adjective, adverb-adjective descriptions, the way he went full force at a project like a trek through Australia or the Appalachian Trail and seemingly had a terrible time the whole way. The Mother Tongue remains one of my favorite books of all time–I spent the night of my high school graduation party alone in my dorm room, reading it, because I didn’t want to be doing anything else.
But recently I tried to reread some of his works and was a tad put off, after all that, by the fact that he can’t describe a woman without making sure we all know just how hot or not-hot she is. All the while portraying himself as a sadsack who could surely never bang this hot lady, who is way too good for him. Which is probably true. But also, chill the fuck out.
Take this scene from Neither Here Nor There, his book about traveling through Europe, in which Bryson visits the mayor of Hammerfest:
“…He told me at length about the problems of the local economy, and as we parted he said: ‘You must come to my house one evening. I have a sixteen-year-old daughter.’
Gosh, that’s jolly gracious of you, I thought, but I’m a happily married man.”
The anecdote goes on with the mayor explaining that his daughter would like to meet someone with whom she can practice her English. It’s a cheap and lazy joke in which not only is a “happily married man” enjoying the thought of sexy times with a minor, but also making the ha-ha assumption that the teenager’s father is offering it to him. What??? Bill Bryson, you are supposed to be American’s avuncular knockaround writer guy and no one needs to be reminded of your horniness, especially when it’s this gross.
That’s the end of the list because it’s everyone I could think of for right now. There is an obvious theme going on here. It would be super great if everyone could just keep it in their pants. This post is starting to put me in a bad mood so I’m just going to end it. THANKS!