What Women Want

Cathy Newman is angry, we all know that now. But what, exactly, is she angry about? I think it’s here, the moment when she switches—albeit hypothetically and just for a moment—to the first person:
Newman: So you don’t believe in equal pay. 
Peterson: No, I’m not saying that at all.  
Newman: Because a lot of people listening to you will say, are we going back to the dark ages? 
Peterson: That’s because you’re not listening, you’re just projecting.  
Newman: I’m listening very carefully, and I’m hearing you basically saying that women need to just accept that they’re never going to make it on equal terms—equal outcomes is how you defined it. 
Peterson: No, I didn’t say that.  
Newman: If I was a young woman watching that, I would go, well, I might as well go play with my Sindy dolls and give up trying to go school, because I’m not going to get the top job I want, because there’s someone sitting there saying, it’s not possible, it’s going to make you miserable.  
Peterson: I said that equal outcomes aren’t desirable. That’s what I said. It’s a bad social goal. I didn’t say that women shouldn’t be striving for the top, or anything like that. Because I don’t believe that for a second. 
Newman: Striving for the top, but you’re going to put all those hurdles in their way, as have been in their way for centuries. And that’s fine, you’re saying. That’s fine. The patriarchal system is just fine. 
Peterson: No! I really think that’s silly! I do, I think that’s silly.
Did you catch it? The example that she gave? “If I was a young woman...” The moment when she said “my.”

“My Sindy dolls.”

Mine.

You don’t even have to know what Sindy dolls are, you know that as a feminist she is right to be enraged. (Translation: They’re Barbies for Brits, although the newer ones look more like American Girls.) If women can’t have the top jobs, then they are doomed to be...what? Playthings for men?

Except that it is girls who like playing with Sindy dolls. Which Newman wants to suggest is somehow...wrong.

If so, then why did she say “my Sindy dolls”? Does that mean she had one?

What I hear Newman saying is something like this: “I don’t want to be like other women. I don’t want to want what they want. I don’t want to play with dolls rather than go to school. I don’t want to worry about fashion and looking beautiful. I want to be independent like a man.”

Or maybe I am just projecting.

I had Barbies when I was growing up, and I loved playing with them. Although the dolls long ago fell apart—all their legs broke off—I still have the clothes that my grandmother made for them, beautifully hand-stitched and stylish.

I loved changing their clothes and helping them set up house—I used a binder on edge, the loops made ideal clothes racks.

And I loved creating stories for them. Most of all, romances. You know, about Ken.

I suspect you made up similar stories. I suspect—to judge from the sales of Fifty Shades of Gray—you still do.

Women are angry—or so psychologist Louise Mazanti argues in her commentary on the Newman-Peterson exchange. She says that we need to own this anger and acknowledge how we project it onto our men. (I said much the same thing, only less politely, here.)

What Dr. Mazanti does not say is why we are angry, although she suggests that it has something to do with our bodies and the knowledge that we draw therefrom.

I think I know.

I know because I am—as I write—going through the change that will take it all away from me. The obverse of the change that I was going through back when I was playing with my broken-legged Barbies and dreaming about Ken.

We are angry because we feel helpless to become what we most want to be without a man.

We are angry because no matter how well we do in school, no matter how hard we work, no matter how high up the ladder of career-success we can climb, there is one thing that we cannot do on our own strength, for which, no matter what, we need a man.

We are angry because without a man we are, quite literally, sterile.

We are angry because what most women want more than career, more than the worldly status that men pursue through their careers, is a child.

And we cannot have a child without a man—even if we never live with him. (Which, by the by, like Milo, I think is a terrible arrangement. For everyone, but especially the children.)

I said as much to my Tolkien class last spring when we were talking about Tolkien’s letters on marriage.

I was writing on the board something about the different couples that come together over the course of The Lord of the Rings and suggesting to the students why marriage played such a central role in the story.

Because it is through marriage that new life begins; it is through the children born from marriage that the great fertility of Middle-earth is realized, not just in the craft-work of the Hobbits, Men, and Elves, but through their daughters and sons—the daughters and sons without whom there would be no story, no adventure, no transformation of sorrow into joy.

I stopped transcribing out the genealogies for a moment and turned to the class.

“I want to say this not as your professor,” I told them, “but as someone older than you. You may not believe this now, when you are twenty, but ten years from now, you may feel different, and I want someone to have said it to you so that you are not caught off guard.

“Being mother to my son is the most important thing I have ever done in my life. More important than being your professor. More important than writing my books.

“Just ask your mothers,” I said to the collective shock. “They will understand what I mean.”

I heard stories within hours about how horrified some of the students were at my “blatant sexism” for insisting Tolkien wasn’t sexist in valuing marriage—and children—in the way that he did.

Most of the students who were angriest were young women, although a few men chimed in as well.

How dare I suggest that there is something biological in the desire that women have for children? (I had told them about Peterson’s argument that women are neurologically evolved to protect their infants, which is why we tend to higher neuroticism, scientifically speaking.)

How dare I suggest that my experience as a mother was at all relevant to what they might experience as women?

It was as if they were channeling Cathy Newman avant la lettre:
If I was a young woman watching that, I would go, well, I might as well go play with my Sindy dolls and give up trying to go school, because I’m not going to get the top job I want, because there’s someone sitting there saying, it’s not possible, it’s going to make you miserable.  
Can you hear now how angry she is? How angry she is at herself for ever wanting to play with those dolls? How angry it makes her to think that there might be something in life other than a career? How angry—how very, very angry—she is to feel the temptation even for a moment of wanting something she cannot control?

Playing with my Barbies, the story was totally in my control. Barbie would dress up, and Ken would take her out on a date. Then—because, you know, even then I had some idea about what would follow—the toys would have “sex.” And Barbie would have a baby.

And they would live happily ever after, a magical three.

I dare you.

I dare you tell me as a woman that I did not understand my deepest desire. I dare you, all you Cathys who are so certain that not all women want the same thing, I dare you to tell me that your desire not to have a child trumps mine to be a mother. To own the only name that gives my life true meaning.

“Mom.”


There, now you have something to be truly angry about. You’re welcome.

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