City Paper is not for tourists
Welcome back to “Sexist Beatdown,” a weekly online “chat” between myself and Sady of Tiger Beatdown. “Sexist Beatdown,” incidentally, could also define every relationship famously depressed person Elizabeth Wurtzel (pictured) has ever had (just wait ’til you meet GREGG, guys!).
In Wurtzel’s latest essay, “Failure to Launch: When Beauty Fades” (published in this month’s Elle), Elizabeth Wurtzel is depressed again. This time, because she is “old” (41)—-and also, maybe, secretly, because she’s spent the greater part of those years getting shit thrown at her face by epic douchebags. While aging has brought Wurtzel fame, book deals, and a J.D. from Columbia, it has also stolen the precious glint of youth from her eyes, and left her pining for her Original Epic Douche—-the beautiful peppermint-flavored-foot-massaging, bottle-chucking graduate student douchebag GREGG. The essay is, in typical Wurtzel fashion, funny, sad, honest, and problematic.
SADY: hello lady. your beautiful dream of talking to me while i’m all hopped up on the cough syrup is about to come true. and also we get to talk about how wacky elizabeth wurtzel (still) is! is she not wacky?
AMANDA: she is, Sady. I was introduced to her wackiness at a tender young age, when my mother bought me Prozac Nation. I was maybe 13, so I loved it.
SADY: yes. I recall reading Bitch in junior high. and hiding it from my mom, due to its provocative cover!
AMANDA: looks like she hasn’t “aged well,” though! ha ha … hmmm.
SADY: well… she still has mermaid hair! actually, this article is weird, because it is like, “i am old and ugly now. i should have settled down. however, i am neither old nor ugly, and still have lots of dates and sex.” so, when you’re reading it, it’s like… “sad! umm… happy! umm… happysad?”
AMANDA: but those dates want her for what she used to be (young and not ugly), which leads me to believe, you know, it may be a personal problem. but i think she admits that throughout.
SADY: yeah. i think she still misses gregg. can we talk about how gross gregg, the perfect boyfriend, sounds? is that cruel? “sensitive, an inveterate graduate student who used to rub my feet at the end of the day with a lovely pink peppermint lotion from the Body Shop.”
AMANDA: yeah, who was surprised when he threw a bottle at her face?
SADY: that was a shocking twist! he also pronounced that he was “her only chance at happiness,” and that she would now fail at life, due to not dating GREGG. GREGG is a witch! He laid a curse on her!
AMANDA: i found that part really interesting. a few of the commenters were chastising her for “bragging” about her looks, but i thought she made an interesting point about societal expectations for young women … i definitely identified with that, not with the “beautiful” part, but with the “smart young woman” part. not that i’m old and ugly or anything, but it was always like “you’re so smart, why are you [with him]?” or you’re so smart, why [aren’t you happy]?” stuff like that. and in her case, it turned out to be, you’re so smart and beautiful, why aren’t you with someone like GREGG who doesn’t fucking understand you at all and who does not make you happy? (and throws bottles). (like all your other boyfriends).
SADY: yeah, seriously. i mean, i get that she felt like the world was offered to her – and it was! she was elizabeth wurtzel! – and it still didn’t make her happy, and that would be enough to send anyone into a tailspin. i can identify with that. but also: tying it to your looks seems to gloss over sooooo many of the other problems. like, there’s this undercurrent of abusive bottle-throwing (or lamp-throwing, or frying-pan-chasing-with) relationships that i think it would be worthwhile to get into. yet she seems to blame herself for MAKING the dudes be all abusive, like so: “Now that I am a woman whom some man might actually like to be with, might actually not want to punch in the face—or, at least, now that I don’t like guys who want to do that to me—I am sadly 41.” Ummmm… maybe they did that because they were jerks? Also: maybe it’s good that you DIDN’T STAY WITH ANY OF THEM? Due to the jerk thing?
AMANDA: yeah man. i’m not sure she takes away the same lesson from GREGG—-beautiful, perfect, peppermint foot-rubbing, complete jerk—-that we might, either. Surely, she can’t be serious that she ACTUALLY THINKS her one chance of happiness was with GREGG?
SADY: Right? I mean, she’s all like, “if only I had stayed with GREGG – a dude i was so unhappy with that I cheated on him, multiple times, and also he broke into my computer, and also he threw a bottle at my face – I would be happy.” Um, probably not. Probably you’d be begging him to throw away his damn hemp necklaces. And then banging the mailman. Interesting fact: Elizabeth Wurtzel passed the BAR EXAM! She became a LAWYER, for a LAW FIRM! I find it interesting that this whole “I wasted my life” thing does not take into account the fact that she has had two separate careers that require a pretty tremendous amount of work and intelligence to pursue. Apparently, if you’re not with GREGG or a GREGG analogue, it’s all for nothing.
AMANDA: points for honesty i guess
SADY: yeah, and wurtzel always gets those points. i just think it’s weird that we have this narrative for women – and you see these pieces ALL THE TIME, it’s not just her – that are like, “i once thought i could date around and not settle down and pursue my career, but now I know I should have SETTLED. For I am SAD, SAD, SAD.”
AMANDA: yeah, but based on her earlier work, i mean, she’s been sad throughout. the essay is just a sequel: “Sad at 40.” that’s not to belittle it —- i like her work —- but given what we know, i can’t say that 40 has much to do with it.
SADY: exactly. i like a lot of what wurtzel has done, too. yet: it doesn’t make sense to position oneself as a cautionary tale about regret and wasted youth, if your youth was also spent feeling sad. i guess it’s just the positioning of this piece – as a one-more-lady-regrets-not-settling thing – that i have a problem with. that and the “i’ve finally learned how to make dudes not punch me in the face, because before it was my fault that they did that” thing.
AMANDA: that one little aside … she puts it in parentheses! i would like to read more about that little aside and why it is the case.
SADY: Exactly. That aside, for me, is the story.
AMANDA: i, too, have a lot of problems with this essay, but i think she’s writing about what a lot of women experience and don’t talk about. it’s not acceptable for women to feel that this is “their fault” —- but it’s understandable to me why they would feel that way, and productive to talk about that feeling existing. she should write a book about that aside, though.
SADY: Yes, definitely. I would buy that book. Even without the provocative cover.
AMANDA: she should interview all the dudes. that would be great. where is GREGG now?
SADY: Playing acoustic Bob Marley covers on the subway.
Photo via Wikipedia Commons