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Stephen Marche’s “The Contempt of Women” in Esquire and Women’s Right to Judge

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"Stephen Marche’s “The Contempt of Women” in Esquire and Women’s Right to Judge"

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Aaron Paul is very handsome, and as bewildered by Stephen Marche's attempt at an argument as I am.

I spent an hour yesterday considering how to tackle Stephen Marche’s calamitously awful piece for Esquire, “The Contempt of Women,” an attempt at cultural analysis in which he strawmans Girls, Sex and the City and Fifty Shades of Grey all in one paragraph, praises President Bush’s myopia, and literally cites declining sexual assaults rate as evidence of women’s contempt for men. It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say so much as I didn’t know where to start, at least until Marche tweeted “The women who show their contempt for my piece on the contempt of women prove my point by virtue of their contempt. Does that make sense?” It’s the perfect encapsulation of an idea that’s shows up in culture everywhere from the backlash against Anita Sarkeesian to the defense of comics who say that women aren’t funny: that women don’t have the right to determine what’s fit for judgement, particularly if their target is something admired by men or conferring of male privilege, and when they do, their judgement is inevitably tainted by self-interest or motivated by irrational contempt rather than the merits of the case.

It is, apparently, not okay for women to want clarity about the status of their relationships and sex that is fulfilling for them as well as their partners, as Hannah does on Girls, to attempt to negotiate the terms of their relationship as Anastasia Steele does in Fifty Shades of Grey, tease the president of the United States, who is also your husband and probably comes equipped with his own set of domestic idiosyncrasies and slight annoyances, or appreciate Louis C.K.’s self-examination. The thing is, there’s a lot of stupid in our culture, and contempt for women is embedded in that very stupid. I’m not sure why women are supposed to accord a heightened level of respect for narratives that tell us we should fall for inconsiderate schlubs whose inattentiveness is a theoretical down payment in future awesome, or the idea that sexual harassment is part of video game culture, or assertions that female incompetence is adorable and endearing. If people and concepts are going to treat women with utter, logic-boggling disrespect, I have no idea why I should bring deference to a contempt-fight.

But we are in luck! Because it turns out that even if I’m not supposed to feel contempt for things and behaviors, and men are supposed to ignore me, Marche is allowed to visit judgement down on his fellow men, and they’d do well to fall in line. “I suppose I should feel compassion, or some kind of weird gender loyalty, for the guys who can’t figure this out,” he writes. “In all honesty, I don’t. There is no masculinity crisis. There’s a crisis for idiots. The Tucker Maxes of the world are doomed. That’s not the end of men. It’s the beginning.” What a relief that someone is allowed to name nonsense for what it is! I hope Marche is ready and able to serve. Because I have a list of things I’d like him to hold in contempt for me.

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