Monday, September 17, 2007

I, Geek

Guess what, kids? I'm famous!

Back in July, the brain trust at Marie Claire, a publication I once considered to be of above-average intelligence for a fashion magazine, posted an article that I took considerable exception to. The gist of the essay was that there were women out there who were cold, calculating automatons who felt no need to be connected to other people - and what a fantastic step forward this was for women everywhere. I had some spare time on my hands since I was recovering from a minor medical procedure, so I composed and sent an angry letter to the editor:

This is what I sent:

Dear Ms. Coles:

I have been an avid reader (and paying subscriber) of Marie Claire since the magazine's redesign. I often recommend this title to friends, many of whom were looking for new reading material after the demise of Jane, lauding MC's ability to combine fashion & beauty with insightful articles.

However,I am inclined to retract my praise after Theresa O'Rourke's essay inthe August 2007 issue, "I, Fembot." While I share her distaste for hand-wringing and general over-sharing of emotion, I disagree with her assertion that being a caring, empathetic woman (or person) precludes being a strong, powerful, or successful one.

Moreover, I am astonished and appalled at the usually razor-sharp editors of Marie Claire for allowing this extremely ill-researched piece to be published without more careful review. It's obvious that no one on your staff had any idea what a fembot was before this piece went to press.

Fembots are possibly among some of the most unfeminist characters ever created. Though they were first seen in the farcical comedy Austin Powers, it does not change the darker reality of these characters. A fembot is an android created for either sexual gratification purposes or for use as an assassin. They are entirely controlled by men; brainless, as well as heartless, and not at all feminist. The remainder of your "proto-fembot" references are equally disturbing. The anonymous Vodka-ad robot, the ruthless,murderous machines of Terminator 3 and Metropolis and the servile Rosie are all unsettling ideals for any woman to be confronted with, but when combined with characters like the Bionic Woman and Seven of Nine, I have to object. First of all, the woman in the photograph is not Jamie Summers, but an entirely different character who appeared on a single episode of the show. Secondly, Jamie Summers merely received an enhanced ear, arm and legs, and endured no alterations to her personality whatsoever, as her inclusion with this grouping may suggest. Futher, as any regular viewer of Star Trek: Voyagercould tell you, Seven of Nine spent her seasons on the show endeavoring to distance herself from her cold, Borg programming and become a warmer, more connected human being.

Most of all, I find the very suggestion that the Stepford Wives are a step forward for women is a smack in the face. Anyone familiar with any version of Ira Levin's terrifying tale of suburban life and the suffication of self knows that a Stepford wife is something to fear and dread, and not to celebrate and emulate.

I sympathize with Ms. O'Rourke's struggle with dissociative impulses and what sounds very much like borderline personality disorder, but to suggest that this is a positive life choice for any human being (male or female) is irresponsible and completely wrongheaded. As any of the women in your photo spread would tell you (after recovering from the insult of being referred to as a "fembot") it is entirely possible to be both assertiveand caring – no batteries required.

All people need space, but one hardly needs to be a robotic, soulless icequeen in order to achieve this. For a magazine who constantly implores its readers to care more about the world around them (as well as their loved ones and selves), this seems to be a somewhat contradictory viewpoint. I doubt that O'Rourke's so-called fembot would give a second though to the plight of India's surrogate mothers, the crisis in Darfur, the war in the Middle East, or the environment, or anything but her own passing, superficial fancies. Am I to assume that such a self-absorbed individual is something to emulate? I certainly hope not.

I am deeply disappointed in your magazine for espousing these views. If you continue to do so, I might have to rethink my view of Marie Claire as a quality publication for intelligent, independent women.

Thank you for your time.

My friend Jessica imed me tonight to inform me that Marie Claire printed my letter in this issue! This is what they printed:

(big thanks to Jessica for the scan and huge thanks to the multitalented Ryan Eanes for his edit)

I can't say I'm surprised. I knew the minute I professed to know even the slightest bit about Star Trek that they were going to latch onto that and completely miss the point of the rest of the letter. I do take some comfort in the fact that I know that they got my letter, and I think they understood it enough to read it (although one can't be sure). Most of all, the fact that they chose to retaliate in such obviously childish fashion only illustrates that it must have made some kind of impact.

Worst of all, this proves that they really did like and support the Fembot article. defines "geek" as:1 : a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake
2 : a person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked
3 : an enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity <computer geek>
While I have spent a couple of drunken nights I don't remember clearly, I'm pretty sure that the first definition does not apply to me. So, I'm simply going to address the second pair of definitions. I am, certainly and absolutely, to the editorial staff of MC, "a person of an intellectual bent who is disliked." In fact, I'm pretty sure that they dislike the fact that I took them to task in what I hope is an intellectual fashion, and made them feel "like, all dumb and stuff."

The third definition proves that I'm at total odds with their article. An enthusiast is not divorced from his or her emotions. How could he/she be, and still be "enthusiastic" about it? It's impossible. By proving I knew more than whoever laid that page out about the characters they were referencing (almost all sci-fi characters, mind you) I made it easy for them to make their snotty little joke. I dared to care about something that wasn't exactly what they were telling me to care about (such as a dress that costs the same as the monthly rent of my three-bedroom apartment). I'm not caring about what's cool, and therefore I must be smacked back into place so they can titter about what a loser I am (because I watch Star Trek and read weird books and stuff) and feel better about themselves. All too typical for the industry, I'm sad to say. The crux of the matter is that they got their facts wrong. Just because those facts had to do with genre shows and movies, they found it necessary to insult me. Would I have been considered "geeky" if I'd pointed out how they'd mis-identified a Supreme Court Justice or trio of supermodels? Would they have simply run a correction and nothing more?

Genre fans put up with a lot. We have to. Our shows get canceled just as they gain creative steam or they languish in terrible time slots, not to mention that they're rarely ever taken seriously. And don't even get me started on the cross-eyed looks we get for reading stuff that wasn't recommended by Oprah. This whole thing reminds me of an incident when I was interning at a PR firm up in Albany. Some of the women in the office were big Alias fans. I wasn't. One day at lunch they were all raving about how amazing the show was, because there was this "totally normal girl" who had to cope with this "crazy double life." Sound familiar? Replace the brunette double-agent with a blonde vampire slayer, and what do you have? Right. So when I mentioned that I didn't care for the show, but liked Buffy better, the woman speaking sniffed and said that she never watched Buffy, because she "wasn't into that weirdo magic devil stuff." Had she watched the show? Of course not. She just kind of knew what it was about and decided to make a reference, much like the editors and other magazine staff members did when they laid out the page, and they chose poorly, which I happily took them to task about. The fact that they found it necessary to fire back at me in public when they could have merely ignored my letter makes me happy. I'll say it loud - I'm geek and I'm proud. I care about more than shoes and handbags and eyeliner, and these things I care about give me depth. And no, I'm not talking about the guy from those pirate movies. It means like, deep and stuff. You can look it up.

They get one more issue, then I'm cancelling my subscription. The magazine honestly hasn't been as good as it was before, and I'm starting to run out of reasons to cancel it all together and put my money into a subscription to Bust instead. Glamour used to publish idiotic articles like this monthly, but lately they've been great, and Marie Claire has been like this.

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