6 Things Women Can Quit Feeling Guilty About (Because Nobody Will Starve If You Eat That Last Chip)

Numerous studies have illuminated an unfortunate fact: As women are at work, eating, trying to sleep, and probably just breathing, counterproductive thoughts creep into our heads telling us to feel guilty about our very existence.

Perhaps the most insidious part is that we’re so convinced our guilt is justified, we feel guilty for not feeling guilty.

So, without further ado, you are officially excused from guilt over these behaviors – and permitted to do whatever you want with the mental energy you currently expend on guilt.

Read the rest on Thought Catalog.

8 Awkward Things Nobody Acknowledges About Having A Vagina

Though male bodies are often used for humor in the media, female bodies are typically depicted as delicate, pristine, and best suited as sexual objects. 

Sorry to burst your bubble, guys, but as a newly popular genre of humor from female comedians (think of the show Girls or the movie Bridesmaids) has unabashedly acknowledged, females pee, poop, fart, and generally hold the potential for awkwardness.

Read the rest of my article on Thought Catalog for a few awkward tribulations of those with vaginas that are not normally, er, exposed.

So I’ve started this Tumblr

I realized I’ve been writing a lot these days about the challenges of dating as a feminist (exhibit A, exhibit B), so I’ve decided to create a blog dedicated to this topic. You can now follow me on dwfdatingwhilefeminist.tumblr.com.

I’m calling it Dating While Feminist, abbreviated as DWF – similar to DWI or DUI – because dating while feminist can sometimes truly feel like a liability. You’ll be hearing about some dreadful and hopefully laughable dating experiences, what they’ve taught me about our f***ed-up society, and how I attempt (and sometimes manage) to retain my feminist convictions and even occasionally some faith in humanity.

The idea for this blog came about when I was dating someone who was altogether adequate except for his lack of feminist allegiances. Some people suggested that, given the state of the dating market that straight women face, I can’t afford to be so picky regarding this criterion. I’m using this blog to demonstrate and commiserate about how bad the market really is – but argue against settling as a solution.

She’s Just Not That Into You: The Book That Should Have Been Written

Disclaimer: This article is about heterosexual relationships because it is written from my own experience, but I’m sure there are similarly interesting things to say about same-sex relationships, and I hope we can talk about them too.

Don’t want. Don’t act. Sit there and look pretty so that a man will make the first move. “You’ve got to get him to say hello.”

Field advances; don’t make them. Be the gatekeeper, not the one walking through the door.

Play “hard to get;” give him the thrill of the chase; be the prey to his predations.

Any woman who has grown up in this society is accustomed to these messages.

What if all this time, instead of preparing women for a lifelong waiting game while men take the reins, we taught men (and everyone else) about waiting for and giving the reins to women (or anyone else)?

Our society’s unwillingness to hear a woman say “yes” contributes to the lack of respect for a “no.” If men believe they are wired to want and women are wired to be wanted, there leaves no room to consider what women want – or don’t want.

In our current cultural climate, women’s desires are silenced to the point that men believe their only options are exerting pressure, manipulation, or worse.

These beliefs about our innate wiring are especially insidious because they get passed off as descriptive – merely stating a fact about diverging desires. Yet they quickly become prescriptive by suggesting that those unsatisfied with their roles are not in touch with their supposed instincts, and that rather than changing the status quo, “all they have to do is surrender to their nature.”

So here’s the advice that I wish everyone who has pursued me would read:

Give me the chance to pursue you. Don’t wait for me to say no. Give me the chance to say yes, or even better, to pose the question myself. I may not have been taught to pursue, but if I am “that into you,” I won’t let you slip away for this reason. And if I don’t take you up on it? That may be painful or uncomfortable, but not as much as sexual harassment or assault!

And in case this advice leaves any ambiguity, here’s a handy “She’s Just Not That Into You” guide.

If she doesn’t give you her number, she’s just not that into you.

If she ignores your texts, she’s just not that into you.

If she moves to the other side of the dance floor, she’s just not that into you.

She’s not playing “hard to get;” she’s just not that into you.

If she maintains a secure distance between you, she’s just not that into you.

If she sits there stiffly while you try to put your arm around her, she’s just not that into you.

If she doesn’t kiss you back, she’s just not that into you.

She’s not being coy; she’s just not that into you.

If she says no, she’s not into it.

If she tells you to stop, she’s not into it.

If she just lies there, she’s not into it.

If she’s not into it, that’s not being coy or playing hard to get; that’s sexual assault.

Instead of writing and reading books and articles about what men are or aren’t into or how men can pursue what they’re into, I envision a world where people took what women were into seriously.

Better yet, I envision a world where people take seriously what each individual is and isn’t into, without gender-based assumptions.

This world, where the absence of a “yes” is a “no,” is a world where everyone has the chance to say yes. It’s a world without a hunter-hunted, active-passive, or receiver-received duality.

In this future, there wouldn’t need to be a book called “He’s Just Not That Into You” or “She’s Just Not That Into You.” People would read something more along the lines of “Phe/Ze/They May Or May Not Be Into You Depending On What Signals You’re Receiving.”

I’ve seen glimpses of this future. It’s that moment when the bill comes and you’re not sure who is going to pay. It’s that moment when you’re not sure if your partner is in the mood (for whatever, really) and must get up the courage to ask.

It’s also that moment where you decide to treat someone who has paid for your first few dates. And that moment when you both lean in for the first kiss. It’s terribly awkward and terribly romantic.

And terribly exciting. After all, these moments are forging new territory – territory far preferable to a world where women wait for men to be “into them” and men must be taught to care what women are into.

The 5 Covert Sexists You Meet Online

Any online dating profile containing the word “feminist” is bound to elicit some unsettling reactions, some merely misinformed – “I’m not a feminist; I believe in equality” – and some outright adversarial – “I guess you don’t want a man with balls” (that’s an actual OKCupid message). You probably won’t give these people* a second glance. But some are less upfront about their sexism. They may even make it through a few dates before you come face-to-face with their covert but insidious beliefs.

1. Mr. Nice Guy

His MO: He believes he deserves a gold star for treating you like a human.

His case for himself: Guys like him are a rare lifeboat in a sea full of douchebags, so you’d better grab onto him before you drown.

Why I’m not buying it: Mr. Nice Guy is not an escape from the douchebags; he’s one of them. The minimal respect he would show a man should be a given, not a source of pride. Men like him believe a woman is a prize that you win for beating a villain in a video game or being a “nice guy.” Entitlement complexes are dangerous.

2. Mr. Guilt-Free

His MO: He would never advocate sexism, but he’s not too eager to challenge his beliefs about gender differences or update his views based on your personal testimony. “Privilege” is not in his vocabulary. He thinks as long as he’s not a mean person, his actions couldn’t have a negative impact on society. He also believes that owning his desires means not questioning their problematic roots. He’s probably attracted to conventionally feminine qualities. He also probably sees no issue with racial preferences in dating.

His case for himself: Like the nice guy, he believes simply being a decent person is enough. He wouldn’t deny that women have been oppressed historically, but hey, he didn’t do it.

Why I’m not buying it: Mr. Guilt-Free may be fun for a few dates, but after a while, you’ll probably get tired of him getting defensive when the topic of sexism comes up or dismissing your personal experiences.

3. Mr. Free Love

His MO: He’s all about sexual liberation, but his version of liberation is men taking liberties with women.

His case for himself: He’s a free spirit. He likes to test limits. Life is an adventure, live on the edge, blah blah blah.

Why I’m not buying it: Unfortunately, he’ll probably try to test YOUR limits. Mr. Free Love will try to push things a litttttle further physically than you seem willing to go – and might even whip out (pun intended) that “sexual liberation” rhetoric to guilt you into going there. Sexual liberation means not being ashamed of your sexuality, but he would have you think it means sharing your sexuality with everyone. Nobody should ever try to influence what you share and whom you share it with.

4. Mr. Separate-But-Equal

His MO: Whether backed up by evolutionary pseudoscience, New Age spirituality, or even just cultural difference, he celebrates gender essentialism as a form of diversity.

His case for himself: He believes in respecting one another’s differences. Yin and yang energies, male and female brains, etc. should all be considered equal – what’s not to like about that?

Why I’m not buying it: It’s hard to feel respected or equal when you’re being squeezed into one half of a yin-yang or one side of an evolutionary strategy. Mr. Separate-But-Equal isn’t listening to you; he’s finding a way to interpret all your actions as “feminine”: If you bring up an issue in the relationship and then move on and talk about something else, this is feminine fickleness; if you want to spend a day hanging out without any strict plans, this is feminine flexibility; if you want to talk about something he did that bothered you, this is feminine emotionality. Everything you do is fucking feminine. And everything he does is masculine: He probably believes that he is more logical, more visual, more sexual, etc., leaving little room for you to possess those qualities or him to possess “feminine” ones.

5. Mr. Men’s Rights

His MO: He fears that feminism is excluding men, resents the masculine stereotypes he has had to live up to, and counters your complaints about being a woman with anecdotes about why it’s hard to be a man as well. He’s also the kind of person likely to believe that he faces disadvantages by virtue of being white, straight, or middle-class.

His case for himself: There’s an appeal to someone who challenges gender roles and advocates some beliefs that are central to feminism, such as more balanced divisions of labor and challenging stereotypes.

Why I’m not buying it: We all agree that men should not be oppressed, that feminism shouldn’t reverse the current hierarchy, etc. Feminists aren’t trying to do that. I know it’s hard to be a man, and feminism is trying to change that too, but don’t try to compare our experiences or use yours to counter mine. A true ally will be sensitive to women’s struggles without claiming to fully understand them. Plus, Mr. Men’s Rights is often guilty of mansplaining.

Online dating is filled with these people, and sometimes they have noble intentions, and sometimes they really want to improve, and sometimes they’re just extremely attractive and hard to resist – but resisting them will be worth it once you find a true ally! While I’m all about educating people to become better allies, this education has to be solicited and should not be the condition upon which you are willing to date someone. Unfortunately, trying to give someone a feminist makeover is usually not only poorly received but also an ineffective use of your time. And it’s not your job

What behaviors have you noticed that reveal a date’s covert sexism? On a more positive note, what are some behaviors indicate that a date is an ally?

*As always, this is written from the experience of a heterosexual woman without the desire to speak for others but with the desire to learn more about their experiences.

Agency at the Margins: ‘Reading Jewish Women’ by Iris Parush

Iris Parush argues in Reading Jewish Women that the inaccessibility of Hebrew texts to nineteenth-century Jewish Eastern European women paradoxically afforded them an education that the men in their culture did not receive. More specifically, the inability to read Hebrew and consequent propensity for books in Yiddish and national languages exposed Jewish women to more modern and worldly ideas than their husbands, fathers, and sons were reading. These women ended up ahead of their male counterparts in understanding the Enlightenment ideals circulating around Europe, and hence were largely responsible for the secularization and modernization of Jewish society. The book’s implications are larger, however: Parush sees this historical situation as but one way that women throughout history have benefited from their marginalized status — a claim she advances both effectively and somewhat problematically.

The argument for women’s significant role in the Jewish Enlightenment contains two main premises that Parush expounds and tries to prove throughout the book. These two pieces of the argument correspond to two types of interactions: that between Haskalah literature and the women who read it, and that between women and the rest of their society. The first and most developed premise — that women gained greater exposure than men to modern ideas —  dominates the first five chapters. It relies both on historians’ analyses of the cultural climate that set the stage for this phenomenon and on primary sources that attest to women’s reading habits and the Enlightenment ideas that they learned from their reading, including excerpts from the books themselves. In the first chapter, Parush provides a historical background on the politics, particularly those of literacy, that led the maskilim to target women in their mission to spread secular ideas and integrate Jewish cultures with the rest of their societies. The maskilim “had to identify cracks in the system of rabbidinal oversight and widen them” (14), and one of tne of these cracks was in the regulation of women’s reading, which authorities did not oversee because they were more concerned with men’s education. Combined with the gendering of languages and consequent gender differences in literacy, this led to a “segregation of the reading public” into female Yiddish readers and male Hebrew readers (37). The second and third chapters discuss how the Jewish family structure, education system, and market gave women the power to get an education and (setting the stage for the second part of the argument) educate others. She supports the above arguments with subsequent firsthand accounts of men’s and women’s reading habits in chapters four and five.

To support the premise that women’s knowledge of secular and modern ideas was influential, the second half of the book demonstrates mainly with primary sources that women used their familial and social influence to transmit the ideas in this literature from the private to public sphere. Parush documents communities of women readers and how the ideas introduced to them, from Dik’s critiques of Jewish class structure and gender roles (149) to romance novels featuring protagonists who choose love over familial and religious duty (191), affected their behavior, focusing on a majority that read only Yiddish in chapter six and a particularly worldly and influential upper class literate in both Yiddish and local languages (known as Laaz) in chapter seven. She shows how women exposed to European literature provided male family members and friends with access to new ideas and influenced “yeshiva students who were losing their faith” to question the values Jewish authorities had taught them and promote new ones (188). These chapters show that class as well as gender affected reading habits and spheres of influence, but  class, like gender, did not prevent women’s influence. Chapters eight and nine give an account of how women struggled to influence intellectual communities of men such as the maskilim directly through the ability to learn Hebrew.

I found the first argument I have delineated more thoroughly supported than the second. Parush makes it clear with copious examples that women were reading about modern and secular ideas while men’s Hebrew reading limited them to old religious ones. But the connection between this reading and the modernization of Jewish society as a whole remains tenuous. This is to say not that women’s ideas are historically insignificant unless they spread to men, nor that the way men influenced women is irrelevant, but rather that Parush has the burden of proof to show that female Yiddish readers contributed more than “mere passive presence” to their societies and that others’ lives also changed because of them (188). Her conclusion asserts that “the influence these women had on the society surrounding them was no less than the influence of the literature upon them” (245), yet there are few instances in the book that tap into a change in mainstream beliefs. Most instances that demonstrate women’s influence on men involve interactions between individuals: women showing books to men (189), men sneaking peaks at women’s books (146), women reading to children (159). Still, Parush gets away with these examples because individuals ultimately make up the mainstream, and these ideas travelled from the bottom of society up rather than the top down. Though Parush could have more fully traced the path of Haskalah ideas from the women who read them to the authorities who ultimately adopted them and from the time they emerged to the time they became the norm, it is difficult to debate the premise that half a population’s ways of thinking influenced the culture as a whole.

Now I will turn to what I believe to be Parush’s stakes in writing this book. A central thesis of the book is that there are “benefits of marginality” (57); that is, being confined to certain spheres of influence can create opportunities that may not have otherwise existed to influence others from within that sphere. She mentions early in the preface that, in more than one instance, “the marginalized space that a society allocates to its disparaged or neglected social groups provides these groups with degrees of freedom and latitude” (xiii). When talking about freedom, Parush is implicitly talking about agency — the ability to make one’s own decisions despite oppression. She is arguing that women’s position of inferiority within European Jewish society and confinement to roles considered passive did not actually make them passive, and because they were active agents, women have contributed more to their culture than historical records would have us believe.

Writing about women in a way that suggests they have agency is a commendable goal. Feminist approaches to history sound suspiciously similar to patriarchal accounts when they lament women’s passivity in the face of an insurmountable male ruling class. This depiction is especially a problem for theories about non-Western women — Gayatri Spivak has identified a common rhetoric of “white women saving Brown women from Brown men” (297) — but also applies to representing the past. It is easy to assume that we are now more enlightened and more empowering of women than in ages past, and that women had to be saved from old ideologies and traditions. Parush is determined not to depict pre-Enlightenment Jewish women who had to be saved from Jewish men. There are several instances, however, in with Parush risks reproducing the reasoning she seeks to contend.

One such risk is that in combating depictions of Jewish women who had to be saved from Jewish men, she depicts Jewish men who had to be saved from the Jewish authorities and traditions that kept them out of touch with the times and the rest of Europe. Parush writes in a celebratory manner about women who “made efforts to spread the Haskalah out of the declared ideological mission of aiding the secularization and modernization of Jewish society” (188-89). This implies that these women felt they needed to enlighten Hebrew scholars by converting them to a more mainstream and ultimately more Western belief system. On the one hand, this is a commendably subversive, gender-reversed way of looking at history. On the other hand, this picture of women saving men emerges from a broader dynamic within the book of modern secular European culture saving traditional Jewish culture from its antiquated values. This dynamic is apparent in certain uses of language that construct Yiddish-reading women as a stand-in for the maskilim and the ideas it advocated. Parush refers to these women as “conduits”for Haskalah ideas (146, 334), inadvertently painting a picture contrary to her argument, in which the agents for the advancement of Enlightenment ideals were not women but rather predominantly male authors and maskilim members who enlisted women. Parush’s disproportionate attention to how these readings influenced women as opposed to how women used the ideas they acquired augments the problem. Parush might have addressed this issue by elucidating how women interpreted and furthered what they read through the lens of their Jewish background. As it stands, the picture of women heroically heralding gentile culture into Jewish societies has problematic implications. From behind the gender opposition Parush constructs emerges an opposition between cultural backgrounds, one in which knowledge of non-Jewish backgrounds provides an “advantage” (xiii, 62) or “benefit” (xiii, 57, 243) over those with knowledge of the Jewish background.

Parush’s presentation of women’s exposure to modern, secular, European ideas, rather than traditional Jewish ones, as a positive development contributes to this savior narrative and is problematic in its own right. Parush does not bring the same critical lens to modernization that she brings to Hebrew literacy, for which she questions what is assumed to be superior. Just as women’s isolation from men’s Hebrew-reading world gave them their own Yiddish-reading culture, the segregation of Jewish society allowed for a culture that could not exist in the same way after the Enlightenment. This is not to say that modernization was a bad thing, but to refrain from making a value judgement at all. To Parush’s credit, women’s literacy in languages other than Hebrew, especially national languages, may have created practical advantages for them that are not value-laden. Still, one must be careful not to make a value judgement on a historical situation. It is easy to look back on modernization now as a triumph of progress over stagnancy and reason over tradition, but this would be to evaluate modernization from a modern and hence limited perspective.

Iris Parush argues in Reading Jewish Women that Rabbidic authorities’ “attitude of disdain and permissiveness toward women” allowed them more intellectual freedom than men, whose studies were taken more seriously and hence were formally regulated (243). This allowed women to slide under the radar as they catapulted Eastern European societies into the Jewish Enlightenment. Parush’s agenda in writing this book is to demonstrate women’s agency in the face of patriarchy and their consequent influence on cultural achievements thought to be men’s. She wants to argue that even in a culture invested in male dominance, women find a way to be dominant in the areas of life available to them. To accomplish this goal, she prioritizes what women did rather than what men did or what men told women to do. Such a project holds high stakes for feminist studies. It is important to show that women are not simply what men have made them or written about them.  However, when the stakes are so high, it is also important to question the value assigned to various historical developments. Parush neglects this task despite questioning the values assigned to gendered historical agents and roles, and by doing so uncritically paints a picture of a society in which modern, secular ideas triumphed over traditional Jewish ones.

Works Cited

Parush, Iris. Reading Jewish Women: Marginality and Modernization in Nineteenth-Century Eastern European Jewish Society. Trans. Saadya Sternberg. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2004.

Spivak, Gayatri. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Eds. Carry Nelson and Larry Grossberg. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988. 271-313.

‘Black Swan’ Choreographs Rebellion and Rivalry

I’m grateful I read a tabloid describing Black Swan as a “psychosexual thriller” before I saw it. For this film’s audiences, the Freudian lens functions as a pair of 3D goggles, giving the onscreen images depth, veracity and resonance.

The “thriller” classification is accurate, but no monsters or ghosts roam the screen; inner demons plague Darren Aronofsky’s latest creation. The blood that spurts from Nina’s (Natalie Portman) pores is not mere somatic injury, but the cascading escape of a violent and teeming unconscious.

Nina, a ballerina desperate for a lead role in her company’s upcoming production of Swan Lake, has never quite made the pivotal break from her creepily controlling mother (Barbara Hershey). Inability to detach the symbolic umbilical cord is always a problem for parents, but this scenario takes the psychoanalytical paradigm further: She’s a stage mom, attempting to recapture her unfulfilled dancer dreams by vicariously living through Nina.

Such support is tenuous, ambivalent at best, because of the rivalry Nina’s mother has established with her daughter. She fears that Nina will go further than she did and finally leave home in her 20s. In one scene, she asks Nina if the company’s director (Vincent Cassel), whom she’s been working with late nights, has “tried anything” with her. Behind her feigned concern for her daughter’s wellbeing is resentment of her youth and beauty.

In turn, Nina, the oldest member of the company, envies the freshness and spunk of its newest addition, Lily (Mila Kunis). A straightedge, neurotic Nice Girl, Nina dreads that her struggle to dance the part of the seductive, lustful Black Swan, a character Lily assumes with ease, will keep her away from the role.

But the White Swan, the protagonist with the aforementioned dark alter ego, is a piece of cake for Nina. The problem is, the lead dancer has to perform both. The parallel is clear: these are two sides of Nina. Paradoxically, she must tap into her inner Loose Girl in order to achieve a dream driven by her Nice Girl perfectionism.

Initially, Nina’s repressed passion punctures small pores through her rigid exterior, allowing breathing room. Her id seems under control, constricted to the stage.

Then the dam breaks.

Nina’s Black Swan persona spills with a violent vengeance into every area of her life, along with her unstoppable rage toward her mother, the one who gave birth to this repression.

The more immoral Nina’s actions, the more satisfaction one feels for her. This fury lies latent inside all our psyches.

Her former self, an echo of her ostensibly prudish mother’s scoldings, retaliates with piercing guilt (literally, hence, blood). The black and white swans haunt each other. These warring entities are too indoctrinated into the virgin/whore dichotomy to conjoin in one body. Nina cannot imagine a self that is at once wholesome and full of desire.

And once a former Nice Girl has released her sexual appetite and hunger for freedom, there is no returning to the former life she built her sense of self around.

Nina’s deepest jealousies and fears are projected onto her surroundings. She can find no refuge; her inner torture follows wherever she goes. It becomes unclear the violent sights she witnesses throughout the film are actual events mere hauntings of her psyche.

The force of Nina’s formerly unacknowledged yearnings — equally evident in the momentum of her twirls, several erotic encounters with the mentor who coaxed her dark side out, and the more classically gruesome images she ambiguously witnesses or hallucinates — is what makes the film terrifying.

It’s just about that time of year when heartwarming holiday movies have left us all overheated. Black Swan is spine chilling and mindboggling instead.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby: 253 Pages in the Mind of a Moper

Novels in the first-person perspective allow non-psychics to surmount their mindreading limitations and enter another’s head. But some minds aren’t worth reading, and books about such characters end up the same.

The novel that set the stage for Nick Hornby’s popularity (About a Boy, Fever Pitch, and High Fidelity adapted to the big screen; screenplay for An Education; songwriting for Ben Folds) is written through the lens of an uninteresting brain. The narrow worldview of record seller, failed DJ and self-described loser (it’s hard to dissent) Rob Fleming leaves little room for High Fidelity’s depressing cascade of events to amount to anything important.

In the midst of a failed relationship and midlife crisis, Rob reflects on his social life and career. He makes same feeble attempts to fix them, meeting a few entertaining characters along the way, but mostly mopes and obsesses over music.

Lyrics, melodies, musicians and genres are his codes for discussing people he doesn’t like and problems he’d rather not face. He lives in his head, writing relationships like songs instead of experiencing them. His accounts of events are imbued with the exhibitionist melodrama of much popular music; he revels in the culture of glamorized depression surrounding love songs.

Except, rather than containing them in an album, he turns his narrations “into life, which is much messier, and more time-consuming, and leaves nothing for anybody to whistle.”

Rob feels like the entire world is trying to shut him up, and he’s largely right. He spends the course of the novel shuffling in and out of his outdated record shop, making small talk with friends who aren’t actually friends, and sulking over his ex-girlfriend Laura — who ultimately gets back together with him because she doesn’t have the energy to deal with singlehood after her father’s death. One gets the feeling Hornby set out to make the point that life can’t unfold as romantically as fairy tales and daydreams. But instead of being realistic, the plot succumbs to a sad view of reality based on desperation and settling.

Some of High Fidelity is astute and humorous, and the narrator’s droning is satirical – he talks about the importance of “self-conscious ironic detachment” in social interactions — though excessive.

The novel is a quick, sometimes entertaining read. The pages don’t beg for turning, but they ask politely enough to persuade a reader with nothing else to do. Its popularity is partially due to music fanatics who relate to Rob’s obsessive-compulsive documenting of favorite artists, albums, etc.

Still, most of the scenarios are hard to care about. The characters are underdeveloped, except the overdeveloped, insecure protagonist. The climax of his life occurs when a journalist from an unknown magazine asks about his top five albums. He revises his response nonstop during the interview and calls three times afterward to redo the list entirely.

High Fidelity also has been praised for its exploration of gender dynamics. But Rob’s musings on such issues are incredibly shallow (which doesn’t come as a surprise: Hornby once wrote for Cosmopolitan). His discussions of gender roles stop just short of critiquing them. Laura’s best friend Liz, who becomes the antagonist —because Rob antagonizes her — is “one of those paranoid feminists,” he complains. But after 300 pages of Rob objectifying the women in his life and whimpering about how they disrespect him, Liz’s paranoid delusional voices start to sound more like the voice of reason.

Rob ultimately realizes he will never find a woman who describes him with the words he hears in ballads. This is a valid point. But he and Laura go to the opposite extreme, sticking with each other because they can’t get anyone better and want distraction from their worries. High Fidelity ends on a note of hope: perhaps Rob will finally get his shit together. But it’s doubtful. The way his mother suggests that her 36-year-old son is finally growing up is cringe-inducing, not heart-warming. At the end, it’s easy to picture Rob’s entire history repeating itself, given the unproductive nature of his thoughts. His surroundings have changed, but he has not, and the reader has not.