I don’t like February much more than January. But I do love the way days earn one more minute of daylight, staving off the evening until just a little while longer, giving us a rose-grey-lavender sky, this one seen from the N train.
At the gym this week, half-listening to a throwback workout playlist, it struck me how casually misogynist—or at the very least, patronizing—the lyrics I grew up on are. The song that stuck me was BTO’s “Taking Care of Business” which heralds the working man, while dismissing “the girls,” who were “just trying to look pretty.” Other hits, all anti-female anthems: “Some Girls” (Rolling Stones, who also gave us “Stupid Girl”), “California Girls” (Beach Boys) and “Fat Bottomed Girls” (Queen). By contrast, “American Woman” (The Who), lets the “girl” grow up only to turn her away with:
“Don’t come hangin’ around my door
I don’t wanna see your face no more
I got more important things to do
Than spend my time growin’ old with you.”
And there’s everybody’s favorite date-rape Christmas Carol, “Baby It’s Cold Out There,” just a tale of a girl trying to leave, only to get roofied by a guy who wonders, Weinstein-like, “What’s the sense of hurtin’ my pride?” while she wonders, woozily, “say what’s in that drink?”
It’s the Seventies in Iowa City and my sisters and friends, Mindy and Jocie, and I are putting on a variety show in the basement, which concludes with “You Are Sixteen…”—basically an Aryan youth mansplaining life to a girl just a year younger than he is. The big finish:
“You need someone, older and wiser, telling you what to do-ooooo (sing it out). I am seventeen, going on eighteen, I-I-I-ll, take caaaaaare of you-oooooo!“
In the past year—and at no point before this—I realized that women and money is an abiding interest of mine. I won’t go into my history of money: growing up with enough, but not feeling that way, my Dad’s (I now see) reckless relationship with money, especially paying taxes, and my prior attitude of money as a somehow distasteful topic. I won’t go into because I believe we have to forge our own adult attitudes about money, not blaming—or at the very least rely on—inherited feelings on the subject.
So I read with interest Stacy London’s essay on “going broke”—after having taken a year off from employment due to back surgery, time spent mostly online shopping. It made me remember an editor in chief for whom I worked at Self, Alexandra Penney, talking about her bag lady complex. Years later she would lose the money she had invested with Bernie Madoff and write a memoir about it, “The Bag Lady Papers: The Priceless Experience of Losing it All.” The reviews of her book were infused with the impatience I felt reading London’s article, a litany of bags and shoes purchased and a lengthy trip to Europe, for which she bought a new wardrobe, so as to take better selfies. From Booklist on Penney: “When the bags are emblazoned with gilt-edged logos from Prada and Gucci, it’s hard to muster up much sympathy for Penney’s woebegone tale of having to sell the Palm Beach and Long Island vacation homes, sleep on reduced thread-count sheets, and downsize her Starbucks order from venti to grande.”
Indeed, an interview with Penney had her answering questions about putting up for sale houses in Florida and the Hamptons, but keeping her Manhattan apartment, which is still cleaned by a maid, three hours every day. So I guess losing “it all” is relative. I will read on.