The XX Factor

Lori Gottlieb Is Insulting to Women Writers

Yesterday, Jessica Wakeman of the Frisky asked Lori Gottlieb about the article I wrote earlier this week about Gottlieb’s book, Marry Him: the Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough . To recap, Gottlieb’s argument is that college-educated women in their late 30s and early 40s who are still single are without husbands because they were too picky when they were younger and more marketable. In my Slate piece, I quote statistics she uses directly from her book to show that her argument is not grounded in data: Marriage rates are still quite strong for college-educated women, and overall marriage rates have dropped in the United States because the least-educated women are not getting married.

“I don’t see how that speaks to anything that I say in the book,” Gottlieb says of my article. “What I’m saying in the book is for those people who are not married and who want to be married and are wondering why they’re not, here’s what I learned and maybe you can apply that to your own life, too.” This is disingenuous. She is not benignly trying to share her experiences, she’s trying to scare women. As Liesl Schillinger notes in the Daily Beast, Gottlieb “intends this book, she writes, as a blood-chilling cautionary tale, ‘like those graphic anti-drunk driving public service announcements that show people crashing into poles and getting killed.’” And Gottlieb very explicitly tries to make the case-using statistics-that there are a lot of women who need this graphic PSA. Check out this passage from her prologue, called “The Husband Store,” about the traits she desires in a mate:

Basically, my Husband Store went from a six-story bulding to the world’s tallest sky scraper. And I didn’t think I was alone. Could the be one reason that in 1975, almost 90 percent of women in the United States were married by age 30 but in 2004, only a little more than half were? Or why the percentage of never-married women in every age group studied by the U.S. Census Burean (from 25-44) more than doubled between 1970 and 2006?”

As I said in my piece: No. Those statistics have nothing to do with upper-middle-class women having “unconscious husband-shopping lists” a million pages long. Of course, I do give her credit for making a provocative argument for the narrow slice of women to whom she is speaking. I don’t deny that there are successful women out there who are too picky or overly entitled.

But then Gottlieb gets personal:

Some of these people are really addressing their own issues. I understand. What’s exciting about this is they’re really touching a nerve and it’s getting people to think and I hope people will be open-minded. I think what Jessica [Grose] was doing there was, she’s probably highly-educated and she’s probably one of those women who’s saying, “Well, we do fine! We eventually get married!”

Gottlieb’s condescending implication seems to be that my piece was written out of defensiveness-and not because I found her argument lacking in solid data. If this is really what she is telegraphing-I’m just one of “those women” addressing my “own issues,” it’s insulting, not just to me, but to female journalists in general. Any woman who criticizes her book, Gottlieb is saying, must be doing so because she’s has her “own issues” about marriage and is lashing out. We’re all so emotional, we can’t possibly have rational arguments against her!

In reality, my piece was not written because of personal problems with marriage (I’m engaged). I am not “one of those women” as she put it, but even if I were, that wouldn’t make my original objections to the book any less sound. I’m going to finish this post with a little more from Liesl in the Daily Beast, because she puts it better than I could:

There’s such a thing as luck, and there’s such a thing as love. Sometimes the two forces combine, sometimes, they don’t. If luck and love had combined for Gottlieb, today she might be a housewife in Teaneck with an SUV of her own, two kids and a mortgage, and she would not have had the need or the time to have built her fabulous career, or to have written this whining, corrosive, capricious book.

Photograph of woman by Stockbyte/Getty Images.