The Intellectual Situation
Listen Up, Ladies
Every time a plane flies over New York, we think, “Oh my God—is it another Atlantic think piece?” We mean, “an Atlantic think piece about women.” The two have become synonymous, and they descend upon their target audience with the regularity and severe abdominal cramping of Seasonale. “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” “The End of Men,” “Marry Him!” These are articles intended to terrorize unmarried women, otherwise known as educated straight women in their twenties and thirties, otherwise known as a valuable market, if not for reliable lovers then at least for advertisers. Their purpose is to revive one formerly robust man of the house, who for years has been languishing on his deathbed: the cigar-smoking, suspender-snapping, mansplaining American general interest magazine.
Listen up ladies, these articles say. We’re here to talk to you in a way that’s limited and denigrating. Each one is written by a woman, and each woman is presented by the Atlantic as a distinct face of modern femininity. Caitlin Flanagan, taloned in her oven mitts, champions the value of homemaking. Former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter embodies have-it-all feminism while conceding its impossibility. Single Lady Kate Bolick suggests the possibility of a good life without marriage. But all you have to do is line these articles up to see that the spectrum is a farce. All of the Atlantic’s “woman pieces” deliver the same fundamental vision of the world, in which men never change and progress is a lost cause. The better path for ambitious women, they say, is to downsize—excuse us, restructure—their ambitions while they still can; gently, like a good friend, the Atlantic gives women permission to stop pretending to be feminists. (Lori Gottlieb: “We aren’t fish who can do without a bicycle, we’re women who want a traditional family.”) Whether to applaud their honesty or decry their politics, women read these things. Last summer, Slaughter’s article brought record traffic to the Atlantic website with 1.7 million hits.