Dept. of Craw Stickage

Via Ta-Nehisi, I came across Caitlin Flanagan's article about Helen Gurley Brown yesterday. I don't have a whole lot to say about the article, frankly. While she offers a well-written indictment of Gurley Brown's advice regarding sleeping with married men, her elision of the simple moral wrongness of doing so leaves me cold. But what really irked the snot out of me was this, which she offered as context for her observations about a funeral for a dead teenager:
I’d known the boy well—he had been a student at the school where I taught English—but I hadn’t loved him. In fact, I had never loved anyone yet, because I was years away from having a child of my own, and until you’ve done that you’re just guessing about love, gesturing toward it, assuming that it’s the right name for a feeling you’ve had.
What a galling, presumptuous and fatuous thing to write. How unutterably insulting to those people who have not had children, and how dismissive of and demeaning to their relationships. How self-congratulatory and pompous. (It's enough to make me reference Ayelet Waldman.) Indeed, how disconnected from the reality of millions of peoples' lives. Come to think of it, some guy who is generally regarded by many to be a paragon of love was childless (unless you believe idiotic best sellers).

Look. While I love The Critter already, my love is in its own infancy now. I have been assured by many close friends who are parents that it will grow and deepen and blossom and flourish in ways that are currently inconceivable to me. I can dig it, and I'm not arguing that parental love is not unlike any other kind of love. However, this is not a Now That I am a Parent post (which I hope to assiduously avoid, if possible.) This is simply my affronted response as an adult member of society. I find it unspeakably offensive for Ms. Flanagan to judge the love of spouses (or, until we have marriage equality, "partners") or friends as lacking in comparison to her love as a parent, to be unworthy of comparison at all or even the use of the same word to describe it. What a callous and indifferent thing, to think of the love that childless people feel for those around them as categorically different and inferior.

Bah. Even though it is incidental to the article as a whole, it mars the whole thing and makes me offended on behalf of every friend I know who does not have children.


  1. I will be a little more charitable that she worded it wrong, that she was most likely a young teacher in her early 20's who had not experienced life and love, and what she meant was she could not understand the loss a parent feels for a dead child (she was referring to a child's funeral after all), not that only people who have children can know love. And her line: "until you’ve done that you’re just guessing about love" is referring to the love for ones child.

    I don't disagree with this interpretation. I love my nephews and nieces but am not plagued by any of the anxiety and worry that I have with my own children, and never understood my siblings expression of worry over what seemed to me to be trivial ie (it is just an earache sis)

    As I said, I think she just worded it wrong and doesn't believe what you think she believes. I could be wrong of course, but am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.


  2. I think you are being more charitable than her phraseology justifies, but mine is no more valid an interpretation than any other reader's.