When I first read The New York Times write-up “Fiona Apple Faces Outwards”, I am struck by how deeply her transformation over the past seven years from big-eyed girl-woman to gaunt and isolated artist has affected me. Apple was always talented, but this write-up of The Idler Wheel encapsulates how Apple has transcended the fleeting pop stardom that is often offered to young, attractive female artists and has instead become a full-fledged musical auteur.

In her 2005 book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy argues that women have been duped into embracing “raunch” culture, wherein women and girls objectify themselves and other women in crude, sophomoric ways. Levy argues that “raunch” culture pretends to be about women liberating themselves, but is really about keeping women in their place as objects for the male gaze.

In recent years we’ve seen a similar trend, where women have been encouraged to buy into “asshole” culture. While some may argue that we have always tolerated certain types of male bad behavior, it seems there has been a cultural shift in recent years where we actually applaud watching male characters behave like jerks.


By Arielle Bernstein


In my poems, I like to imagine that I’m a gardener
getting ready for harvest:
with great care I plant the new bulbs
tend the lilies, pull the weeds

In real life, I leave the flowers on the counter
freshly cut, already dying.

You ask if they shouldn’t be put in water
and I tell you it’s already too late:
that winter has already come
full of small deceptions
full of things I can’t heal

You remember that morning I came home from class
with a shoebox under my arm, a baby bird inside.
It had broken its wing and we drove all day
Trying to find the local shelter

We were proud of ourselves when we dropped it off
Didn’t find out until weeks later that they usually kill
The smaller ones who are less likely to survive

I remember that despite its size the bird was actually quite heavy
I had to be careful not to drop it, had to carefully place it in the box
Close the lid tight so it wouldn’t try to fly from me

This is how I spent my whole life learning to love:
with one hand carefully mending, the other already waving,
already lost, already far away

Like most women whose hopes and passions reside in this business of the written word, my friend and fellow Nervous Breakdown contributor Arielle Bernstein and I have been following Franzen-gate with interest. In chat after chat, we wondered if this was merely sour grapes on the part of Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, if their criticism of gender-bias within the “literary establishment” (as represented by The New York Times) would’ve had greater heft had it come from a woman whose talents might be considered more on par with Mr. Franzen’s (like, say, Mary Gaitskill, Marilynne Robinson, or Jhumpa Lahiri). We had no real answers, but our questions lead us down the rabbit hole of gender parity in popular media.