Elizabeth Wurtzel on why Elizabeth Wurtzel is so damn awesome

Good Lord. Elizabeth Wurtzel has written a screed that is so prima facie insufferable I wouldn’t think it needed to be addressed. Except it was published in the Atlantic and has 5,000 Facebook likes, so maybe it’s striking a chord. The piece is a polemic insisting that feminism demands that women work. Further, she argues, wives of very rich men who don’t work, but spend their days shopping and getting facials are making life worse for every woman.

Her tone is not measured:

I am going to smack the next idiot who tells me that raising her children full time — by which she really means going to Jivamukti classes and pedicure appointments while the nanny babysits — is her feminist choice. Who can possibly take feminism seriously when it allows everything, as long as women choose it? The whole point to begin with was that women were losing their minds pushing mops and strollers all day without a room or a salary of their own.

Let’s please be serious grown-ups: real feminists don’t depend on men. Real feminists earn a living, have money and means of their own….And there really is only one kind of equality — it precedes all the emotional hullabaloo — and it’s economic. If you can’t pay your own rent, you are not an adult. You are a dependent.

Okay. I mean, you can say that’s what feminism really means. I can say that “couch” means “a really great song.” But a rights-based concept of feminism, one that holds that women have the right to work, the right to be treated as equals, is surely what most people have in mind by the word “feminism.” In this conception, one has the right to work, but is not compelled to work. And it is indeed substantive. It doesn’t allow everything as long as a woman chooses it. If a woman pays more money to a male for equal work, then she has done something non-feminist. If Wurtzel thinks feminism should not be that way, that’s one thing. She should argue that. But can the “real feminists” crap. She does not get to unilaterally define a word. It’s Wurtzel who has the outlier concept of what a real feminist is.

Then she goes on to say that the wives of one-percenters are bringing the rest of us down.

Because here’s what happens when women go shopping at Chanel and get facials at Tracy Martyn when they should be wage-earning mensches: the war on women happens.

What is the causal link between facials and the grinding down of women? As far as I can tell, her claim is that it is this. Men with such wives hold them in contempt. Therefore, why would they want to hire women? Seriously, that’s it. That’s her argument about how this tiny slice of women is ruining it for the 99 percenters. And of course, she gives no evidence that their husbands hold them in contempt. She just seems to assume that because they are obviously contemptible, that must be the case. And she gives no evidence tying men’s attitudes toward their wives with hiring practices.

Then she goes on to say that being a stay-at-home mom isn’t work because no one pays you for it. Isn’t that begging the question? I mean, part of the feminist argument has traditionally been that we need to re-jigger our concept of what work is to include activities that are not compensated.

And my favorite part is that this bit:

For the longest time I would not date anyone who would now be called a one-percenter because money and power are such a potent combination, and if I am going to be bossed around, I don’t want that to be the reason. When it’s come up, I have chosen not to get married. Over and over again, I have opted for my integrity and independence over what was easy or obvious. And I am happy. I don’t want everyone to live like me, but I do expect educated and able-bodied women to be holding their own in the world of work.

is preceded by this:

I’m not much of a moralist — I have absolutely no right to be — but in the interest of doing what’s right both for me personally and for women generally, I have been strict with myself about earning my keep.

If you’re telling people in no uncertain terms the best way to live, saying that your way is the way of integrity, you are not a moralist how? It’s okay to be a moralist, but, girl! Own it!

She is working for women generally, she says. I personally did not think I needed a series of memoirs exhibitionistically exploring the darkest corners of Elizabeth Wurtzel’s psyche.  That changes the world for women not at all. So, thanks, but no thanks. And it’s not at all obvious to me that writing such memoirs is morally superior to raising children.

Rose Woodhouse

Elizabeth Picciuto was born and reared on Long Island, and, as was the custom for the time and place, got a PhD in philosophy. She freelances, mainly about disability, but once in a while about yeti. Mother to three children, one of whom is disabled, two of whom have brown eyes, three of whom are reasonable cute, you do not want to get her started talking about gardening.


  1. “Who can possibly take feminism seriously when it allows everything, as long as women choose it?”

    I find it odd that this line seems to be said with no sense of irony.

  2. Oh, sweet Jesus. People are still paying Elizabeth Wurtzel to write? I had no idea she even existed any longer until I read this post.

    It was not a welcome reminder.

  3. Because here’s what happens when women go shopping at Chanel and get facials at Tracy Martyn when they should be wage-earning mensches: the war on women happens.

    Enough: Tom Wolfe is dead. Well, he isn’t, but if popularizing the listing of brand names as a substitute for thought had been properly rewarded, he would be.

  4. I won’t clog up your comment thread with what would otherwise be a serious of strangled-sounding exclamations of dismay, but this:

    For anyone who doesn’t care to count, but understands traffic signals mixed with policy speculation, I think it’s safe to say that the day is near when a teenage girl will be forced to get a vaginal probe before she is issued a learner’s permit in the state of Virginia.

    That line, friends, made it past a copy editor. At the Atlantic. Not only did a paid “writer” think that thought worth expressing, but (God help us) the editorial staff charged with putting red lines through sentences best deleted fell deeply asleep on the job.

    • The vaginal probe to get a driver’s license is just a trojan horse strategy used by the Right to Jaws of Life movement.

    • “Traffic signals […] learner’s permit”. I’m giving her way too much credit in thinking there’s some wordplay hidden there, right?

    • It’s like some sort of absurdist radical liberal Mad Lib….

      “I think it’s safe to say that the day is near when [member of oft-marginaized group] will be [violent verb] to get a [rape analogy] before she is issued a [something assumed to be a right] in the state of [a state not called Manhattan or California].”

    • Now I feel bad about subscribing to The Atlantic for that absurdly low price TVD told us about. On the other hand, it was antislavery.

  5. Elizabeth Wurtzel is a moron, but for once, she has a germ of a point. If you mentally substitute “trophy wife” for “stay-at-home-mom,” her point becomes a lot clearer. There is something disreputable about allowing yourself to be a kept woman when you have every opportunity to preserve your independence. It’s also foolish. The forty-something trophy wife who loses her wealth and social status when her husband dumps her for a younger woman is a cliche for a reason.

    Wurtzel is explicitly not talking about women who take time off work to raise their kids, she’s talking about women who delegate child-rearing to servants and spend the rest of their time being pampered and idle.

    I don’t think these women are a leading threat to feminism, however.

    • There’s no question that, prudentially speaking, it’s a bad idea to lose your independence. And unless you’re some kind of maniacal hedonist, a life spent shopping and getting pampered is not a life well lived.

      But some people I know from back in the day have turned out to be these women. Some of them are like the stereotype Wurtzel describes, and even bring the nanny on every vacation and playdate. One with five has a nanny for each kid! The only thing from which they are not completely detached is maintenance of their own looks. Some of them, however, have a nanny but remain very involved with their kids. Some of them are lovely people and spend time volunteering. It’s a complicated picture. Not a life I choose, and probably not the wisest choice. But I don’t think it’s obviously morally wrong, and certainly not a major factor in the war on women.

    • Meant to say also that she’s inconsistent. One on hand, it’s the women who farm out the child-rearing that she’s accusing, and not just regular stay-at-home moms. But she also says that if you do not have a job that actually pays, you do not really work. And if you don’t work, you’re not doing your part for feminism, etc. etc.

      • It’s unfair definitely unfair (for Wurtzel) to tar a class of women with such a broad brush. My take always goes back to temperament first: some people are constitutionally lazy and being taken care of financially reflects and fulfills their inner being.

        I fit that description — if I had whatever it took to be (in younger days, of course) an ornament in an rich woman’s life I’d have jumped at it. If it’s good enough for a man, it’s at least good enough for a woman. Is this not feminism?

    • ” If you mentally substitute “trophy wife” for “stay-at-home-mom,” her point becomes a lot clearer. ”

      Except why does the reader have to do that? Why didn’t Wurtzel do it?

        • I’m not judgmental. If that’s what you really want out of life, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a trophy wife. I do, however, wish society were at a place where it would make equal sense to say “if that’s what you really want out of life, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a trophy husband.”

  6. real feminists don’t depend on men. Real feminists earn a living, have money and means of their own

    From another perspective, you could say those women are exploiting men. Consider if the situation were turned around, and the man spent all day shopping and watching TV and getting new tats done while his wife earned all the money. I’m sure more than a few people would think he was taking advantage of her.

  7. I don’t want everyone to live like me, but I do expect educated and able-bodied women to be holding their own in the world of work.

    Based on what? Plenty of educated and able-bodied people of all stripes are having a hard time holding their own in the world of work. Writing careers are very hard to build, and there’s no small degree of luck in who can “hold their own” in it. I am sure Ms. Wurtzel has done her fair share of unfulfilling, unglamorous work, but I do wonder whether she would really hold herself to that if that was the only work she had been able to procure for years on end, where there was the opportunity to be supported in a decent lifestyle while pursing a writing career before it became self-sustaining – i.e. before being able to hold her own in the world of work (in her chosen, or preferred, field). I don’t know the trajectory of her career, but I do wonder whether she ever faced that choice. I completely understand anyone who would prefer to stay employed in any work while pursuing the preferred career, even when the ability to choose not to is a financial reality. But I also completely understand choosing to make use of that opportunity to focus entirely on one’s professional ambitions.

    I realize Ms. Wurtzel’s primary focus is on people who make no pretense of pursuing professional ambitions – whose work is literally to enjoy the leisure provided to them by a mate. So perhaps this is a quibble with her language. But the distance between choosing to have no professional ambitions at all (what I think she’s really concerned about) and merely not “holding one’s own in the world of work,” especially in this economy, is really quite wide. What kinds of jobs would the women she is concerned about be able to get. To be sure, the longer they chose to be in the workforce, the more interesting and important those jobs would be. but I do wonder whether Ms. Wurtzel is projecting the meaning for her life of the remunerative work she is equal to doing (publishing self-reflective essays in national magazines) onto these women, when in fact for them, that kind of meaning in paid work might not even potentially be available to them. Basically, I’m asking, if the work that was available to Ms. Wurtzel was only what she experienced as meaningless drudgery (which might be the case for some of the people she’s talking about – and need only be the case for a few to be relevant since she is giving a general condemnation , would her view still be the same? Is it wrong to accept emancipation from work that is drudgery if that is the only work that is available to a person?

    I say no, and I don’t judge anyone who makes that choice, so long as the emancipation is truly freely offered by the mate. (Obviously, I think anyone who has the opportunity to do meaningful work and declines is doing harm to herself – but there is meaningful work that is not remunerative, and remunerative work that is not meaningful (I realize this statement will be opposed), and I support choosing meaning over compensation, again so long as the option is freely offered) As James points out, societal views of this are different for men, but where men are freely offered this option and take it, I personally have no judgment of them either. (A flip-side of the societal question is that, I have heard, some relatively backward-thinking successful men make it a point of pride that their wives do not do work for money. In that situation, I think it is wrong to blame women very harshly for not insisting on working, and legitimate to criticize these men for very likely harming the full development of their wives as fully-realized individuals etc. etc.)

  8. Well, then according to Wurtzel Simone De Beauvoir wasn’t a feminist because Sartre supported her financially for many years.

Comments are closed.