Boys vs. Girls on 90s Nostalgia

I am also going to make lists and be nostalgic if I want.

Okay, Ada, so I am feeling some super righteous 90swoman indignation and it is bringing me out of blog hibernation.

I was reading Tumblr yesterday and came across some posts by young guys dissing a particularly young, female brand of 90s nostalgia. The kind of nostalgia expressed by Miss World, who recently posted about “The Real 90s,” a new tumblr by Lesley Arfin and my very good friend Elizabeth Spiridakis. Miss World said of Lesley:

She was there. Like, really being an adolescent in the midst of the 90’s…not just some kid too young to know what the fuck the 90’s really were (grunge, punk, NYC, heroin, flannel, etc.)

The 90’s I was familiar with (and hate that I was only in my pre-teens during the best part of the 90’s) favored neon, NKOTB, crimped side poners, LA Gear Hi-Tops…what the fuck am I on about? All of this shit is awesome.

IGNORE ME. Follow her blog.

Obviously I am all for girls and women working through what the 90s meant and I am all for girls and women supporting each other, so I was pretty into this. Leon was not. He replied:

This has to stop! What the hell, everyone? Nostalgia, especially nostalgia for charming products that used to exist, doesn’t become OK just because you can suddenly rent a car or whatever.

It’s one thing for bands like Wavves and Real Estate to be “nostalgic” for the 90s by making actual art that’s inspired by things that happened then, and another to just like, list stuff.

Leon is friends with some of my friends, so I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt, but this post totally pisses me off.

First of all…this is so patriarchal. Telling girls “this has to stop”?! Um, okay, dad. Also, the phrase “charming products” is not only dismissive, but misses the point, which is that, for many of us, these “charming products” signal larger ideas and ideals that were important to us in the 90s, now, or both. And there is nothing wrong with lists. Lists are a legitimate form of archiving. Girls, like gay men, like lists. (Go read some Wayne Koestenbaum–a professor, and a man, so he must know what he is talking about!–for more on this.) Saying that effusive lists aren’t as good as “actual art” by young dudes is just a massive fail. Lists can be “actual art.” Andy Warhol was pretty into lists. The idea of “actual art” is already sexist. Etc.

Okay, I wasn’t only mad at Leon’s post. Because there was this, at Fluxtumblr, from Matthew Perpetua:

Leon is correct. It’s one thing to like an aesthetic, to carry on a tradition, to be inspired by old things, and to invest thought in things from the past in the present tense. It’s quite another to romanticize the past and cling to it because you can’t handle the present/adulthood.

Oh, how girls like it when boys tell us how we are supposed to relate to the past! We love it when we are scolded because we “romanticize it”—use more gendered phrases, please!—and when we are infantilized by being told we are clinging to something and by your assuming what we can and can’t handle. Cue the Robyn song, seriously.

Deep breaths.

I have a lot to say about 90s nostalgia. I don’t necessarily think all of it is radical (which doesn’t necessarily mean that I think it’s bad). And though I’m really excited about Elizabeth and Lesley having a 90s Tumblr, I definitely don’t think there is any such thing as “The Real 90s.” One of the things I think is so interesting when I talk to other women about the 90s is how vastly different some of their experiences were from mine. (A subject we have explored quite a bit on this blog and on my Tumblr.) But what I definitely can’t abide is guys’ dismissive attitude towards our nostalgia and what it means. Nostalgia can be political, even if it isn’t always explicit, even if it’s in the form of a list.

Seriously, guys, try not to get all Sam Tanenhaus on us next time.

What do you think, Ada?

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22 Comments

Filed under Kara

22 responses to “Boys vs. Girls on 90s Nostalgia

  1. “One of the things I think is so interesting when I talk to other women about the 90s is how vastly different some of their experiences were from mine.”

    This can’t be said enough. I am one of those women who’s “90s” nostalgia is far from riot grrrl/Liz Phair/My So-Called Life and anything thing else that allegedly typifies the nineties (I was a little old for some of these things and living in part of the country where trends hit late, if at all). I wasn’t even particularly happy throughout most of the 90s; romanticizing it holds little appeal. That being said, I’m tired of guys dismissing girls’ culture as silly and unimportant, which is essential what’s going on here.

  2. I am unclear on how “romanticize” is an explicitly gendered term, or how what I wrote was meant to specifically address women, though that one site is operated by a woman. Lots of different people are involved in nostalgia.

    Particular to feminism, I think it’s a terrible idea to mix feminism in with nostalgia. It’s a very easy way to send the unspoken message that it’s no longer relevant, or that contemporary feminist art and culture isn’t valuable. I’d really rather feminism not be some form of kitsch.

  3. doris midday

    so these guys said nothing more “sexist” than the stuff in the quotes? to me thats just articulating a valid opinion. and you go batshit insane and insinuate they are bad boys who just wanna keep women in the kitchen because they don’t share your point of view? classy. its people like you that give feminists a bad rep, if you don’t mind saying so. you will possibly call me a tool for this, but your argumentation is inherently flawed. because there isn’t any. just accusations.

  4. I have to go ahead and agree with Doris. I understand that it’s easy to sense certain implications that follow words like “charming” and “romanticize” and I don’t deny that they can invoke a patronizing tone. HOWEVER, neither Leon or Matthew attack the gender of the writers and I think what they are actually trying to do is point out that inspiration and nostalgia are two very different things. Inspiration can effectively lead to other creations, whereas nostalgia can potentially have the exact opposite effect. Calling on people (not just women but PEOPLE) to realize how ineffectual they are being and encouraging them to be smarter about what they’re contributing to a public forum isn’t sexist. In fact, claiming they’re being sexist… is. Last time I checked, women were allowed to except constructive criticism too.

  5. JR

    Matthew, I don’t think anyone was claiming that “romanticize” is “an explicitly gendered term”–this is all about what’s implicit, right? Like your accusation that Lesley Arfin “can’t handle the present/adulthood”? And you say this wasn’t “meant to specifically address women”–which I believe, but at the same time I’d say it’s not really about what you meant, it’s about the effect your words have in their context.

    • Yes, but this really assumes that I was only talking about Leslie’s site. Not the case. It’s just a convenient example that came up, the thing Leon was specifically responding to in his own thing. Honestly, I see this sort of nostalgia trap happening more often with men. It’s always a problem though.

    • Also, somebody WAS claiming “romanticize” is a gendered word. It was Kara. It’s up the page. Go look.

  6. JR

    I did look, and maybe I’m just being a pedantic jerk, but I was trying to focus on your use of the word “explicitly.” “Romanticize” as an *explicitly* gendered term. I mean, yeah, you didn’t say “the problem here is that women romanticize,” and I’m sure there would be nothing *explicitly* gendered in a dictionary definition for “romanticize.” I think part of what Kara was saying is that your use of the word “romanticize” had meanings that were not explicit, because it couldn’t really be separated from its context, which was the context of a man saying what was wrong with a woman’s site, whatever the intention was.

  7. As someone who knows Matthew and knows how often his Tumblr reminds me of great musical and cultural moments from the past (sometimes even from the 90s!), I have to take issue with Kara’s lumping him in with Leon here. His mistake was saying “Leon is correct” and assuming they were both talking about the same thing. There are a lot of different kinds of nostalgia blogs on Tumblr and on the whole rest of the Internet, and some of them are just unadorned photos of bygone products. I *think* this is mostly what Leon feels “has to stop.”

    It might not be “sexist,” exactly, inevitably, always, for a man to tell a woman that what she’s doing or thinking about or writing or enjoying reading about “has to stop.” But it is cheaply provocative in a way that assumes a lot of privilege, and that makes me, and obviously a lot of other people, uncomfortable.

    Matthew also seconds Tony Soprano’s opinion that “remember when is the lowest form of conversation.” That may be, but not if “remember when” is accompanied by context that makes us remember *why.*

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  9. Kara, you obviously hit a nerve. I really like what you have to say about this. I feel like the great lesson from 90s feminism is that we don’t tell each other how to feel or what to care about. Also, that feminist epiphanies can come from a lot of random places (Z-100, zines, SNL makeouts).

    And yes, I remember being told to smile on the street all the time and being so pissed off by it that I would scowl more. So, inspired by the scolding comments here, I just posted on the Clueless repro dress and I think I’ll go buy some pop music on iTunes and maybe, just maybe, fall asleep reminiscing about cold wine coolers on hot summer nights. – Ada

    PS. And for real fuck that. Because there are five million books about Bob Dylan and that’s okay, because it’s “real art,” but to talk about stuff that was important to us back in the day is consumerist nostalgia and bad? Some important shit happened in the 90s, and if we’re not allowed (as if) to talk about it in all its forms (fashion, movies, music, books, everything) and in the way of our choosing (chatty!) then how will we ever figure out what it meant — to us or to the culture?

    • anonymous

      you guys are my favorite page on the internet.

    • Has there been a post here yet about the “being told to smile” thing? I would love to read a 90s woman take (and ensuing conversation) on the phenomenon…

      (also Schala, sounds like your 90s were mega rough and I hope things are going better now.)

  10. Schala

    In 1990, I was 8, in 2000, I was 18. The 1990s were the worst time in my life. Well, more or less 1986-2006 was (from 4 to 24), but the only complete decade that fits in is the 1990s.

    From when I became excluded and bullied, up to when I transitioned and escaped major depression and suicidal ideation (which had lasted over a decade).

    Except maybe watching the CG version of Spiderman in the 1990s (every time I came back from school, for years), I don’t remember much that would count as positive or fun.

    Much of the time out of school was used to negotiate the harm that I had while at school. If I wasn’t also harmed by so-called friend, acquaintances, my own family, or the environment.

    I enjoyed part of the 2000s a bit and hope I enjoy the 2010s.

  11. I’m late to this party–and still somewhat confused about who said what and who is who–but this “I feel like the great lesson from 90s feminism is that we don’t tell each other how to feel or what to care about,” to me, is an example is what is sort of problematic to me about some of the 90s discourse. That isn’t necessarily everyone’s lesson from 90s feminism. It’s a good lesson! I would like it to be something we all go by! But overly broad and yes, romantic statements like that I think probably should be challenged, if only to ask that they be qualified a little bit as coming from your experience, Ada. After all, one thing I personally got from the 90s was the power of subjectivity and the importance of giving context to what you say, saying where you speak from, and not speaking for others. In particular I am now remembering a feminist film theorist who my friends and I all decided we hated because she never said “we” in relation to “women,” just things like “women do this” and “women do that.”

  12. I just came back to say that I super do NOT want to come off as one of those “gotcha” policey commenters, they have their place but it’s not my thing. God knows I make all kinds of pronouncements. Also, to make my subjectivity clear, I am on my second glass of wine and had a BAD DAY.

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  14. iva

    90′s sucked. period.
    The 80′s were more glamorous and the early 00′s /2001-2005/ were terrific. 2006-2010 sucks, because everything is so 90′s.

  15. Annie

    Wavves makes art?

  16. Mr. 911

    I was born on June 27, 1987. The 2000′s (from 2003) were the worst time in my life. From when my parents, psychologist and psychiatrist would corner me, lecture me and emotionally beat the shit out of me every time I did something they thought was inappropriate, especially when it came to me interacting with attractive women.

    My parents and doctors told me it’s inappropriate for me to ask an attractive woman if I can see the inside of her coat (if I like her coat, I would want to see the inside of the coat so I know what the inside looks like) or for me take a picture of her back even if the woman gives me permission to take a picture of her back because it makes them feel uncomfortable. I don’t see anything wrong with asking an attractive woman if I can see the inside of her coat or to take a picture of an attractive woman’s back if she gives me her permission (I would always ask the attractive woman for her permission before taking her picture). I would get very angry over their lecturing on what was to do and what I was not to do. I would respond with tantrums to let them know what I thought and how I felt about their lecturing; ’cause if I had stayed calm and pretended their lecturing didn’t bother me, I would have been lying. I would get very depressed and sometimes resort to self-abuse to cure my emotional pain. I even comtemplated suicide on several occasions.

    Sometimes I wish that I was a man who was born in 1967 instead of 1987 and lived in a mansion with wealthy, lenient parents. I would have been a teen in the 1980′s and a young adult in the early/mid-1990′s. If a man had asked an attractive woman if he can see the inside of the woman’s coat of if the man could take a picture of the woman’s back in the early/mid-1990′s, I don’t think most people would have had a problem with it. It seems like people became more weary of weird behavior ever since the Columbine School massacre on 4/20/1999, followed by the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks. Can we really blame two lunatic teenage shooters and 19 Muslim zealots for making weird behavior unacceptable? Hopefully, the rest of the 2010′s will be a happier time for me and I will attain my goals.

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