Q&A with Outdated Author Samhita Mukhopadhyay

When Samhita Mukhopadhyay, executive editor of Feministing, announced she was writing a book on dating, I knew we had to have her on SM. Because as those of us who follow her on Twitter know – Mukhopadhyay is everything dating books are not – i.e. funny and whip smart. (Yes, I may have a wee bit of a girlcrush.) In fall of 2011, Mukhopadhyay released Outdated: Why Dating is Ruining Your Love Life, a humorous take on the self-help genre chockfull of anecdotes from the author’s own love life. Topics covered include: “dating while feminist,” the masculinity “crisis” and more. Apropos to Valentine’s Day, I asked the author to tell us more about Outdated.

Why did you feel you had to write Outdated: Why Dating Is Ruining Your Love Life? And why this particular title?

I wrote Outdated because I couldn’t believe how profoundly ignorant mainstream books on dating were and I couldn’t believe that no one had already written a book discussing how deeply problematic the assumptions about gender and love were in them. I felt the young women in our generation deserved something better.

If a girl had the opportunity to read one chapter in this book, what would it be and why?

Depends on how old that girl is, but probably the chapter on casual sex (Chapter 8: “Naughty Girls Need Love Too”). It is hard to find Real Talk on the pressures young women feel today to act a certain way sexually and parse through the messages to figure out what they really want.

How does your book speak to desi women, who find themselves pressured by both their families/culture and mainstream media?

I wrote the book from my point of view and I’m a South Asian woman, child of immigrants, and also an activist, feminist, and a whole assortment of other things. I think as a result many people from varying backgrounds will relate to my book. I didn’t gear the book specifically to the South Asian community but also didn’t shy away from talking about my experience as a South Asian woman. The world we live in is complicated and we are all bringing a diversity of experiences to it–will some parts of this book resonate more with some South Asian women? Probably–but it probably resonates mainly with anyone that has a more radical take on romance.

 Were you nervous about using your own experiences in your book?

Yes, my goodness. Did you read my dedication*? I specifically dedicated it to my mother apologizing in advance for the contents of the book.

*Dedication: “To Ma, for sacrificing everything so I could have the opportunity to ask the questions you never had the luxury to ask. (I also dedicate this to you with the hope that you don’t’ kill me after reading its contents.)

 Do you still date? Did you find it affected your post-book dating experiences?

Yes, I still date quite a bit and yes and no. If anything people want to know what it took for someone to get included in the book. I think people are fascinated by the subject more then anything.

Tell us about your Occupy Valentine’s Day movement.

Occupy Valentine’s Day is a tumblr and is in essence a media campaign to give people space to creatively express their frustrations with the narrow and limiting ways we think about love and romance especially on Valentine’s Day.

P.S. Readers, share the story of your worst Valentine’s date in the comments below and I’ll send one lucky person a copy of Outdated.

P.P.S. It’s not too late to submit your entries to the Occupy Valentine’s Day tumblr!

 

21 thoughts on “Q&A with Outdated Author Samhita Mukhopadhyay

  1. Her credentials don’t indicate that she is whip-smart. But yeah, she covers the expected feminist talking points well whenever she has a chance, so I guess she is well-trained in her area of “research”.

    “She has a BA from the State University of New York at Albany in Women’s Studies and Sociology and an MA from San Francisco State in Women and Gender Studies where her research focused on the politics of the feminist blogosphere.”

  2. Perfect_SAT_kid: Are you serious? Credentials???? You would rather determine somebody’s smarts based on your perception of their alma maters rather than actually reading their work? While I can understand the view that everyone who goes to prestigious-college-X is smart, it is ridiculous to imply that all students-at-another-college Y are not smart. The two are very different arguments. In fact, I’m certain that there are plenty of smart folks who attend both SUNY and SF State.

    FYI, I had a chance to read Outdated and I found the author’s writing to be both smart and funny.

  3. “Are you serious?”

    Yes!

    “You would rather determine somebody’s smarts based on your perception of their alma maters rather than actually reading their work?”

    Nothing that I’ve read from her body of “work” indicates that she’s remotely smart. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily imply that she’s not smart. Laurence Tribe has written his share of nonsense, but graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in Math.

    “In fact, I’m certain that there are plenty of smart folks who attend both SUNY and SF State.”

    The crux of the problem is vastly divergent standards. Most of Sepia’s readership likely doesn’t have high standards. By my admittedly lofty standards, there’s a very low probability that someone who attended either of these places and studied what S.Mukhopadhyay studied is smart. If they’ve attended both places and picked up those stellar degrees, they’re certainly not smart.

    • I see this as mimetic pattern matching vs. fluid intelligence. The former is the leading requirement in any ideological community and the latter will get you kicked out of the same. Also, the argument you’re making is not merely individual but is spread across fields of study withing the humanities and across to (and within) STEM. I, a history major, can freely admit the Econ majors at my uni were more intelligent (by evidence of the coursework being far more rigorous and those people doing my coursework as a leisure activity) but not everyone is humble/ideologically-detached enough to do so. You must also know that there are people who attempt to bring more rigor to social studies and, without concerted attempts at ideological pattern-matching evident, are not welcome within the broader community. The longest reviews of this book on Amazon are 3-stars and reference what is a fault of many pop-sociology books–attempting to refute entire bodies of work, like that of David Buss, without having the space to do so.

    • Hm, so you preclude the possibility that Tribe might be a dumb guy just because he went to Harvard, took math, and graduated summa? Perhaps he’s good at math but not smart. Some of us grok the rules of the school system, and some don’t…we call (you call) the ones who grok the system smart, but mostly what it means (in some cases, completely what it means) is that they just happen to grok the system.

      But the confidence that one such person gets from the validation society gives (i.e. grok the school system=general intelligence/potential/value) can really help to make the expectation come true, in some cases.

      Before you ask, yes I grokked the system well, I think my credentials would pass your “lofty” standards.

  4. Am I the only one who wants this book for free?

    This wasn’t technically a Valentine’s Day date, but we might as well count it as one because it tinged the next few Valentine’s Days with dread and disaffection. And a lot of pot and beer.

    It was my first “blind” date ever. It was my freshman year, and the fairly-attractive co-eds at my tiny liberal arts college were convening for the annual “Screw Your Roommate” event. I was there, awkward and nervous in an ill-advised Hawaiian shirt (although I’m pretty sure I had some cool facial hair going on at the time, a chinstrap with a shaven head that made me look like a post-Brown Sugar Mos Def. Or maybe that’s just my imagination.). We found our screw dates by going up on stage and saying the beginning of a phrase or line, with the people who screwed us (our hall mates, or in my case, my RAs) feeding both parties the lines. Most of them were snarky or appropriately vulgar, referencing contemporaneous youtube sensations like “Shoes” and the “Unforgivable” series (more on that later). My RAs chose to have us say lines from the chorus to Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” because he thought it would be tender (or he knew who my date was and wanted to make me look like a culture-less pussy so he could sleep with her – given some events from the following 2 years, I’m leaning towards the latter). It was cute, and so was she – a gorgeous midwestern gal with blonde hair and green eyes that would have never been attainable in my hometown but, given the higher average intelligence and lower average male muscle-to-fat ratio in my school, was closer to my league. If there was any hint that she was into me before (we grabbed lunch once), it was gone by the end of this date. Her screw date-less friends came along while we talked about what music we actually liked over cheese breadsticks from the school cafe. So, even though her friends were cool, I could never make too good of an impression. Once I thought I was on a roll, but then some kids who lived down the hall and had heard my near-impeccable “Unforgivable” impersonation, rudely interrupted the conversation and insisted that I do my one character repeatedly. Needless to say, the date went downhill from there, she kept leaving me to hang out with other friends, and when I tried to dance with her at a substitute-rave on campus, her friends pulled her away and did that thing where they look like they’re having fun together to escape boys and make the dude look like an asshole.

    I was convinced I’d never love (a white woman) again. I was wrong. On the plus, my post-screw date sadness drove me deep into the only worthwhile part of that night – honing my “Unforgivable” impersonation and, eventually, making this video: http://youtu.be/11cnwoyxEko

  5. “I, a history major, can freely admit the Econ majors at my uni were more intelligent (by evidence of the coursework being far more rigorous and those people doing my coursework as a leisure activity) but not everyone is humble/ideologically-detached enough to do so.”

    True! This reminds me of the criticism leveled at this paper:

    http://public.econ.duke.edu/~psarcidi/grades_4.0.pdf

    The notion of some majors being intrinsically harder than others was jarring to some critics.

    Of course, as you point out, the notion on fluid intelligence is itself under assault from some quarters. The current metric of choice is one’s ability to replicate the convoluted prose, devoid of any content, coming out of the PoMo generator/ used in the Sokal hoax.

  6. I have a ruler. First you measure, than I measure. Ok? Oh. I won.

  7. Perfect_SAT_kid: You win, may I never ever give credence to anything written by a non-Ivy League author ever again. Or wait, what is the category for a smart school? Does Stanford count? Williams? Michigan? In any case, folks like Steve Jobs were clearly not smart according to your criteria because dropouts surely must be worse than people with degrees from SUNY. Also, maybe I should not read too much into your arguments: how do I know you attend one of these esteemed institutions?

  8. Marriage rates are dropping and divorce rates are rising, with more and more single women left adrift to face old age with no romantic prospects. The original marriage contract was meant in part to protect women from spousal abandonment. The idea was that a woman would give her fertility to one man exclusively, and in exchange for faithfully bearing and raising his children he was expected to care for her as she aged out of attractiveness. It was a contract based on loyalty, mutual convenience, and hopefully love and companionship.

    Because feminists wanted to destroy that institution in favor of a societal free-for-all, they instead left millions of women exposed to the cruel vicissitudes of the sexual market. And most of these women are discovering that you can be strong and independent, OR you can be part of a familial unit that protects you into your old age. Not both.

    • Or: the idea was that the man would have to restrict his desire to have sex with no commitments, and in return the woman would provide him with what he needed for long and healthy life (stable emotional support, making sure he eats properly and well) and take care of him as he aged out of attractiveness (as does happen occasionally with men). She would also bear and provide the basis for taking care of their children.

      Wait a minute, what is the woman getting out of this, compared to the man? ;) Anyhow, strength and independence makes her able to take care of all this responsibility. Weakness and dependence would likely end up in a short life due to eating at McDonald’s for every meal.

      But anyhow, idiot men got confused as to the purpose of it all and as a result were unable to find any women to take care of them and then they had to end up posting their sad idiocy on Sepia Mutiny using big words to try to make their confusion seem intelligent.

      Since I guess I am on the web, and I even see the option below to connect with Facebook, it must be early in the 21st century…but where in time are our minds?

        • @tushar: You don’t get it, do you? “[Her [s]trength and independence makes her able to take care of all this responsibility.” She’s not hurt at all. As for your “truth,” well, as Deepa put it above, you’re a bit confused.

  9. worst valentines day ever: a few years ago, on a blustery february morning, one of my friends calls me to tell me that she has met this ‘stellar’ guy, who is also indian, raised in australia and was living in NYC for a year-long work stint. although she was in a committed relationship, she was convinced we would hit it off. while i had never been on a blind date, i needed to exercise my dating muscle (it had been four months since i’d split with my ex) so i gave her the go ahead. we exchanged a few emails and i actually began to look forward to seeing the guy’s name – let’s call him s – in my inbox. he suggested dinner and a movie on valentine’s day. i was way too excited. so we meet, and i don’t find myself initially attracted to him, but that was ok because i know attraction can grow. we went to dinner and had a great time telling each other (for whatever reason) of all our experiences with spiders and sharks. i laughed a lot. he touched my hand. i got butterflies. blah blah blah. we got progressively closer as the night wore on, shared a slice of cheesecake and out of nowhere, he kisses me. then we got to talking about family and s mentions that he was super close to his great grandfather who passed away recently, who everyone referred to as ‘bu.’ my heart dropped – bu? my great grandfather named bu passed away recently. we did the necessary panicked math and figuring out – yes, we were cousins. i can’t explain the simultaneous disgust and horror – we sprang away from each other like slinkies going down a staircase. we couldn’t look each other in the eye. now i know that plenty of people marry their relatives, that some people don’t think that’s a strange thing, but G-d knows, i do and so did s. we sat in stunned silence for the next twenty minutes. we had already bought movie tickets and s (bless him) suggested we salvage the night and go to the movie so as to forget what had just happened. it was horrendously awkward, but i appreciated his effort so we went to see the movie – black swan. a word to the wise: black swan is not a movie to be seen on a first date…especially a first date with a cousin. between the sex scene, the masturbation scene and the fact that we’d recently discovered we shared genetic code, it was the most uncomfortable two hours of my life. we sat as far away from each other as you can in a small movie chair. when the movie ended, we bolted – him downtown, me uptown, even though i knew he had to go uptown too. i have never spoken to him again and hope against all hope that i never run into him again.

  10. “I didn’t gear the book specifically to the South Asian community but also didn’t shy away from talking about my experience as a South Asian woman.”

    There is no “South Asian” or “Indian” community, never has been. You’re either a liar or a moron repeating colonial-era lies to imply that this, vast, arbitrary, geographic region has a people. “South Asian” people don’t intermarry, are not of one race, don’t worship the same God(s), don’t have the same mother tongue, and our history is downright antagonistic to this day. I’m not talking about Hindus vs. Sikhs vs. Christians either, personally I have very little time for Bengali Hindus or the self-proclaimed lower castes. Quit trying to define some affirmative political group.

    This fake, contrived identity is the reason for all your mental problems. You seek commonality where there is none, or the wrong type of commonality (based on some shared oppression mythos), and end up frustrated thinking there’s no “South Asian” men/women out there for you. It’s much worse, from a cultural continuity standpoint to, say, marry a Hindu from a different region than a non-South Asian person all together.

    • paul only ugly chicks are feminists its a fact, normal girls who can GET dudes do not have time for this nonsensical anger any white dudes out there trying to land an Indian girl, avoid the feminists