Jezebel writer misreads a Nerve article; the author responds

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Bob and PaulaYesterday, we published another installment of our interview series "Before You Were Born," in which writers sit down with their parents and get the scoop on their wild youths. This one chronicled the story of Bob and Paula Linderman, as told to their daughter Juliet. After a year-long courtship — initiated by a bumbling, if well-intentioned Bob — the two were married at the age of twenty-one. They’re still happily at it, thirty-four years later.

We’re really excited that Jezebel linked to and discussed the piece, but we — and Juliet and Paula — have to take issue with their interpretation, which strikes us as a little reductive. Jezebel’s Anna North took Bob and Paula’s courtship as a story about an aggressive male stalker bullying a delicate and apparently helpless woman into marrying him. In the piece as we ran it, the regressive power dynamic that North sees in the story is actually reversed; Paula is the vibrant and self-assured young woman who has no interest in settling down, in part because she’s juggling two or three other boyfriends. Juliet wanted to respond:

As a reporter and a woman, I value Jezebel, but it’s wrong to assume that my dad’s persistence in his pursuit of my mom was some sort of power play, or indicative of stalker behavior. Anna North wrote, "Is it any wonder that men stalk women, or fail to take no for an answer, when we’re constantly told that love is a decision a dude makes and a woman eventually, reluctantly agrees to?"

This actually goes against — almost exactly — what happens in the story. When my mother made clear to my father that she wasn’t interested, he accepted it. They became friends, and their romantic relationship grew out of that friendship. My mother was never submissive; she didn’t "eventually agree" to marry my father. They lived together for three years before they even discussed marriage, and spent a lot of time together before their relationship ever turned into a romantic one. By no stretch did my mother ever feel unsafe, put upon or pressured by my father. There was no "inexorable pursuit against the woman’s wishes." In fact, she was the one who, from my moment they met, defined the terms. She had a tremendous amount of agency — something that Jezebel’s interpretation takes away from her.

Surprisingly, the Jezebel post mostly ignores Paula’s take, leaving out Paula’s playful allusions to her adventurous sex and dating life before Bob in order to cast her as a delicate Ann Darrow to Bob’s King Kong. Paula — a few days before her thirty-fifth anniversary with Bob — wrote to us as well:

In a nutshell, I fell in love with my husband because he was the antithesis of sexist and the opposite of a stalker. I never, from the moment we met, until I decided he was the person for me, felt hounded, badgered or harassed in any way. Actually I felt respected, admired, and cherished, as I do today.

Both women also took issue with the hyperbolic use of the word "stalking." It’s a word that refers not to youthful flirtation — approaching a woman in a coffee shop, or leaving a "Welcome Home!" sign for a good friend — but to a crime that damages the lives of its victims. Throwing a serious term around frivolously not only seems a willful perversion of the story, but also trivializes the experiences of real women, many of whom shared vastly more serious stories in Jezebel’s comment section.

Human relationships are complicated, and a reductive interpretation — even one that purports to defend womankind — does no favors to men or women. Seduction (whether the seducer is male or, as is just as often the case, female) requires tenacity, and there’s a big difference between respectful persistence and "stalking." It’s naive to imply otherwise, and it strips "male" and "female" down to archetypes of "aggressor" and "victim," which, in this case, seems unfair to the two forthright and honest people that our writer interviewed. It also just doesn’t seem like much fun. — Ben Reininga and Peter Smith