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

Commentarium (11 Comments)

Jul 15 10 - 5:41pm

Jezebel needs to stop tying America's hands behind their backs. They've become a bizarro, woman-powered version of The O'Reilly Factor.

Jul 15 10 - 5:42pm

Well, put. I'm surprised by the interpretation of this story on Jezebel. I think it's important for Paula to be able to respond to such assumptions.

Jul 15 10 - 6:00pm

I respect Jezebel and their mission to comment on women's issues in an informative, yet witty way. But they shouldn't assume negative gender stereotypes when they're not there.

Jul 15 10 - 6:01pm

Very interested to see how Anna responds. Seems like she got this dead wrong. Classic case of a journalist starting with a point and then trying to prove it out. It would be refreshing if she could just admit that and say "i messed up"

Jul 15 10 - 6:02pm

If Jezebel didn't do what they did, I don't think anyone else would. Love 'em for that.

Jul 15 10 - 6:33pm

Jezebel never implied anything about Paula's previous relationships or sexual behaviour. Their interpretation might not be one you agree with, but whether or not someone is the recipient of unwanted sexual attention has nothing to do with whether or not they have an 'adventurous sex and dating life'.

Jul 15 10 - 7:46pm

that's not the point--the point is that they're flattening out her personality to suit a narrative where she has no ability to navigate male-female relations herself.

Jul 15 10 - 8:14pm

The comments on Jezebel are very interesting. I think "Spenner" gets it right: "There is stalking and there is pursuit. No one who has been the target of either behavior would confuse the two."

Jul 15 10 - 9:43pm

You are right, that comment by Spenner makes the case. The Jeze writer suggests it's stalking and inappropriate and that's just flat wrong and frankly a huge stretch and pretty ridiculous. Jezebel is a great site, I'm a fan, but this writer Anna was so far off and should apologize to the Nerve writer and the couple. Between this and the Daily Show thing I hope that Jezebel isn't just becoming more sensationalistic or one-dimensional.

Jul 16 10 - 12:38am

Not really sure why everyone's shocked that a site like Jezebel would pick this spin to put on the story. I mean, they're not as silly as Feministing, but they're still one of those "let's go find something on the Internet to feel self-righteous about" sites. Nothing worthwhile ever comes of those; it's basically Glenn Beck for women's studies majors.

Jul 16 10 - 10:15am
in defense

I think Jezebel was wrong about this one, but I actually think their point about The Daily Show was well taken. People who self-identify as feminists tend to get taken as way more strident than they actually are. The tone of their article was basically, "We love The Daily Show, but..." which The Daily Show translated into "Jezebel thinks Jon Stewart is a sexist pig." Then their published defense was essentially, "There are a lot of women here, even if you never actually see their 'credits' on screen."

Basically I'm saying I think it's important to point out basic problems even in stuff that you love, especially when those problems are "funny show hires unfunny (yet good-looking) woman as first new female correspondent in seven years."