Laurie and Debbie say:
Last week, we gave our response to a particularly stupid and nasty Dan Savage column, in which Savage advised a man to “Tell your wife [who has been gaining weight] that you no longer find her attractive. It’s called being honest.”
A couple of days later, Savage recanted, “What the fuck was I thinking? … Rereading my advice now, I have to agree: That’s terrible advice. We’ll have a full accounting in next week’s column.”
So it seemed like he was taking responsibility for his advice, and admitting it was poor advice. If he was a different kind of guy, he might have actually said something like what we said in our column: “Here’s the thing no one ever tells you: you are not a slave to your attraction patterns. They can be changed. They were programmed into you in the first place, and you can work to reprogram them to suit yourself.”
But his actual “full accounting” is here, and, sadly it’s about what we’d expect from Dan Savage.
I didn’t write that response to HARD. Not one skinny word of it. You see, D&D, two weeks before HARD’s letter appeared in the column, I answered a letter from a gay guy with a fat boyfriend. Seeking A Solution, who described himself as outgoing and athletic, wasn’t attracted to his boyfriend of three years. After describing himself as “stuck,” “struggling,” and on meds for anxiety, SAS told me I wasn’t allowed to tell him to break up with or cheat on his fat boyfriend. So I advised SAS to drink heavily and warned him that sooner or later he would sabotage this relationship.
Readers–mostly female readers–were outraged: Before breaking up, before cheating, before drinking heavily, couldn’t SAS try being honest? … I thought, “Gee, I wonder what would happen if I cobbled together a response for this hetero HARD from all this advice these women sent in for this sissy SAS?” The advice you read in this space for HARD–all about being honest and open (including those now-infamous conversation starters like, “You have gotten fat and unattractive and my sex drive is nil, so can we do something about it before I bail on you?”)–was written by my female readers. All I did was change the pronouns from male to female.
So, Dan is proud of himself for:
1) stealing comments from his readers and offering them as his own
2) picking and choosing among genders, opinions, and positions so that “women” call for “honesty” “but only between men”
3) writing separate private email to the letter writer saying “Don’t believe my column,” so that all readers will get advice he doesn’t support
4) “coming clean” and, instead of taking responsibility for his advice, blaming it on “women” as a group
The first is slimy and dishonest.
The second relies on the all-too-common and always-wrong theory that “women” believe something. If you sort through the letters, you’ll see that *gasp* some women argue for honesty, others for kindness, others for various intermediate or different approaches. So do some men. But heck, if we make it that complicated, then we can’t blame the dishonest bad advice on the women, so let’s ignore those complications.
While we’re ignoring complications, let’s (of course) ignore any gradations and shades of honesty. To Savage, “honesty” is “You have gotten fat and unattractive and my sex drive is nil, so can we do something about it before I bail on you?” To reasonable people maintaining relationships, it’s “Look, I’m having a problem here, which is about us. Can we talk about it, and maybe both work on it together?” But that, of course, doesn’t sell columns.
As for the third point, here’s what Savage (claims he) told the letter-writer privately: “At 10 years together you have a right to expect that your partner will maintain some base level of attractiveness. That’s not about sexism–I expect the same from my boyfriend–it’s about respect.” So apparently he does believe that you not only have a right to expect your partner to maintain a given weight and a level of grooming, but also not to show signs of aging, or become disfigured, or … What if purple hair seems to you not to maintain that base level of attractiveness? Can you legislate it within the partnership and claim that that’s about respect?
Specific content aside, it is absolutely immoral to publish an advice column that thousands of people will read and give contradictory advice in private to the person who asked the question.
And finally, what do you think would happen if most of Savage’s mail had been complimentary? If the bulk of his readers liked his “honesty” advice, would we have seen the follow-up column? Or would he have sat back and taken credit for the quotations he “cobbled together” from his readers? We’ll never know … but we know which way we’d bet.