Dan Savage: When In Doubt, Blame the Women

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.

men, women, fat, aging, feminism, sexism, sexual attraction, sex, love, body image, size acceptance, Dan Savage, Body Impolitic

4 thoughts on “Dan Savage: When In Doubt, Blame the Women

  1. I read your response and I actually thought it was beautiful the best of all the responses taking a different and more thoughtful tack.

    His latest stunts shows his utter contempt for his own readership which seems a rather roundabout way of expressing his own self-loathing. But then he has convinced himself that he is unworthy of love unless he puts himself through things he clearly hates who is supposed to clean up this mess, why women of course, that’s what we are for.

  2. Thank you for getting the point! I really think the point of all this is not so much that Dan Savage dislikes fat people, but his contempt for women in general. I kind of like him and think he sometimes is a funny guy, though I take all and any advice he gives women with a grain of salt, because he seems to know nothing about us. He’s always blaming women and saying how grossed out he is by vaginas. I don’t know how seriously we should take a sex columnist who hates vaginas. Like you said, if he were a different kind of person, he would think about all this uproar and maybe try to view women differently. Since he’s an asshole, in his own words (and proud of it), he’ll just continue to do the same. And he still considers himself to be open-minded!

  3. Why must a spouse accept a radical change in the physical appearance of their spouse that is not the result of age, accident or what have you? We are not talking about people that got married to someone fat and then pressured them to lose weight. The letter that started this was one where the spouse gained a huge amount of weight after they were married, and it wasn’t just weight gain, it was a complete lack of taking care of her appearance.

    I don’t think Dan Savage doesn’t expect people to age, but their is a difference between people aging and a complete physical deterioration. And yes, grooming is a part of that. I shower for my spouse, I comb my hair, wear nice clothes that fit. I spend some time on how I look because I CARE ABOUT WHAT SHE THINKS OF ME! That is what he is trying to say, that letting your self go after you are married says “I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU THINK OF ME” which is taking your spouse for granted. While I love my spouse for more then her physical attributes, they still matter for me as they do for her.

    The other point he was making was this. The advice to the gay couple called for brutal honesty, one of Dan Savage’s pet peeves. He did what he did to show that brutal honesty is not really a great idea. I think that he didn’t do it in the best way and he didn’t seem to think that the people calling for brutal honesty with the first couple are not necessarily the same people that were upset at the advice that the second couple.

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