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Category Archives: Discourse

Problematicity

Moved here from Captain Awkward. Somewhere down in the comments I got all confused because a little spat about problematicness arose, about single women possibly being jealous and/or bitter. It took me a while to catch up with what was actually going on. The we is all about the commentariat over there.


I think…. okay, I think that generally when we’re gonna talk about problematic things, we’ve got to talk about them in generalities and not specifics, unless the specifics we are faced with are clearly problematic. And when the specifics we are faced with are problematic, if we’re going to call them out, we need to call them out in detail, preferably with compassion although I personally would accept clever snark. (note:  it should be clever!)

I say this because problematic is a thing that is all about The Context and the Culture and all that stuff that has clever jargon I can’t remember because it’s been too long since someone summarized judith butler at me. So if we’re going to be all about how single women being jealous and bitter is problematic, we’re talking about cultures and tropes and shit like that.

At Captain Awkward, we are talking about specific people in specific situations, and so I think it is unhelpful to get into abstract concepts or jump on specific language and just stop there. It’s not about Being Right, here, it’s about Being Helpful. I think.

But if someone’s Being Problematic Right Here, then it would be okay to talk about that specific incident, including how it fits within the Greater World of Problematic Shit, but always being anchored in what’s happening here.

At least in spaces like the Captain’s blog, whose owner can obviously disagree with me.


As for the bitterness and jealousy question, I think that yes, in fact, it is a loaded concept when speaking of single women, who are socially valued according to the men in their lives, and who are expected to feel those things when they are unmarried at an advanced age. Where advanced is, depending on who’s talking, anywhere from 21 to 35 or so. Pretty much everyone seems to understand that women who are still single at 35 are suspect.*

In that CA post, the letter writer didn’t use the words bitter or jealous, so that language came from the Captain. However, upon investigation, I think it is appropriate to use those words to describe the behavior of the LW’s friend. Especially since JenniferP is saying “It is okay to feel bitter or jealous, and it happens, but it is not cool to get that emotional yuk all over your friends.” We don’t know how the friend would describe her feelings, but we do know how someone describes her actions.

White Rabbit reasonably posted that hey, you can be single and grumpy about it and not be jealous and bitter. She also pointed out that she doesn’t act like the LW’s friend, so… it’s kind of a point of info, and not any big thing.

Since everyone who’s saying anything specific about jealousy, bitterness, or singleness is saying generally reasonable things, I think that the source of the grumpy is all about the idea of “problematic” and what does it mean.

Thus, my analysis above. **

I conclude that Sarah is the one who went most astray in that commenting section. The big problem with her posts is the lack of stuff. I mean, yeah, there might be something problematic with an advice writer reaching for jealous and bitter as words to describe an unhappily single woman. That might be interesting! But she didn’t really talk about that, I’m just guessing that it’s what she meant. I’m still not sure why she thought JenniferP was trying to insult her commentariat.

*I got married for the first time at 36. I’m in generality-space in that paragraph.

** Everything since the previous asterisk is in specificity-space. See the difference?


White Rabbit wants to talk about problematicness! So I invite everyone over here to talk about it. Go nuts.