The Heuristic Method

a scrappy blog for aspiring writing

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Why Middle-School Girls Sometimes Talk Like Babies

For years, I ignored the habit of baby voice and upspeak because while it is irksome, I was grateful my students were speaking up in class at all. I appreciate how hard it can be for some kids to open their mouths in class and risk embarrassment, so I did not want to do anything to instill more self-doubt or dampen their enthusiasm for my class. (Besides, baby voice works on some people. One male college professor I spoke with admitted that when a female student uses baby talk, “I fall for it like a ton of bricks.” He added: “It does make me softer and more merciful, more likely to expend extra energy to help, and so on.”)

I tried to look past the habit, hoping it, like most trends, would pass into history. But after a few years of listening to girls make smart and insightful points with tentative, childish voices, I felt compelled to intervene. I became even more concerned when I realized that the trend could be interpreted as something more sinister than mere vocal affectation. “Sexy baby voice,” or SBV, was showing up in television and films as an instrument of sexual manipulation, a way of exploiting our culture’s fetish for adult sexuality wrapped in adolescent packages. Grantland posited that SBV “portrays the speaker as a submissive 12-year-old trying to be a sex object.” Tina Fey mocked it in an episode of 30 Rock. Actress and director Lake Bell launched her own takedown of SBV while promoting her film In a World.

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Jennifer Lawrence And The History Of Cool Girls

Cool Girls don’t have the hang-ups of normal girls: They don’t get bogged down by the patriarchy, or worrying about their weight. They’re basically dudes masquerading in beautiful women’s bodies, reaping the privileges of both. But let’s be clear: It’s a performance. It might not be a conscious one, but it’s the way our society implicitly instructs young women on how to be awesome: Be chill and don’t be a downer, act like a dude but look like a supermodel.

You probably know someone playing a Cool Girl in real life, and you probably resent her — unless you’re a straight dude, in which case you probably think she’s great. But Lawrence performs Cool Girlness with such skill, such seamlessness, that it doesn’t seem like a performance at all. I’m not suggesting that Lawrence is intentionally inauthentic, scheming, or manipulative: Rather, like all the Cool Girls you know, she’s subconsciously figured out what makes people like her, and she’s using it. But is this persona truly “cool,” or is it a reflection of society’s unreasonable and contradictory expectations of women?

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Defending Barbie's Crazy Proportions

Culmone: Barbie’s body was never designed to be realistic. She was designed for girls to easily dress and undress. And she’s had many bodies over the years, ones that are poseable, ones that are cut for princess cuts, ones that are more realistic.

…Girls view the world completely differently than grown-ups do. They don’t come at it with the same angles and baggage and all that stuff that we do. Clearly, the influences for girls on those types of issues, whether it’s body image or anything else, it’s proven*, it’s peers, moms, parents, it’s their social circles.

When they’re playing, they’re playing. It’s a princess-fairy-fashionista-doctor-astronaut, and that’s all one girl. She’s taking her Corvette to the moon, and her spaceship to the grocery store. That is literally how girls play.

The functional requirements of a dressable doll is a completely unsatisfactory response to the question of Barbie’s harmful appearance. It shows that the design of Barbie was solving a different set of problems, while demonstrably not even considering others. That’s what sexism is.

Barbie is a part of many children’s lives. By Culmone’s own admission, children develop their senses of self from a panoply of sources in their environment- of which Barbie is undoubtedly a piece. You don’t get to compartmentalize it in this fictitious influence free zone just because your doll has 50 years of legacy clothing lines.

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Feature: The Taylor Swift Brand

By Larisa Yugorski

New York Magazine printed something ridiculous last month, very likely for neither the first nor the last time:

Still, is Taylor Swift really a “feminist’s nightmare”? You could argue the ­opposite. Her straight-laced fashion sense and dance moves—the fact that she’s never writhed across a concert stage wearing a negligee, or less—may make her more square than some other singers. But she’s also less beholden to that old feminist bugbear, the Male Gaze.

"Feminist" has become quite the fetch term this season. So much so that Beyoncé had to be anointed by Ms. who’s editors apparently don’t read AHP. Their loss really. But who exactly does New York magazine think they’re kidding?

The Taylor Swift brand is the Belgium of pop celebrity culture. The girl doesn’t say a word about politics, race, or gender unless it can be tied up in a neat little home made bow, scented with gingerbread and sugar plums. Or unless it directly hurts her pride.

But even here she was strategic. The Taylor Swift brand doesn’t need Amy Poehler or Tina Fey to maintain her squeaky clean with a twangy twist image. But it does need to keep the peace with Nashville and the CMAs- which may explain why she did not publicly call out Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood for their equally stinging remarks at the CMA 2012 Award show.

So The Taylor Swift brand lets New York magazine call her a feminist, giving her the caché of the term without any of the negative backlash1. Brilliant. Very smart. Then this happened:

The Taylor Swift brand at the VSG fashion show, the Stanley Cup of Male Gaze events. And there’s Taylor Swift, all feathered hair petulance, smiling into the camera while Daddy Joe Sixpack gets his rocks off.

Because The Taylor Swift brand is not about taking a stand. It’s about working with (not against) the cultural tropes that have historically represented women: princess castles, the virgin romance heroine done wrong by the hapless rack2, and apple cheeked domesticity. Taylor Swift the person’s active leadership role in her The Taylor Swift Brand does have feminist themes running through it (and certainly feminist activism to thank for its existence). But so does Sheryl Sandburg, and her soft-serve privileged ideology with a dash of boot strapping doesn’t bare much of a resemblance to 21st century intersectional feminism either.

The Taylor Swift brand masterfully works with those patriarchal tropes. Just look at her at the VSG show, uniting the virgin and whore dichotomy without offending one solitary minivan momma while still jerking off every Daddy Joe Sixpack that tuned in.

The Taylor Swift brand is not feminist. But it is brilliant.


  1. Just imagine the minivan majority reading that Taylor Swift is a feminist. 

  2. Taylor Swift and John Mayer make quite the Pamela and Mr. B

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Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars | The Nation

…“this goes to the heart of the efficacy of radical movements.” After all, this is hardly the first time that feminism—to say nothing of other left-wing movements—has been racked by furious contentions over ideological purity. Many second-wave feminist groups tore themselves apart by denouncing and ostracizing members who demonstrated too much ambition or presumed to act as leaders. As the radical second-waver Ti-Grace Atkinson famously put it: “Sisterhood is powerful. It kills. Mostly sisters.”

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Polygon's Games of the Year: The Last of Us

The Last of Us is on this list because it says those things we need to hear and it speaks to those friends who would rather shoot zombies. It’s an art game masquerading as a AAA shooter. It’s a statement game masquerading as an action adventure. It’s a game about a girl who becomes a woman, masquerading as a game about a man who becomes her savior.

Beautifully put, and I couldn’t agree more. I wrote about The Last of Us last summer, and I still find myself thinking about it often.

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The NFL's real problem with Chris Kluwe is labor rights.

On the ex-Vikings punter and his “problematic” advocacy for universal human rights:

Kluwe is a problem because there isn’t a paint-by-numbers NFL resolution to his complaint, that is, employing bigots who marginalize human beings on one of the biggest hot-button issues of our time. And he’s a bummer, because he makes people at home have bad-feels, when they’re supposed to spend money and have no-feels. Maybe you love Rick Santorum and think that gay marriage will lead to man on dog. Maybe you have a gay family member or friend and hate being reminded that they have fewer rights than you. Either way, you are not supposed to be thinking about this — not when the color on your Coors Light™ could have just changed.