The Uncomfortable Gender Politics of “My Husband’s Stupid Record Collection”

Cohabitation: it’s an endless series of compromises, all supposedly worthwhile in the name of true love and cheaper rent. We don’t just share our homes and beds with our spouses and significant others — we also share a lifetime’s worth of possessions, and the obsessions that drive us to amass them. That is, perhaps, one of the basic human truths that made a Tumblr called My Husband’s Stupid Record Collection, in which a woman has set out to review each of the 1500 items in said collection, a viral hit.

Librarian Sarah O’Holla’s journey through her husband’s (WNYC On the Media producer Alex Goldman) records is charming enough. “I’ve never been ahead of the curve with music,” she writes in her introduction to the project, “but my taste could probably also be described as eclectic on the snobbier side too — just in a much more clueless way [than Goldman].” Her writing is conversational and funny, and often perceptive in a plainspoken way. Rather than pretending to provide authoritative music criticism, she offers the rare perspective of a thoughtful listener encountering a wide range of albums for the first time. There’s something refreshing about this, certainly, even if it sometimes feels like O’Holla is playing up her ignorance and wonder for maximum adorkability.

And yet, none of the above seems to fully account for why people are so excited about My Husband’s Stupid Record Collection. Sure, it gets at something real and touching about long-term relationships, the way we can learn about the people we love through the things they love. But as acquaintance after acquaintance — almost all of them men — enthusiastically shared the blog, I noticed a more powerful, gendered slant to their appreciation of it. Whether they related to the guy whose wife complained about having to move 15 boxes of records from apartment to apartment or expressed the wish that they had a girlfriend who would take up such a project, the subtext couldn’t have been more clear: The people who love music, are frighteningly knowledgeable about it, and accumulate enormous record collections are dudes. Women know very little about music, find this behavior entirely alien, and could stand to educate themselves rather than hollering at their husbands to get rid of these goddamn dusty records already.

Of course, in the stubbornly diverse real world, there are plenty of women who love music and know quite a bit about it, who have to allow ample room in our moving vans for boxes of records that number in the teens. And for us, My Husband’s Stupid Record Collection is inspiring more eye-rolls and social media snark than Facebook Likes and expressions of identification. The problem, as I see it, isn’t just that this project reinforces the assumption that women don’t know as much about music as the men in their lives — it also perpetuates the more general, ’70s-Woody-Allen-worthy idea that heterosexual relationships revolve around men educating women.

Responding to a long thread of Metafilter commentary on the blog, which included many posts that criticized the project’s gender politics, Goldman wrote:

Sarah listens to a lot of my records. But she has other interests and just never picked up a good chunk of my collection.

Sorry about the way this story is cast, but…uh, she’s who she is and I’m who I am. I’m into weird music and she has read 4x as many books as I have.

We started this thing two weeks ago with no goal other than to get to know each other better. All of this scrutiny is a little weird, but hey, we put it on the Internet, so that’s on us. There’s a long way to go, so maybe you’ll start to like it better as it goes on.

I don’t doubt that O’Holla’s intentions in starting the blog were sweet; it’s even possible that she and Goldman never thought about how My Husband’s Stupid Record Collection might reflect decades-old stereotypes about gender and knowledge in heterosexual relationships. But Goldman’s defense of the project is worth examining: What does it mean that this couple’s quest to “know each other better” amounts to the woman exploring something the man loves? Why was her ignorance about music so appealing? And would the thousands of us who are reading — and sharing — My Husband’s Stupid Record Collection be just as charmed by My Wife’s Stupid Book Collection? I’m not naïve enough to think we would be.