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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.

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15 comments
wowjustwow88
wowjustwow88

To quote O'Hollar: "A lot of the criticism of this blog is that it plays up this idea that women’s voices are marginal or less important, but for all that has been written, no one has made any effort to reach out to me for comment, or even to ask me a question. One article got my name wrong throughout. It’s clear that critics are more interested in making me a symbol of some harmful stereotype than understanding what this is, or who I am. Talking to me might make that difficult. It might humanize me." Did you even try to engage her before writing this pile of speculation and assumptions? I'll bet not, because engaging her as a human means you couldn't write such tripe as "it’s even possible that she and Goldman never thought". Sexism and patriarchy is all about projecting ideas and definitions upon women without their participation. How is what you've done here any better?  Why is it okay when women critics and nerds declare a woman to be a "fake feminist geek girl" using rhetoric which is eerily similar to how male critics and nerds do?


It's another uncomfortable gender trend: women indulging in gender policing and gatekeeping which, even it invokes a critique of normative thinking, ends up echoing how men silence women by picking apart their credentials and finding them wanting. The tactics the boy's club use to exclude women's voices are disgusting, but this has disturbing echoes. There's a not so tacit implication she's betraying the sisterhood by daring to explore an interest which "belonged" to her husband, which seems at odds with the assertion such things don't belong to anyone. You're essentially saying her interest is less valuable because she's admits she's not an expert, therefore she must care more about her husband than music.


Part of the patriarchy is that no matter what a guy does, there's an assumption he has a good reason and people will seek it out, while whatever a woman does, people will find a reason it is suspect. If a guy wrote a blog about exploring his girlfriend's "stupid" interest, as long as that "stupid" was obviously ironic, he would be praised for writing something witty about exploring a new interest from a point of ignorance. The only people who would call him out for betraying men by ceding ownership of the culture to his wife would be men's rights activists. It's sad that women can be counted upon to find their fellow women wanting as much as dudes.

r370dd
r370dd

Making EVERY DAMN THING some gender politics issue has gotten really tiresome. Can't we just appreciate something for what it is without having someone wag a finger at us about how our enjoyment is oppressing someone?

When you look for confirmation of your beliefs everywhere, damned if you don't find them everywhere.

NicolaMansfield
NicolaMansfield

I can't believe this is even an article!


"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."


How many times in my life have I stopped first to think how anything I did might reflect anything about gender and/or knowledge in heterosexual relationships?  Hmmmm.  *Never!*  Get a life!

ChrisFarmer
ChrisFarmer

Alex owns  1,500 records. We haven't listened to the records with him, listened to him explain what he likes and dislikes about them. when he bought them, what they remind him of, the context in which he places them individually, the feelings they evoke in him. From the fact that he owns 1,500 records we know only that he loves music and appreciates a wide variety of music. Sarah, on the other hand, is listening to each of the records and recording her experience and impressions of them. It seems to me that their quest “know each other better” amounts to something much more than woman exploring something the man loves. Alex will likely learn more about Sarah than she will about him.

stiricide
stiricide

I feel bad for whatever future-dude I end up with, because he'll have to write BOTH of those blogs by himself. (I'll probably have to write "My Husband's Stupid Participation Medal Collection" or something.)

Pshaps
Pshaps

I did college radio. I learned a lot about music. I am embarrassed about a lot of music I listened to before college.. I bought records of a lot of crap. I did get rid of it though.  Right now, i have several huge plastic cargo containers filled with decades of way too much music. I know I can't play a lot of it for general consumption, just because I like it or was in to some dissonant stuff in the days of yore.. I used to judge people harshly for not liking that and other stuff I was in to... and found that getting involved with someone because we had similar musical tastes, although initially titillating, just didn't play in to the equation of what was important for a healthy long term relationship. 
Because someone has a thousand records doesn't make all of them worth their weight in wax. You're placing a judgement on this situation regarding gender politics. I saw one of the heavy metal albums she looked at, and all I could think was what garbage that music and band was. Even with the dudes' philosophizing, all I could think, was what a moron to give this any credibility.
I think back on the movie Diner, where the woman had to learn about baseball and be tested on it, before her fiance would marry her. Well, that's supposed to take place in the 50's, and it showed how 2 dimensional those characters were. I think there's a different take on this.. I see their blog more about her putting up with and humoring his childish proclivities and "passions" for sucky to questionable to possibly acceptable music. and his response to her is more like reality TV's ability to give credence to people that think they're cute when they're showing how immature they are.

MichelleCastro
MichelleCastro

I am now dating a guy who knows/ cares about a quarter of the amount of bands & records that I love. I definitely feel like I am "settling." I dream of being with someone who is not only on the same musical wavelength as I am, but someone who can actually introduce me to bands that I am not yet familiar with so I can have new favourites. I've never been in a real relationship where I wasn't the one picking out most of the music that we would listen to. I cannot believe how many guys there are who are "totally into music," yet don't seem to mind it if their partner doesn't have even remotely the same enthusiasm about it.   

Callofat
Callofat

"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."

Granting that there exist obvious problems in the sexual asymmetry of forms of popular knowledge, and that a sensitivity to this is always better than not, I'm not sure this piece helps us towards that end. First off, the uncomfortable politics you note is generated less by the actual material of the tumblr, and more by a specific interpretation of a specific male audience reaction ("I noticed a more powerful, gendered slant to their appreciation of it"). As you seem to acknowledge, the intention and the reception need disentangling. But what's needed is a clearer policing of blame; either blame O'halla for tacitly reinforcing"Woody Allen" styles of masculine condescension, or scold the Pygmalion fantasy-corps. But don't half-heartedly exculpate O'halla while simultaneously slamming her and letting your many acquaintances who wish they were married to O'halla off the hook.

effincasual
effincasual

As a woman who understands, loves and appreciates music - I don't find her exploration or naive nature offensive or stereotypical. Like her husband said - she reads books because that is her passion in life. A lot of women (and men...and people) have selected what their artistic and life passions are and have found that it doesn't have to be music. It can be art, books, media, theatre. Personally- most of my female friends are record heads, music buffs. I have found them, sought them out, so that we can relate. But so are most of my male friends. I find music people because I am a music person. It does bother me a bit that there are stereotypes around music and women- but there are equally as many about men. I think it is honorable and loving of her to see that she has a gap in knowledge that the person she loves possesses; and wants to learn something about music, herself, and the person closest to her. 

Roxiestar74
Roxiestar74

@MichelleCastro I can totally relate to what you are saying. I am in a relationship now where I am the only vinyl collector. My boyfriend is a musician and he loves music, so I wouldn't say I am settling, but he only listens to music digitally and has no interest in collecting vinyl at all. I tried dating other men that collected vinyl in the past, but they were not looking to date women that shared their rabid obsession. It seemed to me as if those guys were looking to only date girls who didn't know anything about music that they could school.

stiricide
stiricide

@MichelleCastro  I gave up on "same taste in music" yearrrrs ago, mostly bc I like a lot of weird shit. Not knowing as much as I do doesn't bug me anymore, but not caring about how much I love it (or worse, faking interest in any of it) certainly does. Of course, being totally, uselessly out of touch (or, y'know, _wrong_) is also a dealbreaker. The last guy I dated said that his 3 favourite bands were CCR, DMX, and the Beastie Boys. I just... no. No. No.

Roxiestar74
Roxiestar74

@oddist I am female, I have been quite a few record fairs (and was far from being the only woman there) and have spent hours upon hours in record shops (I know lots of other females that have as well) and even gotten paid to do so since I have worked in two different music stores (I was not the only woman who worked in these stores). I also DJ vinyl at some of the bars around my town (and know quite a few other women that DJ vinyl too). My last 3 boyfriends did not collect vinyl. Does that mean that I should assume that men don't collect vinyl at all? Obviously that is not true. So just because 3 women that you have chosen to date did not collect vinyl, does not mean that they represent the rest of womankind.

bankholiday
bankholiday

@oddist  That says a lot more about your choice of partners than of women in general. Plenty of women buy records, you just choose to date ones who don't. You relate to this blog because you apparently seek out, consciously or not, women who you need to "educate" about music. And that's fine, that's your choice, but like you said, your experiences are yours and yours alone. 

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