Reviews | Ruth Marcus: A Federalist writer compared me to Strega Nona



I start with this somewhat embarrassing admission: Yes, I put myself on a Google alert. That’s how I woke up the other day to see that a conservative writer had described me as “Strega Nona look-alike columnist Ruth Marcus”.

Strega Nona, for those who have not read and reread Tomie de Paola children’s book series, is an Italian witch (the name means “grandmother witch”) with an overflowing pot of pasta and a magic touch to cure headaches, find husbands and get rid of warts.

Somehow, despite Strega Nona’s abundant talents, I don’t think the comparison was intended as a compliment.

Eddie Scarry, a writer for the conservative website The Federalist, was unhappy with my column about Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (RS.C.) and Graham’s warning of “rioting in the streets” if the Former President Donald Trump is being prosecuted for the petty information he had at Mar-a-Lago. When I clicked on his piecePaola’s reference appeared crossed out—”Strega Nona lookalike columnist Ruth Marcus” – which I took for some kind of apologetic way to hurl an insult without having to own it.

Sorry not sorry, but it won’t work. My column was a discussion of ideas – about how prosecutors should handle the public response to controversial cases. Disagreement on substance is fair game; bring it on. But why is appearance relevant? What drives Scarry to go there?

Ruth Marcus: Gray hair? Working women shouldn’t care.

The sensible thing to do in response to this kind of behavior is to ignore it, which is what I usually do. Why let someone think they’ve struck a chord? Why reward insults carefully? If size matters, my rig is bigger than Scarry’s rig; normally I wouldn’t use it to boost his profile. And, of course, what he directed at me is mild compared to the threats and vitriol that permeate the internet.

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But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the toxic intersection of misogyny and ageism, so this time I’m going to speak frankly. I’m going to speak up because there are a lot of women who might be less established in their careers, less sure of their abilities, less resilient. Who would be too worried about the backlash – and, frankly, too embarrassed to have been portrayed as old and ugly – to call the Eddie Scarrys of the world.

I’m going to speak out because, when it comes to looks, women can never pause. If a woman is too attractive, she may not be taken seriously, especially if she is too attractive and seems to be having a blast. See, for example, the partying Prime Minister of Finland. If a woman isn’t attractive enough – or, if she’s attractive enough, has had the nerve to age and show it – that also works against her. See, for example, Canadian TV presenter Lisa LaFlamme, who was fired after letting her hair turn gray.

I’m going to talk because men, by and large, don’t have to put up with this bullshit, and because women, too often, are silenced. If we are silent, the abuse continues. If we complain, we are shrill thugs.

A friend – friend – whom I asked to read a draft of this column suggested some tweaks to “achieve funnier instead of angrier”. I’m a big fan of the funny — derision can be more powerful than condemnation, self-mockery more effective than outrage. Not this time. The impulse to be funny underscores the female compulsion to remain sympathetic, for fear of appearing too assertive and therefore off-putting. Sometimes it’s okay to be crazy as hell.

Scarry, it turns out, isn’t new to this game. He got his 15 minutes of fame in 2018 when he tweeted a photo of newly elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – well, more specifically, from behind ‘AOC – with the sarcastic comment: “I’ll tell you something: this jacket and this coat don’t.” look like a struggling girl. Scarry ended up deleting the tweet, but apparently didn’t learn from the incident.

I contacted Scarry via email, asking him why he thought his language was appropriate. No surprise, I didn’t hear back. But my goal isn’t to correct his behavior or extort excuses from him – it’s to push back, Strega Nona style. As my daughter pointed out when I mentioned this incident, “Mom, you know, Strega Nona is kind of a badass.”

She is – and so am I, I hope. In one of dePaola’s books, when Strega Nona’s assistant Big Anthony uses his magic pot, causing pasta to invade the village, Strega Nona decrees that the punishment must fit the crime and orders him to take a fork. and start eating. It’s probably too much to expect Scarry to swallow his words. But hey, here’s a fork.


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