Issue 491 | Correspondence | The Sun Magazine


Two sentences bothered me in Mark Leviton’s otherwise enjoyable interview with Stephanie Coontz [“To Have and to Hold,” September 2016]. When discussing how gender equality has led to economic inequality, Coontz says, “A man who’s a doctor or an executive is not looking to marry his nurse or secretary anymore. The doctor wants to marry another doctor.”

As a woman who came of age in the sixties and went to college to pursue a career and not a husband, I feel this statement is inappropriate and discredits nurses and secretaries. This idea could be expressed more generously by saying that people now wish to marry someone with similar earning power as themselves.

Suzanne Toaspern-Holm Chico, California
Stephanie Coontz responds:

As someone who is friends with a dedicated nurse, I am mortified by the way that sentence came out. In my defense, I did not say the nurse or secretary was trying to catch someone with higher earnings, but I see how it might have sounded that way. I was trying to make exactly the point that Suzanne Toaspern-Holm put so much better than I did: people look for mates with similar earning power. Nowadays, when there is a difference in education or professional credentials between husband and wife, it is more likely to be the wife who has more education — which is the opposite of how it was in the 1950s and 1960s.

Does Mark Leviton really believe that “American conservatives look back with affection on a time when the ‘traditional family’ assured stability for everyone”? He seems to think that a huge portion of the population is stuck in an episode of Leave It to Beaver. I’m nearly fifty, and my childhood memories are of Watergate, the war in Vietnam, and All in the Family. “Stability” is not a word I would use to characterize that period — or the forty-plus years since. By introducing his interview with Stephanie Coontz in such a blithe and self-righteous fashion, Leviton propagates a view of American conservatives that is insulting and dismissive. It’s time to stop painting all non-liberals with a brush that was manufactured when Dwight Eisenhower was president.

Brian Cooke Fort Collins, Colorado
The Sun responds:

The word conservatives was inserted during our editing process and was not in Mark Leviton’s original draft of the introduction. He writes, “I don’t think this type of false nostalgia is confined to any single political group.”

One slight correction to the introduction to the interview with Stephanie Coontz: It is The Evergreen State College. Like The Sun, “The” is part of the university’s official name.

Stanley Bernstein Olympia, Washington

Social thuggery begins in the teen years, when its cruelty is due in part to the clumsy obviousness with which it is practiced, and can continue well into adulthood in the workplace and community. Social thugs are usually small-minded people whose greatest skill is in coercing others to join them. I like how, at the end of the short story “#WeAreHarryChang” [September 2016], the main character strikes back swiftly and soundly against a bully. I take great pleasure in doing the same to bullies I encounter in my work as a lawyer. I wasn’t surprised to see that the story’s author, Thomas Lee, is also a lawyer.

Michele H. Thorne Wilmette, Illinois

Sam Mowe’s interview with Carl Safina [“Signs of Intelligent Life,” August 2016] was excellent. Like a lot of people, I am convinced that animals are sentient. I encourage any of your readers wanting to dive deeply into the philosophy of animal cognition to read Tom Regan’s book The Case for Animal Rights. He has assembled a wonderful body of work on the moral obligations of humans with respect to the rights of all sentient beings.

Brian Cousins Jamesville, New York

Upon finishing your August 2016 issue, I immediately reached for my laptop to write you a letter. Carl Safina had me nodding my head and exclaiming, “Yes, of course!” as I read, startling the dog and cat lying at my feet. Thank you for raising the topic of animal consciousness. I’ll be saving this issue.

Sue Sparrow Napanoch, New York

I’ve never questioned animal consciousness and have always wished we humans had kept our tails through the evolutionary process. It seems to me that as our tails shrank, our arrogance grew.

M.C. Strong Taos, New Mexico

Though I appreciated Carl Safina’s view of animal consciousness, he neglected a big subject: the meat and dairy industries.

Factory farms have created an animal holocaust at the expense of farm animals, humans, and the entire planet. Cows, pigs, and chickens are smart and loving beings who feel pain and are no different than our beloved house pets, but tens of thousands of them are savagely abused and neglected every day. This problem should be acknowledged in any interview about animal intelligence, but Safina and interviewer Sam Mowe barely mentioned it.

Martha Lefebvre Port Orchard, Washington
Carl Safina responds:

I thank Sue Sparrow, M.C. Strong, and others who enjoyed Sam Mowe’s interview and my essay adapted from Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel. Brian Cousins brings up the case for animal rights, and Martha Lefebvre presses the point by taking me to task for hardly mentioning the meat and dairy industries. I’ll reply by quoting from Jewish Currents’s review of Beyond Words, which states that my book “challenges thoughtful readers to consider their diets, their carbon footprints, their roles in the world, their religious views — all without ever explicitly raising any of these issues.” As we get to know nonhumans better, questions inevitably arise about how we treat them, who they are, who we are, and who we wish to be. My own thoughts on food are contained in a short essay on The Huffington Post website titled “What I Eat.”

The August 2016 issue brought me immediate joy. I don’t know who writes the bios on the Contributors page, but this one made me laugh out loud: “Haley Earley believes in coffee, conversation, and God.” Earley is a kindred spirit. I drink a minimum of ten cups of coffee a day; I love to talk, and hear others’ thoughts as well; and my faith in God is my source of strength here in prison.

Jeremy Gross Pendleton, Indiana

After reading Debbie Urbanski’s thought-provoking story “When They Came to Us” [August 2016], I turned to the Sunbeams page and found that each quote could have referred to her tale about the alien Blues and how humans treat those who are different. It felt like serendipity, but I suspect it was the editors’ intention to make readers reconsider how our actions reflect our humanity.

Nancy Swider Port St. Joe, Florida

As a family-practice doctor who sees many types of mental anguish, I read Zander Sherman’s interview with Gary Greenberg with interest [“Who Are You Calling Crazy?” July 2016]. I always try to investigate my patients’ personal histories, usually finding sources of stress that contribute to their symptoms, and I often refer them to social workers as part of a treatment plan. My sixteen years working in a psychiatric hospital convinced me that daily contact with sane, empathetic people is the most important factor in a patient’s recovery. (Actually this is what all of us need to remain healthy.) But on release from the hospital, people with mental problems often associate mainly with others who are struggling to remain sane, and therefore they tend to exhibit symptoms once again.

S.R. Heilman, MD Austin, Texas

I agree wholeheartedly with Gary Greenberg that the psychiatric community over-categorizes patients into a multitude of diagnoses. My favorite from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) is “oppositional defiant disorder,” for rebellious children and teenagers.

Many years ago my daughter stayed home from school one day near the end of her senior year because of “senioritis,” a diagnosis not found in the DSM. For the excuse note, my wife, a psychotherapist, wrote, “Karin missed school yesterday because of a serious case of dysphoria and malaise of the spirit.” The note was accepted with no questions asked. Amazingly my daughter recovered without being prescribed a pharmaceutical.

Richard Graefe North Kingstown, Rhode Island

A few weeks ago I opened the July 2016 issue to Peter Witte’s “They Were” and read it aloud to my partner, who was nursing our three-month-old baby. By the end I was weeping. Being a new parent, I became keenly aware of just how much joy and pain I have yet to experience.

Ziggy Liloia Disputanta, Kentucky
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