In my issue-oriented column I am always weighing how much of my personal life to offer up. The things I've shared, from my bout with breast cancer in 2011 to my travels in Russia, often connect to larger points. For instance, my columns about breast cancer explored the U.S. medical and health insurance systems. I think the proper balance is to get personal if it's relevant but not to let things get too Rear Window.
Penelope Trunk would disagree. The career advice entrepreneur, author and blogger has stomped her privacy into oblivion. For example, a few years ago Trunk, then-divorced and mother of two, tweeted, "I'm in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness."
Her popular blog about jobs, careers, marriage, parenting and just about anything that happens to her draws about half a million visitors a month. Trunk's stuff is a combination of bare-all confessional and a preachy advice manual from an Asperger's-afflicted know-it-all who reduces life to oddsmaking and to-do lists. She advises women in their 20s to "get married first, then focus on career," because "career skills will outlast your ovaries."
Gee, in what 1950s ladies magazine have I read that before? But Trunk, who lives on a farm in rural Wisconsin, is not some hayseed housewife. She's on her third startup company. She's lived in Los Angeles and New York City. And once you've read a couple of her diary-like posts, it's hard not to read more.
Beyond her miscarriage tweet in 2009 that expressed relief because getting an abortion in Wisconsin is a "three-week hoop-jump," Trunk's most controversial posts have been about domestic violence. Hers.
I've never understood how any woman could stay for one second in an abusive relationship. Trunk let me in on what she's thinking. In December 2011 she wrote: "I am at a hotel. I think I'm dying. I have a bruise from where the Farmer slammed me into our bed post." Trunk calls her current husband "the Farmer." A picture of her wounds accompanied the post.
Then, on New Year's Day 2012, she offered an explanatory post that concludes: "And that's why I'm staying with the Farmer." She partly blames herself for provoking the violence. Trunk dismisses commentators who tell her "it's not your fault" since that "completely limits a woman's choices … saying that she is powerless to control the situation."
You are not powerless, Penelope, but your only real power is to leave. Why is it that a woman who makes a living doling out advice to others can't see the obvious about herself?
Trunk came to my attention through The Browser, a website that helpfully offers daily links to six to 10 writings that the editors think are worth reading. Recently, they included Trunk's latest prescription for women: "How To Pick A Husband If You Want To Have Kids." It was predictable. Her advice amounted to little more than telling women to marry a major breadwinner (or someone with the potential to be one) if they don't expect to have a big, lucrative job they love. Otherwise, they'll feel badly about not being with the kids. She warns that true equality in a marriage is a myth, and she claims a marriage is at high risk of failure if the wife earns more than the husband "because surveys show that you will resent him."
"It is primal," she declares.
Trunk's pop sociology turns men into walking wallets and women into calculating mooches. It's the kind of thought process that might appear to be true on a spreadsheet at 10,000 feet but has nothing to do with the innumerable variables that affect the trajectory of individual lives. Money is less important than character, and there is no substitute for having a good person standing with you throughout your life.
My advice to women is to look for someone trustworthy, good-hearted and intelligent — in that order. And if he throws you against a bed post, leave.