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When The Advice Goddess Gets Dumped
Space in papers is getting tight, and editors are throwing stuff overboard in a panic like an ocean liner's crew in a shipwreck. My column is mostly safe, because it's generally popular, but that doesn't seem to matter to the new Pioneer Press editor. My column is being dropped after the first of the coming year by the St. Paul Pioneer Press, while they're keeping a guy named Harlan Cohen because...get this...they want "a male voice," a voice that speaks to men.

For example, from the front page of Harlan's site, "The Letters Of The Week," here's Harlan swinging his big balls around:

Dear Desperate in Boston,

This reminds me of when I was 13 years old, attending bar and bat mitzvah parties and standing around The Snowball dance circle. "The Snowball" began with everyone gathered in a circle while the bar mitzvah boy or bat mitzvah girl picked a partner to dance with. After a couple of minutes, the bandleader would say, "Snowball." Then, the couple would kiss, split apart and pick someone new from the outer circle. After a few Snowballs, life on the outside felt like a freak show. At this point, I'd get the urge to go to the bathroom and remove myself from the circle. The point: Until you can get comfortable in your role, what happens in your circle of friends will make you crazy. At 26, only you can define your role so you can stand your ground and stop running. Define your role and stand proud.

As opposed to really chick-centric writing like mine. Here are a few lines from my column:

•Sex isn't special. Monkeys have it, and not because somebody bought them flowers or expensive jewelry.

•Ideally, being faithful means more than lacking the opportunity to grope the lady next door.

•What do you say the next time she asks you to pay her rent? The same thing you’d say if you were asked by the bald porno freak at the end of the cul-de-sac.

•A man can get "signals" from a woman across the room with her back to him, confiding to her friend, "By age 8, I knew I was a lesbian," which, of course, is her way of telling the man, "Just for you, big guy, I'm wearing the purple pasties with the propellers."

•(About a woman who said she was too lazy to lose her post-pregnancy weight): When a man buys a sports car, he doesn’t expect it to morph into a cargo van.

•It’s a stage-of-life thing. Guys in their late 40s quit their big job “to spend more time with the family.” Guys in their early 20s quit their big relationship to spend more time with women named Mocha and Destiny who swing around a greased pole.

Just call me Amy "estrogen" Alkon.

Beyond the obvious error in thinking that it takes a penis to attract male readers (especially since I've done quite well in life attracting men with the sugar tits, thank you), I pointed out to the editor that, if you show people quotes from the columns without the names on top, they're sure to think mine was written by a guy.

Hmm, and then there's the fact that I write for Hustler pretty regularly. Just guessing, but I believe they have a large number of male readers.

I also pointed out that a tremendous amoung of research goes into my column. I'm no Dear Abby (another columnist they're keeping). I attend psychology and evolutionary psychology conferences, and read numerous journal articles. My presentation on "How To Build A Better Meme" at the Rutgers ev psych conference a few years ago was well-reviewed in Jerome Barkow's new book, Missing The Revolution: Darwinism For Social Scientists.

Yes, I do my best to make people laugh, but I see an essential part of my job as taking the latest in research that relates to love, dating, sex, and relationships, and translating it and putting it in my column in a way that it makes a difference in the ordinary person's life. For example, I broke news on married women and low sexual desire (see the section on Rosemary Basson).

Furthermore, my approach -- using metaphor and humor so readers can see the contradictions in their thinking (instead of banging readers over the head with do this/do that straight advice) -- is actually the effective approach. I've always known this intuitively, but I spoke to addiction treatment specialist Stanton Peele on the phone last month, and he confirmed it. He told me the most effective way to motivate people to change is to get them to explore the contradictions in their own mind between what they're doing and what they want and care about most. Stanton said:

People think being a psychologist is telling people what to do. It's not how people change and do things. You help them by assisting them, usually somewhat passively, to sort the information out in their own minds, so they can make sense of it on their own.

Anyway, the Pioneer Press ran a note in the features section giving readers an opportunity to complain/ask for me back. Unfortunately, I believe they did this Christmas day, which probably meant few people saw it. If you read me in the Pioneer Press or know people who do, and you or they would miss my column, please have them write to the new features editor, Amy Nelson (

Please, be polite. Rude letters will not help my cause.

Posted by aalkon at December 29, 2006 7:45 AM

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Have you considered using a nom de plume? You could choose a male name or a gender-neutral one to see what effect it has on your readership.

Good luck with the Pioneer Press.

Posted by: Norman at December 27, 2006 10:17 AM

Thanks, Norman, but I work too hard to write in somebody else's name. Luckily, editors usually don't make the error in judgment that a woman writing about love, sex, etc., wouldn't appeal to men.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 27, 2006 10:27 AM

How do I say this without being unnecessarily nasty? As a 32 year old single male, I'm pretty much exactly who newspapers want to attract and as I read Harlan's column, here is what came to mind:

1. What the hell does "define my role" mean?
2. My definition of "Snowballs" is a lot more profane than this.
3. This guy is a pussy.

Without even reading the rest I'm pretty sure Amy would have told "Desparate" to man up and ask some women out. If rejected, rinse, wash, and repeat until better results emerge. Ahh, dating . . . its like playing blackjack, but with an unlimited number of chips.

Posted by: snakeman99 at December 27, 2006 10:49 AM

The guy basically writes sappy gibberish. That's what's most upsetting about this.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 27, 2006 11:00 AM

In my (considerable, alas) experience, they'll seldom tell you the real reason they're firing you.

Speaking generally: maybe it's a personality thing; maybe in-house politics beyond the editor's control; maybe the new guy is the editor's brother-in-law. If it were something as easy to deal with as (for instance) your column being too expensive, I'd hope they'd at least try to negotiate.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter, other than that "Pioneer Press" readers are losing an old friend and you won't have to appear on "Good Morning, Twin Cities" to promote your column. See, there's a bright side to everything!

Posted by: TE at December 27, 2006 5:35 PM

oh c'mon Amy, take it like a man:)

Posted by: dave at December 27, 2006 6:33 PM

Actually, TE, I spoke to the editor for the better part of an hour on the phone, so that isn't the case here. I think she made her decision on a "man" (I have a hard time thinking of Harlan Cohen as an actual man) reaching men best and then decided to stand by it, even after I pointed out all the points above.

And Dave, Dan Savage is my competition in the alt weeklies. He's also smart, talented, and funny. When he gets a paper, I'm not mad, just a little irritated he's getting the money and I'm not (unless the paper runs both of us, which is sometimes the case).

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 27, 2006 7:04 PM

Savage is too gay and he licks doorknobs, but it's interesting that the two best sources of pepper in these alt-rags are people who have no illusions about masculine nature and how we can all just get along.

Posted by: Crid at December 27, 2006 7:14 PM

You clearly have a superior product. As a bit of a libertarian, I believe the marketplace will reward you, or your type or writing, in the long run. I squirm at stories like this, that point out the imperfections of the marketplace.

Posted by: doombuggy at December 28, 2006 12:24 AM

I'm a Pioneer Press reader who has been reading both of you for years and I'm surprised to see you attacking someone else because they have been given something you want. It's far more effective to argue the quality of your product and yourself than to pick on someone else because you're jealous. It's like you're in middle school picking on another kid because you're uncomfortable with yourself and feeling rejected--trying to make yourself feel better by making someone else feel bad.

Incidentally, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Harlan bash another advice columnist in any of his forums.

Posted by: Ally at December 28, 2006 7:29 AM

I'm just being honest. I do it in my column and in life. Again, if you'll read what I wrote about Savage above, you'll see that I don't just bash the other guy who got the job if I think the other guy does good work. I think, if you're not a very good writer or thinker, you shouldn't have a job. Same as if you're not a very good bus driver. A lot of people think that, but I'm one of the few who's willing to say it, same as I speak up to loud cell phoners and people with screaming children in my local cafe. Typically, the people who didn't have the guts to speak up come over and thank me afterward.

Do you think Harlan's work is smart and good? Better than mine? Or do you just recognize him as somebody whose work you see in your local paper?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 28, 2006 7:57 AM

To be honest, I do think Harlan's work is smart and good and I prefer his column. I think the editors made a good choice.

And also, I thought the comment about you having a "hard time thinking of him as an actual man," was an unnecessary personal attack rather than an argument based on truth.

Posted by: Ally at December 28, 2006 8:45 AM

To be honest, I do think Harlan's work is smart and good and I prefer his column. I think the editors made a good choice.

And also, I thought the comment about you having a "hard time thinking of him as an actual man," was an unnecessary personal attack rather than an argument based on truth.

Posted by: Ally at December 28, 2006 8:47 AM

To be honest, I do think Harlan's work is smart and good and I prefer his column.

Well, then you're in luck.

Personally, I find this sort of thing rather murky tripe -- a lot of words that say nothing:

Until you can get comfortable in your role, what happens in your circle of friends will make you crazy. At 26, only you can define your role so you can stand your ground and stop running. Define your role and stand proud.

Would you mind explaining it to me?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 28, 2006 8:52 AM

Interesting, Ally, that your IP address doesn't come out of St. Paul, but Deerfield, IL, rather close to where Harlan seems to be based. Perhaps you have personal knowledge of his manhood? I'm with Snake, above, who thinks he writes like a pussy.

And P.S. I'd never say that about Dan Savage, who has balls as big or bigger than mine.

And while you're at it, tell us what's so smart about Harlan's work.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 28, 2006 8:57 AM

In the interest of fairness, I took a few moments to read Harlan's blog page. First off, the above citation was actually in response to a 20-something woman who felt strange because she didn't want to be in a long-term relationship while her friends were all marrying. So to the extent I misunderstood Harlan's response, I apologize.

That said, I still don't understand his advice, even in the proper context.

The rest of the page is primarily aimed at college students, which may explain why U-town St. Paul prefers his column. 31 year old man writing for college students? I'm 32, and I can't even imagine what college life is like now. But hey, good for him and his franchise. I guess he's selling books.

Posted by: snakeman99 at December 28, 2006 12:06 PM

Your column is safe in "Creative Loafing" (formerly known as the Weekly Planet). If they drop your column, I will give them a piece of my mind.

"You all SUCK! You not only suck, you deep throat and swallow! And you felch, and you fist, and you worm and you shrimp, too! And someday I will learn what all of those things are! (Not by personal demonstration, of course.)"

Of course, I won't really say that. But I do email them every time your column goes missing. And should it ever go permanently, I will remove my own advertising from their pages, as a way of expressing my displeasure.

Posted by: Patrick at December 28, 2006 5:08 PM

Rubbish. They kept "Dear Abby" but not you? And a "man's voice"?!?! Sorry, but when someone comes for advice, they're not worried about gender, they're worried about intelligence, experience, and whether or not they're going to get an honest well thought out response - not whether or not there's a dick in their pants.

Posted by: Abby at December 29, 2006 11:34 AM


I wrote this e mail to Pioneer Press and I want to share this with you.

Dear anelson

I am writing this mail to kindly ask for Advice Goddess column back on your paper. Her column is the lethal mix of Shakespeare, Darwin, Jay Leno and Bruce Lee to any uncertainties of human relationships. I cannot tell you how many times her column helped me to make sense of some situations in this crazy world.

What Advice Goddess did to column industry is very similar to what Simpsons did to cartoon industry. It raised a bar and created a whole new group of sophisticated adult audience. The Simpsons ended up in Fox as the other major networks would not take the show at the beginning. Please do not make the same mistake.

I have been a faithful subscriber for more than 10 years (please check your record) even after your paper endorsed George Bush for 2004 presidential election. If her column is not back on your paper in the near future, I have no choice but to cancel your paper and subscribe your enemy paper. Please return her column and save your company's bottom line and my sanity.

Best Regards,

Chang Cho

Posted by: Chang at January 4, 2007 11:40 AM

Hey, thanks - that made my day.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 9, 2007 4:30 PM

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