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Beauty Shop: Student Debt, Star Divorce

ALLISON KEYES, host: This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Allison Keyes. Michel Martin is away. Now, it's time for a visit to the Beauty Shop. That's where we go to get a fresh perspective on some of the week's news.

Today, we'll be talking about President Obama's plan to help ease the burden of student loans. Also, there's the earth shattering announcement that reality star Kim Kardashian and basketball player Kris Humphries are ending their marriage after a mere two and a half months. Tears, tears. And now that women make up the majority of college grads and the workforce, according to a cover story in The Atlantic, many women are changing their minds about the importance of the institution of marriage.

With us to talk about these stories are Jessica Coen, editor-in-chief at Jezebel.com, NPR's editor of digital news, Tanya Ballard Brown, Danielle Belton, author of the blog The Black Snob, and Latoya Peterson, editor of Racialicious.com.

Welcome, ladies, and thanks for being here.

DANIELLE BELTON: Oh, thanks for having us.


JESSICA COEN: Good morning.

KEYES: Let's start out with student loans. The burden of student loan now surpasses credit card debt in the U.S., according to published reports in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Let's take a listen to President Obama as he introduced that plan last week to help ease the burden by lowering the monthly payments for some loans.

President BARACK OBAMA: Because of this change, about 1.6 million Americans could see their payments go down by hundreds of dollars a month.

KEYES: The plan allows graduates to pay 10 percent of their discretionary income for 20 years and have the rest of their federal student loan debt forgiven after that for people who qualify. But, as you heard earlier in the show, the people that are in their 40s that are still paying them off aren't getting any help here.

Ladies, good idea? Danielle, you go first.

BELTON: Well, you know, I think it's a nice gesture, but I really feel for people who are saddled with huge student loans. I was fortunate to go to a very inexpensive college and then have a father who could help pay for it. I feel for the people who went to really nice schools and are still paying off that money.

KEYES: What do you think?

LATOYA PETERSON: I always wonder where kind of business comes in at this one because I feel like the government can take some lead in terms of helping with the student loan debt, but at the same time, I think we also need to ask, kind of, like why the bachelor's degree is being devalued in the first place. And I feel like, if we start looking at that question and those answers, like why can't I get a job that will help me pay these loans back for the investment that I put in, we'll start finding some really interesting answers.

KEYES: Jessica, I wonder. Some people would like to get rid of their debt as soon as possible. What would be the incentive to pay down loans under this plan?

COEN: Just to not be saddled with it. At the same time, you know, it's going to be forgiven after 20 years. I can't imagine certain people not taking their time to pay these loans off. But if we've learned anything from the credit crisis, it should be that you need to get rid of that debt and if students haven't figured that out at this point, then we are not teaching them properly.

KEYES: Tanya, don't you think it would be kind of a burden, though, for some people in this economy to have to do? Ten percent of their income is even a little much, do you think?

BROWN: Possibly, but I mean, some people are paying, you know, $1,600 a month in loans and 10 percent might be less than $1,600 a month.


KEYES: There's that.

BROWN: And they could free that money up so they could do other - you know, maybe, you know, pay other people back or spend more money in the economy or just - you know.

KEYES: We were just talking at the beginning of the show about whether the president's choosing to do this without the help of Congress was going to make him look bad. I wonder, Latoya, do you think that people are excited about what he's doing or do you think he's overstepping?

PETERSON: I think people are more excited about that one. I mean, Congress has kind of shown that no one wants to play nice and no one really cares, so I feel like, at this point, it's only going to help Obama.

KEYES: All right. Danielle?

BELTON: Everyone hates Congress, so - yeah. He's fine.

KEYES: Everyone, really?

BELTON: Well, it seems that way. Well, everyone likes their congressman, but they hate Congress. That seems to be how it works.

KEYES: Jessica, what kind of things have you been hearing on Jezebel?

COEN: Well, I think there's been a real disappointment with Obama and his inability - well, I shouldn't say inability - but his frustrations with fighting Congress, which I agree. Everybody hates Congress. And for him to finally be...

KEYES: Fairness, ladies. Fairness.

COEN: I mean, for him to be decisive about something and just say, this is happening, I think people are really excited about that.

BELTON: I'm sure Congress's mother likes Congress.


KEYES: Well, on that note, if you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Allison Keyes and we are in the Beauty Shop. That's where we get women's thoughts on issues in the news. We are joined by NPR's editor for digital news, Tanya Ballard Brown, Jessica Coen, editor-in-chief at Jezebel.com, Danielle Belton, author of The Black Snob blog, and Latoya Peterson, author/editor of Racialicious.com.

So we've got to move on to that Kardashian thing now, from money to marriage. Just yesterday we were dishing about this so-called American royal wedding.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Remain seated. On behalf of Kim and Chris and their respective families, I want to welcome you to this celebration of marriage. Who gives Kim to be married to Chris?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: My wife Chris and I do.

KEYES: Oh, the multiple gowns, the nearly million-dollar hors d'oeuvres, the guest list with Serena and Venus Williams and Eva Longoria. But this was not a love that would last. Yesterday, reality star Kim Kardashian filed for divorce from NBA player Chris Humphries. The wedding itself cost an estimated $10 million. But apparently they made almost twice that amount from wedding endorsements, so I'm thinking they have enough to cover the divorce bill. Who's saddened, surprised? And I have to say on Twitter, they're trending things longer than Kim's marriage. And many have tweeted that the topic will trend longer than the union.


KEYES: Jessica Coen, let's start with you.

COEN: There's something clearly compelling about these women or the show would not be as successful as it is. And I think the one thing that is real on the show is the emotion within the family. So you wanted this wedding to be real. You wanted this to be real love and you knew in your head, though, that it was kind of a sham. For it to end so quickly, I thought they would hit 100 days at least; you know, they didn't even get to three figures.

KEYES: I've got to say, Jessica, if you could have seen the eyebrows being raised by everyone in the studio when you said everybody wanted this to be real.


KEYES: Did anybody expect this to be real?

PETERSON: No. But we...

KEYES: This is Latoya talking. Go ahead.

PETERSON: Right. This is Latoya. I mean like it's one of those things where like I think no one has gotten this paid since that guy that J. Lo married for like three months. Remember that (unintelligible) you know, settlement that - like 66,000 like in a minute?

That's amazing. I feel like it's in a similar vein. Like we knew this was a wedding for sweeps week, like come on.


COEN: Oh, absolutely. But something, wanting to believe in humanity, I suppose, and hope that this ridiculous payday was at least for something that that was real.

BROWN: Well, after - this is Tanya...

KEYES: Wait, this is Tanya.

BROWN: But Khloe and Lamar, you know, they seem to be okay, so I think people thought, well, maybe this will work out for Kim too.

PETERSON: No, but Khloe and Lamar, that's a little bit different. Number one...

KEYES: Khloe Kardashian.


KEYES: Kim's sister, of course, and yet another...

PETERSON: Lamar Odom.

KEYES: ...sports star. Right.

PETERSON: The Lamar Odom the sports star. They were definitely the more low-key couple, right?

COEN: Yeah, but they met...

PETERSON: They didn't get - they met the same way. But now they have their own show.

BROWN: They got married like three weeks after they got married. You know, so I'm saying, I think people so that and they were like, well, they got, they could get married in three weeks and it's two years later and it worked out, maybe this will work out...

PETERSON: But they don't seem to actively hate each other on camera either.

KEYES: Well, wait a second. Wait a second. Wait a second.


KEYES: Danielle is sitting here shaking her head.


BELTON: You know, I really feel like, you know, I was on this show not too long ago talking about how soap operas were dying and I really feel like the reality shows have replaced our former soap operas. This is a soap opera for people. It's not so much that they're surprised that the marriage did not last. It's more like oh, what's going to happen next? You know, is she going to marry a pirate next?


BELTON: Or is it going to be like on "The Young and the Restless" where, you know, Jackie has like 12 last names if you counted over time.

KEYES: Wait, though. You know, Chris issued a statement yesterday saying he was devastated by this announcement.


KEYES: He would do anything he could do to try to get his wife back. Jessica, you are the person who believes in good. You think he's got a chance?

COEN: No, I don't believe in good anymore. I don't.


COEN: Love is dead. You know, it's fine.

BROWN: Well, we have to remember, this is Tanya, sorry, that Kim is a businesswoman.

COEN: Definitely.

PETERSON: Okay, this was business.


COEN: We've been robbed of a storyline. This was supposed to go on a little bit longer. If we're going to take the soap opera perspective, the writers cut it off too quickly. And for Chris to come out and say he's devastated, well, he's following a script now. Now we're getting the aftermath and this is the epilogue.

BELTON: Well, see - this is Danielle. And the reality is, is though the reason why this is also hilarious, 'cause with a soap opera where things can be scripted, you can really drag it out. She still has to live with this man and still like go through the motions of a marriage that's real. It's not like you can walk off the set.

KEYES: They had pictures of him packing up last week. Allegedly he was just, you know, going on vacation, but whatever. But my thing is, a lot of people on various and sundry - TMZ yesterday, people were saying, well, I mean maybe he was just upset by the whole reality of this. And I wonder, did he not notice the cameras following her around in the first place? LaToya?

PETERSON: I mean it's one of those things where I don't think anyone can be adequately prepared for reality TV. Like that is a huge intrusion and just the fact like her - what was her last relationship, the one that didn't work out? And you have this picture, like I remember just like (unintelligible) this picture in Us Weekly of them trying to have an intimate moment and there's a boom mic like in the camera.


PETERSON: Like there is no such thing as romance in this relationship. I'm sorry, I don't know how it works, unless you grew up under the lights of a camera. I suggest that Kim stop dating, you know, NFL stars or NBA stars and start dating, you know, people like child stars. Maybe that will work out a little bit better.


KEYES: Ooh. We can't have that. Come on ladies. Come on.


KEYES: No illegalities discussed on the show. We're going to move on now.

PETERSON: Former child stars.

KEYES: We're going to move on before this degenerates further.


KEYES: Perhaps Kim just read the cover article of November's Atlantic magazine titled "All the Single Ladies." The piece explains a decision that many women find themselves faced with, and perhaps even more so during the recent recession: either stay single or settle for a lesser mate. I wonder, Tanya, I'm going to start with you, what did you think about that?

BROWN: Stay single or settle...

KEYES: Or settle for, you know, not your ideal man - not your Prince Charming on his white horse.



BELTON: I think that about says it all right there.

KEYES: Well, okay, while she thinks that through...


KEYES: ...LaToya, let me ask you what you think?

PETERSON: My god. I'm sorry. I just I kind of hate dating conversations, the way that we have them in general. And I always find this really interesting like racial gap words like black women, oh my god, you're going to all die single and alone.

KEYES: True. Every article.

PETERSON: And you better just settle for whoever comes and says hey to you because you're never going to get anybody else. And then when it's, you know, other types of women, it's always like oh, isn't it this interesting turn in society, people are marrying differently or marrying later. So, sorry, this is my whole like - I have this whole vendetta against dating, dating guides in general. Because I feel like one of the things that it never talks about is the complexities of attraction, right? How are you attracted to somebody? Why are you attracted to somebody?

Like you can check off, you know, everything on someone's list. So, you know, case in point, a friend of mine recently started dating again. And she was looking to date somebody who was like of her level, somebody who had a six-figure income, and she met this guy who was like a Harvard lawyer. And this Harvard lawyer picks her up and asks her not only to pay for the date but her half of the gas money to get there. I don't think that was what she was expecting. I'm not saying that, you know, Mr. El Cheapo doesn't have the right to be cheap and well, you know, might not find a cheap woman that would be happy to, you know, pay her half, but just by checking off the box of, you know, what's supposed to be a better mate or a well-made mate does not mean that they're going to be a good match for you. And I feel like that's never really explored.

KEYES: Jessica, I wonder what you think about the premise in the article that more and more women are just giving up the search for men and saying, you know, I don't need a man. I'm fine. I've got my apartment. I've got my car. This is all too much drama out there. You know, I mean in other words, women may now have different things to fight for than the assumption that they're going to grow up at some point and get married.

COEN: Well, I think after you reach a certain age you do away with the idea of Prince Charming. So marriage becomes more about a partnership. It's a contract - who do you want to work out the rest of life with? But at this point, as women grow more self-sufficient and more successful, we've become the captains of our own ship. And do we even want a co-captain? What kind of man do we want to co-captain with? Do we need one? And I...

KEYES: Or can he just visit?


COEN: Exactly. You know, I think that women are increasingly deciding that no, they don't need a co-captain.

KEYES: Danielle, you're currently single. What you think about this?

BELTON: Well, it's funny to me because I think a lot of times we're giving ourselves all this pressure because we're looking back to, you know, the marriage idea that was apparent in the 1950s. Especially my parents' marriage where, you know, they met, they married, they had kids, they have a really really happy relationship, they're coming up on 40 years next year. But the more and more I know about life, the more and more I know about people and marriage, it is hard. Finding a good partner is a crapshoot. Even back then when people were getting married right out of college, they didn't necessarily have a happy marriage. The whole idea of being happy in marriage is pretty much a new concept where I want to be emotionally fulfilled, I want a partner for life that's going to be my buddy, when it was really more like a financial transaction - we need to have these kids and continue to pass on our DNA.

KEYES: Tonya is nodding.


BELTON: So I mean the reality is we kind of have to - we have to decide what we want. We have more choice now. Back then you didn't really have a choice. You just got married. It was expected of men and women. Now with more choices, it's understandable that people would be a little confused about what they want and what they should be doing.

KEYES: Tanya, you're currently single at the moment. Is marriage a thing that is on your current radar?

BROWN: Well, you know, I've been married...


PETERSON: ...until recently. So no, I'm not necessarily looking to be married again. I don't know that, I think the word settling just sounds so pitiful. I mean it just sounds like, well...

KEYES: I give up.

BROWN: Right.


BROWN: I think you can adjust your expectations because there are so many different kinds of people and if you're just really focused and, you know, like I have to have this person that fits all these boxes, like this young lady said, then, you know, you're missing out on all the hundreds of thousands of other folk who may fulfill needs that you didn't even know you had or, you know, needed in a partner. So I hate the word settling and I just wish that we would just do away with that settling word and the whole...

KEYES: Find some other way to couch the conversation.



KEYES: And article ran on Jezebel.com that quotes the article we were just discussing called "It's Not Your Fault You're A Mean Girl," and it's written by Hugo Schwyzer, a professor of gender studies. He writes about what he calls the scarcity model, where women think that they have to compromise on men and compete with each other in life. But apparently he thinks the scarcity model is a myth and women should try not to be affected by it. Jessica, what kind of comments did you get on Jezebel about this? Because I actually have heard of some pretty ugly competition between women over men lately.

COEN: Yeah, you know, the commentators are a diverse group, so I think you've got a wide range of comments. But generally speaking, I think there is some sort of understanding that women aren't necessarily as good to one another out on the market as they could be. And...

KEYES: What do you mean?

COEN: The competition. The unspoken competition. A lot of it being jealousy, I think. But I think it's more subtle than we acknowledge. And if that does indeed exist, and I think it does, it's due in no small part to articles like the one in the Atlantic, which I thought was fascinating. But we are being told over and over and over again that there are less viable partners and the media is beating us over the head with this. And to me it seems a natural outcome that women are going to become a little bit competitive.

KEYES: Really briefly, Danielle, what do you think?

BELTON: Well, I understood the article and I agreed with certain parts of it. That's not been my personal experience. Almost every...

KEYES: In other words, you're not doing the competitive...

BELTON: Every success I've ever had has been because of another woman. I wouldn't be where I am right now if a woman hadn't reached out to me and helped me out. I mean I wouldn't be on this show if Michel and her staff hadn't reached out to me, all women. So...

KEYES: LaToya, have you been having competition issues with women? And really briefly. I mean like in 10 seconds.


KEYES: Okay.


PETERSON: Doesn't apply. I don't what to tell you.

KEYES: NPR's Tanya Ballard Brown, editor for Digital News, joined us here in our Washington, D.C. studios. Jessica Coen is editor-in-chief of Jezebel.com. She joined us from New York. Latoya Peterson is an editor at Racialicious.com, and Danielle Belton is behind the pop culture and politics blog The Black Snob. Latoya and Danielle are also right here in Washington, D.C. Thank you guys so much, ladies, for joining us.

BROWN: Thank you.

COEN: Thank you.

BELTON: Thanks.

KEYES: That's our program for today. I'm Allison Keyes and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Tune in for more talk tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.