Shakshuka-gate: Phoebe Maltz Bovy on a single 29-year-old woman’s Israeli breakfast gone viral

Ages ago in internet time, when I was researching privilege call-outs for a book published in 2017, I noticed something curious: the people who get told that their privilege is showing—that is, that they’re oblivious to how it goes for those less fortunate—are not the super-privileged, nor the particularly clueless. No, the people who hear the most about their unchecked privilege are the ones who have taken pains to show how aware they are of their privilege.

If you write a personal essay with a disclaimer about how you realize how easy you have it, relative to some—and everyone has it easy, relative to some—you have, in doing so, primed readers to think of you in terms of privilege. To think of you as privileged, regardless of whether this would be how others would view you, had you not presented yourself in this way.

I was reminded of this when I saw the fury 29-year-old podcaster Julia Mazur—who also works as a creator manager at Spotify, and previously did digital marketing for Tinder, lest you believe she’s a deer caught in these viral media headlights—elicited for making a TikTok video about how happy (?) she is to be single and childless, so she can do such things on the weekend as watch Real Housewives reruns.

This came to be known as the shakshuka video because some of it is devoted to her low-stakes cooking-for-one plans: “Maybe I’m gonna learn how to make shakshuka today.” She allows that married women with children can also cook eggs in tomato sauce (indeed, it’s one of the quicker and more affordable meals), but points out, not inaccurately, that the languid morning is difficult with young children.

Mazur’s stance in this and her many other TikToks is a mix of defensive and defiant. She explains in it that the point of this recounting of her weekend plans is to reassure herself, “whenever I’m hard on myself about why I’m not married and I don’t have kids, and I should be further along,” that it’s actually what she wants. It kind of sounds like she’s trying to convince herself of something.

Right-wing provocateur Matt Walsh took the bait and blasted her video to his improbably countless followers, writing, “Her life doesn’t revolve around her family and kids so instead it revolves around TV shows and pop stars. Worst of all she’s too stupid to realize how depressing this is.”

Not everyone joined the pile-on. Notably, even the conservative National Review pushed back. Reactions spread, as they do. Some were furious at her and wishing her ill, as online trolls are wont. Others, mothers of young kids themselves, observed that the weekend morning routine sounded kind of relaxing.

From Mazur’s own presentation, there’s something unusual and against-the-grain about being 29 and not yet having children. Objectively, though, it is quite typical. The median age for U.S. women to give birth is 30, with figures similar in Canada. It’s going to be older still in the sorts of milieus where living costs are high and it’s normal to do 10,000 years of grad school. All of this is to say that these days, a woman who’s childfree at 29 may be childfull at 35 or 40.

That said, it could well be that Mazur herself, being one specific person, faces pressures to be more settled-down than she is. Per this article from NBC News: ”Growing up in a first-generation Russian Jewish household, Mazur said, she heard a lot of rhetoric about ‘finding a nice husband and having kids.’” If she’s more observant, or her family is, or if by sheer coincidence her circle includes a lot of settled-down 25-year-olds, this would explain why she views her status as something in need of justification.

That, or she’s not actually losing sleep over her lifestyle, and the virality was an intentional part of building a career. For Mazur’s sake I hope it was.

https://twitter.com/ItsJuliaMazur/status/1698844125448311126

The CJN’s senior editor Phoebe Maltz Bovy can be reached at [email protected], not to mention @phoebebovy on Bluesky, and @bovymaltz on the website formerly known as Twitter, plus she talks about topics like single women making shakshuka on The CJN’s weekly podcast Bonjour Chai