Sunday, June 20, 2010

End of an Era: Confirmed

SPOILER ALERT!  Well, can it actually be a spoiler alert when I’m certain I was part of the last audience on Earth to see Sex and the City 2?  If you haven’t seen it, and don’t care to read anything about it until it quickly and quietly makes its way to DVD, then avert your eyes.  But let it be known that many have spoiled before me – I am not alone in my spoiling!

It was definitely cringe-worthy, just as I suspected.  But truth be told, I expected much worse.  Maybe it was because I had spoiled it for myself by previously reading about the horrid displays of Samantha, dry-humping the Abu Dhabi air in front of an angry mob of Muslim gentlemen; by already knowing that Carrie has never seen anything more hilarious than a woman in a burqa eating french fries. 

Let’s break this down into Lisa’s List of Pros and Cons.  You’ll notice some of these aspects appear on both lists…


The Gay Wedding.  I enjoy when popular media can show a gay or lesbian couple get hitched like it ain’t no thang.  It’s like viewing the utopia our society could be, if only some lawmakers were to either a.) pull the sticks out of their asses, or b.) keel over and die. 

The Motherhood Talk.  Over drinks, Miranda and Charlotte admit all the not-so-happy parts of motherhood.  No, it’s not all goo-goo gaa-gaa Gerber; sometimes Charlotte is so frazzled, she wants to lock herself in a closet while her children scream and cry.  This is reality; this is the shit people forget about when they get all wrapped up in baby fever.  This is a job that lasts a lifetime. 

Just Us Two.  Carrie and Big have mutually decided to not have children (Thank god!  Remember when she lost Aidan’s dog??!).  Seriously though, as they tell others of their wishes to remain childless, they are bombarded with quizzical looks and outright avoidance.  So….just because a married couple doesn’t want to have kids, there’s something wrong with them?  (Well, maybe according to the Christian Coalition).  I say, poo on the naysayers!  Carrie and Big make their marriage (life together) work for them – not simply go though the motions that society expects them to. 

Also, we see Carrie and Big’s marriage hit “the terrible twos”: the span of time where the excitement of being newlyweds is over and forever begins to take shape.  “Mr. and Mrs. Preston, this is your life!”  Especially since kids are out of the picture, the life they have now will be it.  We see Big preferring to order take-out and fall asleep to The Discovery Channel, while Carrie is itching to dress up and have a night out on the town.  These “terrible twos” bring the fear of becoming…(ominous music)…an old boring married couple (OBMC).  This is one of those life experiences many people go through, yet not many talk about publicly (much like Miranda and Charlotte’s motherhood discussion).  I’m going to bet at least 90% of couples don’t want to seclude themselves in their split level suburban home or upper west side apartment as soon as they return from their honeymoon….yet, there’s this expectation floating around (and if I ever find out who started this ugly rumor, I will have them killed) that once you’re married, you’re supposed to do just that.  No more nights out with the girls or boys, no more having one too many cocktails (oops!), no more…fun.  This “expectation” also dictates that if you desire a night out with the girls or boys or otherwise away from your spouse, you must not be happy with your marriage.  Horseshit, I say!  Welcome to 2010, where there is more to a happy marriage than just the act of being married.  Two people with full lives make for a very non-boring partnership.  Try it, I dare you.  And while of course in Hollywood, Carrie and Big magically squash their OBMC fear in 2.5 hours, I’m at least glad SATC stayed a little true to its roots and attempted to shed light on an issue such as this.



The Gay Wedding.  Although it was here and very, very queer, we were constantly reminded that it was a GAY wedding.  A wedding is a wedding – who cares?  Why do we need the adjective?  Also, I really could have done without hearing that fucking Single Ladies song again…uncomfortably done by Liza Minnelli.  And to see Samantha dancing around, singing, “If ya like it, than you shoulda put a ring on it” was quite weird and totally out of character.

The Motherhood Talk.  Sure, Miranda and Charlotte were addressing the less glamorous side of being a mom…but we’re watching two upper-class white women with NANNIES addressing this topic.  Then, they had to throw in, “How do the women without help do it?!”  On one hand, it’s a valid question that shows how hard motherhood is even with hired help – but one can’t argue the asinine element of that conversation.  Oh hello, white privilege, where have you been hiding?

Pointing at the Natives.  I mentioned Carrie making fun of the women in burqas and Samantha refusing to respect the conservative Muslim culture in any way.  It’s really quite horrifying.  Although (and this may be a good aspect), it reignites the debate of what qualifies as being an empowered woman.  Is wearing a sleeveless dress and being highly sexual mean you are any stronger of a female than a woman who wears a burqa?  It’s a drastically different way of life than what we westerners are used to…and of course, anything we deem as different from our way is the “wrong” way. 

What I found somewhat humorous – as well as appalling – was when the women of Abu Dhabi were behind closed doors, they reveal to Carrie ‘n’ friends that they wear the latest Dior fashions under their burqas.  So….deep down, they’re all really slaves to exorbitant western fashion??  Highly unlikely…and a little egocentric, no?   At the same time, it could have been Michael Patrick King’s demented way of showing that women around the world may have more in common than not.  Call me picky, but somehow I think it could have been done more meaningfully than simply wrapping them up in Dolce.

The Sickening Display of Affluence.  Ok, you gals have money.  We get it.  Sometimes we wonder how you manage to make the money you have, with all the lunch dates, late night cocktails, etc.  This international trip happened to be financed by a hotel mogul in exchange for Samantha’s PR expertise.  However, an hour into the movie, I was sick and tired of looking at that fucking $20,000 a night (no lie) hotel room.  Each woman had her own personal servant and car complete with driver.  Oh, and they ride in the middle of the desert on camels and stop for lunch in this oasis cabana their servants set up!  I, for one, was wondering where the hell they put all that stuff.  Some poor camel was probably stuck in the back of the caravan pathetically lugging their bullshit. 

Too much!  I guess what added to it was the ladies’ squealing at each amenity.  Got old real fast.  What set the tone for excess was Samantha’s comment of needing to “go somewhere rich” in this depressing economy.  NYC ain’t swank enough for you no more?

Sigh.  I could go on.  There’s Carrie’s servant, who shares that his wife lives in another country.  We learn that he only sees her once every three months because he needs this job serving rich white tourists in this $20,000 a night hotel.  That’s the end of any cultural or political questions – Carrie (given her tensions with Big) wants to know how they keep their marriage strong with such distance. 

It was one of those movies I had to see, as opposed to want to see.  My, how we have strayed from the series!  If you can accept that this is not Carrie ‘n’ friends circa 1999, and can get past the awfully cliché zingers, Godspeed.  

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Designing Me

I had an epiphany last week. Still not sure if that’s the correct word to describe it. It was a feeling that only comes when you’ve lived a certain number of years, long enough to have the ability to see the girl you were 17 years ago; to understand her and know what made her the person she is today; to witness firsthand how what we’re exposed to in our formative years impacts our beliefs, worldviews, who we are in a not-so-perfect nutshell. Epiphanies are much cheaper than therapy; too bad you can’t schedule them like sessions.

For the longest time, I was super-excited to find that the seasons of Designing Women were being released on DVD. I can remember watching episode after episode of that show when I was a wee little thing attending elementary school at St. Catherine of Sienna. My viewing pleasure continued into junior high as I entered the public school system, and began to learn that kids aren’t so nice. At age 12, I guess I seemed pretty weird – enjoying movies made before 1960 and watching TV shows that centered around women in their 30s and 40s. My great-aunt would say I was “of a different era.” That sounded nice, but really didn’t solve my problem of being a weirdo to my fellow classmates.

So, the other day I treated myself and bought Season 2. I couldn’t wait to get home, fight with the NASA-sealed packaging, and re-live those episodes to which I can still recite some dialogue.

For those of you who missed out on watching Lifetime reruns in your youth, Designing Women ran from 1986-1993 and followed the comedic lives of four southern women working for Sugarbaker Interior Design. Julia Sugarbaker (that’s right, she owns her own damn business!) is a classy, strong, sophisticated, well-read, widowed woman of the “old south” – and a self-proclaimed “big-mouthed broad.” Her monologues are things of beauty that I really can’t describe with any justice. Just watch people try to cross her, or make an ignorant comment…they leave the scene with their tail between their legs.

Suzanne Sugarbaker, Julia’s sister, is her polar opposite. Former Miss Georgia World, her glass case of tiaras is enough to make Tiffany’s look like Claire’s. The only collection to rival her pageant crowns is her collection of ex-husbands. Very “Elizabeth Taylor.”  Suzanne is selfish, self-centered, and spends more time looking in the mirror than…anything, really. We’re never quite sure what she even does for Sugarbaker’s – she’s usually seen lounging on the sofa. Despite her fluffy lifestyle and vanity, Suzanne is depicted in such a way that makes her loveable. Her selfishness comes from her own ignorance, not from any malicious intent.  

Mary Jo Shively is a divorced mother of two, dealing with her surgeon ex-husband’s revolving door of girlfriends and spoiling their children with his M.D. income. She’s witty and sarcastic. Strong in her convictions, yet terrified of being in the spotlight. Her struggle with being assertive, yet feeling so vulnerable is all too real (and a welcomed character for those of us who can relate all too well).

Charlene Fraizer has a heart bigger than the state of Georgia. She’s originally from a dinky town in Missouri, which she continuously references in a multitude of irrelevant stories (think Rose Nylund and St. Olaf). She loves Elvis, her Baptist roots, daytime talk shows, psychics and the National Enquirer. She’s fun, bubbly, a little naïve, and her aimless rants can sometimes prove to be a bit annoying to her friends (I believe she was described in one episode as a “big ol’ donkey girl scout”).  

Considering other female foursome shows out there, Designing Women is nothing new. Very similar comparisons can be made to…oh, say, Sex and the City (as if this dead horse hasn’t been beaten enough). Now, I discovered SATC at a later age, and it too has affected my views on what it means to be an independent woman. But (sigh) I must say, after reliving my first female foursome love affair in just one season, I’m going to say DW does it just a little better.

The characters are all there: Julia=Miranda, Mary Jo=Carrie, Suzanne=Samantha, Charlene=Charlotte. Maybe not the same backstories, but their personalities and idiosyncrasies all match up. The differences that do it for me? As opposed to setting the series in glamified Manhattan (I still love you, NY), we’re set in Atlanta, which really doesn’t play as large a character as NYC. As opposed to the SATC cast professing their love for their borough, we find the DW ladies having to defend their south against the elitist north, who still believes all southerners are backward hicks named Bubba. We know our SATC characters have careers (sometimes we wonder, in that they seem to have endless time for long lunches, late night cocktail parties and carefree saunters down 8th Avenue). Many critics have pointed out the ludicrous nature of the fact that Carrie can afford an uptown Brownstone, Manolo Blahniks, daily cab fares, and New York-priced cosmopolitans on a columnist’s salary (you can be a salaried columnist??). What kind of rent-control did I miss out on?  

What I’m attempting to illustrate is that DW’s women are operating in a more believeable reality. The only character living lavishly frivolous is Suzanne – for which she is the butt of many jokes and clearly depicted as not the norm. While all eight women’s struggles may be the same – raising children (or not), being successful in work, making friends, maneuvering the dating world, taking a stand, dealing with illness and sometimes loss – DW is just more relatable (this coming from a Yankee, herself – can you believe it?).  

I don’t think it’s the glitzy NYC lifestyle traded in for a low-key Atlanta (could almost be an Anytown, USA) that makes the total difference. But, as I revisited Season 2, I was astonished to see…well, me. At 10, 11, 12 years old, I was watching stories about a young gay man with AIDS and that no, it’s most certainly NOT a ridiculous punishment from god for what people might refer to as “immorality.” I watched Mary Jo nervously convince the PTA to approve condoms and sex-ed in her children’s school. I saw Charlene stand up to her minister when he voted against women being able to hold his position in the church. I watched Julia – with both barrels loaded – tell off racists, classists, and sexists with her sharp wit and sharper tongue.  

These are the stories I watched as a girl. These are the women I saw in my media. And seeing them reflected in the woman I am today – well, I couldn’t be more thankful for them.  

I leave you with some amazingly awesome quotes from my newly-purchased-and-already-exhausted Season 2:

Mary Jo:  “We’re not just preventing births anymore, we’re preventing deaths…More important than what any civic leader or PTA or Board of Education thinks about teenagers having sex – or any immoral act that my daughter or your son might engage in – is the bottom line that I don’t think they should have to die for it.”

Bernice:  “Just remember, after Christ was crucified on the cross, and all his men had gone home, it was women who stayed until the bitter end. And it was women who first heralded the news of his resurrection. So just put that in your pulpit and smoke it.”

Julia:   “History has shown that in general, it has been the men who have done the raping and the robbing and the killing and the WAR-MONGERING for the last two-thousand years! It has been the men who have done the pillaging and the beheading and the subjugating of WHOLE RACES into slavery! It has been the men who have done the law-making and the money-making AND MOST OF the mischief-making – so, if the world isn’t quite what you had in mind, you have only yourselves to thank!”

Friday, June 4, 2010

The End of an Era

Embarrassingly, I have yet to see the latest installment of Sex and the City. Embarrassed because I am one of many hardcore fans that has followed Carrie through each and every experience documented in that furry, magenta DVD collection. Also, because it has seemed to seriously let down my fellow feminists, and I am – per usual – late with any witty, cynical, analytical critique.

I’m happy to say, my nearest and dearest have not been sitting on the sidelines. First, continuing to inspire me in my writing (as well as in life) is my good friend and feminist conspirator, Holly Kent. The SATC 2 train wreck has moved her to such extent that she’s started Back On Carrie’s Stoop – a journaling, if you will, of her experience as she examines the entire series start to finish, knowing where the end has brought us. Think of it as dusting off old yearbooks and remembering the good old days….but a hell of a lot more fun.

Another good friend – riot grrl, roller grrl, all-around ass-kicker – Cindy Rodriguez has written an amazing piece for Lesbiatopia, examining how a woman can love SATC and still be a – GASP – lesbian…?? Good stuff.

I will be frequenting the literary works of my friends and other feminist lens-wearers until I can be fully prepared to dish out a week’s worth of rent to purchase a nauseatingly overpriced L.A. movie ticket to what Ms. Kent refers to as, “…a film which I knew, with a certainty as sure as death and taxes, that I would whole-heartedly despise.”

Bring on the tartinis.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Trust is a Must

Thirty-seven years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court trusted women. They trusted that they could make the decision (along with their doctors) of bringing another life into the world.

In 2010, despite the vast changes in social norms and society in general, women are NOT being trusted.

NOT being trusted in their decision-making skills.
NOT being trusted in their ability to weigh pros and cons.
NOT being trusted in their understanding of how being a parent is a monumental task.
NOT being trusted to understand their bodies.
NOT being trusted with their life goals, dreams and aspirations.
NOT being trusted with their personal reproductive health.

Perhaps these "non-trusters" think they are doing us a making the decision FOR us. By stigmatizing the women who choose to not parent. By mandating waiting periods, because you probably haven't thought about your decision "enough". By making minors jump the highest fences to have access to a legal medical procedure, when they may be in an abusive environment. By forcing women to bear the product of rape - which, just so we're clear, is not a justifiable consequence of being "irresponsible" and is NEVER OUR fault.

Don't treat us like we don't know our bodies or ourselves. We do. And our choices are OUR business. Stay out of our lives, because we gladly stay out of yours.