all grown up now

I wasn’t going to post this originally – and then I got into a discussion about high school elsewhere on Facebook, and decided to do so anyways.

I had a nightmare about high school last week. Or rather, about the high school reunion, the one I didn’t attend two years ago (I had walking pneumonia and it was the weekend of the 2nd Annual BPSA Moot. Even i had been well, I had grownup obligations.)

In this dream, I was at the reunion, with a lot of the same people I am now Facebook and Instagram friends with. We were all as we are now, adults. And I started making a speech about how I forgave everyone for their cruelty, about how glad I was that we could all be friends as adults, that we could now be grownups with so much in common.

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This is the “old” wing of Oak Bay High’s “East” building, 1929 – 2015.  The school was demolished and rebuilt in 2015, the year of our twenty year reunion.

After all, my high school classmates are, like me, products of the Canadian middle class in the late twentieth century. We all share the same cheerful view of our homeland (similar to our fellow GenXer Prime Minister’s) instilled in us by years of CBC and the Ministry of Heritage, tempered with our years of trying to grow up during a provincial recession. We are all from Victoria, a city between Vancouver and Seattle, a weirdly schizophrenic city poised between the nineteenth and twenty first century. We should have tons in common by now. And, as we all have entered the Grown Up phases of our lives, with partners and children and/or other dependents, those commonalities have increased, and I’m actually now engaging more with People I Knew At Oak Bay High than I was when we all actually went there.

Having much in common and even renewing friendships (in a range from genuine to superficial) does not make up for years of cruelty and exclusion in my subconscious though. When I looked up, in my dream, from this heartfelt statement of forgiveness and subsequent emotional investment, everyone was gone, off to hang out at a classmate’ s business. They had all left to go socialize and had not even told me they were leaving the reunion, much less invited me along.

In reality, when awake, I would disregard that behavior as ridiculous.  Real adults address their problems with other adults.  It is children who exclude and abandon out of a heartless combination of thoughtlessness and malice, a combination that is unacceptable. Still, if an actual grown-ass adult behaved that way, ghosting my company without a goodbye or explanation, I would, to this day, pause to consider my behavior, to try and figure out if I had done something to justify exclusion before realizing that it wasn’t my fault.  Other adults’ childish behavior is not deserving of my introspection or self-blame.

In dreams though, that kind of learned, logical, corrective behavior doesn’t kick in. In dreams, we’re poking around in corners of our brains that our waking selves have long since papered over.  So instead, I just felt the deep humiliation and shame I would have as a teenager.  I just felt like I had done something wrong, and that people didn’t like me, and it was somehow my own fault for being too emotionally needy and clumsy, too messy, too loud – and too ugly and fat to be able to make up for those shortcomings.

And that’s when I woke up.

It’s twenty years since high school, and I’ve had to accept that I am never going to be able to gloss over the decade between grades two and twelve. I believed in my teen years that I was undeserving of human contact because of my failure to modulate my behavior and my physical shape in a socially acceptable way.  I was too loud and too emotionally sloppy, a bad combination to start with, a lethal one when combined with a status as “the fat girl”. It was ten year period that started with elementary school cruelty, ran into the middle school meanness, and ended with senior high loneliness, as the childhood mockery dwindled into mere exclusion.

I have reduced both the loudness and my size, placing my behavior and my body well within the acceptable lines of North American society.  Still, as an adult, I now live with a low-level paranoid anxiety that people do not like me, that I am unlikeable as a person – no matter what my body size, unless I carefully maintain behavior that is considered “likeable”. It’s a fallacy that I often have to logically remind myself isn’t true.  Not everyone is going to like me as an adult, but sometimes, that’s just the way things go.  Not everyone has to be my friend.

And yet, here is this old hurt, these ancient humiliations, cluttering up my brain and my dreams.  It’s only within the last few years that I’ve really managed to shake the shame, that sense of deserving all that loneliness.  I’d love to be able to clean this narrative up, reduce it down to just undeserved bullying, but I’m unable to do so.  I think that’s the worst part for the victims of bullying, is the sense that we deserved it based on behavior or actions or looks we failed to change.

Bullying teaches its victims that we should feel ashamed to be who we are, that we are unacceptable as people.

Why does all this matter now?  Or rather, why is this coming up?  I’m not quite sure.  It isn’t as if this hasn’t been dealt with.  I did paper over all this for years, re-inventing myself over and over and over again.  I didn’t want to be the sort of person who had a horrible time in elementary and high school.  I wanted to be the sort of person who was totally normal: well dressed, socially active, attractive.  The sort of adult I wanted to be in my twenties wouldn’t have had been such a freak as a child.

And yet the woman I am in my thirties has had to take all that history out, air it a bit, and accept that yes – this is who I am and this is what made me who I am.  And who I am is enough.  High school is behind us all, and we have all made out of our experiences there whatever we can, taken whatever we can and moved on.  Nightmares or reliving old humiliations doesn’t change who I am today, nor will it change the person I will continue evolving into tomorrow.  The impact that time has on my life is forever, but finite. Perhaps by writing all this down & writing all this out, I can remind myself of that perspective and ensure that random throwback dreams remain irrelevant.

 

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the subway is the great equalizer in NYC

I love the New York City subway.  This may come as a surprise.  Our system is falling apart – literally in some cases at the switches.  Hellish delays happen due to garbage spills.  No one will take responsibility for funding and doing real work to fix the actual problems.  And of course, it is full of rats.

Yet for all that, I love the subway.  It is the most efficient way to get around most of the city.  It’s faster than driving most days.  It doesn’t cover the entire city, but I can use a $10 car or taxi to get from a subway stop to a final destination in a hurry if I don’t have time to walk.  And it has stunning views from some of the trains

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Good morning, East River (Manhattan bound Q, looking north)

Most of all though, the subway is the great class equalizer of New York.  It eliminates the class-based pretension and consumption of cars in most New Yorkers daily commutes.  Everyone takes the subway.  Even for those who can afford car service, taking a car would waste more time than it’s worth.  In a society where time is money, the subway is not only a financial bargain, but a time bargain for those who would otherwise have automobile based transportation.

The subway also provides the same service to everyone, regardless of class and social status.  There’s something very socialist about it, a service where you cannot buy your way out of it, or pay for better quality experiences than anyone else.  A New York resident may own a $5MM townhome in Brooklyn, or be renting an illegal divided apartment in Queens, and they will still have the same experience on the train that day.  That may be a quiet ride across boroughs, or it may be a crowded train car that has been overloaded after being delayed by twenty minutes due to a sick passenger in Times Square.  Whatever.  No one can buy their way out of it because no other transportation form is more efficient and effective in New York.

And while I may complain about the homeless literally peeing inside the train cars, the subway must literally save lives in cold weather.  The stations are underground, the cars are climate controlled – it isn’t where people should have to go, but it is a roof over their heads and a way to not freeze to death. (It would be nice if the Mayor opened more shelters though so the subway could be used for transportation and not as an inclement homeless shelter though)

The subway is what works for this city – and what makes this city work.  It keeps New York running.  Millions of people ride it every day.  It sucks a lot of the time, and complaining about the MTA is practically a mandate.  Yet the subway equalizes the experience of living here in a way that makes the middle class and the wealthy care about a transportation system that also serves the poor.  My socialist heart beats a little faster for that.

there must be social commentary in this workout

I went to ConBody this morning.  It’s a bootcamp workout on the Lower East Side, with a well documented story and theme around…convicts. Or ex-cons, to be exact.  The space isn’t a workout room, but a jail cell, complete with a cell door.  The wall features a mural of chain link and figures in hoodies.  The logo is a clock with barbed wire on it. The hashtag is #dothetime.  The branding is genius, and has landed a ton of press.

What’s more genius is that this is a business that actually does help to get convicted felons back in the employment market.  It makes their prison time an asset, not a detriment, in their career as physical fitness instructors. It won’t get them back all their rights, but at least it gets them jobs.  The founder, Coss Marte, from everything I have read, seems a genuinely nice guy, from a family committed to social good: his brother Christopher is running for district councilman in New York on a strong community service platform (Their mom was handing out his election pamphlets after she did the class with us.  AWWWW)

Incarceration is a serious problem in this country: the US locks up more people per capita than any other country.  Two million people are estimated jailed in this country, or just under 1% of all the adults in America.

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Incarceration has been called “the new Jim Crow“: a race-biased system that perpetuates the caste system in America.  In her book on this topic, Michelle Alexander argues that incarceration is a method to keep black Americans “in their place”, a seemingly fair, equal and just system that instead is skewed towards POCs.  Not only does prison take away the freedom of a felon temporarily, but it is a permanent black mark that prevents that individual from fully exercising his rights in the future.  He may not be able to vote.  He may not be readily hired to work, resulting in economic disadvantage.

The prison system in America is known to be profitable and corrupt.  Not only do we have the for-profit corporation in a popular Netflix series, but even Margaret Atwood has written  satire about prison economics Now we may be recognizing the justice system as the new vehicle for racial sublimation.

So it is with no small amount of social irony that I, a middle class white woman, went off to do a bootcamp workout, in a room full of other middle class white people.  And it was a fine workout.  It was a bootcamp workout.  It was a hard bodyweight bootcamp workout.  And I appreciate and respect that.  I especially appreciate and respect that Coss Marte has managed to wrap up an equipment-free bodyweight bootcamp workout into a brand package that manages to be tough love and inspirational, threatening in a safe way.  He’s managed to make prison into a weight loss and transformation narrative that sells his service product for him.  He doesn’t need to buy thousand dollar bikes when he has that story to tell.

Now, ConBody has been extended into its own space at the ridiculously named Saks Fifth Avenue Wellery.  That is an even more glaring social irony.  From everything I have ever read about that neighborhood and that store, the women at the Saks location must make the girls down at the LES space I went to look like street punks.  I would bet that if they saw a ConBody instructor outside the space in a hoodie, the same UES women would clutch their pearls and eye him warily, perpetuating the same criminal stereotype bias.  Yet there’s the workout, and the same ex-cons leading it, in a space that also houses a fucking salt cave.  Is that a bright spot in the dark horrors of prejudice in America?  Or is it just a ridiculous juxtaposition?

Either way.  My quads are tired.  A 7am workout followed by a stressful day of chasing clients around their own offices is exhausting.  I’ve taken my magnesium and now I’m going to go handwrite in my private journal until I fall asleep.

And I would like to add that I did the time and then thought about rewarding myself for my “incarceration workout” with a cup of butter coffee with maca in it.  Then I realized how ridiculous I was being even thinking that sentence and got the hell out of the Lower East Side before I could spend the $7.50.  There’s being a spoiled white girl doing a jail themed workout, and then there’s going out after it to blow the same amount of money that some of my fellow New Yorkers probably have for food for the entire day on a specialty drink, and that was just one upper middle class wellness luxury item too far.

 

this taylor swift song is terrible

This is the second time in a week I’ve posted about Taylor Swift’s new video.  The first time was when VICE decided to fact-check her goth cred:

Typically, I don’t watch pop music videos (because seriously, why bother, NOTHING WILL EVER BE AS GOOD AS IT WAS IN THE 90s) but due to the “Taylor Swift goes goth” allegation, I felt it was something I needed to sit through:

Typically, I have nothing against Taylor Swift.  In fact, usually I find her songs well-written and catchy.  I certainly have to hear them enough times around the house given that I have a pop-music obsessed nine year old who insists on listening to Sirius Hits 1 in the car (Paul and I listen to FirstWave or Lithium or AltNation or CBC3 when we get to choose, usually when Ben is napping)

This song, however, is just awful.  It manages to repeat key changes while being totally devoid of melody.  It’s speak-sung with repetitive lyrics.  It’s like the video was conceived first and then some background noise was developed for it.  The best description for it is “lemonade Crystal Light”.  Only I think that’s actually an insult to citric acid.

By commenting on any pop culture, I hear the same sarcastic voice & comment that one would expect: well could you do any better?  And the answer to that is probably no, no I could not.  The thing is, it isn’t my job to write pop songs.  I haven’t spent my life training and perfecting the craft of writing pop songs.  Taylor Swift has, and arguably, she is very good at it.  Therefore, I expect her to use that craft to produce a song with a melody, not a novelty piece.

One could also argue that Ms. Swift is trying to do something different, that this is part of a reinvention of herself, “the old Taylor is dead”, etc.  The problem is that it just isn’t a well crafted song.  Taken without the video, it’s slow and repetitive.  Without visuals, it’s downright boring.  It isn’t something that can be danced to easily because the beat is awkward.  It’s different from the past singles that this pop ingenue has released, but lacks the familiarity with non-pop genres of music that could have provided more interest and engagement.

Or, to put it another way, if Taylor is going to go dark, listen to some goddamn Front Line Assembly and sample an industrial beat rather than just pulling together a weak song about revenge with a drum machine backbeat.  Or if she is going to go cinematically dark, I am fairly certain that there are plenty of examples of how to do that

Why am I complaining about this pop music piece in particular?  Partially because I’m up early thanks to some insomnia (it is hard falling asleep and staying asleep these days) but also because this music video just beat out “Gangnam Style” as the most viewed video on YouTube…and we are all going to have to hear it on a multiple times daily basis for the next few months.  It’s all over my RSS reader like it’s a video and re-invention for the ages, like it’s a great, groundbreaking single.  I’m not typically up on this sort of thing, but hasn’t this also been done?  Like by Madonna?  Or Lady Gaga?  Or Beyonce?

I suppose my point is that I have to go yell at some kids to get off my lawn and rant about how all modern music is terrible.  I just wanted to complain about this video in particular first before I do so.

wellness junkie

I take the title of this entry from “Fitness Junkie“, the latest in the genre of “parody light” fiction that has been cropping up lately.  “Fitness Junkie” itself is an entertaining read, referencing and mocking the “wellness culture” of the major cities.  New York is the seeming epicenter of this right now, cranking out mini-chains and mega-chains of wellness “solutions”: cycling studios, meditation studios, juice bars.  “Fitness Junkie” skewers a lot of these trends with experiential accuracy, from Whole Foods to SoulCycle, even touching on the sober early morning rave trend.

I recognized and identified with far too many of the trends mocked in the book.  Perhaps this is because I have been on what is now termed the “wellness” bandwagon since I was nineteen, back when it was called what it really is: weight loss.  Back then, it was step classes and Fat Flush; twenty years later, it’s high end spin classes and soup diets.  It all adds up to much the same end result of cardio and reduced calories.  The only difference is now the concept of “wellness” is meant to be better for a woman’s health, by adding a layer of so-called self-care into the facade.

It’s a fucking joke.  Call the trend what it is.  This isn’t wellness, it’s just feeding women’s insecurity about their weight while telling us that we are taking care of ourselves doing it.  The wellness trend tells women that they can’t lose weight through cardio and diet alone, but have to invest more money, attention and resources into being “well” to make the cardio and diet work.  As a positive, the concept of “wellness” does include a certain mental and holistic health component, while taking some focus off meaningless scale numbers.  Still, it seems that “wellness” is now capitalizing now not only off women’s desperation to be thin, but now taking advantage of an overall insecurity that something is missing from their lives.

It’s very likely something is missing from an American woman’s life.  We live in completely unnatural environments.  We are not connected to a particular source of spirituality as we become a more secular culture.  We often eat low quality food that is packaged and sold to us.  We buy a lot of quick-fix items – fast fashion, beauty products.  All of this is draining our batteries every single day.  So when the wellness trend comes through offering something that will make us feel better and make us thinner, we’re willing to jump on it and open our wallets.

This is how something like goop gets big..and believable.  This is how Well and Good and Wanderlust and all the other wellness “brands” have become profitable.  This is how Lululemon and yoga have become ubiquitous.  We’ve combined the ongoing obsession with a woman’s weight with a promise of “feeling better” and created an entirely new monster.  An entirely new expensive monster.

I’m not immune to this, obviously.  I spent this morning in Manhattan, first at Flywheel for a spin class, then at MNDFL for a meditation class.  Flywheel is one of the new high end spinning chains that leverages perceived value to charge $30 for a class.  (I had a code for a free class)  Shoes, water and towels and help to set up the bikes are all provided.  The locker rooms have Bliss products in the showers, and a lounge area with post-workout fruit for snacks.   The bikes are all new and shiny and equipped with screens that show the exact torque and speed.  This allows for a gamified, competitive experience, as riders work to have the highest overall energy output for the class.  As a competitive person, the leaderboard aspect drives me to work harder.  It’s the overall high end experience where the perceived value comes in though, a combination of little things like shoes and water, and big things like new high-tech bikes.  It’s that kind of experience that is the hallmark of the new fitness boutiques, no matter what the workout.  It makes the participant feel a little bit like she is being treated well and taken care of, a tiny boost to her day.

 

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I went from Flywheel to MNDFL, on the opposite side of the activity spectrum.  Instead of a high intensity, competitive cardio class, MNDFL is meditation that can be signed up for online like a fitness class.  It’s held in a lovely space in the West Village, where everything is thoughtfully, tastefully decorated, from the bamboo bookshelves to the gray couches to the living wall (above)  It’s peaceful and welcoming and serene.  Much like a high-end fitness studio, participants are welcomed, given water and/or tea, and ushered into a room with high quality equipment – in this case, custom meditation mats and hassocks instead of fancy bikes.  The sessions are 30 to 45 minutes long, and loosely focus on a specific aspect of mindfulness: emotions, energy, “lovingkindness”.   It’s a luxe setting, especially for meditation, which isn’t an activity I usually associate with material things, but gives MNDFL that boutique experience feel.  And it’s easily accessible: the teachers take the spiritual or religious specifics out of their teachings and just teach the practical aspects of meditation.

Both Flywheel and MNDFL are excellent representations of the wellness trend: they provide an experience, a functional physical or mental workout, and are priced in such a way that the perceived value is high enough to make them profitable.  At the end of each class, the respective instructors told the room that the class we just did was a form of self care, and emphasized that we should all be proud of ourselves for coming out on a Sunday morning when we could be doing other, less challenging things.  Each class ended in an emphasis that participants should “feel good” about what they did.  That’s what the wellness trend also suggests, that “feeling good” is worth the price tag.  It tries to tell us that losing weight is secondary to that self-care and positivity…and then it has to call wait, no, come back!  You will still lose weight!

But for all this feel-good and positivity, none of the wellness classes really teach a way to connect with the activity so that the participants can develop and build the skill outside of that setting.  Each requires me to come into their studio to “feel good”  In a way,  MNDFL is to religious based meditation what Flywheel is to actual bike riding: it is an easily done practice, but doesn’t create a complete vision or genuine connection to the activity.  MNDFL isn’t actual spirituality, but it works to calm the brain.  Flywheel isn’t actual biking, but it works to burn the calories.  They are what they are.

I’m not immune to the wellness trend, but I am cognizant of it.  I went into Flywheel today because I wanted to physically train to ride faster on a rainy day.  I went into MNDFL because it helps me with my own meditation practice to do it in a guided fashion in class once in a while. And I do look at the calorie count on my bike and think, wow, I burned 800 calories, that’s almost a quarter pound of fat!  Then I remember: I train for strength and ability, not to lose weight.

And that’s what’s wrong with the wellness trend.  The wellness trend doesn’t teach us to train.  It teaches us to go into a class and buy a temporary wellness fix, with a false goal of feeling better and a real goal of being skinnier.   It’s addictive and completely justifiable as “taking care of oneself”.  It doesn’t teach us to care for ourselves as much as it teaches us to rely on instructors to tell us how to perform self-care.  It’s addictive because it makes us feel better on multiple levels, like we’re getting skinnier and we’re being nice to ourselves.  It makes us dependent on these high priced activities to achieve an exercise high or a meditation calm.   The wellness trend makes us junkies.

the 2 things i got from “hungry heart”

I read Jennifer Weiner’s memoir, “Hungry Heart” this week.  It is a collection of essays, not an autobiography but more a series of autobiographical pieces.  And there are two key concepts I took out of the book:

  1. OMG SOMEONE ELSE FEELS THE SAME WAY I DO ABOUT JUDITH KRANTZ’S “SCRUPLES”.  I read the entire Judith Krantz oeuvre as a teenager, and strongly identified with her heroine from Scruples, Billy Winthrop Ikehorn Orsini.  For those of you whose mothers did not leave copies of Scruples lying around, we meet Billy Ikehorn as a rich beautiful widow, but she begins her life as a self described “fat freak”.  By the time she turns eighteen, she’s a five-ten, two hundred pound social outcast.  After a year in Paris, Billy loses the weight in an early version of the French Women Don’t Get Fat diet, and develops a stunning sense of chic through her boarding hostess, an impoverished French countess.  She then goes on to live in New York, where she has a lot of unapologetic sex in the Helen Gurley Brown model (social commentary!), and then marries an extremely wealthy man, who conveniently dies seven years later.  From there on, the book goes through her challenges running her own Beverly Hills fashion emporium, and her marriage to a movie producer…but that wasn’t a future I was interested in.  All I cared about was that there was a heroine in literature who looked like I did at sixteen, and who made herself into a beautiful, sophisticated woman of the world despite that.

    Jennifer Weiner also got this – she says that, to her, “Billy felt personal.”  This is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone recount their teenage appreciation for this 1973 work of fiction for this reason.  For Ms. Weiner, as for me, the appeal wasn’t just Billy’s social or financial outcast status, it was the height and her weight she entered adulthood with and the beauty and sophistication she achieved despite it.   I was also five ten by my twentieth birthday, and while I wasn’t two hundred pounds, I wasn’t far below it.  It was surprising to me that someone else who physically resembles me read this book and felt the same way at the same phase of life about this particular character and what she represented: the hope of becoming a beautiful, sophisticated woman despite teen years spent as a too-tall overweight freak.

  2. In more seriousness, the bigger concept I got is that women expend too much energy worrying and obsessing about their weight.  And when I read that, it became like a truth I couldn’t unsee.  How much time do we waste trying to be thinner and prettier that we could be putting into better uses?  Would Hillary have won if we’d all stopped fretting over calories and spin classes and really stared down the political situation?  Has our obsession with our weight distracted us so much that we cannot focus on things that are truly important?

It’s this second point that really frightens me.  I think about the amount of time I’ve spent dieting and obsessing about my weight and it makes me dizzy.  There was the constant calorie burning and calorie tracking.  There is the space in my head dedicated to an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of food macronutrients, which has led to an ability to play a version of The Price Is Right in guessing the caloric cost of everything I eat.  Most of all, there has been the insane amount of energy I have spent either anxious that I wasn’t doing enough, or berating myself because I wasn’t doing enough, and usually both at once.

 

We have also, by giving our weight such importance, made it a defining feature of success in a woman.  We have acknowledged that it is representative of the ability to achieve a goal to be able to meet a set of arbitrary physical standards.  If we do not meet that goal, we believe ourselves to be weak, undisciplined, unworthy of any sort of social rewards.  We either accept a lesser lot in life, or push ourselves through tremendous amounts of thought, energy and strength into losing weight.  And ultimately, we may choose to accept the worst of both options, expending time and energy and mental strength into a weight loss goal, and when it can’t be reached, accepting an inferior social status as the result.  When you believe you are too weak to lose ten pounds, how can you believe that you are strong enough to lean in?

So now we have created barriers of our own making.  We can’t level up our lives in other regards when are too afraid of being judged for our appearance.  We can’t put the time and energy into the things that should truly matter to us when we are pouring all this work into obsessing over food and exercise.  I’m not saying it’s a trap by THE MAN to keep us down, but it is a trap perpetuated by every man who judges us and deems us worthy of conversation based on our appearance, whether he says so or not.  And it’s one we perpetuate to each other, as we judge other women based on how hard we think they’re trying, how much work they’re doing: the last frontier of the America Puritan work ethic funhouse mirrored into judgement.

This is a scary thought, to realize how distracted we all are on this topic.  In “Lady Oracle”, Margaret Atwood’s character, Joan, realizes that there has been wars going on that she was barely aware of and wonders, “what else had been happening in the world while I was busy worrying about my weight?”  What if all women everywhere stopped worrying about our weight for a week and thought about the next thing down on the list: the fact that we have allowed our entire country to be hijacked by a man who continually reduces women only to the value of their looks.

What if we all put the kind of effort into reading the news that we do into trying to calculate a serving size?

What if we all stopped letting ourselves be distracted by our weight, and turned all that energy into asserting our equal status in Western society?

That is what I got out of reading Jennifer Weiner’s memoir: that physical size, both height and weight, color the entire life of a woman who falls outside of the socially accepted range for both.  And that’s kind of ridiculous.  And also that if Ms. Weiner has not read Lady Oracle she probably should.  As books in the subgenre of Fictional Women who Lose 100+lbs At Age 18 go, it’s a much better tome on the subject than Scruples.

 

 

gender equality, sitcom style

“Funny”, in females, is not portrayed in American media as a desirable trait.  It’s something reserved for the sidekick or the comic relief wing-girl, not something for the romantic lead.  I have often believed that girls are encouraged to keep their hilarity within the confines of what’s still considered cute: witty banter, not full on vulgar humor.  There have been women who have gone outside of this mold as comedians, from Joan Rivers to Sarah Silverman, but they are an exception.  Comedy, whether vulgar or smart, can be constricted to gender roles.

Recently, there has been a sort of paradigm shift in how women are portraying themselves in television.   They didn’t come here to play “cute”  They came here to laugh, and they are all out of f’s to give if people do not like it.  There are sitcoms now with female leads that are far from charming, who are not polished, who are just going to go with their characters and all the vulgarity that comes from it.  Now, we have Julia Louis-Dreyfus making statements like, “I just got Brit-fucked by that balloon animal,” and Ilana on Broad City saying, “I am so hard right now,” Now we are getting somewhere in allowing women to put their energy into being hilarious, and not asking them to make sure it stays “cute”.

Fifteen years ago, the closest thing we had to a show where women just went for that kind of bawdiness was Sex and the City – and that was only because Kim Cattrall is an amazing comic actress.  Still, the show felt it had to represent all the areas of the female psyche, so it gave us the traditional female elements and their shocked reactions along with the less traditional characters and their shocking statements.  When Samantha talked about Richard’s “long, pink, perfect dick”, there was a reaction from half the characters where they were somehow still shocked at her crudeness.  Those reactions are there to provide empathy to the poor shocked audience, to show an acceptable reaction to a woman making a sexually explicit statement.  Now, we have episodes of Broad City where Ilana says, “I think I’m just craving pink dick,” and her friend doesn’t even blink.  And just the way she says it, and the way it’s accepted, makes it NBD.  That is what I’m looking for: a universe where hilarity and comedy can come from anyone, and not be defined by their gender.

I often wonder if this is an actual generational gap. Is it that the generation of fifteen years ago felt constrained to these traditional gender roles?  I think that is what frustrates me the most about that mentality when I re-watch Sex & the City.  It was a groundbreaking show for the time, but it still frustrates me how much it adheres to traditional female archetypes, especially since it is essentially conceived and developed by men.

And now we have sitcoms with flawed female leads!  Look at 30 Rock, a show I’m shocked not only was made, but that ran for as long as it did.  Or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, a total phenomenon based on a woman whose behavior is completely out of touch with social expectations.  Or Parks and Rec. It’s not “ladylike” behavior.  It’s just funny behavior.  We have hundreds of shows where brassy, bossy, bawdy behavior is taken for granted when it’s done by guys.  Now we finally have a handful where it’s done by women, and in the universe they live in, it’s totally OK.

I love that we are finally getting to shows that do not feel like they need to map characters to traditional female roles.  It’s no longer required to put a Charlotte in, or to channel Helen Lovejoy in a sort of Greek chorus.  This is where something like Two Broke Girls fails: it has a traditionally female character to be shocked by her smartass friend.  It still has a traditional female gender role to balance out, and tell us that we should be leery of this kind of unladylike behavior.

It’s the shows where a character can behave based on who they are, regardless of their gender role, and have it be accepted in that universe that I’m fascinated by.  Otherwise, having a “cute” girl who’s programmed to react in socially appropriate ways just makes the “funny girl” seem like she’s there for comic relief.  Having a person just be hilarious, without anyone reacting based on gender stereotypes, is what I really love about this next generation of female comedy.  I hope the next seasons of all these sitcoms I’m so into can keep it rolling to remind us that our gender restrictions can no longer keep us from being equally bawdy and hilarious.