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Posts Tagged ‘anna holmes’

If a feminist worries over her worry lines, frets over getting fat, or lusts after lipstick… but there’s no one around to witness it, can she still call herself a feminist?

They’re questions we all ponder at one time or another, I suppose. Is buying Spanx buying into an oppressive ideal? Does dabbling in fillers make one a tool of the patriarchy? Does plunking down your VISA at the MAC counter mean you’ve forfeited your feminist card? Who among us hasn’t felt that guilt, that shame, keeping your head down while silently praying no one spots you–enlightened, intelligent, feminist you–shelling out fifty bucks for two ounces of eye cream? Who hasn’t wondered: Are a touch of vanity and an ethos of empowerment mutually exclusive?

Sure, maybe we can coast through a couple of decades, smug in our certainty that we’d never stoop so low. And yet. Once we start to age, once it’s our forehead that’s lined, our jawline that’s softened, the tug-of-war becomes urgent. As Anna Holmes, founder of the pop-feminist website Jezebel, wrote in the Washington Post:

‘Wow. You’re really looking older,’ says the voice in my head as I peer into the bathroom mirror. Then another, this one louder and more judgmental: ‘Who are you that you care?’

Who am I indeed. The fact that I can be so profoundly unsettled by the appearance of a few wrinkles on my forehead doesn’t say much of anything good about my sense of self as a whole. In the same way that I’m sort of horrified at the increasingly unrecognizable face that stares back at me in the mirror, I’m equally unsettled that I’m horrified at all.

Who couldn’t relate? Internal debating (and berating) aside, though, the thing I’m left thinking about is how much this sounds like yet another false dichotomy. Virgin/whore, pretty/smart, plastic/natural, young/irrelevant. As though a woman can be either a gray-haired intellectual frump or a Botoxed blond bimbo, as though there were nothing in between. As though any person could be so simply defined. One or the other. If one, then not the other.

While my fear of needles (and, well, poison) precludes me from even considering Botox, I have no problem admitting that some of the hairs on my head have gone rogue (by which I mean gray)–and that I pay someone good money to make it look otherwise. I happily incur the expense of continued education, and of shoes. I giggle, and I engage in heated intellectual debates. I spend time pondering the meaning of life–and the size of my pores. I proudly call myself a feminist, and, yes, I shave my legs. What box do I fit into?

Perhaps the goal is not to worry so much over what one decision means for the label we’ve happily slapped upon ourselves, but to realize that a label is only part of the story. Maybe the goal is to forego the labels altogether, to open our minds, broaden our thinking, be a little more forgiving of ourselves, a little more accepting of each other–and do something a little more productive with all that reclaimed time and brainspace. Or perhaps the goal is simply to remember to think outside the box.

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…For they shall be ripped apart.

And no one, it seems, is immune. Not even Tina Fey.

The very first piece of commentary I read about Tina Fey’s new book, Bossypants, which Barbara wrote about last week, was in Newsweek. And, written by Jezebel founder Anna Holmes, it was fairly critical. Check it:

Edging up to difficult truths and skipping away may make for sophisticated sitcoms, but it doesn’t make for satisfying memoir writing. The most successful autobiographies demand a certain amount of psychic heavy lifting, risk taking, and interrogation of one’s ideas; Fey will have none of it, which contributes to the nagging feeling that, despite her prodigious talents, she can be a little too clever by half.

And–you know what?–Holmes may be wrong; and she may, in fact, be right. But the specific talking points of her argument weren’t what interested me about her article. What Holmes’ piece got me thinking, more than anything, was this: Man, women sure are scrutinized. Call a woman a role model, and before the proverbial ink is dry, the backlash has begun. And she’ll get it the worst from other women.

Why are we so quick to pick each other apart?

It’s like the perpetual Us V. Them standoff on steroids. Or Botox. Versus A Powerful All-Natural Macrobiotic  Regime. And I think, as with the Us versus Themming, the urge to pick apart the women out there blazing the trails has much to do with choices, and the abundance of choices we now have, and how new this abundance is. We’ve been told we can do anything, we can have it all… And, hell, when you’re given every option and told how lucky you are to have them, it’s natural that we’re left a little bit unsure about the choices we make — and when we see another woman who’s doing things a little bit differently, well, picking her apart is certainly easier than acknowledging that we’re a little insecure about what it is we’re doing. And when it’s not the woman you see almost daily in line for your respective caffeine fixes but the woman you sort of idolize, you sort of adore… well, maybe we don’t want her to be a real person. Whether she’s had a fall from grace, or a wardrobe malfunction (or a wardrobe that prizes functionality over style), or is simply a little messy, a little conflicted, not as entirely forthcoming with every last bit of her soul as we’d like, we’re pretty quick to pounce on her for it, aren’t we? Could it be that we want too much from them? That we’re kinda desperate for guidance? Or, as Elizabeth Gilbert put it:

We don’t have centuries of educated, autonomous female role models to imitate here (there were no women quite like us until very recently), so nobody has given us a map. As a result, we race forth blindly into this new maze of limitless options. And the risks are steep. We make mistakes.

We do. And we women are pretty darn tough on each other for those mistakes — so who on earth would want to put her whole self out there to be judged? As Holmes herself wrote:

Fey is in the unique and enviable position to say something important and definitive: about being a woman, about boys’ clubs, about contemporary feminism and female representations in pop culture. (I can go on.) If a woman with Fey’s measure of success and cultural influence won’t give us the straight dope, who will? Part of me suspects that this is unfair to expect of her, that because of her prominence (and the relative paucity of other females at her level) Fey has become the go-to girl to represent and illuminate the hopes, fears, and dreams of generations of women. I imagine that she’s aware of this, and finds it both flattering and annoying. I imagine she wishes she could do better. Maybe next time.

Not sure I love the ending. But what I’d like to imagine is this: maybe we can all do better. Maybe, by acknowledging that we’re all flying a little bit blind here, that we’re all struggling with the decisions that combine to determine How We’re Living Our Lives, we  might get on board with the idea that we all could use some support. Maybe then we’d feel a little freer to hang ourselves out there, a little safer in letting our freak flags fly. And maybe, the more of us who do, the more of us who will. And maybe, once that happens, we’ll be more inclined to be ourselves, and to support every other woman out there doing the tough work of being herself.

As Fey’s TV alter-ego might say, I want to go to there.

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First off, how can you not love a book called Bossypants?   That’s the title of Tina Fey’s newly released comic not-a-memoir.  It’s hilarious, honest – and self-deprecating just short of a fault.  (The New York Times calls it “a spiky blend of humor, introspection, critical thinking and Nora Ephron-isms for a new generation )  In her book, Fey acknowledges the good, the bad and the awkward about everything from raising hell to raising kids.

Which is to say, she is Everywoman.  The tragic adolescent.  Pretty, but not, you know, pretty.  Struggling to be taken seriously in the boys’ room.  Juggling work and family.  Anxious.  Unapologetically ambitious.  But then again, not.

We love her.

She comes clean with many of the dilemmas we all face, and what you realize is that the biggest difference between her life and ours may be that she’s funny.   (Well, that and her current job.  Or her paycheck.  But I digress. ) One of my favorite lines in her book is this:  “I don’t care if you fucking like it.”

The quote is attributed to Amy Poehler, in the days when Poehler was new to SNL, and when the writing room was a flat out boys club.  (Classic line:  “Only in comedy does an obedient white girl from the suburbs count as diversity.”)  The anecdote goes like this:  Amy had made a joke that, Fey writes, was “dirty and loud and ‘unladylike’”.  Jimmy Fallon, who was the star of the show at the time, told her to stop it:

Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second and wheeled around on him.  “I don’t fucking care if you like it.”  Jimmy was visibly startled.  Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit.

With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place.  Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute.  She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes.  She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it.

At which point, Tina Fey knew she had a friend in the writer’s room.  She writes that after that, she felt less alone. (Moral of the story: look what happened to Amy Poehler:  You’d have to say that speaking out ended well for her.   And clearly, for Fey as well, who was the first female head writer at SNL)

Surely, we can identify with that.  That feeling that we are often stuck in alien territory, looking for allies, applauding anyone brave enough to speak her our mind.  And wondering why we are the ones who have to care whether the big boys like it — rather than the other way around.  As Nicole Arthur writes in the Washington Post:

To Fey, this constitutes a universal rallying cry for women in the workplace. Indeed, the book’s title alludes to the fact that she is often asked a question that would sound idiotic addressed to a man: “What’s it like being the boss?” The book’s tips for women in the male-dominated workplace range from facetious (“No pigtails, no tube tops”) to resonant (“You’re not in competition with other women, you’re in competition with everyone”).

In a word.  Yes.

What else many of us can relate to is her public struggle to decide whether to have a second child (FYI: she’s now five months pregnant, reports salon.com’s Mary Elizabeth Williams).  She wrote about it in the New Yorker, and we wrote about it here. But think of second kid simply as metaphor, and you have another issue we ladies can all identify with, whether or not kids are in the picture, or ever will be:  to wit, the never-ending shitstorm most women go through trying to combine career with the life the workplace – and to a certain extent, society itself – has cut out for us.   The message is this:  either we have to do it all perfectly (read: not possible) or we have to choose.  One or the other, baby.  Not both.  And Tina Fey rocks that one, too,  by coming clean with the struggle, and acknowledging she ain’t perfect.  As Mary Elizabeth Williams writes, Fey has, perhaps more than any other star, “defiantly set herself outside the realm of the Queens of Having It All”:

In a passage from her new book, “Bossypants,” excerpted this past winter in the New Yorker, Fey admitted being “stricken with guilt and panic” when her daughter expressed a longing for a little sister, and how, “tired of carrying this anxiety around,” she “burst into tears” at the gynecologist’s office. That’s a real, anguished road a hell of a lot of women have been down — the fear of losing career traction as fast as you’re losing eggs, and not knowing what to do about either…

… Maybe that’s why for Fey, whose work ethic could make James Franco look like a sleepy donkey, a little break sometime in the foreseeable future sounds like a hot idea. She’s written, “What’s so great about work anyway? Work won’t visit you when you’re old. Work won’t drive you to get a mammogram and take you out after for soup … Hollywood be damned. I’ll just be unemployable and labeled crazy in five years anyway” — a statement that would be more witty if it didn’t have such a stinging ring of truth to it. And though she may crack jokes about the rigors of balance — and “30 Rock” recently confronted the dilemma via the ambitious Devon Banks and his trio of “gaybies” — it’s clear from her dazzling success that Fey is not a woman who values her work any less because she loves her child so much. But the demands of being a powerhouse on all fronts can wear a lady down.

You bet.  Which goes straight to the heart of what we’ve been writing about:  We’re raised with the message that we can do anything. Which translates to we can do everything.  We can have it all, we can do it all, and it’s all going to be perfect.

Which is why we love our Tina Fey.  Whether her well-constructed presentation of self is for real or, as jezebel.com founder Anna Holmes suggests in Newsweek, all alter ego, who cares?  Because what we love is the way she flips the message.  We can’t do it all.  And perfection?  Nothing but pipe dream.  And that, sister, is exactly what the Everywoman inside us needs to hear.

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