…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.