Clearly on the extreme is the most recent string of pols abusing their, ahem, position. First up, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who fathered a child over ten years ago with one of his housekeepers. As in someone who for 20 years worked inside his home, where he lived with his wife and kids. Ugh.
And then there’s IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, reputed to be the heir apparent of Nicolas Sarkozy. Strauss-Kahn is currently being held without bail in Riker’s Island for chasing a maid around his suite in a Manhattan hotel while wearing no pants. Or anything else, for that matter. And oh yes. He sexually assaulted her. And by the way, have you seen a picture of this guy?
What I keep wondering is what makes these men with power — simply the latest in a long string of pols who couldn’t keep their pants on — think they can get away with this stuff. (Can you imagine Hillary Clinton, for example, chasing around a bellhop?) Oh, wait. Did I just answer my own question?
What I think is that it has to do with entitlement. And it goes a lot deeper — and it’s much more pervasive — than the shenanigans of a bunch of horny old men. Shannon, in fact, went there Tuesday in her post about Bridesmaids, where she wrote that in our culture, “everything male-centered is standard, and everything female-centered is female.” In other words, we girls are still seen as outside the norm:
It’s an issue we dissect pretty thoroughly in the book. And it’s all yet another reason why so many women are so damn undecided: yes, we’ve been told we can do anything… but the world continues to show us that we should probably stifle certain parts of ourselves to get to the point where we can do it. That we’re the fringe, lucky to be allowed to play in the men’s world.
Yep. We’ve got all the doors open — we can be doctors or lawyers or comedy writers or anything else — but those doors still open up into the old boy’s network, where the structures were designed by and for men and where, at the worst extreme, guys with power think they can get away with running around without their pants. Okay, that’s a metaphor, but you get the picture, right? (Or maybe you would rather not.) Cue the power differential, and guess where that leaves us.
Maureen Dowd went there, in a column about the coming season of network TV shows that feature Playboy bunnies, a Charlie’s Angels remake, and a show about sixties-era stewardesses “harking back to the good old days when women didn’t sit in first class, they simply served the men who did..” Okay, barf. Dowd points out that there are still some strong women featured on the small screen, but, she writes:
… Hollywood is a world ruled by men, and this season, amid economic anxieties, those men want to indulge in some retro fantasies about hot, subservient babes.
“It’s the Hendricks syndrome,” said one top male TV producer here. “All the big, corporate men saw Christina Hendricks play the bombshell secretary on ‘Mad Men’ and fell in love. It’s a hot fudge sundae for men: a time when women were not allowed to get uppity or make demands. If the woman got pregnant, she had to drive to a back-alley abortionist in New Jersey. If you got tired of women, they had to go away. Women today don’t go away.”
A top female entertainment executive says “it’s not a coincidence that these retro shows are appearing at the same time men are confused about who to be. A lot of women are making more money and getting more college degrees. The traditional roles of dominant and submissive roles are reversed in many cases. Everything was clearer in the ’60s.”
But have things changed so much? College degrees and fat paychecks notwithstanding, we’re clearly not in charge. If we were, would primetime really be centered around pointy bras, cinched waists and puffy cottontails?
Our last word comes from uber-feminist Roseanne Barr who, in a scathing New York Magazine essay spills it all on how she got screwed by Hollywood in the first year of her award-winning sitcom — and reminds us how much things have not changed. She writes of how she had her ideas and jokes stolen out from under her by her producer, Marcy Carsey, and writer Matt Williams, who was credited with creating the series, even though it was based on her fierce Domestic Goddess, a character she’d created doing stand-up for eight years in “dive clubs and biker bars.” And what she learned that first year was this:
It was pretty clear that no one really cared about the show except me, and that Matt and Marcy and ABC had nothing but contempt for me—someone who didn’t show deference, didn’t keep her mouth shut, didn’t do what she was told. Marcy acted as if I were anti-feminist by resisting her attempt to steal my whole life out from under me. I made the mistake of thinking Marcy was a powerful woman in her own right. I’ve come to learn that there are none in TV. There aren’t powerful men, for that matter, either—unless they work for an ad company or a market-study group. Those are the people who decide what gets on the air and what doesn’t.
Which leads us back to where we started. Entitlement and where it leaves us. In this case, writes Barr, it’s at the feet of Charlie Sheen.
Nothing real or truthful makes its way to TV unless you are smart and know how to sneak it in, and I would tell you how I did it, but then I would have to kill you. Based on Two and a Half Men’s success, it seems viewers now prefer their comedy dumb and sexist. Charlie Sheen was the world’s most famous john, and a sitcom was written around him. That just says it all. Doing tons of drugs, smacking prostitutes around, holding a knife up to the head of your wife—sure, that sounds like a dream come true for so many guys out there, but that doesn’t make it right! People do what they can get away with (or figure they can), and Sheen is, in fact, a product of what we call politely the “culture.”
And there you go. We wonder where naked old men get the idea that it’s okay to chase a chambermaid around a hotel room, or why studio heads, as Shannon wrote, who believe “that one half of the population thinks seeing a movie about women will somehow cost them their balls” always get their way.
The answer is simple. Because they can.