No One Is Required to Smile

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img_5385I have a massive case of the grumps today. Everything is annoying; everything is difficult. The sky is one of those featureless grays, without even the decency to rain. I am frustrated.

With everything.

Perhaps it is a wrong-side-of-the-bed situation. Or maybe the lingering effects of the migraine, which though mostly gone, does not want to be forgotten. Maybe some days are just like that, even if they’re Friday.

And maybe it’s a little bit of the world, too. I’ve been thinking a lot about women lately, how we’re treated, the importance we’re assigned. It’s pretty depressing when the Democratic nominee for President of the United States’ entire platform is dismissed with a “she needs to smile more.”

She needs to smile more.

Yep, it’s a smile that will get us through the thorny issue that is Putin. Smiles will solve Syria. Smiles will keep job numbers in an upward direction. Smiles will fix health care. Smiles will deal with North Korea’s purported recent nuclear test.

Smiles.

From my position of grumpiness, that edict — she needs to smile more — irks me even more than it did when the ridiculous RNC chair with the even more ridiculous name said it. I am not smiling today.

I don’t feel like smiling today.

It’s not my job. And it’s not hers either.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

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TV Talk: Real Housewives of…Everywhere

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If you follow me on Twitter (come on, I know you want to) you’ve been subjected to my barrage of Real Housewives tweets. Real Housewives of Orange County (RHOC); Real Housewives of New York (RHONY) and Real Housewives of Melbourne (RHOMelbourne) are currently on rotation. Real Housewives of Beverly Hills joins in when there are new episodes.

Recently, someone I follow (I can’t find the tweet or I’d post it, so if it was you, please let me know so I can edit this and add it) asked what I thought was a really good question: Why do women watch the Real Housewives when it depicts women so poorly?

I definitely didn’t have an immediate answer. As a feminist, it made me stop and wonder at myself. What am I getting out of these shows?

More than you’d think. And a lot of that stems from the audience watching with me.

First, though, I think it’s pretty clear that the Housewives, as a whole, don’t represent women, let alone all women. They live in a world of fantasy and casual inch-thick makeup, where real is a word that always has implied quotes.

They’re pushed together under artificial circumstances for which they’re perpetually overdressed, where glances from amused, regular guests shatter any illusion of normalcy. I’ve yet to meet someone who knows someone like a “Real” Housewife in real life. They have a job, and they do it.

There’s a reason they feel so familiar from franchise to franchise. They are meant to entertain, and they do.

Which brings me to the best part of these shows. The audience.

While the Housewives can embody the worst stereotypes about women, together we get to dismantle them in delicious, technicolor snark. Take Countess Luann, for example, who, like quick-dry crazy glue, stuck to a man who’d “dated” several of her friends, even after seeing photographic proof of him kissing another woman after their engagement.

Who does she blame? The woman who told her — who cultivates her own nest of mean girl stereotypes — and the “clutches” of the woman he kissed. Not the rather aptly-named “Tom,” who left her after an evening together to meet this other woman.

Yep.

But the beauty of it? The number of viewers, men and women alike, pointing out the ridiculousness of that route to denial. It’s the opportunity, publicly, to smash that idea of convenience that it’s man-grabbing women, and not wandering men, who deserve the scorn.

Is now a good time to mention that Luann and Tom were on dates with other people when they met? Hmm. Moving on.

And then there’s the flip side to the show, the opportunity for women who are eternally the objects of other people’s gossip to show their genuine selves, like RHOMelbourne’s Gamble Breaux (Wolfe). A woman who enjoys gilding herself in full high-glamour glitz and married to a much older man, Gamble’s been a target of all of the possible permutations of rumors.

And she’s shed them with grace and humor. She seems to be a what-you-see-is-what-you-get person, faithfully interacting on Twitter week-to-week without any negativity toward her costars. Rather than reinforcing stereotypes, she crushes ideas we might have had about “someone like her.”

Is Real Housewives harmful to the perception of women? I doubt it, frankly. I think the depictions of women as window-dressing and little more than accessories is far worse. With the Housewives, the women are entire people, some good, some kinda unbearable. But people.

And that’s all feminism is about at its most fundamental level. Women being seen and treated as people.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

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‘House of Cards’ Backlash Against the Queen

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Warning: this post contains spoilers for “House of Cards” and “Breaking Bad.”

It’s tough being the wife of an anti-hero these days. Actually, it’s probably always tough being the wife of an anti-hero, given that anti-heroes aren’t, by definition, nice guys. What I’m talking about, though, is the audience reaction to women who don’t want to be behind the man who makes the meth, or women who don’t want to be further marginalized in their husband’s murderous reach for ever more power.

I just finished the third season of “House of Cards.” Watching it in a social media vacuum to avoid spoilers, I saw a Claire greatly diminished from the one in the first season. For anyone who hasn’t watched the American version of this show, Claire Underwood, portrayed by the always, always brilliant Robin Wright, is wife to Frank Underwood, opportunistic power-seizer brought to chilling life by Kevin Spacey. Together, they have schemed themselves into the White House, a slew of bodies — metaphorical and literal — cluttering the path behind them.

But in this season, Frank tightened his circle of power to just himself, leaving out even his most stalwart co-conspirator, Claire. She has gone from a strong, ruthless head of a non-profit organization to now nothing more than a haircut and a smile, wearing what she is told to wear, standing where she is told to stand, saying what she is told to say. Slowly she has come to realize that her husband doesn’t see her as an equal partner, and she can no longer be certain that he ever did. No, she is one of his pawns, manipulated, her worth to him measured in polling points.

So she leaves.

And the internet complained. People were “tired of Claire.” They blamed her for Frank’s mistakes, as Frank blamed her for his mistakes. They thought she was hindering him. The thought that her timing, leaving during the presidential primaries, was unforgivable.

It’s reminiscent of the treatment Anna Gunn’s Skylar got in “Breaking Bad” when she wanted to leave her terrifying, homicidal drug-kingpin husband. She became the problem, she became the obstacle, she became the villain.

It seems that a woman choosing self-preservation over the toxic man to whom she is married is the ultimate act of selfishness, the ultimate betrayal. It’s insane, if you think about how these scenarios would play in real life, how they would feel in real life.

We are talking about male characters who, at the point their wives want to go, have no redeeming qualities. We aren’t even supposed to be rooting for them at this point, as their flaws have taken over, leaving something far more sinister.

These men are calculating murderers. They are entirely self-involved, entirely willing to do absolutely anything to achieve their goals. And yet the women are worse than they are because they want to leave them.

When women are in abusive relationships, people often ask why they stay. With these shows, the disdainful question becomes why do they leave.

Women are not possessions. Women are not garnish, as Claire was for most of season 3. We have a right to decide how we will and will not live.

Even when we’re fictional.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

Sign up for my spamless newsletter. And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!