Isn’t it bizarre that Mad Men, that seemingly-misogynistic, impeccably-conceived AMC series, is written by women, while Sex and the City, home of kitschy, “girl power” Platonic archetypes, was the single-girl fantasy for gay best friends?
I’ve mentioned before that I’m way into Mad Men. While I’m not a big television person, there’s no better barometer for public culture than popular TV. Mad Men had me at Don Draper’s first steamy glance. What could be more decadent than a sexy anti-hero reminiscient of quaint time immemorial, before Americans got Ugly?
Over a girlie evening this summer I enjoyed a recent remake of Clare Booth Luce’s classic film, The Women. The 1939 original featured a bevy of vacuous women twittering with such rapid fire that even had one among them not been entirely mindless, none could have understood her Mach 3 gossip. My party hurled insults and popcorn at the screen as the 2008 version ended on a cloying “girl power” note after two hours of mind-numbing gossip and infighting among a group of women calling themselves friends.
Clare Booth Luce wrote the screenplay as a sharp parody of shrill females and their inane relationships. The 2008 version lost CBL’s facetious edge. We were left w/ the message that we should kiss and make up, forgive our friends’ gossip and our spouses’ infidelity.
Forgiveness has its place, and its benefits. When Gov. Mark Sanford admitted that he’d cheated on the lovely Jenny (and then that he’d also cheated on his mistress), she forgave her husband in the manner befitting a politician’s wife. Marriage is a fortress not limited to love and snuggles, but that protects us from myriad social ills and the pitfalls of living alone.
I do love to trace pop culture through the media. When I learned that women write Mad Men, I felt a little like I did at the end of the 2004 remake of The Stepford Wives, when it’s revealed that the protagonist behind all of this artificial perfection was actually Glenn Close, the male lead’s wife.
It’s not men who long for the days of marital security, pot roasts, and time-consuming, glamorous updos. It’s women. Can you blame us? Everyone has seen the notorious Craigslist ad where an “Enterprising Young Woman” asks men what she’s doing wrong and why she can’t nail down a productive man for keeps. One among her target demographic replies curtly that women are simply a depreciating asset, while men appreciate over time.
It’s true only if you’ll take it. The reality is that many women will easily accept a “depreciating” label, but we all — men and women alike — benefit from staying monogamous (in case you can’t get the link: “The most consistent predictors of faster declines in cognitive functioning were being old and being single,” the researchers wrote. “Socioeconomic status was linked to cognition, but only at the first test. Stop doing those crossword puzzles. Keep your mate.”). And honestly, even if the SATC movie was a gay fantasy of single women’s lives, who wasn’t depressed that 50-something Samantha, crude-but-“fabulous” symbol of free love in the 21st century, wound up alone?
The alternative to depreciation is to decide that a relationship — and a marriage — is a contract to “want what you have,” rather than continuing to search for what you want. Women stand to lose the most at the margins if we allow gerrymandered definitions of “depreciation” to emerge over time.
How wild that we’ve finally taken the reins away from the “girl power” screeches perched atop towering Manolos to redefine “feminine” as something solid rather than fluid, with an extended duration we’d let slip in the ’90’s, and with a new emphasis on trust, faith, and tradition in perennial danger of falling to that wayside irony.
At The New Agenda.