The Hairpin: Funny Face

This week’s Hairpin Rom Com Club movie is Funny Face, starring Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire. It’s an opportunity to talk about Hollywood Homely, huge age differences between romantic leads, and high-waisted pants:

“Though you’re no Mona Lisa…” he sings. No shit she’s no Mona Lisa, she’s Audrey fucking Hepburn. My point is that this is a classic example of Hollywood Homely, wherein we, the audience, are asked to perform the enormous suspension of disbelief required to entertain the notion that Audrey Hepburn is not incredibly beautiful.

Hollywood Homely is everywhere: every time Taylor Swift puts on a pair of mildly unflattering glasses, or Anne Hathaway frizzes out her hair and puts on Groucho Marx eyebrows, or Rachel Leigh Cook puts on a hideous wig, we’re expected not to notice that they still look like Taylor Swift, Anne Hathaway, and Rachel Leigh Cook.

To be fair, the point of The Quality Woman is that she’s not merely physically attractive, but that she’s got poise, grace, intelligence, charisma. And Hepburn’s Jo has all those things—particularly noted when she’s frequently compared to the models in the film, who are depicted as very unintelligent. But in Funny Face, and in other movies where Hollywood Homely is deployed, we are all expected to recalibrate our understanding of what is beautiful and not beautiful. If we don’t make that recalibration, there’s no magic to the moment in which Jo is revealed in a designer gown, after hours with the Quality hair and makeup team; we’re supposed to realize for the first time that Audrey Hepburn is, in fact, beautiful. Is it a contract between story and audience? Or is it merely an insult to the audience’s intelligence? I’d argue it’s both: we agree to have our intelligence insulted so that we can watch a movie starring a beautiful person. All we have to do is pretend, for the first third of the movie, that we haven’t noticed how beautiful she is.

You can read the whole thing here.

The Sydney Morning Herald: Hillary Clinton presidency would spark a backlash

I have a piece today in my hometown paper, The Sydney Morning Herald, about the promise and peril of Hillary Clinton – or any other woman – running for President:

My grandmother turned 100 years old this May. Grandma Belle, a New Yorker born and raised, is five feet flat, and she is formidable; she does the New York Times crossword every day, she plays a mean game of Scrabble, and she brooks no nonsense from her five grandchildren, all of them women. Belle was born six years before the 19th Amendment granted American women the right to vote, and the sheer amount of American history that has unfolded in her lifetime boggles the mind.

Earlier this month, Hillary Rodham Clinton went to Iowa, which suggests that a Clinton presidential candidacy in 2016 is all but inevitable. It seems that a Clinton win is highly likely. As a feminist, I yearn for a woman to run for president, and I yearn for a woman to win. Whether or not it happens in 2016, it will happen. And it will, without question, be a watershed moment, and I will shed tears. I will think about my grandmother, born before suffrage, and about my mother, who was among the first women to benefit from the wave of inclusion that swept through  the United States’ most prestigious educational institutions in the 1960s and 1970s. I will marvel at how far the US has come since my grandmother was born, and I will envy the little girls being born on that day, who will grow up having never known a world in which the US hasn’t had a female president. And then I’ll think, “oh God, here come four to eight years of virulent sexism”.

If a female president is all but inevitable, so too is the cultural backlash that will follow her campaign and her victory.

You can read the whole thing here.

Reuters: Is Hillary Clinton the cure for political apathy?

At Reuters today, I have a column about how Hillary Clinton’s run for the Presidency might shift American political apathy – especially for American women:

While the scale of American political apathy, especially among women, is high, a Clinton win could go a long way to closing the gender gap in political engagement.

There is a downside, however.

Women’s participation in politics is often followed by a political and cultural backlash. We got a taste of that during Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential run in 2008. The sexist tone of the commentary about Clinton that year has been catalogued many times: detractors and supporters alike discussed her hair, her wrinkles, her laugh, her clothing, her emotions, her husband. Anything, it felt like, but her policies and capacity to lead.

So, to what extent are gains made by female politicians negated by bias in the coverage about them? That remains to be seen. And, who knows, perhaps a nasty backlash is just what it takes to galvanize the politically aloof to be more involved. That certainly has been the case in previous cases of high-profile sexism at home and abroad.

And, speaking of unintended consequences of a Hillary campaign, one might be that it could actually increase political apathy– among men.

You can read the whole thing here.

The Hairpin: She’s All That

Last week at The Hairpin, I wrote about She’s All That, as part of my ongoing series about romantic comedies:

She’s All That is a perfect example of how, in popular culture, male persistence in the face of female refusal is framed as romantic, desirable, and part of a healthy courtship. When Zach first tries to befriend Laney, he approaches her at school. She blows him off; he shows up at her workplace, where she tells him that “stalking is illegal in all 50 states.”

Next, he shows up uninvited to her house, and jokingly threatens to stay all day playing video games with her little brother—unless she consents to come to the beach with him. Later that night, when she says she can’t go to a party with him because she has to clean the house, he shows up again, this time with a soccer team tasked with cleaning her house. Now she has no excuse not to come out with him! She also has a troupe of complete strangers in her house. But now she can go to the party! Isn’t it charming how he won’t take no for an answer?

In the context of this movie, sure, it’s charming, I guess, with Freddie Prinze Jr’s big soulful eyes and very square jaw. He’s sweet as he threatens to camp out on her couch, unless she does what he wants, if affable threats are your thing. As viewers, we can suspend our disbelief and imagine we’d be cool with a bunch of fifteen-year-old boys we’ve never met cleaning our house —fifteen-year-old boys being known for their excellent hygiene and exceptional tidiness.

But the fact remains that Laney repeatedly tells Zach “no” and he repeatedly ignores her. Laney even uses the term “stalking,” and so does her best friend, but only to say, “The most popular guy in school is stalking you, and you aren’t the least bit curious?” Hardly the words of a concerned friend.

You can read the whole thing here.

Reuters: Real women belong on a pedestal in New York’s Central Park

I have a piece at Reuters today, about the fact that, in Central Park, there are no statues celebrating women’s contributions to history – and the effort to fix that:

There are 50 statues in New York’s Central Park, one of the world’s most visited spots. Not one of them is of a woman who exists outside of fiction.

There are marble monuments to dozens of men, most of them real, but not a single statue commemorating the life or contributions of a real-life woman. Even the fictional female characters – Alice in Wonderland, Juliet Capulet and Mother Goose – were created by men.

Among the marble and bronze population of Central Park, you’ll find Shakespeare and Beethoven, Simón Bolívar and Alexander Hamilton. You’ll even find Balto, the hero sled dog who delivered diphtheria medicine to the town of Nome, Alaska, in 1925.

To be clear: you can find a statue of a real-life dog, but no statues of real-life women.

This is not simply a Central Park problem, nor is it a New York City problem. Across the United States, women are staggeringly underrepresented in our tangible and visible efforts to mark significant moments and people in American history. Nationwide, fewer than 8 percent  of the public outdoor statues commemorating individuals are of women. Of the 100 outstanding citizens memorialized in Statuary Hall in the Capitol Building in Washington, only nine are women.

Central Park, however, stands out above the rest. It sits at the center of the city that considers itself the center of the world and that attracts 40 million tourists every year. The absence of women is glaring and, frankly, embarrassing.

You can read the whole thing here.

The Hairpin: Amour et Turbulences

This week’s installment of The Hairpin Rom Com Club is about the French rom com Amour et Turbulences:

Amour et Turbulences is what film scholars such as Stanley Cavell call a “comedy of remarriage”: the central conflict is not whether the couple will get together, but whether they’ll get back together after falling apart. Sometimes, in a comedy of remarriage, one of the parties is already married to someone else (or basically married) and the plot is whether they’ll stay with their spouse or fall for someone else. And if you want to know more about comedies of remarriage: Stanley Cavell coined the term and literally wrote the book on them.

All rom-coms contain some element of reconciliation or temptation – the template is “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back,” – but comedies of remarriage are a little more explicit about it, calling attention to the competition between old and new love. Lots of classic rom-coms are comedies of remarriage: His Girl Friday, Sleepless in Seattle, Bringing Up Baby, Adam’s Rib, and It Happened One Night, which I wrote about a few weeks ago. In His Girl Friday, for example, Cary Grant’s Walter makes the competition between himself and his ex-wife’s new fiancé, Bruce (played by serial nice boring guy Ralph Bellamy), very explicit, continually goading her about the boring suburban life that awaits her if she chooses Bruce instead of getting back with Walter. That comedies of remarriage became popular in the 1940s was no coincidence: divorce rates were rising, and with them, widespread cultural concern about the durability and relevance of the institution of marriage.

Against that backdrop, comedies of remarriage make the most sense; there was a spate of romantic comedies about divorced or separated couples reuniting and living happily ever after the second time around. Don’t worry,these movies seemed to say, this divorce thing isn’t going to totally change our culture and our understanding of gender. Whoops.

You can read the whole thing here.

Reuters: Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert liberal lions? The guest chair tells a different story

Last week at Reuters, I wrote about how the diversity – or lack thereof – among guests on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report is in conflict with Jon Stewart’s and Stephen Colbert’s reputations as liberal icons:

Appearing on Stewart or Colbert bestows credibility and respect on many of the people with whom the hosts choose to converse.

And yet when it comes to gender and race, their guest rosters more closely resemble a GOP national convention than they do the liberal vision of a diverse and equitable America. Of Stewart’s most recent 45 guests, 17 of them, or 38 percent, were women. This is closer to gender equity than many comedy and news shows manage, and it’s certainly a better showing than Colbert. But when you factor in race, Stewart’s numbers start to look very grim indeed. A resounding majority – 68 percent – of his guests were white, and of the very few African-American guests who appeared on his show, all were entertainers – the band Wu Tang Clan and the comedian Kevin Hart. Women of color fared similarly poorly on The Daily Show: Out of 45 guests, just three were women of color.

In Colbert Nation, the numbers were worse still: Of 45 guests, 73 percent were men, and 89 percent were white. And of the 12 women (12!) who appeared among Colbert’s last 45 guests, three of them shared a time slot. Of those 12 women, there was just one woman of color — District of Columbia Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

You can read the whole thing here.