The Hairpin: The Hairpin Rom Com Club

I’m writing a series at The Hairpin, about romantic comedies. The first installment is about Notting Hill:

Notting Hill is what some scholars of the genre call a “special relationship” rom com: a British man and American woman overcome their minor cultural differences—represented here by his charmingly diffident awkwardness and her brash mouthiness – and make it work. Four Weddings and Funeral and Wimbledon, all made by the same production company that made Notting Hill, are also special relationship rom coms. Notting Hill also signals the start of a wave of rom coms that are aware of or about the film industry—Anna is an actress who makes rom coms herself, and of course the movie is all about the challenges of being or being with a highly visible actress—and it paves the way for rom coms that are even more self-referential, like Friends With Benefits.

And the second  is about It Happened One Night:

Throughout the movie, the central tension between Peter and Ellie is that she’s rich and he’s broke. She’s a spoiled brat, and he’s a man of the people. On the road, with no sense of how to budget her money or fend for herself financially, she needs Peter to survive. He, of course, needs her in order to keep his job. This tension makes a lot more sense when you consider the larger context in which the movie was made and released. It’s 1934, it’s the middle of the Great Depression, everything is shit, everyone has a hangover thanks to Prohibition and its recent repeal, most Americans are miserable. Little wonder, then, that Peter gives Ellie so many resounding verbal beatings, and takes her to task so often for being spoiled and out of touch with real people. Little wonder that he takes so much satisfaction in seeing her brought financially low on the road and relishes the fact that he knows how to live on a tight budget, while she doesn’t.

Peter is meant to be a stand-in for the 99%, Ellie for the 1% who screwed the country over and were still barely dented by the Depression. Along the road, they meet people who are even worse off as a result of America’s economic woes, like the young boy who is riding a bus with his parents all way up the East Coast because his father was promised a job in New York City; the family’s spent all their money on bus tickets, and his mother passes out from hunger. A lot of screwball movies from this time period ignore the Great Depression and continue to tell stories about rich people who are untouched by the poverty and panic around them, but It Happened One Night doesn’t do that. It is explicitly a story about class, and about a roguish but decent working-class man who humanizes, and falls in love with, a pampered rich woman. In fact, if you recognize the hitchhiking scene from It Happened One Night, in which Ellie’s leg pulls over more cars than Peter’s thumb, it might be because it was featured in Sex and the City 2, in which Carrie and the girls go to Abu Dhabi to be mortifyingly ignorant about Arabic culture: cultural embarrassadors, if you will. Sex and the City 2, released in 2010 when the economy was once again in the shitter, and concerned mainly with the sex lives of four obscenely wealthy women, is an example of how not to make a movie during economic hard times. It Happened One Night was, at least, much less tone-deaf.

Next up: Hitch!

Reuters: Forget Harry Potter, Hermione is the real heroine

I had a piece at Reuters last week, about J.K. Rowling’s new Harry Potter story, and about how, for me, Hermione has always been the real heroine of the series:

For many young women, Hermione was (and still is) a role model: a smart, determined young woman who wasn’t afraid of working hard or of taking a principled political stand. Like Ron, she stood in the shadow of The Boy Who Lived, but he wouldn’t have lived through all seven books without her. And, despite Rowling’s regrets at writing them as “just” friends, reading about a teenage boy’s fierce respect for a teenage girl’s intellect and scholastic drive contributed to my belief that men and women can be close, fiercely loyal friends without sex or romance.

Hermione is a role model for readers, and she’s also a trailblazer for our current literary and popular culture heroines. You can draw the line from Hermione Granger to The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen and to Divergent’s Tris Prior, all of whom are thinkers, fighters and political activists whose stories have romantic subplots that are important but are not what define the female characters. Just as Hermione repeatedly saves her friends, these characters repeatedly save the day to create political and social revolution. You can imagine Tris, Katniss, and Hermione — all these smart, brave, politically astute young women for whom dating is really not a top priority — meeting each other for the first time and recognizing each other as kindred spirits.

It’s unclear whether this new story signals Rowling’s return to writing about the lives of Harry, Ron and Hermione. Certainly, she will be returning to the Potter universe as she writes three new screenplays about “magizoologist” Newt Scamander, which are set well before Potter’s birth.

Like so many other fans, I’m hoping for more. I want to see the young woman who helped define a generation grow up and shape the world. I want to know what kind of Minister for Magic she’d be. I want to watch her friendships deepen and mature.

You can read the whole thing here.

Reuters: You’d love to meet me on Tinder. Here’s why you won’t.

I had a piece at Reuters last week about the sexual harassment suit against Tinder, and why it should make us think twice about whether or not we want to use the dating app:

The people behind the smartphone apps Snapchat and Tinder have the power to reshape how we interact with our romantic and sexual partners, and how we seek and have sex itself.

That’s an enormous responsibility — one that requires maturity, good judgment and a healthy respect for gender equality. The problem is, a few of the people behind Snapchat and Tinder seem to have none of the above.

When news broke last week that a former vice president of Tinder filed a sexual harassment suit against the mobile dating app company, the most salacious parts of the complaint quickly spread around the Internet. Whitney Wolfe alleges that her former colleague Justin Mateen, chief marketing officer of the hugely popular app, called her a “whore” (among other slurs) and deliberately concealed Wolfe’s role in founding the company, in part because it would look too “slutty” for a woman to have contributed to the development of a dating and casual sex app. Eventually, Wolfe claims, Mateen and chief executive officer Sean Rad bullied her into resigning from Tinder.

You can read the whole thing here.

Thought Catalog: How to succeed in business without vocal frying

My column this week is about how women’s voices are policed and punished in the workplace:

Don’t get me wrong: vocal fry drives me mad. Up-talk makes me crazy. Other feminine vocal affectations, like starting a sentence on a very high note before dropping down, or the overuse of “like,” and “you know,” drive me up the, like, you know, wall? I have to restrain myself from rolling my eyes when this happens:

MODERATOR/TEACHER/FACILITATOR: Does anyone have any questions?

MAN: [Asks question]

WOMAN: [Raises hand, usually halfway up] Uh, yeah, I have a question, and it’s piggybacking off what XYZ said, and it’s sort of a complicated question, but what I was wondering is [asks question].

I want to say, “Stop wasting my time.” I want to say, “Stop wasting your time.” But I understand why women do this — why they pad and soften and hedge — whether it’s a conscious choice or not. These affectations and verbal ticks exist for a reason. As Julia Reinstein at New York magazine noted, one recent study posited that rising inflection — up-talk — is a survival mechanism. “A rise at the end of a sentences serves as a signal that the person is not finished speaking, thus deterring interruption or floor-stealing. It’s not a sign of shallowness — it’s a strategy to be heard.” In other words, as a culture, we don’t take femininity seriously, but we get awfully uncomfortable when women aren’t appropriately feminine. Which leaves actual women in a rather tough spot, and results in a plethora of survival strategies and, in this case, verbal workarounds.

You can read the whole thing here.

CNN: Stop sexual assaults on college campuses

I have a piece at CNN today, about institutional failures to prevent sexual violence on college campuses, particularly at my alma mater:

The U.S. Department of Education announced recently that it is investigating 55 universities and colleges for their failure to properly handle sexual assault cases on campus.

The list includes a number of prestigious institutions, including Harvard, Emory, UVA, William and Mary, Tufts, the University of Michigan, and my alma mater, Princeton, where a 2008 university survey found that one in six women students had experienced nonconsensual sexual contact while enrolled.

As a young alumnus, I feel a grim satisfaction at seeing my alma mater on the list. By the time I graduated, in 2009, two of my close friends and one of my former roommates had been sexually assaulted during our four years on campus, and I had watched another friend go through the labyrinthine and largely ineffective student disciplinary process in an attempt to see her rapist held accountable.

Like so many other survivors of campus assault, she was discouraged from reporting to the police, and her case was instead handled internally, away from real law enforcement. This is, of course, part of the problem: If there’s no real punishment for sexual violence, assailants know they can get away with it, and survivors won’t report it. And if survivors don’t report, universities can plead ignorance.

You can read the whole thing here.

Daily Life: What pop culture gets wrong about bulimia

I have a piece at Daily Life this week, about why so many pop culture depictions of bulimia are inaccurate:

It’s true that bulimia happens among ballet dancers and beauty queens, and other people whose bodies are their livelihoods. But the reality of bulimia and other eating disorders that involve purging – through vomiting, overexercise, or laxative abuse – is that many people suffering from them don’t look like ballerinas or pageant contestants. Many women with bulimia – about 80% of bulimics are women – are not skinny women trying to stay skinny or trying to lose even more weight. In fact, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, people with bulimia “usually appear to be of average body weight.”

Watching pop culture portrayals of bulimia, you’d never know it. You’d also never know just how grotesque bulimia can be. It turns out that purging laxatives doesn’t make for great TV. It’s hard to give actresses the swollen cheeks that can result from frequent vomiting, while still keeping them appropriately hot. It’s hard to depict the way the stomach acid eats away at the teeth over time.

Depicting over-exercise is easier – plus, you get to show your already-skinny character in tight, stretchy exercise gear – and anorexia is easier still. Just have your character eatnothing. Bulimia is tougher to pull off on screen, in part because, while any eating disorder is brutal in its own way, the brutality of bulimia is obvious. It’s grotesque to do it, and gross to look at it, and as a result, it’s a good deal harder to sell an accurate portrayal of it to an audience, or worse, to glamorise it, than with other eating disorders.

You can read the whole thing here.

Thought Catalog: For women who drink whisky

Why do I drink whisky? For one thing, it tastes good. Also, subverting gender norms is fun:

I grew up with two whisky-drinking parents, one of whom traveled a lot for work and took advantage of duty free liquor allowances when she did. Both of them like a good whisky, but the real spirits drinker in my family is my mother, a 5’2” (and shrinking) New York Jew who makes up in volume and opinions what she lacks in height. She has bangs and wears a lot of pearls. She’s no Don Draper, and she’s certainly no Ron Swanson. She’s not what comes to mind when you picture a drinker of scotch. But a drinker of scotch she is, and she taught me how to be one, too, starting soon after I hit the legal drinking age, which is 18 where I grew up. Those bottles of scotch she would tote back from the airport came in tin boxes, which we often repurposed as containers for my pencils, markers, and crayons. If this were a TV show, I’d be an alcoholic by now, and in flashbacks to my childhood, that particular morsel of information would be the prominently placed piece of visual foreshadowing that made my addiction inevitable. But I’m not an alcoholic, I’m just a young woman who had the world’s weirdest pencil cases growing up, and who really likes whisky (on the rocks, not neat, because unlike Chelsea Fagan, I am not cool as shit).

I drink it because I like the taste, obviously, though it was an acquired one, like beer and coffee. But I also love the feeling of subverting people’s expectations. I love the look of surprise on a man’s face when he discovers that I know and enjoy whisky. I like the “girly” drinks as well; the Chardonnay, the fruity cocktails, the blonde beers. I’m not interested in being one of the guys, or being a “cool girl” who disdains and eschews anything girly as a way to criticize other women. I like the drink, and I like what it represents. I like doing what young women aren’t “supposed” to do.

You can read the whole thing here.