Marie Claire: I married myself

Marie Claire: I married myself

I have a piece at Marie Claire today about my not-engagement ring, and about how we might endow old symbols with new meaning:

Forget men—one of the longest and most meaningful relationships I’ve ever had was with my doctorate dissertation. It consumed me, and fascinated me, and took up all my time and energy. It accounted for four full, pivotal years of my life.

As I worked on it, friends all around me were getting engaged, tying the knot, and changing their names from Ms. Them to Mrs. Someone Else. When the full draft of my thesis was finished and the end was in sight, I decided that I wanted to mark the pivotal moment when I changed my name from Ms. to Dr.

So I bought myself a diamond ring at an auction, and when my I passed my thesis defense, I put it, proudly, on my left ring finger.

My statement can result in weird interactions. “So what does your fiancé do?” strangers will ask, and I’ll stare blankly at them for a second before collecting myself. “I’m not engaged,” I’ll reply. “I’m a doctor.” Then it’s their turn to stare, understandably confused by the non sequitur. But then I get to explain why I bought the ring, and why I wear it where I do.

You can read the whole thing here.

The Slice: Why do we still love Pretty Woman so much?

The Slice: Why do we still love Pretty Woman so much?

My first piece at The Slice was about Pretty Woman, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year:

This month marks the 25th anniversary of one of the best-loved romantic comedies of all time, a modern-day Pygmalion about a romance between a heart-of-gold sex worker and the soulless corporate executive who turns her into a lady. At 25, Pretty Woman—directed by Garry Marshall and produced by the late Laura Ziskin—has left its mark on contemporary popular culture, and on the rom-com genre. Rom-coms are riddled with Pretty Woman references, and this week, the Today Show aired a cast reunion special to celebrate its iconic status. Somewhere along the way, the movie became a classic.

The question is: Why?

It’s not surprising that modern rom-coms still look to Pretty Woman as inspiration; they’re not exactly know for their progressive gender politics. But these days, the movie also appears in some of the most feminist pop culture we have. A few years ago, on Parks & Recreation, Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) discovers that her best friend Ann (Rashida Jones) owns a replica of the iconic dress that Julia Roberts wears at the start of the film. (“Ann,” says Leslie Knope, who is trying to find an outfit that will repel a man, “everything you have is too sexy. This is actually the dress Julia Roberts wore as a prostitute in Pretty Woman.” Ann replies, “I know. I look really good in it.”) And just a few weeks ago, the movie got a shoutout from one of the most feminist shows on television, Broad City. Overseas, it remains a quintessential symbol of romance, of Hollywood, of America—even in North Korea, where it’s smuggled in illegally.

You can read the whole thing here.

Talking Points Memo: The Tiffany’s same-sex marriage ad is radical and retrograde

Talking Points Memo: The Tiffany’s same-sex marriage ad is radical and retrograde

Today, Talking Points Memo published a piece that I co-wrote with Zach Wahls, a nationally-recognised LGBTQ rights advocate, about Tiffany & Co.’s new ad campaign:

Symbols—both the inclusion of same-sex couples in ad campaigns and marriage rings themselves—are powerful, especially in an increasingly shareable digital world, and the Tiffany campaign tells us a lot about the progress of LGBTQ rights in America. It also tells us just as much, and perhaps more, about the gravitational pull of the wedding-and-marriage industrial complex.

In other words, the Tiffany’s ad is just as retrograde as it is radical.

There’s certainly something radical about the presence of a gay couple in a Tiffany ad (insofar as any diamond ad can be radical). Tiffany is, after all, the zenith of marriage industry. As cultural symbols go, it doesn’t get much more powerful than an engagement ring from Tiffany. In popular culture, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s to the 2002 Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy Sweet Home Alabama—in which the heroine’s wealthy boyfriend proposes by taking her to the Manhattan Tiffany flagship after hours, flipping the light switch, and saying, “pick one”—the brand is synonymous with romance, wealth and high cultural capital, all of which are widely considered desirable.

You can read the whole thing here.

BuzzFeed: The paradoxical rise of the public marriage proposal

BuzzFeed: The paradoxical rise of the public marriage proposal

I had a piece at BuzzFeed last week, about the way that social media and new attitudes toward marriage have reshaped the way we live our love lives today:

Late last year, a grand romantic gesture went horribly awry. A Dutch man in a town near Utrecht hired a crane to use in a spectacular marriage proposal — the plan was for him to be lowered into his girlfriend’s garden as he sang to her, and for him to then pop the question. Alas. The crane fell over and smashed through neighboring roofs, resulting in the evacuation of 32 homes, international news coverage, and the amused pity of readers around the world. Thankfully, no one was hurt, and she said yes.

As someone who has watched a lot of romantic comedies — they were the subject of my doctoral dissertation — this story caught my eye. In order for a romantic comedy to come to a “happy” ending (that is, with the couple united, and presumably headed for monogamous heterosexual marriage), they must first be reunited, having been parted by the various obstacles to their love. Then she writes an article about him and stands on the baseball field in front of a huge crowd, waiting for him to show up and accept her apology, or he drives to her apartment in a white limo blaring La Traviata out the sunroof and climbs up her fire escape to declare his love. Or he stages a flash mob in Grand Central Station, or stands outside her window with a boom box, or interrupts her at her place of work to propose in broken Portuguese, or shows up at her press conference to ask her a big non-work-related question. You know the drill.

The unnamed hopelessly romantic Dutchman is an extreme example of how the ways in which many of us experience and express love have changed in recent years. Our collective desire to make a spectacle out of our love, and our unprecedented ability to broadcast and share that spectacle, have produced a visible and dramatic shift in the culture of romance. Today, we perform love, and consume it, as never before. And yet, the popularity of marriage is fading among young Americans. It’s a fraught and fascinating paradox, one of several that mark contemporary romance culture.

You can read the whole thing here.

The Guardian: Women writing online series

The Guardian: Women writing online series

I had the privilege of doing an interview with The Guardian‘s Sarah Galo last month, as part of her series on women who write online:

What is some advice you have for women who want to write online?

You don’t have to be perfect. You can’t be, and you won’t be, so don’t get hung up on trying. There’s a freedom in the knowledge that perfection is not an option. But there’s a responsibility, too: it means that you will make mistakes. And you have to be prepared to screw up in public, and be held accountable in public, and apologise in public, and learn from those mistakes in public. This sounds like a challenge, but it’s actually a gift: it’s a way to be part of the kind of public discourse most of us wish we had, one where people are allowed to be wrong but are held accountable – and hold themselves accountable – when they are. It’s also a challenge, because screwing up can hurt other people and it doesn’t feel great for you, either. But it is also inevitable, and the best thing you can do is learn from it. And other people will learn from it, too: I’ve learned a lot from seeing my role models succeed in public, but I’ve learned far more from watching them learn from their mistakes in public.

You can read the whole thing here.

The Washington Post: Where’s the political rom com we’ve been waiting for?

The Washington Post: Where’s the political rom com we’ve been waiting for?

I have a piece at Post Everything today, about how our current political climate has made the political romantic comedy all but impossible:

In 2014, it’s hard to imagine a Republican and Democrat going out for dinner, never mind strolling down the aisle. And at their core, rom coms require compromise: a “battle of the sexes” that must conclude with a sexy cease-fire. In recent politics, there is no such spirit of compromise: There’s no happy ending, just the beginning of a new election cycle.

Today, the division and the vitriol we see in our real-world politics make the notion of a political romantic comedy almost unthinkable. American politics is unprecedentedly polarized in 2014, with the 114th Congress looking to be more reactionary and bellicose than ever, and with Americans increasingly disaffected with their elected representatives in D.C. and with the president. Convincing audiences that it’s possible to fall in love in politics – that it’s possible to cross the aisle in the name of love – is a pretty tough sell. If Romeo and Juliet couldn’t make it work in a town divided by ancient grudge and new mutiny, why would we imagine that your standard rom com couple could make it work in Washington, D.C.?

You can read the whole there here.

The Hairpin: Funny Face

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.