Sometimes you find vocations. Sometimes they find you. I am firmly in the latter category, as I had virtually no ambition to practice law, or be any kind of advocate, as a teenager in the 1980s, but, then, we didn’t have the internet, or the many women role models, we have today.
The ‘80s marked the rise of women working outside the home portrayed in TV and movies. Who can forget the movie, “9 to 5,” with pioneers in music and comedy respectively, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin, for example, and “Working Girl,” with Melanie Griffith’s line “I’ve got a head for business and a bod for sin, is there anything wrong with that?” Ughhhhhhhhh.
Once we began showing up as career women with skill-sets and chops equal to their male counterparts (and latchkey kids and questionable family values, according to Reagan-era sycophants), Hollywood demonized them, or turned them into strippers or sexual-harassment plaintiffs. Glenn Close would boil your bunny if she couldn’t have you, and Demi Moore will sue you to outmaneuver you, so look out, Jack. Whores or demons? What’s it gonna be? Because a woman must be one-dimensional, lest the audience get confused.
The late ‘80’s brought “Murphy Brown,” Candice Bergen’s turn in a TV show about a newsmagazine reporter who covers Washington D.C., and it offered an ounce of vindication for women, like me, searching for a leading lady who wasn’t the madonna, the whore, the stripper, the vengeful, jilted lover or the hag. Murphy Brown was acerbic, brilliant and in charge, but not so much that she didn’t have a maternal instinct, ushering in a theme now explored in a range of media, from Cosmopolitan to medical treatises — single moms and how and when to have kids and remain at the top of your career game. (Hint: nannies and surrogates).
We’ve come a long way since the ‘90s, baby. According to the 2015 Kaufmann Index, as reported by Lydia Dishman for Fast Company in 2015, women launched 37 percent of new businesses overall. And 70 percent of women with children under 18 were in the labor force in 2015, according to the Department of Labor. We have a female presidential candidate, who very well may be our next commander in chief. So why is it we as a society can’t move beyond one-dimensional roles and unrealistic expectations of women and see them as humans in all the glory, potential and imperfection that entails, instead of dismissing them as objects upon which to thrust our fantasies or our fears?
Sadly, I watched, with one eye open, “Two and A Half Men,” in the wee hours of the morning recently, because I couldn’t sleep, and my cat had me pinned, so I couldn’t reach the remote. The show appeals to the basest instincts and intellect of viewers in its portrayal of women, specifically three categories of women: 1) the old, overweight, unattractive, masculine, salty lesbian 2) the bitter, angry, successful, emasculating ex-wife (think Lilith from “Cheers” who, by the way, was allegedly created from the same dust as Adam, the myth, not the character) and 3) the young, sexy, hapless, financially dependent bimbo.
After a few frames, I opened both eyes as it became more of an anthropological-socio-gender exercise in: “Are you actually kidding me right now?” Three Little Boxes of Women trapped by the show’s writers, and an audience that can’t let them out, because they may run for president. Or boil their pet, or sue them.
Should Hillary Clinton win, it will become (and likely what is the thorn in many of her detractor’s sides) impossible for us to continue to classify women into singular categories. The reality of a woman president, a woman ambassador, a woman general, a woman supreme court justice, a woman ceo/cfo/cio of a Fortune 500 company, a woman doctor, a woman lawyer or a woman judge challenges old ideas of what’s possible, and triggers a strong urge in some to return to the familiar. These new non-gender specific multifaceted roles women can hold pave a path for a new environment and ethos, different from the well-defined masculine and feminine boundaries lots of people grew up with.
As one who lives to shake up the status quo, I look forward to watching people squirm when there is a woman in charge. Of the country. Of her life. Of her body. Of her future. Will critics still talk about pantsuits and voice modulation?
But it’s already too late to hit the rewind button on the VCR. The Woman Is Out Of the Box. Welcome to the next dimension.