I recently read the memoir “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. She tells the story of enduring tragedy, candidly acknowledges her very poor choices, and goes on an eleven hundred mile hike on the Pacific Coast Trail seeking redemption. She is forthright, lyrical and observant.
A few minutes ago, I saw a commercial for the Real Housewives of Some Fucking Place. In the commercial, several plastic barbie dolls are “camping”, and one has a hysterical fit because she thinks a twig snapping in the dark is a bear. Yes, I realize there is virtually nothing real in this reality show. Still, it pisses me off to no end.
Those women, who eagerly portray helplessness and melodrama embody everything I do not want my daughters to be. Cheryl Strayed’s first night on the PCT was the first night she had ever been backpacking. She lost most of her toenails on her hike. She walked eleven hundred fucking miles and endured starvation, dehydration, pain, loneliness, and existential angst, and she did it all by herself and broke. Was she afraid? Was she ready to quit at times? Fuck yes! She didn’t quit. She wasn’t surrounded by other fake people and a whole television production crew pretending to be afraid of a noise in the dark.
Strayed’s book is doing pretty well in sales, but not rock star well. Maybe if she’d written some minivan mommy porn like 50 Shades of HBO Afterdark, it might do better. One of the best books I’ve read in years is The Convalescent by Jessica Anthony. (in full disclosure, Jess is one of my faculty). A woman wrote a story of a misanthropic, crippled Hungarian midget who sells meat out of a bus; and it was moving and dazzling and enlightening. There were no high heels or catfights required.
We do such a disservice to women in popular culture. In doing so, we do a disservice to our daughters, the women in our society, and probably most harm our male population. If an impressionable male (and we’re impressionable at all ages) sees a Real Housewife of Bimboville or any fucking Kardashian, how does their view of women change?
Ripley kicked ass in the Alien movies. Buffy rocked. There are probably other good examples, but I have to think very hard to find them. Conversely, I can just click through the channels to find women who care only about, and define themselves by, fashion, appearance, the opinion of men, and social standing. I happen to be engaged to a woman who is brilliant, started her own business based on her brain and talent, works her ass off, and cares deeply and passionately about the world around her. She’s also really hot so the demographics would work. Why aren’t women like her on television and in movies?
Barbara Kingsolver has created a pantheon of real women with real struggles. Cheryl Strayed just told the story of one. Pam Houston….Gretel Erhlich…Toni Morrison…Annie Dillard…Ruth Prawher Jhabwala….we have already been given the material. I understand economics and business models. What sells is what gets made. That is the tragedy and the most poignant commentary on our society.