Saturday, July 11, 2009

Life's a Bitch and So Am I


You either love them, or you hate them.

That's speaking as a woman.

The late George Carlin once said that women were crazy, and men were stupid; but women were crazy because men were stupid. That may be true to a certain extent. The greatest sex appeal a man can have for me comes from sheer intellect and a quick wit. That's why I'd choose Frank Rich anytime over Brad Pitt, but I'm not certain I'm in total agreement with George on this one. Of course, men, at their worst, can be frustrating and even infuriating enough to drive a woman to the verge of a nervous breakdown, yet women have ample ways and means of doing that, and doing it deliberately, to respective other members of their gender.

After all, as the song says, 'Sisters are doing it for themselves.' I'd go one step further and say that sisters are also doing it to themselves.

I've had a love-hate relationship with my own gender since I came into the world, with the end result being that the women I love mean the world to me and the women I dislike, I could easily obliterate.

In the last episode of Real Time with Bill Maher before a hiatus, my spiritual twin interviewed the actress Cameron Diaz, who'd recently made headlines (coincidentally immediately before the release of a film) by saying that, as a woman, she didn't particularly want to have children and wasn't worried about being childless. If she meant this, I applaud her.

Not every woman is meant to be a mother, and no one should assume that all women want to be; neither is motherhood the right of every woman, although there are some women who genuinely believe that. Conversely, there are some women, mostly of the fecund variety, who look upon childless women with varying degrees of pity and disgust, mostly the latter; because most women with children assume that women without children are childless by choice; and that's not always the case.

So, if Cameron were being truthful, I admire her for admitting as much; but the cynic in me doubts that this was anything more than a clever publicity ploy, meant to draw attention to the fact that an ageing ingenue has reached her late thirties, come off a long relationship with a male singer a decade her junior, and is now at an age where she's cast as playing the mother to adolescents. It's an actor's way of throwing our indirect vibes which say, 'Hey, I might be pushing forty, but I'm fun, I'm skinny, I come with no strings, and I'm available.'

It's the last cry of the It Girl.

Besides, she qualified the statement by saying, in the next breath, she could change her mind the moment the right man comes along to sweep her off her feet - someone like George Clooney, Jake Gyllenhaal or one of the Jonas Brothers - or she may decide, in the next couple of years, like Madonna and Angelina, to make a 'Mercy' mission to Africa; so, forgive me, if I take what Miss Diaz says, regarding this subject, with a large, unhealthy portion of salt.

There was another salty section of the twenty-minute interview as well, when the discussion veered onto the subject of women in general. Bill Maher remarked upon the particularly vicious and competitive nature of women, especially in the show business industry, opining that women were 'haters'. Diaz demurred and denied this strongly, asserting that nothing of the sort was true.

Well, I beg to differ.

I happen to think that Bill Maher nailed this one, and I've lived the life to prove it.

All one has to do is look at nature ... 'deadlier than the male' ... 'queen bee' ... 'black widow spider.' All are feminine derivatives and all denote the ugliest sort of power-broker. Women do nothing for women, and a woman in power is the first to break the mold and forget her sisters under the skin.

Margaret Thatcher, in the years she served as Prime Minister of Great Britain, did less to advance the role of women in society and even less to enhance and insure women's rights in the workplace and in the home, than any Prime Minister, either before or after her. Sarah Palin, as Governor of Alaska, charged female rape victims for the cost of the rape kit used in their examinations at hospitals. As a Vice-Presidential candidate, she wanted abortion wiped from the legal statutes, making it a crime, no matter the circumstances of the unwanted pregnancy. Thus, she would have forced victims of rape and incest to carry their children to term; she even went as far as wanting to outlaw contraception. In short, she was denying those of her gender, a choice; yet in the Todd Purdun interview in Vanity Fair recently, we heard Palin voicing uncertainty in wanting to give birth to her fifth child, musing about finding out about her pregnancy whilst out-of-state, and contemplating the fact that, since she was relatively unknown in the area she was visiting, she might just, you know, mosey on down the street to the local abortion clinic and ... well, you know ... So Sister Sarah would have exercised the choice she, as a potential Vice President, would seek to deny to others.

The two worst bosses for whom I've ever worked, both sides of the Atlantic, have been women. The first one was the principal of the junior high school in my home town, where I went to teach after graduating from college. She was known as 'the White Tornado', and she was the wife of a local Baptist clergyman. Years later, I found out she'd been having a lesbian affair with the head of the English department at that school, and between the two of them, they made the faculty's collective life hell on earth. I left after two years, and when I did leave, I managed to find out that that particular school, alone, had a faculty turnaround of 33% each year, mostly due to the atmosphere emanating from the principal's office.

A fish stinks from its head, they say.

My second encounter of feline envy in the workplace occurred in the Nineties, when I was working in publishing in the UK. The editor of the specialist publication, for which I worked, was taking semi-retirement. She nominated, as her successor, a woman who worked in the department, who just happened to be her closest friend; but who was woefully underqualified for the task at hand. She was a German woman, whose English left much to be desired, and the word 'jealousy' was simply invented for her personality. It fit her like a glove. Until that moment in time, I had absolutely no conception at all about what a child, much less an adult, must suffer at the hands of a bully. She humiliated openly, she shouted, she swore; at times, she looked as though she could easily have resorted to violence. She would have made a martinet look like a pansy; and all this was because she was inadequate professionally, knew it, and her pride would not allow her to admit her shortcomings; but pride goeth before the fall, and at the end of her tenure of one year, she was sacked.

Did I mention her staff consisted solely of women? It should come as no surprise.

So when I watched that interview, I was suddenly filled with the urge to find Commander Scott of the starship Enterprise and have him beam me up and over to LA, so I could stride into that studio, excuse myself politely for interrupting and then say, 'Cut the shit, Cameron, and shut up. Bill, you're right. Women are haters. They're bitches, they're competitive, they manipulate, and they do themselves and their gender no favours at all.'

I have worked with women, on both sides of the Atlantic, who've progressed up the ladder of professional success on their backs, and then lorded it righteously over those of us who didn't deem it necessary to compromise our ideals and morals to do so. These poachers then became gamekeepers, having used everything other than professional ability and intelligence to achieve their success. You'll never know how much I pumped the air in triumph last week when Liz Trotta, a conservative columnist, schooled the male cheerleader on Fox News by telling him Sarah Palin had blatantly used her looks and sex appeal to secure every bit of political success she'd garnered, only to have her glaring intellectual inadequacies shown up for the shams that they were.

On this side of the Atlantic, the BBC recently sacked Arlene Phillips, one of the nation's top choreographers and an OBE (who happened to be 66 years old) from the British version of Dancing with the Stars, only to replace her with a former winner of the contest, who's a pretty twenty-something singer (but no trained dancer), in order to attract the youth, sorry yoof audience. Is it no wonder, then, that what women do to themselves, is mirrored in men's treatment of us?

Another hero of mine is Florence King, a southern journalist and writer, who describes herself as a misanthrope. Back in the Seventies, King wrote a book of essays, describint Southern types, called Southern Ladies and Gentlemen. She devoted two lengthy chapters to young Southern womanhood, maintaining that there were basically two types of Southern women: Scarletts and Melanies.

Margaret Mitchell was no fool, and when she wrote her one great literary work, she peopled it with character types whom she'd observed and with whom she'd grown up. It was as realistic a piece of life imitating art as was The Andy Griffith Show in mirroring the lives of the people in a small Southern town.

King described the 'Scarlett girls' in depth. They were always the girls who had to be at the forefront or centre of attention. They may not have been the prettiest girl at the dance, but they were easily the loudest or the ones attracting the most attention. Their manner often belied or masked any deficiencies of character or looks. They were flirts, voracious flirtsl when it came to men and all things masculine; and here's where the Melanie connection comes into play.

Scarletts were like succubi to Melanies. The Melanies were always the humble, little wrenlike girls, the ones who volunteered to man the refreshment committees for the Prom or the Homecoming dances or whatever. Melanies were always polite and pleasant and usually found themselves sitting at home watching The Love Boat alone on a Saturday night.

Scarletts sought out Melanies like magnets seek metal. Every Scarlett needed a Melanie friend. Not only did having a Melanie friend make a Scarlett seem nicer, reasoned King ('Oh, isn't that Ellie May just too nice, the way she's so friendly with that poor plain little Gertrude Lipshitz?'), and thereby make Scarletts seem such sweet-natured women in the eyes of the men they sought to conquer, having a Melanie friend hang out by her side, only emphasised how pretty Scarlett was and how ... plain the other girl was in comparison. I mean, didn't Gidget have LaRue? Didn't Lucy have Ethel? Wasn't Elly May's cousin called Jethrene and looked like a man in drag? (Wait, Jethrene was a man in drag).

Melanies did things out of the goodness of their hearts and natures. Scarletts did things in order to make themselves look good in the eyes of the objects of their desires. Sometimes this worked and sometimes it didn't. Offtimes, you found that the men who bought into this phoniness, at the end of the day, weren't worth entertaining at all. I mean, how can anyone respect someone as shallow as an Ashley Wilkes, who bought the Scarlett act as the real thing, when you could let your hair down and let rip mentally and physically with someone like Rhett Butler and end up looking like the cat that ate the canary, amongst other things?

Myself, I never liked Scarletts, and Melanies bored me to tears. Scarlett girls, mean girls, Heathers, whatever you call them, brought out the natural bitch in me. I was nice to Melanies, but beyond civil pleasantries, I didn't give them too much time of day as well. So I was, like my native state Virginia, in the general scheme of US history, in a 'straddle state' - not quite a Scarlett (in my opinion) and - thank whoever - not a Melanie.

I could bitch and plot with the best of the mean girls, but I couldn't quite bring myself to the point where I played 'dumb' and flirted openly. A quick verbal repartee and exchange of wits was what aroused me in dealing with a man. As far as the other sort of girl, I simply was too selfish enough ever to be that good and pure. Later, Florence King, again, explained this sufficiently for me.

Virginia girls, she opined, were not Southern Belles. They couldn't be, because Virginia was a state born of the Age of Reason and Enlightenment. Virginia girls were taught and taught well, and raised to show and appreciate intelligence. Martha Jefferson spent her last days, copying out passages from Tristram Shandy. We gave the world the first woman to be elected to the British Parliament, Nancy Astor. We claim Willa Cather, Ellen Glasgow and Margaret Sullavan. Katie Couric, a Virginian, is the only woman in America anchoring a network news program. We educated Tina Fey. OK, we made some mistakes. Pocahontas married a Brit and died. I like to think I'll learn from her misgotten fortune.

Yet what Florence King so eloquently explained, can't only be applied to Southern women, but to all women in general. Not only are women haters, they are fierce competitors and blatantly subtle users of other women in order to achieve their own ends. As bullies, they used to use psychological cruelty, and in doing so, they hurt far more effectively than their male counterparts, who used their fists and physical force. Now, however, in some parts of the world, the girls are doing the same - and by combining psychological bullying with the physical aspect of it as well, makes them truly deadlier than the male.

The accents might be more airhead Valley Girl than Southern, but the aims are the same.

But, having said, all of the above, I have met, befriended and been befriended by some of the most wonderful women in the world, in my opinion. I'm still the best of friends with two women, whom I've known since grade school. One's a lesbian, and the other is a businesswoman, who runs two businesses non-stop seven days a week. Each time I go back to Virginia, there are several evenings spent with the girls - all-night talkfests, fueled by raspberry ripple icecream as teenagers have been taken over by all-night discussions of everything from politics to local gossip, fueled by Chianti or double gins and tonics. My two best friends from college are the daughter of an Army officer, who, herself, is an FBI agent, and a born-again Christian, who works as a recreational therapist (and who knows better than to foist her beliefs on me, although I'll allow the occasional quiet prayer from her on my behalf; one can't be too cautious). In the UK, I'm friends with a snarky Welshwoman, who's Celtic with a distinctly capital 'C' and a no-nonsense Geordie girl who calls a spade a spade, unflinchingly.

And then there's the wonderful batallion of women I've met via the Internet on a particular forum of interest to us. Intelligent, articulate, informed, perspicacious, of various age groupings and spanning, geographically, from sea to shining sea. Along with my plethora of relatives, they keep what's happening in my country real for me and they've no idea how much they defray the homesickness.

There's even the occasional man in the equation too.

The surprising element about, well, life, as much as femininity, I suppose, is the amount of mellowing a person does as they do get older. I read recently of an encounter between Denis Healy, an elderly Labour statesman in the UK, and Margaret Thatcher, once his political nemesis. Someone noted that, when Healy and Mrs Thatcher met again, when both were elderly, they embraced. Healy noted that as one grows older, one's enemies become one's friends.

That's so true.

Through Facebook, I've started talking with a woman who was a year behind me in high school. Put bluntly, we never liked each other. I always thought she was, in a nutshell, stuck so far up her own ass, she couldn't see the daylight it she tried; but we've been talking pretty civilly for the past few months. A couple of weeks ago, when I was feeling a bit down in the dumps, for some reason, we started a conversation online. First asking about this person and that person, until such a point in time, that we actually agreed to get together for lunch when I'm next home in November. As I was about to log off, she piped up and offered: 'You know, you're really nice; but I was scared shitless of you in high school. You and Sharon and Robin really ran that school your senior year.'

'You what?' I exclaimed. 'I never.'

'But you did!' She insisted. 'You've no idea. EVERYONE bowed to you.'

'NO!' I protested. 'Who was I? I was a geek. I was never the cheerleader or the homecoming queen. Me?'

'You've no idea,' she repeated, insistently. 'It was just YOU, your manner. It wasn't hateful or anything. In fact, I damn well admired it. It was your name, your family, you and Sharon had that antecedent, and Robin got carried along. Believe me, whatever YOU thought about any person, is what everyone else's idea eventually was. And then,' she concluded, 'Y'all left.'

So there I had it - if not from the horse's mouth, then from the mare's, which is far more important. I was a bitch. I had been, all along and unbeknownst to me, a Scarlett woman. For a sheer hundredth of a second, I was genuinely without words. It was as if my breath and all articulace had been suctioned out of me by a hurricane-force wind. Then I remembered this woman had not only feared me, she'd admired me as well. Besides, it was getting late in my evening, I was five hours ahead of her and I wanted to go to bed.

'I may have finished high school, honey,' I typed. 'But I left the baton of bitchiness behind for you. Did you pick it up?' I asked.

'Damn right!' came the reply.

I suppose the key to being a Scarlett woman is simply to embrace your bitchiness and run with it - and always, always seek to use it in a positive way.

Y'all take care now, y'hear?

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