Dear MCF readers,

Millicent’s fantastic essay has been nominated for the 3QD Prize in Politics and Social Science.  It would be superswell if you took a minute to vote for it (it’s #40). The nominees make for fierce company, including Zunguzungu’s piece “The Grass is Closed” (#56).

And, in case you missed it, Millicent’s full essay is up over at The Awl, and is one hell of a read.

Reading Circles

I’m happily reading the new Our Bodies Ourselves this week, and have the luck to also have a 1973 copy of OBOS to compare it to. So, pretty much, I am high on what happens when women get together to talk about health.  I wish I was around 40 years ago at the start of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, described in the preface of the 1973 book under the heading “A GOOD STORY.”

In the begininning we called the group “the doctor’s group.” We had all experienced similar feelings of frustration and anger toward specific doctors and the medical maze in general, and initially wanted to do something about those doctors who were condescending, paternalistic, judgmental and non-informative. As we talked and shared our experiences with one another, we realized just how much we had to learn about our bodies. So we decided on summer project–to research those topics we felt were particularly pertinent to learning about our bodies, to discuss in the group what we had learned, then to write papers individually or in small groups of two or three, and finally to present the results in the fall as a course for women on women and their bodies.

As we developed the course we realized more and more that we were really capable of collecting, understanding, and evaluating medical information…the process of talking was as crucial as the facts themselves. Over time, the facts and feelings melted together in ways that touched us very deeply, and that is reflected in the changing titles of the course and then the book–from Women and Their Bodies to Women and Our Bodies to, finally, Our Bodies, Ourselves.

The honesty and eloquence of both editions are so swoon worthy–the articulation of confusion and paradox that you know arrives from a group of people thinking hard and digging to find words–for uttering in the first place, and showing the process of it.  Amongst all the tropes (often perceived negatively) of women’s sharing circles (I know I have a huge file of uncool cliche’s in my head, even though it also sounds so damn nice), The Women’s Collective built this wonderful resource–its wonder lying in not only the facts, but in the gut-swinging honesty that it presents them in.  In some ways, OBOS is like the best aunt in the world who has answers for everything, always lets you have sip of her wine, and respects you immensely. Like Tavi Gevinson’s blurb for the new editions says:

My brain was fist pumping the whole way through.

The reason I bring this all up is because I am also reading Jaclyn Friedman’s What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety.  I’m only in chapter one, but danggummit, it’s wonderful! (Just like Yes Means Yes!).  When I looked for it at my local bookstore, I was initially a smidge embarrassed, worried that the clerk would have to awkwardly walk with me over to the sex section, perhaps surrounded by Taschen books about boobs and penises. Maybe you are more brave than me, but sex and bookstores, it’s too much of a clash of the public and private.  Maybe I can get over that after I read this book.

Maybe after we all read this book? So far, it’s like a great gift from the same wine-sharing Aunt that I have assigned to OBOS.  It’s compassionate, well-written, insightful, stern, and really really understanding.  The introduction takes head on the trepidation of reading such a book publicly.  Nobody wants to be seen reading a sex guide, right? We all want to look that we have that shit in gear–no worries here–my engine is fine!    But Friedman smartly takes on everybody, starting off with a quiz about attitudes and conceptions about sex, safety, and the personas we build around them.  Her argument is that if the book has gotten into your hands, one way or another, you are ready to get to the nitty gritty about sex in your life, and sex in society.  She promises big rewards, a map through the messiness of reality, and omits anything resembling a tip or a trick to better sex.

My favorite thing so far about the book is that while it looks like a regular paperback, it’s really a bit of a bootcamp.  She asks things of you that the cool part of your brain wants to cringe at and reject (journaling every day, committing to the entire book), but she acknowledges your possible wonkiness, and then tells you to get over it.  If the text ever leans sentimental or mushy, it also immediately proves how valid the act is.  Friedman writes like a good teacher lectures.  You trust her. You will do what she tells you to because she is not wasting your time.

At then end of the introduction, Friedman recommends reading the book with a group, both as a way to expand discussion, and as a way to keep up momentum as you move through the book.  I bring this up for two reasons–I’m interested in being part of such a group, and I want as many people as possible to read this book.  I’m not sure the blog is the right place to have a discussion–I’m all for documenting process, but perhaps it is too permanent of a forum for this? G-chat, Skype, plain old email…I’m interested. Or if you don’t join up here in whatever unknown form is out there (and fair warning, I don’t know how deep What You Really Really Want goes), consider starting a small discussion group with a few friends wherever you are. How nice would that be?

I am in the thrall of a giant crush on conversation.  I promise there will be no speculums, unless you want to talk about that, too.

Miss Marple’s Great Granddaughter

Dear Millicent,

There’s a lot going on right now, but I think this will be to both of our possible delight.  Via the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Disney is starting up a new Miss Marple take. From The Hollywood Reporter:

In March, the studio picked up the rights to Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. Now the studio has acquired an untitled project from screenwriting newcomer Ashley Bradley to be produced by Green Lantern co-scribe and TV creator Marc Guggenheim

Plot details are being kept under wraps, but the project revolves around a young woman who finds out she is the descendant of a legendary detective and is forced to take up the sleuthing mantle.

They are ageing her down and setting her in contemporary times. This could be sacrilege. It could be truly terrible. The idea of changing her age give me the hives, but then I think of a Harriet the Spy type kid who gets to be descended from the great dame, and it’s balm for the hives. It could be really great.




Millicent and Carla Fran Abroad

Two things:

Please please join The Hairpin Costume Drama Club because it is going to be so much fun, and full of taffetas and all astonishments and champagne and crying.  I am so excited about this thing! We’re starting with The Duchess of Duke Street. 

While you’re there, also read Millicent’s How to React to a Blemish in the 17th Century, for Gentlewomen only.

You could also watch Bramwell, which is a nice convergence of cold sores and corsets.

PS: There will be Bramwell, Hairpinners, just you wait.

Go See a Show

Dear Millicent,

You know I am all for sitting inside the house and letting the world carry on while I’m happily snowed in by novels and long lost mini-series.  But, after last night, I’m going to have to change some of that. And, I call on all MCF readers to help me.  We have to go the theater/theatre. It’s important.

Remember how in the superb Slings and Arrows (get thee to your Netflix, or latenight IFC right now if you haven’t seen it yet),  a major plot point is the fact that all of the theaters ticket subscribers are old. I assumed this was exaggerated for the sake of plot points like this misguided attempt to pull in a younger audience with billboards like this:

Since I never go to plays (they’re expensive), I wasn’t in on the joke. The joke that it’s all true.  Due to a deal on tickets, I went to the Geffen Playhouse here in LA, which from its fanciness looks like a supremely endowed-theater. I saw The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, a play about 1980’s childhood nostalgia, pro-wrestling, race and capitalism in America. It was full of rap music. At several points, the entire audience was filled with the unhappy elbows of people covering their ears. There were no young people.  There were no middle-aged people. It was the New Burbage Theatre Festival.

I do not particularly like  young people.  But that’s neither here nor there. I had no idea how many people weren’t going to see plays. That sounds crass. What I mean is, the tradition of theater-going seems like it might be lost.  Younger generations aren’t theater-going, theater-finding, theater-thinking.  Concerts yes! Plays, no.

Theater is where we get our broad strokes on, where themes have to be present, where politics get to be stated proudly. Where we have monologues that are actual monologues! We have to go to the theater because if we don’t, by my hasty estimation, there will be no more ticket subscribers in 30 years, max. And we want plays like The Elaborate Entrance… to get made because they are all thinky and sweaty and compelling.  I have to say, from the grumbling I heard in the audience (“what’s this play about?” “I hate the music.” “Why can’t they keep their clothes on”) I assumed the audience hated the play.  I was wrong. They gave it a standing ovation.

Am I wrong? What was the last play you went to? What was the audience demographic? There is a strong chance my observation based on one night out is totally overblown. But I trust Slings and Arrows. 

Let’s all go to one play in the next 6 months. That gives us till March.



Whitney is for the parents, kids.

I also watched Whitney last night. It will tangle a viewer up! It is a show that is a mess, and a mess that you think you should watch so that you can talk about such messes, but then the mess is so sticky and bad that you think you should leave the room.  Like a lot of things lately, it got me conflicted.

The good news is we have a show about with a central female character.  I was interested in the sitcom to see if it hearkened back to that earlier era of “real lady” sitcoms from the early 1990s, when we had Roseanne and Grace Under Fire.  Sure, the advertising for Whitney was certainly selling a young-ish kind of misery (well parsed by Splitsider here)  instead of the middle-aged ladies above, but the show suggested it would have whiffs of the same autonomy of a complicated woman leading the show, using the gap between idealized femininity and real life as a motor for the show’s comedy and heart.

The bad news is Whitney spends 98% of the show in underwear. Like, for the entire week that they produced the pilot, she went to the costume trailer and maybe asked “still no pants? ” I think there is so much lingerie in the first episode to scream to the audience, “really, it’s okay, we are not that kind of show. Nothing you know will be threatened here. We aren’t a ‘smart’ show. Look at her ass! No challenges, promise!”  And then, the show goes on to suggest that having a girlfriend who eats or who uses mild sarcasm is coded as “loud” and overall an unattractive burden to the poor lout who happens to love her.  We see this as a classic hot chick tries to hit on Whitney’s boyfriend, wondering at his insane choice (in a very attractive successful woman, who seems to maybe slouch more than the hot girl?).

I don’t see this as an attempt to win over a female audience. This is not Girlfriends or any kind of network ready SATC rehashing.  This show is pretending it wants me to watch it, which is why it has such a strange boomerang of irony and generic form (the much commented on laugh track, three cameras, and constant wink). As Troy Patterson said at Slate:

Well isn’t she fresh. And isn’t that stale…There is a peculiar flavor to this cheese. If you caught a snippet of Whitney unawares, you would be forgiven for assuming that it’s one of those shows-within-a-show that exists to caricature bad television.

My guess is that this more akin to network TV branding lineups as “Laughapaloozas” in the early 90s, appropriating what they lately identified as youth culture and using its energy to promise a safe explanation to everybody else. What I’m saying is, I think Whitney’s  target audience are not 30 somethings who identify with the  weak gawk and struggle of commitment and having nice things (really, who has a couch in their bedroom, or a dresser in their walk in closet? And lingerie is expensive, folks). I think it’s for the parents of those 30 somethings (I’m including myself in this 30ish demographic).

This show does shit for women, women in comedy, and women in Hollywood.  But, it does promise our parents that we are loved even if we aren’t married. That our vague professional careers (she is a photographer) are legitimate. That partners with long hair are really nice young men. That our parents’ divorce did affect us, but it didn’t really harm us. Whitney lets parents watch their be-hoodied, belching, whimsical and sloppy ‘untraditional’ kids turn out as conventional and unworrisome as a parent could hope. If your parents watch Two and a Half Men, then I bet they will watch this. And when they do, they will probably talk about you.

This show is going to make it as a generational artifact of what we hope other people are up to.




Dear M.,

I’ve been working on a novel for a few years. It is very much about this:

It’s an embarrassing thing, to admit the attempt of a novel. But that’s not the point. I wanted you to see this film because it is really lovely. And it’s a surprise window into what I’m writing about, something that is finding the pockets I have been feeling for. Something that is keeping my fingers crossed.



Film via @Brainpicker

Don’t Fail Me Now

Dear Millicent,

It is a cruel thing when something you love lets you down. It is also one of the most powerful things that television can do besides inform you about disasters and keep you company when other people are sleeping. TV is not the most respected of mediums, and I hold the same expectations for most things that I watch on TV as the over-thick general fiction novels I used to hoard from the Tucson public library: pleasure first, with an outside chance of mastery.

And TV has a fair chance of being supergood. The 2000s have been full of breathless television. We are such a good generation at mixing quality with pleasure, just look at our trends of food and drink. In the 1990s, our swoons were limited to Twin Peaks, Northern Exposure and MSCL. I was a much younger viewer then, a different demographic entirely, but I just don’t remember anybody talking about how great TV was. I watched a thousand pounds more of it a day, but it rarely landed in my gut like art. It landed like salt.  It was delicious. It was the stuff that made a future dreamable, collaged, and fully outfitted.  It was what people were doing somewhere.

But that’s barely here or where. I want to get back to heartbreak. I want to talk about Bramwell. Netflix had recommended the show to me for months, and I kept pushing it aside because it looked a tad…bunned? The title card was of a Victorian woman by a fireplace looking all inquisitive and honest while sitting next to a microscope.  It looked like a grown up American Girl movie.  What finally pushed me into this 31 hour affair were the comments over at The Hairpin in response to a post I had written about the maxi-drama Poldark.  Somebody said that the main character got into “scrapes.” If you speak Anne Shirley, I listen.

And the first episode swallowed me whole. It was Victorian, but about syphilis! And it was feminist, well-written, and well-costumed.  Half procedural (think a kind of feminist Victorian version of House), half melodrama about what it’s like to be a working Lady (by the way, I want to start a new academic branch called Lady Studies), Bramwell is a dream come true.  You get mystery, you get silver chafing dishes, you get extreme power structures to dissect, and you get the fun of another time and place. Surgeries happened every episode, often on the kitchen table!  Genre at its best, teasing out all the big ideas, but foremost entertaining and soothing its audience while it pokes at the tender bits of what a society makes.

I was in love. I savored the show, knowing it only had 31 episodes the way I knew Anne of Green Gables series only had 8 books. It was a lovely length–long enough to know you couldn’t gobble it, but finite. It was constructed smartly enough that you fell into full trust with its creators. The characters are complicated. They say the perfect thing, but it isn’t the one you were expecting.  Elinor Bramwell is a trained doctor who starts a hospital in the East End. She lives with her father, also a doctor, and is constantly navigating her future and place. Can she be a wife and a doctor? Will she be an old maid? What were the expectations of class, virtue, and philanthropy in Victorian England?

As with our particular stories of headstrong, intelligent women who have just the right spark of pluck and grace, we all immediately identify with our lead. She is Elizabeth, Anne, Rilla, Wonapalei. I watched this show looking for answers (I watch a lot of television looking for revelations, personal or universal). How do we find work that uses our best skills? How do you navigate privilege and service? How do you utilize, dismantle or deflect patriarchy? I’m not kidding. There were breathless moments in this show, usually alone and late at night, where I thought we were getting somewhere, me and Elinor.  I thought by episode 31, some new answer was going to get cracked out of me.

I thought this all the way up to episode 29, where I so want to tell you what happens, but cannot, because I also really want you to watch this show.  But I want you stop watching at episode 29. Then turn it off like the book is over.  No more pages.

I also want to find Lucy Gannon, the show’s creator and main writer, and beg an interview with her. Something huge happened between the end of the second season (episode 29) and the strange 4 hours that make up  season 4 (episodes 30-31). My guess is that Gannon would defend her choice, but I want to know why. Did the producers go crazy? Did she want to sober up all of us slobbering romantics, pegging our lives on the constructed adventures of gamine do-gooders? Something happened! Professionally, personally, cosmically, Bramwell got fucked.

All I can say is that the feminism, heavily installed in the series, fully goes out the window. Beloved characters disappear with no explanation, characters become unrecognizable, and the theme music gets really bad.  Up until the very end, I was holding my breath, sure this was all a grand architecture to make the ending glow like the best of television endings. But it didn’t. It did the worst thing, and pretended that the crap was just what we wanted. It broke our hearts. There are lots of us, according to the old Masterpiece Theatre forums on the PBS website.  We are all astonishment.

So now I have to go back to answering my own questions about my life, without the crutch of what would Elinor do? And she was played by a Redgrave (Jemma), and you know you can always trust a Redgrave!

It was dreamy while it lasted. And then, the evidence changed, all collapsed.

Lesson: good endings must not be assumed, and in television, dreadfully, cannot be earned.




Women, sort yourself out!

An old one from Mitchell and Webb:

That’s Entertainment Friday and The Aquamusical

It’s Friday! Watch this! It will make your life better. It has giant plumes of colored smoke, and seahorses.

That’s Entertainment is a big giant love letter to the musical, from Hollywood, to Hollywood. I had the original VHS of it, and watched it, oh, about a thousand times.  This clip came up because I watched Esther Williams’ first aquamusical, Bathing Beauty, and was getting itchy sitting through two hours and to wait for only 1 scene of actual aquamusicality. That one scene does satisfy, but I recommend just fast forwarding to the end to see all the fire, water, and women in large chartreuse hats.

The other really quite astounding moment in Bathing Beauty is this, which you should watch for the shoes alone:

By the way, there is more organ (heh) in this movie than swimming.  There is more everything in this movie than swimming. But, maybe Hollywood hadn’t figured Esther out yet.  I forgive them. They made up for it eventually.

And the movie does start with this charming card, which I would like as a bookplate on my one day bestselling, scandalous autobiography (ghostwritten, of course): Cheap Seats: Who Says Sequins Aren’t a Girl’s Best Friend!:


May you dive from a trapeze swinging out of purple smoke into a small ring surrounded by smiling couples this Labor Day weekend,