Remember that scene in the movie of Bridget Jones’s Diary where poor Bridget is forced to stumble her way through introducing the publisher of “Kafka’s Motorbike: The Greatest Book of Our Time” in front of Jeffrey Archer, Salman Rushdie and other literary luminaries, and — understandably — keeps apologizing. “And, Mr Rushdie, yours aren’t bad either.”
That scene never fails to crack me up, and it was in my head all afternoon. Which was a nice distraction, because between the book deadline and the huge non-writing-related thing going on in my life, I’m getting a little bit overwhelmed. It may be why Sailor Boy sat me down yesterday with a glass of wine and a DVD of Mean Girls.
What a funny film. My favorite part is where Cady recognizes that in “girl world,” Halloween means dressing up in lingerie with animal ears. It’s so true! When my best friend and I were looking for costumes for the Masquerade last New Year’s Eve, the costume shops were filled with boy costumes, and girl costumes that could all be categorized under the heading “Boy Costume Wench” and looked like your average sex shop costume with corset tops and super short flippy miniskirts. You could be a pirate wench or a medieval wench or a Tarzan wench or a Revolutionary War (complete with tri-cone hat) Wench. In the end, my friend bought a pirate wench outfit that she proceeded to wear as a vest, because that’s how skimpy it was, over a puffy shirt, a pair of black pants, and kicking boots, thereby creating a slightly more feminine equivalent of the boy costume you could buy ready made. So frustrating! It’s kind of sad when the entire social paradigm shifts toward “all girls want to dress up like streetwalkers” to the point that you actually can’t find a costume that doesn’t fit that mold.
I had a great lunch with a writer friend yesterday, and we talked about feminism and why a lot of young people refuse to refer to themselves as feminist or even people our age (Gen X) tiptoe around the phrase or think that to be feminist means “you won’t get a date” or you don’t wear dresses or makeup or whatnot. Or how things that are classified as “for women” are things that society — even supposedly enlightened, intelligent society, feels comfortable denigrating. Men will avoid it and women will avoid it as well. We’d apparently both taken classes in college that came under fire for using “women” in the title of the class. In her case, the men in the required course couldn’t stop complaining about being forced to read “girl stuff.” In mine, the class was eventually titled something else, and the applications went through the roof.
And then in Mean Girls, Tina Fey’s character is telling the girls, “You guys have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores; it just makes it easier for men to call you that.” I used to do that all the time, both in jest and affection with my girlfriends and as a pejorative. That women choose to denigrate other women, as well as things that are considered “for women” isn’t really helping matters.
There’s a scene in SSG where Amy calls herself a slut. I threw it in for laughs, and because it seemed authentic to the voice of that character. She’s describing how she made out with one guy at a bar, then met another back at her dorm room and spent the night with him. Back when I was in college, they used to send around these things called “purity tests” and I always remember one of the big “OMG, no!” questions was “Did you ever hook up with two people in one 24 hour period?” I think that Amy, in retrospect, would be a little uncomfortable with that choice (especially given the repercussions), and “slut” is the term applied by and to girls who do things like that.
Boys? Yeah, there is no term.
However, it doesn’t seem as funny to me now. I still think it’s authentic for Amy to make that self-deprecating comment, and to use that term, but I also think it’s unfortunate. These are some of the choices you make as a writer: because your characters aren’t perfect. They aren’t always going to make the “right” choice. Even if they believe (as Amy certainly does) that her sexuality is just fine, thank you very much, it doesn’t mean she’s free from what our culture thinks girls should be. Maybe she calls herself that so no one else can do it first, to own the phrase on a level that renders it toothless. Because if she thinks she did anything wrong that night, it wasn’t hooking up with two people, it was that one of the people would view it as a betrayal. Maybe classifying herself as “slutty” is an easier thing for her to swallow (perhaps because she and her girlfriends have been tossing the term around, Mean Girls style, for seven years) than “cold-hearted.” Or “unfaithful.” Or anything else that the betrayed party would be more likely to say than “slutty.”
Yes, these are the things I think about. Especially as I bring the series to a close, and I think about where Amy is now, vs where she was at various points in the previous books. Amy is thinking about it too, much as I look back on that girl I was in college, who threw “slut” around with abandon and wonder why in the world I’d do something like that.