Thursday, November 26, 2009

Is Bella Swan of "Twilight" a Good Role Model? I'm Not So Sure

I read all four of the "Twilight" books last winter and while they weren't great literature, I had a good time reading them. I did however always have my concerns about the messages being sent to the tween and teen girls the books were targeted at.

Last night I went to see "New Moon" with a friend and both of us had some real concerns and questions about what girls were being told about what love looks like and how relationships should be.

There are some spoilers here, so be aware!

In this second book of the four, Edward, the sparkly vampire, leaves Bella who completely falls apart without him. All right, so we've all been heartbroken at least once in our lives and it sucks. But. most of us move on, right? Not Bella. She sits looking out her window for months and months. She loses weight, she sits alone at school and ceases all contact with any friends. Can we say co-dependent anyone?

The only thing that brings Bella out of her funk is when she starts hanging around with Jacob, her werewolf friend. She's seems to only be okay when there is a guy in her life who becomes her whole life. Not exactly the message I would have wanted my daughter to be getting at 13, or any age for that matter.

My friend Sandy brought up two great points as well: We don't really know Bella. She is a blank canvas. All we see is her obsession with Edward. Does she like dance? Sports? Reading? We don't know because she is like a hologram, an empty shell of a person other than her love for Edward. She is so completely dependent on him that it caused my daughter to say while reading the books, "Bella needs to grow a pair." She appears strong in some ways, but only when it comes to Edward, without him she ceases to live, until she gloms on to Jacob, essentially using his love for her to make herself feel better. She's really not a very nice girl.

Sandy's second point, very well taken, is the subtle message of domestic violence in the movies and books. There's always the possibility that Edward could hurt her, and he's protective of her to the point of controlling her and treating her like a child. He's a guy, he knows better, she needs to listen to him. There are elements of stalking in the way he's always there, watching her. We are given the message that she cannot be safe or function in the world without Edward right there. It makes me think of the No Doubt song, "I'm Just a Girl." You're just a girl so be careful!

Worse that this is the wolf pack couple, Sam and Emily. Emily bears a disfiguring scar on her face from a time Sam got angry and phased from man to wolf and attacked her. But, here she is, lovingly making muffins for them all when Sam comes in, pulls her into his arms and kisses her. Is the message girls are getting, "Hey girls, just because a guy gets mad and hurts you doesn't mean you still shouldn't love him"? Men get angry every day and hurt the women they supposedly love. It's not okay. And being a werewolf is not an excuse!

As we drove home from the movie we talked about the seriousness of the messages about love that girls are getting from these books and it's a bit disturbing. Young girls are impressionable and what they read and see on screen does impact what they think love should look like.

My hope is that girls can override the messages in these stories, see them as flawed fairy tales and know that they are valuable people who can survive and thrive without a boy/vampire/werewolf in their lives. Anyone who has read the entire series knows that eventually Bella gets her wish to give up her mortal life and become a vampire, able to live for all eternity with her beloved Edward. Do we really wants girls thinking about giving with their lives for the boys they love? That's not romance, that's suicide.

I think a much better cinematic role model, if you're looking for one, might just be Bridget Jones who ends up with Mark Darcy, a man who loves her just as she is. And she doesn't even have to become undead to be with him, she just gets to be herself. All in all, a pretty good message.

Monday, November 16, 2009

My Top 10 TV Shows of the Decade

Recently I was reading my dear friend's blog where he had listed his top ten TV shows of the decade and was struck by the fact that while there were some choices (several actually) I agreed with, it was still a decidedly "guy" list. So, I decided to make my own list. My own girl-centric list.

So herein lies my Top Ten All Time Favorite TV Shows of the Decade. These may not all be critical winners, but I love them.

10. "South Park." This show isn't always great, but when it's on, it's spot on. Who can forget the "Trapped in the Closet" episode?
9. "Ally McBeal." It's easy to forget this show because it's been off the air for a few years, but it was edgy and broke boundaries with it's unusual story lines, dancing babies, cute pajamas and frogs. And whimsy, there's not enough whimsy on TV.
8. "Daily Show"/"The Colbert Report." Sad or not, these two back to back Comedy Central shows are one of my favorite sources of new. Smart, incisive and willing to offend anyone and everyone, they are often the first ones to point out hypocrisy where it needs a spotlight.
7."The Sopranos." Okay, so the series end was a little vague, but it was a show that kept me coming back season after season.
6. "30 Rock." I adore Tina Fey. I think she's a genius. Any woman who can be the head writer of "Saturday Night Live, " write "Mean Girls," and create this series is totally my hero.
5. "Mad Men." The show just ended it's third season and it's already in my top five. The characters are well drawn, the set and costume design are stellar, the writing is top notch and the acting is superb.
4. "Rescue Me." This series about a group of New York City Firefighters in a post 9/11 NYC is gritty, hard hitting, funny at times and always intense and thought provoking. As both its star and co-writer, Denis Leary is amazing.
3. "The Office." I just love the lads and ladies of Dunder Mifflin.
2. "Sex and the City." This show has great dialogue like: Charlotte: "I just know no matter how good I feel about myself, if I see Christy Turlington, I just wanna give up."
Miranda: "Well I just want to tie her down and force feed her lard, but that's the difference between you and me."
1. "Gilmore Girls." This may not have been a super critically acclaimed show, but the writing was magnificent and completely holds up a few years after the series end. Admittedly it did jump the shark when Luke had a previously unknown daughter show up in the next to last season, but it still remains my favorite if for no other reason that the love I have for my own daughter and that special bond only a mother and daughter can share.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Is Being A Good Wife An Outdated Idea?

In today's London Times I read an article about being a "good wife." When I saw the headline I admit I had visions of suggestions of wrapping yourself in Saran Wrap or making sure you've got a pot roast in the oven and that his socks are properly sorted. What I read was nothing like that.

Now as a disclaimer - I'm the first to admit that being divorced might preclude me from waxing too seriously about how to be a good wife, but actually having been divorced may give us divorced folks a better perspective - we sure know what doesn't work.

As I read the above article what I realized was that the message was mostly about being kind and being supportive. Now call me the anti-Christ of feminism, but I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Why wouldn't you want to be with someone who makes you feel good about who you are and is unfailingly supportive?

Of course these are things that go both ways. Being a good husband requires the same support and kindness as well.

I wince at the way I hear some women talk about their husbands and men in general. I happen to like men. Very much so. Sure they think differently than women do, but they're not dumb Neanderthals dragging their knuckles on the ground waiting for us to tell them what to do.

Author Ayelet Waldman caught a whole lot of hell when she wrote about loving her husband more than her children. She spoke of not replacing the passion she feels for her husband with how she feels about her children. She was pilloried for saying this, but I think she had a point.

The "good wife" article goes on to talk about the importance of kissing and having sex as well. Think about that the next time you ignore your significant other in favor of updating your status on Facebook or watching "Project Runway." It just seems that we've decided that TV, computers and cell phones are more important than the person we share our lives with. Maybe it is an outdated ideal I have, but I think nothing is more important than relationships, and at the top of that list is the relationship with your partner.

Last year I read a book, "Just Do It: How One Couple Turned Off The TV And Turned On Their Sex Lives for 101 Days (No Excuses!)" by Douglas Brown and first thought, damn it, why can't I come up with a high concept book idea like this, and second, I think the author had a point. The more often you are affectionate and loving, the more you want to be.

So what does it mean to be a good wife or husband? I think it's pretty simple - always remember to treat your mate like the treasured friend they are. Too often people treat their spouse in ways they'd NEVER treat their best friend. Don't let stupid things get in the way. Socks and tops of toothpaste tubes don't matter in the long run. Take the time to remember why you chose this person in the first place.

And then make sure you kiss. A lot.