on the narrative of being a girl/woman
The other day, my roommate made fun of me because I told him I basically have a degree in criticism (because I do). For four years, I studied communication–wherein I did things like watch television shows, political speeches, and movies for hours on end. And then, I’d apply what I watched to whatever theories were in my grasp. And I’d try to understand our collective stories.
I probably didn’t take it as seriously as I should have. Mostly because it was my second major, and my science major other totally made this look like child’s play. But, years later, I realize how much that work seeped into my brain–how I use those skills every day and how critiquing other people’s “art” has helped me be a better writer–and has also given me a real sense of responsibility to tell the whole story–to be a steward to our collective consciousness.
Truth be told, I’ve always felt responsible for people. Having an ability to write–to make meaning out of experience–comes with that. When you are privileged enough to witness important stories, you have an obligation to speak for those who can’t. And that’s a large reason why I write–why I continue to share my story, though I often wonder if anyone’s listening. Because, if nothing else, these stories just say I’m here–this is what happened–and this is what it meant to me.
People often are surprised by my love of television and movies. This especially seems to be the case when they learn about my academic history. I am as much a fan of “serious” drama as trash television–though I’ll admit I usually watch the trash television to feel a bit better about myself and to also release stress through trash talking at the tv screen.
Most nights, you can find me watching old, beloved tv shows–in bed, on my laptop. It’s how I wind down–except for when it keeps me up all night.
It’s actually quite rare for me to find shows that I love–that deeply resonate with me at a core level. I tend to hate everything mainstream America likes. And that often leads me gravely disappointed when my favorite shows get canceled.
Last night, my favorite show this season–Emily Owens, MD (yes, I liked it better than Homeland–!–and The Walking Dead and even Dexter)–ended its 13 episode run on the CW. I had known it was coming, of course, but I didn’t know how terrible the ending would feel. Namely, because the cancellation happened after filming ended, so the last episode was written to leave the audience thirsty for more. And that it did. And it was infuriating–well done, but completely terrible because it reminded me of all that we–as an audience–lost.
In case you’ve never watched the show/are unfamiliar with the plot, the show stars Mamie Gummer (Meryl Streep’s unconventionally beautiful daughter) as Emily. Emily is mostly defined by her role as a doctor and friend. She is young and also “too emotional.” She is brilliant, but also insecure, with her foot permanently stuck in her mouth. But she’s the type of person you’d want treating your mother. The show is lightened up by an interesting cast and boasts rivalries and lesbians as well as a love triangle (unbeknownst to Ms. Em).
The entire cast is just gorgeous. Emily’s good friend (and eternal crush) is played by an actor I used to like on the soap Passions (ha). He can actually act now and proved it in the finale.
This show could easily do the Grey’s Anatomy thing and slip into quirky and sex-obsessed and hollow and precious. But the writers didn’t take the cheap way out. The medical storylines are not tagged on for the theme of the week. They instead flesh out our characters and give them more depth. These patients are characters we know–like in the last episode–a woman whose split second decision killed her son and ruined her marriage. Which ends up being powerfully juxtaposed against Emily’s decision to take a chance on love–despite all its risks and hurdles.
Emily is not perfect. She is awkward, but she speaks to a generation of women who don’t know how powerful they are. And she grows, as time goes on, from some wishy-washy doormat mooning at the hot boy to a girl who wants to be chosen–who chooses to be chosen. And turns out, she’s already been picked. The mean girl has a heart and is mean because she carries pain she can’t control. The white boy is in a relationship with the black girl because she’s awesome. And there’s no elephant in the room. The sexy, confident lesbian cares too much about her father’s opinion to tell him who she is. And then she sees just how human he is.
These are characters we know. These are people we are and people we’ve been. And that’s actually risky. Because to be real in a world desperate to escape is brave.
I am sad I will never know Emily and the back story about her mother (revealed in the finale). I’m sad I’ll never get to see Micah’s hurt face when he realizes what happened with Will. I am sad I won’t know if his mother lives or if Bendhari will fix her marriage. I am sad we let these stories go untold in favor of Gossip Girl and Serena’s vague crisis of the hour.
I ranted on Twitter a few minutes ago about another thing I keep seeing/feeling that’s kind of related.
I keep feeling like an alien because I just don’t identify with mainstream girl culture as seen through movies and television. Sure, I can laugh like anyone else when I watch Bridesmaids. Sure, episode 3 of season 2 of Girls had some moments that actually lived up to the hype. But, by and large, I don’t identify with any of these characters or this supposed universal idea of what being a young female is like.
I want to identify with it, but trying only makes me mad. And I can appreciate it for what it is, but that doesn’t mean I can’t snarl at people who try to tell me this is my story.
The thing about this all–and what I realized mid-rant–is that all of it is told from a quite white perspective. It’s no wonder I can’t relate. It’s no wonder I’m angry. It’s a civil rights issue. How long will it take for mainstream society to realize that the poor, the “ethnic,” and the cross-culturally diverse have stories worth telling?
I’m tired of hearing the same old, tired narrative of quirky white girls who are trying to figure it out at the expense of people’s feelings and at the indulgence of ego/stereotypes. For once, I’d like to hear a few stories about brilliant, confident women who don’t know what they’re doing but do shit anyway. For once, I’d like to examine a character based on layers and not cliches.
Because this writing might tell a story, but it doesn’t give anyone a snapshot into anything except self-absorption and a naivete about the world at large. It’s the narrative of the privileged and entitled. And that’s pretty much all I’ve heard my whole life. I’m not saying these stories shouldn’t be told. But it shouldn’t be the only story we hear about women. There are so many other shades of being human.
Tonight, in my frustration, I told myself, “I guess I just have to write the damn stories myself.” And I guess that’s what I have to do.