In 1939, the director George Cukor gave us the campy classic "The Women
." Based on the novel by Claire Booth Luce
, it was the glossy saga of a sweet wife whose husband is snatched away by his shrew of a mistress -- that is, at least, until the wife grows her own talons and snatches him back. (Rent it! You will finally get the joke the next time your gay best friend extends his nails and intones, "Jungle Red!")
The sly joke of "The Women" is that, though it's allegedly about a marriage, there is nary a man to be found. The all-female cast sports its gold turbans and crinoline gowns, meeting up at the female-only redoubts of spas, fashion shows and, briefly, a quickie-divorce dude ranch.
Thusly, two important points are made. Apparently, any given man is largely irrelevant in a marriage, and totally powerless. He may have the dough, but the shots are called by his wife and/or mistress -- ideally, both lingerie-clad in a dressing room at a sumptuous department store.
Sound familiar? Yes, you critics mildly confused by the dramatic headgear, vast apartments and frequent jettings-about of the ladies of the "Sex and the City
" franchise can put down your poison pens. It's an hommage
to "The Women" -- not an embrace of the fruits of Wall Street. Still, what passed for a witty take on marriage in 1939 makes slightly less sense nowadays. While the gay community is scrambling to get the state benefits
that are supposed to accompany a lifelong commitment, heedless beneficiaries of them are fleeing the institution in droves
. If that two-year run of sex scandals
didn't make the point, Al and Tipper's breakup, and now their eldest daughter Karenna's, too
, should have prepared us at last to revisit the idea of till death do us part. The problem is, the husband still doesn't seem to be part of the equation.
Again and again, our altar-obsessed pop, political and tabloid culture swaps the man in question for another woman. The Bravo series of "Real Housewives" exist in a girls-only neverland of dinner parties, product launches and vacations, their ATM-spouses appearing mainly to offer tedious pronouncements on the character flaws of the other girls. The only men allowed to be part of the franchise -- especially and marvelously in Atlanta
-- often appear in heels. (Except Simon, who's kind of gay. And remember Ramona's tantrum when Simon came to dinner
On "The Bachelor," the catty intrigues of the candidates for the dude's hand are more interesting than the dude
himself, who seems overwhelmed when called to do anything more than clink glasses. Does Angelina (or her children) sell out even .014 percent of the tabloids that put her on the cover when Jennifer is not part of the story (and also, preferably, on the cover)? Are any men but gay besties even allowed into Kleinfeld's for "Say Yes to the Dress"?
"Sex and the City 2," however, is hands-down the most shameless example of the marriage fake-out I have ever seen. As the movie begins, former-single-girl heroine Carrie is writing a book -- foreshadowing! -- about marriage. Her entire cityscape, in fact, is a display of a winking diamonds against a velvet blue sky, signaling the fidelity and fiduciary delights to come.
Unfortunately, all is not well in the land of the no-longer-free. Carrie, terrified that she and Big will bore each other forever in their yawningly childless, newly redecorated apartment, problem-solves by telling him to take his feet off the couch and pouting when he flirts with Penelope Cruz. (Lady: Worry if your husband doesn't flirt with Penelope Cruz.)
Charlotte, who fought long and hard for husband and children, now has two screaming brats and a spouse who can't help but be enthralled by their nanny's bouncing, braless rack. (See non-causes for worry, above.) Miranda is being urged by husband Steve, who cheated on her in the first movie because she didn't pay enough attention to him, to quit her job so she can spend more time with son Brady. (What is Brady going to do, Steve? Cheat with another mother?) Even Samantha, who chose clitoris over commitment in the last installment, is locked in a bloody battle with Menopause, determined to separate her from her chosen partner, Eros.
Kids, work, nannies' racks, Penelope Cruz -- these all seem like fertile ground to discuss the issues that dog many a marriage. (I know! They left out money. C'mon, Jake. It's Tinseltown!) But instead, in the grand tradition of "The Women," the ladies jet off to Abu Dhabi, where four butlers, two Cosmos, and one randy Dane allow matters to miraculously right themselves.
When they return, it turns out Charlotte's nanny is -- phew -- a lesbian. Samantha's Danish lover is better than estrogen. Miranda's new law firm supports working mothers (with rooftop celebrations, yet!) And Carrie simply renounces six seasons of her party-girl past. Turns out, she's perfectly happy to spend the rest of her life eating takeout on her poor abused couch, watching black-and-white movies with Big.
Ah, if only all the braless bouncing nannies could turn out to be lesbians! (Though how this solves the problem of the slavering husband, I cannot quite understand.) It's telling that
the movie doesn't return to is the newly married Stanford and Anthony. Before being serenaded by a Beyonce warbling Liza Minnelli
, Anthony, at his own wedding, downs a glass of champagne and informs the assembled that, in return for giving Stanford the wedding of his dreams, he'll be allowed to sleep around. Canonical scholars, what's the answer to the vow about honoring your partner's stemware choices again? ("I'll Do"?)
But perhaps that exact split -- between the dream of the wedding and the reality of actual marriage -- is a useful place to start a discussion. Because, last night, as much as I enjoyed watching the "Real Housewives of New York's" Ramona renuzit her vows to husband Mario, her choice of a girls-only safari instead of a honeymoon seems to suggest that her second wedding was about something other than the man in question.
And while I want to end every discriminatory gesture against gays in the land, isn't it faster to separate the idea of hospital visitations, health benefits and other perks of partnership from love and marriage in the first place? (After all, as a single-girl columnist who recently published a collection with a pink cover, I would happily join estate forces with my redheaded single-mom lawyer friend from Brooklyn, whom I trust more to represent my interests than any hazy future husband.)
Somewhere between dreamy champagne flutes and being able to inherit retirement payouts lies what actually happens in marriage -- the part, I guess, we at Woman Up would like Al and Tipper to pipe up about
. In the 1970s and 1980s, works like Nora Ephron's "Heartburn,
" Lisa Alther's "Other Women," and the documentary "An American Family" gave us an actual peephole into what goes on between a couple.
Nowadays, it seems we are too frightened, defensive, self-righteous, moralistic, delusional, distracted by jewelry or just plain drunk to do so. It's a shame. What are we wed-a-holics supposed to do in the meantime? Don black stockings? Practice our Beyonce? Well, then, in my best Liza Minnelli
, I salute you marrieds all with the following: "Good luck