I have already proclaimed “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” as my favorite new show, but it just keeps giving me more and more reasons to love it. Not only is the dialogue crisp and clever and the ideas original and refreshing. These last couple of episodes saw Abby McCarthy (my darling Lisa Edelstein, who shines in this role) actively and unapologetically advocating for divorce and taking on slut shaming for all its ugliness. We sure have come a long way. This is, at least to my knowledge, the first time a television show has dared to take mature women and liberate them, not only from the need for a perfect marriage, but the need for a marriage, period.
If you are not watching the show (and why aren’t you? Are you crazy??), it is Bravo’s first original scripted drama, and it revolves around a group of 30- and 40-something women, Abby at their center, mostly divorced with children, who are dealing with things the new age woman has to deal with: how to juggle career and children, how to deal with life after marriage, how to reinvent yourself in your profession, how to fight systemic sexism and ageism, and how to create meaningful relationships with the world around you despite your insecurities.
While “Sex and the City” and “Desperate Housewives” may have celebrated independent single (or divorced or widowed) women, it also had the women constantly on the look out for their next ideal match. In fact, their level of obsession with the need to find a man sometimes seemed near pathological.
“Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce,” on the other hand, frees our women to live as full human beings, meaning they are not reliant on a romantic relationship to feel validated or complete. Abby is dating more for her own experience as a sexual, playful, passionate woman, rather than because she’s looking for her next husband. Phoebe (Beau Garrett) experiments with everything, from women to threesomes to, God knows what next. Delia (Necar Zadegan) puts her career ahead of everything, as she’s also trying to deal with her fear of commitment. And Lyla (Janeane Garofalo) is currently MIA because she’s running away from her ex who is trying to get custody of her children.
Most importantly, these women value one another as their main source of comfort, support and validity. When they look at one another, they see a full human being, who isn’t lacking a thing, especially not a penis. This is why Abby, being a good friend who actually sees her female friends, encourages her friend Jo (Alanna Ubach) to divorce her lousy husband (who later turns out to be a pathological liar). Being divorced no longer has to mean being alone and having to start roaming the earth in search of your next man. It can mean being liberated from a relationship that no longer benefits you, liberated to develop your full (and that also means, sexual) self with the support of your sisters who see and accept you for who you really are.
Way to go, GG2D. Please keep doing what you’re doing!
I only have a couple of suggestions that would make this show even better. For starters, it would help if every woman on the show wasn’t skinny and perfectly groomed at all times (and always in high heels!). I mean, yes, they are lovely to look at, and I’ve publicly thanked Bravo for explicitly asking Edelstein not to tamper with her face. But do all mature women out there have to feel that in order to perfectly relate to these characters they have to aspire to what is for most women an unrealistic look, or one that comes at the heavy price of eating disorders, constant dieting, plastic surgery or an exercise obsession? (That is, by the way, a rhetorical question).
Second, it would be great if the show could incorporate a little more diversity. As things stand now, Delia is the only ethnic female character. And I am grappling with the question of why would a show that focuses on women choose to represent sexual orientation diversity in the form of a relationship between two gay men. Why not have an interesting lesbian relationship on the show? Lesbianism has so far been depicted on the show as something fun to try out, something to tantalize the viewers with, but not as a real, substantial relationship.
According to the list of writers on the show, it appears there are five male writers and three female writers. Perhaps flipping that balance would help add more range of representation and make the women not only deal with real issues but also look more real to their target audience. It is not as hard to “prove” you can be a successful and desirable mature divorced mother when you make those women look like single college-age chicks who in their looks embody an almost opposite message of that which their characters are delivering.
No, having more real looking women would not send the message that after a certain age you don’t have to care about yourself or your appearance. Rather, it would say, “your value is in much more than your obsession with your appearance.”
Hollywood actresses, unfortunately, have to live by this rule. Their value, more often than not, comes down to their appearance, even before their talent. How innovative would it be to have shows, characters and actresses who can deliver this true message of liberation and validity wholly.
“Grey’s Anatomy” came back last Thursday after the holiday hiatus in an episode that highlighted the joyous, and sometimes not-so-joyous, complexities of 21st century motherhood. Meredith was struggling to find a nanny who would be there to support her career ambitions instead of her husband who could not. God-fearing April was struggling to settle her religious beliefs with her anger and sadness over her unborn baby’s fatal disease. Bailey was struggling to quiet her guilt over not being there for her son’s important moments. And the ER was filled with people who were injured when a mother drove her car off a bridge with her two children in it.
Although the show raised some important issues that working mothers deal with all the time in this age when women are told they can “have it all,” the show ultimately ended on a typical “order is restored” note. The mother who caused the accident was not a “crazy mother;” mothers, according to the show, would never do anything to intentionally harm their kids, or at least, that’s what the mothers among our characters would like to think. No, the poor woman turned out to have a tumor that caused her to “not be herself.”
Yes, mothers are heroic and they balance so much for what is oftentimes a pretty thankless job. But the world would not have collapsed if it turned out that some mothers sometimes can’t take the burden and break and do awful things to themselves and their loved ones. In fact, it may have been an interesting opportunity to explore the mental impact that trying to “have it all” might have on some women with a weaker mental constitution or those who have caved to society’s expectations (that all women’s greatest desire is to be mothers), denying their real needs and wants. But that opportunity was cast aside in favor of one that makes people feel safer, not to say warm and fuzzy.
You’re Already So Short:
A recent episode of the wonderful series “The Fosters” saw Mariana (Cierra Ramirez), who has finally found out she has a talent (thank goodness. I was worried!) for sciences, make herself smaller in order to not threaten her boyfriend. This happened after her science buddy, and the only other female in the class, Emma (Amanda Leighton) warned her that her male-counterpart, twin brother Jesus, left her because she was obviously smarter than him.
I was so pleased to see this important storyline. So many young girls feel they have to minimize their abilities and success, or at least feel insecure about them and underplay them, in order to not threaten men or boys around them. Girls learn at a very young age to be demure, while boys are encouraged to be ambitious and competitive. This is something that I would like to see more actively addressed both on television and in real life. Enough with cutting women down to size!