It’s not every day I wake up feeling ready to take on Judith Warner. She writes a blog called Domestic Disturbances for the NY Times, for God sake. She’s in my blog roll. She’s a serious writer, a good writer. Not a frivolous, fake writer like me. Not a writer who shrieks about beautiful British baby boy bands, makes up words and overuses ellipses . . . What if she googles her name and finds this post? I’m scared. Girls like her were the reason I never participated in Model United Nations in high school: dour, pearl laden, hyper brainy sourpusses, with convictions. I had no convictions. I had other fine attributes, like pep, for instance. Perseverance. But convictions? Not so much. The thing about people with convictions that frightens me is that the convictions often seem to muscle out the humor. And without the humor, well, I’m afraid everything is very serious and sure, and when everything is very serious and sure, then you scare me.
Last week Ms. Warner wrote a post which was a full on attack of Courtney Cox’s new show, Cougartown, which premiered on ABC last Wednesday. Given my recent ruminations on the cougar thing, I was curious about how the topic would be treated by network TV and, sort of assuming I’d hate it, I DVRed the show. Truth be told, I’ve got nothing but love for Courtney Cox, notwithstanding the fact that she married a bit of a buffoon – incidentally seven years her junior, I’m told . . . by Ms. Warner. On Thursday night when Doctor Dash was on call, I put the kids to bed and settled in to watch the show with a glass of wine in my hand and a blanket over my legs. Delicious. On Friday morning I read Ms. Warner’s post over a cup of coffee and while beautifully written, per usual, her angry barrage of words put me in the position of feeling like I had to defend myself and worse yet, defend Cougartown!
Starting with the latter, the show is not, as Judith posits, “intended to say anything real about the state of American middle-age womanhood.” (Parenthetically, why jump to the term “middle age” so easily, Judith? Fight back! Fight sister! It’s a new day!) It’s just a show and although it had moments that made me howl with laughter, not even a very good one. It’s network TV for one thing. Fluff. The writing is mediocre – stick it on Showtime or HBO and it could be genius. Why expect anything of substance? Why read anything into it? It is simple entertainment. Don’t give it more credit than is due. I think she was so busy huffing in outrage that she actually missed the message that actually was there: that in our youth obsessed society, a woman who finds herself on her own in her forties might actually and rightfully feel vulnerable, constrained by social mores, unable to do what she really wants to do.
The show, and the cougar phenomenon in general, is not so much about “a woman who uses her younger mate to puff up her vanity and enhance her sense of power and control”, but about commerce and demographics. Women aren’t willing to be set out to pasture at the age of 40. They’re staying in the game, whether they’re single or married or in between, and as such want to be represented in the media, catered to commercially, and all around embraced by society for the fine fine women they are, in all aspects. Cox looks terrific and classy in the show. She’s acutely aware of the fact that she doesn’t want to turn into one of the women she makes fun of – the caricature of a cougar. She is lovely and goofy. I guess the only thing I have to say to Judith Warner (and I sure hope I’m not actually saying this to Judith Warner), is: lighten up, girl. Have a little fun.
It’s the following passage that got me feeling all sheepish and queasy about my recent blog post, however: “Most women in their 40s, however conflicted, however sometimes confused, aren’t actually spiraling into self-doubting despair, but are actually working their way toward some greater degree of self-acceptance. Many experience — along with the shift in body mass that pulls things down and pushes them sideways — a kind of psychic shift that frees up some of the energy that once went into external appearances. Many come into their own, creatively, professionally. And in motherhood, in friendships, in romantic relationships.” I must have skipped my psychic shift because I just don’t think it’s completely necessary to let everything get pulled down and sideways just so I can worry about more important matters. It seems as if she’s saying that caring about how you look is mutually exclusive with greater, more worthy, intellectual pursuits. I don’t know, Judith. If you had spent your college years wrapped in ten pounds of beer fat and flannel, looking like Eddie Vedder in drag, maybe you wouldn’t judge a girl for feeling better about how she looks now than she did then. Maybe Courtney Cox looking as good as she does, doesn’t mean she is “spiraling into self-doubting despair”, grasping at her fading youth, clinging to an impossible girlish ghost. Maybe she’s healthy. Maybe she exercises. Maybe she’s a great cook and eats her veggies. Maybe she really likes clothes and baubles and beautiful things. Maybe she has a modicum of pride. Maybe she does it for herself, not for any man. Maybe, just maybe, she can have her cake, and eat it too.