Do We Still Need Buffy?

Twenty years ago, Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered. A blond assassin of the undead, an older white guy who wasn’t in charge, crushes, bullying, inter-species romance. Buffy had it all. Two decades on, the show is still a go-to reference when you find yourself looking around at the intersection of feminism and pop culture.

Today’s young girls, a full generation behind the vampire slayer’s fans, have grown up in a post-Buffy world. A world in which the Hell Mouth is sealed and all the demons are safely tucked away in their graves.

So twenty years on, do we still need Buffy?

I was an adult when the series premiered back in 1997, well past the age of breakouts and quarterback crushes, yet I loved it from the start. It was clever and bitingly funny. Many of the issues tackled were problems which follow you from the hell of high school hallways right into the abyss of adulthood. Plus, you know, Angel was a good looking guy. And if nothing else, I’m a sucker for a slayer-vampire Romeo and Juliet story arc.

The show blew a Buffy shaped hole in pop culture and through that opening, a slew of female protagonists marched. Xena, Katniss, Tris, Rey, Jin. Today’s girls have grown up never questioning strong female protagonists–slayers of the undead, leaders of rebellions, warrior princesses. Today’s girls are living in a post-Buffy bubble.

But that bubble? It’s in a world which is most decidedly not post-Buffy.

Girls may take strong female leads for granted nowadays. Princesses who insist upon saving themselves. Star Wars heroines who tell the guy to let go of her hand. Teenagers like Buffy and Katniss who are doing the saving, the sacrifice, and still finding time to fall in love on the side. A steady diet of girl power, fed to them by mothers who have often witnessed the double standards women face in the world themselves and are determined to show their daughters something different, and by fathers who are woke enough to realize how much representation matters.

But I worry that some of these young women, many of whom have yet to face workplace discrimination, the unfair burden that parenthood places on one parent, the systematic drip-drip of micro-aggressions that eventually wear a groove in your soul–those young women may think they are living in a world in which all the problems of sexism have already been slayed with a sharpened stake and biting wit. A world in which the Hell Mouth stays sealed and life is sunny in Sunny Dale once again.

But just because there was a Buffy doesn’t mean all the monsters are gone. All those nasties? They are still sulking around just under the surface. The vampires? It’s things like harassment, all the indignities which can suck the life out of many working women, everything from being overlooked for promotions, to being groped at the water cooler, to being talked over and interrupted. The demons? There’s the motherhood penalty, in which even women who aren’t mothers often make less money than their male peers, regardless of the male’s parenthood status. The Gentlemen? Well, several of them occupy the current White House administration. The ghouls and devils and masters? Double standards, double binds, the lock-step of a patriarchal system.

A sharp stick is only going to go so far. A biting wit is great for Facebook, but it’s not going to do much to slay years of ingrained attitude. We still need Buffy, or the idea of her anyway. We still need someone to show us how to slay the monsters with a roundhouse kick and a chair leg, how to be vulnerable but not allow that vulnerability to get in the way of taking action when action is needed. What we really need is a whole generation of Buffys. Forget the ‘into every generation a slayer is born’ stuff. Right now, the Hell Mouth is yawning and the Capitol from the Hunger Games is staring up at us.

I don’t know what’s coming, but I can tell you that in my many years, I’ve never seen so much focus on women, women’s lives, and women’s issues as I have in the last year. I’ve never seen the coordinated resistance, the anger and organization, the push back–from women–that I’m seeing now. And if something big is in the air, a seismic cultural shift, we’re going to need all the Buffys we can get.

The show may have ended thirteen years ago, but the need for a slayer never really goes away. Not really.

So, do we still need Buffy?

Hell Mouth yeah.

 

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Fade to Pink

older-womenOver the summer, I watched my mother get ready to go out with friends. She stood in front of me, smoothing her top, and asked if she looked all right.

She looked fine.

(By fine I mean eh.)

“Come on,” I said. I pulled out a hot-pink blouse hanging in her closet. We dug out some chunky, turquoise jewelry, pulled out a pair of strappy sandals and voila. My mother recently let her hair grow out to a beautiful silvery white and it looked gorgeous against the pink.

“It’s not too…much?” she asked.

“Fuck it, Ma,” (how I love being an adult with my mother—which inevitably involves many four letter words–and booze), “you’re seventy-one. Now’s not the time to fade into the background.”

I wasn’t saying it to appease her, I really meant it. She smiled and then, in an act reminiscent of my kids, spilled something down the front of her blouse. Luckily we found a sunshine yellow one to take its place.

Women are expected, after a certain age, to gently fade into the background without muss or fuss. It’s generally assumed that somewhere between child bearing age and death we should gracefully make room for the next generation of young women who are, presumably, pea-cocking and preening in order to attract a mate.

whenn-im-an-old-woman

Screw that.

I shall not fade gently into that good wall. No thanks.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no desire, intention, or even capability of attracting attention of the sexual kind. Far from it. In fact, on a night out with a group of women recently, I realized with relief that I have reached an age where I could legitimately be the mother of some of those young men. And not like a teen mom either. Far from filling me with dread, I felt a tremendous sense of freedom, because even though I’ve never defined myself by my sexual attractiveness quotient, let’s face it–I live in the real world and I’m not a cyborg. But just because I’m not interested in attracting sexual attention doesn’t mean I am going to suddenly embrace beige and fade into wall-flower status.

(A note to the young women on the dance floor suspiciously eyeing a group of slightly drunk mothers happily grinding to Justin Timberlake: Rest assured, we’re not competing for the attention of your male peers. Most of us have kids up our asses all day long, the last thing we want is someone else hanging around near there. The idea that a group of mothers on a night out are after anything more than a few glasses of wine and not having to put their kids to bed is….well, hilarious, really.)

The older I get, the louder I get, in volume, opinion, and color. Over the past five or seven years, a swath of hot pink has insinuated itself into my wardrobe and lifestyle. My cell phone was pink. My Danish bike is bright, hot pink. Hell, I even dyed chunks of my hair hot pink last year.

Think about that for a moment. Instead of letting my hair fade to gray, I dyed it hot pink.

Hot pink is not ultra feminine or soft. It’s kind of in your face. I’m old enough to realize I am not ultra feminine though I gleefully embrace certain aspects of femininity. I’m not particularly soft either (unless it’s orphans, then marshmallow soft). I guess I am kind of in your face though.

If the maiden phase of a female is all about sexual attraction and the mother is about softness, then the path to crone is definitely paved with, Oh, hell no.

I’m not advocating if you’re over forty you should go out and drown yourself in hot pink. I’m not opining that you should march into your hairdresser and demand blue streaks in your hair. I’m saying don’t hide yourself away. Don’t assume you have reached a point in life where all you can do is fade away until you blend into the concrete.

I don’t know about you but I have a LOT left to say.

So buy the sequins if you love them. Buy the sparkle. Buy the stilettos or the mini-skirt if you want. Buy the bikini and the screaming orange scarf. Swathe yourself in color. Dye your hair fuchsia. Or don’t. Do what makes you feel good, not what some market researcher tells you you should be doing. Don’t be afraid to call attention to yourself. You still have a lot left to give and do and say.

Don’t buy into the fact that after a certain age we have nothing left to offer just because our breasts are headed south and our asses are starting to sag. Don’t fade into the background. Sing, dance to Justin Timberlake, wear bright colors. Live.

advanced-style-ladiesWhen my mother came home from her lunch I asked if anyone commented on her outfit.

“Oh, you wouldn’t believe how many compliments I got!” she beamed.

At seventy-one, my mother’s got plenty of brightness left.

At forty-six, I’m just starting to realize how much I have.

Screw fading to gray. I’m fading to pink.

 

Little Ditty about Jack and Diane

tastee freezI hope Jack and Diane rang in the New Year by sucking on chili dogs out behind the Tastee Freez.

I, on the other hand, celebrated by belting out the solid gold hits of my youth with friends.

I should add that I can’t sing. Let me clarify: I can’t sing well. But I”m loud. And enthusiastic. And apparently the am I making a fool out of myself? switch is now permanently set to the I don’t give a fuck settingEven if it means enduring the eye-rolling of a couple of mortified teenagers who were witness to the whole thing; especially then.

Oh, all you Jackies. All you Dianes. I keep trying to tell you how boring grown-up life can be sometimes, but you refuse to listen. You just keep draping yourselves in a cloak of teenage stubbornness already thread worn from being passed down from generation to generation.

Right now you’re still the Dianes from the song; debutantes in backseats, sitting there on Jackie’s lap, his hand between your knees. The thrill of living’s still right there, palpable in the thrum of a heartbeat or the whisper of a breath along your neck.

The thrill of living. I’m not that old. I remember the way those thrills trilled up my spine and exploded like tiny supernovas in my chest.

We used to sit on a crumbling concrete curb by the small, grassy circle at the end of the Dianeneighborhood and listen to Jack and Diane. A gaggle of neighborhood kids and a boom-box, a scratchy cassette tape spitting out tinny top-forty fare. I was never really a Diane, not the Diane of the song certainly, it took me until my late twenties to find my Jackie.

I also didn’t have the guts to sing out loud back then. Or play air-guitar. Or dance on a chair. Yet I seem to be doing more and more of that lately. Strange days indeed.

Quite simply put, I don’t give a rat’s ass anymore. Just like all those inspirational quotes that clog up my social media feed advise me to, I sing like no one is listening. I dance like no one’s watching. And I seem to be singing and dancing far more than I ever thought I would at this stage of the game. This is the glorious gift my 40s have bestowed upon me.

This was going to be a quirky little miss sunshine piece about my hope for those embarrassed Dianes, that I wished someday they found a group of friends to sing Sweet Caroline with; friends that recognize the art of enjoying themselves elevates itself above being or seeming cool. But as these pieces often do, it morphed into something else: the stunningly simple realization that life doesn’t stop as you get older.

The thrill of living? It’s not gone. A lot of times it’s hidden under mountains of paperwork and never-ending lists of chores. But it’s not gone.

Hold on to sixteen as long as you can. Do I wish I could have held on to the ass I had when I was sixteen? What do you think? Sometimes I think about the heart plummet of a first kiss, the backseats of all those cars. Sure, hold on to sixteen as long as you can–sixteen was good.

But 45 is pretty damn good too.

At sixteen you can’t think beyond the thump of your heart in your ears. You can’t see beyond the next moment, the next kiss, the next breath. But at 45 you can. You can see far enough to understand they’re not limitless. They’re not endless. You start to feel them again. Maybe not as intensely as the first ones, but with the intensity of never knowing when they’re going to be your last.

A little ditty about Jack and Diane. Jackie’s never gonna be a football star. And Diane probably got knocked up in the backseat of Jackie’s car. He’s probably selling life insurance now, spent too much time down by the Tastee Freez and is now pre-diabetic. Maybe Diane never lost all the baby weight. Maybe they went their separate ways when those changes came around real soon made them women and men…

Life goes on, but the thrill of living? The thrill of living is far from gone. I’d say it’s just getting started again.

So hold on to 16, sure. But hold on to 45 too. And 60. Wherever you are.

jack and diane 2All you sweet Dianes out there cringing while your parents and their friends bang their heads to Bohemian Rhapsody or shake their hips to Grease Lightning—it may look goofy to you, it may be embarrassing, because right now you probably can’t imagine anything more mortifying than exposing any of your own inadequacies, real or imagined, to the world. But the thrill of living? The real thrill of living is getting past all of that and learning to enjoy life. To flip your switch permanently to I don’t give a fuck setting.

Jack and Diane must have figured that out by now, just like I have. They’d be near fifty now. Surely they’ve learned that when life hands you a new year and a group of friends to sing with, let it rock. Let it roll. Hell, you can even let the Bible Belt save your soul if you must. I don’t have time to judge, I’m too busy playing air guitar.

 

 

 

 

That 70s Show

bikesForget running to the convenience store with a note to buy your mother’s Pall Malls. Forget rolling around in the way, way back or playing kick the can in the middle of the road until the porch lights flickered on. Forget swimming unsupervised and sweating in the car while your mother ran into the bank. Forget never needing to account for the ten hours a day you spent without supervision, cell phones or other means of communication, whole days when no one knew exactly where you were. Forget all those things. The one thing that truly stands out to me about being raised in the 1970s is this:

The hesitation to praise, promote or otherwise indulge my own abilities.

Kids today, including my own, steam through life towing their very own cheering squad behind them. From the moment they are born (Great job making your way through the birth canal, Jack!!) to their experiences in school (Everyone’s a Winner!) straight on through to adulthood, they are constantly and consistently praised for achievements, both real and exaggerated. They get a medal for showing up; they get a medal for being born.

I did not grow up that way, nor did most of my fellow Gen Xers. No, I did not have to walk to school uphill in my off the shoulder Flashdance sweatshirt or through the snow without my Capezio shoes, but it was generally expected that I not just show up, but that I do the work, and that I do it well. If those conditions were met, then praise was parsed out. I won’t say sparingly, but certainly not as lavishly as it is today.

dunce

To give you an example (and forgive me, Mom, you know I love you): in my junior year of high school I belonged to an organization called DECA. As part of this program, I competed in various disciplines at progressive levels. When I was 16, I won a spot at the regional level. I won a spot at the state level. I competed on a national platform, and I placed 4th. In the nation. My mother’s response was this: “just think, if you’d worked just a little harder, you could have placed 3rd!”.

She was thrilled for me, of course. She was proud of me, I know. I don’t hold anything against her or hold any grudge (plus, it makes for a great story). My point is, that kind of thinking, the attitude of you show up and do the work, that was part and parcel of growing up in the 70s. You were expected to do, to do well, to do your best, to work hard. Some times you were acknowledged or praised. Sometimes not.

Us 70s kids were born and raised before multi-hyphenates became a thing. I am both floored and flummoxed by the ease at which younger generations are able to attach words and titles to themselves, the ease at which they are able to confidently call themselves “X”. Truth be told, I am a bit envious of it as well.

What this means is that the notion of deserving something is a difficult one for me to ingest, even as an adult. While I am inwardly thrilled when something good happens, the notion that I ‘deserved’ it makes me uncomfortable. It is just how we were brought up way back in those Happy Days. You didn’t flaunt, you didn’t brag, you didn’t exaggerate or pretend. The problem with this deep-seated tendency to down play is that when I am acknowledged for something, even something that I have worked for, I have a difficult time finding the right balance between justifiable pride and arrogance; it is a fine line to walk.

For all my leftie, pink-0, liberalist leanings, I hold a very old-fashioned view of myself. I blush at the very notion of calling myself a writer. When I joked recently about it being a big deal to change my work status to include the word ‘writer’ on my Facebook page, I wasn’t kidding. Recently I had to write a short bio and it took me a painfully long time to decide whether to use the sentence Dina is a writer.

8fec81204944199ea73f9dccf14cfb94In the way, way back of my 1970s mind, there are certain criteria I must meet to call myself a writer, criteria which I haven’t yet met. Honestly, and you can go ahead and laugh here, there is still a small Cinderella part of me that thinks that a Fairy Publishing Godmother is going to happen across something I’ve written and whisk me away to the land of book deals and movie rights.

The problem is that my self-imposed criteria will never be met without a hefty dose of self promotion. I don’t mind the work. I am used to the work part of it. But I bluster and bluff when it comes to getting my successes out there. I worry incessantly that I appear to be merely fishing for compliments. Social media makes it easier, but I still sweat over whether or not something sounds too boastful, too full of braggadocio, too full of myself. If I told you how long it takes me to hit ‘post’ on a tweet or a status update which is acknowledging something I’ve done, you would laugh.

So, how does a product of the 1970s update her thinking?  You would think that between the writing and updating a status or a tweet, that the latter would be the easy part, right?

If it is, you were probably born a lot later than me.

 

How do you walk the line between pride and hubris? How do you comfortably promote yourself and your work?