The Fem Spot

Postpartum sexy

Posted in Humor, Marriage, Personal Essays, Sexuality by femspotter on October 17, 2010

October 17, 2010

(This post is about sex.)

A girlfriend of mine and I were moseying through town the other day, with our beautiful new babies in tow, when she confessed to me that she doesn’t want to become part of one of those married couples who never has sex. She and I both agreed that we love having sex with our respective husbands.

Incidentally, the idea that women don’t care about, or even like, sex was invented by the patriarchy to aid and abet a rape culture wherein men think they don’t have to perform well or worry about a woman’s feelings during sex because they’re convinced that women don’t like sex anyway, and men believe they can just take what they want from women because they deny that women care if they do. Stereotypical frat boys think this way…not all frat boys…indeed, not all boys. Heterosexual intercourse – or PIV, as the radical feminist Dworkinites refer to it, which makes it sound like a disease – is a very popular subject amongst the hetero females I know.

Gentlemen, many of us like sex and most of us could talk about it all day long (hence the high turnout at Friday’s mothering group meeting for which the theme was “relationships” – yeah, the main topic of that conversation was sex too).

My girlfriend and I discussed the fact that we both had attempted to have sex with our wonderful husbands since the birth of our children, 10 and seven weeks ago; but that our attempts had been painful and unsuccessful. (The sensation – if I may – is like tearing off a Band-Aid®…slowly…on the inside of your vagina. Why? Breastfeeding can lead to vaginal dryness. In short: without the proper lubricant, sex can hurt like hell!)

Why did we perceive that there are couples who “never” have sex? …because cynics like Bill Maher and others claim that marriage and children ruin sexuality in a relationship. …because it’s a punchline and a cliché that married people are unhappy under the sheets. …and because, when you’ve just had a baby and tried to resume your sex life – which was really good during pregnancy!!! – but your attempt fell flat, you worry that you’re in for a long dry spell. It’s the human condition to assume the worst, right?

Let me tell you how it all went down for us. My husband and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary on October 8th with dinner and a hotel room. He, being a romantic, went all out on the hotel room; this wasn’t a cheap motel, even though that’s what we were using it as. Years from now, I will tell this story as if we intended a romantic evening, but right now is the time for absolute truth…so – fuck it! – I confess that we both were looking to get our rocks off, sexually speaking. We hadn’t had sex since our daughter arrived nine weeks before. We felt emotionally ready to reconnect physically. I had been helping myself for a couple of weeks, thus I knew I possessed the urge. We knew that all we needed was the right time and place to get it on successfully. Or so we thought…

Our daughter was thriving so we asked my mother to watch her overnight. I booked our dogs into a boarding facility near the hotel. I wore real shoes instead of flip-flops – ahhhh…the sacrifices we make for l’amour. Everything was in place. I kissed Ellie “good-bye,” dropped off the dogs, and strolled breezily into the restaurant, tossing my hair as I went. My entrance was like a Pantene commercial. (Not really.)

Despite what awaited us following dinner, I savored a beet salad and halibut filet in a roasted tomato reduction, along with a great glass of Chianti. I checked in with my mother before dessert: a festive pumpkin cheesecake. (Truth be told, the highlight of the meal was the beet salad.) Our daughter had not, according my worst irrational fear, evaporated. She was merrily cooing, drooling and had taken a conference with the blue elephant who dangles from her bouncy seat. (On second thought, the dessert probably rocked…but I really missed Ellie by then, and so my memory has decided it was a bland cheesecake. Is it possible to love your child too much?)

We made our way up to the hotel suite so that I could change into flip-flops for a walk by the neighboring riverside (Hey, I wore pointy shoes with heels for almost two hours!) My husband decided he couldn’t wait for sex and so we began foreplay. I excused myself to put on some sexy lingerie, which I’d brought for fun. I looked pretty good, I thought. I’d managed to tuck the hanging folds of skin on my belly into some lacy knickers – pause for applause. (My appearance has not strayed too far from pre-pregnancy, I’ll have you know. While I’m still about 30 lbs. – or two clothing sizes – over what I’d like to be, I am only about 10 lbs. over my pre-pregnancy weight. And I haven’t yet cut my hair short indiscriminately or donned the so-called “Mom jeans,” despite my empty-baby-bag-of-a-gut.) The lingerie nicely displayed my full, round breasts. I felt really good about myself: not just my appearance, but my efforts to keep the sex alive and well in my marriage. (Fuck you, Bill Maher!)

My husband seemed pleased by my efforts too and told me so (he’s good about compliments). I pushed him back on the bed and straddled him. “Just don’t touch my breasts,” I warned. (The thing about breastfeeding, wonderful though I find it, is that it sort of hijacks your breasts. When they fill with milk and become engorged, they look like you’ve had implants and are large yet perky; but they hurt a lot. They’re hard and sore.) The fact that my husband couldn’t touch my breasts was tough for both of us: they’ve always been a great preoccupation for him during foreplay. And I enjoy that too…which is probably why, when I began to get aroused, I noticed that the right breast was particularly large yet perky.

“Shit! I’m engorged!” I shrieked. I got off the bed, grabbed my breast pump and ran into the bathroom for the second time since we’d entered the suite. Sexy, huh?! (Just nod and smile.)

“I’ll just be one moment,” I assured my hubby through the door. I opened the pump case, got out the motor, the rubber hose, the bottle and the nipple cover. I assembled said parts.

“Shit!”

There came a hesitant request for clarification from somewhere beyond the door.

“I forgot the rubber parts that connect to the hard plastic parts.” (At this point, there were hard parts all over the place, if you know what I mean. But the hard right breast had to be soothed as soon as possible.) I tried to hand express some milk from the nipple, but the milk just dripped slowly into the sink. That was not going to work. I exited the bathroom cupping my leaky boob.

“I’m sorry, Babe, but I really need those parts.” (Wait for it…) “Can you go home and get them?”

Can you believe it?! Can you believe I asked my horny husband to put his clothes on, descend to the parking garage, drive home to his mother-in-law, collect rubber breast pump parts, drive back to the expensive hotel suite and wait outside its bathroom door while his severely engorged wife – who was trying to be sexy, by the way – pumped milk from her no-longer-very-sexy breasts?

Well, I did. It had to be done.

And he went. I wrote down the pieces I needed. “They’re in the microwave sterilizer steamer (which is a big plastic dome resembling a cake carrier) by the sink in the kitchen.”

He nodded and told me, sweetheart that he is, that it wasn’t a big deal at all. I settled into the round window seat and looked out over the river. I studied the New York City skyline and almost forgot about my failure to achieve postpartum sexy and my sore and leaky right breast. I thought about how lucky I am to have such a wonderful best friend and husband. I thought about how blessed I am to have such a happy, healthy daughter. I thought about homelessness and hunger and rape and hatred…and how none of those things affect me right now. I thought about how much love I had accumulated; not just the love that I get from others, but the love that I give. I thought about beets and halibut and cheesecake and red wine and how delicious they all are. I thought about sex…and how I’d one day like to have it again…and…where the hell is he?!

About an hour after he’d departed, the suite door swung open and my husband sauntered through it bearing a cake carrier. “Howdy, Ma’am,” he said, tipping his hat. It was just like a scene from an old spaghetti western. (Not really.)

Just when I was about to ask him where he’d gotten a cake at close to midnight, I realized that my husband hadn’t just brought the three rubber pieces that I’d written about in detail on the back of an old receipt that had been hanging out at the bottom the abyss that is my handbag; he’d brought the entire steamer…and there was still water in it! Oh, J***…you carried that steamer all the way through the lobby of this fancy hotel, didn’t you? I thought with a laugh. You silly man. The thought of him being so desperate for sex that he didn’t fuck around with the parts of the breast pump freaked me out a little, though. I had failed him. I grabbed the steamer and went into the bathroom for the third and final time before sex.

I proceeded to pump something like 7 ounces from my right breast (the usual is 2 or 3 – I guess the alcohol helped things along)! I was so excited about the volume of milk that my body had made that I forgot I was trying to get postpartum sexy back. I ran out of the bathroom with the bottle in my hand and showed it to my husband. I mean, I wanted him to know that this was a serious situation he had helped me avoid. My right boob could have exploded or something! “See,” I said, dangling the bottle before his eyes. His face displayed quite possibly the most frustrated/defeated/exhausted/horrified/compassionate look I’d ever seen on a human being before. He waved me off. (That display probably wasn’t sexy of me either, was it?)

Well, as I mentioned earlier, the first time feels something like a slow Band-Aid rip. It was not good for me; but it did provide my husband with some relief. Needless to say, I was disappointed and scared. But after speaking with some other mothers about postpartum sex, I learned that it hurts like that for most women the first couple of times.

The thing about postpartum sexy is that it’s different from the kind of sexy we knew before. When you’re newly married without children and your husband brings you flowers or strokes your hair or rubs your feet after a long day…that’s sexy. I used to want to make love to my husband because of his goodness. But after pregnancy and childbirth, I have found that I love him the most when I observe his tender yet strong paternalism, and that can be harder to spot. At first, he didn’t seem to relate to Ellie the way I did. No surprise there as I had known her for almost a year before she emerged. He’s had significantly less time to bond with her than I. And speaking of bonding: some days, it feels as though all Ellie and I do is bond because I hold her for hours. By the time my husband gets home from work, I have reached my fill of human contact. What I really want is not sex but space…and chocolate.

I have tried to get to postpartum sexy for both of us. I’ve been looking for his new sexiness: his loving attention paid to our daughter. I have figured out ways to get the physical autonomy that I need so that I can spend time physically bonding with him too. I swim laps. I practice yoga. I shower. (New moms everywhere probably know how special showertime is!) I’ve even been known to put on scented lotion, and make-up…and high-heeled shoes.

But sexy really is a two-way street, isn’t it? My husband didn’t wear lingerie on hotel night. And he has taken to farting loudly and blaming the nearest small creature lately: “Oh, that was the dog/cat/baby,” he jokes. The first time he did this, it was funny, because they do fart often and without apology. But it has since gotten really tedious and gross. Before the baby, he used to quietly leave the room before passing gas. Why can’t he try to be postpartum sexy too?

He’ll get there. He loves Ellie more and more every day. And we know we have to talk to each other about what we want and need to move things forward. I asked him what I do that he finds sexy. He thought about it. “I think it’s really cute how you get embarrassed when you toot,” he confessed and grinned.

Well, at least somebody does.

My wonderful/lazy/thoughtful/crazy husband

Posted in Humor, Marriage, Personal Essays, queer theory by femspotter on September 5, 2010

September 5, 2010

I am faced with the self-inflicted task of reviewing a new “gender” relationship guide for a sister site. Oy! Haven’t we seen this kind of thing many, many times before? Uh huh! (Read: Valspeak.)

The problem – aside from the misuse of the word “gender” in place of “sex” – is that, much like Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, that classic from the vault of self-improvement literature, this new guide makes use of rigid stereotypes. Hey, stereotypes come from somewhere! Far be it from me to contradict that notion. But as I began reading some of the scenarios in the text – “Couple 1: After the Party,” for instance, when a hetero couple has an argument about how the woman is upset about something and has been “pouty” without explaining the reason behind her mood, I realized that my husband and I are guilty of that exact conversation…in reverse.

How is that possible? I mean, the author of the text has a post graduate degree and decades of professional couples’ counseling experience under her belt. There must be something wrong with my gender. It doesn’t correspond to my sex. I am not behaving like other women, it appears; nor is my husband behaving like other men. We are therefore not feminine and masculine respectively, but have switched roles. (For clarification, the book is about relations between the sexes and not the genders because the author is claiming that men and women act with certain reliable patterns rather than claiming that feminine/masculine people do. Ergo, she is basing her advice on the assumption of gender on both sexes: women are feminine [passive-aggressive, nagging, oversensitive] and men are masculine [insensitive, daft, acquiescing] by default and consistently. She’s really talking about how one personality type relates to another, but claims to be talking about how one sex relates to the other.)

What is wrong with me? What is wrong with my husband? I’m the one who’s always asking him to explain his moods. I’m the one who usually says “whatever you want” when it comes to picking restaurants and movies. He’s the one who pouts and doesn’t explain himself. And, while I would describe myself as “oversensitive” – one who has feelers out in preemptive self-defense to pick up on signals that often aren’t even there to be read, he’s the one who often fails to alert me to the little insensitive things I’ve said along the marriage path: like when I tell him that his pants are too big and sloppy looking, or when I correct his attempts at yoga on the Wii Fit. He bottles them up and then gets cranky many days later. And I, like a puppy who just wet her bed, tilt my head to one side and genuinely think I understand what he’s upset about when really I’ve been listening to another language: the language spoken by a person who is frustrated with me for things I said many months ago.

Of course, I hold onto to some things too: I’ve never been able to let it slide completely that he has a longtime friend who invited my husband to his wedding but did not include me. (The couple was trying to save money, so they asked friends to come alone. But when it came time for dancing, there were tables of singles sitting around who didn’t feel comfortable dancing with people who weren’t their significant others.) So my husband flew across the country to a wedding without me. Tacky? Uh huh! Anyway…

The difference between my resentment and his is that mine rears its ugly head right away and relentlessly for several hours/days/weeks/months/years until it’s out of my system. But my husband will go the same period of time without telling me what’s bothering him and then explode one day with a laundry list of small insults, which usually culminate in one precise character flaw belonging to me: my expectations are too high.

What expectations are those?

  • I’d like it if he’d organize his shoes. He has a half-dozen pairs. They can usually be found strewn all across the vestibule waiting to trip somebody.
  • I have asked him repeatedly to use the word “well” as an adverb instead of the word “good.” (I mean, he is a literate person with a great career…he might run into somebody who’s a grammar nerd like me and offend them too.)
  • He leaves drawers and cabinets open or ajar. This is a daily occurrence.
  • His socks never match each other and many of his undershirts are ripped and stained, which he doesn’t notice or doesn’t mind.
  • He says one thing but means another. He says: “I’ll do it first thing tomorrow.” Translation: “You’ll do it in three weeks when you get tired of reminding me.” He says: “I’ll be down in 10 minutes.” Translation: “I’ll be down in 45 to 50 minutes, or whenever I can tear myself away from work.” He says: “I’ll make dinner tonight.” Translation: “Would you like ketchup on your fish sticks?” or ” Do mashed potatoes count as a vegetable?” or “What toppings do you want on the pizza I’m ordering?”

I would never make the assumption that all men, married or single, leave their shoes around; or don’t talk good; or fail to close things; or don’t take care of their clothes; or don’t say what they mean. Not every kitchen has a row of condiments against the back-splash that are easy to reach yet out of the way. So not every husband fails to put the PAM back when he’s done spraying a pan. Most of the time, that scenario plays out like this: I sigh and put the can back inline. Once, I mentioned it to him – I expect you to put things back where they belong, I said; and he told me he doesn’t even see the can left out. It’s not in his realm of consciousness.

Certainly, not every wife is a neat freak and every husband a slob. I know a couple that are engineered in the exact opposite way: she’s the terribly messy one. And opposites don’t always attract: there could be a pair of perfectly marvelous and affectionate slobs married and living just next door (probably the same people who have a very powerful sub-woofer, God love ’em!). Even though biology does dictate certain traits for each sex – male testosterone makes for physical strength in many cases and female estrogen can make for moodiness, being one or the other sex does not imply adherence to the socially accepted gender binary.  Not every man is a well-intentioned simpleton and not every woman a lunatic shrew.

The title of this essay is “My wonderful/lazy/thoughtful/crazy husband.” Let me explain that despite his shortcomings, my husband is primarily wonderful. He doesn’t beat or rape me, which should be a given, but is not – so I mention it, even though it doesn’t earn him extra points. He often tells me how wonderful/loving/beautiful/smart/strong I am. He sometimes brings me flowers, which he thinks to pick up on his way home from a grueling day at the office. He remembers to say “I love you” every day, even if I’ve already removed my makeup. And, when at the supermarket, he always returns the grocery carriage to its nearest stall so that it doesn’t block traffic in the parking lot. In short: he is a lovely person!

At the end of the day, shouldn’t every relationship guide be about helping two different people get along rather than reducing people to the expectations of their respective sexes? Shouldn’t the book tell of scenarios between “Person One” and “Person Two” rather than “Man” and “Woman?” Because aren’t we all special…if not in the grand scheme of things, at least to the person(s) who love(s) us?

Uh huh!

Whatever happened to “asshole?”

Posted in Film and Television, Humor, Pop Culture, queer theory by femspotter on February 27, 2010

February 27, 2010

I love “The Daily Show!” (I love it apart from its inability to be embedded in my blog.) Thanks to Faemom, I was on the lookout for the following clip on February 3, 2010. Click below:

“Male Inequality”

Every time I view this clip, I laugh out loud. If you watched it and you didn’t laugh, you might need professional psychiatric intervention. Seriously. Don’t operate any heavy machinery. You should probably stay away from sharp objects too.

To recap: “Men today are probably where women were in the late 50’s; we’re about a half century behind women in terms of being understood, in terms of having options,” declares author and sociologist Warren Farrell. Right. “He’s right,” Samantha Bee says. Oh? “Men run just 4…hundred and 85 of our Fortune 500 companies and only three branches of government.” I see, Samantha. Poor men. What am I thinking being a feminist?

According to Farrell, men have been shut out of pharmaceutical sales positions because they aren’t sexually attractive to the mostly heterosexual male population of doctors that form the pharmaceutical consumer base. By his logic, pharmaceutical sales is a more desirable job prospect than medicine and women dominate the former because they are physically attractive to the latter. So doctors are misunderstood and have few options while women must rely on their attractiveness to men to get ahead? And that’s progress for women because…we now can get ahead in our careers by being sex objects? Similarly, men are disadvantaged from an early age as football players because cheerleaders – long the rulers of the high school sports universe – don’t respect and compliment fallen football heroes. Yeah…those dominant cheerleaders and sexy pharmaceutical saleswomen are really a problem for men!

Enter the Better Men Organization: nothing wrong with this organization in principle – in fact, I think it’s a very good idea, but their complaint in this segment is that men today really aren’t getting what they need, which is social acceptance to gather. Right. It’s not socially acceptable for men to gather at bars, strip clubs or sports arenas. And men are never known to gather acceptably in the woods where they would certainly be restricted from complaining about their wives.

Let’s face it: the fact that any men in America are complaining about their overall subordination to powerful women is laughable. Sure, some men are oppressed in violent relationships or at jobs overseen by power-tripping female supervisors. And many men suffer in unhappiness or die violent, painful deaths. But after thousands of years of world domination, men as a collective have NOTHING to complain about. Even if women as a class were to take over ruling the world, it would simply be a taste of men’s own medicine spooned back to them.

Bravo, Samantha Bee! In light of the fact that so few women are working as writers and performers on late night comedy shows – and even if that weren’t the case, you are a beacon of humor and wisdom for feminists. While I don’t agree that sensitivity and soft-spoken qualities in men should be labeled with a designation that’s “puss-related” – simply because the reverse can also be inflicted on women with a condemnation when we aren’t sensitive and soft-spoken, I champion your ability to poke fun at these shortsighted, complaining men.

Well, except for that last statement you made: “Attention middle-aged vagina men: sack the fuck up! Seriously. You’re turning me into a lesbian.” While there’s nothing anti-feminist about Bee’s preference for traditionally masculine men, there is something irksome in her use of the term “vagina men.” Why? Because it is negatively wielded and implies that only those with vaginas (i.e. women) can be socially acceptable as sensitive and emotionally expressive; thus compounding one lament of the Better Men Organization. And furthermore, because this use of the word vagina, something uniquely female, is derogatory, it is thus derogatory to women even though not intended to insult anybody but the men in the talking stick circle.

Now, as I said before, I love “The Daily Show” and I really appreciate Samantha Bee’s refreshing perspective. But this use of female-identified words as derogatory designations for men has got to stop. Terms like “vagina men,” “douche,” “douchebag,” and “pussy,” or “pusswad” as Bee uses in the segment, are all related to female anatomy and imply, whether intentionally or unintentionally, that female anatomy is inferior to male anatomy and thus that females are inferior to males. Why don’t we keep sex-defining anatomy out of it? Instead of “douchebag,” why not use insults like “loser,” “idiot” or “jerk?” Instead of calling the Better Men Organization “vagina men,” couldn’t Bee have called them “weaklings,” “freaks” or “wimps?” That is what she meant, is it not?

We’ve grown accustom to using these genitalia-related words and have forgotten that they discriminate. Even calling somebody a “dick” implies aggression typically associated with men. Can you or would you call a woman a “dick?” Usually, the term for an aggressive female is “bitch,” which is also derogatory because it historically refers to female dogs. This verbiage keeps us entrenched in our gender binary: women are passive and subordinate, and men are active and dominant forces in the world. At least “asshole” refers to something everybody has. Ergo, use it freely.

Urban Dictionary provides modern connotations for many of these slang terms we use – submitted by the users of them, many of them rooted in misogyny:

  • Vagina: female opening to the uterus and an insult as in “Man’gina,” which is an outwardly masculine, heterosexual male who fusses or whines about typically female things like hair care products or cramps
  • Douche: product used to sanitize an unpleasant, dirty vagina and a word to describe an individual who has shown (himself) to be very brainless in one way or another, thus comparing (him) to the cleansing product for vaginas
  • Douchebag: an item consisting of a rubber bag, tube and nozzle, used to clean a woman’s vagina and an individual who has an over-inflated sense of self worth, compounded by a low level of intelligence
  • Pussy: a nice name for a cat, slang for women’s genitals and cowardly
  • Pusswad: guy who is a vagina or pussy

I cringe every time I hear one of these terms being used because I know that they are based on the gender binary that I’d like to see dissolved. But it really irks me when I hear or read feminists using these terms. How can we? Don’t we at large know that they are based in the assumption that we and our woman parts are inferior to men and their man parts? You don’t hear people calling another a “bidet,” an “aftershave” or a “nose hair trimmer,” which are items typically used by men and might be wielded to refer to a traditionally masculine female in a tone rooted in misandry. So why do we feminists and others continue to use terminology that is rooted in misogyny: terminology that implies that our woman parts and thus ourselves are “whin(y),” “fuss(y),” “unpleasant,” “dirty,” “brainless,” “cowardly,” passive, subordinate and weak? Stop it, I say. Stop it right now.

I believe that our collective decision to do away with such terminology is one step toward doing away with gender and equalizing the sexes. The result: women can run more than 15 Fortune 500 companies and at least one branch of government without fear of being called “bitches.” And men can sit in circles and communicate their feelings to one another without fear of being labeled “vagina men,” or even “wimps.”

Don’t worry. There will still be plenty of ridiculous ignorance in the world for Samantha Bee to wittily poke fun at.

Falling in love with your inner Betty/Leslie/Eleanor

Posted in Film and Television, Humor, Politics, Sexuality by femspotter on November 29, 2009

November 29, 2009

Thursday night on NBC should really be renamed from “Must See TV” or “Comedy Night Done Right” to “Ladies’ Night.” The staple show for me is The Office at 9 p.m. EST. As I have mentioned in other posts, on this show, office lovers Jim and Pam have gotten married and own a house together with a private art studio for Pam in the rear yard – wouldn’t Edna Pontellier of The Awakening be jealous!, and “matronly” Phyllis is happily married rather than – as some might expect it – withering away as an “old maid,” her unattractiveness to the opposite sex limiting her romantic prospects. At 9:30 p.m., on 30 Rock, we get to witness the career exploits of  successful female Television Writer-Producer and Third Wave Feminist Liz Lemon.  But before all of that begins, we can spend 30 minutes with Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), deputy director of the Parks and Recreation Department in Pawnee, Indiana. Parks and Recreation, a picaresque show, features the industrious Knope trying desperately to claim abandoned Lot 48 for a new park, which, as she envisions it, will be “a perfect park with state of the art swing sets, basketball courts and, off to the side, a lovely sitting area for kids with asthma to watch the other kids play.”

She really has thought of everything.

Leslie Knope: a Betty?

Deputy Director Leslie Knope

I love Leslie! She is completely earnest but not always politically savvy, much like myself. She challenges established authority, often makes a fool of herself when drinking too much and almost always says “the wrong” thing thinking it’s the right thing. Her office is full of portraits of her political heroes (Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright to name a couple) and she dreams of being the first woman President. (I let that dream go when I was 10 or 11.) Wouldn’t Knope’s election to Mayor, State Senate, Governor, Congress or even President be a fine ending to this empowering story?

When it comes to protecting her department’s claim to the former construction site turned abandoned pit, Leslie runs into certain obstacles: lack of funding, public disapproval and the “diabolical, ruthless bunch of bureaucrats” known as the Library Department. “They’re like a biker gang; but instead of shotguns and crystal meth(amphetamines), they use political savvy and shushing… The library is the worst group of people ever assembled,” she tells us, the viewers. “They’re conniving, rude, and extremely well-read, which makes them very dangerous.”

I had no idea that librarians could be that nefarious. (No wonder I’ve always stammered when asking for help with the Dewey Decimal System.) When led by Tammy, Leslie’s boss Ron’s ex-wife (Megan Mullally), that’s exactly what they become. Tammy is smart and pleasing to men. In other words, she’s Veronica to Leslie Knope’s Betty. And everybody knows that, in the world of classic comics, Veronica always gets her way.

Best Friends or Worst Enemies?In Betty and Veronica, an Archie Comic circa 1950, two high school girls, best friends and simultaneously worst enemies, fight over one boy, namely Archie, and other things like clothes and popularity. And it always comes down to somebody winning out: on the material side, Veronica Lodge finds herself happy in her enviable position as a wealthy teen; but on the side of morality, Betty Cooper wins as the girl who will always do the right thing. In theory, every girl would like to be Veronica with pretty clothes and tangent high school boys fawning over her. But in reality, even if we want this kind of material wealth and attention, only some of us will have it. And the rest of us will have to settle, as “Bettys,” for whatever is left over.  In the comic’s 600th issue, Archie proposed to Veronica. Poor, poor Betty.

Of course, it’s all relative. There are many Veronicas I see that make me feel like a Betty. But I’m sure I’m probably Veronica to somebody.

It’s not that Veronica is all bad – or that Betty is all good, for that matter, it’s that Veronica is in possession of the things we validate as achievements in our culture, especially for women: money and good looks. Veronica therefore exhibits a sense of entitlement to all things within her grasp, where as Betty is prepared to fight for the things she wants in life. And of course, classifying women by “types” – such as how some men have done over the years thinking of us as either Madonnas or whores – is reductive. But this Betty/Veronica invocation is theoretical hyperbole used to examine our actions and how they affect the women in our lives.

Pawnee’s own Betty and Veronica, Leslie and Tammy, find this age old conundrum to be true: will Veronica or Betty get the thing they both covet? At first, Leslie thinks that she’ll be able to talk Tammy out of “stealing” Lot 48 to build a new branch of the library. She optimistically enters Tammy’s office, confesses her true passion for the park and finds that Tammy is strangely accommodating, agreeing to drop her crusade to rule the lot. “We government gals have got to watch each other’s backs, right?” Tammy remarks. And even though Leslie suspects that something about Tammy isn’t completely sincere, she shakes hands with Tammy. “Government Gals,” to our Betty, sounds like a wonderful and empowering organization. For shouldn’t women really want only the best for other women? (Yes, I have fallen for that trick too.)

Wanting to return the favor, Leslie tries to help her boss and his ex become friends again, which works and the two engage in an exaggerated and humorous series of sexual encounters. “I truly believe everyone should be friends with their exes,” Leslie tells us. “I can’t even tell you how many of my ex’s weddings I’ve been to.”

Leslie feels quite satisfied with her actions until she realizes that the sexual activities between Veronica and Archie – uh Tammy and Ron – are part of Tammy’s plot to seize control of the lot. “That woman really knows her way around a penis,” Ron confesses, adding that sex with Tammy is “like doing peyote and sneezing slowly for six hours.” Then he admits something quite controversial. Tammy and he have arranged a trade: sex for the land.

Leslie confronts Tammy:

I know what you’re doing. You don’t care about Ron. You’re just using him to get Lot 48 for your library.

Leslie, that’s crazy; and correct.

Why are you doing this?

Les, there are two kinds of women in this world. There are women who work hard and stress out about doing the right thing. And then there are women who are cool. You could either be a Cleopatra or you could be an Eleanor Roosevelt. I’d rather be Cleopatra.

Cut to: Leslie, direct-to-camera interview

What kinda lunatic would rather be Cleopatra over Eleanor Roosevelt!?

Cut to: Leslie and Tammy at the elevator

Haven’t you ever messed with a man’s head to see what you could get him to do for you? We do it all the time in the Library Department. You should come join us some time.

I would never work at the Library Department… We’re no longer Government Gals!

And that was the end of female political unity in Pawnee.

Well, not really; but this scenario does take us right back to the classic love triangle featuring two women and something they both love: giant pits of dirt. And it also stirs up a lot of moral murkiness. For instance, is trading sex for something acceptable in the political arena or anywhere else? There are theorists like me who would argue that trading sex for money as a service (prostitution) is morally acceptable and consistent with feminism provided that all ground rules are met: participants are safe and the money that is agreed to in advance is exchanged. However, I take issue with trading sex in this case because the sex represents an unfair advantage of one woman over another. Ron tells us that he likes pretty brunettes and breakfast food, and that Tammy made him breakfast while naked earlier that morning. He doesn’t want breakfast food (sex) from blond Leslie. Therefore, Leslie does not have the means to compete with Tammy.

Furthermore, in a professional environment where sex is restricted from being a commodity, Leslie and other women shouldn’t have to compete on a sexual turf for Lot 48 or any other resource. They should be able to make their best arguments for the use of the land and let an impartial leader, who isn’t sleeping with either of them, make an impartial decision. (I know: when does that ever really happen? Like Leslie, I’m optimistic that fairness is possible.)

The other issue I take with this type of sexual maneuvering is that it’s really bad for our feminist cause. It isn’t that Tammy is physically or emotionally hurt in the process – though Ron sustains some emotional scars, it’s that Tammy will damage her reputation and the potential for herself and other women to advance in their careers. Ever heard a man or woman around the workplace refer to another woman as requiring knee pads to do her job? This kind of cynicism makes it very difficult for women to get ahead because of their intellectual merit. In other words, the Veronicas of the world owe us Bettys some fair dealing when it comes to peddling sexuality lest we all will be undermined in our careers. Just because Tammy sleeps her way to the top, doesn’t mean the rest of us do. And just because a woman sleeps with her boss doesn’t mean she isn’t good at her job.

These are real paradoxes that exist for some women. I am really anxious to find out what will happen in the careers of David Letterman’s co-workers and simultaneous sexual “partners.” While our culture hasn’t been very hard on Letterman, human resource departments will struggle over whether Letterman’s ladies are Veronicas or Bettys: women who took advantage of male sexual desire to get ahead in business or women who were taken advantage of. Their ethics will be questioned even if his aren’t. Were they actually good at their jobs or just good in the sack? And what about why they did it: did they think they had to sleep with the boss lest they be excused from employment at The Late Show? It’s really muddy water over there at CBS…and everywhere in puritanical America where sex is concerned, I’m afraid.

This episode would probably have ceased to be funny if Leslie had done what I would have done: file a report with human resources the minute Ron told me he was participating in a sex trade. I’ll cut her some slack in the name of sitcom frivolity. (Shame on Ron, however!) But I do want to mention the opposing argument that I met with many times in graduate English seminars when talking about women in Victorian literature. Let’s take The Wings of the Dove, for instance, wherein a woman schemes to marry a poor man by asking him to seduce a dying woman so that, once she dies, all of her money will go to him and he’ll be free to marry the schemer. I remember a classmate explaining to me that I couldn’t be mad at the schemer because she’s a woman and she has to operate within the boundaries of the period and culture she lives in. The only way she can marry the man she loves is if they have some money, and the way she’s found she can get that money is to con an innocent out of her fortune.

That’s tragic. I’ve never been able to agree with this viewpoint, however, because I think a woman hurting another woman is counterproductive. This is why we have an expression “kicking someone when they’re down.” Women historically have been the underdog, so why would we kick each other? That same sympathetic logic applied to the Pawnee triangle would mean that Tammy’s actions are acceptable, even though Leslie gets hurt, because the limitations of Tammy’s circumstances make it difficult for her to get the lot any other way than by sexual means. Leslie was first to claim Lot 48 and she’s been working on her park idea for months. She is an obstacle for Tammy that can be overcome through sex. So, for me, the sex is just the means to a horrible end: Leslie loses her park. Is the sex wrong? Yes, because Leslie gets hurt and not because it’s sex. Bribery with any commodity like money or a promotion or food, etc. would also be wrong…because Leslie gets hurt.

Which is the prevailing feminism? It probably isn’t mine. In my experience, many feminists aren’t critical of women in these types of hypothetical scenarios. The tendency is to blame the man: it’s Ron’s fault, he’s in charge and he’s letting what he wants get in the way of doing his job, he’s using Tammy for sex and nothing more, etc. But in my book, I think that, while Ron is contemptible, so is Tammy. Tammy also should know better. Tammy should be kinder to a female comrade, a fellow “Government Gal.” Tammy should play fair and pose her argument for the lot to higher powers based on practical concerns for the community. (Where will the children with asthma sit in her library, for instance?)

And I agree with Leslie: only a “lunatic” would rather be a conniving, manipulative person over a bona fide hero.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt: Another Betty?

Eleanor Roosevelt was the First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945, married to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Her legacy includes such democratic feats as: co-founding Freedom House to evaluate the level of human rights consideration in government, supporting the creation of the United Nations and even serving as a delegate, as well as proving instrumental in launching the “Second Wave”  of the Feminist Movement.

Perhaps she too was a Betty. Nothing like a conventional beauty, she often sacrificed personal satisfaction, adoration and comfort for a life of public service. And she had her own Veronica: Lucy Mercer Rutherford, her former social secretary. Informed and angry about the affair between her husband and her former employee, Eleanor reportedly threatened him with divorce, also known as political murder/suicide. She arrived at his deathbed to find Lucy by his side, which is really a tragic end to an unsatisfying romance.

However, Roosevelt’s unhappiness in love did not infect her political, feminist and humanist triumphs.  Betty she may have been, but she was no less than the Betty I want to be.

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