2015 Cultural Beacons: Amy Schumer, Frances Barden …

cultural beacon

Inspired by the roundups that appear this time of year, it seemed only fitting that the Finally Heard / Silent Sorority blog and its readership weigh in. Let’s put our heads together and make a 2015 list of standouts. The contenders? New cultural beacons, particularly women, challenging conventional wisdom.

Where to look? We’ll cast a wide net. They can be found either in real life society or portrayed in TV series, books or films.  I’ll get us started with my top five cultural picks.

First up category… 17-amy-schumer-w529-h352-2x

All Around Awesome Woman

My nomination: Amy Schumer

Who doesn’t adore how this woman shows no fear? No topics are off limits for Amy. I laughed (and gasped) my way through her film, Trainwreck, which recently scored a Golden Globe nomination. Even the alternate ending for this film apparently would have kept us off balance. Seems it involved a scene with a baby and isn’t what you would expect. (Thank you Amy & Judd Apatow for not being conventional).  Keep attacking those sacred cows, girlfriend!

Best TV Portrayal of a Woman Who is Not a Mother

My pick: Frances Barden

In the UK original Home Fires, later shSamantha Bondown on PBS’ Masterpiece Theater, actress Samantha Bond plays Frances Barden. She is a tough cookie — feisty but with a heart of gold. It’s well into the series that we discover Frances couldn’t have children. I would love to have the script dialogue from the episode where she is talked down to by the character Miriam Brindsley. Miriam is nursing grief over a son lost in the WWII and cuttingly discounts Frances because “she was never a mother.” Frances’ calm response nearly brought me to my feet in my living room to offer a standing ovation. Extra points to any reader who can find the script or the scene. Believe it was episode five or six…

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Best Book Portrayal of a ‘Non-Mom’ 

Pick via Christina Gombar’s recommendation: The Mare

the mareOkay, I was positively lame in the book reading department this year. Rather than dig into novels I disproportionately devoted my attention to the plethora of compelling TV series and films out this year. That said, I trust my go-to literary friend Christina Gombar who wrote in a recent email: “Mary Gaitskill’s The Mare is about a woman who tries to foster a Fresh Air Fund child. (This happened in the author’s real life). It certainly clears up any misconceptions about push-button cures for childlessness. And there are a couple of amazing, ‘never before seen in fiction’ passages where she absolutely nails the way mothers can be insensitive…

“The book has been widely reviewed, but as of yet no one has zeroed in on how great and unprecedented this is — not since Jane Austen have I seen anyone even hint in fiction, where there is a Mom and a non-Mom, that the mother isn’t automatically in the right.”

Best Character Who Made Us Think

My fave: Phyllis Smith & the Team behind Inside Out

Inside OutThis film is the best I have seen at distilling a complex set of ideas into a thought-provoking feature length film. As I first wrote in this post, the team earned high praise for its cultural work showcasing sadness as a organizing emotion in our lives.

Not since the Pixar film Up! have I truly gushed over an animated film. The team deftly uses nuance, laughter and a soft touch to make us appreciate how central sadness can be in helping us make sense of life, particularly losses and disenfranchised grief. This film should be mandatory viewing for people of all ages, but it’s certainly one that can help children who often lack context and the words to convey their complicated response to life and the feelings it evokes.

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Best Essay on Women in Society

Via an article first shared by Kathleen Guthrie Woods … my pick is: Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca SolnitThe cultural significance Ms. Solnit addresses in a Harper’s Magazine essay is immense. It has implications far beyond her to the next generation of women, girls today, who are being shaped by societal expectations.  I continue to hope that we’ll move beyond the dominant cultural devaluing of women who are not mothers, but I don’t see any signs of that happening. In this essay Ms. Solnit writes about being asked repeatedly on a book tour why she was not a mother.

She writes:

The interviewer’s question was indecent, because it presumed that women should have children, and that a woman’s reproductive activities were naturally public business. More fundamentally, the question assumed that there was only one proper way for a woman to live.

She goes on to point out that mothers, too, are routinely questioned about their ‘fitness’ but that’s not the point of this piece.  Ms. Solnit challenged readers further, “There is no good answer to being a woman; the art may instead lie in how we refuse the question.”

One of my goals in life is to become truly rabbinical, to be able to answer closed questions with open questions, to have the internal authority to be a good gatekeeper when intruders approach, and to at least remember to ask, “Why are you asking that?” This, I’ve found, is always a good answer to an unfriendly question, and closed questions tend to be unfriendly. But on the day of my interrogation about having babies, I was taken by surprise (and severely jet-lagged), and so I was left to wonder — why do such bad questions so predictably get asked?

Please read her full essay, The Mother of All Questions, here in Harper’s Magazine.

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Now, dear readers, who would you like to honor? You are free to add categories as well.

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4 thoughts on “2015 Cultural Beacons: Amy Schumer, Frances Barden …

  1. Hi, Christina Gombar here

    Thanks so much for bringing “The Mare” to the attention of your readers. I wanted to post a couple of
    snippets from the novel you all may identify with:

    The narrator refers to her foster child, Velvet, who is being abused by her natural mother:

    ” … the truth is so plain that even Velvet’s illiterate mother can see it. It’s clear even to her – somehow especially to her – that I couldn’t even do the thing that every woman on the planet knows how to do.

    I can see her contempt, the question in her eyes: What is wrong with her? How did she even get a husband? And still it was her child, the lovely girl that she didn’t even want, the child I finally loved, who somehow allowed me a way in, who made me feel what everyone else felt; finally I could join, be part of the play, except that everyone thought that was wrong, too, that somehow I still wasn’t doing it right.”

    And below, the narrator challenges some chummy mummies who have belittled her efforts at foster parenthood, and exclude her socially from their small town life:

    “And by the way, you did say that I was messing with someone else’s kid.”
    “I don’t remember.”
    “This is inappropriate,” said Laura.

    I flushed. “Inappropriate? Well, I don’t think it was appropriate to tell me I’m messing with a child I love when you don’t know anything about it. Or to tell me I’m ‘playing at being a parent.'”

    I left red faced and trembling, but also glad, glad that I finally said something, even if it was weak. That at least I didn’t let them treat me like s**t again.

    Thank you, Mary Gaitskill!

  2. I can’t think of any additions to the list offhand, but you’ve made some great choices here — I saw both “Trainwrecked” and “Inside Out” and absolutely love the way they both challenged our assumptions & expectations with unconventional stories and characters. :)

  3. I can’t think of any additions either, but I will add these books, movies and TV shows to my must-see/read list.

    Ooh wait, I’ve thought of one addition. Pamela Tsigdinos and her blog, Silent Sorority, for her continued championing of women without children. She definitely deserves to be on a Best Of list.

    1. Pamela Tsigdinos

      Would not be able to carry the torch without your warm friendship and support, Mali!

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