Monday, January 30, 2006

either/or, baby

CNN is reporting that playwright Wendy Wasserstein passed away today from complications due to lymphoma. She, along with Christopher Durang and Neil LaBute, is one of my favorite playwrights. I still remember the first time I read The Heidi Chronicles and how deeply it affected me. My copy is now dog-eared and stained with drops of red wine from late-night readings, but her characters never fail to make me do that gesture I picked up from my mother-- the one where, even though nobody is around, I open my eyes wide, grab at my heart and go "mmmph!"

Wendy Wasserstein wrote about complicated, intelligent women who refused to settle for less than they felt they deserved and the various prices they paid for it. She acknowledged that education and hard work bring new sets of compromises to make, that women who strive for success may well feel stranded. Her work was bittersweet brave and deeply rooted in often-unpleasant truths. She not only identified the compromises some people make, but she asked why they had to be made in the first place. By writing critically about feminism, she made it stronger.

This weekend I read a fascinating Salon.com interview with National Review editor Kate O'Beirne. She's making the rounds to promote Women Who Make the World Worse, an unnecessarily provacative book that asks, among other questions, "did feminism make the world better? Or even, better for women?" Now, I could do without her namecalling, and she engages in a classic right-wing oversimplification and distortion of complex arguments (overly litigious society => we were better off before there were any sexual harassment laws on the books). She shoots herself in the foot when she suggests that if we want American women in the armed services then we should train our sons to hit little girls. And don't you think it's time we all stop writing about Sex and the City as if it were social gospel instead of a canceled fantasy television show?

But! But but but. O'Beirne asks some big scary questions that every woman, really every person who cares about social progress in America should be asking. We shouldn't be scared to examine feminism, or the civil rights movement or the gay rights movement and ask "What did we do wrong? What did we do right? How can we make day-to-day life better?" Too many people are so invested in the success of these movements that they are afraid to step back and examine them with a critical eye.

We were lucky to have as brilliant an artist as Wendy Wasserstein examining these questions for us. I think the best way to honor her legacy is to keep looking for answers.

Heidi: Well, I have a daughter. And I've never been particularly maternal. I'm not real practiced at sharing. But, Scoop, there's a chance, just a milli-notion, that Pierre Rosenbaum and Judy Holland will meet in a plane over Chicago. And Pierre will tell her his father named him for a Canadian prime minister, and she'll say she was almost named for someone who sang "My Boyfriend's Back." And he'll never tell her it's either/or, baby. And she's never think she's worthless unless he let her have it all. And maybe, just maybe, things will be a little better. And, yes, that does make me happy. - The Heidi Chronicles

1 comment:

Hey Pretty said...

I was emailing with my mom about Wasserstein's death yesterday. I was inexplicably sad all day. She will be sorely missed.