Dames Nation, we are here.
And we have some great news for you: There are 26 episodes of an excellent, warm, funny, progressive, charming, and emotionally moving show for you to watch right now on Netflix: Gloria Calderón Kellett’s remake of the classic Norman Lear sitcom, One Day at a Time. We have surely talked about it before, because we both love it a very great lot, but we are going to talk about it again. Netflix is presently deciding whether or not to shoot a third season and is watching carefully how many people tune in. We want to do our small part to encourage them to renew.
The premise: Single mom and veteran Penelope (played by the incandescent Justina Machado) is raising her two kids-- Elena, an extremely geeky, intensely feminist 16-year-old, and Alex, a cool, fashion-conscious, funny 13-year-old-- with the help of her Highly Extra, Highly Perfect, HIGHLY Cuban mother, Lydia (played by the only person who could even begin to outshine Justina Machado-- international treasure Rita Moreno) in East LA. Rounding out this family are their landlord, Schneider, a Canadian hipster who fancies himself much more woke than he actually is, and Penelope’s boss, Dr. Berkowitz (played by national treasure Stephen Tobolowsky), who is-- somewhat understandably-- completely smitten with Lydia.
The show has a very traditional multi-camera setup with a laugh track, so at first blush it may remind you more of The Big Bang Theory than 30 Rock. But One Day at a Time uses its comparatively staid format to make extremely not-staid ideas like gender fluidity, mental health in marginalized communities, the emotional toll of being a Latinx immigrant in Donald Trump’s America, and more into subjects that can comfortably be addressed within a bright, sweet, fundamentally light-hearted and light-footed sitcom-- something our friend and noted TV genius Kathryn has analyzed far more profoundly than we have space to do here. In addition to being progressive in content, it’s also a rare show that’s progressive in structure too-- this season, according to its showrunner, each of the 13 episodes were directed by either a woman, a person of color, or a woman of color, the writing staff was 50% female, 50% P.O.C., and 20% LGBTQIA+, and the guest cast was 61% female, 50% P.O.C., and 50% disabled.
If all this show did was remind you just how great EGOT-winner Rita Moreno is, well, dayenu. If you were as charmed as we were by her appearance at the Oscars last weekend-- wearing, at 86, the same dress she wore to her first appearance there in 1962-- then you owe it to yourself to give this show a try, and we have the gifs to prove it. But the show gives you so much more: it’s the perfect balance between escape (to a highly saturated world where even the worst problem usually gets some resolution by the end of an episode) and meaningful comfort, because the subjects it engages with are so pertinent, and depicted so deftly. Treat yourself to a few episodes this weekend, and see if you don’t come away smitten. At the very least, you will get to hear Gloria Estefan’s theme song, which is a pure banger that we sing along with every single episode.
You will not need opera glasses to perceive the show’s rather broad but very charming jokes, but you may still use them to provide an air of elegance and drama, a la Abuelita.
Ask Two Bossy Dames!
Are you having a MORAL QUANDARY? Puzzling over a PETTY PROBLEM? WELL, allow us to channel our inner Tami Taylors by dropping by our handy dandy Google Form and submitting your question to Ask Two Bossy Dames, our regular feature where we boss a handful of lucky readers in exacting detail! We are always on the lookout for questions that offer us a chance to display our remarkable emotional intelligence and/or impeccable taste-- maybe yours will be the one!
Dame Margaret’s Feminist Etsy Ephemera and Other Joys
Mrs. Potts could definitely get Teapot Home Scandal’s step-sons to behave.
No one reading this letter needs me to remind them how consistently funny and excellent Nicole Cliffe is-- we all know her, we all love her, we all delight in her infinite wisdom. But when she references the Teapot Dome Scandal in a particularly funny and on-point issue of her parenting advice column, Care and Feeding, I cannot let it go by unremarked upon. Go forth, read, guffaw. We all need good things we can count on, and Nicole Cliffe is one.
Every week deserves a long-read as wry, wide-ranging, and satisfying as Jill Lepore’s lengthy analysis (for the New Yorker) of the ongoing legal dispute between Barbie and Bratz over just who owns the idea of highly sexualized dolls for children. While Lepore-- particularly at the end of the piece-- makes some statements about #MeToo that I’m not sure I agree with, the piece is so smart and so funny and so thought-provoking that I can’t bring myself to mind.
Speaking of inventions now so general that it would be hard for any one person to lay claim to them, let’s join Hannah Goldfield (again in the New Yorker) in contemplating the history of queso, and just how Chipotle got it so wrong. And then you can all join me in grabbing a jar of Tostitos’ queso dip on the way home, and eating it all in a single sitting.
While on the subject of me, did you know I appeared on Nation Public Radio this week, on the show Here & Now, to discuss just what has made A Wrinkle in Time into such an enduring classic? Well, I did, and I was PRETTY ADORABLE over there, let me tell you. You can listen here and share your fawning agreement with me on Twitter.
You can also dwell on how A Wrinkle in Time’s generations of success with kids of all genders disproves one of the most pernicious assumptions adults have about children, which is that you cannot get boys to read books where the hero is female. A pernicious myth shot down beautifully and brilliantly by Shannon Hale, a favorite children’s author here in Dames Nation, who wrote a real barn-burner of an essay on the subject just last week. When an 8-year-old boy is terrified to admit he might enjoy reading a book about princesses, that’s rarely something he’s picked up on his own.
Did you see, in our issue last week or elsewhere on the internet, the pictures of a deeply adorable little black girl gazing in awe upon Michelle Obama’s official portrait in the National Portrait Gallery? Well, in one of those Every Once in Awhile, The Internet is Really Worth It stories, the little girl was identified (her name is Parker Curry) and she actually got to meet AND DANCE WITH Michelle Obama. Say it with us: REPRESENTATION MATTERS.
Which is why we are delighted to hear that Kamala Harris and Yvette Clarke have written a bill proposing that a statue of Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress and the first to run for president, be erected at the U.S. Capitol. Which in turn led to me rounding up a few of the (far too limited) cute items on Etsy that celebrate Chisholm, who was a very cool and highly quotable lady. A sampling:
How about an enamel pin featuring her picture and signature slogan “Unbought & Unbossed”?
Or a letterpressed notebook with her picture and still-applicable exhortation “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair”?
Or perhaps a poster reminding you that “health is a human right and not a privilege to be purchased” or that the one thing you’ve got going is your one vote?
Or, my personal favorite, a handmade mug showing her signature wig and glasses. The options are myriad-- but they should be ENDLESS.
And finally, how about you treat yourself to an excellent episode of one of our favorite podcasts: this week’s Switched on Pop, where beautiful music nerds Nate Sloane and Charlie Harding invited DAMES NATION’S ETERNAL BELOVED Lizzo on to analyze in-depth the GREAT new Janelle Monae single “Make Me Feel.” It is extremely delightful and just the way to end your week-- and their recent episodes on “Havana” (and the history of girl groups), “Finesse” (and the forgotten sound of “New Jack Swing”), and Dua Lipa (and the hidden emotional messages in “New Rules”) could get you through a GOOD dose of spring cleaning this weekend as well.
All Hail the Queen.
Dame Sophie’s Epiphanies of the Week
Above: live footage of me experiencing a searing insight.
You know how sometimes you will hear a song that grabs you by the throat and says listen to me I’m about to explain something to you with some very powerful sha-la-las that will leave you forever changed after the next 3 minutes has elapsed? That happened to me this week when I read Lili Loofbourow’s essay The Male Glance.
To explain why this essay hit me so hard in my Wow You Distilled A Lifetime Of Vexed By Sexism Organ (more commonly referred to as the wydalovbs, I believe, you can google it if you want, but you & I both know it is real) I need to back up just a little bit. A boy I dated in my college days couldn’t get his head around what I liked so much about Jane Austen and leisurely-paced romantic costume dramas such as A Room With A View. “Nothing happens! It’s women sitting around talking about men! I like stories that are about something!” Readers, I did not do a murder that evening, but would any jury in the land have convicted me if I had? That relationship was bound to end, primarily because he was extremely careless with my feelings, but the reason that I remember and can’t fully forgive, all these years later, was his inability and worse, his shrugging, casual unwillingness, to see that there’s value in what he perceived as smaller, less-than, too-specific stories. Women’s stories.
Flash forward 20 years, and this newsletter is a weekly exercise in blissfully ignoring and/or subverting the straight male gaze. We reflect, at length, on what makes our blood boil. We yell about things & art & people who make our hearts race (see: any given back-issue). We’ve talked about how deeply we resonated with Anne Helen Petersen’s concept of the female glance, a surreptitious, intermittent, careful way of seeing the world, as captured by shows and movies like The Handmaid’s Tale, Bright Star, and Meek’s Cutoff.
What Loofbourow captures in her essay is the distillation of all of the above, plus the uneasy, skin-crawling feeling I’ve had throughout my adult life that not only is the cultural criticism deck structurally stacked against women in a way that reifies itself year after year, but that, thanks to growing up soaking in a culture steeped in the assumption that men’s stories are universal to humanity while women’s are merely specific to them, I am a part of the problem, too, because unless I work not to make that assumption, I am making it all the time.
I could pull block-quote after block-quote from this essay, but I will restrict myself to just one:
The male glance is the opposite of the male gaze. Rather than linger lovingly on the parts it wants most to penetrate, it looks, assumes, and moves on. It is, above all else, quick. Under its influence, we rejoice in our distant diagnostic speed. The glance is social and ethical the way advice columns are social and ethical, a communal pulse declaring—briefly, definitively, and with minimal information—which narrative textures constitute turgid substance, which diastolic fluff. This is the male glance’s sub rosa work, and it feeds an inchoate, almost erotic hunger to know without attending—to omnisciently not-attend, to reject without taking the trouble of analytical labor because our intuition is so searingly accurate it doesn’t require it. Here again, we’re closer to the amateur astronomer than to the explorer. Rather than investigate or discover, we point and classify.
This is an essay I’ll be thinking about, rereading, and referring to for a long time. If some of it resonated with you, please do come yell with me about it on Twitter (or in the old inbox, that works, too!)
Boy, BYE: A Mood.
A great/awful example of the male glance infecting us all is the New York Times’ almost unbelievable gender imbalance in their obituary section: “even in the last two years, just over one in five of our subjects were female.” I’m pleased to say that The Times has unveiled an ongoing project to begin balancing the scales (NB: if you’re limited to 5 or 10 free articles per month on the New York Times, this will be one of your clicks of the month). Overlooked is beautifully done and will add new obituaries weekly, but it’s shocking to scroll through and see that women like Ida B. Wells, Diane Arbus, Marsha P. Johnson, and Sylvia Plath were not covered previously. You can nominate someone for inclusion in the project with this handy form. And you can skip some of the waiting (which I have on good authority is the hardest part of any endeavor) by proceeding directly to past TBD Guest Editor & splendid writer about town Julia Carpenter’s A Woman To Know (currently on hiatus & therefore very easy to catch up on).
Of course, by dismissing the concerns and interests of girls and women, the male glance hurts men, too. The Cut ran a whole series this week on How To Raise A Boy and while I’ve yet to delve into it fully, this conversation between Teenage Brothers on Sex, Social Media, and What Their Parents Don’t Understand gets at some of the things adults miss out on and what we fail to teach the young men in our lives when we discourage them from developing dead handy, coded-female life skills like talking about their feelings.
I’m going to close out with an about-face into a giddily high sequence of notes, Tablet Magazine’s 100 Most Jewish Foods feature. Look at how perfectly-designed that spinning table is! (It’s ideal on a phone or tablet, but you can make it work on a laptop/desktop screen, too.) The master list of foods, and their accompanying brief essays by longtime DamesFavs such as Taffy Brodesser-Akner and Marjorie Ingall, is perfection that made me laugh, cry, and yell (a potent melange of feelings that I consider quintessentially Jewish). I feel my sisters’ & my childhoods are extremely seen & reflected in these introductions to seltzer, leftovers, and maybe most of all, the used tea bag, a staple of my grandmother’s kitchen. (You save up two or three to make another cup of tea later. That cup is often on the weak side, making it perfect for a late-afternoon, low-caffeine brew). The only thing I could wish for is for my beloved Laurie Colwin to be alive to contribute to this list. She’d have written the heck out of entries about breads and roast chicken and maybe even Postum. Finally, may I draw your attention to the ca. 1983 Goldberg Haggadah font in use throughout? That’s the type of detail that makes my little heart sing.
If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of watching this performance of “To Life”, a surprise Lin-Manuel Miranda cooked up for his wife Vanessa Nadal at their wedding reception, give yourself the gift of pure joy that is the entire video, as it is one of the cutest and best things that has ever happened.
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