Posts Tagged ‘Mark Sanford’

Enabling “Mad Men” — Part II: Joan or Peggy?

August 16th, 2009 No comments

There’s a great scene in the final episode of Season 2 of Mad Men. Joan Holloway, the office manager who’s hit the glass ceiling within the secretarial ranks, sees Peggy Olson, who has, remarkably, become a copywriter, as Peggy is about to enter her new office. Joan, crushed when her foray into script reading was snatched away, nonetheless exchanges a warm moment with Peggy, noting her name on the door and congratulating her. Sisterhood trumps envy.

As I said in my previous post about this show, the women on the show are more interesting than the men: They bob and weave for advantage in a male-dominated domestic and business world. Peggy and Joan advance in quite different ways, though. Joan is almost a caricature of the voluptuous sex object, while Peggy tacks back and forth, uncertainly, between being “one of the boys” and creating a female identity for herself. Joan advises her to take the latter course.

Joan’s the more self-assured and confident of the two, but the writers provide constant reminders of the compromises, large and small, that she must make. In one poignant glimpse, we see her taking down the bra strap that holds so much weight, and wincing at the painful mark left on her skin. In another, much more troubling scene, she is raped —  there’s no other word to describe it — by her fiance in one of offices. She protests, but has neither physical nor, as a practical matter, legal, recourse. Worse, she stays with the guy — a successful MD who’s lauded by another cast member for his charity work with “Negro children.”

In the early 1960’s, marital rape was not a crime. It took the feminist movement to change that archaic rule, and even today, rape is treated less harshly by the criminal law when it occurs within a marriage. This law was a holdover from the much earlier rule, abolished in nineteenth century, that permitted men to “chastise” — beat — their wives for insubordination. That marital rape was protected for an additional century speaks to the lingering idea that rape within marriage was an oxymoron — marriage bestowed consent to sex, all the time.

Of course, Joan was not yet married, so she could have reported a crime. But at that time, even more than today, Joan’s very sexuality, coupled with lingering ideas of male prerogative would have made prosecution unlikely, conviction less so. And Joan, as a wily  maneuverer within the constraints of her era, would perhaps not have seen reporting the crime as in her best interest. (At least not immediately — I have  some hope that the show will return to this issue, and show the psychological damage that must have been inflicted.)

Even today, many women put up with all sorts of crap in defense of the male prerogative that is so slow to die. That’s why I was heartened at the recent comments, and reaction, to Gov. Mark Sanford’s infidelity by his wife, Jenny. This former Wall Street big shot was not going to stand for it, nor stand by his side before the media when he “confessed.”  She told him to stop, and forbade him to see his Argentine lover again. (I can’t believe he even had the [fill-in-the-blank] to ask). And now she’s moved out of the Governor’s Mansion with the couple’s four sons.

Of course, not every woman is Jenny Sanford. Many are still in the powerless position of Joan, or the impossible one of Peggy, who hides her pregnancy and gives her child up for adoption (in a world where abortion was illegal) so that she can continue her career, which is the most important thing to her. Only in the last few episodes does she begin to realize the toll that her decisions have taken.

Season 3 starts tonight. I can’t wait.

Death-Defying! Equality-Denying!

July 9th, 2009 No comments

Today, as I was preparing for my gig on local TV (WHYY in Wilmington’s Delaware Tonight) to discuss the recently signed sexual orientation non-discrimination bill I discovered that the governor, Jack Markell, had delayed the signing by a week because the date originally chosen conflicted with a memorial service for a recently deceased state senator, Thurman Adams. Thus did Adams, who’d single-handedly prevented the bill’s passage for the past decade, reach back from the afterlife and delay the legislation one more time.

This oddity reminded me of a conversation with a friend years ago. We were discussing the efforts of reactionary forces to hold back the tide of equality for the LGBT community, even as most of them realized that their efforts were doomed to Canute-like failure. After a lifetime in opposition, what would they think, as they lay dying? Maybe something like: “I held them back…for a little…while….”

Well, why stop at death? Thurman Adams managed to delay the inevitable for another week even after he’d passed on. Might he have started something? Here are some irreverent suggestions, along the lines of an old Monty Python skit (scroll down to interview about a ‘new’ film starring Marilyn Monroe):

  • Rabid anti-marriage equality spokeswoman Maggie Gallagher can direct that her ashes be kept in a safe place until the next state permits same-sex marriages. Then, as the first couples make their way into City Hall, a high-speed fan can disperse  them into the crowd, temporarily (and fittingly, metaphorically speaking) blinding some couples, and ruining plenty of hair-dos and natty get-ups. Equality delayed!
  • James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family” needn’t stop with his death. His body can be placed, at least for a few minutes, in the way of athletes trying to work out with their “predominantly gay” sports teams. Fun and fairness frustrated!
  • South Carolina Governor (and gay marriage opponent) Mark Sanford can direct that his rambling press conferences on the subject of his Argentine mistress/”soulmate” be recorded and played at ear-splitting levels whenever same-sex couples approach an adoption agency. On second thought, normal levels should do.

Dysfunctional Families in Fact and Fiction (and Marriage Equality)

June 26th, 2009 No comments

Three events coincided yesterday, giving me occasion to reflect on “family” in all of its glorious and sorrowful messiness.

A friend and I had long discussed going to see August: Osage County on Broadway. Of course, it took the news of its imminent closing to get me to actually go. On the train going up to New York, I discovered that the Mark Sanford affair was conducted on South Carolina’s nickel. Coming back, I learned of Michael Jackson’s death.

Talk about examples of family dysfunction! Sanford’s infidelity, swiftly following Nevada Senator John Ensign‘s, was a reminder that we all, at times, are weaker than we’d like to be. It’s tempting and in a sense justified for the LGBT community to gloat at these transgressions, but I think that’s too easy. Yes, if these guys (particularly Ensign) go on railing against gay marriages, let’s call them on their hypocrisy. And Sanford’s decision to spend taxpayer money for his fling is inexcusable; he should resign for that reason alone. (The impulse to corruption can’t be as powerful as the tug of lust.) But the infidelities themselves are pandemic, and always will be. Gloating turns out to be an expensive luxury for many, sexual orientation aside.

The takeaway lesson was best expressed by one of the characters in August: Osage County, who finally can take no more of her older sister’s stern moral dictates, which bring the family to heel throughout most of the play. Most of the time, things aren’t a simple matter of black and white: we live “in the middle.” If the “middle” is the one portrayed in this terrific play, please nudge me to one side or the other. The Weston family, whose travails are so comically rendered, sets the bar for dysfunction to world-record levels:

“Alcoholism, drug addiction, adultery, sexual misbehavior: The list of pathologies afflicting one or another of the Weston family is seemingly endless, and in some ways wearily familiar.”

Yes, wearily familiar. Every family can recite a (likely less absurd) subset of the list of horrors plaguing this cartoonishly awful family. I recall a conversation with a sneaky-smart colleague, a vocal opponent of marriage equality who told me, after a debate I’d participated in, that he liked my point about how it’s hard to argue for keeping gays out of marriage when straights have done such a poor job of upholding its standards lately.

However sincere, though, his point gets marriage and relationships wrong. It’s not that no-fault divorce or a growing disrespect for marriage have caused these problems, but that human beings are messy — and so are our relationships. I really don’t want to listen to the rote line that “children deserve a mother and a father” one more time. Please, enter the real world and support families (not just through marriage equality, either) that are actually trying to raise kids halfway decently. Trying to make the perfect the enemy of the good is incoherent when the “perfect” doesn’t even exist. Emma Ruby-Sachs says it well, speaking of Sanford’s case:

“[I]nstead of working to find homes for children without parents, politicians like Governor Sanford oppose gay adoptions. Instead of ensuring that each taxpayer is given a credit for their dependants, Governor Sanford opposes the tax rights associated with gay marriage.

“And like anyone who loses touch with reality, Sanford fell victim to his own fictions. His moral code bears no relation to the diverse country in which he lives. It turns out, his moral code bears little relation to his own life.

“Moral politics ignore reality, they serve to ostracize and isolate vulnerable members of society and they are inevitably impossible to follow. Their separation from the messy human condition means that even the people imposing the morally based laws are sinners and transgressors.”

This brings me to the sad end of this post; the early death of Michael Jackson. Watching his physical and emotional disintegration over the years was tough for me. I recall being bowled over on hearing “I Want You Back” for the first time while sitting in my grandparents’ bedroom in 1970. From that moment until sometime after “Thriller,” he didn’t put a foot wrong. But his strange and stage-managed life couldn’t be sustained, and the ensuing years were a stygian whirlpool that I’m pained to recall.

Yet he was married (briefly), and had three children. Is the right of parents to their mother and father really the biggest problem we face? Isn’t it time for a serious discussion of state-sponsored marriage and support for families? Like Ruby-Sachs, I’m increasingly convinced that marriage equality isn’t the toughest issue we face, but until we achieve that marker of formal equality, there’s no oxygen in the room for anything else.

This is what all the fuss was about: