At the turn of the millennium, Bridget Jones and the Sex and the City girls heralded a new era of fun, fearless singledom. Chick lit, accompanied by memoirs and anthologies about single womanhood, made it whimsical for an otherwise-capable woman to be vain, proud of her missteps and mistakes, and heartbroken over her inability to find a man. Now, what happens in the next chapter after Ms. Adorably Quirky has found Mr. Right? She manifests new neuroses and fears as she enters the brave new world of motherhood.
You can’t turn on the television or flip open a magazine these days without encountering an image of a star promoting his or her latest cause célèbre: Oprah handing out makeup kits at a women’s hospital in Ethiopia; Angelina Jolie visiting refugee camps (alone or with Brad Pitt); George Clooney zipping around in his tiny electric car and making speeches about Darfur; Jay-Z and Kofi Annan holding a press conference about global water issues; Madonna performing concerts against a backdrop image of aids orphans—and, more recently, bringing a motherless Malawian boy home with her after making a large donation to his orphanage.
One of the last places I expected to hear an engaging antiracist and feminist critique of the fashion industry was on The Tyra Banks Show. But on a January 2006 episode, there was Banks, sitting couch-to-couch with supposed archnemesis and fellow supermodel Naomi Campbell, discussing the forces that years ago had pitted the two women against each other on the assumption that America had room for only one black top model.
“Bind me as tight as you can, girls, with the biggest ropes and chains you can find!” The woman is smiling in ecstasy, plastered against a large wooden beam, ropes and chains taut against her body, as she begs her captors, a group of jubilant, scantily clad young women, to pull her shackles just a little bit tighter. The girls taunt their captive: “We are, Princess, even you can’t escape these bonds!”
It’s a natural, normal part of life. But people hesitate to talk openly about their needs, their desires, and their concerns because they are so fearful of what others might think. But we all have urges, and we all have questions, and the more we can talk about them, the happier and more fulfilled we all will be. It should be a joyful, tender, and esteem-building part of life, not a source of confusion or shame. Yet it’s hard to get a handle on it, because although there’s a lot of information out there, much of it is judgmental, misinformed, or quite simply false.
I’m not an athlete. I’ve always disliked team sports, with their conformist, vaguely fascist associations. While as a child I longed to be a tree-climbing tomboy, I had to admit a preference for tea parties, dress-up, and long afternoons at the library.
Then one summer night, three years ago, I played my first game of bike polo. It’s an elegant game: With mallets in their right hand, players ride their bikes up and down the field trying to whack a grapefruit-size ball between two orange cones. It was instant love.
The Sims is a game that consists of little more than creating characters and pushing them through the day, making sure they eat, sleep, stay clean, make friends, advance in a career, and buy stuff. The bodily functions are tedious and the rest is everything I hate about life in a capitalist society. So how to explain why I own all seven expansion packs for the first game, as well as Sims2 and its expansion pack, University?
Each semester in my American popular culture class, my students and I spend a night playing board games. I start them off with games for small children, like memory cards or Strawberry Shortcake adventure games. They play self-consciously, giggling at the losers who can’t master a game for preschoolers, but loosen up enough to start looking beyond the activity for the deeper meanings.
The year my oldest daughter turned 4, her little sister was born, and that spring, in desperation, I let her play more or less unsupervised in the neighbors’ yard. When I came up for air from the endless diaper changes and nursing sessions, I’d catch a glimpse of her through the family-room window. Sweaty, dirty, and wild-eyed, she ran behind the neighbors’ pack of crazy, good-natured, and mostly unsupervised boys.
Once upon a time, politics was serious business. These days, however, presidential merit is measured as much by frat-house standards as by traditional approval ratings (apparently, American voters would rather have a beer with Bush than with Kerry), and a well-timed joke can sometimes sway public opinion more effectively than a reasoned argument.