I had the weirdest back-to-school experience on Friday. I was in Hastings to write about the Playground Collective, four twenty-somethings who are touring a play called The Intricate Art of Actually Caring. They put on a matinee performance to an audience from two local high schools, and I watched it with the students.
The 'theatre' was actually the cavernous, chandeliered, really-fricking-cold assembly hall in the opera house. We had our school balls there in 1999 and 2000. It was odd being back there, and being so sober and old.
Seating was set up cabaret style. Before the students arrived I baggsed the best seat at the best table. As the students came in they sat at every table but mine, which felt exactly like being in high school. I practically begged a group of girls to shift tables.
They looked at each other and shrugged, and I thought they were staying put. Mortifying! Then, all of a sudden, they did a quick shuffle over to my table.
And I was surrounded by me, 12 years ago. Same uniform. Same tricks to make it not feel like a uniform: skirt rolled up at the waistband, shirt poking out from under the jersey, jersey cuffs pulled down over palms.
Kate's Baby Joy!
Good headline huh. Sucked you right in. I stole it from the cover of Woman's Day, and used it ironically, to illustrate my point.
Which is: I'm increasingly creeped out by the speculation in womens' magazines over the status of Kate Middleton's uterus. I've been shuddering at recent headlines like "Wills confirms: we're having a baby - it's official!" and "Wills talks - a royal baby at last!". But the latest Woman's Day trumps them all.
On the cover -
First bump pics!
Kate's baby joy!
The secret she can't hide
And inside -
Heir at last!
Kate's glowing and showing
The whole Miss Universe kerfuffle signals that the pageant is in its death throes.
For those few of you who are not avid followers of this fine competition: Miss Howick, Avianca Bohm, won the national final on Sunday. Lucky! That means she gets to go and parade herself in front of The Donald, who says things like, "My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body."
Pause for shudder.
Now it seems she may miss out on that treat of a lifetime. Because yesterday, it emerged that Avianca is not a New Zealand citizen. Which means she was not eligible to win. (It's unclear whether she was eligible to enter: the rules on the Miss Universe website say "to qualify for Miss Universe New Zealand" you must be a NZ citizen).
No-one's accusing Avianca of being sneaky here. She actually told pageant organiser Val Lott, who said she should enter anyway, because it would be confidence-boosting and great for Howick. Val says she gave the judges a heads-up that Avianca couldn't win. The judges gave the tiara to her anyway (and dispute Val's version of events).
Is marriage truly as dull and soul-destroying as books keep telling me it is?
For years I've reviewed most of the chick-litty type stuff that comes in to the Sunday Star-Times, and noticed definite trends and shifts in the stories they tell. We've moved from 'girl gets dumped, girl gets drunk, girl finds true love' through 'girl realises girl is just fine on her own, thanks' and 'woman realises woman cannot do it all'.
Lately the strongest trend I'm seeing are stories that slot into a genre I made up: 'marriage is dull and frustrating and you'll end up being really mean to each other and you're better off out of it, probably'. A few notable examples: Separate Beds, by LaVyrle Spencer. Wife 22, by Melanie Gideon. Ophelia in Pieces by Clare Jacob. Unzipped, by Nicki Reed.
Some of these books are great reads. Others are not. But all of them make me uncomfortable and sad, because they paint a picture of marriage as this inevitable downhill slide, a spiral into boredom and loneliness and day-after-day drudgery. Often they start, say, 10 years into the marriage, and feature a lot of harking back to the glory days when the couple had just got together. We hear about all the grand romantic gestures and the sweet proposal and the sexy sex. Then we hear about how it all went wrong. But wrong in a middling, 'meh' sort of way. Not wrong enough to leave, or to really try to make things better, until central-plot-device happens along. (In Unzipped it's a lesbian lover. In Wife 22 it's an online marriage survey. Etc.) Sometimes the couple split. Sometimes they manage to make their marriage happy again. But either way, they always spend years stuck in a rut before figuring it out.
What really bothers me about these books is that there are so many of them, and that they're selling so well. That means there's a big audience of women (mostly) who identify with the central idea.
That new drink-driving ad? Where three men walk in the door pissed, and the Cheryl West-esque mum starts harping on at them about their drink-driving? And they all sort of roll their eyes, and one guy laughs and another one says "this is awkward" and we're told at the end: "Stop the family driving drunk: Legend"?
Let me count the ways.
1. It's sexist. It makes the woman ('Donna', in this case) responsible for doing the nagging. Because women are GREAT naggers, right? Nagging is our favourite. Naggity nag nag nag. Our second-favourite thing is stopping our menfolk having fun. Nothing like bringing down the party!
2. Again with the sexist. All the men in the family act like overgrown toddlers. Drunk, stupid, slobbery toddlers who can't be told what to do, or make sensible decisions for themselves. Could we not have had one man who actually acted like a grown-up? (Without mentioning 'mantrol', thanks).
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