The Beauty Experiment

Demise of the bitchy villain?

by on Nov.08, 2012, under change, gender, media

I missed the legal thriller Damages when it came out in 2007 and only just got hooked on Glenn Close’s reprehensible super-bitch lawyer, Patty Hewes. Patty is powerful as few women characters on screen today are. She’s got a host of traditionally “female” strengths– a (falsely) nurturing demeanor, an instinct for emotional manipulation, a great beauty package [wardrobe, grooming, interior decor]–but these are mixed in a venomous and compulsively watchable brew with “masculine” professional aggression and bravado.

I think part of my fascination with Patty’s suberbitch is that she’s a Halloween version of the reality Anne-Marie Slaughter suggests in the Atlantic article that freaked American women out so badly: “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.” Patty emphatically doesn’t have it all: her second husband is a minor character, her son a troublesome regret, her professional colleagues either jealous or murderous and her underlings a set of pawns. In this way she reconfirms a subconscious personal, cultural, or familial bias that many of us have been trying hard to shake: that there are good choices for women to make and bad ones. If a woman makes the latter, well, then she’s the type that would have a key witness’s dog murdered to frighten that witness into testifying. (Read: Bitch.)

The gist of Slaughter’s essay was that a high-powered 80-hour-a week office career like Patty’s, or the the one my husband has, is in direct conflict with pretty much everything else in life, from responsive parenting to an involved marriage to civic participation. I largely agreed with Slaughter, particularly her calls for school schedules to match work schedules and the end of office “macho” facetime, all-nighters and unnecessary travel. But Slaughter’s article enraged a friend of mine, who felt it sold short her professional successes as a corporate lawyer asking for flextime and a nursing room, and her personal success at re-examining, with her husband, the management of family and household labor.

While I do love Close’s Patty Hewes, I think many of us–my angry friend, my own husband, all of us struggling to loosen the tie of corporate America while fortifying its heart–are ready to move beyond manipulative bitches who half-heartedly wish they’d been better mothers, as well as greedy assholes who frequent strip-clubs to win business deals. We need Millenial villains, and may even be ready for a character in Patty’s exact situation to be a hero, however flawed. Next up on the list of programs to watch while John and I fold laundry? Borgen, about an ambitious Danish Prime Minister and the man who loves her.

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