I'm Just Saying…

December 15, 2013

The Girl

I always wanted to be “The Girl.” I’m not referring to a specific “Girl” such as “I always wanted to be Audrey Hepburn.” No, “The Girl” is not a specific woman; she’s an idea, a concept. As a matter of fact, it’s only now that I’m able to verbalize the phenomenon of “The Girl.” I was watching Casino Royale. James Bond’s cold heart is melted by beautiful British Treasury Agent Vesper Lynd. In a fit of pique, Bond decides to blow his cover and assassinate his nemesis, Le Chiffre. Bond’s orders to his compatriot René Mathis: “Get the girl out.” In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones stands high atop the side of a canyon, a bazooka pointed at a band of Nazi’s holding the hijacked Ark of the Covenant and Indy’s love, Marion Ravenwood. The nefarious Colonel Dietrich asks, “Dr. Jones, surely you don’t think you can escape from this island?” Indy answers: “That depends on how reasonable we’re all willing to be. All I want is the girl.” It doesn’t end there. Charade, Dr. No, Ocean’s Eleven… There’s the hero…and then there’s “The Girl.”

Who wouldn’t want to be “The Girl?” Who doesn’t want to be with “The Man With The Hat” who can brandish his whip, physically and metaphorically, if you know what I mean. “The Girl” plays into the most common female fantasy, finding the perfect man. Film makes it simple. There are only 120 minutes available. The “love story” portion receives on average, what, 15 of those 120 minutes? Let’s get cracking, shall we? “The Girl” only needs to speak to the hero for approximately five minutes, the average length of one, perhaps two scenes, to know he’s “the one.” Like the perfect pig in a blanket, he’s a manly man wrapped in a Hallmark Card of sensitivity. Macho yet tender! Strong yet silent! Everything is perfect…until the sequel. Have you ever noticed how the hero can always get a new “Girl” to take the place of the original? Just ask James Bond. Women don’t seem to mind. After all, to be “The Girl” is hitting pay dirt. It’s the cheerleader dating the high school quarterback. Is it hard to be “The Girl?” Not at all, For all of the aforementioned perks, all you have to do is give up your identity; be “The Girl With No Name.”

I think about this phenomenon — a lot. Films frequently focus on a male character as a man in motion. He’s going places. However, the female character, “The Girl,” is in a state of suspended animation. I’m beginning to believe movies are an upgraded, live action extension of a Jane Austen novel—a novelist whose female characters were all perpetual ladies in waiting. In honor of today’s  anniversary of Ms. Austen’s birthday, I think the topic merits examination— and it’s not the first time.

My thesis for my Masters degree explored the lack of the female bildungsroman in female authored literature. The bildungsroman in literary criticism is known as the novel of formation and the character being formed is most often a man (think Pip in Great Expectations). In layman’s terms, it’s the guy who gets all the kick-ass adventures. He learns, he grows, and he discovers his unique place in the larger universe. Conversely, beloved Jane Austen was stuck in a parlor doing needlework and a slow burn while her brothers went off gallivanting to find themselves. Jane Austen waited; and Elizabeth Bennett waited; and Eleanor Dashwood waited. Flash forward two hundred years and Marion Ravenwood is sitting in a bar in Nepal. What is this smart, sassy, resilient, resourceful young woman doing? Waiting for the Man with the Hat. “Indiana Jones,” she says, “I always knew one day you’d come walking back through my door. Something made it inevitable.” The Girl, Exhibit A.

Interestingly enough, while Jane never stopped waiting, she wrote a happy ending of love, marriage and “happily ever after” for her ladies. Essentially, they were each “The Girl” picked out by the perfect man. I don’t blame Jane. Truly, I don’t. But in all these years haven’t women noticed that we’re accepting a romantic premise written by a woman who never married? I’m just saying.

Even if a woman does strike out on her own, the end game is always acquisition of “The Man” that can make her feel like “The Girl.” Films feed us this fantasy in what I like to refer to as “The Veterinarian Effect.” Dust off your VHS copy of  the classic Baby Boom and you’ll find Diane Keaton moving from the thriving metropolis of New York to a sleepy community in Vermont. Lo and behold, she finds Sam Shepherd, the town veterinarian; and he just happens to be single — and perfect. I wish someone had told me about this. If I had known it was this easy to find Mr. Right, I would have rented a U-haul and changed my zip code years ago.

As society modernized, Jane Austen’s “Girl” has been updated to incorporate sexual fulfillment. Thelma and Louise is a prime example of “The Girl” syndrome with a twist. Thelma (Gina Davis) has never had good sex with her boorish husband, Darryl. However, by the end of the movie she is liberated and ready to go over the cliff, literally. Why? Because she had “The Girl” experience of sublime sex with Brad Pitt. “Good God Thelma,” Louise cries upon hearing the news, “somebody finally done laid you right.” Game, set, match. Thanks for playing Thelma. You’re good to go.

As we commemorate another anniversary of Ms. Austen’s birthday, the final irony is society isn’t selling this “Girl” bill of goods to hostile consumers. Let me repeat myself: I always wanted to be “The Girl.” Truth be told, the seed of this post began with my musings over not only Jane Austen’s life and work but my own fear and self-loathing that I had passed the age of the ingénue; I had aged out of being “The Girl.”

And why don’t we admit that being “The Girl” is what we really want? Because it feels wrong to give our identity away, to be “the girl with no name.”  I wonder if Jane Austen felt conflicted as well. Society obstructed all means and opportunity for Jane to decide the course of her life. Perhaps not marrying was her only avenue to exercise control over her destiny. There is another possibility. Was Jane simply afraid to marry? Was she afraid if she made a mistake and chose the wrong man, what little emotional and mental autonomy she had would be stripped from her? For such a vibrant, intelligent woman, it would have been a fate worse than death. It is then noteworthy that Jane had no compunction about encouraging other women on the subject of matrimony. To her niece, Fanny Knight, she wrote: ” To you I shall say, as I have often said before, Do not be in a hurry, the right man will come at last…

There is an endless duality to the lives of women. We remind ourselves that we are not supposed to be the sidekick but rather the heroes of our own lives. All the while, we keep an eye on the horizon, hoping that around next corner, or the next sleepy town, in a twist of fate we will find our “Man With The Hat.”  I may be “The Woman” but in my heart of hearts, I still really want to be “The Girl.” It’s a shame. I have the shoes picked out and everything.

Happy Birthday Jane…

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