Saturday, April 16, 2011

Best of Women: See You In The Internets

Achievement in Comedy - The Internet
So when I started this feminiseries, I had envisioned a landscape of frolicking women, all gently menstruating in unison while we voted and braided each other's hair. It would be like a hipper tampon commercial; if the Diva Cup started running ads on TV, we could all star together - Helen Mirren, Robyn, the Prime Minister of Iceland, and me.

But this land of women would be silent of one thing - laughter. Because, as we all know, women aren't funny. It's been widely documented that comediennes and funny girls are a once-in-a-generation sort of thing. Now that Tina Fey has cemented herself as the top of the pile for hilarity in the 2010s, the rest of us can go back to babbling about relationships, clothes, or the best way to get booze-vomit stains off the wall (sidenote: ew). Because there just isn't enough funny to go around.

SNORE. I am so tired of all the girls-aren't-funny bullcorn that gets tossed around like it's scientific fact. Every few years, we get a new crop of funny dudes (I feel like most recently, it's been the Judd Apatow comedy factory, featuring the Rogen/Segel/Baruchel/etc. bunch, but I'm kind of not really following the scene anymore), but in that whole field of funny, there's usually only one or two female voices. I know that men are awesome, and funny, but the Y chromosome isn't the gene for humour.

A few months ago, Leah McLaren wrote this infuriating column about how women aren't funny because we're the primary child rearers - as such, we spend all our talking time discussing chapped nipples and baby kaka, and forget to crack wise about non-child-related things (is there even such a thing? Please!). McLaren claims that we basically just leak all our funniness when we become mothers - not parents, since daddies are still allowed to be funny! - as though maybe hilarity is leached out through breast milk.

My response to this was basically BITCH PLEASE. While it's possible that, McLaren, as an insufferable cocktail of pretension and attention whoring, has gathered unto her bosom a girl gang made up of acolytes and the kind of girly-girl that wore a tiara to prom and posts ultrasound pictures of her unborn child on Facebook. As the rest of know, these women actually aren't funny. It's hard to have a sense of humour when you're fretting about how big your jean size, or if your boyfriend is cheating/proposing. Wise women have given up on all that, and are basically leaning back in their chairs made of ice cream, smoking fat cigars. And we're cracking jokes. Because that shit does not matter, and there's nothing less funny than worrying about stuff that doesn't compute.

In addition to pornography and procrastination, the internet has transformed the way women are funny. Previously, we had to attempt to break into what was inarguably a boy's club: stand-up comedians and sitcom developers seem to be overwhelmingly male, and they get lots of airtime for being funny on TV and in the movies, where funny women are often relegated to bimbo or slut roles. However, online, girls can skip all that nonsense and just spit out some funny business to the masses directly. What we end up with is sites like Go Fug Yourself and The Hairpin, which are totally femme in their voices...but also hilarious. Sites like mine, with an admittedly low readership, still get good feedback for being funny, and Twitter bon mots are as likely to spring from a mouth ringed in lipstick as one wreathed in a beard.

As in most things, what happens on the internet may not be reality in the rest of the world, but it proves that lazy columns like McLaren's simply aren't true. Our voices may not be heard from network television, but it's absolutely impossible to ignore funny women in all the places we pop up online. I search out great female voices on the internet - not because I'm a feminazi, but because I like relating to what I read and consume. When I get my news from a source that privileges the feminine voice, I do it for the same reason I pop over to BlogTO: because it comes from a place I know. And when I can read funny shit on the internet from a girl's point of view (and not, like, a blog about breastfeeding, Leah), it just all the better.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Best of Women: Look In A Mirren

Achievement in Sex-Ed: Helen Mirren
Okay, so what's the deal with Helen Mirren? I mean, clearly she's a stone cold fox, as evidenced by her being cast as The Sexy Co-star in a number of recent movies. And she's funny, as showcased by the not-so-funny-looking trailers for Arthur (in her, and Russel Brand's, defense: I would guess the source material about a billionaire man-baby comes off as a little lame in a post-economic meltdown world, but whatevs, points for trying). She has a banging bod, cheekily on display in bikinis and sundry gowns and eventwear. It's well-established at this point that Helen Mirren is an a-okay kind of gal. So, my question is: Helen Mirren, where have you been all my life? Her first film credit is from 1966, a time when my mom was in elementary school, so she's like O.L.D. for real. Her IMDB page seems to list mostly filmed BBC productions and about 57 variations on Prime Suspect, but that paints only a partial picture of a one-woman zeitgeist.

Every few years, people remember that older female acting gigs are sort of tough to come by. By "older," I mean older than 30, maybe 34. It was especially bad a few years ago, when the Olsen twins, Linsday Lohan and their ilk were involved in a Vanity Fair-led minifreakout about little girl actresses and What That Meant. VF ill-advisedly spent an issue fawning over the young'uns, which was less "Wheee! Fun with peers!" and more of a combination of "Oh my god, when can we get back to writing ceaselessly about the Kennedies?" and "creepy uncle who breathes too hard at the kiddie table." Starlets like the ones on the cover of VF do very well for a few years, then they have a series of ill-advised marriages and/or stints in rehab, while actresses wait quietly for HBO to write them a showcase show and go on to win a slew of Emmy awards. Very few women come to prominence as an older actress - most start as a nubile young things, all tank tops and magazine covers, and then go on to become Sigourney Weaver.

So it's cool that Helen Mirren seems different. She hasn't had her breakthrough North American role - I guess she first got noticed in The Queen in 2006, but her flicks like Red could best be described as popcorn movies. She garnered mixed reviews as Prospera in Julie Taymor's The Tempest, a role that took the iconic grizzled wizard role and shaped into a distinctly feminine anger. Still, she hasn't had her defining role yet; I suppose Brits would say that she is Jane Tennison, but I, like 97% of North America, haven't seen it, so I don't know.

I hope that Mirren's pop culture success can be translated into a more varied role market for older actresses. I'm tired of seeing roles like Jane Fonda's in Monster-In-Law, a catty exercise in inter-generational jealousy. TV has upped the ante with roles like Nurse Jackie and The Big C, but as audiences age, they'll want to see themselves on the big screen, too. Mirren is ahead of the curve, but I predict that the actresses who were working in both 1979 and 2011 won't be hurting in fifteen years. And it's cool that this particular job market still seems to have openings for the new(ish) folks.

I hope Mirren, and her status as sex symbol, is a harbinger of thing to come. I, for one, would be comfortable with seeing female sensuality expressed more often and with more age diversity. Seeing ladies like Mirren, and other older/still-sexy broads, teaches us that sexiness comes in all forms. I know Helen Mirren doesn't wake up in the morning and say to herself, "Today I'm going to be a role model," but we consume so many images of youth as equaling beauty; there's something subversive and wonderful about Mirren's decision to market herself as an object of sexual desire, despite the fact that she's past retirement age.

Women are sexy - not just young women, mind you, but women with kids. Women with wrinkles. Women who have gained and lost weight since they were twenty-seven. Women who have gray hair. Women who get a little nip/tuck done, and women who don't. Women who choose to wearing the plunging necklines into retirement, and those who dress more modestly. There are tons of ways to be sexy, and Helen Mirren's version, at 65 and still shakin' her tatas in Kristen Wiig's face, is pretty cool.