Brave Dames and Wimpettes: What Women Are Really Doing on Page and Screen (Library of Contemporary Thought)

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9780345422811: Brave Dames and Wimpettes: What Women Are Really Doing on Page and Screen (Library of Contemporary Thought)
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Why are Jane Eyre, Marge Simpson, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer "brave dames"? What makes Ally McBeal, Madame Bovary, and the good wife Beth from Fatal Attraction "wimpettes"?

In this thoroughly witty, incisive look at the role of women on screen and page, Susan Isaacs argues that assertive, ethical women characters are losing ground to wounded, shallow sisters who are driven by what she calls the articles of wimpette philosophy. (Article Eight: A wimpette looks to a man to give her an identity.) Although female roles today include lawyers like Ally McBeal and CEOs like Ronnie of Veronica's Closet, they are wimpettes nonetheless. A brave dame, on the other hand, is a dignified, three-dimensional hero who may care about men, home, and hearth, but also cares--and acts--passionately about something in the world beyond. Brave dames' stories range from mundane (Mary Richards in The Mary Tyler Moore Show) to romantic (Francesca in The Horse Whisperer) to fantastic (Xena: Warrior Princess), but whatever they do, they care about justice and carry themselves with self-respect and decency. For a Really Brave Dame, think Frances McDormand as the tenacious, pregnant police chief in Fargo.

Isaacs's unmistakable love of fiction and film shines through even her most scathing wimpette assessments. In the end, she urges us to become "more thoughtful critics." The artist, she says, has the right to create whatever he or she pleases--and we have the right "to applaud or to yell, 'Hey, this stinks!' " If we do so, not only will fiction be improved, but so too might real life.

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Review:

Susan Isaacs's witty imagination has peopled the world with brave dames in films like Compromising Positions and full-bodied novels such as 1998's Red, White, and Blue. The slender and interestingly ornery essay Brave Dames and Wimpettes is part of the monthly Library of Contemporary Thought series, whose most fun title so far is Carl Hiaasen's Disney-bashing diatribe Team Rodent (now available on audiocassette).

So, what's a "brave dame"? "They're passionate about something besides passion," Isaacs writes. Take Jo March, Elizabeth Bennet, Katharine Hepburn, and Roz Russell, who prove "women are as competent and brave as the next guy." Her fave dame, Jane Eyre, "had high moral standards, stood up to injustice, and was willing to leave civilization and face the wild, even death, rather than do wrong."

Wimpettes, who outnumber dames in pop culture, believe in masochism, subterfuge, betrayal of women, and deriving identity from their man. "The world stops at the white picket of their fences.... larger causes--racial equality, justice--are left to the guys."

The book is a romp through books, movies, and TV, as Isaacs puts dozens of women in their place on the dame/wimpette spectrum. Anita Hill? Feh! "This über-wimpette testified before Congress how she endured vile sex talk from a superior rather than (1) report him for harassment ... or (2) tell him to shut the hell up." Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Frances McDormand in Fargo are dames; Ally McBeal and Anne Archer in Fatal Attraction are wimpettes. (Note, however, that Ethan Coen told Amazon.com McDormand is the bad guy in Fargo and Steve Buscemi the good guy.) Julia Roberts is a wimpette in My Best Friend's Wedding but a dame in Mystic Pizza and The Pelican Brief.

Ideally, Isaacs's book should start a lot of excellent arguments. Don't wimp out! --Tim Appelo

About the Author:

Susan Isaacs is the #1 bestselling author of Compromising Positions, Close Relations, Almost Paradise, Shining Through, Magic Hour, After All These Years, Lily White, and Red, White and Blue. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and the International Association of Crime Writers. Isaacs is on the national board of Mystery Writers of America and is chair of its Committee on Free Expression. She lives on Long Island.

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