fierce sisters

by Megan Abbott

Generally, I bristle at the term “guilty pleasure.” There’s plenty in life to feel guilty about but if we respond to something, isn’t that a testament to its hidden richness, power or complexity? (Yes, I’m talking about this, or this).

But there is a pleasure I feel supremely guilty about, which is my abiding fascination with a particular Bravo show involving a particular group of alternately neurasthenic, neurotic or clinically hysterical women residing in New York City—or at least I’m told it’s New York City, though they  never seem to occupy physical spaces I have ever actually seen in person.

Truthfully, I feel more guilty about my guilt over watching this show than I do for watching the show itself.  But the truth of the matter is, self-justification or rationalization or not, I think the show (and less frequently its other variations) are stunningly telling about female power relations. And I think it’s true.

That is not to say I believe these women actually behave like any women I know (the conspicuous consumption and entitlement is the most frustrating, if invigorating, element of the show). This is, after all, more the tenor of Bette Davis/Joan Crawford femininityfemininity as nearly a kind of drag.  But, that said, there are shadows, skittering glimpses of things I do understand about the way many women are bred/forced/encouraged to show/conceal/wield power.

The show brings up painful reminders of the mercenary quality of sixth-grade-girl-cliques. But it also reveals, at times, even subtler ways that women of a certain age (this is, after all, the rare show where all the women are over 35) must protect themselves, must perform. Must wear the mask of femininity, even when the mask becomes a gorgon one.

So this is what I tell myself when I do watch. The larger question for me is why I feel a keen sense of shame even writing about this show I have yet to name. Because, after all, the pleasure I get is not incomparable to the guilt-free experience of savoring Margo Channing assert, “I’m still not to be had for the price of a cocktail, like a salted peanut,” or watching Regan and Goneril circle each other, ready to pluck out eyes.

6 Comments to “fierce sisters”

  1. I don’t know about anyone else, Megan, but you’ve just offered me a very classy rationalization for my own obsession. I am Bravo’s bitch!

  2. Thank god!!
    Banish the guilt and shame, and live on Ramona Singer!

  3. Wow, you’ve made me want to watch this show! Although I know so many bitchy people I might not need to:) I just had a young woman clarify the definition of “frenemy” for me and realized I had a bunch of ’em. Seriously, the way us women still rip each other to shreds is a constant fascination for me and to be honest, a constant dissapointment.

    Laura, as we both know Megan is brilliant in many (likely all!) areas, but ESPECIALLY at finding classy rationalizations for, um, let’s say, lighter fare. She can make me feel all highbrow and smart about all my formerly-guilty pleasures!

    • thanks, Sara!
      I think it’s not the bitchery that compels in this particular show–but, much like All About Eve or the like, the way insecurities/fears and various emotional weaknesses (re: disorders) find their dream playground in such a high-intensity atmosphere. Like, to indulge a stereotype, men playing pickup basketball with each other or, of course, fighting a war….

  4. I am glad there is an archetype explanation for the appeal of this franchise; I know lots of very smart people who love these shows, and I never got it. (In fairness, I have only seen bits and pieces of episodes–such as when the main drama was that someone didn’t get seated at an event where she thought she should be, and this was an epic slight in her mind–and Laura once tried to explain the show’s appeal to me, but I am awfully dense, and I am not the target audience.) The complexity beneath the bitchery eluded me. I wonder what Joseph Campbell would have made of this show.

    That said, I love that there are guilty pleasures like this available to us, and I’m sure my guilty pleasures are sometimes a mystery to others.

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