Thursday, December 27, 2007

American Dreaming

Dream Girls (2006) directed by Bill Condon

My sistah T (one of my "outlaws") lent me some DVDs which I missed this year and last and have been meaning to see for sometime. This is one of them ...

I remember clearly when my brother and I went through our Motown phase. We obsessively listened to a three disc set of the Supremes in the 70s, memorizing the lyrics, miming the actions, generally making fools of ourselves as only white folk can do when listening to black music (okay, so maybe that was just me)... so I do get it - the story of the Supremes is intriguing, a quintessential American rags to riches success story.

The story is well known and I think there is no need to reiterate the entire plot except in its most basic form. The film is a semi-fictitious version of the life of Diana Ross and the Supremes (here renamed The Dreams) and their rise to fame under the mentorship of Berry Gordy Jr., founder/owner of Motown Records in Detroit. There are a number of idealistic twists along the way typical of American success stories. That things did not end well for all concerned doesn't really fit into this fantasy paradigm.

Regrettably, the film has achieved the somewhat inconceivable: Bill Condon has managed to create an utterly boring cinematic vision of a dynamic group of black entertainers in one of the most crucial periods in black American music history.

Oh yes, it looks beautiful and the costumes, wigs and various scenarios where the Dreams appear are picture perfect but it utterly lacks depth. The music is uniformly awful, generic sounding and soulless, literally. Not for one minute do you believe these three girls grew up poor, or how much music meant to them as a way out of that life or sense the hunger that must have driven Berry to the sometimes malicious and criminal ends he resorted to to promote the careers of the Supremes and push a black pop group into mainstream American culture.

Here the Supreme group members Diana Ross have morphed into Deena (Beyonce Knowles), Florence Ballard into Effie (the famously rejected American Idol participant Jennifer Hudson) and Mary Wilson into Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose). The girls grew up in a time when black was not beautiful, where nappy hair had to be hidden by synthetic wigs. Black entertainers were still not welcome in certain establishments. Berry exploded on to the mainstream music scene destroying the colour bar forever on radio and musical venues.

Here Deena, Effie and Lorrell are taken under the wing of Berry-like music entrepreneur Curtis Taylor, Jr., (Jamie Foxx), owner of a car dealership and wannabe producer. Taylor is brilliant at spotting talent, cultivating it and pushing the group forward into the pop sensations they will eventually become. However, he is equally ruthless at eliminating all obstacles in the way. When Effie becomes a liability because she is too difficult, too heavy for the pop image that he is cultivating for the girls, he takes Deena as his lover and forces Effie into the sidelines as a backup singer even though she has the strongest voice.

Effie quits and lives nobly in poverty, giving birth to Taylor's child and never disclosing the father's identity. She struggles on, trying to re-establish her own career, is cheated out of a comeback by Taylor only to be resurrected by the saintly Deena who is horrified to learn what Taylor has done. Effie is reunited with the Dreams by a gracious Deena for a triumphant last song in the film during which Taylor slowly realizes that the little girl in the audience watching Efiie ... is .. gasp ... own child! Brother please. He (Jamie Foxx the actor) is much better than this material. He was, much to my surprise, superb in Collateral (2004).

Nothing feels authentic here. Knowles, despite her beauty and amazing voice, is what you would imagine: only passable as an actress. Foxx is compelling I admit. Eddie Murphy as James Thunder Early (perhaps representing an amalgamation of James Brown and other soul singers of the time) is unwatchable in his coarseness and vulgarity trying to represent, I think, what a badass this type of trail blazing singer probably was at the time. No wonder the critics raved about Jennifer Hudson - she is one the shining spot in the whole film. She is passionate. angry, volatile, real. You believe that she is Effie.

In real life Florence Ballard, the founder of the Primettes, which later became the Supremes, was fired from the group in 1967 over conflicts with Berry Gordy and Diana Ross (who had since become Berry's lover). She ended up on welfare and was attempting a comeback when she died in 1976 from heart problems.

Mainstream American filmmaking, which is obsessed with happy endings, can't seem to deal with the awfulness of this truth.

But you know, maybe the black community needs these cinematic fantasies too where the good guy triumphs and the villain is punished. Too bad that isn't the way life works.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Alpha Dog (2006)

Alpha Dog (2006) is based on the 2000 real events of drug dealer Jesse James Hollywood's (Emile Hirsch as Johnny Truelove) malicious conniving to kidnap and kill 15 year old Nicholas Markowitz, here named Zack Mazursky, who was the brother of a former friend/meth addict Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster), in order to eradicate a debt. The story is both too obviously done and thoroughly chilling in its details. Not as exploitative as Kids (1995) directed by Larry Clark. which seemed to revel in the sexual activities and mindless violence of underage kids, it comes a bit too close to achieving the same sort of effect.

Nick Cassavetes
' film is shot like a documentary with a "filmmaker" asking questions off screen, the principals labeled on film and chronological timelines indicating how the events transpired which lead to the death of Markowitz. It opens with "home movies" of what the viewer presumes to be the young men as boys set to a melancholy rendition of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow". The message is clear, they start off so sweetly, then look what they become ... Apparently Cassavetes was inspired by the fact that his two daughters went to school with some of the boys involved.

More explicit "message" commentary comes from Sonny Truelove (Bruce Willis), father of Johnny Truelove, in which he implicates all the parents for the whole affair. The irony quickly reveals itself. Sonny is the main supplier for Johnny's drug trade and a minor criminal himself. His criminal activities fuel Johnny's. Sonny's "mentor" Cosmo (Harry Dean Stanton) is a semi-literate drunk. Apples and trees, apples and trees ...

Son Johnny Truelove is a malignant, vicious Napoleonic figure who orders about his crew of misfits and losers with an unquestioned imperialism in his drug empire. Elvis (Shawn Hatosy) is a none too bright lackey who, it is implied, is in love with Johnny and will do his bidding without compunction. Frankie (pop star Justin Timberlake) is the son of wealthy botanist and lives in luxurious circumstances in Palm Springs yet hangs with Johnny and the boys in the Valley.

Jake Mazursky, who is Jewish, is often the target of the underlying hostility the mostly white crew feels towards him. When he fails to collect on a debt that is owed to Johnny, he must find a way to pay. Jake's father Butch (David Thornton), an affluent white collar professional with a second wife Olivia (Sharon Stone) and a young son Zack, is reluctant to get more involved in Jake's debts which accumulate with his increasing habit. Jake is unable to pay his debt inciting vengeful violence from Johnny's crew. Jake retaliates, trashing Johnny's house, stealing his TV, defecating in his home.

Zack, naive, coddled by a loving but over protective mother, wants to be like half-brother Jake and gets caught in the middle of the violent feud. Johnny, Frankie (a very well chosen Justin Timberlake) and Tiko (Fernando Vargas) are driving through Zack’s San Fernando neighborhood, accidentally spot Zack and snatch him thinking they can hold him until Jake pays up.

Jake refuses to make a deal with Johnny. The boys, at loose ends about what to do with Zack, portrayed here as endlessly sweet and innocent, end up allowing him to hang out, smoke pot, flirt and have sex with a succession of vacuous girls including Julie (Amanda Seyfried), watch “gangsta” videos (again fingered as one of the culprits int the events here) and offer him pretty much the best time of his young sheltered life at their various homes. Zack promises not to run away and why would he? Only Frankie's girl Susan (Dominique Swain) is momentarily horrified by what has happened and the consequences but when assured that Zack will soon be returned she relents and joins in the general party. Zack somehow believes that being held hostage will alleviate his brother's dire situation, assuaging Johnny's anger.

Johnny starts to panic about how to return Zack and asks a lawyer for advice, when told that he is looking at a life sentence for kidnapping he asks first Frankie and then Elvis to kill Zack. Frankie refuses but Elvis eagerly takes up the challenge. The highly publicized ending is well known.

So who or what had failed this boy? Indifferent or overly liberal parents, the effect of drugs, machismo gone haywire, gangsta video culture, rap music, take your pick ...

Sonny Truelove is a lowlife criminal. Butch Mazursky is too uninvolved in his boys' lives, Olive too involved, prompting Zack's departure. Frankie's father, though very wealthy indulges in drink, drugs and threesomes in front of Frankie. Susan's mother, high on Ecstasy, is too self-absorbed to talk to Susan when she comes to her mother for advice.

It's horrifying, repulsive, and completely compelling. Cassavetes does a more than credible job in portraying the culture that spawned these horrific events. However, I can't help feeling that despite the obvious horror that the filmmaker is trying to display there is an almost prurient interest in the lives of these kids.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Visiting Mrs. Nabokov and Other Excursions

Visiting Mrs. Nabokov and Other Excursions by Martin Amis (Vintage Books, 1993) 274 pp.

I snapped up this book immediately at a used book sale this fall at the university where I work. The title and author were enough for me even though the essays/articles date back to the 80s and 90s ... Amis' bad boy charm and razor sharp intellect have always been attractive to me.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I suffered through the reading of The Rachel Papers, Amis' first novel, not because it wasn't any good (I thought it was a good first effort by a very young man) but because my sense of smell while pregnant was so intense that the peculiar scent of the old book, which had been passed through many hands at the library, almost undid me. But I soldiered on because I wanted to see what his first artistic effort would be like. And I'm glad I did.

I admit I have been selective in choosing which essays to read in this book, studiously avoiding the pieces on tennis, chess, poker and football (soccer to you and I here in Canada) or snooker with his former intimate and fellow author Julian Barnes (by the way this article predates their estrangement).

I was concentrating on the pieces on Graham Greene, John Updike, Madonna, V.S. Naipaul , the Rolling Stones, Salman Rushdie and, of course, the title piece "Visiting Mrs. Nabokov". He doesn't disappoint. He never does. He is always quick witted, erudite, acerbic.

One of my few complaints is that the pieces are sometimes too short but likely these are written according to the strict word counts of those newspapers and magazines that they were originally published in (The Observer, Vogue, Evening Standard, Tatler, etc ...). His razor sharp tongue seems to excel in deconstructing outsized personalities.

Read his assessment of Ronald Reagan's performance at the Republican convention in 1988 as described in "Phantom of the Opera: The Republicans in 1988" and his ruthless picking apart of the "mask" that Reagan assumed as the penultimate symbol of Republican royalty where he describes Reagan as "a gorgeous old opera-phantom shot full of novocaine".

Or read his clever summation of Madonna's artistic/mercenary motivations in producing the book Sex and the astute analysis of her success as being a triumph of will over talent.

Other pieces include Salman Rushdie living under the consequences of the Ayatollah Khomeini imposed fatwa, a long dissertation on Saul Bellow's More Die of Heartbreak, Naipaul's book on the ills of modern India.

It is a bit dated in the reading now but Amis is always a delight to read.

The Demise of the Tooth Fairy and the End of Santa

It all started with the tooth fairy ...

One day earlier this year J, my daughter, was talking about the tooth fairy and the loss of her latest tooth. She looked up at me and said coyly (I thought), "I wish that the tooth fairy would leave me just a little bit extra this time!"

Oh no, she must know, I was thinking as she said this. I pondered how I should start to broach this subject.

We've had our close calls. One or two of her close friends had warned her that Santa didn't exist and we always managed to talk her out of it, insisting that they might not believe but we certainly did.

She noticed some years ago that Santa's writing resembled her dad's block like printing and confronted him. We managed somehow to wiggle out of that and then started to type all our notes instead. That worked for a while.

Sometimes she would leave little "traps" for Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, with hand scrawled notes or messages on a small blackboard we had set up in the dining room which asked: "Are you real? Check yes here ___ or no ___" or "Did you like the cookies? Check yes here ___ or no ___"

"Well J," I finally started after some fumbling. "You know ... there's no tooth fairy... uh, right?"

"WHAT?" she exclaimed in alarm. She promptly burst into tears.

Uh oh ...

"So whose been putting money in my tooth fairy box then?" she asked with some desperation.

"Well, uh, well, um, I guess that would be me and your daddy" ... Arrrggggh - what have I done? I thought she knew, I thought she was just waiting for me to tell her. I thought ...


"I uh I ... um," Oh sh*t ...

"So does that mean (look of horror passes over her face) that there's ... NO ... SANTA?"
Please someone vaporize me right now ...

"There's no Santa? There's no Santa? Why didn't you tell me? Why did you lie?" Dark eyes flashing, look of anger, frustration, discovery, confirmation of fear, all in rapid succession passed over her sweet face.

"Well it's not really a lie baby ... isn't it a lovely idea that Santa comes and brings gifts to children? And we do believe in the Christmas spirit, that people should come together and share food and good times and be generous ..." Cue the violins please ...

She softened a bit. She was not so angry.

"And wasn't it lovely to believe all this time?"

"Well yeah ..." Long wistful silence. "So what about the Easter Bunny?"

"Uh, you'll have to ask your dad about that."

I thought: I'm not taking a bullet for the Easter bunny too, no way.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Margot at the Wedding (2007)

Margot at the Wedding (2007) directed by Noah Baumbach

This film is director Noah Baumbach's similarly themed follow-up to The Squid and the Whale which also tackled a dysfunctional, unhappy family and the fallout when their desires and familial resentments collide. He also directed Kicking and Screaming (2005) which now seems an aberration in light of these two films.

Here, the successful and spectacularly unhappy New York writer Margot Zeller (Nicole Kidman), travels to her family home for the prospective wedding of her estranged, slightly offbeat sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh), with Margot's son Claude (the charming newcomer Zane Pais) in tow.

Margot has unexplained grievances against Pauline and seems determined to undermine the whole venture. Pauline is flighty, emotional and a little enthralled with her more successful, more beautiful sister. Margot quickly sizes up Pauline's fiancé Malcolm, the unemployed artist cum failed musician (Jack Black), and finds him wanting. He is simply not good enough for Pauline. Malcolm too appears under her thumb despite her coldness and rude behavior. But it's not just Malcolm.

Everything disappoints or alarms the acerbic Margot when she returns home. Margot insists Pauline has changed the family home to its detriment. She tells her son, the sweet-natured Claude that he has changed: he lacks manners, is embarrassing to her, smells offensive and is lazy and disrespectful to her sister. Margot cavorts with a male friend in front of Claude suggesting that she is having an affair. She tactlessly urges friends to consider that their son is autistic although the couple insists he has been tested. She seems unable to control her unpleasantness and selfish behavior.

As the wedding approaches, this odd configuration of personalities flails and struggles. Unpleasant, possibly violent, neighbors threaten the outcome of the wedding day and physically threaten Claude and Ingrid, Pauline's teenage daughter. The tree in the backyard is a bone of contention for them and must be cut down before the wedding. Margot appears on the verge of leaving her husband. An indiscretion on Malcolm's part with the babysitter Maisie (whose father is consorting with Margot) nearly ends his relationship with Pauline.

Despite the raves for The Squid and the Whale, the ennui of the educated upper middle class is only of limited interest to me but Kidman is always a revelation as an actor. She is utterly convincing as a brittle, self-absorbed narcissist who torments her son, betrays her husband (John Turturro), alienates her sister and almost sabotage's Pauline's marriage. The American director Mike Nichols has said that the mark of a great actor is that you always believe that they are just playing themselves on screen and this, I think, is true of Kidman.

Both films tend to have a washed out quality, pictorially, but the chemistry between Kidman and Leigh holds the film together for me. Some reviewers have expressed annoyance at the various neurotic characterizations ("a circus of family neuroses and bad behavior that perhaps a therapist could make sense of better than Noah Baumbach can" said one while another opined this: "a hugely pretentious, ugly and annoying follow-up" to his first film) but that's not what troubles me.

I think it's the sense of not knowing why these unhappy people are the way they are. I felt the same way about the father figure Jeff Daniels and other characters in The Squid and the Whale. It's not that it wasn't interesting to watch; it just felt so superficial and mysterious ... it's as if the director knows the secret of their unhappiness but won't reveal it to the audience or maybe he’s hoping we’ll figure it out on our own.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Just like the book by Nabokov

"They came to my house in a disembodied state of suspension, bringing to my living room their secrets, their pains and their gifts."
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (Random House, 2004) 347 pp.

One brave Iranian professor, Azar Nafisi, gathers a group of seven girls (Azin, Mahshid, Manna, Mitra, Nassrin, Sanaz and Yassi) together to read censored texts in her home in the late 1990s. Frustrated by life under Islamic rule in Iran, this book documents their oppression and enlightenment as women and as human beings, in a tyrannical state where girls and women are reprimanded, punished and sometimes imprisoned for having "too long" nails, for biting apples "too seductively", for allowing strands of hair to peek through their veils, for wearing makeup, for "Western attitudes". The pleasures of this small group are small but forbidden and therefore delicious: classical Western literature by Nabokov, Fitzgerald, Flaubert and Henry James; ham and cheese sandwiches; the removal of their veils in a private space; classic Hollywood movies, etc ...

The two photographs that Nafisi speaks of early in the book serve as a metaphors for the girls' dual existence. In the first they are shrouded in their chadors. It is difficult to distinguish them from each other. In the second, they have disrobed and are seen in a more intimate manner with their own clothes, unveiled, smiling, lively.

But although the book starts this way it is more than a recollection of the time spent with these girls; it is a political memoir of living in Iran through revolutionary times and Nafisi's transformation from a young "revolutionary" living as an Iranian student in America in the 60s to a wiser, more humane citizen of the world living in Iran as an adult in the late 70s and the Iran/Iraq war in the 1980s and 90s. She evolves into an adult who recognizes that the draconian desires of her revolutionary youth sometimes had real and dangerous consequences in a state ready to punish and kill those who did not conform to the schemes of the 1979 Islamic revolution under Ayatollah Khomeini.

Early on, she relates a telling anecdote: when as a young cleric Khomeini was faced with an anti-clerical town official who named his dogs in a manner so as to insult clerics. He asked a leading political cleric how he should have proceeded. He was told "Kill him. You hit first and let others complain. Don't be the victim."

Nafisi, who is both intensely political and an avid admirer of classic Western literature, struggled as a young professor teaching her first year at the University of Tehran. She wanted to impress upon her students the importance of literature. In mock desperation, she even resorts to putting The Great Gatsby on trial in class. Where she sees beauty, some of her more radical students see corruption, decadence and the flouting of a perverse, materialistic Western culture.

Soon, the books that she loves come to represent what was lost in Iran during the Revolution: "When I left class that day, I did not tell them what I myself was just beginning to discover: how similar our own fate was becoming to Gatsby's. He wanted to fulfill his dream by repeating the past, and in the end he discovered that the past was dead, the present was a sham and there was no future. Was this not similar to our revolution, which had come in the name of our collective past and had wrecked our lives in the name of a dream?"

Her idealism is further destroyed when the government decrees that the universities must be shut down to re-examine their role in the cultural revolution. Books are banned, book sellers close because the areas around the university are too violent. Instead of teaching students she is on the street dodging police and bullets and roving gangs of militants intent on punishing those who "disobey" Islamic law as well as angrily opposing university officials who wish to impose the veil on all women, including its female professors.

Eventually she succumbs and begins to teach again at the Allameh Tabatabai University where she resumes teaching classic Western literature to sometimes reluctant students. She learns the fate of her older students: some imprisoned and raped or shot. Others are left to languish for imaginary violations, allegedly some appeared to be jailed merely for their beauty and the lust they inspired.

Henry James confounds her students more so than more complex writings by James Joyce for they cannot determine if the characters are "good" or "bad" (the beauty of James' writing I'd say, as the characters are shaded in such a way that these pronouncements are difficult to make with authority). Is Daisy Miller a brazen girl or a brave girl? Is the heroine Catherine Sloper in Washington Square foolish or independent and strong willed? The reading of Jane Austen prompts discussions about modern marriage in Iran where, to their dismay the girls find that they have fewer rights than their mothers, not more.

Yet Nafisi survives. She survives the Islamic Revolution; the devastation of the eight year Iran/Iraq war in the 1980s; the death of Khomeini; roaming, violent morality squads; government enforcement of the wearing of the veil, the departure or disappearance of cherished colleagues and students.

Nafisi decides to leave for America with her immediate family in 1997. She accepts a teaching position at a major unversity. This prompts different reactions on the part of her seven "girls" as she describes them. As of 2000, Nafisi wrote that:

Azin remarried and moved to California. Her daughter Negar had been taken from her by her first husband and she felt she had nothing to stay for in Tehran.

Manna writes poetry and continued to meet with Mahshid and Yassi to read and talk about literature until they both left for the U.S.

Mahshid is now a senior editor and publishes books of her own in Iran.

Mitra left for Canada, enrolled in college and had a son.

Nassrin sneaked into Turkey with the hope of leaving for London. She arrived safely but Nafisi learns nothing more of her after this.

Sanaz married happily and moved to Europe.

Yassi was accepted at Rice University in Texas and was completing her PhD.

Monday, December 3, 2007

F Words

And I have known the eyes already, known them all -
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,
T.S. Eliot (1917)

I have been thinking about the role of fashion in the lives of women for some time and I am going to brazenly suggest that “progressive”, intelligent women have very ambiguous feelings about fashion, at least those women in the upper third of the Western world in the 21st century. Fashion is sometimes seen as frivolous, superficial, and too silly to be of value to the average, no-nonsense woman.

I’m speaking not just of “Fashion” with a capital “F”, as in high fashion or haute couture, with its attendant sense that there are styles of dress that are being imposed on women by small groups of wealthy designers (mostly men), who are removed from our daily lives and experiences, and producing outrageous costumes at astronomical prices for an elite group of women. No, women have a problem with fashion period: how we dress ourselves, how we express ourselves through our way of dress, and, how we perceive others, particularly and especially, women.
Clothing evokes powerful feelings and can elicit intense emotional and physical reactions (well duh you are now thinking).

I have a theory that women quickly categorize each other by our fashion sense with a one rapid, raking look, up and down (we have all done it I fear), and then lump the woman into a clearly defined group: promiscuous (except we don’t use that adjective, we use the noun Barbara Amiel employed in Chicago during Conrad Black’s trial when she dismissed that female journalist); uptight (she lacks fashion sense); athletic (I wish I had her build so that could wear clothes like that); conservative (her clothes are boring - ergo she is boring!); trendy (she’s a slave to fashion); frivolous (cares too much about her clothes); snooty (spends more on her clothes than I do); trashy (men are attracted to her sexually because of her clothes), etc …

Now, how did Ms. Amiel dare to make that assertion about the female journalist. I’m betting that she merely looked at her clothes and her makeup and hasn’t had any other contact whatsoever with that woman to be able to determine whether she was, or was not, the “s” word. She sized her up quickly, malignantly, and uttered her pronouncement with withering disdain.
Amiel is a good example too of someone who is constantly scrutinized not just for her obnoxious right wing views (rightfully so) but for the way she looks. As much discussion in serious periodicals is spent on how good she looks for a 60 something, how much money she spends on her clothes, the fashion excesses her husband permits her, and, the outrageous photospreads (remember Babs sitting at the feet of Conrad anyone?) in fashion magazines.

It may sound extreme but I think it’s true. We, as women, are so obsessed with our looks and our sense of being evaluated by our looks that we can rarely be charitable about the fashion choices of other women. We are judged for our fashion choices not just by men, as sexual objects and/or objects of admiration, but by other females. And the women who say they don’t care, care just as much, perhaps more so.

As I look out the window of my little cubicle at the university in Toronto where I work I see groups of students flowing past all day long. Students rush past to classes or meetings with friends. They are a microcosm of urban Toronto: all races, all faiths, all shapes and sizes and shades. There is one common denominator that is easily discerned: they very closely resemble each other in style.

I see them in identical puffy winter coats or hoodies, low slung jeans, and trendy sneakers. There are studious looking, no make up kind of girls with the same sensible shoes and the same unadorned knapsacks slung over their backs. There are long legged athletic types trooping around with other long legged athletic types. Carefully made up girly girls, arm in arm, with identical cell phones, hairstyles, jewelry, and other girls who look like their sisters or cousins. And, I think, it’s not just because they are young.

I think it’s because they are female and seek what is familiar and comfortable and won’t make them too uncomfortable in their own circle of friends.

And I will toss around another F word: feminism. At the end of it all, I think most women, even what I would refer to as progressive, intelligent women with feminist beliefs determine if a stranger will be part of their “tribe” by their fashion sense, or lack thereof. And if said stranger doesn’t conform, there is no real kinship established between the women.

The high heel wearing fashionista will never share a latte and her heart with the Birkenstock wearing chum. The first will be eternally thinking “Oh why can’t she just do something with her hair when we go out?” The latter will secretly think the former spends way too much on manicures and should be devoting those resources to PETA or some other worthy cause.
But, no, no, you protest. That’s not true! I assure you it is. Look around you, look at your circle of friends (okay dear male reader look at your female partner or your sister or your mom and her friends). They will resemble you (or her if the reader is a male).

Soccer mom will cleave unto to soccer mom; sporty, athletic gal will cleave to similarly clad friend; high fashion career girl will share martinis with same. We need to surround ourselves with people that look like us – not necessarily the same race, or those with the same physical features, but here in multicultural Toronto and in most urban cities - we surround ourselves with people who have the same fashion sense. I could never be friends with woman who kept asking me how I get around on those three inch heels. The sheer absurdity of the question …

But men are the same you protest. Maybe. Maybe they gravitate to men that look like them, dress like them, have the same kind of car, play the same kind of sports, like the same kind of movies or video games. But do they reject other men as friends because of the way they dress as vehemently as women do? I don’t think they do. Certainly most would never comment on it. Or criticize the way other men dress.

Can you picture Tom after the hockey game, leaning over to Dave at the bar with raised eyebrows saying under his breath, “Can you believe what he’s wearing?” Uh, no.

I’m always surprised at the reactions of female colleagues who express pleasure that my eleven year old daughter abhors dresses and all the girly girl accoutrement of that pre-teen age. “That’s great!” or “She’s my kind of girl!” is the typical response. Why does disdaining “feminine” attire become an asset for a strong female? Will she be less independent or strong or capable because she does so? Tell that to Indira Gandhi or Margaret Thatcher (and I’m not citing them as role models for young women, I’m talking about whether their dress undermines their strength as women).

I’d rather my daughter didn’t associate independence or strength with style of clothing at all or make determinations about a woman’s value by the way she dresses.

I’m usually comfortable with my daughter’s choices even though it goes against the grain of my own girly girl tastes. Actually, in her sneakers, cargo pants and CBGB T-shirts she looks more like her dad in her style. I fought her tomboy impulses initially and then I realized that I was unconsciously trying to mold her into a tiny version of me which is what I think most mothers try and do on a subliminal level and that wasn’t fair or even remotely possible.

Now I think she must go her own way. I shudder to think of my mother’s own heavy handed and unhealthy investment in my fashion sense, and who, until I was in my late teens when I finally left home, would send me back upstairs to change if she disapproved of what I was wearing. It could be anything, an offending scarf, an ankle bracelet, makeup, an errant hairstyle. I think my daughter embraces her own style, perhaps subconsciously, because she is trying to make herself separate and independent from me. I think it’s a healthy, natural impulse.

And here I will raise that dreaded F word again: feminism. Feminism is not about me resembling you or following the lead of other women who may think that women are enslaved by high heels, lipstick and reading Vogue or Vanity Fair.

Feminism is about individual choice in all realms including how we cover or don’t cover our bodies.