Sunday, 22 February 2015

Good Girls Gone Bad...

Here's a question to ponder over your cornflakes: how would you define a good husband?
Not used to hearing that question? You're not alone - if you don't believe me, Google 'How to be a Good Husband' and look at how much of the list is actually references to Tim Dowling's, admittedly very funny, book. Now substitute the word 'wife' and bathe in the veritable tsunami of advice.
There are some brave souls who can apparently operate without a manual...
But for the rest of us, whether we're seeking or being the wife in question, it seems a lot of guidance is required.
It's easy to laugh at a lot of this - it's out-moded and we're so evolved - and stick it back in the "look how sexist those funny people used to be" box as you wait for your loving partner to stop cooking/clearing up/separating the kids/doing out-of-hours emails for long enough to admire your Internet surfing (see, I did all that in a non-gender specific way).

It's easy but it's not accurateA couple of years ago some UK papers had lots of fun among themselves reproducing a guide to being a good wife from a 1950s home economics textbook (just as an aside, this link also includes some sex advice from 1894 which will make you laugh and cry in equal measure). You know how it works - the Daily Mail decides women need a bit of a talking to (too many girls getting into university or something) and the Guardian gets all pompous while repeating the exact same story.

If that advice had stayed in the 1950s we could mock but it didn't. My mother was a 1960s bride but this manual was her marital Bible - which meant that I grew up observing its weird rituals, as did most women of my age. We were confused but still part of the conditioning - that little advice guide was still influencing/distorting behaviour among 1980s and 1990s brides no matter how feminist we were and, guess what, the boys were caught under its shadow to.

Think we're past all that now? Creepy advice sites like Dating For Today's Man (remember, I do the research so you don't have to) suggest otherwise - just try to look at the graphic on their 'Top 10 Signs She'll Make a Good Wife' feature and points 1 and 4 without taking a lighter to your bra. I also can't imagine Amal Clooney will be buying Chrissy Stockton a drink anytime soon after she published this little gift to coincide with the nuptials.

But luckily life is not all about rules and conditioning - we have tv! I've touched on the subject of wives in this blog before with Desperate Goodwives and a brief look at Betty Draper - this time I'm spotlighting my favourite subversive.

There are actually some great tv wives out there - there are loads of favourites websites, but from this particular list, I have to admit a fondness for/probable similarity to Lois Wilkerson and Morticia Addams. They all pale into insignificance, however, before the coolest wife of - Alicia Florrick...

Here she is in series 1, mousy little Tory wife all rabbit-in-the-headlights from his affair and look at series 6 - it's like a crossover from Game of Thrones.

One of the interesting things about The Good Wife is that it parodies itself - in the name, some of the cases examined and, memorably with a show within a show running joke - but very few spoofs of the show itself exist. Maybe everyone's afraid of legal action. It's also no 'Legal Housewives' - these women are as happy to lean out as they are to lean in which makes them far more plausible.

The name, of course, centres on Alicia but look at the other two female leads - Kalinda Sharma and Diane Lockhart - all wives, all bringing new meanings to the word good. You can even try a quiz to see which one you are and then really freak your spouse out, baseball bat optional.

So to the historical recast - let's start with the most bad-ass of them all, Kalinda. I love Kalinda: she can make a kiss look like an assault, wears clingfilm and thigh boots to the office and no one bats an eye, seems to be surrounded by some kind of force-field that not even drug lords can break and struts better than John Travolta at the start of Saturday Night Fever. 
Kalinda had to be a warrior and a warrior of the type normally associated with men - can't you just see Kalinda as a sword-wielding samurai? Luckily for me, there actually is one to cast - Tomoe Gozen was an incredibly beautiful and fearsome female warrior who lived in Japan between 1157-1247. Maybe. You see that's the fab thing about Tomo - no one really knows if she existed or was invented.There are stories about her amazing courage in battle and piles of rumours about her sex life, including speculation that she was a concubine or possibly even a nun. What could be more Kalinda like - the mysterious mythical warrior stalking legal corridors, slaying men and women with a simple arch of her brow. I need a cup of tea.

I can't quite cope with smouldery Alicia just yet so let's take a look at Diane "I want what I'm worth" Lockhart. Cancel that, she's probably sexier than the lot of them. Those amazing brooches, the killer stare, the carefully controlled voice and the completely right-wing gun-crazy nut-job of a husband - wouldn't you like to get Diane drunk and find out just how many bodies are under the porch and whether she'd secretly like Alicia to join them? Diane has to be a Queen obviously but she has to be a Queen with a twist so I'm waving my casting wand and magicking up Isabella of Castile. Isabella has lots of qualifications for the role: a secret marriage to a soldier husband; an ability to combine diplomacy and violence to break the battling factions of Spain and lay the foundations for a united country; a love of acquisition, notably the New World and a ruthless streak a mile wide - it was dear Isabella who instituted what nobody expectedthe Spanish Inquisition 

Diane Lockhart and Torquemada, can you imagine the combination? I could make a really rotten comment about how much that would make Michael J. Fox shake but I'm too good for that.

And so to the redoutable Mrs Florrick - so cool even the First Lady copies her style.

Alicia's transition from the mouse behind the throne to its occupant is a triumph - particularly because her ascent doesn't destroy Peter (that would have been too easy), it redeems him. Unlike Mr Rochester, however, Peter isn't 'saved' by a timid Jane Eyre - he is faced with a wife ultimately far stronger than him and with a far more public grasp of the moral high-ground. God it must hurt. 
For the recast then? Eleanor RooseveltEleanor, wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt is credited with redefining the role of First Lady after her husband was afflicted with polio and she took a more public political role. She was a leader in both civil and women's rights and an incredibly astute manipulator of the media. She was also a badly-wronged spouse - Roosevelt was known to have had a string of mistresses, including his social secretary Lucy Mercer. I like that, in our fickle popular press, this has largely over-shadowed her husband's achievements whereas Eleanor is remembered as one of the authors of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - a pretty good wife by anyone's standards.

I'm going to end this blog with a timely reminder to all the wives reading this - I think my limits are halfway down bottle number 2 but apparently that's a mistake I commonly make. I shall watch and learn...

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed reading this Catherine - many of your TV choices I am unfamiliar with as I hardly watch anything not to be missed programme is The Good Wife - it's fabulous and the writing seems to be getting better and better. The women are strong and you have all my favourites here :-) Excellent stuff! Ooh and I loved the guide to being a good wife along with the sex tips - hilarious...if it wasn't all so sad for our ancestors...


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