Wednesday, December 13, 2006

We Are All "That Girl"

You can watch entire episodes of "That Girl" online throughout the month of December on TVLand's web site (h/t to Danny Miller for this info.)

I hadn't seen "That Girl" in a while, but I used to watch it all the time when I was a kid. Like millions of other girls my age, I perceived it as pretty much a road map for my future: Get a really nice apartment that I would be able to afford on my income as an unemployed actress and have a really cool boyfriend who writes for a major weekly magazine. Not to mention so many clothes you never saw her in the same outfit twice.

Yet, as liberated as Ann Marie was for 1965, by the time we were out in the working world fifteen years later she was hopelessly antiquated. She didn't sleep with her boyfriend! She wore white gloves to her day job!

And she went out on dates. Those of us who moved into the apartments and had the day jobs in 1979 New York did not go out on dates, and we did not have boyfriends. "It's the guy I'm seeing's birthday," you would say, if you indeed were seeing somebody. Otherwise, you would just hang out with a bunch of people until something accidentally turned into something sexual. And then you would have to make it look as if you didn't remember his name, if you liked him more than he liked you, or if it was the other way around you would have to weigh your integrity against the possible security of having a boyfriend, at least for a month or so. Gotta keep those options open.

Marlo Thomas may have been as much of a feminist icon in the 70's as her sitcom character had been in the 60's, but not for anyone I hung out with.

So this morning, I was watching an episode of "That Girl" where Ann fills in for Donald's secretary (Secretary! See how sexist that is, we would have said in the 70's) and Donald feels so awkward at this intrusion of his personal life into his workplace that he makes the office a hell on earth for himself, Ann and his co-worker. But Ann is smart enough to know that this is because Donald has a problem, not her, and Donald is smart enough to know it too. Or at least that's what the guy wrote. Those scripts were all written by the Donald Hollingers of the world back then.

Compare and contrast this with me at about that age, with a succession of abusive bosses, being rejected by theater companies where you had to pay to get onstage, and guys who I believed when they said "We had a great relationship until you came along and ruined it," and antiquated Ann starts to look like a decent role model. You could tell that Mr. Marie (not their real name) had raised Ann with a healthy sense of self-esteem, and probably never had to shell out bucks to some Park Avenue shrink so that Ann could find out why she blamed herself for Donald's approach/avoidance issues.

Of course, women's rights had to evolve, and sexual mores as well. So we've spent the past 25 years figuring out how to have the self-regard without the white gloves and the limited career options. And we can revisit the old shows, and the old mores, to see what worked then, and what we can apply to now. And admire Ann's outfits.

BTW, we knew "That Girl" was a Jewish show, the way we knew that "The Dick Van Dyke Show" was Jewish, even if they didn't say. It was the "J" that dared not speak its name.

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