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Susan Miller RIP

Susan in a Wacky Wig

Susan in a Wacky Wig

Susan (“Shoshana”) Miller
b. January 1941 — d. Jan. 19, 2013

“Susan evolves and helps other people evolve.”

Someone once asked me what my friend Susan “did” in the world. I thought a moment and then told him that she evolved and helped others do the same. It’s true, that’s what Susan did. She evolved.

The first time I met Susan we bonded over the songs of Bob Dylan. She was thrilled to meet a feminist who, like her, did not condemn his “sexist” lyrics the way many of our sisters did. She was even more thrilled that I knew most of his lyrics. Together we launched into a joyful songfest that lasted almost 40 years.

Susan was always excited about one thing or another. She’d share her cultural discoveries, saying with great fervor, “There’s a lot to check out!

I met her in 1975, while she was in New York waiting for a space to open up in a Colorado asthma clinic. Her friend Stephanie, who she’d known since childhood, introduced us. I was in a theater group with Stephanie, and was also madly in love with her. So was Susan, but having been at it longer, she played the role of mentor to my first and only serious lesbian relationship. Being bisexual in the lesbian-feminist community was another place where she and I bonded.

Our most significant bond, though, came from the kind of people we were by virtue of our experiences with disability. Susan was one of perhaps three people who understood from the inside out my life as the mother of a person born with a chronic medical condition. Having been born with asthma and eczema, as a child she was tied to the bed to keep her from scratching herself. Painful “medicine” was applied to her inflamed arms and legs—like so many treatments of that era, it was pure torture. That Susan became such an enthusiastic, fun-seeking lover of life is testament to the human spirit.

Some 15 years after our New York meeting I moved to San Francisco. Susan was living here, and we reunited at a Mother Tongue theatrical event. She was still singing Dylan, still bisexual, still checking things out. She became my cheerleader, faithfully reading almost everything I wrote, leaving a trail of comments sprinkled across my blog. I’m glad I have those comments–I’ll always be able to open one and feel her enthusiasm leaping off the screen.

She was a wonderful woman and a great friend. RIP Shoshana. I’m certain you’re still evolving.

Death of the Cosmo Girl

RIP Helen Gurley Brown, who died Monday in New York City at the age of 90.

HGB was and remains legendary, primarily  for her promotion of sex and independence for single girls in Cosmopolitan magazine when she took over as editor in 1965. I had to note her passing here on Dirty Laundry because of her significance to my generation of women. To  read her full obituaries go to The New York Times and/or Book Peeps.

“She was 90, though parts of her were considerably younger.”–from the NYTimes obituary

Over Our Dead Bodies

Has there ever been a more blatant display of misogyny than Gingrich, Romney, and Santorum falling all over themselves to prove who’s the most anti-abortion? The war for the Republican Presidential nomination is being waged over the bodies of women.

They’re acting like a bunch of fat hairy gorillas, pounding their chests a la King Kong on top of the Empire State
Building, the difference being that Kong was a sympathetic character. And these guys aren’t fighting for their lives, but for their sperm. Santorum doesn’t even want a condom playing catcher with his stuff — he thinks every ejaculation deserves a name. If ever I itched to overthrow the patriarchy, it’s now.

I’m disappointed in Obama, but he’ll get my vote. Hell, I might even make a few phone calls on his behalf. These Republicreatures scare the shit outta me. Romney is probably the least scary just because he’s malleable – but he needs to be surrounded by sane thinkers, and there aren’t that many sane thinkers left in the country.

I can see how easy it must be to adopt an absolute position on something, anything really, and run with it. It’s so much easier than thinking. And if you happen to trample over a few million women in the process, so be it. They’re only women, after all. So long as the sperm’s okay nothing else matters.

Well, that’s not entirely true: apparently it also matters what kind of a capitalist boss you are. This week they fought over who’s the meanest, with Romney leading the pack for firing people from Bain Capital, his corporation. Soon they’ll run through that thrash, though, and turn their attention back to abortion – and, if Santorum has his way, contraception as well. They’re too obsessed with controlling women to leave the subject for very long. Which raises the question: will Obama be forced to debate abortion? Contraception!? And if so, will he come through for us? Or will he cave, as he has on so many other issues, to prove he’s as manly as any self-respecting Republican fetus lover? Stay tuned.

The Kids Are All Right: Movie Review

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Kids All RightWarning: Spoilers and X-Rated Material Ahead

Of course the kids are all right. I always knew they would be. Some people were wringing their hands, fretting about how children raised by gay couples might turn out, but I never thought they’d have it any worse than kids from other family configurations – then again, I don’t worship at the altar of the nuclear family. Besides, unlike straight couples who just assume they’ll have children, those living outside the norm are forced to think long and hard before jumping into parenthood; in fact, they don’t “jump” at all – they sometimes go through hell and high water just to become parents. And once they do have kids, they tend to be fairly conscientious raising them. I’m not idealizing gay parents or saying they’re better at it; it’s just that living outside the mainstream in any way whatsoever forces people to deal with a host of issues that heterosexuals never have to think about.


Surprisingly, however, the film’s title is hardly the point. It turns out to be not so much about kids raised by lesbians, but rather about love and family and betrayal, and all the complexities in long-term relationships. It’s about sexuality and sexual identity and the longing for connection. That the kids are all right is almost incidental.

Eighteen-year-old Joni, named for Joni Mitchell and played by Mia Wasikowska, has the riveting looks of Claire Danes; she also happens to resemble someone I know, and I could hardly take my eyes off her. Which is quite a feat when you consider that Annette Benning and Julianne Moore, both knockouts, play the mothers. Their gorgeous looks are underplayed: if they were wearing any makeup in this movie, it was to highlight sags and wrinkles. When Moore’s character dons her gardening gear, she comes off looking like a middle-aged Annie Hall wannabe.Kids All Right

The plot is set in motion when 15-year-old Laser (Josh Hutcherson) convinces his sister to find their donor, the man whose sperm contributed to their existence, since he’s too young, by law, to get the information himself. Joni, afraid of hurting their mothers, is reluctant, but when she meets Papa Sperm (Mark Ruffalo), she just about falls in love with him. So does everyone else in the family, with the exception of Mama Benning, whose fear of rocking the boat turns out to be well-founded: Mama Moore, while creating a lush garden Papa Sperm hires her to do, jumps into bed with him. The affair almost tears the family apart. That they survive is testament to the strength of their bonds and loyalty to one another – or so I perceive director Lisa Cholodenko’s point to be.

Mark RuffaloThe sex scenes between Moore and Ruffalo are wildly, passionately, animalistic. She literally tears his pants off, and greets what’s inside them like a long lost friend: “Hel-lo!” she says, apparently awestruck. Two or three substantial scenes of their lovemaking follow, in sharp contrast to the women’s sex: there’s been just one anemic scene of them in bed. In it we see Moore moving about under the covers, and Benning’s facial expressions – which would work if she were actually being expressive, but if anything, she seems bored. From underneath the quilt comes the buzz of a vibrator. More movement. End sex scene. The lesbians sitting behind me were laughing their asses off in recognition, and I confess I too got a chuckle out of the scene. The hetero sex scenes had not yet occurred, so it’s only in retrospect that I feel the lesbian couple got the fuzzy end of the lollipop.

More important, because Moore has such a raging good time in penis-land, what comes later on, in the confrontation between her and Benning, seems off kilter.  It’s evasive, even false. A bisexual friend of mine was miffed because Benning asks, “Are you straight?” rather than “Are you bisexual?” The latter question, I think, would’ve been out of character, especially during a confrontation – but there is something missing here. Benning’s question doesn’t even seem to register with Moore, and when Benning asks if it was about sex, Moore makes a dismissive face. Finally, she claims that she slept withKids All RightPapa Sperm because she was feeling “unappreciated.”

Is that what she was getting, her legs high in the air while Papa Sperm pounded into her like a steamroller? Appreciation? Gimme a break! The intensity of the hetero sex scenes, and the absence of romanticism, utterly contradicts the lie.

So I have to ask: Why? Why did the director stereotype lesbian sex as warm and cuddly, while depicting straight sex as raw animal pleasure? Was it fear of letting a mainstream audience see what women really do in bed? Or was she just rewinding old tired stereotypes of female sexuality? I guess it was foolish of me to expect Hollywood to move beyond lesbian stereotypes — a good movie about lesbian mothers is enough of a leap.

But here’s the thing: my criticism isn’t coming from some pro-lesbian-passion crusade. This is not a political ax I’m grinding. What I’m talking about is honesty and believability in art. The director’s choices regarding sexual portrayal wreck the film. Oh, sure, it’s a fun movie, it’s enjoyable to watch  – but the premise of the film doesn’t work, not if the implication at the end is, as it appears to be, that the family’s bonds are far stronger than a roll in the hay, and their relationships will heal and go on. From what I saw between that man and woman in bed compared to what I saw between the women’s sheets, I don’t believe this ending one bit. I don’t believe that Mama Moore will be faithful from now on. She’s going to stray again. And again.

Roseanne Revisited

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In singing the praises of Roseanne Barr Connor I’m a couple of decades late and many inflationary dollars short—I guess I’m going to have to stop thinking of myself as a trend-setter. The thing is, I didn’t like Roseanne back in the day, and that’s putting it mildly. My antipathy towards her made me a statistic; as one critic noted, “Professing to be a militant feminist, she makes many feminists uneasy…apparently because she’s not terribly, well, feminine.”

I wouldn’t say what I disliked was her lack of femininity exactly; it was more the crassness that turned me off: mooning spectators at a ball game, telling fart jokes, singing like a demented banshee—although anything that roused the wrath of The Nitwit, as her singing of the national anthem did, makes her okay in my book.

Anyhow, I’ve been watching reruns of Roseanne in the morning—or rather, in the middle of the night, which is when I tend to wake up these days. As Larry says, reruns make for better entertainment, because you don’t have to wait a week or two for the next episode. Four eps are on in a row, and I’m enjoying them more than I would have predicted. I probably would’ve liked Roseanne a lot more if I’d watched her as Mrs. Connor and ignored tabloid stories about Ms. Barr.

The rest of the world apparently knew all along what I didn’t; Roseanne’s won four Emmy’s, two Golden Globes, six People’s Choice Awards, one Peabody, and three from American Comedy. It’s not the awards that impress me, though, but the fact that the show is—really, and not in any fake or surface way—feminist, working class, and honest. This is true not just of Roseanne herself but the whole family. John Goodman, the big teddy bear, is an actor I’ve loved ever since he bellowed Sea of Love in the movie of that name.

Just about every hot-button women’s issue is dealt with on Roseanne: relationships between mothers and daughters, sisters, women’s work, violence against women, lesbianism…I could go on indefinitely. By now I’ve probably viewed close to a hundred episodes, and not once have I been offended, or even disagreed with, the way they’re handled. It isn’t because Roseanne is Politically Correct per se; rather, it’s that the situations and the way they’re played out are treated realistically. The dialog’s so honest, at times the show seems almost unscripted. And at twenty years old, the show still feels relevant.

The contrast of Roseanne’s two teenage daughters, basically butch and femme, is brilliant. The relationships between Roseanne and her sister Jackie, and their respective relationships with their mother, provides another kind of contrast, so that a wide spectrum of mother-daughter dynamics is explored. While the men on Roseanne are somewhat peripheral, they—especially Dan—are far from one-dimensional. On one show, after Roseanne accuses Dan of being “such a Maaaan,” son DJ says, “But I thought it was good to be a man,” and Dan says, chuckling, “Oh no, son, not since the 1970’s.”Roseanne most often makes me laugh, but at times I’ve been deeply moved. I was devastated when Becky eloped at 17; Roseanne’s pain evoked memories of my mother and me back when I was a teenage bride.

When comic Alan King introduced Roseanne on his series Inside the Comedy Mind, he rattled off a list of viewers she supposedly represents: “The hopeless underclass of the female sex. Polyester-clad, overweight occupants of the slow track. Fast-food waitresses, factory workers, housewives — members of the invisible pink-collar army. The despised, the jilted, the underpaid.” (Sounds like a Dylan song!)

Roseanne’s face lit up with delight and she said, “In other words, the coolest people.”

I’d like to be included in that cool demographic, but as a single mother and iconoclast I couldn’t relate to the Connor family. Had I been watching the show during its first run, I probably would’ve felt just as alienated and sad as I used to feel watching Father Knows Best, what with no teddy bear hubby and many unresolved family problems. Today, with all that behind me, I can enjoy the show without having my baggage interfere.

Still, in some ways Roseanne has spoken for me. When she was on
Inside the Actors Studio she told the audience, “The networks are never going to include this, but I have to say that most mothers have a hard time
because being a mother means you’re also a woman. When the whole world is treating you like shit and putting you down, how can you not make
mistakes?” Go Rosie!

And where, by the way, is Roseanne Barr now?

Roseanne’s book, My Life As a Woman

Some of the quotes and information above came from articles on this site.


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