Susan Isaacs's witty imagination has peopled the world with brave dames in films like Compromising Positions
and full-bodied novels such as 1998's Red, White, and Blue
. The slender and interestingly ornery essay Brave Dames and Wimpettes
is part of the monthly Library of Contemporary Thought series, whose most fun title so far is Carl Hiaasen's Disney-bashing diatribe Team Rodent
(now available on audiocassette
So, what's a "brave dame"? "They're passionate about something besides passion," Isaacs writes. Take Jo March, Elizabeth Bennet, Katharine Hepburn, and Roz Russell, who prove "women are as competent and brave as the next guy." Her fave dame, Jane Eyre, "had high moral standards, stood up to injustice, and was willing to leave civilization and face the wild, even death, rather than do wrong."
Wimpettes, who outnumber dames in pop culture, believe in masochism, subterfuge, betrayal of women, and deriving identity from their man. "The world stops at the white picket of their fences.... larger causes--racial equality, justice--are left to the guys."
The book is a romp through books, movies, and TV, as Isaacs puts dozens of women in their place on the dame/wimpette spectrum. Anita Hill? Feh! "This über-wimpette testified before Congress how she endured vile sex talk from a superior rather than (1) report him for harassment ... or (2) tell him to shut the hell up." Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Frances McDormand in Fargo are dames; Ally McBeal and Anne Archer in Fatal Attraction are wimpettes. (Note, however, that Ethan Coen told Amazon.com McDormand is the bad guy in Fargo and Steve Buscemi the good guy.) Julia Roberts is a wimpette in My Best Friend's Wedding but a dame in Mystic Pizza and The Pelican Brief.
Ideally, Isaacs's book should start a lot of excellent arguments. Don't wimp out! --Tim Appelo
From Publishers Weekly
After beginning with the reasonable claim that the media too often present women as one-dimensional victims, Isaacs's foray into cultural criticism quickly turns into an object lesson on oversimplification. Novelist Isaacs (Red, White and Blue, etc.) gives her analysis of female characters in books, movies and TV a facile framework by lumping all women characters into two categories. A wimpette (Madame Bovary is the archetype) is a passive-aggressive masochist whose identity depends on a man. Her opposite, the brave dame, is common in real life but elusive in pop culture. She is "passionate about something besides passion," resilient, competent, moral, a true friend (think Jane Eyre). The book is a series of litmus tests. Kathleen Turner's cheerful soccer mom/psychopath in Serial Mom comes out well (after all, she's a multidimensional character), while the wife played by Anne Archer in Fatal Attraction, who kills Glenn Close for sleeping with her husband and boiling the pet rabbit, is a mere wimpette, because she acts only to protect her home (the basis of her weak identity). Although Isaacs repeatedly describes herself as a feminist, her particular brand of feminism asks women to handle every aspect of their lives?relationships, motherhood, career?without any complaint or sign of weakness. Unsurprisingly, few brave dames are found, and many of them belong to the realm of fantasy (Xena: Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Occasionally thought-provoking, the many character studies here are fatally weakened by the absolute judgment at the end of each one, and, as every analysis can have only one of two endings, the book quickly becomes repetitive. (Jan.) FYI: Brave Dames and Wimpettes is part of Ballantine's Library of Contemporary Thought series.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.