We are hurtling, willy-nilly, into the festive season, with its requisite over-spending, over-eating, over-drinking and over-socializing.
Every year, I find myself retreating to my couch, with a warm blanket and a bowl of popcorn, for some extended movie watching when all the merry-making becomes too much.
I let the holidays provide me with an excuse to watch movies that I am sometimes embarrassed to admit I enjoy, including rom-coms. They are a (no longer!) secret indulgence, something light and frothy that – no matter how problematic they may be in some ways – always have a happy ending.
I have my excuses: “I don’t see a lot of happy endings for the women I work with.” “I need to be reminded that love and romance are possible or I will become too cynical.”
But, until recently, no matter the excuses, I have always felt a bit guilty for this indulgence. Thanks to Roxane Gay, I may be getting past this.
My daughter and I are huge RG fans. Her 2017 memoir, Hunger, placed her at the top of both of our shortlists of women we wish we could have dinner with.
As readers of her collection of essays, Bad Feminist, will already know, Gay speaks her truth, regardless of whether or not that truth fits tidily into other people’s ideas about what feminists should think.
“I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I am not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying – trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself: a woman who loves pink and likes to get freaky and sometimes dances her ass off to music she knows, she knows, is terrible for women and who sometimes plays dumb with repairmen because it’s just easier to let them feel macho than it is to stand on the moral high ground.”
No dinner on the horizon
My daughter and I know there is little likelihood that RG is going to drop by for dinner. Fortunately, a public event with her popped onto our radar a few weeks ago. RG, a self-proclaimed lover of rom-coms, came to Toronto to host a showing of Pretty Woman, which she claims is her favourite all-time movie, followed by a discussion about why.
I had never seen this 1990s rom-com, but it certainly contains the required elements (a poor, smart and warm-hearted prostitute meets a lonely and cold billionaire businessman; they enter into a business transaction for her services; they fall for one another; heartbreak ensues; they end up together and, presumably, live happily ever after).
I must admit to heading into the event with a certain amount of skepticism. While I am admitting to enjoying a rom-com from time to time, it has always felt like sneaking that extra chocolate (or two) or eating leftovers straight out of the container in the fridge: enjoyable but not especially defensible. How would RG make this secret pleasure politically okay?
I should have known better. After all, RG is a bad feminist. She doesn’t worry about whether rom-coms are defensible; she just likes them.
She managed to find some points of feminism in Pretty Woman (Vivian’s kick-ass comment to Edward after he tells his business partner what her line of work is: “You don’t own me. I decide. I say who. I say when.”). She acknowledged that, like most rom-coms, this one has problems in terms of politics, script and character development. She decried the lack of rom-coms about people of colour:
“It’s ridiculous that we don’t allow ourselves to see people of colour loving each other and having lives and having fantasies.”
But, ultimately, it was all about the romance:
“I love fairy tales. If we don’t believe in joy and love and hope, then what are we doing?”
RG’s top six
With the luxury of subscriptions streaming services, it’s possible to watch almost anything anytime we want to. For those of you putting together your list of holiday rom-coms, here are RG’s all-time favourites:
I am going to dip into some of these as well as revisit one or two of my own favourites, about which I make no claims of political perfection:
What’s on your list?