Hey, There’s a Bird in This Mirror!

Diversion Enthusiast Society, est. 2007

Pam Beesly is a Right-On Woman

with 15 comments

One of my favorite pastimes is the constant amassing of secret boyfriends (the newest member of my formidable harem? Will Sheff, of course). They’re mostly musicians (shocking, I know), though there’s a healthy smattering of fictional characters, guys on my favorite message board, actors, dead people, and Stephen Colbert* in the mix. I make the secret boyfriend status of my unwitting target official by turning to Dave and saying something to the effect of “Have I mentioned that Ted Leo/Sayid/Paul Rudd/F. Scott Fitzgerald is my secret boyfriend?” And he indulges me, because it is his lot in life to do so, and, because he’s a little bit cooler than every last one of them.

Secret boyfriend status is something that is, generally speaking, given lightly. You got a pretty smile? You’re in. Cute Jewish boy? Oh, yes, please. You come on my television daily and deploy your delicious wit against George Bush? Welcome aboard!

Secret best friends are another matter, though. I’ve only got one of those –

The almost-total lack of realistic women in popular media is, for a prickly little feminist such as myself, upsetting business. I’m bored with women filtered through men, women who are a composite of the most outrageous stereotypes about my gender, or the end result of the fever dream of a room full of sexually frustrated writers. I love Angela Chase. I love Lindsay Weir. Sun’s awesome, Liz Lemon is hilarious, and Kara Thrace can buy me a shot anytime, but Pam Beesly is where it’s at.

Here’s why: I read a post on Shakesville the other day, in which Melissa McEwan wrote about public representation of women’s lives in media and online. She apparently receives emails from male readers informing her that, if she wants to be taken seriously, she has to stop talking about shoes and the minutiae of her daily life, even if this kind of talk only makes up a small percentage of her posts. Ms. McEwan believes that this suggestion stems from the underlying, widely held belief that “women’s lives are unserious things.” I couldn’t possibly agree more, and, as she writes, “I quite genuinely believe most of the people disposed toward accepting that reality will grok the concept intuitively, and the rest will ignore everything I would say to argue that Charlie’s Angels proves me wrong or tell me that films aren’t written with women at their centers (or books, or television shows, or news stories, etc.) because women never do anything worth writing about.” Again, I quote her, because I couldn’t have put it better myself.

One of my favorite parts of the internet is how freely women present the details of their everyday lives. I’m not talking naked pictures or oversharing, but about shoes, stupid work drama, lengthy blog entries on cooking, baking, knitting, rock music, art, education, politics, boyfriends, girlfriends, and family. I like Allison Bechdel’s videos of her cats and her backyard, I read about Mimi Smartypants’ insane bus commutes and super-genius daughter and I love her, and I make recipes from Orangette because Molly’s fantastic writing makes me a true believer in the power of yogurt cake. Every blog post is an argument in favor of the value of these small things about our lives, the small things that we don’t get to see in the stilted, odd, unrealistic women on television and in movies. Though it is not an amusement I’m particularly comfortable with, I think that interpreting another popular online pastime for women, fanfiction, in light of all of this goes a long way toward explaining the impulse to create it. A lot of fanfiction tends to disregard the main narrative of the universe in which its working in favor of exploring relationships and the aspects of the characters’ lives that we wouldn’t otherwise see. Again, we frequently find ourselves down in that minutiae of day-to-day existence, and the things that women wish were explained in the mainstream, but aren’t.

When I read Ms. McEwan’s post, one of the first people I though of was Pam Beesly. In the universe of The Office, Pam and Jim are our anchors. They’re our not-so-straight straightmen in the middle of the weirdness unfolding around them. This setup requires that Pam be delightfully mundane and wonderfully real. She is instantly identifiable, if not surprisingly self-identifiable at times. I recognize her arc, because I’ve watched myself and many of my friends work through through huge parts of it in similar ways. I know a thing or two about ditching the ill-fitting clothes, the ill-fitting fiancé, and keeping one eye on that sweet, funny boy who, is, of course, just your really good friend. She’s figuring herself out via those tiny, cowardly steps that one must take. Jenna Fischer is, in my opinion, the proud owner of the best two minutes of the entire series, when, after walking over hot coals, Pam explains herself to Jim and questions their relationship in front of their coworkers. Grand pronouncements, when they happen, only happen at the worst possible times and gratification is not instant. I love watching her do the stupid and ostensibly mature thing when she shoots poor Jim down, only to enthusiastically return his kiss ten minutes later; I love the small, mean ways she extracts revenge on the things and people that frustrate her; and, most of all, I love that we do not come to our understanding of her via Jim, or Roy, or Michael, but directly, when she sits down, looks at the camera, and just talks. Maybe she’s lying through her teeth the whole time or being flippant, but you get it, she’s still explaining herself on her own terms, terms that most any frustrated, bored, smart woman in her twenties will recognize, at least in some small way. The fact that there is a female character doing this once a week on network television is incredibly important. Because being visible leads to normalcy and to our collective ability to point to damaging representations of women and why they’re unacceptable and just plain wrong.

So, in honor of the constructive criticism that Ms. McEwan has received, I doff my black Naturalizer Mary Janes (love them) to Ms. Fischer and the writers on that show for making Pam.

But if she doesn’t say yes when Jim proposes I’m totally throwing something through my television set.

Have I mentioned that Jim Halpert is my secret boyfriend?

* – Confidential to our single male readers – French. Cuffs. I’m telling you this as a friend.


Written by Raina

April 24, 2008 at 3:35 pm

Posted in feminism, Television

Tagged with , ,

15 Responses

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  1. My wife and I also have fake significant others: hers is Colin Meloy, mine’s Lorelai Gilmore.

    Matt M

    April 24, 2008 at 4:17 pm

  2. Only one each? Pfft. Amateurs.



    April 24, 2008 at 4:48 pm

  3. I’m single, and I have french cuffed shirts. What now?


    April 24, 2008 at 6:25 pm

  4. Do you have really good cufflinks? That’s important.


    April 24, 2008 at 6:33 pm

  5. I do have good cufflinks. They were a gift. They’re silver, but subdued.


    April 25, 2008 at 11:31 am

  6. All I wear are french cuffs. My cufflinks run the range from super-nice (Brooks Brothers) to whatever was color-complimentary and available for $15 at Filenes.

    I take a great deal of pride in the fact that none of cufflinks take the shape of dice, faucets, or any of the infinite other tacky styles available for like, $95-$400 a pop out there.


    April 25, 2008 at 12:29 pm

  7. Damn…that should be color-complementary, shouldn’t it? Google is of very little help in resolving this dilemma.


    April 25, 2008 at 12:30 pm

  8. Oddly, I have no cufflinks, nor do I have shirts that require them.

    I think “color-complementary” is correct.


    April 25, 2008 at 1:10 pm

  9. I think that color-complementary is the correct one, but I’m just lazily going on instinct here. Let’s hope Dave shows up. He’ll know.

    E, I think you need to talk to LD about what to do next. That man knows his cufflinks, so I’m sure he’s figured out what the next logical step is.


    April 25, 2008 at 1:13 pm

  10. Gah. That was weird.

    Dave, French cuffs are in your future. I’m just telling you this to warn you. Brace yourself. You will not regret it.


    April 25, 2008 at 1:16 pm

  11. French cuffs and cufflinks are bizarre, since we’ve clearly moved past them in terms of efficiency. Still, who am I to argue with fashion?


    April 25, 2008 at 1:59 pm

  12. “Clearly moved past them in terms of efficiency,” hm? Well, if those are our terms, I’m going to let all of the other women know that we can stop wearing stockings with seams up the backs. Oh, and garter belts, too. Sound good?


    April 25, 2008 at 2:30 pm

  13. Honestly, despite being…*ahem* very social…I’ve never come across EITHER of these things.

    Still, I’m obviously not pro-efficiency here. I think that the reason we find a lot of these things appealing is because they’re inefficient…you put in extra effort, which in part leads to looking extra good.


    April 25, 2008 at 4:43 pm

  14. Of course, it would take a lot of effort to make a suit out of spoiled meat, so lets not take my point too far…


    April 25, 2008 at 4:43 pm

  15. I think you’re over-analyzing this, Lyndon.

    I can’t believe that the many, many women in your life don’t have the good sense to wear stockings with seams up the backs. I love them. It makes me feel like I’m in 1945 and I’m much, much classier than I actually am. I’m fairly certain that I can only jitterbug when wearing them.


    April 25, 2008 at 4:57 pm

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