What Does Bill Cosby’s Release Mean for the #MeToo Movement?
S1: This is the waves.
S2: This is the way, this is the way, this is the way. It is the way. This is the waves. Welcome to The Waves, Slate’s podcast about gender Feminism. And this week, the release of Bill Cosby from prison. I Marcia Chatelain author of the book franchise, The Golden Arches in Black America and professor of history at Georgetown University. Every episode you get a new pair of women to talk about the thing we can’t get off our minds. And today you’ve got me thinking about Bill, Cosby, MeToo and what comes next for survivors of sexual assault
S1: and MeToo Lili Loofbourow, a staff writer for Slate, where I cover politics, culture, sometimes comedy and sometimes despair.
S2: Many of us were shocked to learn that Bill Cosby was released from prison on June 30th after being convicted of sexual assault in twenty eighteen. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned his three to 10 year sentence because of an agreement between a former state prosecutor and Cosby. This topic has so many layers. The case itself, the way it serves as an outlier in sexual assault prosecutions, the tremendous star power of Bill Cosby and the larger framing of this case as emblematic of a MeToo victory. I’ve been fascinated by this topic because of the ways that Cosby’s demise wasn’t just about Cosby and the survivors. Cosby status as an entertainer and philanthropist also called into question the culture of enabling that surrounds predatory behavior and allows it to go on for so long as a college professor. I see similar dynamics, often in academia, where noted scholars or big time benefactors are protected at the expense of survivors. Lili, you’ve reported great stories about Cosby. Why did you want to talk about this?
S1: This is a topic I can’t stop thinking about because I’ve been tracking this case and what it did or didn’t mean for me to since twenty seventeen almost before there was a MeToo Cosby walked me back in June of that year of twenty seventeen because the jury was unable to reach a verdict. And it seemed to me at the time, symptomatic of a longstanding tendency to disbelieve survivors or to hold them up to a much higher standard of honesty than offenders. In that case, it seemed to me that because Cosby was openly a cheater and therefore a liar and had admitted to a variety of dishonest conduct, including campaigns, to make Andrea Constand out to be a liar, I was surprised, pleasantly so. And that change, like it seemed to me like when Cosby was convicted, that MeToo, which had been in its very earliest stages, had actually achieved something concrete. And so now the joke’s on me, I guess, because we’re back to square one.
S2: When we come back, Lili and I will explore the hows and whys of this twist in the Cosby case. And then we’ll take a few steps back and think about what this means for future cases and the movement known as MeToo. So, Lili, I need your sharp legal eagle sensibilities to help me understand what exactly happened in the Cosby case, how did this conviction get overturned?
S1: So there were two points of contention, I would say, within the legal community about the Cosby case that may or may not have contributed to his eventual conviction. So one was the decision to allow some other victims to testify. This was decried by many legal experts as being prejudicial. And the second was the decision to unseal a deposition which had been meant to be part of a non prosecution agreement that should never have technically seen the light of day, given that it was part of a civil suit that was settled back in, I think, twenty seven. So the fact that that was brought into play was something that Cosby’s legal team was challenging from the very beginning. And finally, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that that was indeed inappropriate and that if a prosecutor had promised not to prosecute, then that promise needed to be honored.
S2: So this is the thing that is confusing to me. So if one prosecutor makes an agreement and then vacates that position, the next prosecutor has to uphold that agreement. Even if evidence changes, circumstances change change. Is that just always binding?
S1: Yes, it probably should be right. That’s the argument. A non prosecution agreement is basically what it sounds like. It’s usually a contractual arrangement between a government entity and an individual stipulating that the individual will not be prosecuted for an offense if they cooperate in some specified way. And I want to say a couple of things about that. So number one is that the majority of these are offered to rich suspects or those involved in white collar crimes, which is already, I think, a sign of how questionable their function is and their place in our justice system. They’re rarely used in cases of sexual assault. And in fact, the only comparable one a federal judge could name was the one negotiated for Jeffrey Epstein and his co-conspirators or his potential unnamed co-conspirators. The second thing is that it’s not particularly clear whether that’s even whether a non prosecution agreement is even technically what Cosby got.
S2: So this is the thing that was confusing to me because it’s saying that he’s cooperating in some other way. But I don’t think that was really clear, like what it was.
S1: Yeah, it’s a really messy story. So Bruce Castor was the district attorney in Montgomery County when Andrea Constand came forward. He would later claim that he didn’t think she was credible enough to secure a conviction against Cosby. So he came up with kind of a workaround. He said that he promised not to prosecute Cosby so as to quote unquote, create an atmosphere that would pressure Cosby to testify in a deposition in a civil and not criminal suit. So there’s some weird stuff here, though. So for one thing, there is a way to guarantee someone immunity from prosecution. And that’s not even close to what Castra did in two thousand five. What Castro did was issue a press release saying that he wasn’t going to charge Cosby because of, quote, insufficient, credible and admissible evidence, unquote. So, you know, it doesn’t mention a deal with Cosby. And it specifically, you know, this is an amazing quote to me. It specifically, quote, cautions all parties to this matter that he will reconsider this decision should the need arise. Castra in that press release, is basically reserving the right to himself to reconsider his decision should the need arise. It’s hard to call that a non prosecution agreement, but that seems to be the only documentation there is of any negotiation of that kind. So here’s what happened. Castra would say eventually in a 2015 e-mail that he apparently in a conversation that neither Kastor nor Cosby’s lawyer at the time seemed to have documented, which is very unusual. Kastor promised not to prosecute Cosby, provided he agreed to be deposed. That was the condition. So now Castra did not tell his staff about this agreement. He didn’t tell Andrea Constand lawyers about this agreement. The only evidence we seem to have for the existence of this agreement, which appears to have been oral, is castra say so. But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided to believe him. It it upheld this sort of notional non prosecution agreement. And it’s for a reason and it’s hard to disagree with, which is that prosecutors have a tremendous amount of power and it is bad for everyone when they don’t keep their promises. A prosecutor could get a suspect to waive his Fifth Amendment right not to self incriminate by promising not to prosecute and then change his mind.
S2: And so I think this is what makes this. So I hate when this happens. Read these situations where perhaps the principle makes sense and its application makes everyone deeply uncomfortable. And then there’s some inconsistencies that make you wonder like what is actually going on. Because the thing about this case that is really important. To understand is that Andrew Constance claims against Cosby go from a civil issue to a criminal one, which is unusual because these depositions are usually sealed and these agreements are usually shrouded in non-disclosure agreements. And so, like, if you think about sexual assault cases, the challenges of statutes of limitations, the difficulty in collecting evidence, especially after so many years have past, then civil judgments become like the next best thing. But I always thought that these two worlds were separate.
S1: Yeah. And I mean, the irony
S2: is that the point is why this is such a problem.
S1: Well, yeah, I think so. I mean, you know, it speaks, I suppose, to some progress that has perhaps been made that at the time, Bruce Castor as as a prosecutor did not believe that Constand was, quote, credible enough to secure a conviction against Cosby in a criminal context. Now, we could have a long conversation about what his reasons for thinking that were and also maybe what the assumptions of the culture at that time were and honestly continue to be. It’s not like victims are believed across the board still, but your point is well taken, which is what probably should have been a criminal charge, became a civil suit and then strangely became criminal again.
S2: And so in these situations, I think the other part of it that’s really uncomfortable because a long strategy or a long time strategy of the Cosby legal team was to try to discredit content as someone who was extorting him, someone who is seeking money, they would defame her and her mother for that. And so part of the discomfort comes from the fact that this is about a financial settlement and agreement about what is fair in terms of damages from something like sexual assault. And so the legal system frames money as perhaps the closest or next best thing to justice. But the reason why we have that is because the other part of legal system doesn’t take this seriously. So it becomes this like monster, the self-fulfilling prophecy of like where do women go in these types of situations?
S1: Yeah, you’re exactly right. I mean, it would be, I suppose, easy to, you know, to target Constand as a you know, I don’t know, moneygrubbing, extortionist, if money had been what she had initially been after. But it wasn’t she specifically wanted justice. She wanted to have him criminally charged. And then the prosecutor said, no, I’m not going to do that. Here is, you know, my idea for what could happen next. And so as as we’ve seen with so many of these cases, including so many of Weinstein’s victims, yeah, they end up in this sort of trapped in this strange situation where their only recourse is to accept money and an NDA. That’s basically the only remedy that appears to exist in a system that’s incredibly hostile to to claims of sexual assault.
S2: Well, one of the things that it’s that this story also kind of highlights is like on one hand, you have this very familiar situation where survivors and perpetrators having this kind of unequal positions in some parts of the justice system. But also you have this, like, huge star who is not only being accused by one person, although this case was about this one person. There are scores of women behind this kind of effort to try to bring some accountability to Bill, Cosby. And the other thing about this that is also so uncomfortable, but perhaps familiar, is that this has been kind of a big open secret, like part of the discourse about Cosby for a long time. In twenty six Philadelphia magazine, you wrote a story about these accusations against Bill Cosby. We know that Hannibal Buress stand up in a moment that went viral in twenty fifteen, mentioned Bill Cosby’s behavior in the past. And even like when you go back to Bill Cosby’s own kind of talking about using Spanish fly
S3: when I was 13, man, start talking about weird things. No, really stand on a corner. You know anything about Spanish fly but fly. It always happens when you’re 13. Only when you’re 13 or not. Like when you get married. Guys don’t talk about Spanish fly and it never starts with one of the guys on the corner. It’s always some strange 13 year old, you know. You know anything about Spanish flight? No. Tell me about. Well, it’s just girl crazy. Mary, you put some in her drink. You. Yeah, yeah, oh, yeah, that’s really groovy, really, yeah. From then on, man, anytime you see a girl, you know, you go to a party, see five girls standing alone, boy,
S4: about a whole jug of Spanish fly like that.
S2: All of this stuff is it’s weird that there’s decades of recorded conversation as well as information about this environment that he lived in, but it took until the 2010s for there to be any kind of movement behind it.
S1: Know, as with Weinstein, Weinstein was kind of an open secret, too. There’s just, I mean, really heavy, systematic disinclination to go into the details of any of those of those claims, as we have seen in as the Cosby case, I think demonstrated pretty pretty conclusively and honestly a lack of will to convict. I mean, in twenty seventeen when I wrote that first piece, it was because the jury just couldn’t come to a verdict. And then, you know.
S2: Well, I think also I mean to think about a jury, what would it be like to be in a courtroom with Bill Cosby because I think it’s very hard and I think it’s been hard for a very long time for people to disaggregate Bill Cosby the person and Bill Cosby the entertainer and the philanthropist. I know that there was huge fallout and a lot of consternation about what to do with the Cosby family name that appears on Lacamp, on the campuses of a lot of historically black colleges and universities and a lot of various philanthropic groups have used that Cosby name. And so when we think about the world of the Cosby case, it isn’t just the legal system and it isn’t just entertainment. And it isn’t just about kind of politics around sexual assault. It’s this really, really wide world. And so I think that it’s so interesting to think about, like what this means for future claims against high-Profile people, as well as these everyday cases that still don’t get heard. We’re going to take a break here. But if you’re enjoying the waves and we would love it if you would like and subscribe to the waves wherever you get your podcasts
S1: and if you want to hear more from Marcia and myself on another topic, check out our Wavves plus segment, Gateway Feminism. Today, Marcia and I talk about one thing that helped make us feminists. I’ll be talking about my best friend’s wedding and Marcia. We’ll be talking about Catholic school uniforms.
S2: So Cosby was released from prison. What are we supposed to do with this in relationship to what we call #MeToo? I’m not entirely sure that this then chill’s the opportunity to kind of organize around bad actors and to move forward with trying to find platforms for survivors to tell their stories. I think that there’s something kind of in between because, you know, the point that we had talked about was that, you know, this case against Cosby was one of many accusers. And yet even if they did not participate fully in the trial, there was a space that was opened up for them to talk about their experiences and to kind of form a community among each other. I mean, that New York magazine cover that had all of the women who had come forward against Cosby like there’s something really powerful about it. And I’m always cautious about not overvaluing the symbolic because I think that can be dangerous. But I think that the strength of MeToo as a framework for advocacy or activism is more than just criminal convictions.
S1: I think that’s true. I think that’s right. And that’s that’s an important point to hang on to. I think I think my hope had been given the explosion of, I think, deeply symbolic and very moving revelations and confessions and all of these women coming forth to testify about what had happened to them, that that would translate at some point right into legal outcomes, that at some point a legal system which has been demonstrably unresponsive to claims of sexual assault at every level we would would respond. And so I think a thing that was sort of dispiriting to me about the Cosby verdict is it’s not that I disagree with the principle that prosecutors should keep their promises. I think they should. But I think there is, at least at this juncture, an unwillingness by many legal actors to self police or to look backwards to see that a plea deal, for example, should be reversed because it was negotiated in bad faith. And so I think on the legal front, that’s where we are. And that’s very depressing to me. But that’s as bleak as I want to get. I think you’re right that the conversation has to go beyond carceral consequences, right?
S2: Well, I think this is the thing that makes this really hard, because the past seven years in America felt like 17 years, 12 months, the kind of discursive lens. And the goals are shifting. Right. And so I don’t know if we come out of this past year of the George Floyd Summer out of conversations, but what does it mean to defund and dismantle policing? What does it mean for us to think about strategies of restorative justice and then also think, OK, a victory is a criminal conviction, that, you know, incarceration is the goal. And at the same time, you know, survivors can ask for whatever they want. I don’t want to suggest that, like, you know, people have to shift their goals necessarily. But I do think that when the discourse changes, the ability for juries to filter and understand the law changes even if the law remains static. And this is where I think our system of what we call justice can have a lot of potential and a lot of problems because they think that people’s consciousness and understanding of sexual assault allowed for the criminal conviction to come forward. But what does it mean for then this shift to make people kind of maybe more vigilant or more aware of prosecutorial power? But also, what does it mean to understand coming forward and speaking one’s truth as being able to do other things? And I think that this is where the MeToo movement has shown some of their power in saying that, like there is a possibility of standing in solidarity as being a survivor of sexual assault. And there can be something really meaningful of just the testimony and the understanding. You’re not alone. But again, I think the problem is, is that the two cases that we’ve been talking about are such outliers. They involve people with levels of wealth that are so incredible and situations that are have so many layers and so many people involved that I don’t know if I don’t know if this moment was necessarily connecting to people in their everyday lives that the taking down of Cosby or the consequences for Jeffrey Epstein. I don’t know if that is what was keeping people in. Animated and excited, I think it was the possibility that, like, there’s a different way of understanding sexual assault and there’s like a different way of pushing society,
S1: I can sign on with that. I like that. I do think it was very interesting. You know, when I was covering the Cosby trial initially, like when it was in twenty seventeen, when he first was basically allowed to go free because the jury couldn’t reach a verdict. A really interesting thing, I think that speaks to your point, is that no one was interested in the trial as it was happening. It was a strange thing to me, like, you know, the charges had been a really big deal. But news interest in the trial itself was so lacking that I actually ended up writing an article about it because it was so weird. It was like people just did not want to know. They had tuned out. And it was like, is it because it’s not televised? Is it because of residual affection for Cosby? Is it because he’s too old for people to feel good about him? I don’t know, receiving some kind of comeuppance. It’s hard to take pleasure in, like, you know, the incarceration of a very old man. I don’t know what it was, but it was definite. And I think is is certainly like supporting your sense that that these are outliers and it’s hard to know what they mean to the public generally.
S2: I just. So what do I hope for? I hope that this moment isn’t framed so much as a setback, but a call to consciousness of the various kind of limits of the legal system, and that there is a place to talk about the power that people have found within themselves over the past few years because, you know, some of these sexual assault allegations go back into the nineteen sixties. And so the fact that people who had been living with the level of trauma and the level of doubt and confusion for 50 years had a space in which to talk about their experience. I think that is worth something. And I don’t want to suggest that it’s worth everything. But I think that the broad umbrella of MeToo is constantly being forced to consider, like all of the various dynamics that go into a culture that protects people who commit sexual assault. And that needs to kind of think differently about our responses to it. Like, I think that this is always a moment for perhaps greater learning. I always hope people do, but I’m never sure if they are. I also think that, like, this is also a helpful entry point for people to say, you know, like, what are we talking about when we talk about our reactions to this Cosby verdicts? Like are we are reacting because we put a lot of hope in the legal system. Are we reacting because it just feels like such a setback? Does it feel familiar that the rich person gets away with it? Like what exactly are we reacting to? And I think that for people who want to be engaged in these discussions, like you might start them on Twitter. But I don’t know, Twitter is the place to have them in their most robust way. But, you know, when we were talking about this, I think we have to be really clear and specific as to what part of this we struggle with.
S1: I think that’s right. I mean, I think I think that probably the reason it is standing out as disproportionately significant is that for all that, I think MeToo has been charged with overreach and with doing too much in practical terms. I think, you know, the only three people who come to mind for me anyway who that MeToo managed to have any effect on were massive serial offenders who were famous enough that their actions were eventually noticed. So that’s Cosby, that’s Eppstein and that’s Wainstein. Those were kind of like the big three. Right. So I think it’s possible that Cosby has has sort of like retroactively acquired extra resonance just because there have not really been many others like it. And so that one of the three, I think has gone it has maybe produced a distorted sense that a system disinclined to react to this stuff is still not changing. But I think you’re right that to the extent that the criminal justice system is powered by, you know, people who are products of their culture, it does matter that, for example, juries might approach these cases differently than they would have, you know, 10 years ago. We can hope. And my hope is, frankly, that the legal system starts to find a way to actually solve police and more aggressively than it has. I think I have one of my frustrations remains that there are not consequences for bad prosecutors in either direction. At worst, there is an overturned conviction. And I really would like to see some effort directed towards, you know, tackling that side of things as well. So maybe. Maybe if the. Be case can serve some symbolic function, maybe it can be like a way to exert pressure on like or, you know, to to publicize the fact that there are some serious problems with how the legal system treats these things without throwing the baby out with the bathwater and saying we should just not honor any plea agreement, period.
S2: Right. And I think that, you know, ultimately what we want is a change of behavior. And we want to think about all of the consequences and all of the modes of accountability in a community. And so until that happens, it’s really fantastic to talk to you about this case and answer a lot of my pressing legal questions. And before we head out, we want to give some RecommendationsLili, what are you loving right now?
S1: Well, a Marcia a thing that I am loving right now is a very silly, delightful show called In English Money Heist, which is a very stupid title in Spanish. It’s called Cancelable House of Paper. Much better title that is, I think at this point, Netflix is second most watched show of all time. But it’s you know, it’s a Spanish show. So I think a lot of American audiences have not yet cottoned on to it. And it is you know exactly what it sounds like. It’s a heist show. But what I have found so incredibly enjoyable about it is that when I think of a heist movie or show, what I immediately picture is like hyper competence. Right. Like I you know, this kind of very intricate system that is like a calculated at every turn for everyone, sort of silently does their part with perfect execution. And what this show does is, is sort of assemble a group of characters who have just such a figure, like there is a genius figure who’s trying to coordinate all of this, but they themselves in the middle of the heist could not be less disciplined. It’s almost becomes like a soap opera in the middle of the heist where people are saying, you know, having fights over who’s in love with who are like, you know, I am sleepy and I am not getting enough sleep and I’m hungry. And so they start doing completely irrational things. And it’s such a delicious, like, hilarious, like acknowledgement of humanity in the middle of like a very, very, very messy and formulaic in many ways like heist show that I cannot help but take intense pleasure in it, even though it’s sometimes incredibly cheesy, often like really very silly, but also symbolically interesting, because I don’t think I’m spoiling much by saying that one of the things that the, you know, the heist people do is dress everyone, including their hostages, up in these red jumpsuits with Salvador Dali masks so that those so-called bad guys cannot be distinguished from the hostages. And what the show is really banking on pun intended is Spanish fury at the banks because of the 2013 financial crisis.
S2: I look at framing.
S1: It’s so interesting because it was so what the heist is, is they take over the Spanish mint and so all they want to do is just like hold off the police as long as they can so they can print as much money as they can, stealing from no one. So it’s a very funny, interesting Robin Hood premise. And this is all to say that those jumpsuits and mask have now become like a symbol of protest all over the world, like they’re showing up at protesting at soccer games everywhere. Anyway, it is delightful. I cannot recommend it more. What’s yours?
S2: OK, this is going to be controversial, but I recommend a good deep dive season. Watch into the various real Housewives franchises that are on right now. I am a new mom. I have a four month old baby. And so I have to be very judicious about my television watching, though it’s still a priority. And I think that the three different Housewives seasons that are on right now is like everything you need to know about America. You’ve got covid and like financial scandal in Beverly Hills. You have this very uncomfortable season of racial reckoning on New York and people are collapsing. Potomac just start this past this month in a couple of weeks ago. And you have this really weird kind of slice of life of what happens during covid to people from like depression to anxiety to feeling the need to remake themselves. I mean, I can’t think of a more deliciously anti feminist feminist thing to do than to get back into The Real Housewives. I strongly support love this.
S1: I’ve never seen a real Housewives which I started Lili. Which one? Where do I start with?
S2: As a newbie? I would start you off with New York. Yeah, I think. I think I think you’re ready for it. We’ll talk more next time. Okay. That’s our show this week. The Waves is produced by Shane Roth.
S1: Susan Matthews is our editorial director with June Thomas providing oversight and moral support.
S2: If you like the show, be sure to subscribe rate and review wherever you get your podcasts. And please consider supporting the show by joining Slate. Plus, members get benefits like zero ads on any Slate podcast and bonus content of shows like this one. It’s only one dollar for the first month. To learn more, go to Slate Dotcom, slash the waves plus.
S1: We’d also love to hear from you. Email us at the waves at Slate Dotcom.
S2: The waves will be back next week. Different hosts, different topic, same time and place. Thank you so much for being a Slate plus subscriber today in the Gateway Feminism conversation. I’m curious, Lili, what one event can you pinpoint that made you a feminist man?
S1: Well, I don’t know if it’s the one event, but it was an important event in my mind. Mortified adolescents.
S2: And I love the description. I think it’s like the perfect way for me.
S1: And I’m really embarrassed to admit this, but it’s just the truth. So here it is, a gateway feminist experience for me. It was watching my best friend’s wedding,
S2: not your actual best friend, but the film with us from the
S1: film, The Rom com, my best friend’s wedding. And here’s why. So we all know, right. The rom com genre that I think I was definitely super saturated with by the time I saw my best friend’s wedding in theaters. And so I was prepared for all of the usual rom com tropes, which include and I have to say this actually extends beyond rom coms, like I think most of the movies with female protagonist, including the princess ones, just had things happening to them and then they reacted. Right. And then the rom com. There is a way in which the the women were always sort of discovered and their charm was eventually found out and observed by, you know, like a male character who responded appropriately and rewarded her with love. So like there was a there was a way in which I think like only you was the most aggressive, like
S2: example of this. I love that you have like a taxonomy rom com concepts, OK, it’s
S1: a deep bibliography, but yeah. So I think in that funny way, like starting to watch my best friend’s wedding and realizing that a, this woman has extreme desires that are very specific, and B, she’s driving the entire plot right from beginning to end. She’s hatching really elaborate, complicated, malevolent plans and executing them and see where she’s still allowed to be a rom com heroine in a way that I found totally baffling at the time this was sort of professionally willing to go with, although I was very like, you know, I was ready to condemn her at every turn for
S2: this serious look. I just just to clarify and for other of other people who want to make sure we know what movie, it’s the one where Julia Roberts is going to her male best friend’s wedding. And he’s with Cameron Diaz. And she’s like bananas about it. Is that right?
S1: That’s exactly right. OK, they have both they have an agreement, she and her best friend, Julia Roberts and her best friend, that if they turn twenty eight, twenty eight, the old age of twenty
S2: or twenty
S1: or twenty eight, if they get to be the ripe old age of twenty eight and have not married, they will marry each other. So, you know, in the course of watching this too, I started to think, gosh, he seems like he may be kind of sex like Kimi was twenty and in college and he was twenty eight which is not old but is a lot older.
S2: She was a PhD student. She’s supposed to be some type of wonder kid because she went to the University of Chicago. And I remember this is the kind of nerd I was when I saw that movie. I was like, oh, shoot, Chicago. Impressive.
S1: No, I don’t think she was a Ph.D. She was an architecture student. She was an undergrad. Yeah, she was an undergrad. And she wasn’t going to finish her degree because he was being a total dick about it and didn’t want her to because he wanted her to travel with him to whatever city or whatever.
S2: What year is this movie from like nineteen thirty.
S1: It’s just saturated in retrograde tropes. I mean it’s, I think it’s nineteen ninety five maybe ish.
S2: It’s ninety seven. I just, I just looked it up. This premise is ridiculous isn’t it.
S1: It’s incredible. But here’s the thing, the fact that she is a monster and like it does all kinds of things that I think I maybe had some like sublimated, you know, desires to do and that, you know, it makes all kinds of mistakes that I think a lot of like male protagonists were kind of allowed to make in movies and that she repents totally and has to ask for forgiveness and is forgiven. And it’s like allowed a redemption arc of the sort that I actually realize now that I associated with. Honestly, I don’t know why, but male characters with agency who had like the opportunity to make very grave mistakes and correct themselves, that just wasn’t very common in my moviegoing experience for women. So like it began that she doesn’t get rewarded with, like, the happy ending at the end. It’s a rom com that. In a strange way, is like incredibly retrograde and also breaks every one of the rom com conventions and it kind of, I think, blew my mind in ways that were not apparent to me until much later.
S2: I feel like this this film, I’m I really want to watch it, but I kind of can’t believe I’ve seen it tons of times. But I can’t believe the premise because now I am a few years older than Julia Roberts was in the movie. She’s 28 and she’s this like just unbelievably, like, dejected that she’s not married yet.
S1: She’s she’s she doesn’t want to admit that she is because she is, I think, supposed to be a sort of feminist archetype. Right. Like she’s a massively successful food critic in San Francisco, which, again, what a time and is like drunk on her own power and has this kind of like fun friendship with Rupert Everett, her editor. And is, you know, I think is is living. What we’re supposed to understand is the single careerist girl’s dream. And so it is embarrassing, I think, to her that she wants this and she can’t really admit that she does. He wants it. And so this is her way into like, you know, this was the agreement that she made. He’s calling her on the day of, you know, whatever her or his 20th birthday. And so she thinks that that’s because he’s calling to propose. Yeah, it’s bananas.
S2: So you see this film and you’re like, wait a second. The patriarchy has me all messed up.
S1: Yes. Yes. In every way I was like, this is this is just like crossing so many wires for me. And I’m so happy that she didn’t get the happy ending at the end because I think I was really sure she was going to because I don’t know if you remember, but the beginning of the movie has this like opening credits scene where this blonde woman with a pink background is singing with all of her bridesmaids, that wishin and hopin song.
S2: Yeah, it’s just so
S1: it’s so it’s such confectionary and it’s so, like, completely committed. Right. To like every single one of those signifiers of female happiness that I found a little bit horrifying at the time. So I thought that that’s where the movie was going. And so I was like, I don’t know what’s happening here is, you know, is the feminist careerist going to be disciplined or is she a monster who’s going to be rewarded? I feel like I’m unhappy with both of these extremes. What’s to be done? You know, how can we possibly solve this problem? And, you know, and in the end, I was like, oh, that all seems kind of I’m happy with the fact that she was a monster and acknowledged it and tried to repair it and doesn’t get what she wants, but is also an agent through the end or something. I don’t know, totally problematic. I cannot believe that that’s my answer to this question. But it’s the answer to this question or one of them.
S2: Well, I’m mesmerized by your analysis. And I now I want to hate watch this movie because this was like every movie in the nineties with Julia Roberts, except for Erin Brockovich, which has another kind of like thing about like women and femininity. Well, this is fascinating. I love that my story starts a little bit earlier then I guess high school with maybe fourth or fifth grade. I went to Catholic school my entire life from preschool to high school. I was in Catholic school and my K through eight had uniforms. And it’s like sometimes when I talk about going to Catholic school, it’s like I was raised in the nineteen forties along with my friend’s wedding, because it was like such a it was like an old building with like the old school radiators and like there weren’t nuns but there might as well have been. But the rules at my school was that when you were I believe from first to fourth grade you were a jumper. I like a plaid jumper that you’d have to go to a uniform store and it would come in like a plastic bag. I smell like toxic chemicals. And so, like all your clothing came in these like standard issue like plastic bags. And so you would go you would tell your school and your size and then some one would just hand you a bag filled with your clothes for the school year. And then when you got to fifth grade your skirt and there was just like weird kind of thing about like you were too mature for a jumper once. You were like, I don’t know, nine or ten in the fifth grade, there was something like strangely, not just the kind of like feminization of the uniform, but this idea, like little girls were jumpers. But you were like a young woman. You now have to wear a skirt. And the skirt was like such a source of scrutiny and anxiety because let’s say you were someone like me who hit puberty very early. Your skirt fit differently then if you did not. And so it’s like how short it was, how tight it was. And then there was pleated skirt. Which it was just a lot, and so it occurred to me how ridiculous that we had this dress code because we also lived in Chicago and it was freezing. And so the concessions about like you could wear tights under your skirt. And then I feel like at some point, girls wearing pants under the skirts so called going to school and then the whole thing. But I think perhaps like there was a small movement to just like transition into pants. But the fact that the skirt was like, so important for all of this just really pissed me off. And I think this was the first one of the first kind of consciousness moments that I had about the performing of femininity and why this was happening to us as kids. Meanwhile, the boys were wearing their pleated khaki pants with such ease and such like is of us and girls and comfort and comfort because like these were not natural materials, skirts, or they were like itchy and they were just a mess. Yeah. So I think that really kind of like got me in a good place. And then later on I did outrageous things like I had asked permission to on the loudspeaker at school, like for Women’s History Month profile, like a woman every week of significance. And I picked the president of Planned Parenthood. You did not. I did know what it didn’t even occur to me that I was being a troll. Like, it was just really like, oh, this one’s really interesting. It was one Faye Wattleton was head of Planned Parenthood was like, oh, we should, like, talk about her at school. And then I was told that this isn’t how it was going to work. So, yeah, I think that I think the if the skirt was made out of more flattering material, who knows? I might have. But those friend’s wedding was a blueprint for my own life. But the like cheap material and the like the the horrible look of all of it kind of changed my life.
S1: I actually love your emphasis on the material because I was like, yes, I see the fake rite of passage into 5th grade would be enraging and like the faux policing of sexuality. But it’s that you’re really mad about the fabric.
S2: There’s no breathable air. It’s like God school is so triggering and awful and dress codes and all of the baggage of dress codes, things have gotten a lot better because there’s all these very cool young feminists who are pushing against it. But just there’s nothing worse than being in high school and some like creepy male teacher looking at you to make sure if your clothes were OK, it’s like there’s got to be a different way of doing this. But, you know, like I just remember how many girls were just so embarrassed because their skirts were considered too short. And then if, like, you know, the styles of the 90s, like if your butt was a little on the larger side, the skirt goes up because there’s like volume there. Like, it’s just all so terrible, so close have made me a feminist. And they keep me a feminist today.
S1: I mean, understandably so. I actually think that’s another reason I really like my best friend’s wedding is because she wear these like giant weird long pantsuit things with vests. And I was like, that’s that is what I want is like I want to exist in a curtain that is pants.
S2: I think that’s the best place to end listeners. Do you want to live? It occurred that is bad. If so, I think the way is this for you. Thank you so much for being a slate plus listener and joining us in our Gateway Feminism conversation.