by Meredith O’Brien
During the moments when I HAVEN’T been riveted to the winter Olympics  -- ice skating pairs/Lindsey Vonn/Shani Davis = good, luge death/epic falls & wipe-outs/sore loser Russian skater = bad -- I’ve been thinking about myriad things in the pop culture arena:
Can the three polygamist sister-wives featured in the TV drama Big Love , ever, in any way, be considered feminists? In a recent Big Love episode, the youngest wife Margene declared in a speech to a group of colleagues that while she didn’t consider herself a feminist per se, she was a proud working mom whose professional and monetary success had buoyed her confidence, then proceeded to challenge the notion that only men can have families and careers and not be considered greedy for attempting to “have it all.” “I don’t think that doing something that makes us feel less dependent on others and increases our self respect could possibly be bad for society,” Margene, the third wife in a polygamist marriage, said. “And I think it’s really important that women stick together and help each other.”
Meanwhile the first wife Barb – who was in a monogamous marriage for years before she got cancer and her husband conned her into making the woman who nursed her back to health his second wife – boldly stepped up her role at the family’s new casino, asserted herself as a member of its Board of Directors (the men on the Board didn’t inform her of the meetings) and went against her husband’s wishes by giving permission for the casino to be represented by a female lobbyist with whom she’d connected. (“Behind every man there’s an exhausted woman,” the lobbyist said to Barb, acknowledging the thankless work Barb had done for her husband’s career.)
Is it misguided to label what these wives were doing as independent thinking, feminist actions given that they share a husband whom they proclaim is their leader (though they routinely flout his directives)? Is this feminism, Big Love style?
A little later in the week, I was struck by two brief scenes in Grey’s Anatomy . They came during a flashback to 1982 and featured surgeons Richard Webber and Ellis Grey (mom to Meredith) back in the days when they were having an affair. The first was the scene when Ellis’ husband brought their daughter to the hospital so she could see her mother. (Workaholic Ellis was rarely home and the child missed her.) As Meredith went to show her mother a new doll, Ellis was paged over the PA system and said she had to go. Meredith grabbed at her mother’s legs only to be brusquely shoved away as Ellis hurried off to see her patient.
Later, Richard told Ellis that they should end their affair because they were both married and she had a child. Ellis -- who’d endured enormous sexism in the workplace – angrily responded by saying: “I gave birth to a child . . . that makes me a mother, it doesn’t make me inept. It doesn’t make me less of a woman. It doesn’t make me less of a surgeon, no matter how much everyone wants it to.” Decades later, surgeon Miranda Bailey faced a similar dilemma as she struggled with being judged differently by her peers because of her maternity, and was explicitly passed over for a promotion by Richard because she was a mother. What does this say about women’s progress, other than the fact that the number of female interns in 1982 versus the number in the current Grey’s episodes has exploded exponentially?
Hours after Grey’s aired, the nation’s television stations were commandeered by the hideous Tiger Woods faux apology event where he said he was sorry for humiliating his wife – the mother of his children -- by sleeping around with legions of women. As I, along with the rest of America, watched this scripted crisis management maneuver -- which seemed more oriented toward keeping the business of Tiger alive and flourishing than a statement of true regret emanating from the depths of Woods’ heart – I noticed that his mother was there in the audience and that while she looked angry she still hugged him afterward.
I was actually pleased that Woods’ wife didn’t attend and sit there in a demure sweater set playing the “good wife” as many wives of cheating spouses have done. She shouldn’t have to endure the intrusive lens of the media’s cameras registering her searing personal pain for something that wasn’t her fault. But as for Woods’ mother, I didn’t know what to make of her presence there. Sure, you love your kid, even when he or she screws up, do you need to be a living, breathing public apology prop?
Other topics which surfaced on my February vacation week radar screen this week included Lost’s growing morass of confusion and the fresh, heart-tugging promos for the new NBC dramedy Parenthood  which have been making me cry during Olympic commercial breaks. Speaking of the Olympics . . . could someone please explain to me that curious sport of curling? It’s got some kind of weird hold on me.