caro thinks

date 2001-02-08:14:47
now in bloom on my patio The pink jasmine is miffed at me today. This specimen of Jasminum polyanthes is one of the oldest and most important plants on the Ray patio, and I forgot to mention it yesterday's long list. The first ten of about 2000 buds opened yesterday. I got this plant for $4 three years ago, in a one gallon pot. It's now in a 6-gallon clay pot with a 5-foot metal trellis. I was amused to see a similar but smaller specimen in the garden center this week, for $75. You'd think that that price would indicate that they are hard to grow. Absolutely pest-free, it only needs to have a few dried branches removed every year. It blooms heavily (starting yesterday) and continuously for a couple of months, then sporatically until fall. I give it a prominent place while it's blooming, but otherwise I just push it into a corner and ignore it. A very good alternative for people who love fragrant flowers but can't make a gardenia bloom.

Pink jasmine blossoms are especially precious to me. They're quite cute: pink buds open into five shocking white petals held on a pink tubular base. But of course, you could get something similar from solanum jasminoides. It's the stunning fragrance that makes the difference, and commands absurd prices at the nursery. Extremely sweet and strong but somehow not overpowering the way star jasmine (trachelospermum) or night blooming jasmine (cestrum) can be. And though the flowers are small and the sprays short, they make excellent cut flowers for a tiny bud vase, and one sprig will perfume the house for a couple of weeks. The plant itself is slightly floppy and casual, but it's worth the tangle.

I hope this tribute absolves me of my forgetfulness, dear jasmine. I've waited anxiously for you all season.
on being a woman

Judging Judging Amy

With my newfound ability to receive tv stations came a host of programming that was new to me. "Judging Amy" had sounded pretty interesting through the buzzing snow of interference, so when it starting coming in clearer I was excited and I checked it out.

I've seen four episodes. So far I'm very disappointed.

I like to watch shows that have role models with whom I can identify very closely. I like to see how other people would handle situations that are unique to women, and thus female role models have additional significance for me. General problems that apply to everyone are also very important to me, as a philosopher and as a person. But when the popular media deals with women as though they are more than just furniture, it's is for me cause for a celebration.

But as a woman, and a philosopher, and an American, I find "Judging Amy" to fail in major respects.

Let me cut right to the heart of the issue. Amy is a judge. She handles juvenile cases, as far as I can tell. It's not clear how old she's supposed to be; one way that the popular media screws with my mind is by casting women who either look to be about 16 but are supposed to be in their 30's, or by casting women who look to be about 50 who are supposed to be in their late 30's or early 40's. Maybe the acting profession takes its toll on young people in ways that I cannot imagine, but I really wonder where all the women who are actually in their 20's and 30's are.

So Amy looks to me like she could be in her early 50's, but she's probably supposed to be in her forties. Close enough. Having gone to law school, become a judge, had a child, and reached this respectable age, I would expect her to be smarter, and to think better.

But she can't think her way out of a paper bag. It's embarrassing to watch. In the last episode I watched before writing this, she decided she wanted a dog. So she went to the shelter. Like most responsible shelters, it had an adoption policy: as the adoption counselor explained, they were interested in making sure that the animal would be going to a permanent home, rather than popping in to an ambivalent family that wasn't sure on the whole whether an animal was desirable. Why? Because sending an animal to such a home can mean that the animal will end up back in a shelter, or simply dumped out in the country or maimed in city traffic. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable and fairly common policy to me. Not to Judge Amy! Despite her years, her active, thoughtful profession, her familiarity with juvenile delinquency (most probably including abuse of animals by children, and abuse of children by adults), not only was this policy a surprise to Amy--but she also found it personally insulting!

Maybe she really didn't know about this current trend in animal distribution. Nevertheless, I'd expect a judge, of all people, to be ready to think on her feet. She just isn't. When the animal adoption counselor told her that the next step was to visit the home and make sure it was a suitable environment, Amy looked aghast, and said, "Are you saying there's something wrong with my home?"

Wow. All that law school training, and Amy thinks that's a relevant response. What could have gone wrong in her education?

To give the writers credit, at least the counselor was able to think on her feet, and she responded quite appropriately, "No. But I haven't been to your home. Have I?" I could have done without the snotty condescending tone, which unfortunately made it seem like the counselor was just being "bitchy" (what can you expect from a woman with that kind of power?) rather than reasonable. But at least she showed some presence of mind.

Amy engaged in other similar exchanges in that episode. Take the conversation between her and a girlfriend about Amy's new relationship, who is her son's martial arts teacher, a man many years her junior. She kept repeating the words "But he's my son's karate teacher" in response to the girlfriend's quite reasonable arguments that the man was obviously good for her, making her happy, something she needed, etc, etc. Again, it was too bad that a judge was so stupid that she was unable to articulate anything about the problems she was having with the relationship. I had trouble staying interested in the story at this point; she obviously thought the man was too young (whatever magic spell that's supposed to cast), but she kept saying that he was her son's teacher.

This of course has nothing to do with Amy, who doesn't exist outside the script. It's about the writers, who do. They are charged with the consistent portrayal of a judge. I can't help but suspect that they are confused by the fact that the judge is female. We all know that women, being the spastic emotional little creatures that they are, can't think very clearly, especially if they feel that their homes or families are being attacked, right? So even though Amy knows the law inside and out and listens to arguments all day and has to sort through them to pick out the good ones and make judgments among them, nevertheless when she leaves the courtroom she completely loses her mind and becomes one of us again.

Maybe, in the case of the counselor, the writers were trying to express something about the absurdity of all this care just for a dog. If so, they didn't do it very well, since they gave the better case and the more reasonable lines to the adoption counselor. The only person who came out looking absurd was Amy.

Or maybe I haven't seen enough of the show. Maybe they are trying to show that Amy has been chronically under such tremendous pressure (after all, she's a single mother living with her mother and engaged in a full-time career in, of all the draining things, juvenile law), that she's headed for a nervous breakdown. It's possible. But if a basic premise of the show is that Amy is losing her mind, then it's something that the writers need to keep reminding us of. You know: Starship Voyager is still lost in space and trying to get home to Earth, and everything they do is consistent with that premise. Amy is all stressed out from her overtaxed life and can't think straight. That sort of thing.)

Possibly the writers are trying to show how hard it is (it isn't, incidentally) to balance an intellectually demanding career and the emotional life of a woman. Now we're getting into evil territory. Either the writers are all men, or the women writers never did very well in anything but literature class and have come to believe that that was because they were busy with the more important business of being emotional women. While it is undoubtedly very hard to maintain a full-time career and be a single mother, being emotional is part of being human. Some people just hide their emotions better than others; but hiding your emotions doesn't mean that you are any more logical than someone who doesn't. The relevant issue is whether you base your actions on unexamined emotions rather than facts and reason. And Amy certainly does.

People who might be influenced by the ideas portrayed on television shows shouldn't watch them alone. Usually we think of that group of people as being comprised of children only. But this show is directed at adults, and since I've heard some of my own friends voice derogatory opinions very similar to the ones illustrated by Judging Amy, I thought I'd provide another perspective. This is not what it is to be a woman. It is not the case that normal women are just so emotional that they can't handle simple everyday arguments, even when they are trained in argumentation. It is not the case that a woman trained in law would suddenly find herself unable to reconcile her erratic emotional reactions with her sober, logical job. The writers have very active imaginations indeed, if they believe that women are that stupid, or that such an idiot could become a judge.

Or maybe I've got the emphasis wrong. Maybe it's really judges that the writers are picking on, not women. I would expect Amy to be a minor character who consistently makes absurd judgments, rather than the title character, if that were the case. But she isn't. She's not just the most important character; she's also a good judge. In the courtroom, anyway.

And finally, maybe it will get better. Maybe they'll hire a woman, or a lawyer, or a philosopher to help them get their scripts straight. But in the meantime, I have to ask, in good Mystery Science Theater 3000 fashion, "How does this television show really feel about women?

Postscript: A word about Ally McBeal

I have heard criticisms of Ally McBeal that take it to task for portraying Ally, a lawyer, as a neurotic idiot. But there's a fundamental difference between these two shows. Amy is a drama. Ally is a comedy. All of Ally's companions are also neurotic idiots. It's funnier that way. And it doesn't matter to the integrity of the show whether the characters say stupid things or smart things, as long as the air of hilarity is maintained. Ally isn't supposed to be a hero or a role model in the usual sense. But I enjoy Ally alot, not only because it is very cleverly funny, but because it is always refreshing for me, as a woman, and a philosopher, when a woman has the title role, and when women are treated as just more human beings rather than as furniture and wallhangings that are present exclusively for the purpose of men to look at and fondle. That's why I'd take Aly over Amy any day. Although Amy isn't a wallhanging, she is a relative idiot in her world.

Reason Number Eleven to Live in La Jolla

It Just Keeps Being Spring

Farsam always laughs at me for the way I understand the seasons. For him, they are dates on the calendar. "Winter Term" means something to him, despite the fact that winter doesn't happen here. For me, the changes in the natural world are what indicate the season.

Spring in Baltimore begins in March or April, with a great burst of rain storms and the first crocuses. Spring in Bloomington begins about the same time, with the emergence of the blossoms of dogwood, redbud, and crabapple. And in both those places, there is a characteristic nip in the air that's not quite comfortable yet, and characteristic clean smell. (Then summer strikes with a violent bang and life is hell until September.)

So Spring is, for me, the time when the dormant period ends and the growth period begins, and I don't consult the calendar for that. The smell and the nip are in the air now, and that makes it Spring.

Spring in La Jolla is a long season. It starts in December as the November drizzles bring out the first of the rhaphiolepsis and the hills green up a little after the dryness of summer. It's been a lovely spring here, and should be for a couple more months. Though it had warmed up considerably over the past couple of weeks, I'm just slightly uncomfortable in a turtleneck in the garden office as I write this. I wore black today, to absorb more sun.

Or maybe I should say Spring I and Spring II. We'll get another burst of rain this month (no doubt during the only days that Tom is here from Winterland), and the next group of flowers will open. And that will be followed by Spring III, concurrent with Summer in other places, when we get all the benefits of Summer without any of the heat or humidity. I expect it will be 74 degrees for the Enlightenment meeting. But right now it's a chilly 65, and I'll have to take the computer inside in a minute as the sun disappears into the ocean.

Wish you were here?

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