#WeekendRead: Wonder Women

by Wendy Long
14 Mar 2020

“Watch ‘Ali Wong: Baby Cobra’ — she’s hilarious,” a friend of mine advised. As it turns out, she was spot on: Ali Wong, an American stand-up comedian, actress and writer (she was a writer for the sitcom “Fresh off the Boat”), won critical acclaim and rose to prominence in the stand-up comedy world with her stand-out Netflix stand-up specials, “Baby Cobra” and its sequel, “Hard Knock Wife.”

Her brand of anti-feminism feminism provided a refreshing take on what could have been a controversial topic. Of course, jokes on feminism still are controversial, but humor is always the best remedy in tackling difficult topics head-on!

You know a show or performance has left a deep impression when you get takeaways from it that last way after you’ve seen it, and the long-lasting takeaway I took from “Baby Cobra” was Ali’s explanation of how feminists have “ruined it” for modern-day women!

As she said on her show, “I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book ‘Lean In,’ talking about how women should challenge ourselves to sit at the table and rise to the top. … Well, I don’t want to lean in, OK? I want to lie down. … I think feminism is the worst thing that ever happened to women. Our job used to be no job. We had it so good. We could have done the smart thing, which would have been to continue playing dumb for the next century and be like, ‘We’re dumb women. We don’t know how to do anything. So, I guess we’d better just stay at home all day and eat snacks and watch ‘Ellen.’ … And then, all these women had to show off and be like, ‘We could do it! We could do anything.’ Shut up! Don’t tell them the secret. They ruined it for us, and now we’re expected to work.”

Would it be wrong to agree with Ali on that? Of course, she meant it as satire and a tongue-in-cheek joke, though I sensed a little truth in it!

Just because we are as good as men in getting the job done, does it mean that we want to (or should) do the same job too? In fact, it's more empowering to have the option to decide what to do and when to do something or anything that we want, so if that means having the freedom and choice to not do it, that in itself is an act of independence and choice.

That’s why, as Ali said, being a housewife is not being anti-feminist; on the contrary, it’s a statement-making moment, heralding one’s retirement! All right, that’s a joke, but in this day and age, why should the idea of women being stay-at-home mothers or housewives be perceived as being less ambitious than their corporate-ladder-climbing contemporaries? 

On the same note, the idea of an equally educated and talented woman “giving up” up a career to focus on managing the household and raising kids should be given as much weightage and importance as anyone who is out there working. 

In fact, as Ali jokingly said in her show, the housewives are the smarter ones, as they “concealed” their true talents while reaping the benefits of their husband’s hard work. A dream job and in a way, it’s a “career” too, as she mused on the show. 

I recall when Maria Grazia Chiuri debuted her inaugural collection for Christian Dior (the Fall 2017 show) as the first woman creative director of a mammoth fashion institution, the House of Dior, the paragon of femininity, she sent models down the runway with slogan wearing T-shirts that read “We should all be feminists.”

The first thought that crossed my mind was “No, I do not want to be a feminist because I do not want to do the same job as men. I’d rather leave it to the guys to ‘rough it out’ while we ladies remain at leisure, like how it was in antiquated times.”

That’s why I bought the “J’Adior 8” T-shirt instead, a throwback reference to Carrie Bradshaw (from the immensely popular TV series “Sex and the City”), a character whose search for The One to sweep her off her feet and live a romantic happily-ever-after life is as anti-feminist as you can get. I resonated more with “J’Adior 8” than “We should all be feminist,” as an idealogy, a reference and my own subtle anti-feminist protest.

Just like the juxtaposition of feminine swaths of garments with “dior(e)volutionary” messages that Maria Grazia presented, the idea of modern-day feminism is not an either-or, be-all and end-all, but rather a balance between masculine traits (independence, sportiness, strength) and traditional ideas of femininity (fragility, softness, emotional capacity), where a woman can hold on to her own feminine traits and strive in a “man’s world,” without having to sacrifice her femininity in order to be taken seriously.

It's about being seen as an equal, but different: playing the same game, by one’s own rules and not bending backwards just to stay in the sport. It's about choosing to be a housewife as a choice coming from confidence and strength rather than submission. It's about being Eve in Adam’s world.