Phyllis Diller left our world today at the age of 95, and we are better for having laughed with her.
After several other careers, including raising five children, she became a comic in the mid-1950s on the rising edge of the feminist movement. Until Joan Rivers came along, Diller was mostly alone among the male wolves that prowled the top stages for laughs back then. She defied every rule. At a time when most comics wore suits or at the very least button down shirts, her wild costumes and outlandish wigs made a statement. She wasn’t trying to be one of the guys; she was an uber-woman despite having “two backs” and “chicken legs.” Self-deprecating and witty, she said the things many women were thinking, and laughed along with her audiences.
Boy, did she laugh.
A brilliant gag writer, she maintained a joke file better organized than many libraries. She honed her craft constantly and let the audience be the judge of a joke. If they laughed, she kept it. If not, onto another joke. Her rat-a-tat-tat delivery came with a smile and she was proud of being able to deliver twelve jokes in one minute.
She earned every laugh.
Ok, yes, she dressed like a clown and her costume had the same counter-instinctual purpose. It made the audience drop its expectations and listen. It takes a confident woman to mock herself as relentlessly as Diller did, and smart one to mock the world around her. Diller’s daft housewife comedy wasn’t necessarily social commentary but it pushed boundaries and implied that it was ok to ask questions and forget washing the windows.
Thanks to her, women like Lily Tomlin, Gilda Radner, Whoopi Goldberg, Roseanne Barr, and Samantha Bee built their careers on being female and funny. She was known to encourage rising comics, though she never forgot that “the audience will let you know if you’re funny or not.” One of her best lines was “Aim high and you won’t shoot your foot off.”
Go ahead, laugh with her tonight. The angels are.
I thought I was imagining things, but today Sally Jenkins confirmed that winning Olympic gold is women’s work. Mike Lopresti reported that American women have more earned more than twice as many gold medals as the men.
I could list all the challenges women athletes still face even getting to the Olympics. There are plenty, but I think that today is a day to celebrate. Our women’s water polo and soccer teams are both going for the gold tonight. Hear the crowds roar!
I’ve been loving all the fuss about the Mars Curiosity rover. NASA and JPL have done a great job of publicizing the event given all the competing news events this week. The writers for Curiosity’s Twitter account have struck just the right mix of funny and real. They’re clearly overqualified to do late night comedy so I’m glad they’re finding an outlet between developing algorithms or conducting experiments. Like Andy Borowitz and so many other people, I’ve taken a poke at the event myself on DonBac Forever, where my husband and I maintain a public record of our married fun. For the record, he is from Tuscon, not Mars, and he believes air conditioning is a natural right.
The surprise star of the mission turns out to be flight director Bobak Ferdowsi, aka Mohawk Man. Scientists with a sense of humor and an ability to communicate are worth their weight in lutetium. Cute scientists with a sense of humor are invaluable. To Bobak’s credit he has flavored his ride on Spaceship Media Frenzy with encouragement for more people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. What he’s gotten in return are some pretty funny pictures, and a lot of marriage proposals. I hope his girlfriend has a good sense of humor too.
Of course the proposals are just jokes and teasing, but lost in all the giggles is the sad reality that Bobak doesn’t have many female coworkers. Pictures of his team feature row after row of men in powder blue t-shirts with only a the occasional woman. This jubilant video illustrates the issue:
Tara Tiger Brown has been working with JPL to compile a list of women who dare mighty things for the Mars mission, and so far the count of women in the flight room is seven. One of them is Ann Deveraux, Deputy Lead for Entry, Descent and Landing. So basically, she was totally in the middle of the Seven Minutes of Terror. I’m not sure about the hierarchy of mission control, but I’m betting she’s one of Mohawk Man’s bosses. While not quite the same media phenomenon as her creatively coiffed colleague, she has done some local television and radio interviews. She was also featured on the Women@NASA site, where she was asked about gender discrimination:
I went to school and now have worked in very male oriented disciplines (communications and electronics) and many times – even now – I can go into good sized meetings and not see another woman attending! But I’ve always considered myself to be just an engineer, and I find my male colleagues have treated me accordingly.
It’s great that a talented woman can rise to a position of responsibility at NASA and be treated fairly. The final head count of women working on the Curiosity mission will surely rise if this press conference is any example. Yet unfortunately, it seems like more women would still prefer to marry a flight director than become one. What can we do about that? I know that NASA has a Women and Girls Initiative and that Sally Ride dedicated her life to encouraging girls to consider science, technology, engineering and math careers. Let’s hope that Ann isn’t the only woman in meetings much longer.
I always love to read about the women writers who’ve come before me, so I have to thank Annie Cardi for this post and for turning me on to publicdomainreview.org.
A fascinating look at Frances Hodgson Burnett and her journey to write and publish The Secret Garden. Even though I loved The Secret Garden and A Little Princess when I was young, I knew nothing about the woman behind these classic children’s books. Although The Secret Garden wasn’t her first book, it was deeply connection to her own losses and experiences:
“Burnett loved the combination of the gothic and the natural worlds, and the ability of children to understand and appreciate them in everyday life. In this new story, she was able, whether she recognized it or not, to recover from her two enormous losses. Unlike her son Lionel, Colin Craven is restored to health at the end of the novel. And unlike Maytham Hall, the gardens at Misselthwaite Manor continually bloomed.”
This makes me want to reread The Secret Garden. It’s been a while, and what better…
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I just kissed my husband goodbye as he headed out the door to work. It wasn’t quite a long enough kiss (are they ever?) but he left smiling and that makes my heart shine.
Here at home, the wind is picking up and the sky is shifting colors. I’m enjoying the momentary juxtaposition of blue skies, sunshine and storm clouds. Though Virginia has been affected by the drought plaguing the rest of the country, there’s been just enough rain to make people forget to water their gardens. We haven’t had many good soakings, but we are getting showers or at least sprinkles a few times a week.
Roberto has found summer rainstorms to be a revelation, especially when it drizzles while the sun is still out. His exact word for that is “weird.” He grew up in Southern California and equates summer with sunshine. In his experience, rain only happens for about six weeks in the winter accompanied by media warnings at nearly the same level of hysteria one would expect for an alien invasion. Here in the gentle South, seasons are a bit more complicated, meteorologists try to be analytical and most people recognize that rain is a year-round precipitation option, with occasional snow, sleet or hail thrown in for flavor.
As a Midwestern transplant to Los Angeles, I always missed the ferocious summer thunderstorms that sprinkled my childhood with just enough excitement. I remember hiding under the dining table with my siblings, delighted that the sky was turning green. After two decades of relentlessly sunny California, it’s been a thrill for me to move to the land of hurricanes, floods and derechos.
Let me clarify.
I’m not fond of power outages, destruction of property, or the casualties of nature that inevitably follow a blowout meteorological concert. I don’t want people to suffer just so I can enjoy an awesome show of power with wind and lightning effects as yet merely mimicked by Hollywood. But severe weather warnings seem to be a fact of life here and so I try to make the best of it. I’m not going to be a storm chaser, but if I’m sitting on my patio and one rolls by, I’ll take pictures.
The little valley where I live seems to have its own microclimate; a brief rainstorm here can be a serious downpour up the hill. This means that I’m often watching weather reports for my general area that have no reflection on what’s happening outside my window. Since the biggest storms often skip my neighborhood, sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on all the fun.
In the brief time I’ve been writing this post, the sky has gone from blue and sunny to overcast and cloudy. Right now it smells like rain but the birds are still singing and sailing into the bushes and trees. I don’t know their trills well enough to tell whether they are warning each other to take cover or discussing last night’s baseball game. Several sparrows take shelter under the cream-colored Cadillac a few spaces away. The clouds are swiftly drifting by, low to the ground, a dull white followed by dark gray splotches. All is quiet. The wind dances through the trees, dies down and returns again. The rain arrives.