So, why a website about dames? What are dames, who are dames, and why should you give a dame?
First of all, this is not about dames with a capital D like Dame Judy Dench or Dame Helen Mirren, though they are certainly dames. This is dame in its slang sense, a woman who uses her assets – brains, ingenuity, wit, compassion, style, strength, sharp objects – to get along in life. She isn’t full of shit, nor does she take any either. A dame values kindness, intelligence, and a good pair of jeans. She says yes to life, and doesn’t take no for an answer.
I’ve always been inspired by dames. Partly because all my life I’ve been obsessed with women. As a girl, I only wanted to read about books about women. I only wanted to watch movies and TV shows featuring women. In history class I was way more interested in the few women’s names that came up – Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Phyllis Wheatley. (You can see this primarily happened when they ushered in Black History Month. I guess the curriculum figured they’d kill two birds with one stone by giving a few paltry shout-outs to minority women, and then get back to “real history”. You know, the kind that only includes white guys.)
Through no fault of my own, I was not born a white guy. But despite all the messages telling me how incidental I was to past and current events — and political, artistic, and scientific pursuits — I just couldn’t shake this stubborn interest in my own life. Destined to live it as a woman, I was fascinated by how. How does one successfully negotiate life as a woman? I looked everywhere for information and tactics. But I’m a product of the last generation when girls were still expected to be sugar, not too-too much spice, and everything nice. And nice was defined by men. Barbie has a dream house, some groovy outfits, but back then her only career was looking good for Ken.
I turned to popular culture for clues – comic books, magazines, movies, music and TV. Inhaling lessons from Ginger Grant, Ellie May Clampett, Burke’s Law and Charlie’s Angels, I learned your only chance for potency or potential was your looks. If you were pretty you could be popular, be heard, even catch crooks (under the watchful eye of men with names while you and your glossy lips toiled under the generic rubric “angels”). If you were pretty you could make people stammer, or distractedly stumble into the cement pond. If you weren’t pretty, well…you weren’t. You were invisible. Looks were the only way you had of mattering, of being effective.*
According to my parents, and magazines, and everywhere, I wasn’t pretty. I didn’t matter and I wasn’t going to matter. A future being unloved, unheard, unseen and monumentally not-mattering stretched out before me.
Then came old movies. When I was a girl they still played black-and-white movies from the 30s and 40s on TV in the afternoons and on “The Late, Late Show”. I may not have had long straight hair like the uniformly lovely girls in Seventeen magazine, but old movies offered hope. Sure, there were leading women of unattainable beauty, but all of the heroines didn’t look alike. In fact, some almost looked like me. (Shout-out o Claudette Colbert!) Their personalities were these dames’ distinguishing feature.
Here, for the first time, I saw reel life Elizabeth Bennetts winning over their celluloid Darcys with wit, kindness and brains. Claudette Colbert, Rosalind Russell, Irene Dunne, Katharine Hepburn, Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow…the dames of classic cinema were everything – smart, funny, tough, classy, hard-boiled, soft-hearted, honest, sometimes devious. They weren’t background, ancillary plot devices – they were protagonists (or villains) of all kinds. They were stars in their own narratives, not interchangeable beings who fit into a narrow range of acceptable age, physiometry and cup size. These dames gave as good as they got, and I wanted what they had.
While I still studied how to excel, or even be adequate, at this whole woman thing, in my finer hours I’d always ask myself, “What would a dame do?” #WWDD
A decade ago I messed up a book deal by not having the confidence to finish the manuscript, “The Lost Art of Being a Dame”. (Still ashamed to look my agent in the eye.) I half-heartedly made a blog with the same name. But recently something happened. I dame-ed up.
I hit menopause, or rather, it hit me, like a ton of bricks. My ripe middle age made me invisible for real this time, but this time, miraculously, IDGAF. I have the experience, wisdom and perspective to see myself now. And that’s what matters. And what matters even MORE is that I see other women, like me, who need and deserve to be egged on, cherished, supported and fired up. As 2017’s Women’s March on Washington and the recent #metoo campaign illustrated, we’re not so up for being invisible anymore.
I want this website to look to the past, present and future for information and inspiration to help us be our most visible, vital and valiant. I want to help myself, and help you, get in touch with our inner dames.
Like the song says, “There’s nothing like a dame.” But even more awesome than a dame is lots and lots of dames. So welcome to Dametown! I am soooo glad you’re here.
Oh, and patriarchy, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. And world, watch out.
* Hell, even a beautiful witch like Samantha was expected to ignore her superpowers and just make dinner for that easily-rattled, pig-faced husband of hers. Jeannie was beautiful and magical, but was expected to remain imprisoned in her bottle until her “master” called.