I Was Wrong. I Was Right.

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.  And that is why I succeed.  –– Michael Jordan


I spent last night being a good girl and relentlessly self-castigating over misreading David Trumble’s critique of the Disney princess sheroes.

I’ve read many business and professional books this past few months, including, Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” Louis P. Frankel’s “Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office,” and “Play Like A Man, Win Like A Woman.”  Of the many takeaways, I was able to apply one last night: professionally, women blame themselves for their mistakes and needlessly stay in that space.  According to female executives and entrepreneurs who’ve been looking at male and female behavior differences in the corporate world for decades, men brush themselves off, and, worse case scenario, project, blame, or deny (“I did not have sex with that woman”), or, best case scenarios, creatively move on with the wind, no worries.  Women call it the male ego.  Men call it life, shrug their shoulders, and say “no big deal.”

I was a very good girl, though, and spent most of the night berating the failings of my intellect, thinking myself a fraud for having made it through a graduate program, let alone, one of the world’s best, bemoaning my cultural illiteracy for not knowing who and what David Trumble is and why he did what he did, and consequently embarrassing myself on my fledgling platform, taking myself oh so seriously.  Because, as Ms. Sandberg correctly writes, “women are promoted on achievements, men are promoted on promise.”  As a writer who is building a platform, with multiple creative interests, I am convinced that I can’t make this kind of mistake, because I must get it all right as I go along.

Wrong, again.

So now I am putting on my big boy boxers, and acknowledging what I did wrong, and what I did right.  Creatively recasting, and making the points that serve my voice, because I am metaphorically wearing my Michael Jordan Hanes and exploiting the opportunity that a so-called failure provides.

First, as a responsible writer I should have taken a few minutes to Google Mr. Trumble’s name and learned more about his background, which is impressive.  I didn’t.  I wanted to post something on the blog, this seemed like content worth spending time with, and so I took the ball and ran, gender allusion by way of sports metaphor intended.

According to a brief bio on the Huffington Post:

Twenty-six year old David Trumble is an award winning artist, cartoonist and illustrator, working in diverse media from graphic art to caricatures. Critically acclaimed as a political cartoonist for Trevor Kavanagh’s column in the Sun Newspaper with a readership of eight million, he worked under the name: Trumble. David won the Dan Hemingway Prize for Creativity for his 265 page graphic novel, Climate: A Cinematic Novel in Three Parts, which was published by the Blake Project. Trumble’s work of greatest acclaim to date, are his illustrations for the upcoming Simon & Schuster publication, Random Book: About the Power of ANYone by Talia Leman—a guide for everyone who dreams of making a difference in the world. As the book’s illustrator, Trumble creates 200 unforgettable cartoons, making the art and the text almost inseparable in this publication that is expected to be a blockbuster in the U.S..

Courtesy the same HuffPo bio, I learned that Mr. Trumble’s also working on a

“[c]artoon & animated educational film curriculum” venture with Alec Urbach—social entrepreneur, filmmaker and Founder/Executive Director of the international organization Giving from the Ground Up. Together they are creating revolutionary animated science and math film curricula for elementary schools that are changing the way children are educated in developing nations. The curriculum will serve 80,000 children in Ghana by spring, 2012, and is then being translated into Spanish to serve Central and South America.

So, Mr. Trumble is one of the good guys, not merely one of the well-intentioned who don’t know better. Everything I wrote about Mr. Trumble’s work was spot on, and lies at the heart of his critique about Disney’s commodified, homogeneious princess machine.

But I didn’t read it as satire, and I erroneously accused him.  In fact, I did exactly what gets on my nerves when many feminists write on sex work.  They jump the gun about objectification, without really understanding the economic-relational-social structures that unnecessarily keep sex work stigmatized.  They don’t see that sex work is primarily an economic issue, the shame residing not in the work itself, but in society’s fears and socialized judgements.

Which leads to my second point of self-flagellation: why didn’t I see the satire?  I am adroit at irony, sarcasm, and iconoclasm. If not successfully employing it, at least seeing it and heartily respecting it.  Those who have known me since my Word Bandit days know that the Guthrie family rebel gene (Arlo and Woody, for the few who haven’t heard already) is unapologetically wired in my system.  Ambrose Bierce is also a relative — and I wear these DNA alliances with too great a pride for my own good.

Why didn’t I get it?  More telling, why aren’t so many intelligent and sophisticated women getting it?  Are we looking through a jaded lens that assumes the worse worst?  Perhaps.  But I think not.

Mr. Trumble has stated about his princess sheroes:

“The result was this cartoon, which earned equal parts praise and ire from readers. Some didn’t get the joke, some disagreed with it, others saw no harm in it at all and wanted to buy the doll versions of them… it was a polarizing image, but I suppose that’s the point. The statement I wanted to make was that it makes no sense to put these real-life women into one limited template, so why then are we doing it to our fictitious heroines?”

So while drowning in an ocean of personal failing and professional humiliation at 3:30 a.m. — SAD kicked in weeks ago, so I am ratcheting up every failed personal and professional interaction with healthy doses of drama until March or so — it occurred to me that my original blog post was as insightful as I originally thought it to be.

The knee jerk reactions to Mr. Trumble’s cartoons have merit, but not because he engaged satire. Women are used to being fixed and fixing themselves within a given set of social constructs, almost constantly.  We’re not seeing satire in these cartoons, even if it hits us upside the head.  If we’re filtering through a lens, it’s one that we wear daily, that is, we need “fixing,” a constant social adjustment here and there, to make everything better. On top of that, there’s the new bottom line for women: we need to fix that we don’t need fixing.  Yet, paradoxically, women must get it right, constantly learning new codes and rules to play by, because “women are promoted on achievements.”  Women who want to do well while doing good are constantly learning what the rules are in order achieve.  For example, we’re still schooled in the difference between assertiveness versus aggression.  Ms. Frankel writes at length on this, arguing that women in the workplace (or building a platform) must understand that aggression is still not a woman’s professional prerogative, period.  Similarly, Ms. Sandberg quickly assumes her responsibilities in outlining all she did “wrong” on her way to the top.  With her book, she’s emerged as a paradigmatic face of women’s accomplishment, for, unlike Oprah, Ms. Sandberg has always been successfully ensconced among the boys.  Her powerfully personal yet self-correcting narrative  suggests the constant social reading that women respond to daily — from the media, other women, men, the workplace, and the list goes on and on.

We need to fix that we don’t need fixing, yet those of us striving to develop our creative or professional voices find ourselves being told to adjust our behavior in order to “Play Like A Man, Win Like A Woman,” to state the problem simply and succinctly.

So it seems to this critic.

Sound exasperating?  There’s the knee jerk reaction, right there.

As Kay Adams-Corleone would say, “This behavior adjustment thing must end.” 

I wrongly accused Mr. Trumble yesterday.  But my knee jerk reaction to his satire belies what I believe to be a deeper social reality: women are tired of fixing themselves, and of being fixed in metacritical social narratives.   Perhaps it’s my all to early onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder here in the north, but it’s old and tiring, from all quarters.

Meanwhile, I’ll be waiting for the critique on Disney princes, thank you very much.

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