Continuing our theme from last week of walking with the Golden Girls, let’s take a moment to look more closely at the gems in Blanche’s crown as well as the heroes that have emerged in recent weeks.
“Like I’m the only one who’s ever mixed a margarita in a sailor’s mouth.” – Blanche
On the surface, Blanche Elizabeth Devereaux is a fun loving lady who deems herself a queen of the old South. To any outsider, and often to her friends, she is vain, attention hoarding and the world revolves around her. However, a dive beneath the shallow waters reveals a more complex character with deeper strengths and flaws that reveal her to be quite human. The humanization of characters may seem like an odd concept for which to aspire, but it is the flaws, the problems of our favorite TV characters that make them “real” and more like us viewers. Indeed, the Golden Girls were constrained by the twenty-eight minute or so air-time, and most of their problems were solved in that brief frame, but the issues they touched, as we will see with our first highlighted golden girl, remain to be profound in modern times.
Throughout the twentieth century, we ladies have made tremendous leaps in the United States, but the value of women as more than mere house-wives who had the right to vote was emerging as a common theme in 1980s cinema and sitcoms. The Cosby Show had Dr. Claire Huxtable. The ladies of Nine-To-Five proved to their good-for-nothing boss that karma packed one mean powerful punch. And the Golden Girls had Blanche, a vixen who had married rich, was temporarily engaged to an extremely wealthy man, was for the majority of her life a house-wife and had a governess to take care of her children. Blanche pushed the envelope in many ways, but it was not towards backwards thinking as may be immediately assumed. Blanche is a character full of surprises. Diving just a bit deeper we see that regardless her assertions as a meek, yet sexually free female, she has principles and stands up when her loved ones are or integrity is threatened.
There is one episode in particular that seems especially relevant in our current times. In an episode in Season One appropriately entitled, “Adult Education,” Blanche is taking a few extra courses to complete a degree, which will help to have her considered for a promotion at work. This alone is something to stop, analyze, and admire. In the 1980s, 25% of the female population 18-24 years old in the USA were enrolled at college, compared to the over 45% today (Mather and Adams). That’s all well and good, but realize that the average age of college for females even to date is between 18 and 24. Blanche was in her fifties vying for a promotion by trying to earn her degree. This is a subtle detail in the episode, but incredibly inspiring. It shows that you don’t have to be twenty-something to be a college student hoping to advance yourself professionally. Hope to better one’s self does not have to and nor should it stop just because you’ve built a family, or in Blanche’s case, that she lived in a mostly empty nest, save for the few “coo-coos” who were her roommates. (Die-hard Golden Girls fans will likely understand that reference. If you don’t get it, watch Season Seven.)
In Blanche’s quest to achieve that promotion, she hits a snag. She needs to bring up her grade in Psychology; she failed her midterm and if she doesn’t pass the class, she won’t have the GPA to receive her degree. Trust me, if anything stands in the way between you and your degree, a piece of paper that you have put your blood, sweat, and tears into, you’re going to be upset and willing to do almost anything to achieve that most desired end. After consulting her girls, Blanche decides to ask her professor for assistance to see what she can do to earn a better grade in the class. The professor listens to her story and unfortunately, he does have a way that will guarantee her the path to a passing grade. A path that of course excites her until she realizes that the extra-credit would involve extra-curricular activities. Blanche is prone to be drawn to those activities, in fact the word “addict” come to mind, but she knows that she wants to be proud of her degree. Sleeping with the professor would forever hinder her from holding her head high whenever she looked at or thought about her degree.
After the incident Blanche consults with her girls and they all agree that she needs to report it to the administration. When she does, alas, for Blanche the ol’ song and dance that many people who blow the whistle fear; the administrator said to her, “It’s your word against his.” Like it’s not terrifying enough for victims of sexual harassment to come forward, particularly when their harassers are in positions of power, the person who was supposed to provide her help, refused to take her seriously because there was no witness and because, to quote the administrator, “A man’s career [was] at stake.” Blanche’s pride, respect and self esteem, evidently were not. This horrible thought that one person’s career is valued over another person’s pride and self respect has been in the news more than we’d like to believe in these last few months, a thought that’s been around likely as long as we have been conscious beings on this earth. Just think, within this month alone, over 150, ONE-HUNDRED AND FIFTY SIX young women came forward to have their stories, their voices heard in court regarding the abuse they incurred from a man whose profession was valued over their pride and self respect. These women were the young athletes, most of which were Olympian athletes, people we cheered for and rejoiced with at every win and victory. These women, who were young girls at the time, were sexually abused by one authoritative figure that they were told to trust, one man affected countless lives, but these women are not victims. They are survivors. They deserve our applause and cheers now more than ever. They will rise as phoenixes and they will teach us how to break our silences as they have been able at last to end theirs.
Now, many of those young girls had come forward over the years. Many in years passed had tried to make his demons known, but they were silenced like Blanche and so many other survivors before.
Blanche could easily have accepted this, she could have kneeled to the idea that her report could ruin a man’s career, but she decided to take a stand for her own rights. She buried herself in the books and even missed a Frank Sinatra concert to take her final exam. Towards the end of the episode, Blanche is the last student remaining in the class. The professor tells her that it is time for pencils down. When she stands up, the professor again asks her to consider his offer, but Blanche was not about to stand down after all of the work she went through. Standing proud, Blanche told the professor to kiss her “A.” (Her grade, of course.)
Blanche, promiscuous, fun loving Blanche, stood up for herself and for women’s rights by saying, “No” because in her particular situation, she was able to. Many survivors are not given that choice. Now, unfortunately for Blanche, she did not receive the promotion because some other woman took a different road by using her body (having a butt lift) to receive the promotion. The girls gave Blanche words of sympathy, but with the biggest smile, Blanche replied that it was alright as, “one day her but’ll turn to mush, but I’ll always have my degree.”
We are living in a very interesting time. Things are changing and changing for the good. It’s going to be a long period of hurt and confusion as heroes crumble from sins and other heroes rise from their courage to stand up. The #MeToo and the #TimesUp movements, though both sparking a variety of opinions, have demonstrated one extremely important message: if you have been in a situation where you were asked or forced into a sexual deed and compelled to be silent, you are not alone. You are not alone. There are COUNTLESS women and men who have gone through similar circumstances and their stories of survival are breaking through.
A quote comes to mind from a marvelous book a dear friend loaned to me; “You are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it true. You may have to work for it however.” Richard Bach, Illusions. If an abuser stands in your way, don’t let them stop you. Do not be silenced. Do not let your dreams fail or fall because someone tries to stand in your way. You are more powerful than you know, but those abusers know, and they fear you because of the strength they see inside you. That strength is the greatest gem in your crown.
The tenacity Blanche demonstrated to not give in to the social norms or to what was expected of her as a fun loving, spoiled house wife is what makes her a remarkable character. For the women and men experiencing abuse at the hands of people we are supposed to trust, keep Blanche, the courageous athletes and all of the people standing up in your hearts. Let them be your shield and your words, your weapons.
For the abusers out there, #TimesUp.
Until next week, your humble author,
PS – In next week’s chapter we are going to go where few have gone before – beneath the peroxide colored hair of Rose Nylund.