As I type this title I smile – a sad kind of smile – because there are so many things I could be talking about. But not to worry, this is not about melting icebergs or immigrant children in cages. You can relax.
On May 13, Doris Day died at 97. The news was full of her radiant, blemish-free face, her tiny waist and twirling skirts, her perfect and perky figure. She was singing, she was dancing, she was acting. She flirted, she pouted, she laughed, she cried (but not for long). She stamped her size 5 ½ foot and got what she wanted. AP called her “the sunny blond actress and singer whose frothy comedic roles opposite the likes of Rock Hudson and Cary Grant made her one of Hollywoood’s biggest stars in the 1950s and ‘60s and a symbol of wholesome American womanhood.”
These images took me back to my teen years when she was everywhere. I didn’t particularly want to look or be like Doris Day, but the message was clear: this was what American girls and young women should strive for if they wanted to land some version of Cary Grant – which we were all expected to want to do. Her contemporary, Marilyn Monroe, offered a different model, one with a naughty twist. But still the basics were the same. It was about being amazingly, perfectly beautiful for starters. You could tweak your own style after that.
Around the same time that the screen was full of Doris’ beaming smile, we stumbled on a documentary by David Attenborough about Birds of Paradise. If you haven’t seen it, find it online. You will not believe your eyes. In the forests of New Guinea live the most outrageously, shockingly beautiful birds you can imagine – correction, you cannot imagine. Their mating displays create hypnotic visions, as they shape shift into unrecognizable forms and display colors found only in New Guinea, I’m sure. And of course they are males, doing everything in their power to capture the love of their life.
The females are plain, drab, brown-gray birds, who sit on a roosting branch that the male has carefully polished and prepared for his audience of would-be wives. And when they have gathered in that spot, with the perfect view, he begins a routine that he has been practicing since puberty. It is not a casual thing, not a simple wink of the eye, snap of the fingers, he throws every cell of his being into this performance of a lifetime. Watching on a screen, I, a human female, was seriously seduced by the performances, so I can imagine how excited those drab little gals must be.
So this is why I ask “where did we go wrong?” As a species, why do we females have to do all the work of beautifying, attracting, pleasing, and securing that mate? Why can’t we sit in our sweat pants and stained t-shirt, hair a mess, barefoot, on a comfy sofa somewhere and admire a man putting on his best show ever, pulling out all the stops, hoping and praying that we will go home with him, to a home that he has lovingly built for us, and probably already stocked with our favorite goodies?
But whether we are Birds of Paradise or featherless humans, it hardly seems fair. You can only do so much with what you are given on the outside. On the inside you have more options for beautification.
And speaking of insides, Doris Day had a lot going on. With a difficult start in life, she developed into a successful professional woman, who also had deep commitment to make the world a better place. Her Doris Day Animal Foundation was a pioneer in fighting animal cruelty and she was praised by all who knew her for her kindness, wit and generosity.
Now, take a look at this video and tell me you don’t wish you were perched on that branch, feeling the beat of the wings, seeing the flash of blue, the bewitching eyes…