During my Junior Year at NYU, one year after I made my debut in Mississippi, my father called to inform me that I had received an invitation to make another debut – this time on a more international scale. The International Debutante Ball happens every two years at The Waldorf Astoria hotel here in New York and I had been selected from my crop of Mississippi Debs to attend. It was a very proud moment both for my parents and for me as well. I immediately wrote a play in my mind about walking down those stairs, the vintage Dior gown I would wear (it had been purchased for my first ball but that I wasn’t able to wear because it didn't have sleeves), who my escort might be, and how we would be married in June a year later on my family’s estate followed by a run for office some 10 years later. I look great in red and blue.
There was only one problem. I had just been accepted to The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London to study Shakespeare and classical acting during the following Fall/Winter semester. The program conflicted directly with the events surrounding The Ball and so, after much deliberation between my two selves, RADA won out and in true displaced debutante form, I declined the invitation. It was the best decision I ever made.
My time in London changed my life. It wasn’t only a game changer in regards to my craft, but I can’t articulate enough how living in a foreign country and somehow making it your own, claiming your space, strengthens you as a person. I grew so much in those 6 months, and as incredible as I’m sure it would have felt to walk down the steps of the Waldorf Astoria in Dior, I don’t regret my decision in the least.
One of my favorite parts of the semester was our final production. We did Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra and I was one of the four girls who played Cleopatra. My scene was her capture and death, and I got to deliver some truly beautiful speeches, but one of my most favorite Cleopatra lines from the play was in an earlier act. In the play, Cleopatra is constantly in the company of women. In spite of having incredible power over men, which in such a “man’s world” was a huge advantage for her, she felt most comfortable when surrounded by her women. In Act IV, Antony has just died, and she looks to her women for comfort. She addresses them simply:
"Ah women, women"
Though the context of the quote a tragic one, the sentiment behind it is one of admiration, adoration, and respect for womankind. All the women in my cast at RADA began referring to each other as such, and we still do. "Ah women, women".
That quote came to mind this morning at The Beverly Hills Hotel. My mother and I were attending the annual Cedars Sinai Women’s Guild luncheon to support our dear friend Marilu Henner who was one of the two honorees. It was so incredible to be in a room full of so many extraordinary women: previous honorees, members of The Guild, or just women there to support this incredible cause. For over 50 years The Women’s Guild has been dedicated to supporting patient care, vital medical programs and equipment, biomedical research, and education at Cedars Sinai as a leading hospital in the Los Angeles community as well as a world class institution. It truly is an incredible organization, and while I want to find the plastic surgeon responsible for ruining the faces of quite a few of these Beverly Hills women and place him under citizen’s arrest, I was incredibly inspired by what I saw today. I would love to be a part of an organization like this someday. And as for my “work”… it will be flawless.
I was especially inspired by the second honoree of the afternoon Jackie Collins, acclaimed author of the bosom heave variety (my Grandmother calls romance novels "bosom heaves" because they make you breathe heavily causing your chest to, well heave), and sister to actress Joan Collins who was seated directly across from me at the next table… I feel more fabulous having simply basked in her glory for an hour than I have in months. I knew I was in love with Jackie Collins when within the first 3 minutes of her speech she shared with us her thoughts on 50 Shades of Grey: “The women in my stories kick ass not get their asses kicked.” PREACH. The award she was receiving was the Trailblazer Award, and I found what she had to say about it and about women of this generation in general incredibly enlightening. I may have paraphrased a bit because I had to wait till I got back to the car after the event to scribble it all down in my journal:
I am a trailblazer. Women need to be trailblazers. Trailblazers are people who know what they want, who dream big. Women should not be going out every night to bars and clubs wearing skirts the size of a postage stamp waiting for a man to pick them up. Because they won’t. Men want women who respect themselves. You need to respect yourself so that when the day comes that your beautiful children have all grown up and left you and your husband is busy doing business with the sexy new secretary he hired you won’t look at your life and say “What the hell happened?” Have something that is completely your own. Want something and go after it. Be a trailblazer.
"Ah women, women."
I felt like she was speaking directly to me. It is so hard being a woman with my values in today's society. People often equivocate my being traditional with being anti-feminist. They think the fact that I don’t flaunt my body and sexuality to any one who will look and choose instead to reserve those things for love, means I must not be an “empowered woman”. I don't know when it happened but promiscuity has become very closely connected with feminism, and while I would never "slut-shame" anyone, that just isn't my way. And as for sharing the fact that I have known from a very young age that I’m meant to be a wife and a mother someday… forget it. But why does that make me any less of a feminist? It doesn’t. Ms. Jackie proved that with her speech. True feminism means respecting womankind and respecting yourself. True feminism means having something that is yours, all yours, that you are incredibly passionate about, and dedicating yourself to it. True feminism means believing in something, if only yourself. True feminism means being a trailblazer.
I want to be a trailblazer. And I want to surround myself with trailblazers. I want to look around me and at all times feel the urge to sigh “Ah women, women”. I’m getting there. I know I still have a long way to go, but I look forward to what comes next. Thank you Jackie Collins for such an inspirational morning. I want to be you when I grow up.
Now… on a completely different note, the valet boys at The Beverly Hills Hotel are so damn handsome. I consider myself a very put together young lady but I still blush every time they open the door and offer their hand to help me out of the car. The problem is that what usually happens next is I trip or say something dumb. But not today, friends. A demure dip of the head... a little joke about how the side of our car got so scratched up... he laughed. TODAY I NAILED IT.
And I know admitting all that puts me at risk of having my trailblazer status completely revoked, but it just had to be said. I bet even Jackie Collins herself gets a bit twitter pated around them. There’s just something about a man in khakis and a pink polo.
With Grace and Good Humor,