Judith Thurman's Amelia Earhart piece in this week's New Yorker is fascinating, as most of her work is (I loved her recent Laura Ingalls Wilder/Rose Wilder Lane piece), but I'm noticing a degree of absurdity creeping in to her deliciously catty, un-official "Takedowns Of Famous Heroines" series. In the Earhart piece, tied to the upcoming movie about her starring Hilary Swank, Thurman turns what seems to me to be an overly judgmental eye on the famously famous pilot. Here are a few of Earhart's "sins" in the article:
Thinking she had something to say even though she didn't even finish college:
"Read closely, however, Earhart’s life is, in part, the story of a charismatic dilettante who lectured college girls about ambition yet never bothered to earn a degree."
Doing whatever it is she supposedly did in this sentence about a '90s Apple ad (with the official Apple slogan, I might add.):
"The slogan that appeared with a gauzy, doe-eyed photograph of Earhart in a white helmet was “Think Different.” (She thought of herself not only as different but as a special case to whom most ground rules didn’t apply.)"
(Who does that remind me of? Oh, ANY MAN WHO EVER DID ANYTHING.)
Being as un-shy as a particular famous man who is regarded around the world as a beloved, brave, and original hero:
"She quotes the great aviator Elinor Smith, who was still flying in 2001, at eighty-nine: “Amelia was about as shy as Muhammad Ali.”
Being looked up to even by women who didn't specifically want to be pilots:
"If Earhart became an “icon,” it was, in part, because women who aspired to excel in any sphere, at a high altitude, looked upon her as their champion."
Calling her plane something that made total sense:
"The plane, hyped as a “flying laboratory” (it wasn’t clear what she planned to test, beyond her own mettle and earning power.)"
Wearing mannish clothing without even having the simple decency of being a lesbian!:
"Butler doesn’t raise the question of Earhart’s possible bisexuality, and one has to wonder if she put it to any of her sources...As far as one knows, Earhart’s secret erotic life was heterosexual."
(Also, Earhart's "secret erotic life" could hardly have been much of a secret when, as mentioned later offhandedly, EVEN THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES KNEW ABOUT IT. Also mentioned: the fact that AE seems to have informed every man with whom she was ever involved (at least one in writing) that she could and would not be monogamous.)
Being whatever the fuck she's supposed to have been in this sentence:
Gender, however, is a bell curve, and on that curve she is an epicene, at least in the grammatical sense of the word: that of a noun that has one form to denote either sex (“doctor” or “friend,” as opposed to “heroine” or “aviatrix”).
An epicene? How DARE THAT BITCH UNSAVORY INDIVIDUAL!
Other of Earhart's "sins" in this piece that are meant to shock us: she shaved two years off her age, she lived with her parents for three years as an adult while figuring out what to do with her life, she spent money on a roadster she called "The Yellow Peril" instead of on her hospital bill for pneumonia, she embellished on an application for a menial job as a social worker, she broke up with a man to whom she was engaged for six years ("when she became famous"), a man who "never married" (boo fucking hoo!), and whatever this is:
"It is hard to know whether, or how long, Earhart would have stayed in social work if Railey hadn’t offered her a shot at glory."
Here, Thurman is right. Though Earhart had been working with children as a social worker for two years when she got her big break in the business in which she had spent years and thousands training herself, it IS hard to know how long she would have stayed in social work, but let's just assume she would have ended up with her jodhpers around her ankles in a Times Square brothel.
Suggestion for the next entry in he The New Yorker's "Women Of Now-Dubious Achievement" series: Harriet Tubman! Maybe she got eight hours of sleep one night when she was supposed to be freeing slaves.