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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

In The Wake Of The 'Me' Generation

Wendy Wasserstein died yesterday. Few people outside of the cultured classes of New York City ever heard of her or knew that she was a playwright of considerable renown. But by those who knew her and by those who were familiar with her work, she is already grievously missed (link). What is being mentioned also in glowing, laudatory tones is the fact that Wasserstein was the prototypical feminist of her - our - age. She wrote highly acclaimed, award-winning plays that highlighted and dramatized the plight of intelligent, driven, independent women who strive to succeed in this male-centric world. And all that. You can read all about her successes as an eminent dramatist here.

What you will read too is a sort of triumphalism. Wasserstein, being your cutting-edge feminist - a la 1972 - never married. That would have required that she bond with a man. The root word being bondage. The root word being malevolence. That just wasn't to be done. Not by a committed feminist.

And there's something else, mentioned only in passing, which somehow seems appropriate to the age. Buried in the New York Times obituary chronicling her life and untimely death is this:
Ranging across more than two decades, "The Heidi Chronicles" [her most famous play] was an episodic, seriocomic biography of an art historian seeking to establish a fixed and fulfilling sense of identity amid the social convolutions of the 1960's and 70's, a period when the rulebook on relationships between men and women was being rewritten. Heidi's allegiance to her ideals and her unwillingness to compromise them for the sake of winning a man's attentions caused conflict with friends who chose easier or different paths. Looking around at her materialistic, married, self-obsessed peers two decades after the exhilarating birth of feminism, Heidi observes: "We're all concerned, intelligent, good women. It's just that I feel stranded. And I thought the whole point was that we wouldn't feel stranded. I thought the point was that we were all in this together."

In the play's bittersweet final scene, Heidi has become a single mother to a new infant - a path Ms. Wasserstein would herself pursue many years later, ultimately at great physical cost, when she gave birth, at age 48, to her daughter, Lucy Jane, in 1999.
At age 48 Wendy Wasserstein decided to have a baby. It's unclear whether the "great physical cost" was inflicted on her or her child-toy. There was never a husband. Nor, it would seem, is there a father:
Lucy Jane will live with Ms. Wasserstein's brother Bruce.
She had a baby and remained - her entire life - unshackled to any man. How trendy. The "having your cake and eating it too" approach to family-building.

It seems Wendy Wasserstein had it all. Fame. Admiration. Awards. Accolades. Riches. And a baby.

And what of Lucy Jane, the fruit of 1970's feminism?

She's six years old. She has no father. She has no mother. She's all alone - except for her uncle. She will live among her mother's trophies.

Is this what Ms. Wasserstein contemplated when she went out and had herself inseminated at a point in her life when she was approaching old age? I probably give her too much credit when I ask the question. She probably wasn't thinking at all. Like most everyone of my generation, she was caught up in her own life and her own interests - her own feelings - and didn't think about the consequences of her actions at the time. We are, after all, of the "If It Feels Good, Do It" generation.

So she did it. I'll bet it felt good. And now Lucy Jane has to live with it. Six-year old orphan, Lucy Jane Wasserstein.