Wednesday, April 06, 2011

On Broads

Are you or are you not a broad? The question is addressed to the women and the non-women among you, because, of course, here in Roxie's World biological sex has no necessary or determining relationship to gender presentation. And, no, we do not need to pause to debate why broad is being defined here as a matter of gender presentation, while women was rather too casually lumped in with biology. It's Wednesday, darlings. My typist has things to do (like, you know, purging before her weekly weigh-in) and places to go (the horrible messy prison-house of doom office), and Judith Butler doesn't read this blog, so we needn't trouble ourselves with the subtleties of the sex/gender divide. Grant me a certain leeway, and go back to my original question: Are you or are you not a broad?

Moose and Goose have different positions on this question (as was noted in this post the other day), which is the only reason we bother asking it. To Moose, broad is a term of respect and affection for a take-no-$hit woman who strides boldly through life with purpose and without apology. Broads are strong, resourceful, willing to take the heat. To Goose, broad is a term of derision, a sexist pig-dog of a term designed to discourage women by labeling any evidence of ambition or power unseemly, unwomanly. Well, sure, Moose retorts, when a caveman says it, but when I say it it's a compliment!

Moose felt supported in her Reclaim the Epithet position by a headline in the Sunday Times on a story about one of her very favorite big-shouldered actresses, Kathleen Turner. "Need a Broad? Call Turner," chortled the headline. The story focused on Turner's performance as "a brassy, foul-mouthed, ex-alcoholic nun who works as an addiction counselor, bullying her patients into sobriety" in Matthew Lombardo's play, High. Lombardo wrote the play with Turner in mind and wanted her for the part because, “In a word, I needed a broad, and when you think of a broad, you think of Kathleen Turner.” In the story, the qualities associated with the figure of the broad are all positive. The broad has "vitality" and "resilience," a "commandeering" presence, a compelling voice: "[Turner] talks the way Bankhead and Joan Crawford and so many of the great movie stars used to talk." Turner seems drawn to the character she plays in High precisely because of her broad-like qualities. She tells the Times she likes “women of strength and character — women who don’t wait around for men to do things for them.” For that reason, she has mixed feelings about some of the women characters in the plays of Tennessee Williams, though she played Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to acclaim in 1990. “But some of those other Williams characters,” she said, “they don’t take enough care of their own lives. They’re too passive.”

Broad is good, willing to take charge of her life and the world. Not a broad is weak, waiting, passive, deferential. Broad is Thea Kronborg in Cather's The Song of the Lark, triumphant on the stage at the Met after years of training and shrewd professional pursuit. Not a broad is Lily Bart in Wharton's The House of Mirth, dead because she is too good for this mean, dingy world but too weak to change it.

Or that's what Moose thinks anyway. What do you think? Are you a broad? Why or why not?


(Photo Credit: Mark Veltman, New York Times, 3/31/11)

14 comments:

  1. Honestly I haven't heard broad used as anything but a compliment in more than a decade. I wouldn't call myself a broad - I think because I'm neither tough enough nor old enough to own such a label. (Not sure why, but "tough old broad" are three words that go together for me.) I think I might turn into a broad at some point, though.

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  2. New category: Broad-to-Be. Tee-hee.

    Funny how age does seem to attach itself to the term broad. Perhaps because it suggests a wisdom born of experience, years of slugging it out in the trenches of a sexist world. Or something like that.

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  3. That's a good point. Context is important. There's the 'tough old broad' and then there is 'I'm gonna go by that broad a beer and see if she's game, see?'. Both evoke a bygone era where men all wore suspenders and said 'see' at the end of every sentence, especially when refering to Dollies as 'broads'. I certainly wouldn't use it in general conversation...for fear of getting slapped by some nasty broad.

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  4. I love the term Broad! And I only use it as a high compliment.

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  5. I can go either way, as I do not use the term myself but I usually think of it positively. And if Kathleen Turner is a broad, I wanna be one, too!

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  6. Anonymous1:15 PM EDT

    Broad is good!

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  7. You're just reclaiming "Broad" as queer has been reclaimed, Moose. Historiann is definitely a broad, although I'm not sure her RL alter ego is tough enough to deserve the honorific.

    Better a broad than a "Dolly," as in binsky's comment, see?

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  8. "Broad" has seemed like a compliment for some time, something you age into, as well. I only wish I had the huevos to grow into a broad!

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  9. I agree that age is implicated in "broad," but as a younger woman I feel a lot of connection to the term. To that end: I am a baby broad!

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  10. If I were a woman, I'd definitely want to be a broad!

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  11. I agree: I'd love to be called a "broad" someday, if I'm worthy. I've always seen it as a compliment (though I'm curious if there are class/geography/generational reasons).

    And thank you for pointing me to the Turner article! I've always adored her: she has been a bella broad since Body Heat, and she obviously still is (I'm ignoring her bizarro role on Californification)

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  12. I'm a butch, not a broad. But that said, I always use the word modified by "great" or "terrific" as in, "What a terrific broad!"

    Now by that, I usually mean a woman of a certain age, with personality to burn, and a little something to hold on to.

    Favorite song line? From South Pacific: "And she's broad/Where a broad/ Should be broa-a-o-ad!"

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  13. GlassPen8:55 AM EDT

    well, I am broad...enough to need to focus more on the LAP. I used to think I was broad-minded...I have given that up...one too many Republi-cants. the term isn't used in my social circle. at work, the attributes of "broad" are tolerated...because it is the broads who get the work done...but I don't sense much love there, and a couple of the tougher broads have been subjected to attitude adjustment training (srsly!). still, the shoe fits. and I prefer it to grrrls.

    to the Broads-to-Be (love this!)...I found the turning point to be right at turning 50, which I say even though age is just a number. somehow, that was when I was able to let go of all those expectations that everyone else had and embrace full broad-dom.

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  14. Delightful comments, y'all, and I note with wry amusement the thundering silence of the Goose, who refuses to weigh in to defend her lonely and wrong position. Poor Goose: born a broad and too stubborn to admit it.

    TR: Are butch and broad mutually exclusive categories? Could one be both? I suppose the broad could be seen as a hard femme, which the indispensable Urban Dictionary describes as "political, looks more feminine than masculine, and if prompted, can kick some serious ass." I like that description, a lot actually.

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