Some of my favorite movies are stories about the relationships between women in groups. Steel Magnolias, The First Wives Club, and A Letter to Three Wives fit into this genre, as well as the more simply named The Group and The Women.
The nexus for these associations may be rooted in college friendships or living in the same town. Or it can be about operating in the same social milieu and the struggle to get to, hold on to, or reclaim a certain rung on the ladder—the competition element, if you will.
Not to say that the ladies don’t love a more formal construct. There are and have been bridge clubs, book clubs, garden clubs, Junior Leagues, sororities, political groups for both major parties. The list could go on and on.
Back in mid-century Hollywood, Bette Davis was discontented with belonging to the very select club of actresses to have won two Oscars. She wanted to be the first to win three, and that meant getting there before Olivia de Havilland, Vivien Leigh, or Ingrid Bergman. (Luise Rainer had quit making movies, so she wasn’t a threat.)
But What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? didn’t bring that third Oscar. When Katharine Hepburn won her third in a 1969 tie with Barbra Streisand, Bette said, “Miss Hepburn only won half an Oscar.” No doubt Ingrid Bergman’s third Oscar would have been denigrated since it was only for supporting actress. But Miss Hepburn received a fourth award in 1982, and Miss Davis lived to see it. I’ve not seen any public comment she made at that time.
Miss Hepburn never deigned to attend an Oscar ceremony when she was nominated, but that isn’t to say she lacked the competitiveness of Miss Davis. When Jane Fonda called Miss Hepburn to congratulate on her fourth win (for On Golden Pond), she said, “You’ll never catch me now.”
The three (or more) Oscar club has grown to three with the addition of Meryl Streep, just like the First Wives Club. This week, another group has added a third member of somewhat more historic significance.
When Walter Mondale selected Geraldine Ferraro to be his running mate in 1984, he was running against incumbent Ronald Reagan and probably headed to crushing defeat regardless of his choice. Ferraro’s experience was pretty slight, having only served five years in elective office in the House of Representatives. But she secured a place in the history books (and in the club) as the first female vice-presidential candidate of a major party.
Back in 2008, John McCain was behind Barack Obama in the polls during the general election run up to the national conventions and the selection of a running mate. And some political stunt casting came along in the form of Sarah Palin. We all remember that didn’t turn out very well for anyone, except for Tina Fey. But it did get Palin her membership in the club, before she and McCain were “refudiated” at the ballot box.
This week, a third woman has been selected to run for Vice President, making this a more “official” club. Unlike her predecessors, Kamala Harris has a robust experience in government with an upward career trajectory. She is one of two black women ever in the United States Senate, which speaks to her accomplishment while pointing out the historic absence of women like Kamala Harris and Carol Mosely Braun to serve in this capacity.
As the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, Senator Harris can lay claim to being the first Asian-American and the first African-American candidate for Vice President—male or female. That combination looks like a AAA rating to me.
While all three of these women were picked by white men, the first two were long shot choices to prop up a failing campaign. Biden’s choice is made while he is running ahead of Trump; Kamala Harris is not a Hail Mary pass. It’s a political choice, of course, made in the context of a political campaign.
The usual sniping—sad, petty, and predictable–has started and is reflective of the kind of thinking one expects from those completely unfamiliar with the history of Jamaican slavery, those who never met a misogynistic trope they didn’t like, and those who Daddy said would complain if they were to be hanged with a new rope.
There are a couple of questions I have. First, is Donald Trump running around the White House asking, “Where’s my African-American? And my Asian-American? Where did she go?”
Secondly, I’d like to know if third time’s a charm.