The network news anchors were sheepish the day the high school dropout and
former stripper with images of overtly sexual cleavage, crimson lips and
dress slashed thigh high exposing creamy curves died.
Apologetic. Self-deprecating. As if to say we know we are serious men and
women on whom you can count to bring you the complexity of Middle East
politics, Iraq, elections and sound bites from powerful men like Bill Gates,
but now among our top stories is the ongoing saga of Anna Nicole Smith, the
former waitress and Playboy Playmate.
As a journalist I share their dilemma. The value of a news story is usually
as clear as cut glass, but it works together with instinct and this time the
instinct was spot on.
Smith was news not because she affected the world in a tangible way, but
because she turned us inside out, touched us in a visceral way and
represented women at their most raw.
By exposing and magnifying her vulnerability as a woman, by openly playing
to the male susceptibility to sex (One survey said men think about sex up to
a hundred times a day, which always brings a bemused but disparaging smile
on women’s faces as if to say, “we know men are fickle little boys, and
that’s why we don’t take them too seriously”) the story was about us all.
As a schoolgirl I remember the giggling, chattering, gaggle of us in the
depth of that girlhood cult, the breathless precursor to womanhood realising
even then that true economic power lay in the hands of older men.
In our halting innocence we never trusted our own potential, and made a pact
to find the oldest richest man in the world, marry him and after he died, to
share the money between us. We picked the prettiest among us to land him.
Love my mind
She protested at us making her the sacrificial lamb but in the end agreed
glad of the power her looks gave her. Despite the Margaret Thatchers, the
Indira Gandhis the Condoleezza Rices, the hundreds of thousands commonplace
examples of high achieving women in every field, every country, we have
never quite believed in our ability to take care of ourselves.
We have and continue to note how the starlets like Beyonce and JLo got rich
and famous using their prettiness, their voices and most importantly, their
We’ve witnessed others like Jackie O and Diana Spencer marry power. We
admire Condoleezza and Indira but Smith fascinates us, as we have never
gotten over Marilyn Monroe.
Men can’t get enough of these women because of their drugging combination of
vulnerability and sexuality. It plays to every male need, to control, to
spray his seed around, to show off his trophy “look what I can have” and
hence his power.
Women have an ambivalent fascination with the idea of a Monroe and Smith.
There is a perception that beauty gives you a bigger life, access to
interesting and powerful men and security.
The pursuit of beauty and sex appeal allows women to escape not having equal
opportunities to men, to ignore the glass ceiling on which we bounce our
It did, for both Monroe and Smith but they, like many women made a fatal
mistake. Men never save you. Neither does beauty.
Nor fame. If you looked like a China doll, you got broken and discarded even
if you married the rich old man, modelled, made movies and landed the
If you don’t develop your mind’s potential
with an education and skills that give you real power as an equal in a man’s
world, you could end up so empty inside that no drug in the world could fill
you up. It’s time to say: “baby, love me for my mind.”