I saw the first commercial for the movie version of Sex and the City last night. I’ll be honest; I was never a big fan of the TV show, though I’ll probably see the movie. How much talking about shoes, clothes, and penthouse apartments can a person take? But it reminded me of someone else, someone who paved the way for those ladies, and other friendship TV shows/books/movies. Her name was Rona Jaffe.
I went through a serious Rona Jaffe phase when I was fourteen. I was bored with a lot of the books I was reading and I wanted something new. I went to the library and I found Rona Jaffe. I think I read all her books, at least the ones I could find in our library system.
With female friendship stories, it always falls into archetypes; archetypes that Rona Jaffe helped create. They are familiar archetypes and it gives women at least someone to root for. Let me give examples:
The Alpha Female: She is one that usually gets the best lines, the one that holds the group together. Examples: Julia Sugarbaker, Dorothy Zbornak, Carrie Bradshaw.
The Smart Sarcastic One: She’s got a mouth on her and she doesn’t care who knows it! She always has a comeback, no matter what. Examples: Mary Jo Shively, Sophia Petrillo, Miranda from SATC.
The “Slutty” One: Well, we all know what this one wants-S-E-X! It’s downright shocking, let me tell you. Examples: Suzanne Sugarbaker, Samantha from SATC, and Blanche Devereux.
The naïve, nice one: Okay, this is the one I usually like the best. She’s a bit dopey and naïve about love, but she’s good and dependable and kind. Examples: Charlene Stillfield, Rose Nyland, and Charlotte from SATC. (This is the one I can identify with, although I can also be the Smart Sarcastic One as well)
In her novels, Rona Jaffe helped create these archetypes. She wrote about women who worked in pink collar jobs and always had a date on Friday nights, shown well in her first novel The Best of Everything which was became a movie starring Joan Crawford. Camile Pagila noted this in a New York Times story and conclued that like the characters in SATC, the women in Best of Everything are "at the mercy of Cads."
The one book that showed the archetypes best is Class Reunion and its sequel, After the Reunion. Jaffe went to Radcliffe in the fifties when women were supposed to get their MRS along with their bachelor’s. Although the four of them didn’t hang out together, they fit the archetypes well.
Annabel Jones-”slutty one” Was shunned by a lot of the girls because of her sex life, and the fact that she didn’t play by the rules of the day.
Emily Applebaum- naïve nice one-she wanted to be a doctor, but was told no, only men could be doctors! Marry one instead!
Christine Spark-smart sarcastic one. In love with a man who she thinks loves her, but he has a secret that can’t be talked about, it’s that scandalous!
Daphne Leeds-the alpha female, the “golden girl” who falls for the golden boy, but look closely, nothing is at it appears.
The women didn’t have the choices we have today: you were going to get married, have babies, and be the Perfect Lady. Of course, this is impossible. So they make up new rules and try to find out who they really were. Eventually they rely on each other and find strength in friendships and new love.
One day I was cleaning my room and came across Class Reunion and started to re-read it. Rona Jaffe was so ahead of her time in some ways; writing about female friendships, men, people who settle but decide there has to be more. I always wish she wrote a sequel to After the Reunion because I wonder how they would’ve handled being fifty, the 90’s, September 11th. The book ends with one of the characters staring at Central Park after an amazing year, wondering what will happen next. The last line is: “When it (the future) happens, she planned on being ready.”
I wonder if Rona Jaffe ever saw Sex and the City and think “Hey! I helped create the roles they play!” When Best of Everything was reissued in 2005, she described it as "Sex and the City without the vibrators." Months later Jaffe died of cancer. Thanks to the Rona Jaffe Foundation she set up, women writers are being helped every year to tell their stories, show what they feel in their hearts.
So when I see the SOTC ladies walk down the street, talking about love and life and whatever else comes up, I’ll think of Rona Jaffe, and how she helped create what roles they play, how we were back then, and helped pave the way to who we are now. We are ready for whatever happens, whatever comes to our way.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries