Jewish World Review March 4, 2005/ 23 Adar I 5765
Mahvelous Martha comes home
Other people's prison sentences are like other people's pregnancies: They go so fast!
It seems like just yesterday we were waving goodbye to Martha Stewart as she left for her five-month prison term. Now she's back. Her release Friday comes none too soon for those of us who have kept our "Free Martha" T-shirts pressed and creaseless.
Yes, I'm an unapologetic Martha fan, not because I like her I don't care if I like her or even whether she's likeable. I want her beige water hoses and her taupe garden clogs, and I want them now. All other concerns pale to bleached earth tones by comparison.
Stewart's return to civilian life, where she still faces a five-month house arrest in her Bedford, N.Y., "mansion," offers two morsels for consideration.
One, why is it that every two-story house belonging to a wealthy person invariably is referred to as a "mansion"? Unless I'm missing something from the picture on MSNBC's Web site, it's a two-story house, not a mansion.
A mansion has wings and porticos and sculpted motifs in regal pediments and twin Corinthian and Ionic columns and northern elevations and southern exposures and domed canopies and courtyards with fountains and balustrades and parapets. This is a house. A two-story house.
But saying "mansion" instead of "stately home" or "large house" apparently serves our little interior Gollums and allows us to resent her more. A diva AND a mansion. Off to the brig with her, impudent strumpet!
Which brings us to the second consideration: Why, after all, our fascination with this woman?
As I said, I'm a fan of Martha's stuff. I like her appetizer recipes, her paint colors, her suitcase-packing tips, but I don't care about anything else. Not her hair, her personality, her weight fluctuations, her former friends, her ex-husband, her compulsive nature, her drive or her "just deserts."
Make mine just dessert of the edible not Oedipal variety, preferably chocolate.
I've never understood the national enmity toward Stewart, a microcosm of which I enjoy in my own household, where males snarl like possessed seventh-graders whenever her visage appears. They despise her unequivocally, unabashedly, without reservation or understanding or even any curiosity about why. We might as well wonder why people hate snakes.
We've seen this behavior before. Sen. Hillary Clinton inspires a similar reaction from men when they're not lying to their wives about how much they admire her. She walks into a room and men don't see a woman. They see a subliminal force that puts them in mind of protective gear.
Indeed, Hillary and Martha invariably get lumped together in examinations of The Powerful Woman. During a recent debate on Chris Matthews' Sunday show, guests discussed the two and whether their apparent attempts to "soften" their images would work to sway public opinion. In Clinton's case, to persuade voters to see her as a moderate presidential candidate in '08, and in Stewart's, as a less "pushy broad," as my elegantly succinct father might have put it.
It's a hard trick to pull off being feminine and powerful at the same time and our world demands both while providing few role models. Meanwhile, resentment seethes toward those who raise their heads above the crowd. Like crabs in a crab pot, the ones on bottom try to bring down those who climb toward the rim.
Stewart has managed a remarkable public relations coup. All she had to do was go to prison her best career move yet by near-unanimous assent. Humbled by her lockdown, her stock is rising. Viewed as a martyr, she taught yoga in prison, instructed women on how to start their own businesses and, most important, she cleaned toilets.
As she returns to life beyond bars, Stewart has two new television shows lined up, a new line of furniture, and advertisers with renewed interest in her magazine. Americans, ever-forgiving of the genuinely contrite, have decided to give her another chance now that she's been brought to her knees.
Stewart's is a stark lesson in the human experiment. Yes, she broke the law when she lied to federal investigators, but that wasn't really her crime in the public mind, not the reason her conviction was so widely celebrated.
Her real crime was being too successful without the cushion of feminine vulnerability. She was too big for her bloomers and uppity in ways that never get applied to men. Clinton if she wants to lead the free world might take notes.
She can have the brains of Stephen Hawking, the brawn of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the wit of Jon Stewart, but what people really want to know is, will she clean toilets? The crab pot decides.
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