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Commentary: Reviewers clueless on how women navigate their mid-50s

Celia Rivenbark new (copy) (copy) (copy) (copy) (copy) (copy)

Celia Rivenbark

A while back, a male friend upbraided me for appearing to joke about the time, years ago, a handsy man many years my senior … grabbed my bottom. As my friend mansplained, “That’s not a laughing matter.”

He was offended.

As the owner of the grabbed bottom in question, I was irritated by a man telling me how to discuss my experience. I chose to share it with humor as I often do because I believe humor is a powerful tool in reclaiming the power over whatever awfulness is currently doing us in.

I told him there’s not a woman alive who hasn’t had to remove somebody’s hand from where it hadn’t oughta be. We get to talk about it however works for us.

I was offended.

He probably meant well, but all I could think about was the fact that a man who had zero experience in this particular area thought he knew better than I how I should deal with it. Curious.

Last week, I experienced the same irritation reading the acidic reviews of HBO’s long-awaited “Sex and the City” reboot, “And Just Like That.”

The reviewers are the nation’s elite critics. They were all younger than me, in some cases way younger; many were men. From the looks of it, most, if not all, were in elementary or middle school when "Sex and the City" became a cultural phenomenon in the late 1990s. The critics were repelled by the downer grief vibe and the (oh, if I had a dollar every time I read this phrase) “cringe-inducing” behavior of Carrie, Charlotte and Miranda. This last seemed to be focused mostly on Miranda’s excruciating demonstrations of (my apologies for this overused word) “wokeness.”

I’m not saying writers should only review shows in their own demo. That’s nuts. Besides, where would you even find critics who spend their spare time stealing fancy cars for street racing, a la “The Fast & the Furious”? And don’t get me started on all things M. Night Shyamalan.

I think it was the patronizing tone that got me. Review after review cited all sorts of high-minded atrocities, flinging about words like “zeitgeist” and phrases like “panicked legacy salvage.” It called to mind an art show catalog: lots of fancy words leaving you more confused than ever.

Could I have been so completely wrongheaded when I texted a couple of girlfriends: “Run, do not walk, to your remote and find this show”? How was it possible that they considered the show “bloated and laugh-free”? Was that how they saw women in their mid-50s?

Mercifully, I found hundreds of reader comments that agreed with me. Viewers who recognized themselves heaped praise on a script showing women in their mid-50s grappling with the landslide of poo their demographic faces every day: raising angsty teenagers while caretaking aging parents and wondering who’s that amiable-enough guy sharing a bathroom with me? This is the age where you realize the only person who has asked you if you have plans that day is the grocery store cashier and he’s paid to do that. Pretty sure they never ask a man that. Just the middle-age woman getting the half-case discount on her Josh cabernet with the store loyalty card that lives on a key ring beside the keys to her parents’ assisted living apartment.

Because I had my only child at 40, many of my closest female friends are the happy result of bonds formed on the playground. They are 55 now, and I’m, weirdly, 10 years older. Math can be so cruel.

Watching Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte navigate their mid-50s reminded me that most of us emerge from those challenging years a little bruised but a lot wiser and with the gumption to speak our truth. With humor if we like.

And just like that, I felt much better.

Celia Rivenbark is a New York Times best-selling author and columnist. Contact her at celiarivenbark@gmail.com.

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