I am having a hard time writing about The Heidi Chronicles. I finished rereading it for the third or fourth time last week, along with a couple of other plays by Wendy Wasserstein (Uncommon Women and Others and Isn’t It Romantic). They are all wonderfully witty and poignant explorations of female friendship and feminism. And Heidi in particular has always been really important to me. My mom took me to see it once when I was around ten; I can’t say that I remember it making much sense, but certain scenes definitely made an impression.
I’m not going to go into a plot synopsis; it’s a play so it won’t take you long to read it and I really think you should (even if you’re a guy, maybe especially if you’re a guy). Basically, the play follows Heidi’s life from prep-school through her mid-thirties and shows the challenges and joys of trying to build a life for herself, rather than for a man or society. The play is very funny at times and I think up until this most recent reading I really thought of it as a comedy, and it is, but there’s an underlying sadness to the whole premise. Heidi’s struggles, to develop a life for herself where she can devote herself to her work and still have hope of love and personal fulfillment shouldn’t have to be a struggle.
And this brings me to why this post has been so hard to write, and I have debated all weekend whether or not I’m going to post anything at all about this, but in light of the horrific tragedy in California, and the countless other smaller scale aggressions that all women face in their lives I feel like it’s important to write this. I am a feminist, have never been afraid to say that (I mean I grew up with a mother that brought her fifth grader to The Heidi Chronicles, it never occurred to me that being a feminist was something to be embarrassed or apologetic about.) But what I’ve realized over the last couple of days is that just being able to say I’m a feminist isn’t really much of a statement, misogyny and rape culture are not dying out in the wake of the extraordinary progress made by women in the last fifty years. And my being embarrassed to tell people to read this play is a part of that. My not wanting to ruffle any feathers by mentioning that it can still feel really lonely to choose to do what makes me happy and feel like that might mean “ending up alone” is a part of that.
And that’s what makes me sadder than anything in the actual plot of the play: Heidi’s line to the “rap group” of disgruntled feminists that she hopes “our daughters never feel like us. I hope all our daughters feel so fucking worthwhile” still feels like a distant dream, even though this play won the Pulitzer in 1989 (the year I was born, incidentally). Why are women still made to feel less than? Why are there so many awful people on the internet still trying to explain that men are right to feel entitled to anything and everything they want from a woman regardless of her desire to give it? Why do I, even though I was raised by wonderfully supportive parents, and educated at a uniquely empowering place, still feel inadequate all the time (and all too often because of my physical appearance)?
These questions go beyond the scope of these plays of course, and even beyond my emotional reaction to this weekend’s tragedy and the social media explosion that followed it, but this is where my head has been at the last couple of days.
But the thing that I think Wendy Wasserstein (God rest her soul) would want me to end on is that there is always hope. Even when her characters are at their bleakest points they have each other. And they have good music, and the sense that things can (and must) get better. And even if the ship is sinking Heidi and Peter (or Scoop or Susan or Lucy) will dance as it does.