Empowering Afghan Women

witw-logo-300x30Women in Afghanistan still suffer some of the worst gendered conditions in the world: forced marriages, lack of education, and conditions far beyond anything we can encapsulate in even those awful-sounding soundbites. One of our favorite organizations works to empower women there through fostering and publishing their writing about their lives, the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. Another idea: Giving women there economic power by fostering sales of their crafts. Read more at The Daily Beast’s Women in the World.


Feminism Through Art: Meet Hangama Amiri

03_HAmiri_The-Wind-Up-Dolls-300x300Looking at the painting, “Girl Under the Taliban,” (left) by Hangama Amiri is like being slapped across the face with a reality check. In it, a young woman sears a determined stare into the viewer’s mind with one eye while the other burns with fire. She’s clutching a textbook in one hand and a burqa in the other. It assaults you with its literal message of oppression, but confounds even more with its rich complexity. It’s the story of Nargis, a 13-year-old Afghan girl banned from seeking education under the Taliban. It is not a unique story, but it’s one that isn’t being told nearly enough.

“Girl” is the third in the series, “The Wind-Up Dolls of Kabul,” by artist Hangama Amiri. She has made it her mission to tell stories about Afghan women through her work.

Amiri could have had the same story as Nargis–or one much worse. Her family fled Afghanistan in 1996 when the Taliban took over. She spent several years as a refugee and finally settled in Canada, where she went to college, became an artist in residence and began her career. “The Wind-Up Dolls” series is Amiri’s first solo exhibition and has come to define her feminist identity as well as the arc of her artistic vision.

She talks to Sexy Feminist about her inspirations, the concept of feminism in Afghanistan, and the way art is an important part of the global discourse on the treatment of women.


Link of the Day: Afghan Women’s Lives in Prison


Amy Schumer, Mindy Kaling, and the Evolution of Girl Humor

600x400_insideamyschumer2Given the early coverage before the debut of Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer this spring, I figured we were in for another dirty-girl comedian — Schumer was most often compared to Whitney Cummings and Sarah Silverman. I don’t dislike either of those ladies, but both of them, when at their best, retain the whiff of women trying to make it in a man’s comedy world. Of course, it is a man’s comedy world, and I can’t blame them, and I loooved every bit of the shock value of The Sarah Silverman Program. (I also happen to enjoy the show Cummings co-created, 2 Broke Girls. We won’t talk about Whitney.) Cummings and Silverman do the comedy equivalent of business women wearing hyper-masculine, shoulder-padded suits in the ’80s as they fought their way to boardroom levels: They made it in an astonishingly male-dominated profession by out-boying the boys.

Schumer and the also-rising talent Mindy Kaling represent a subtle shift, however, from Cummings and Silverman. They don’t shy away from indelicate topics like sex or body humor — because most modern women are a few steps beyond Jane Austen-style manners. But they don’t try to beat the guys at their own game, either. Kaling showed with her Fox sitcom The Mindy Project this season that she can do a killer awkward-shower-sex scene and poke elaborate fun at women’s love-hate relationship with romance. Schumer’s show, which is wrapping up its first season, takes a similarly female approach — not “female” humor like an eye-rolling Cathy comic strip, but humor that’s simply unique to a heterosexual person with a vagina coming of age during the early 2000s. She gives us a sketch on, for instance, “porn from a female point of view,” which shows mostly how ridiculous (and occasionally gross) sex is for women, all hairy chests coming at them and being slammed repeatedly from behind. This stands in stark contrast to those “porn for women” send-ups that show men with waxed chests doing housework. Because, ha ha, women have no desires beyond a clean house! Schumer acknowledges both female desire and the silliness of what we must endure to fulfill it. And don’t even get me started on the sketch about the guy who falls in love with her because of her terrible perm. You just need to see it.

In fact, you just need to see both The Mindy Project (now in summer reruns!) and Inside Amy Schumer. They both make great summer viewing.


The Feminism of ‘Soul Train’

35_soul train dancerTalented Friend of Sexy Feminist Lauren Ramidrew this tremendous illustration of a Soul Train dancer (don’t you want to frame it and put it in some inspirational place in your apartment?) in homage to the women she loves to watch on the quintessential ’70s dance show. She wrote us a guest post about what inspired her.

I really, really love ’70s-era Soul Train. The powerful soul and funk music. The innovative, talented Soul Train Gang. The laid-back, effortlessly cool style. I’m fascinated by early seasons of the show for many reasons, but especially by how surprisingly feminist they were.

Now, I have no idea how women were being treated behind the scenes. While the cameras were rolling, though, the gender equality on that 1970s dance floor was remarkable. Dance moves weren’t gender-specific (the funky penguin didn’t discriminate), clothing was pretty unisex, and almost everyone danced independent of each other. No exploitation. No sexualization. Just people being together and expressing their love for music and dance. Unfortunately, this level playing field seemed to fade somewhere in the ’80s, after the onset of music videos…

The woman I’ve sketched above was a standout on one of my all-time favorite episodes, filmed in 1972. I don’t know her name, but I do know she was a dynamic, athletic, creative, and skilled performer. She was portrayed on the show as a dancer first and a woman second.

This illustration is my way of paying homage to the world Don Cornelius created in the early ’70s. Love, peace and soul.


HBO’s ‘Love, Marilyn’ Gives Us a Thinking Sex Symbol

All hail Marilyn Monroe as the thinking girl’s icon trapped in a sex goddess’ body.

Feminists have long been fascinated by the life and death of the self-made siren, who came from nothing and became anything Hollywood wanted her to be so she could rise to fame. (Gloria Steinem wrote a book about her at the peak of her own notoriety as a women’s lib leader.) What Hollywood wanted, of course, was a sex symbol of mythic proportions, and it got just that from her. If it also wanted a source of endless material for years after her death, it got that, too: Reams of books have been written about her from every vantage point imaginable, from Steinem to Joyce Carol Oates to murder conspiracy theorists to Norman Mailer and the many men who admired her. Smash dedicated two ill-fated seasons to a fictional musical about her life. Michelle Williams, Ashley Judd, Mira Sorvino, and Madonna are among the many who have played the star in one way or another.

What’s well-covered territory feels fresh again in HBO’s new documentary, Love, Marilyn. I started watching it out of a sense of obligation, as a feminist and pop culture writer. But I came away feeling, for the first time, what it was like to be Marilyn, a sensation strangely absent from every other depiction I’ve ever seen. I loved Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn, but even that performance, which depicted her exquisite sadness and loneliness, still couldn’t convey to me why she was so sad and lonely. It also couldn’t show me how smart she was, and, perhaps more poignantly, how smart she wanted to be in a world that wouldn’t let her.


The She Hulk-Mary Tyler Moore Connection

Marta Acosta, the author of  The She-Hulk Diaries, guest blogs here about her heroines — She-Hulk and The Mary Tyler Moore Show‘s Mary Richards.

Sometimes we think we’re the only ones still crazy about an old television series. We channel surf and always stop when we see the images we love, listening to dialogue that still makes us laugh. The Husband says, “Haven’t you seen that before?” and I say, “Haven’t you seen documentaries about the Ottoman Empire before?” Because, really, no matter how many of those documentaries he’s seen, he’s never been able to explain the Ottoman Empire connection to footstools, so what exactly is the point? Okay, I’m going to get back to this in a minute.

When I began my novel The She-Hulk Diaries, based on the iconic Marvel character, writing about a snarky, sexy 6’7” green party girl superhero was easy as pie. (Theoretical pie because I have never mastered making a crust, which my pie-shop owning neighbor recently informed me is a genetic ability. But I digress.) She-Hulk, aka Shulky, is as big, bold, and badass as she wants to be. However, I struggled to find the authenticity in her human identity, Jennifer Walters, a highly-accomplished and painfully shy attorney. I was stepping into more than 30 years of She-Hulk canon, but most of it centered on Shulky and all of it was written by men. I wanted to give Jennifer Walters the attention she deserved.


Why I Loved ‘Behind the Candelabra’

Most critics reviewing HBO’s Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra mentioned director Steven Soderbergh’s brilliant decision to temper the flamboyance of Liberace’s life with a gritty and unflinchingly realistic framing of the story. Even the slightest tic toward taking the movie over the top could’ve felt like farce, and besides, there was plenty of over-the-topness in the story — the sets, the costumes, the plastic surgery. Maybe Soderbergh overcompensated a little, thus sapping a bit of the joy Liberace clearly took in sparkly and ornate things. But I liked his approach more than the alternative.

Because he shot it like any straightforward, serious biopic, he instead brought out both the intimacy and the intensity of Liberace’s relationship with Scott Thorson. He also, through that relationship, focused on the politics underlying their lives, and thus the lives of many gay men in the ’80s. The closest they could get to being married was for Liberace to adopt Thorson, a bizarre realization that ought to send everyone running to do whatever we can to get gay marriage legalized. And how heartbreaking to see people still trying to pretend, even after Liberace’s death, that the great love of his life was a woman! There’s something so devastating about not being acknowledged for your place in your great love’s life — even as an ex-spouse, you get some recognition at the funeral for your loss.

And, oh, the vanity! Being gay and famous made Liberace, and thus Thorson, as vulnerable to the pressure to be beautiful and young as women are. I loved the brutal cosmetic surgery sequences — I couldn’t even watch them, which I think is a good thing. We too rarely acknowledge how painful cosmetic procedures are — calling them “nips” and “tucks,” cutesy names that make us forget that this is major surgery. Not to mention that this is the creepy end result. Something about seeing men go through this on screen makes a difference, too, highlighting the inherent weirdness of it all because we’re not as used to it.

Most of all, the film normalized even a rather bizarre relationship between two men, something we could stand to see more of as we march toward the (hopefully) inevitable breakthrough of legalized gay marriage.


Gendered TV: Is ‘Game of Thrones’ for Boys, ‘Girls’ for Girls?

wallpaper-cersei-1600Pop quiz: Whom is the show Game of Thrones“made” for?

A.    Men

B.     Women

C.     All people

“All people” seems like the obvious choice, right?  No one involved with the show – not HBO, the network that broadcasts it, not showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, and certainly not George R. R. Martin, author of the books upon which the show is based – has ever said that the show is intended only for a certain gender.

And yet, some critics seem to be under the impression that Game of Thrones is a “man’s show,” and that it does not appeal to women.  In one of the earliest reviews of the show, New York Timestelevision critic Ginia Bellafante argued that the showrunners include romance plots and sex in the show “out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise.”  Bellafante goes on to state that women are uninterested in fantasy and that Game of Thrones is “boy fiction.”  More recently, in one of the worst-argued pop culture pieces I’ve ever read, Renata Sellitti of Thrillist made the sweeping generalization that women don’t like the show because it caters solely to men with its ickiness, swordplay, and nakedness.  Sellitti’s arguments were made without citation to any evidence and were insulting to both women (one of her arguments was that the plotlines are too complicated to follow) and men (they only like the show because it’s “gross” and features lots of naked breasts).

This idea that television shows, or, for that matter, any work of popular culture, is meant to be consumed by only one gender is one that needs to be eliminated.  It is not only insulting to both genders, it is bad for our culture.  Many people who would otherwise enjoy a work will dismiss it based on a silly prejudice, and many potentially great works will go unproduced out of fear that not enough people will consume it because of said prejudice.


‘The Cosby Show’: One of the Most Feminist Shows of All Time?

I’ve been overdosing on Cosby Show reruns (6-7 p.m. EST weekdays on Centric!), and watching the series as an adult, I’ve discovered something surprising: It’s feminist. Like way feminist. Like stridently feminist. The show overall is not an exercise in subtlety, of course — Bill Cosby meant to teach you all some things while making you laugh — but wow. Cosby carefully and famously avoided taking on most modern issues — namely racism, but also anything political or topical. Except, it seems, the issue of where women stood in Cosby’s vision of a perfect world. As a man who was preaching strong family, he wanted to make one thing clear: In his mind, “family” was not a euphemism for patriarchy like it is for so many others.

Countless plots and subplots involve Cosby’s character, Cliff, schooling his son-in-law, Elvin, in what amounts to feminism. Elvin arrives in the Cosbys’ lives as a blatant sexist and eldest daughter Sondra’s on-again, off-again boyfriend. This amounted to a clever plot device, since Sondra was a smarty pants going to Princeton. It made for funny, teachable conflict. And woman-power always won, though the show was careful not to get too aggressive toward the men. The men who were sexists simply didn’t know any better, and had to be taught. One episode I recently watched had Elvin trying to endear himself to mother-in-law Clair by learning to cook. After several verbal missteps — saying he was learning to do “women’s work,” for instance — he’s put in his place by nearly every Huxtable female. Then Cliff teaches him to cook a simple meal, and everyone wins.


Links For Sexy Feminists: Oscars’ Opening Fallout, Sephora Addiction, Body Acceptance, and more

Solve for XX: For a nice antidote, check out this talk by Geena Davis on media portrayals of women and girls.

Makeup Addiction?: Sephora can be fun, but beware: it’s an expensive habit. To keep it fun, moderation is key!

Women’s Health: Heart disease is a leading cause of death for women, yet too many people see it as a “men’s issue.”

The Body Beautiful: You don’t have to fall for the trap of trying to lose weight specifically because you’re getting married. Find a bit of courage from photographer Haley Morris-Cafiero, who documents others’ reactions to her body. From a medical standpoint, this article offers insight intohow doctors should approach a “weighty” conversation.


5 Feminist Shows to Watch This Winter

BunheadsGet your teen show fix from Amy Sherman Palladino’s returning ABC Family ballet drama, which is rife with great female characters of all ages. Will it change your life? No, but the banter will make your head spin.

Game of ThronesSticking by this one, too. The women of Westeros are getting more kick-ass by the second. We can barely even remember the dudes anymore.

Girls: Yep, we’re sticking by this one, backlash or not. It’s a great, gritty, realistic portrait of female friendship. It talks frankly about sex — and abortion, and HIV — like no show before it. Lena Dunham, love her or hate her, is a revelation, both for her balls-out writing style and her willingness to bare it all, literally, on screen, despite her unconventional (for Hollywood) body type.

The Good Wife: This show is so consistently good it makes us angry sometimes. And it’s feminist without wallowing in it. The amazing thing is that we stop thinking about “strong” female characters and just take them in when we’re watching. Afterwards, we realize how wonderfully varied, flawed, and admirable they are.

Portlandia: Yeah, they make fun of feminist bookstore owners, but in a loving way. And, hey, at least it’s a way to tackle feminism on TV! More importantly, Carrie Brownstein is a feminist goddess, and this show is just further proof. She rocks and does goofy comedy at least as well as the boys.


Links for Sexy Feminists: Gay marriage, ‘The Year of Heroine Worship,’ and more …

More gay marriage: Meanwhile, same-sex couples started getting legally married in Washington State this weekend. And Jezebel has a piece by a woman who grew up with two moms.

‘Year of Heroine Worship?’: New York Times critic A.O. Scott heralds 2012 as a golden age of strong female leads. New York mag’s The Cut says not so fast.

Gwen and Gavin are our aspirational-couple heroes: They are never allowed to break up. Here is some video of them singing “Glycerine” on stage together, via The Frisky, to reassure you that they are still awesome and together.

Girl Kisses (and More) In TV and Film: A 20-Year Retrospective

It’s been twenty years since two women first kissed on a prime time television series. (To find out which show, read on.)

Ellen1-300x206So to celebrate, here’s a brief chronology of girls-who-like-girls characters in TV and film. While many such story lines are produced to merely titillate audiences (see Virginia Heffernan’s 2005New York Times article on television series using lesbian subplots during sweeps week), I can’t deny that these shows also opened up a larger dialogue in our culture. Here are some of the most positive examples of girl love from the past two decades:

1991: L.A. Law delivers the first on-screen girl-on-girl kiss in the episode, “He’s a Crowd.” Here’s how it goes down: Abby and C.J. (played by Michele Greene and Amanda Donohue, respectively) share a meal together after Abby is turned down for a partnership at the firm. Afterward, they kiss outside in a parking lot. C.J. identifies herself as “flexible” (possibly the first character to ever use that term on television) while Abby considers herself completely heterosexual. Although this subplot doesn’t go very far (and was mostly used as a ratings ploy), I have no doubt that without it the list that follows probably wouldn’t exist.

1996: While the ten-year run of Friends did not primarily feature a lesbian relationship, the episode known as “The One With the Lesbian Wedding” is quite a milestone. Long before the legalization of gay marriage and civil unions, Carol and Susan walked down the aisle and declared their love in a relatively traditional ceremony. On a particularly sweet note, Ross, Carol’s ex, offers to give her away in lieu of her father who disapproved of the marriage.

1997: Ellen DeGeneres as Ellen Morgan comes out on Ellen in the now-infamous “Puppy Episode.”While the show’s ratings suffered and DeGeneres’s own personal revelation that she is gay set off a major backlash, it wasn’t long before she was back on top—hosting the Emmys in 2001, performing a new stand-up comedy routine on HBO, and of course, launching her daytime talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Oh and need I mention marrying one of the most gorgeous women alive, Portia De Rossi? She’s also a Cover Girl—which is both a milestone and an awesome slap in the face to her critics.

1999: Our first feature film on the list is none other than But I’m a Cheerleader. Now considered something of a cult classic, this Jamie Babbit film not only featured a lesbian couple, but a lesbian couple at a “gay rehabilitation center.” Graham (Clea DuVall) and Megan (Natasha Lyonne) are in high school when their parents send them to True Directions (the name is so ridiculous it’s meant to be laughed at). I not only give this movie props for its frankness and humor but also for giving us a happy ending. It is one of the few lesbian-centric films that does not feature one of its characters going straight or dying some untimely death. (Two sadly common plotlines.) Thanks, Jamie Babbit for inventing the lesbian romantic comedy. (Also check out her 2007 flick, Itty Bitty Titty Committee, also with a happy ending.)

1998: In High Art, a heroin-addicted lesbian photographer, Lucy (Ally Sheedy) gets involved with Syd (Radha Mitchell), a shy girl-next-door. It’s the ultimate in escapism for both parties and naturally, given the subject matter, the cinematography is both breathtaking and surreal as the women create their own world, separate from their realities. Unfortunately, the reality of drug addiction proves too powerful to ignore. While it does fit into a certain depressing stereotype, High Art still deserves recognition for how it addressed the homosexual desires of a supposedly straight character—as awkward, thrilling, and overwhelming as they are in real life.

Incredibly heartbreaking, but a story so worth telling, Gia not only grapples with same-sex attraction but drug abuse, self-destruction, and HIV/AIDS. The real-life supermodel, Gia Carangi was known for her tenacity and passion, and those closest to her knew of her attraction to women. Even in Gia’s darkest moments—whether losing her lover or falling short of kicking her addictions—the film is riveting from start to finish. You simply cannot take your eyes off her, and not just because she’s played by Angelina Jolie. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Jolie won a Golden Globe for her performance.)

2000: This retrospective wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the monumental series, Queer as Folk. It helped turn “queer” into a household (not to mention positive) term in the early 2000s. While there was only one central lesbian couple on the show, Melanie and Lindsay spiced up the group dynamic. During the show’s five-year span, they had two children, got married, separated and reconciled twice, and led successful careers. This couple ran through the gamut of emotional highs and lows, making them feel particularly genuine.

2001: Buffy the Vampire Slayer earns a space on the list as featuring a two-and-a-half year relationship between female characters, Willow and Tara. Clearly, this storyline was not just for the ratings.

2004: The L Word. The first all-girl, all-lesbian/bisexual television series. The L Word picked up the banner that Queer as Folk started carrying four years earlier. These characters were just like any other dysfunctional group of friends—except they liked girls. Oh and they were all wildly successful and lived incredibly well in expensive Los Angeles. It tackled difficult subjects, too—child rearing, affairs, cancer, gays in the military, to name a few. I’d like to believe that it will pave the way—if it hasn’t already—to more series and films, albeit with a little less underwear and a little more realism.

2005: Oh those California girls of The O.C. While I admit the teenage soap opera is one of my favorite guilty pleasures, I have to call the show out on its cheap use of girl-likes-girl storyline in season 2. Marissa (Mischa Barton) and Alex (Olivia Wilde) have a brief affair and share a couple of smooches on screen. No sooner do they get together then Alex leaves Newport Beach and Marissa ends up back with her true love, Ryan Atwood. Huh? Sounds like someone (cough, Marissa, cough) was killing time before her former BF was conveniently available again. Of course, when I first watched the budding Marissa-Alex romance, I was excited—ready to stamp my seal of approval on any mainstream television show that had the guts to feature a gay couple. And that enthusiasm is probably how I justify owning all four seasons on DVD.

2008: Grey’s Anatomy hooked its huge following with some good old-fashioned relationship drama. In season 4, however, the show took an unexpected detour from the roads of McDreamy and McSteamy when Dr. Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez) began a relationship with Erica Hahn (Brooke Smith). Together, they embark on their first same-sex relationship. Unfortunately, while Erica embraces her newfound sexual identity, Callie does not. But have no fear—in season 5, Callie finds a new love interest in Arizona Robbins (Jessica Capshaw)—and the courage to face her feelings. The couple has overcome many obstacles—from disapproving parents to deciding whether or not to have children. After much struggle and heartache (as only Grey’s Anatomy can deliver), the couple finally wed in season 7. Much like Melanie and Lindsay of Queer as Folk, Callie and Arizona are another great example of a lesbian couple in a long-term relationship with its many ups and downs, like any of their straight counterparts.

2010: Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) seem like the run-of-the-mill lesbian couple with two kids and a white picket fence in The Kids Are All Right. The only monkey wrench? Their kids are about to discover their sperm donor father. While this film caught some criticism for the lesbian-has-an-affair-with-a-man plot, I commend it for its portrayal of a marriage (in nearly every sense of the word, these women are married) that has been strained. Julianne Moore’s monologue on struggling to keep it all together is so moving, anyone can relate—gay, straight, or otherwise. Interesting trivia? This film was written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko, the same woman who wrote and directed High Art. Unlike her earlier effort, The Kids Are All Right was widely recognized in the mainstream media and was even nominated for several Academy Awards.

To the writers, producers, and actresses of these shows and films, bravo.

Sexy Feminists Read: Sally Koslow’s ‘With Friends Like These’

friends-coverSally Koslow’s latest novel, With Friends Like These, tackles one of our favorite topics: the challenges of female friendships, especially as we grow up and grow older. We talked to Koslow(who graciously read at our recent Readings & Rubdowns series) about how men, marriage, and real estate can come between even the best of pals — and she gave us some very wise advice about nurturing our girl-on-girl friendships. (She is a very smart lady.)

You’ve said you wanted to show female friends growing apart over issues other than the traditional ones (i.e. men!). Can you talk about some of these other issues and why you chose them instead?

Whenever a commodity is scare, people will compete for it. In today’s world
where jobs are hard to come by, it’s not uncommon for friends to covet the same
position, especially since many of us met one another through our work. One of
the situations in With Friends like These focuses on a professional opportunity.
A second situation connects to kids: one spot at an excellent kindergarten that
two sets of parents would jump over a desk to get for their child. Again, with American schools not as strong as they once were, it’s a sign of the times that parents may come to blows over who gets into an excellent school. I know parents of high school seniors who refuse to divulge where their child has applied to college for fear that their friend’s kid will apply to the same school and be the stronger candidate. The third conflict in the novel arises over real estate. This may strike you as odd, but talk to any residential broker and you’ll discover it isn’t unusual for people who know one another to secretly chase the same appealing, well-priced house or condo.

Why is it so hard for women to remain friends over the years?

Women are pulled in more opposing directions than are men. We all simply have too many obligations and not enough time for ourselves. If something’s going to give, it will be friendship. Women also often have conflicted loyalties. There’s pressure for us to tell one another everything. We may want hold back if we feel that revealing intimacies would hurt our romantic partner, but some women get testy if they sense that girlfriends aren’t spilling their guts.

Did writing about evolving friendships give you any insights into how to handle your own?

Writing With Friends like These made me think about friendship almost obsessively. Some of the rules I developed along the way:

1) If a friend goes passive-aggressive on you, work things out. If necessary, impersonate grownups.

2) If you’re upset by something a friend does/says, react ASAP. The longer you ruminate, the more likely you’ll explode, which will lead So-So Friend to think you are the creep while she steeps in denial about her questionable

3) The ability to show compassion is possibly the best trait of all in friendship. If coupled with humor, nurture that friendship with profound care.

4) Show up. Show up again. Sometimes tit for consistent .75 tat is good enough.

5). Think before you gift. Don’t be the kind of person who buys a pregnant woman a belt.

6) Offer to accompany your friend to the biopsy and when asked to donate to her worthy cause, cough up.

7) Give advice and opinions in the sweet spot between innocuous and judgmental.

Any advice on dealing with a, let’s say, less-than-perfect friend?

Not every friendship is meant to last forever. The purpose of some is to teach a lesson. When a friendship starts to crumble, learn your lesson, and then think hard about putting the friendship on life support. Prolonging may ultimately cause hurt, while a gentle fade-out can be an act of kindness or at least relief.

Marriage and kids can often force friends to grow apart, even when they don’t want to. How do your characters deal with this? Is there any way to avoid it?

This is a toughie and my characters react to such obstacles with variable success. We all have to be extra generous when it comes to assessing our friends’ children and partners. Keep your observations to yourself.

Do you think real friendship can survive over decades? How?

You have to be smart about selecting the friends in which you invest emotions and time. After that, you have to be lucky, and hope you and your friends grow in the same direction and continue to respect one another and find each other interesting as the years pass. If you pick the right friends, relationships can last forever. I look at my mother-in-law. She’s had many of her friends since they were in their 20’s and when they’re together, they giggle like they’re 17, not 87.