You have by now likely heard from other sources that Bea Arthur (that’s Dorothy Zbornak or Maude to you) died today of cancer, at 86. Though all brassy, complicated, old-style Hollywood dames get my love (see: Hepburn, Katharine), I have a special place in my heart for her and will be thinking of her tonight. I never watched Maude because I was too young, and it wasn’t much played as a rerun in the parts of Canada where I grew up. But The Golden Girls was, to me, a sort of proto-feminist text, because it gave me a sense early on of how important and vital female friendships are in your life.
For example: last weekend I was out and about in Brooklyn with a couple of friends of mine who happen to be married to each other. I’ve known both of them a long time, and an ongoing subject of ours is impending parental decrepitude (this appears to be a standard subject for the late 20s and early 30s set, it seems). The male half of the couple began to expound, as though this had occurred to him for the first time, on his”new idea that he’d like to live in a house together with all of his older friends when the time comes for us. His wife and I exchanged bemused glances, because we have been, off and on, discussing for years the idea of doing this when we are old women. We let him in on our plan and then noted that we expected him to die first (he is, after all, older than us and yes I’m saying this ’cause I think he might read it) and he seemed a little put out. But it wasn’t personal, we explained. Most women I know, of course, talk about a future Golden Girls-like living situation. BeckySharper was talking about Old Harpy Home just the other day.
When women tell me they find it hard to be friends with other women, my mind tends always to wonder what it is in men they think they can better rely on. It’s not just biological lifespans that lean in favour of having female friends; it’s that like it or not there are some things that women are better off sharing with other women, like epic tampon stories. (It’s why I still cling to the (rightfully) battered and bent notion of sisterhood – I still maintain there is a there there.) It’s why I worry about women who cut themselves off once they are in relationships. It’s why I don’t know how I feel about marriage, because I have had strong reltionships and I have had strong friendships and only the latter have lasted. And it’s why I’m forever grateful to Bea Arthur for showing me that brassy funny women always, always, have the last laugh, with their friends.