This week’s recipe: Cheesecake Ice Cream
Oh look, it’s the last day of June and I’ve forgotten to blog all month. Oh well.
Three things happened this month that have made me think a lot about the nature of female friendship. First, my friends threw me an absolutely perfect bachelorette party that left me feeling so warm and fuzzy. The following week, I watched the cast of Mean Girls perform at the Tonys. And the week after that, I finally got my hands on the Hey Ladies book, which I finished in two days.
Let’s work backwards. Hey Ladies started as a series by Michelle Markowitz and Caroline Moss on the late lamented feminist website The Toast. It revolves around eight girlfriends, all of them different flavors of basic bitch, as they plan various parties and hangouts via emails that inevitably begin with “Hey ladies!” There’s Ali, the calculating Machiavelli whose signature move is to unilaterally book an expensive activity for the group and then demand that everyone Venmo her their share of the cost; the perpetually broke Nicole, who is constantly launching half-baked entrepreneurial schemes; Katie, who takes both her inconsequential media job and her lopsided romantic relationships way too seriously; Jen, whose very being revolves around her fiancé/husband; and Gracie, the sane one who acts as a straight woman (mostly—I won’t spoil the end of the book but it was genuinely chilling). The other three ladies, Ashley, Morgan, and Caitlin, were neglected in the series but are given personalities for the book (well, sort of personalities; respectively, lives in Connecticut, lives in Brooklyn, aspiring lifestyle guru). So if you are looking for nuanced characters and deeply felt writing, this is probably not the book for you—although I didn’t know how much I needed the cold war between Ali and Jen’s passive-aggressive WASP mother until this book. But despite the broadness of their characterization, you’ve probably known one or more of these girls if you’re a 20-something in New York. And if you’re a 20-something woman almost anywhere in America, you’ve been part of “Hey ladies!” e-mail chain.
Markowitz and Moss have insisted, in the book’s foreword and in press interviews, that their goal here is not to make fun of women, and that the book’s message is actually about the power of female friendship. I don’t buy it. Other than a few intragroup relationships here and there, I don’t even buy that these girls like each other. Which makes sense—there’s not much to like in either self-absorbed urban millennials or the wedding industry, which are this book’s two main targets—but I was curious as to why the authors felt the need to defend the Hey Ladies ladies, when most people enjoy them as a hate-read. Does feminism mean having to stick up for any expression of femininity, no matter how toxic? It doesn’t, and it shouldn’t, but I think that Markowitz and Moss’ impulse comes from a genuine desire to avoid denigrating women. After all, everything about femininity is policed: the way women talk, the way we dress, whether or not we wear makeup, whether or not we “lean in” at work, how we raise children, the books we read and the movies and TV we watch. Making fun of the way we plan parties—and by extension, how we conduct our friendships—is just the latest pile-on, and could easily be seen as a cheap shot, since there are so few positive portrayals of female friendships in popular media as it is.
See: Mean Girls. Fourteen years after the movie came out it’s as culturally prominent as ever, its deathless jokes and references now strewn throughout a hit musical on Broadway. I was interested in seeing the show until I saw the Tonys performance, which was…underwhelming, but from what I’ve heard, it’s very similar to the movie but modernized for the age of social media. If you’ve never seen it (and if so, what’s wrong with you???), it follows a formerly homeschooled wide-eyed innocent named Cady as she goes to high school for the first time and becomes part of a popular clique known as the Plastics. It was based on a book, Queen Bees and Wannabes, which tells parents about how to help their daughters navigate “Girl World” throughout adolescence.
What is Girl World? Cady, who spent her childhood in Africa, frequently contrasts it with the blunt brutality of the animal kingdom; while Girl World is just as vicious, its methods are much sneakier. Girls communicate through manipulation, undermining, and passive-aggression instead of speaking directly. The violence they do to each other is psychological, not physical. The closer someone is to you, the deeper they can wound you. I can’t think of a single example of a healthy female friendship in the entire movie—not between any of the Plastics, not between Cady and her “art freak” friend Janice, not between any of the other minor characters who constantly tear each other down.
This matters because Mean Girls is such a powerful and enduring representation of how girls socialize and are socialized. It wasn’t the first or last movie about how terrible girls can be to each other, but it’s the one that’s stayed most firmly in the cultural zeitgeist. Ali from Hey Ladies is definitely a spiritual descendent of Regina George. The Plastics launched four-way call phone call attacks; the Hey Ladies ladies send each other misleadingly cropped screen shots and say one thing on the group e-mail while privately texting each other their true feelings. Mean Girls has become the archetypical depiction of female “friendship,” and while it takes place in high school, its tropes—that women are catty, jealous, gossipy, underhandedly competitive, quick to fight over boys, etc.—have long characterized society’s views of female relationships generally, regardless of age.
There are exceptions, of course. My personal favorite is Leslie and Ann’s friendship in Parks and Recreation. They’re two very different women with different personalities and different priorities. Sometimes they fight and sometimes they disappoint each other and, yes, sometimes they even go after the same guy. But they’re always loving, loyal, and supportive. They bring out each other’s best qualities. They make each other’s lives better.
These are the kinds of female friendships that I want, and I’m so fortunate that these are the kind of female friendships that I have. You would be amazed at the amount of drama that can spring up around a bachelorette party—not for nothing was the very first Hey Ladies entry an attempt to plan such an event— and it warmed my cold cynical heart to have friends who were able to make me feel so special. And moreover, they did so in a way that was unique to me, not just the typical social media performance with matching tank tops and its #squadgoals. And now I’m policing the way women use social media, natch. It’s a hard urge to resist, and Mean Girls and Hey Ladies are a lot of fun, but let’s all try to give the real power of real female friendships the credit it deserves.
So anyway, here’s some ice cream. Last September, Mark and I went to Carmel, California. It’s a beautiful area with amazing food and wine, and the best dinner we had there was at a restaurant called The Bench, which overlooks the 18th hole of the Pebble Beach golf course. It was so memorably delicious that, in honor of Mark’s and my negative-three-month wedding anniversary, I decided to try to recreate it: the flatbread appetizers, the halibut and forbidden rice entree, the bottle of excellent white wine, and most of all, the dessert. Although it had been five months at that point since Mark and I had gotten engaged, we were riding that train hard, and when we told The Bench that we were “recently” engaged, they gave us a free dessert of strawberry cobbler and cheesecake ice cream. I never would have chosen that dessert to order but I’m so glad they gave chose it for us, because it was incredible, especially the cheesecake ice cream. Cheesecake ice cream is definitely a once-a-year type treat, but what a treat! You can’t go wrong with a David Lebovitz recipe, so that’s what I picked for our special dinner. Was it as good as the one we had at The Bench? Honestly, who cares, it’s cheesecake ice cream!
Cheesecake Ice Cream
From The Perfect Scoop
8 ounces cream cheese
1 lemon, preferably unsprayed
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup half-and-half
2/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
Cut the cream cheese into small pieces. Zest the lemon directly into a blender or food processor, then add the cream cheese, sour cream, half-and-half, sugar, and salt, and puree until smooth. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.