Remembering Nora Ephron: Women and their Woes

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ABSTRACT– In When Harry Met Sally… Harry says, “There are two kinds of women: high maintenance and low maintenance… You are the worst kind.  You are high maintenance but you think you are low maintenance.”  Sally retorts, “I don’t see that.”

The character Sally is meant to personify all women, and yet she does a terrible job at owning her female flaws.  However, Nora Ephron created Sally, and Nora Ephron is a woman. Harry points out that Sally doesn’t understand herself, while Nora displays that most women don’t understand themselves.  Thus, the great divide is: women who understand women, like Nora Ephron, and women who don’t understand women, like Sally and the rest of the female race.

Here’s the kicker:  both sides of that great divide believe they understand women.  So most women who watch When Harry Met Sally… only think they get it… and they’ve just made Nora’s point.

So why would Nora make that point?  Why would she write a movie poking fun at her own gender’s oblivion to their problems?  The answer is twofold: to show women they must accept their flaws and to teach them how to take their unfortunate female existence and make it a fortunate life story.

She said in Conversations on KTCS 9, “If you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you, but if you tell them you slipped on a banana peel, it’s your joke, and you’re the hero of your joke.”

“My mother wanted us to understand that the tragedies of your life one day have the potential to be the comic stories the next,” Nora continued.  Ephron’s films, like Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally…, and You’ve Got Mail, established her own realm of comedy by talking about the tragedies of women.

By establishing that comedic style, she became the hero of her own banana peel jokes.  She said to a graduating class at Wesley College in a commencement address, “Above all, be the heroine of your own life, not the victim.”

This statement exposes one of the greatest tragedies of being a woman, which Sally exemplifies.  If a woman is not a heroine, she doesn't play the innocent bystander.  She is instead immediately downgraded to victim.  Denying she is high maintenance, Sally goes from heroine to innocent bystander. But no woman quits when they’re already behind.  Sally further argues that she is low maintenance, and in so doing, she victimizes herself.

Nora Ephron did no such thing.  She acknowledged areas where she could potentially be the victim, and she made herself the heroine.  She once said of getting her hair blow-dried twice a week, “It’s cheaper by far than psychoanalysis and much more uplifting.”

A heroine is one who accepts her flaws.  Nora admitted her unruly hair often sparked her self-determind needs for positivity and psychoanalysis.  Still, even a women with bad hair, a bad outlook and a bad excuse for therapy advocated that women can be heroines.

She said to the Wesley College graduates, “In case any of you are wondering, of course you can have it all. What are you going to do? Everything, is my guess. It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications.”

CultureKatie Hay