I’ve been re-watching The Office lately, and it's mostly making me think about Pam Beesly and the women on TV like her. Oh, Pam Beesly: the cute receptionist at the center of The Office's love triangle, an adorable half of a couple that goes down in the Ross & Rachel (from Friends, obvi) annals of tv couple history. I liked her because she was like any girl you could ever meet. I wanted to be like her.
Now, I probably don’t.
After Pam and Jim finally got together, Pam got what she really wanted, and there her story ended. She went to art school, failed out of art school, had kids, dabbled a little bit in mural painting, and the series ended with her supporting her husband’s new gig in Austin. Jim never had dreams the way Pam did. Pam always wanted to be an artist but never was brave enough to follow through with it… She chose Jim and an office job over finishing school, she left her job just to come back to it, and harbored a passion for painting that never really blossomed into a career. However, in the last season of the show, an idea her husband Jim had in college turned into a company. He got his dream job in one season, even though he never really talked about having a dream. What about Pam?
There’s a scene in the earlier seasons where Pam is still with her old boyfriend, and she’s talking to the camera about her dream house, but begins to cry when she tries to reason why she’ll never have that house. It’s sad in a way that I think about so often: when you ask for so little, shouldn’t you deserve to get it?
What about the women who don’t want it all?
You see a lot of ladies on television: superheroes, badass businesswomen, sitcom mothers, sexy fantasies, or funny, relatable women who have big dreams or great jobs. Some are one layer---the kind of women that are there to push a male fantasy or a plot forward, and some are the kind of women written for women. They are the women we strive to be. Mindy Kaling in The Mindy Project has her own ob/gyn practice. Rory Gilmore ends Gilmore Girls by leaving her lackluster boyfriend to work for Barack Obama. Olivia Pope has a job no sane person would want, but a wardrobe and wine collection to aspire to. They are women on the way to having “everything” a modern woman could want: a dream job, a dream lover, a great apartment, a family, and the ability to juggle all of these things at once. Their television journey is the path to everything, the path to having it all.
But does everyone want it all? Do you? If you ask me what I want right now I'd say a bigger apartment, a brain that functions in a way I want it to, and a little more money. It’s not everything, but it’s something, at least to me.
The idea of a woman who doesn’t want it all is something I rarely see on television. To me, the idea of “one thing at a time” isn’t reveled in. It’s an all at once kind of thing. Women should always be climbing to better. We didn’t always have the opportunity to vote or be CEO! We have to be role models for other women! We need everything! But what if you want…only a few things at the moment? What if you’re not sure you’ll ever want the big things people dream about?
When Girls came on the air, it seemed to be about the idea about entitled females who prioritized very little. They focused, instead, on a narrow window of time. Hannah Horvath wanted to figure out her relationships, and maybe get a job to pay her rent. Shoshanna wanted to get laid. And Jessa Johannason could be the antithesis of having it all. She used to have a lot: the opportunity to world travel, family money, a cornucopia of men in love with her, and a heroin addiction. Now, she just wanted to coast. They were messy women who didn’t mind looking bad, who wanted to climb a little upwards and then sit down for a minute.
Now, Hannah is a teacher with a boyfriend, Jessa is going back to school courtesy of her boyfriend, and Shoshanna is the lost lamb. All she wants is... who knows? Happiness? Stability? Answers? Isn’t that everything, for now?
There are still some women on television who just want a little bit. Ilana on Broad City is looking for whatever life throws at her. She’s not good at her job, because that’s not what is important to her. What’s important to her is life, and friendship, and sexual experience, and also weed. It’s a character not seen portrayed by women often. Seth Rogan does it. Jonah Hill does it. But it’s not as entertaining to see women not try, because we have to try harder to get anywhere in the first place.
Perhaps that’s why you don’t see too many women, and especially not women of color in these roles. The only one I can think of: Cece Parekh from New Girl. She’s not sure what she wants, except to be married to her fiancé. She’s not totally content being a bartender, but also not incredibly motivated to move forward. As a woman of color, I can guess why she’s the only example I have. We have to try even harder than other women for the things we want in life. To show us on television as unmotivated only promotes the idea that we don’t want anything at all, and we probably don’t deserve it in the first place.
But Cece is real. She’s a girl people can relate to. She’s a nonwhite woman who isn’t a stereotype or a beacon of perfection to strive to. So why aren’t there more of the in-between?
There are two other women I want to mention: Mickey from LOVE and Gretchen Cutler from You’re The Worst. These two women don’t want it all because all they want is their mental health. One battles with addiction, the other battles with depression. They don’t always have a handle on it. It’s probably the most refreshing portrayal of addiction and mental health issues I’ve seen on television yet. As someone who understands the feeling of being betrayed by your brain, it feels good to watch normal women just trying to figure out the bare minimum—the basic things we should all be entitled to but often struggle with. It seems real and imperfect and relatable. I want to see more real.
When I think of Pam Beesly now, I think she got everything she wanted in the end: a family, a man, and some off time to paint. It’s not my dream, but it’s a real dream. We all want different things that don't always include a CEO job or a perfect man. We might want the perfect woman. Or mental clarity, or travel, or whatever. Pam wanted what she wanted, and the kind of women that followed after her—the women that are figuring it out, who slack off in certain areas, who just want to chill out a bit and figure out one thing at a time—those are the women who don’t have it all, and may never have it all. To me, their indifference and uncertainty are the most relatable of all.