When I was a kid, I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do with my life. I figured I had to have some kind of job and get married. These things I was taught in kindergarten when I had to make a poster about my future self and draw myself doing these things. It was easy enough to choose teacher for job, probably because the teacher was the only person I had seen on the job.
When it came to the getting married part, I was less certain. My mom told me that when me and my sisters were young, my sisters wanted to marry each other and “Becky wanted to marry a doctor, because he’d be gone all the time.” Hear me out here. At the time I was really into ignoring my friends. I figured I’d be wanting to do that in my future marriage as well.
Then, a few years later, my whole family started sitting down on the couch, Bundy-style, and watching Ally McBeal. And this transformed my life. Pretty much all the women on the show were a new archetype, one that I had never seen: single female lawyers.
Now let me make clear just how I define these terms:
Single: By single I don’t mean perpetually alone. I mean that you live with a cool roomate for awhile and you jam to Vonda Shepard after work (this was cool at the time) while worrying about your biological clock and hallucinating the baby you desired. It meant having all the anxieties about wanting love and a family but just dealing with them rather than settling down first thing with whoever. It meant permission to work on your career first and foremost and to demand that your man be a real man!
Female: This means you wear short skirts if you want and occasionally shock people in court with your emotional intelligence.
Lawyer: I thought being a lawyer seemed like the best job ever. It was impressive. It paid a lot. It involved persuasion and logic and reading people and interacting with strange people and asking hard questions. My parents liked it when I said it was what I wanted to do in life. Eventually I figured out that most lawyers do not have lives anything like Ally McBeal’s, just like most doctors are not like the characters on Scrubs. But still, whenever I hear that someone studies law, they have my respect forever.
Now of course I dont’ necessarily want to be a literal “single female lawyer.” I’ve found that being a copywriter uses some of the same skills of rhetoric and storytelling, and I even get to sit with lawyers on the phone sometimes while they school me on the importance of trademark protection. I also don’t want to be perpetually alone. But I think someone can be “single female lawyer” in spirit without being any of those things. I recently found myself using this as a compliment when talking about someone who is indeed a lawyer but is not single.
I think Ally McBeal and friends’ portrayal of a life where a woman can spend all her time at the office, then go home to a cocktail, a girl chat or a date really changed my worldview. This was much different than the Mary Camdens out there. The picture of myself being the type of woman that put her life into a career was probably one of the reasons I tried hard at school, all thanks to Calista Flockhart. Sometimes the random things we see in pop culture might seem unimportant, but they echo in our heads forever, in ways we don’t realize matter.