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Monday, August 12, 2019

The Saga Of Portia Hamilton–What Glass Ceiling? A Tale Of Beauty, Charm, And Allure

Portia Hamilton had been a beautiful child – dark, curly hair; peaches-and-cream complexion; perfect symmetry,  and Elizabeth Taylor violet eyes.  She was cuddled, pampered, shown off and adored.  A little princess whose mother never discouraged the crinoline dresses, tiaras, and wands she wore at her ‘performances’.  Portia was never nervous or hesitant before an audience.  On the contrary, she wanted to perform before everyone, dancing prettily, showing off her costumes, her choreography (she never just twirled and jumped like other girls, but followed a script), and her music (her songs, like her dance steps were hers and hers alone).  She loved moving, smiling, dancing on tip toes, twirling so her dresses lifted and showed off their sparkles, gold thread, and pinks and purples.  She had her own dressing room – her mother’s walk-in closet which her father had set up with a mirror, good lighting, and a downstairs table; and she spent fifteen minutes fixing her hair just right with a red ribbon and ringlets, a dot of rouge and a touch of lipstick.

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Her Aunt Mary – a single woman of late middle age who had forgone marriage for a successful legal career, a former trial lawyer who had won, according to family lore, all her cases, whose clerkship for Judge Harlow of the DC Circuit Court had paid off with a partnership at a K Street law firm and a final appointment to the bench – was unhappy with the way her sister was raising her daughter, Portia.  How, in this modern, feminist age, could she be raising a girl whose attitude and aspirations were – if she had to be honest – retrograde.  A little girl in crinoline, frills, and ribbons, never behind a book, and always primping and being pretty not only could never make it in the world of today, but was an insult to her family’s intellectual integrity.  The Hamiltons were indeed related to Alexander and were a respected Boston family which had lived and ruled following their great ancestor’s principles of freedom, justice, and personal enterprise.  There was seldom in over two hundred years, a breach of family principle or etiquette, and the Hamiltons had always been known as a family of superior rectitude, purpose, and honor. 

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What had happened, Portia’s aunt wondered, to her sister who had shown as much promise as any of her four siblings, who had been destined for an equally distinguished career in the law, married well, and settled well in the right suburb of Philadelphia? And how could any daughter of hers be brought up in such a silly, common way?  All girls of her niece’s age, it seemed, bought princess outfits, and primped and pranced around the living room; but they were not of Portia’s caliber, carried none of her genes, and had no family histories of any note.  Portia, now that feminism had cleared the decks and made women’s professional and business success as probable as men’s, should by now be well on her way rather than wasting the all-important early childhood years on trifles and frivolity.

“But she loves it so”, replied Portia’s mother to her sister’s insistent objections.  “How can I refuse….and I shouldn’t refuse”.

“Why?”, demanded Aunt Mary.

“Because she has talent”.

Talent, schmalent, thought Mary.  A few pretty dresses, childish ditties, and prancing on stage don’t mean a thing  They mean diversion and distraction.  By the time that Mary was Portia’s age she was reading The Odyssey, computing, and excelling at math.  This girl had to be turned around before it was too late.

Nothing of the sort.  Portia was not to be turned and kept dressing up, making up, fixing her hair, and collecting a closet full of pretty dresses and shoes.  By the time she was in fifth grade, she was the social center of the class, precociously dispensing advice  about boys, girls, and love ‘infecting’ her classmates, according to her aunt, with outdated notions of feminine wiles, allure, and attractiveness.  By junior high, she was prom queen, dating the football captain, and a cheerleader.  Her photo and doings were reported monthly in the school paper, and she charmed her way through her classes.  She was sure to be the first Hamilton to be a disgrace.

Of course she would be nothing of the sort.  Feminism, the broken glass ceiling, clerkships, and professional marriage might be well and good for some; but Portia understood that beneath it all women were women – no different now than they were in Shakespeare’s day.  Beautiful, seductive, appealing, and above all able, thanks to their sex, best them at every turn.  It wasn’t so much that obvious, acquired intellect and cognitive intelligence didn’t matter; it was just that everyone had some measure of those, and few had her particularly sensitive awareness of femaleness and the indisputable – despite current, woke, and diversionary claims to sexual spectra – dynamics of heterosexual sex.  Lady Chatterley, Rosalind, Beatrice, and her namesake Portia were her ancestors; not the flinty, beastly ladies of Wall Street and corporate America.

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These women had their place, and no one could take away their pluck and determination; and without their tunnel vision of success her road would be more difficult; but no one had schooled Eleanor of Aquitaine, the wives of Richard II and Henry VI, the heroines of Shakespeare’s Comedies, Emma Bovary, Hedda Gabler, or any other of the fictional and historical women who had used their native intelligence, sexual awareness, and will to get exactly what they wanted.  The difference between Portia and these characters was her enjoyment of herself, her sexual politics, and her absolutely enormous appeal to men.

Beauty is destiny is the way one philosopher put it.  Portia would always be looked at as a model, a symbol, and an ideal.  Fame, currency, and wealth were hers for the asking from the high-end of American culture.  Given her preferences she could be a model in Milan, the wife of European royalty, or a Park Avenue socialite.  She had the physical credentials to write her own ticket in those circles who prized her type of beauty and the carriage, confidence, and presentation which always seemed to go along with it.

Marilyn Monroe was not only physically alluring, there was something about her personality which fit her body.  It was an indefinable, impossibly subtle, and completely irresistible quality of femaleness.  Men do not want to admire women.  They want them as sexual partners; and men for generations have wanted nothing more than to go to bed with Marilyn Monroe - not Ava Gardner, Hedy Lamarr, or Vivien Leigh.

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Progressive social critics complain about America’s false sense of values, placing Hollywood beauty above all else and in so doing setting impossible standards for young girls.  How can a plain, simple girl possibly compete with the fantasy images of Hollywood, Elle, Seventeen, and Glamour?  She can’t.  Beauty, feminine allure, grace, charm, and winsomeness have been admired, imitated, and honored since the first human settlements.

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Portia Hamilton was one of the lucky few, given unusual beauty as a surprising, unexpected gift.  From a very early age she understood who she was and what she would be and  soon realized her good fortune. She had a very successful career as a fashion model, wearing the best designer clothes on the most prestigious runways of Milan, Paris, and New York; and since beauty is indeed destiny it was no surprise that after her career she married a scion of Wall Street, lived in a Fifth Avenue apartment overlooking the Park, wintered in St. Bart’s, and skied at Gstaad.  She had led a good, charmed life.

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