What Eat, Pray, Love and Steven Slater Have in Common

This week, two great escape stories are on everyone’s lips. Steven Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant allegedly got fed up with a rude customer and threw his career out the window (though he probably is already signed for a reality show) as he threw himself, beer in hand, profanity on lips, down the evacuation chute and into a lot of irate hearts. And today, in theatres nationwide, Julia Roberts AKA Liz Gilbert runs away from a series of identity-threatening relationships to find herself by eating pizza in Italy, chanting mantras in India and falling passionately in love in Bali. Two stories, a world apart, but emotionally linked for women.

While the jury is out on the details of the Jet Blue ejection, Slater has become something of a folk hero for those who feel imprisoned in dead end jobs and berated by the customers they serve. Women are so often the holders of these ‘pink collar’ jobs in retail and service. They are expected to hold their tongues to hold their jobs and the idea of taking the chute and giving customers the finger was just too tasty to resist. Postings on Slater’s fan page range from empathy to shared rage. How many women are thinking, “Let me out of here…but first let me give you a piece of my mind?” While at Just Ask a Woman, we tend to focus on the customer herself, who also feels abused, ignored and under-appreciated, it’s clear that the service workers who irritate her, are themselves often ticked-off women, too.

And as this weekend’s movie theatres feature “Eat, Pray, Love” and are filled with Liz wannabe’s or Liz-bians as I’ve heard them called, expect the swelling of press around women’s pent up hunger to run away and resolve their ‘what if’s?’ What if I had chosen another path? What if I ran away to a place where I could be blessedly alone and then met Mr. Wonderful, my soul-mate without baggage of his own? While critics will bash the idea of the privilege that affords a worldwide, yearlong time out, I believe that most women, fueled by Oprah’s endorsement and the friendly tone of the Gilbert book, will be ready to pack their bags and yoga mats for the chance, that maybe, just maybe, they can escape the boundaries of their lives and find nirvana.

Has the economy made us feel like prisoners? Are women on the verge of snapping out or swapping out their lives? While theatre tickets and cable ratings and even retail checkouts (have you seen the avalanche of EPL merch?) will tick up this weekend, it will be interesting to see if these two great escapes are signals of a bigger shift in women’s appetite for independence….or just an end of summer runaway from home. Stay tuned.

For more listen to this interview on NPR that aired on August 13.

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