To explore someone else’s interiority is not just to flash, at this moment, to what you think the other person might be thinking or feeling. It’s a layered, almost literary thing, to imagine the history of their experiences (known and unknown, actual and possible) and to think through those experiences, thoughts, and feelings all the way through to the end.
What if, instead of teaching women that they have to raise their hands to speak at meetings, we taught men to be more reflective and circumspect; instead of telling women to tamp down their emotions at the office, a man was told that he didn’t appear committed enough to the job because he’s never shed tears over it; instead of pushing women to take public credit for their work, we publicly admonish men who don’t properly acknowledge others’ contributions? I was just invited to a seminar on public speaking skills for women — where’s the class on listening skills for men?
There’s a nefarious, Mobius strip quality to “sneaky feminism” as a piece of rhetoric. If the point of using it is to satisfy readers that the product in question is ideologically sound, but also chill (Lean in! Not too far!), then this ostensible attempt to make feminism palatable is rather anti-feminist, if sneakily so. That’s because one of feminism’s foundational goals has always been to release women from their disproportionate obligation to show tact, delicacy, and sweetness—to say their piece without being aggressive or annoying about it. Yet we’re asking feminism itself to shimmy through a window and creep down a corridor dancing between laser beams before whispering its claims in the cultural ear.
“Nothing has topped the way men shake her hand and look her in the eye, what it’s like to be able to call a man a chickenshit to his face and get away with it, to mean it, to feel free and dominant and in control of your life.”
—Megan Mayhew Bergman, Almost Famous Women
We never say that all men deserve to feel beautiful. We never say that each man is beautiful in his own way. We don’t have huge campaigns aimed at young boys trying to convince them that they’re attractive, probably because we very rarely correlate a man’s worth with his appearance. The problem is that a woman’s value in this world is still very much attached to her appearance, and telling her that she should or deserves to feel beautiful does more to promote that than negate it. Telling women that they “deserve” to feel pretty plays right in to the idea that prettiness should be important to them. And having books and movies aimed at young women where every female protagonist turns out to be beautiful (whereas many of the antagonists are described in much less flattering terms) reinforces the message that beauty has some kind of morality attached to it, and that all heroines are somehow pretty.
Can we please change the script here?
High-feminine instead of fetishistically masculine, glittery rather than gritty, and daring in its conception of character, “Sex and the City” was a brilliant and, in certain ways, radical show. It also originated the unacknowledged first female anti-hero on television: ladies and gentlemen, Carrie Bradshaw.
Why is the show so often portrayed as a set of empty, static cartoons, an embarrassment to womankind? It’s a classic misunderstanding, I think, stemming from an unexamined hierarchy: the assumption that anything stylized (or formulaic, or pleasurable, or funny, or feminine, or explicit about sex rather than about violence, or made collaboratively) must be inferior.
Yes, they are some of the most critically acclaimed cinematic romances in decades. Yes, they represent the “little engine that could” in a creative system in which only big-budget popcorn flicks tend to get multiple sequels. Yes, they are an enjoyable departure from the current standard of overly frenetic, quick-cut filmmaking. But they are also the only films that strive — and succeed — to create a detailed and ongoing look at the female experience.
NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT.
by Elizabeth Cantwell
I love that [Elaine] eats on screen—a lot—and it’s so normal that she doesn’t even have to say a bunch of jokey punchlines about it. Liz Lemon is perhaps a good counterexample here—she’s also often portrayed eating, but whether it’s a donut or a pizza or a piece of cheese, the food is always the punchline to a joke. Because watching a cute woman eat a lot is just HILARIOUS to us, right? But Elaine, she just walks into Jerry’s kitchen and starts eating cereal—or ice cream, or muffins—while talking about the weather or about how she hates her roommate or about toupees. Not one word about the food. It’s almost as though she’s just eating because she’s hungry or even—gasp!—because she simply wants to. This is maybe the healthiest portrayal of a woman’s appetite I’ve ever seen on screen.
Man, I had the biggest crush on Elaine.
Okay, I’m not fooling anyone with the past tense there.
To offer some context for my perspective, the year I was fifteen I hitchhiked 15,000 miles alone, mostly through truck stops. By the time I was nineteen I had hitchhiked another 5,000 miles through Turkey, Greece, and pre-war Yugoslavia, also alone. Those years were a time of misery and terror, but they were also transformative. Every day I bounced wildly between danger, high comedy, and extreme loneliness—which is to say that it was also an adventure, and that inside all the high stakes turmoil was a nascent self that was trying to become, to change, to step out into the world as an adult.
But there is no female counterpart in our culture to Ishmael or Huck Finn. There is no Dean Moriarty, Sal, or even a Fuckhead. It sounds like a doctoral crisis, but it’s not. As a fifteen-year-old hitchhiker, my survival depended upon other people’s ability to envision a possible future for me. Without a Melvillean or Kerouacian framework, or at least some kind of narrative to spell out a potential beyond death, none of my resourcefulness or curiosity was recognizable, and therefore I was unrecognizable.
From 2009 to 2012 Soderbergh directed seven films, three of which may be called his unofficial trilogy of “body films”: The Girlfriend Experience (2009), Haywire (2011), and Magic Mike (2012). While star-studded, arguably even stunt, casting has always been important to his work—from Jennifer Lopez in Out Of Sight (1998) to the comically high-caliber cast of the Oceans franchise (2001, 2004, 2007)—in these three films, the bodies of the stars were integral to what each film explored. Moreover, each stars’ bodies represented a Hollywood outsider crossing over into the mainstream.
Soderbergh! Out of all his movies I’ve seen, the body trilogy and Out of Sight hold the top four spots.
It’s no wonder that Dirty Dancing inspires near-mythic allegiance among women of a certain age. It may be the only film we’ve ever seen in which the male love interest is the one placed squarely in the centre of the frame to be admired for his physical prowess. Ostensibly, films in the romance genre are always “for women” but it’s rare that the male lead is objectified in the way Swayze is here. […] Baby has a great experience with a caring lover, and then at the end of the summer she goes on with her awesomely ambitious life. She doesn’t change her plans to be with her man or cry bitter tears at having to leave him. It’s impossible to overstate how rare a role model like Baby is in films aimed at teenage girls and young women.
A cluster of articles that came up in life and/or the RSS reader within the span of a couple days, without my looking for them. There are no coincidences:
- Caglia on Gaga. [sigh]
- A friend was semi-outraged by the NPR review of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream”. “Singing in a clear, strong voice about how exhilarating it is be clear and strong about what you want.”
- American Electra: Feminism’s ritual matricide – Harper’s Magazine. [$] The generational divide in the feminist movement(s).
- Critic’s Notebook: Lady Gaga, sexuality and 21st century pop. “Pop is where sex lives most openly in our culture, and that it’s not just a matter of surfaces, […] but of the depth and breadth of desire, frustration, satisfaction.”