Target Women and the Woman Question

Women have been in the media a lot lately, and the reproductive health controversy is sparking debates about ethics, morals, and the female body itself. Honestly, it reminds me of the Victorian England “Woman Question,” that I have discussed a bit previously.

This type of rhetoric and debate about the physical uterus and its “proper place” has been an underlying current in Western society since gender roles were invented. Yes, they were invented, and they are still being solidified, broken down, and rebuilt through everything we participate in: conversations, news broadcasts, advertisements, and media.

In a bizarre turn of fate, Rush Limbaugh recently decided to (continue) to be an outspoken anti-women and anti-choice bully, and jump started this already prominent conversation in politics and social media. However, his subsequent scapegoat status does not solve the problem of gender biases, inequality, and a continuation of gender role alignment with heteronormative morality. In other words, the sexist beast that shadows our culture is still out there. It has been there for years, but perhaps Lumbaugh’s latest line crossing remarks have finally made a larger audience aware of its existence.

His recent derogatory comments have drawn attention to our binary gender system- have we really changed our beliefs about gender so little since the Victorian period. Well, many prominent men and women still very much prescribe to the Victorian gender binary, and all of its moralistic connotations. A very specific, gendered brand of moralist rhetoric is still continuously permeating our culture, belief systems, and feelings about what women (and men, their supposed “opposites”) “should” or “should not” be.

Rhetorical analysis is fun, right?

For those of you interested in gender and the way it seeps into every part of our daily lives, you should check out the hilarious Sarah Haskins from Current  Media. She humorously analyzes advertisements geared toward a pretty large target audience: Women.

Although these videos are a bit older now, you can see many similar advertisements focused on “women” if you turn on your television, Hulu, or YouTube. By the way, for you educators out there, this is also a great tool to teach rhetorical analysis, and also to teach audience consideration, advertising, and a host of other possibilities for older students.

I like Haskins’ approach because she is funny, relatable, and because she points out just how absurd some of the underlying assumptions about women that these advertisements derive from.

Have you seen her segment before? What do you think we can learn from Haskins and the recent media attention about Women and their reproductive organs?

Regards,

Miss E

Ryan Gosling Rant

***Spoiler Alert***

I just visited Portland this past weekend, and saw the movie Drive with Ryan Gosling. The movie theatre we went to was incredible. It was in an old refurbished building that potentially used to be a brothel according to a friend. There were local brews, yummy nosh foods like cheese plates and Thai roasted nuts, and very cozy chairs. I was pretty excited to see a movie in such an awesome location. I would love to go back and see another movie there.

However, Drive was a major disappointment (and that is putting it nicely).

The throwback to the 80’s could have been fun with the synthesized music and hot pink lettering in the credits, but after a short while I had lost patience with the theme of the film, the treatment of women and ethnic minorities, and the lack of actual driving and plot points surrounding the title of the film.

Ryan Gosling with his 80's Jacket in Drive

My biggest problem with Drive was the underlying “White America” message which (perhaps accidentally, perhaps intentionally), permeated the entire film. In addition, not only was it also anti-Semitic at times, but the female characters were shown to be kind of flat and/or weak. The male and female protagonists are both blond Americans of European descent. Many of the most unsavory characters, on the other hand, are ethnic minorities. Hmmmmm….

For example, Ryan Gosling’s character (by the way he is never named, just called “Kid” or “Driver”) is falling in love with Irene (Carey Mulligan), a who is married to a Latino-American man named Standard, who is also in prison during the opening of the film and the subject of violence throughout the film.

Her husband is shown to not only be incapable of performing his “duties” as husband and father, but is also shown to be weak and cowardly in more than one scene. He eventually needs to ask Ryan Gosling for help. He, not surprisingly, also gets shot in the head during the movie.

I will not go into any symbolism here, but I felt that this whole patriarchal battle for Irene and her son Benicio between the White and Mexican man, even thought supposedly a subplot, was pretty obscene. Gosling also didn’t have to even try to “win” Irene in any way. He is shown by the filmmaker as the  more stable option, who Irene also seems to prefer (or at least the option last standing).

He is usually the one controlling violence, not the subject of that violence, for example. He’s somehow shown to be “better than” or exempt from the violence until it finally catches up with him. And even then, he gets a long, drawn out death, and he gets agency in his death.

I didn’t understand why Ryan Gosling’s White male character was glorified and masculinized. Isn’t that formula kind of tired by now?

He’s a good driver- OK, so what?

Hey look- Ryan Gosling in a car. That doesn't happen much in this movie, considering the title.

He is also shown to be emotionally and socially off, violent towards women at times, potentially racist, and doesn’t seem to know how to shop for clothes. Ok, so we’re supporting That White guy again? Yet another example of White Male Exceptionalism.

I was pretty “on guard” after the comment in the movie made by Gosling’s character about a picture of her husband Standard. He asks, “What is he?” and she responds, “In prison.” At that point I was thinking, Ok, that was a gutsy script choice. I wonder what they will do with that moment.

However, instead of delving into any of the background, racial tension, ignorance, or potential racism on the part of Gosling’s character that elicited the comment, it was glossed over in the film as Gosling begins his slow usurpation of the role of Male Protector/Patriarch in the threesome’s familial structure.

The only way I can see the film attempting to take power away from Gosling’s character is in that he is a bit volatile, has little no emotional expression, and dies in the end (but still in a glorified and ambiguous way). Irene also seems a bit upset with him after seeing him crush someone’s skull in an elevator directly after kissing her.

Also, Irene’s character really pissed me off. She had no agency, and was always dependent on the men in the film. Her son was suffering, but he only seemed to get better once he had a White male father figure to hang out with. WTF.

I felt very glad there was alcohol available, because this movie annoyed me on many levels, and I was bummed to see the supposedly “feminist” man Ryan Gosling who has been the subject of the “Feminist Ryan Gosling” meme star in such a clueless and racialized film which propagates glorified White Americans and male violence.

I would not recommend this movie to my readers, ever.

Quite Annoyed,

Miss E

The Case Against Mr. Bennet

Mr. Bennet is a very benevolent character in the Pride and Prejudice movies, such as the BBC adaptation with Colin Firth and the newer Keira Knightly version.

As much as it pains me to announce this, after re-reading Pride and Prejudice again as an adult, I really didn’t like Mr. Bennet. I think that in the movies he’s a lovable father, which would explain fan reactions and his place on the “Best Father’s List” in many people’s books.

In the movies he’s portrayed as a great guy, and pretty funny. I currently think perhaps all this Mr. Bennet love is a bit much. In fact, I think Mr. Bennet is kind of an ass hole.

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Here’s my reasoning. In opposition to his various popular movie personas, Mr. Bennet of the novel itself is often painted as a defunct father figure, and honestly a pretty horrible partner in marriage.

He remains emotionally detached from his family throughout the novel, sometimes with dire consequences. As a substitute for parental involvement, he seeks solitude in his library.

Instead of being concerned about the entailment of his property and its consequences on the people under his care, he ignores his responsibilities as a caregiver and also as a patriarch of the landed gentry in Regency England.

As a result, not only are his daughters at risk of becoming destitute, but every person who relies on his estate. That’s just plain irresponsible.

Little bit of research for you: Frances Chiu points out how a critique of state authorities turned into a general decline in paternal authority in the Eighteenth Century, as highlighted in John Millar’s Observations Concerning the Distinction of Ranks in society (1771), which displayed negative examples of paternal aggression and power (5). Chiu and others discuss the fact that a more moderate form of parenting was being propagated throughout the period (Chiu 6, Stone 433). She asserts that with the colonial project underway, parenting in England became an attempt to avoid “barbarism,” while paternal aggression and severity became increasingly associated with the barbaric, un-English other.

 

From BBC.CO.UK

However, Austen kind of critiques that parenting style through Mr. Bennet. In the novel, Mr. Bennet is not only too mild, but generally he’s completely checked out.

In opposition to the fear of the ‘bad’ authoritarian and controlling father figure that permeated English dialogues on parenting, her portrayal of such a negligent father, and the consequences of his lack of discipline, instead illustrates the consequences of extreme leniency.

Elizabeth’s emotional needs are ignored by the only parent with whom she may have developed an attachment to, and from whom she requires a sense of safety and respect.

When Mr. Bennet asks about her supposed engagement to Mr. Darcy, we are told that “Elizabeth had never been more at a loss to make her feelings appear what they were not. It was necessary to laugh, when she would rather have cried. Her father had most cruelly mortified her, by what he said of Mr. Darcy’s indifference, and she could do nothing but wonder at such a want of penetration.” This moment is painful for me, since he is one of her only supposed allies, and just doesn’t get it.

But he usually just kind of can’t be bothered. Austen shows that his inability to participate in the family circle and his attempts to make a joke of his responsibilities make his family more vulnerable to the ridicule of society (Mr. Darcy, and the Bingleys for example), and also leaves them open to the invasion of Mr. Collins and all of his absurdity.  Patriarchs of households were expected to actively partake in protecting their family during this time period.

More research on the subject: Naomi Tadmor develops an understanding of the concept of “family” in the time period. From studying how the word ‘family’ is itself used in different texts and diaries from the time, she constructs how the idea of a family and its function was viewed in the culture of Jane Austen’s contemporaries.

Her research shows that the idea of family included all members of a household under patriarchal authority, whether they were related by blood or by contract. Her study of patriarchal responsibility contrasts with Mr. Bennet’s lack of filial dependability.

By examining views of family and responsibility during this time period, it becomes clear that Mr. Bennet’s failure to ensure his family’s financial and emotional safety affects even more people than just his wife and daughters –it extends to every servant or housekeeper living under his roof.

Despite all of the people who rely on him, Mr. Bennet just doesn’t really give a shit most of the time. He is farcical at best and lazy at worst.

He stands up for Elizabeth not marrying Mr. Collins, but gives Darcy consent to marry Elizabeth mostly because he is intimidated by him, not because he believes him to be a good person, or believes Elizabeth to be in love with him.

He states, “I have given him my consent. He is the kind of man, indeed, to whom I should never dare refuse any thing.”

After hearing her reasons for being in love with him though, he says, “I could not have parted with you, my Lizzie, to anyone less worthy.”

Yet, he had already given his consent to Mr. Darcy, before hearing from Elizabeth……sigh.

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Mr. Bennet does not set a strong example for his children, leaving them without his emotional support, but also without a reasonable parent to rely upon. During the time, it was advised “that parents lead by example rather than resort to corporeal punishment” and this was especially true for fathers of the period in their role as patriarch (Stone 433). Yet another strike.

As the head of his household and everyone under his roof, his reaction to Mr. Collins, the future owner and manager of the Bennet’s home, is inappropriate, and incongruous with the severity of the entailment. He hopes Mr. Collins is ridiculous for his own personal amusement, even while aware that the same man will one day be in charge of his daughters’ fates.

After Mr. Collins makes himself thoroughly ridiculous to the entire party during the ball, “Many stared. – Many smiled; but no one looked more amused than Mr. Bennet himself, while his wife seriously commended Mr. Collins for having spoken so sensibly.” In this scene, Elizabeth is shocked and horrified, whereas Mr. Bennet is shown to be thoroughly enjoying his family’s embarrassment.

He treats the mortification of his cousin and his wife’s reputation as something to be laughed at, even though he should, we would expect, be as mortified as Elizabeth, if not more so. Mr. Bennet’s inappropriate reaction to this scene might easily be forgotten, except when Elizabeth’s feelings are taken into account. Because of this failure, Elizabeth consistently attempts to shoulder the burden of responsibility to influence her father, although her position is limited.

Elizabeth asks her father of Mr. Collins in earnest: “Can he be a sensible man, sir?” to which he responds in jest, “No, my dear; I think not. There is a mixture of servility and self-importance in his letter which promises well. I am impatient to see him” (60). When he meets Mr. Collins, his “expectations were fully answered. His cousin was absurd as he had hoped, and he listened to him with the keenest enjoyment, maintaining at the same time the most resolute composure of countenance, and except in an occasional glance at Elizabeth, requiring no partner in his pleasure” (64).

Although there is a sarcastic humor in his tone, it doesn’t really make the danger any less real for his daughters and dependents, who would have been really screwed if he died. Throughout the text, his inappropriate behavior is damaging to his wife and children, and places his family in a vulnerable social position.

Interestingly, Darcy steps in and acts the true patriarch of the Bennet household by protecting Lydia’s reputation, through talking with Bingley about Jane to secure both their happiness, and by marrying Lizzie despite her ‘bad father.’ After Elizabeth marries him, Mrs. Bennet is shown to be happier, although not smarter, Mr. Bennet begins to travel, and Kitty spends a lot of time “in society so superior to what she had generally known” and was much improved. Lydia is with Whickham and out of everyone’s way, and even Mary, we are told, is no longer as miserable as she was when all of her sisters were there, as she is “no longer mortified by comparisons between her sisters’ beauty and her own.”

When Mr. Bennet is no longer the dominant male influence in the family, Elizabeth and the other characters in the novel are shown only to have gained.

Mr Bennet, I must say I am very disappointed in you, and that I like you much better as a movie character.

A bit annoyed,

Miss E

 

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Hey look, some references 😀

Chiu, Frances A. “From Nobodaddies to Noble Daddies: Writing Political and Paternal Authority in English Fiction of the 1780’s and 1790’s” Eighteenth- Century Life. Vol 26.2., Spring 2008. Print.

Morris, Ivor. “Elizabeth and Mr. Bennet.” Persuasions On-Line. 25:1 (Winter 2004). Web.

Tadmor, Naomi. Family and Friends in Eighteenth-Century England, Household, Kinship, and Patronage. Cambridge University Press, 2001. Print.

Trumbach, Randolph. The Rise of the Egalitarian Family, Aristocratic Kinship and Domestic Relations in Eighteenth-Century England. Academic Press, New York, 1978. Print.

Stone, Lawrence. The Family Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800. Harper & Row, New York, 1977. Print.

Why is Feminism So Taboo?

In a recent post by the Feminist Breeder, the reluctance of modern women and men to identify as feminists was brought up. Her post is cleverly titled, well-written, optimistic and refreshing. She discusses being surprised at the fact that nobody wanted to raise their hand when asked in a gender class if they were feminists. In fact, for self-identifying feminists in America, it probably reads like a breath of fresh air, especially because her definition of feminism is so inclusive.  Her criteria for feminists includes 3 points:

  1. Believing that women are human beings
  2. That men and women are fully human
  3. And political, economic, and social equality between the genders

Sadly, not many American people have such an expansive view of feminism. Even at my undergraduate university, albeit a fairly traditional Catholic and Jesuit one, students who were asked by a group putting together a feminist edition of a magazine to have their picture put in a collage titled “this is what a feminist looks like,” were either reluctant to identify as feminist, or reacted with surprising anger towards feminists. The students falling into the latter camp generally seemed under the impression that all feminists hated men and caused political unrest.

These Feminist Blogs Create Thought Bubbles

While I don’t think the first part, the man-hating part, of that statement is true about feminism as a movement or a belief system, even if there are feminists alive who claim to hate men, I do believe that the second part remains true, the political part, and that is what makes feminism so taboo. At its core, feminism’s tenants question the dominant ideological structure. If that political aspect of feminism still gives feminists a bad reputation, then I might be hard pressed to accept a better one.

Twisty from the blog I Blame the Patriarchy fairly recently brought up the ever-so-fine distinction between subjection of women and subjection of all “other” people that the ideological structure imposes itself upon. She argues that, “because sexism has been so comprehensively assimilated across the board, the elimination of racism, classism, ableism, homophobia et al cannot obtain without the simultaneous liberation of women from patriarchal tyranny.”

I don’t want to feel threatened when I identify as a feminist. Further, I do think it is pretty sad and also confusing that people get so up in arms about feminists, although that is also a move of patriarchy and an attempt to subjugate women’s voices, or if you consider the quoted section above, truly patriarchy as a system attempts to destroy any opposing forces. According to the Feminist Breeder’s definition feminists can be anyone interested in the equal rights of all people. Unfortunately, although I do want to be optimistic as well, I don’t feel like the general public cares about equal rights, which is one of the reasons that patriarchy still thrives. The people on top want to stay on top, and the people at the bottom just want to replace the people at the top.

Do I wish that feminism was less taboo? Sure I do. However, I fully understand the political choice I am making when I self identify as a feminist, the choice to counteract a dominant patriarchal ideology which subjugates all non-subscribers, and quite frankly, if it makes other people a wee bit uncomfortable, I am OK with that.

Miss E

The Darcy Dilemma

OR I am in love with a fictional man, who may or may not be perpetuating Patriarchal masculinity. Oh my.

I have recently realized that much of my adult life has been spent in pursuit of a well-known character from one of my favorite novels. He somehow subconsciously became my perfect man all those years ago, and the masculine ideal for countless others.

Readers all over the world know him as a prototype of the tall, dark and handsome mystery man; he is somber and stoic on the outside, yet soft, sensitive, smart, and thoughtful when the layers of his personality are revealed. He has social clout, knows what he wants, is straightforward, and can defend a family’s honor when need be. Sound good? This is the fictional man I have searched for in the real world, alongside countless other admirers. His name, as we all know, is Mr. Darcy.

Darcy has been popularized in contemporary literary media through adaptations of Pride and Prejudice by the BBC and Focus Features, parodies like the movie Bride and Prejudice, or the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the book-turned-film Bridgett Jones’ Diary, and countless other interpretations. The novel itself is likely one of the most popular classics in today’s society, and the story and its characters are far more well-known.

Collin Firth has become the visual representation of Darcy for many, and we pine for Darcy to stare at us. I mean, have you seen the lake scene in the BBC Adaptation?

I will keep watching, admiring, and thoroughly enjoying Collin Firth in his many Darcy-based roles. However, I have been left disappointed by the expectations that Darcy as a character has raised for my experiences with the men in my life. I feel that all of my experiences searching for my Mr. Darcy have ended with either a man who cannot express himself, or is really just kind of an ass. It has been my experience that Darcy-esque qualities don’t really translate from the Austen novel to the everyday twenty-first century very easily.

In fact, it can be dangerous to love someone who does not show his emotion, not very fun to love a man who is a snob. Real men who have Darcy-esque qualities in fact may be suffering from what bell hooks terms “patriarchal masculinity,” where they are emotionally cut down by society because nobody cares about their feelings.

A real man with a Darcy exterior may not have that rich internal life that Darcy has, and surely is unlikely to write verbose and life-altering letters to us. Darcy’s personality cannot be the end all-be all of male sexy. In fact, he could be perpetuating our current society’s obsession with an ideal patriarchal masculinity, with production of the “strong, silent” type.

I have real problems with that possibility.

As modern readers, we hope that our tough-on-the-outside men will be so in love with us they crumble into a pool of desperate emotion as Darcy seems to when he proposes to Elizabeth the first time. However, without the presence of Austen’s clever narrative voice simultaneously chastising and sympathizing with Darcy, I’m not sure we’d fall in love with him alongside Elizabeth.

Perhaps the reason Darcy is so appealing to me and others is that despite his seeming emotional constipation and adherence to the patriarchal society in which he exists, he was imagined and given breath by a woman. I feel like Jane Austen herself does not get enough credit for Darcy’s creation. Could his appeal be so universal without the author’s genius? Without her gender? What do you think?

Best,

Miss E

The Help- the movie vs. the book

I enjoyed the book The Help. While I did have initial issues with the concept of black maids in the 60’s risking everything to work on a white writer’s novel, I liked the vivid personalities of characters in the novel, (the bad ones and the good ones), and I enjoyed the writing on a sentence level.

All movies are different than the book- different media, different art, different relationship. I didn’t hate it- for me to say that about a movie that takes a little bit more of what Minny would call the heart palpitations. Despite the wonderful actors and the realistic costume design, I had some major problems with it.

I can narrow it down to 3 elements from the movie that really drove me nuts.

1). Lack of suspense and intensity. The book is infused with a sense of danger throughout. The film downplayed that danger and the tangible tension present in every chapter of the book. One of the book’s primary strengths for me is that it portrayed so many emotions so believably—the deep sadness of Skeeter in slowly losing everyone important to her and seeing her mother dying from cancer, the absolute terror of living in Jackson Mississippi during this time, the bloody horror when Minny finds a miscarriage and a collapsed employer in the bathroom, the threat of sexual violence against female characters and rampant misogyny, and the Help’s ever-present fear of Miss Hilly, white people, and of racial and sexual violence on a daily basis, etc. It always felt emotionally intense.

2).  In the book, no interaction was comfortable- the awkwardness between the society women, between blacks and whites, between Skeeter and her mother. The movie showed some of the awkwardness, but I was craving more, as weird as that sounds. Everything in the movie seemed  a little too easy.

3). So, speaking of awkwardness, the third thing about the movie that bothered me most was a specific scene—Minny’s interaction with her employers at the end.

In the novel, the last scene we have with Minny and her employers comes after Skeeter and Aibileen’s book is circulating through Jackson. Minny goes to work, anticipating that she will be fired, but her employers tell her she can have a job for the rest of her life. Minny and the Footes relationship could only be described as awkward and bizarre. Later, the conflict that has been building in the novel between Minny and her abusive husband Leroy escalates. Leroy locks her in the bathroom of their house and threatens to burn it down with her inside. She escapes, runs to the gas station barefoot, and calls Aibileen to tell her she’s going to live with her sister and she’s leaving Leroy for good.

In the movie, Minny walks in (after thinking she’s being attacked by her employer Mr. Foote) to a magnificent feast prepared solely by Miss Celia Foote. Then the narrator says something to the effect of “that meal gave Minny the courage she needed. She left Leroy that night.” That’s when I almost screamed in the theater. What!?

I’m sure you can see the problem with this discrepancy. The white family shows kindness to Minny, one of the most skeptical characters in the whole novel, and all of a sudden she decides to “turn her life around.” Although part of the comic relief in the movie comes from Celia’s confusing lack of racial and class boundaries, and well, boundaries in general, that feast just seems unbelievable. The narrative addition is just insulting to Minny’s character. It both takes from Minny and gives way too much to the Footes.

In the novel, Minny was very brave. She did what she had to do, but she stood up for herself more than most. She was not afraid to speak her mind, except in her abusive relationship.

Minny left Leroy to save herself, because the abuse had finally reached the point of threatening her life. That push to escape came from the realization that he could, and would kill her eventually, NOT a dinner from her white employers!

Yours with the heart palpitations,

Miss E

Looking for Pemberley?

Me too.  In fact, I have been looking for a while.

There are a few reasons that I chose to include Pemberley in the title of my blog.

I feel that Pemberley is significant to me and thousands, if not millions of others. It represents home, and it represents epiphanies. It was where Elizabeth had her AHA moment about Mr. Darcy, wasn’t it?

Reading Pride and Prejudice my freshman year of high school opened me up to the rewards of trudging through some maybe-not-so accessible language for a 20th century audience and long character descriptions, and was a pivotal moment in my life as a reader.

My first read took me about a month (partially because I re-read the first four chapters over and over and over trying to figure out which sister was which and why the new neighbor was so important), but after I was finished, I was exhilarated. I told all of my friends at school that the novel was amazing, and rented every P&P adaptation I could lay my hands on.

In high school, when other friends were out partying on the weekends, my best friend and I would geek out, rent an Austen adaptation and wallow in visions of the Edwardian period.  To us, the time Jane Austen lived in was brilliant and wonderful.

Many men seem baffled by this obsession with Austen. An ex-boyfriend once asked me, “why do you enjoy this so much? I mean, I can’t even understand what they are saying?” The answer was and always will be, (for me at least), courtship.

Courtship, you say? Yes. Courtship. The thought of having a man who attends social functions as part of his social manly duty, politely pursues you, and after your family is sure of his “intentions” really has to provide for you with an offer of marriage (albeit not always a happy one, but are they now?) or be called a cad for the rest of eternity seems pretty romantic when you are 16 and don’t fully understand the political contract of 18th century unions.

In high school, (and probably even in college), I would have given up anything to be wearing a bonnet and riding in a carriage with one of Austen’s characters. I don’t think this is unusual- check out the film Lost in Austen http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1117666/  for an entertaining parody of this desire (give it about a half hour to grow on you- it has a slow start).

I have fallen in, and out, and back in love with Austen’s world, but the love her most prolific novel inspired in me for reading, for human relationships, and for courtship, is a passion I will never stop looking for.

This blog is about my journey through life and literature, looking beyond Austen’s novels into text, media, and society for home and human connection.

Looking Forward to Blogging with you!

Cheers,

Miss E