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Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

by Julia

A good male friend recently asked me what percentage of the television shows I watch fit into the category of “Women Who for Some Reason Embrace the Patriarchy.” Avoiding the cop-out answer that “all popular culture reflects the patriarchy,” I realized that it’s a pretty large percentage. Anyone who has lived with me or spent any time in front a television with me knows that when I’m not watching The Wire or Ravens football, there’s a good chance that I’m watching TLC or MTV. I was into Jon & Kate plus 8 before Kate went blonde, I started watching the Duggars when they were at 13 Kids and Counting (now at 20, I think?), and I’m pretty sure my college roommate and I threw a watch party for the premiere of 16 and Pregnant (long before there were domestic violence awareness commercials at every break during Teen Mom).

Disregarding the fact that having articulated that list kind of makes me want to self-revoke my college and high school diplomas, I observe that all of these shows revolve around women reproducing, and either reproducing a lot or reproducing at a stigmatized age – both of which are categories of reproduction that I have neither experienced nor known anyone to experience. There are a lot of class observations to be made here (Kiera, I’m totally going write that post on dialectics and Teen Mom), but I want to focus this post more on the latest addition to my television line up (no, not Boardwalk Empire, though it is amazing): TLC’s Sister Wives.

Sister Wives documents the lives of Kody Brown, his three wives – (l-r) Janelle, Christine, and Meri -and their 13 children in Lehi, Utah. They lead relatively normal lives – all but one of the children attend public school, they wear conventional clothes, etc – except they all live in the same house with three separate apartments for each of the women, through which Kody rotates on a schedule, sleeping with a different woman each night. At first, it seems like Kody makes a real effort to spend equal time with each of the women (his meticulous schedule helps him – vomit). But as the show progresses, it’s clear that there is some serious inequality going on, all of which manifests in major jealousy among the wives. The show revolves around the major plot twist: 16 years since his last marriage (to Christine), Kody wants to add another wife to the family – Robyn (far right).

This show got over 2 million viewers for the premiere, and with such viewership comes, obviously, scrutiny. The scrutiny wasn’t limited to the Today Show, however: Utah police are looking into possibly prosecuting the Brown family for bigamy. Not really surprising given the huge media attention, and with this whole law school thing going on, I didn’t pay much attention to the progression of the story. That is, until my Torts professor announced that he would be representing the Brown family. My professor, a constitutional law scholar, explains his reasoning here.

So my fascination with the polygamist, patriarchy-embracing family took on a legal flavor. I hopped on my legal statute search engines and dug up the history of bigamy prosecutions in Utah. Turns out, there aren’t many. The ACLU gives a great summary here, but basically it comes down to this: “a person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person.” In the case of the Browns, Kody is only legally married to Meri, his first wife, and he cohabits with the other three women, thereby falling under this statute. Historically, Utah courts have be hesitant to prosecute claims of bigamy unless there are allegations of other crimes in the relationship: rape, incest, child abuse, etc. (More on the definition of “crime” as construed under this statute in a bit.) The reason for turning a blind eye? The Fourteen Amendment and, ironically enough, the landmark civil rights case of Lawrence v. Texas (2003). In Lawrence v. Texas, a Texas law criminalizing sodomy  was found to have violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the court said “absent injury to a person or abuse of an institution the law protects, consenting adults enjoy the freedom to define their private intimate relationships within ‘the confines of their homes and their own private lives.'” This same legal principle contributed to the relative freedoms women enjoy under Roe v. Wade.

Is this a matter of “Bigamy! From the people who brought you anal sex and abortions!”? As you would imagine, it’s not quite that simple. But the protection of privacy (and, in this case, the expression of religious beliefs) is what allows consenting adults to partake in polygamist marriages, absent any other crimes. As the ACLU points out, these other crimes can and should be prosecuted under other statutes.

However, by criminalizing private, consensual, adult relationships that are motivated by sincerely held religious beliefs, we fail to live up to the constitutional promise that consenting adults be free to maintain and define their personal relationships without fear of government interference.

So that explains why my professor is representing them. However, this is the same professor who spent the first two weeks of law school talking about Hegel, Critical Legal Studies, Queer Legal Theory, and Feminist Legal Theory. So how does feminism fit into all of this? I believe it all comes down to whether or not something as nebulous as patriarchy can be criminalized (answer: it can’t…who writes and enforces the laws to begin with??). But should patriarchal exploitation be criminalized in relationships between (or in this case, among) “consenting adults”? It is clear that there’s some major inequality going on in this family. I think a lot of what I’ve observed is pretty easily surmised, so I’ll just include two select stories that epitomize the relationship.

On their twentieth wedding anniversary, Meri and Kody discuss some of the jealousy problems that arose when Robyn was added to the family. Meri asks Kody the question that I had been wondering throughout the series: “How would you feel about me taking on another husband, or having another male lover?” Kody’s answer: “The thought of you with another guy sickens me and seems wrong to me. I feel like you want me to admit that what I’m doing is unfair – and that’s just not an emotion I’m willing to address.” Wrong on so many levels, all of which come down to patriarchy.

The most disturbing quotation from that same scene came when Kody and Meri discussed having another child. Meri and Kody have one child together, a teenage daughter, and though Meri used to want to have more children, fertility issues have prevented that, and now she has decided she doesn’t want to try for more children any more. She tells Kody that she doesn’t want to do in vitro fertilization, at which point Kody smiles and turns to the camera and says, “I haven’t been told ‘no’ in a strong enough fashion for it to mean ‘no’ yet.” I think that pretty much epitomizes the problems encompassing the entire show. Consent in this relationship, it seems, is a one-time deal. All of these women did choose freely to enter into this relationship, knowing that they would take on more wives, etc. But when it comes time to add the new wife, there really isn’t any negotiation – it’s the Kody Show. And this type of inequality, writ large, is the Patriarchy Show. And guess what? It’s not limited to polygamist marriages.

I’ll leave the analysis on deconstructing patriarchy within heterosexual relationships to another time (or perhaps another person), but it is essential to recognize that inequality pervades all relationships if you don’t actively resist it. This doesn’t mean we should stop having partnerships, but it does mean we all need to work incredibly hard to live up to the name we give our interactions and truly act as partners. The clear problem in Sister Wives is not the polygamy, it’s the patriarchy. There is no negotiation, no consent-seeking, and, therefore, no equality. And that’s incredibly oppressive and detrimental to women.

But should the state be intervening to prevent exploitative, patriarchal relationships? I’m sure you could find some feminist legal scholars out there who would argue for the criminalization of polygamy on these grounds, but then how many monogamous relationships would crumble under similar examination? While it pains me to watch the jealousy that plagues these women in this incredibly unequal relationship, I can think of other reality shows that portray similar levels of misogyny within supposedly “normal” marriages – rife with cheating, deceitful husbands and crying women left at home wondering what she did wrong. And I can think of millions of monogamous, “real-life” relationships that lack communication and equality.

The answer, then, is not to try to criminalize inequality in marriages. From a constitutional perspective, it’s a complete invasion of privacy. From a practical standpoint, it’s impossible. And from a feminist standpoint, it’s just not the right route. We need to strive towards demanding equality in our relationships. This comes from empowering both men and women to seek and desire consent in every iteration of the word, and to desire equality in their relationships. Partnerships can come in many forms, and it’s not my role to judge someone else’s choice, how many partners they want to have, or whether they want to have any all. It is my role, however, to be concerned with the lack of consenting partnerships. A partnership is a grounds for constant renegotiation of boundaries. What one initially consents to should not be binding. What breaks my heart about this show, then, is not that these women are in a polygamist relationship, but that they are stuck, like so many other women, in relationships that no longer make them comfortable and no longer fulfill them. The way to rectify this situation is not to criminalize their partnership, but rather to empower women and men to strive for a world in which no one exists in a oppressive partnership, for at that point, it ceases to become a partnership at all.

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by Julia

Many people warned me that I would have to abandon my google reader or even *gasp* facebook (not sure which one would be more traumatic to me) when I started law school. That I’m still keeping up with the news is probably not a miracle, and more likely a product of how I choose to spend my free time. I’m also lucky to have lots of friends who share links with me (or at least post them on newsfeeds), so I haven’t really missed anything too significant. (though there was an embarrassing moment when I thought the upcoming rally to “Restore Sanity” was hosted by Glenn Beck as a follow up to the 8-28 “restoring honor” rally. I was swiftly corrected by the Jon Stewart devotees in my early morning crim law class the day after the announcement…but now I’m kinda proud of my immediate association.) I hope you’ll forgive me, therefore, that some of these links are a lil old.

At any rate, here are some of the things I’ve been reading, and here’s to this not being an infrequent type of post!

Law degrees might be a dating liability for women, but I’m fine with narrowing the pool to people who don’t mind a woman who can support herself (and maybe her partner) financially.

Catharine MacKinnon’s name doesn’t usually sit well with me, but this piece on feminist jurisprudence which was cited in my Crim Law textbook is actually pretty neat.

Glad I’m not the only one who was kinda surprised by the whole Franzen fervor (especially in a feminist context).

This list reminded me how much I love non-fiction essays (and how much I miss reading the physical Sunday Magazine and New Yorker).

While watching Teen Mom (yea, I said it) a few weeks back, I saw this commercial for the first time in a while. And I sort of liked it at first. Until she says, “You should buy the same tampons as me,” poking fun at feminine product companies…and then tries to sell me her product. I can’t really sort out my ideas on it, so read this.

Some creepy new technology in which ads (and art) can track your gaze.

Aaaand the dance moves that women find attractive. Personally, they’re both pretty bizarre, and hopefully women and men alike will reevaluate their preferences.

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by Julia

This evening, the French Embassy in Washington, DC, along with L’Alliance Française, hosted an event honoring the new translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s watershed feminist masterpiece, The Second Sex. The appearance of the translators, Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier, drew an incredibly well-dressed crowd. On the first real fall evening in DC (finally!!), the women wrapped themselves in scarves and belted long cardigans, all sporting incredibly simple but striking outfits. (I’m not sure myself whether some of us chose to channel Simone, or whether we all just showed up emulating her because her influence on our lives is so great that it subconsciously permeates our habitudes.)

It’s hard to believe with such a significant work that it has not been translated into English since Howard M. Parshley attempted it in 1953. Parshley’s version, for lack of a better word, butchered the original text. He eliminated over 100 pages of text, most of which centering on examples of women in literature or Marxist-feminism. Parshley also deconstructed de Beauvoir’s grammatical structure by splitting up her paragraphs and altering punctuation for the benefit of appealing to larger English-reading audiences. By cutting out the difficulty and glossing over the philosophical concepts, Parshley deprived the English-speaking world of a just treatment of Simone’s largely philosophical musings on the female condition.

The significance of The Second Sex is well documented elsewhere, so I’ll just spend a moment highlighting the parts most relevant to the new translation. The Second Sex centers on the idea of this dichotomy of human experiences, specifically pertaining to men and women. The book is at its core a deconstruction of the myriad myths that cause women to be seen and see themselves as “other,” secondary, and dominated. (A lot of these myths stem, no doubt, from their perpetuation in her relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre.) The Second Sex was originally published in two volumes, translated respectively by Borde and Malovany-Chevallier as “Facts and Myths” and “Lived Experiences.” Both of these volumes analyze the myths surrounding women’s lives from every perspective: biological, psychological, economic, literary, philosophical, anthropological, linguistic, etc. This characteristic is one of the many reasons why The Second Sex remains such a wonderful entry point into feminist consciousness for many women and men.

The overarching myth that the translators wanted to maintain and emphasize was that of economic monism – the idea that men are better-suited to economic prowess than women. This myth is perpetuated through the aforementioned fields of human experience such that women are subjugated to men in every social (and even biological) encounter. This myth – that men are the producers and women are reproducers – rings true even today, when we see women playing into the same system that subjugates them, thereby reproducing.

(Side note – one of my favorite quotations works well here: “I don’t want to reproduce, I want to make something entirely new.”)

Borde said her most crucial task in this translation was putting the philosophy back in the text (M.A. Simons famously documented this silencing in her 1983 piece.) Simone was a student of Hegel and Heidegger, and her understanding of “subject” was much more nuanced than Parshley could recognize. His translation of “subject” bent toward the idea of “subjective” and “personal,” rather than that of the greater of the two states of being – the subject being the one with complete freedom of choice (rather than the object). This complete glossing-over of the philosophical significance of Simone’s etymology has ramifications for one’s overall impression of the text as a whole. After all, the modern feminist movement was largely built on this text – one wonders how the second wave feminists might have treated class difference and economics differently had the original intent of Simone been conveyed into the English translation (sigh).

The goal of the new translation was to discover the original intent of Simone de Beauvoir and convey her voice as written in 1949. The new version is completely unabridged – this means keeping Simone’s pages-long paragraphs and unconventional punctuation (mostly, the semicolon). (At the event tonight we all toasted, “Vive la point-virgule!”, a poke at Simone’s affinity for the oft-abused and misunderstood punctuation.) But this adherence to the original intent has extremely rewarding results, namely, conveying the logic of her grammatical choices, which have great philosophical significance.

In French grammar, words are assigned a gender (masculine, feminine, or neutral). Simone recognized that assigning genders to the very language we use probably was not an accident, and the translators did not gloss over the significance. (I should mention here that I’ve studied French my entire life. My mom taught French to high schoolers and is fluent, and I went so far as to minor in French in college.) The gender of words in French (or other languages) is something foreign to English-speaking students of the language. I remember coming up with mnemonic devices for French grammar lessons in middle school, most of which centered on the idea that the words en féminine that didn’t follow normal patterns were usually the “sad” words: la mort, la guerre, la bataille – death, war, battle (also, interestingly, all of the words for sex organs are female). Of course, there’s the obvious that for the majority of French words, the masculine is the default, and to make something feminine, one must somehow modify the word (usually adding an “e” to the ending). This is one pattern that English-speakers can recognize: Waiter/Waitress, Host/Hostess, and the most obvious, Man/Woman.

Thus, the treatment of Simone de Beauvoir’s famous quotation – On ne naît pas femme: on le devient – is critically altered in the new translation. The translation of this sentence hinges on the translation of the word “femme.” In French, “la femme” can mean “woman,” “the woman,” “wife,” or “maid.” Without the article, “femme” tends to convey more of the idea of “woman” as an institution – a construct of femininity as determined by society. Adhering to de Beauvoir’s intent is key to the significance of the phrase. H.M. Parshley’s translation reads:

One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”

Borde and Malovany-Chevallier translate the phrase as follows:

One is not born, but rather becomes, woman.”

This key treatment of the lack of an article is crucial. Clearly, Simone was not talking solely about the biological evolution into a physically mature woman. No, she was focused on the idea of “woman” as shaped by society.

After the English translation was published in late 2009 (in England, early 2010 in the United States), critics came out of the woodwork to jump to pick apart Borde and Malovany-Chevallier’s effort (including this inane review from the New York Times Book Review). I’m sure some of the critiques are warranted. The translators had previously worked on cookbooks and textbooks – definitely nothing this philosophical. And Toril Moi has an excellent analysis in the London Review of Books. However, the bigger picture is significant to keep in mind. The translators told the story of an Iranian woman who approached them at one of their stops on this book tour. She thanked them for helping to share Simone’s words with a new generation of women, for, she said, “reading this book made me realize I wasn’t insane.” The Second Sex is applicable to all societies and all eras of women – la lutte continue (the struggle continues). If the most important thing is to be free, then to be free necessitates understanding one’s condition. No work better addresses women – as constructs, biological beings, mothers, wives, workers – than The Second Sex, and I have such great respect for these women for toiling to provide as authentic a translation as possible.

The last question of the evening came from one of the outnumbered men in the room who asked whether if, given the advances of women over the past sixty years, any parts of the original text perhaps felt dated or irrelevant. Malovany-Chevallier softly replied, after a long pause, “very little.” She then reminded us of the story included during one of Simone’s long biological analyses, that of the relationship between the ovum and the sperm. Both equal gametes, the ovum’s job is to lay in wait for the sperm, endeavoring to create the best home for the future union. Simone remarked, “It might be rash to say that a woman’s place is [from the very start] in the home, but some people are rash.”

Indeed, there are many many myths remaining regarding women and people working had to perpetuate them. The myth of a woman’s place in society as beneath a man is manifested in many of our daily interactions, and to have a new translation of The Second Sex available is wonderful. To have one that rightly emphasizes the nuanced ways in which sexual hierarchy dominates our interactions – particularly economic – is truly revolutionary.

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by Julia

Oh hey! It’s been a while. Since we last posted, Elizabeth and I have both moved to DC (living separately, but meeting up for at least a happy hour once a week). We’ll try to update on our newish lives – working at an awesome non-profit for Liz, surviving 1L for Julia – but for now, here are some tabs!

It seems that even Terry Jones’s evangelical (and racist and sexist and xenophobic, etc) book publisher wants to distance itself from him. Creation House removed Jones’s best seller from their page, but fear not! There are some awesome books up there. On my list: The Apocalypse of Bob and the uber-progressive sounding How to Submit to Your Husband Joyfully. (*that’s the sound of sarcasm, btw*)

The US Senate is holding a hearing on the disturbing trend of police mistreatment of rape victims, partially because of the conduct of the Baltimore City Police Department. Background here.

A really neat report on the effects of a losing baseball team on a city – economically, emotionally, and narratively. Go O’s, regardless.

On internet memes. lolz internetz etc.

Money can buy you a better ranking, but not a better education. A revealing study on George Washington University.

The New Yorker covers the bleak Russian landscape and the history of Stalinist labor camps.

On the prison note, is it possible to  have a prison without walls? (whether or not it’s a good idea is a whole separate question)

Why there’s a bit more to the Ladies Night legal controversy, especially for feminists.

Finally, the confluence of a bunch of things that make me really happy:

anarchist kitteh

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by Julia:

So I’m less than a month away from starting law school. In the tradition of other law school bloggers, I’m gonna withhold (for right now) where I’m attending in the fall for the sake of related Google searches. If you’re really curious, any of the clues I give away in the Top Five will easily lead you to the answer. Rest assured, I’ll reveal this information soon, and anyone who knows me even remotely knows where I’m going. Anyway, I’m obviously excited to start this new chapter in my life, so I’ve been spending a fair amount of time recently perusing the site of my law school for various fun tidbits – course offerings, clinics, student organizations, etc. These factors were huge in deciding where I would ultimately attend school (location and $$$ were obviously up there, too), so it was a nice reminder to return to these traits that led me to choose my school a couple months back.

For fun, I also decided to look at the sites of some of the other schools I considered, but ultimately turned down, and compare their student programs/curricula. Some of the juxtapositions were too good, and needless to say, I’m super pleased with my decision.

Top Five Reasons My School is Better (at least for me):

5) Five of the professors featured on one of my favorite blogs, Feminist Law Professors, teach at my school. This is cool not only because of celeb status, but also because these profs offer some awesome classes and bring an ever-needed feminist perspective to the law. I’m happy that my views will not just be tolerated at my school, but hopefully welcomed with such a feminist-heavy faculty.

4) I have some great clinical opportunities in front of me. From immigration to domestic violence to older prisoners to vaccine injury to public justice, I’m confident that a lot of my interests in legal practice will be nurtured and guided by these clinical offerings.

3) My school has a large criminal justice reform project which aims to encourage re-entry programs rather than incarceration. With the US per-capita incarceration rate rivaling China (not to mention the mass incarceration of black men), this is a problem that needs to be addressed from both inside and outside of the legal fields.

2) Most large law schools have pretty diverse course offerings, especially when you reach the upper-level elective courses. Indeed, course offerings at one of the other contenders on my list were certainly enticing (so many Critical Legal Studies courses!) Nonetheless, my school’s size allows for a great diversity of courses. Hopefully I’ll be able to take some of these:

Feminist Legal Theory, Law and Literature (I’m looking at you, Dostoevsky/Kafka/Morrison, and others), Law and Psychiatry (Kevorkian!), Comparative Constitutional Law (mm, Scandinavia), Space Law and/or Law of the Sea, Seminar in Government Procurement of Intellectual Property, Law in Cyberspace (I’m really starting to get into the whole Intellectual Property field…), Employment Discrimination Law, Sexuality and the Law, Gender Discrimination and the Law, The Law of Democracy, White Collar Crime, Consumer Protection Law, Campaign Finance Law, etc.

1) My school has an active Anarchist Collective. A neighboring school has University-sponsored clubs for enthusiasts of beer, bridge, chess, board games, wine, Gilbert & Sullivan (actually…?),  and militia-building, but the only club which doesn’t receive funding from the University or the Student Bar Association is the club advocating reproductive justice. Law school fail. Meanwhile, my school fully funds the AC (mentioned above), a Feminist Forum, (a separate!) Law Association for Women, (and yet another “lady org”!!) Law Students for Reproductive Justice, Students for Drug Law Reform, The Innocence Project, and the Equal Justice Foundation, among many others.

But yea, we’ve got an Anarchist Collective. At the very least, this will provide me an insta-group of like-minded peers. I’m 100% ready to bridge the gap between my activism in college and my legal studies – can’t wait to forge ahead with that combination of skills.

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by Julia

I’ve been dealing a lot this summer with a not-uncommon state of conflict within myself (and with my elders) since graduation from college. A lot of me feels like the woman I write about on my résumé – a woman with a fabulously enriching college experience (in an academic and social sense) who is taking the next >2 months to relax in preparation for law school. A major part of this relaxation involves enjoying my independence. I’m grateful to have relative freedom in terms of how and with whom I spend my time during this transition.

Yet it would be disingenuous to paint this summer (and time in my life) as wholly independent of the opinions and pressures of those around me (in both a concrete and abstract sense). As a feminist in my early 20s, I have an indelible internal drive for achievement in every conceivable sense of the word. A major part of this quest centers on surrounding myself with the experiences, resources, people, and places who can both challenge and fulfill me. When I’m on this drive (which is almost always), I want little to stand in my way. I’m autonomous, god damn it!

This indignation, I’m sure, comes from a place of defense against attack. It is no surprise that woman today – even those of us standing in the wake of the second wave feminists – still face daily obstacles towards achieving autonomy. I’ve recently focused my feminism not so much on the idea of equality (with whom?…I don’t want to be like this), but on that of autonomy, which to me seems like I much more difficult, but ultimately more liberating, goal.

All of this is to say that,despite certainly sensing autonomous adulthood at times, I seem to crumble at the slightest sense of a challenge to my expression of choice. Am I aware that my emotional reaction might be a product of my youth? Sure. But I’m exasperated by constantly being told by those older than me (again, abstraction) that I’m incapable of making a choice – about my body, my relationships, my career – without outside input. At what point do young women cross over from being objects of others’s influence to subjects of our own choices?

As you can imagine, it was with great delight that I stumbled across Nancy Bauer’s new article on the New York Times’s feature, The Stone. This feature highlights modern day issues in a philosophical light, so clearly I’d be following it. But philosophy + feminism + dialectics + generational differences in understanding + Lady Gaga? Yea, I’m there, and then some.

I can’t think of a single category in modern society who wouldn’t benefit from reading this piece (maybe if you never interact with young women and never will…), so seriously, click through. Parents should read this. Partners and friends of young women should read this. Most of all, young women: read this.

In summary, Bauer uses the example of Lady Gaga to explain the phenomenon of post-second wave women. Lady Gaga is fabulously independent, seemingly impervious to outside criticism and speculation, and talented in her own right – not to mention progressive on issues of sexuality. At the same time, Gaga is often scantily dressed, pushing boundaries of “acceptable” entertainment, quite thin, and ultimately highly sexualized. What might seem like another analysis of a pop star’s antics quickly becomes entirely relevant to young women through political theory.

Bauer uses both Hegelian dialectics and Sartre’s philosophy on being-in-itself to explain that human beings at once experience themselves as subjects of their own desires and objects of society’s control. Explaining Sartre, Bauer writes:

On occasion we find ourselves pretending that we’re pure subjects, with no fixed nature, no past, no constraints, no limits.  And at other times we fool ourselves into believing that we’re pure objects, the helpless victims of others’ assessments, our own questionable proclivities, our material circumstances, our biology.

de Beauvoir takes this further by asserting that women experience this split more so than men, and often experience subjectivity in a sexual sense. Simone de Beauvoir also realized, however, that women are able to experience subjectivity without sexual objectification, but it is necessary to “re-describe how things are in a way that competes with the status quo story and leaves us craving social justice and the truly wide berth for self-expression that only it can provide.” This redefinition of the world in which we live requires struggle. Simone “warned that you can’t just will yourself to be free, that is, to abjure relentlessly the temptations to want only what the world wants you to want.”

Bauer stumbles when she asserts that Gaga’s autonomy centers solely on her sexuality. I disagree with Bauer (and others) that young women use solely sexual tactics to advance themselves – there are plenty of other choices that parents and elders do not understand that do not involve oral sex or fishnet stockings. What people of previous generations (and perhaps, all those outside of the experiences of young women) fail to realize is this: the choices that we make – even our mistakes – are self-interpreted as a type of power. Bauer admits:

What’s mind-boggling is how girls are able to understand engaging in it [read: deviance], especially when it’s unidirectional, as a form of power.

Until self-expression – sexual or not – is understood by others not as “mind-boggling” but rather natural behavior for female human beings, young women will continue to struggle against the divide between subjectivity and objectivity, until a separation no longer exists.

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by Julia

NOTE: When I watch SATC, I’m not trying to focus on the whiteness, thinness, richness, heterosexualness. That is all a given. So if you’re looking for that in a post, look elsewhere – there’s plenty on that. Or talk to me. Just don’t critique me for my hypocrisy. thanks 🙂

Last evening, I went to see Sex and the City 2 with my mom in Baltimore. Mom and I have shared Sex and the City as one of our girly guilty pleasure shows since I was in high school. Like Grey’s Anatomy, SATC always exists for me when I’m in the mood for semi-self reflection/semi-escapism from a television.  Naturally, the story lines within are familiar, and Mom and I were both interested to see where the lives of Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha would go next. In that respect, I was pleasantly surprised (with one major exception). The characters’s modern-day and materialistic existences are clearly not fulfilling them, and it takes a week away with the girls – of course – to remind them of their individual voices and needs.

*Spoilers ahead*

The film begins – where else? – in Manhattan, with the girls reuniting at Bergdorf Goodman to shop the registry for Stanford and Anthony’s GAY wedding. Some critics said these first few scenes were the best in the film, but I’ve never been a big Liza Minnelli fan (nor of overtly gay generalizations), so I’ll leave it to y’all to see the extravagance for yourselves. What I did enjoy about the first half of the film was the peek inside the lives of these women.

Charlotte is still with Harry and her adorable daughters Rose and Lily are proving quite taxing on the couple. Obviously, they’ve hired a gorgeous Irish nanny, Erin, who helps Charlotte out but also raises fears that Harry might cheat with the nanny. DRAMA. Samantha is 52, single, and going through menopause. Fortunately, she has the help of 44 hormones and supplements to maintain her notorious libido. Carrie is entering her third year of marriage with Big, and she worries that they are settling into a “normal” couple routine of nights in with TV and carry out. She also worries that any semblance of asserting herself would render her a “bitch wife who nags,” so she usually acquiesces to Big.

That brings us to Miranda. Miranda has always been my favorite character – probably because she leads the most realistic romantic life, contributes snarky remarks to conversations, and boasts a successful (if tiring) balance between her position as a partner in a law firm and a mother. Miranda’s home life is going well – Brady’s in second grade! – but she is being literally silenced at work by the new senior partner. One boardroom scene reveals the dynamics – all board members are white males, except for one black man and Miranda, a white female. The senior partner, also a white male, consistently puts his hand up to Miranda’s face when she speaks. I was really interested to see where this story line went, and really hoped it wouldn’t turn out that Miranda would quit and become a stay at home mom to avoid losing her voice at work.

Enter Abu Dhabi. I’ll take a few lines from Andrew O’ Hehir’s brilliant (if cynical) review of SATC2 to explain the transition:

“Do you really want me to reconstruct how this movie gets from a gay wedding in Connecticut through the lugubrious scenes of Carrie and Big’s vampire-like existence and onward somehow to a girls-only, all-expenses-paid luxury getaway to Abu Dhabi? Because I can’t.”

So the girls end up in the United Arab Emirates. Suspend your doubts, stifle your cringes with Carrie’s Alaadin analogies, and just roll with it. To keep this post from being too long, I’ll give you my take on the relatively plotless movie: it took a trip to the Middle East to help the women rediscover themselves – the women that I came to know inside and out throughout the series. I think this film would have taken a different turn had the women escaped to, say, Dubai. In a parallel world of excess, it is unlikely that the opportunity for cinematic self-reflection would have manifested. However inaccurate the cultural portrayals were (and they were pretty egregious – more on that in a minute), the comparison between the niqabi women of the UAE and the silenced SATC women was too hard to ignore. Observing one veiled woman being sheltered by her husband in the presence of Samantha’s antics, the girls remark that these women symbolically lack voices, and it is in this revelatory moment that Miranda and Charlotte rediscover themselves.

Miranda quits the big firm and joins what appears to be a public interest firm with an incredibly diverse group of attorneys. Yay! Charlotte takes time to herself and frees herself from the daily mommy routine. Erin, the nanny, is a lesbian – phew, no threat to the marriage there! And Samantha remains fabulously sexually active. Woo! Carrie, on the other hand…ugh. Throughout the series and this movie, she had been the proponent “making your own rules” and disregarding dating scripts. Yet she ends up in the most oppressive relationship of the film. I can only chalk it up to mediocre writing on Michael Patrick King’s part. That, or, you know, hegemonic monogamy or something, but I told myself I’d stay away from that in this blog post…

Much more disturbing than Carrie’s story line was the portrayal of “the other” in this film. Sadly, this includes the women and men of Abu Dhabi. I do not claim to be an expert on orientalism,  but even a cursory analysis of the film unveils obvious mischaracterizations. Just as the film portrays the SATC women in a overly materialistic, immature, and shallow light, so MPK paints Muslim women as universally silenced by aggressive men and their religions. This type of cultural misunderstanding is painfully accurate of Western perspectives on Islam of late (see: Sarkozy.) Muslim culture is exploited by the film in order to liberate the oppressed women of SATC. As Salon’s Wajahat Ali notes, this only results in further isolation of Muslim women – they are cast as intriguing, mysterious, and…silent. Our girls could have engaged with local women – at one point, I thought they were going to lead a feminist uprising of sorts! But, alas, the only cultural immersion consists of Carrie purchasing shoes for all of the ladies from a local vendor. In this way, our Manhattan visitors repeat the time-honored tradition of exploiting the natives in order to liberate themselves. (Ali also notes that the SATC women never exchange a word with any veiled women. I propose the creation of a new cultural Bechdel test.)

A greater message could certainly have included an anti-materialistic spin. For certain, “the ugly smell of unexamined privilege hangs over this film like the smoke from cheap incense.” It would seem that a materialistic existence in NYC hasn’t proven to be everything to everyone, but let’s not go too far, America. Could it be that MPK perhaps put feminism first, and in the next installment the girls will kick capitalism to the curb (with thrift store Louboutins!)? Nahh, probably not. Because, let’s be real, the clothes were fabulous. With the exception of  this film’s Ms. Exception, Carrie Bradshaw. Seriously, that skirt in the market? wtf.

No, what we’re left with is exactly what we expected: an escape into a world of material excess and personal strife. And, like all good “chick flicks,” this one made me pretty damn happy to be where I am.

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