Monday, June 14, 2010

A Feminist Reading of Just about Everything

Caryl Churchill’s play, “Top Girls,” uses the trope of 80’s women’s liberation as the lens through which it views feminist history. The play features a character, a “modern woman,” who comes breezing into the employment agency, where she works as an executive, on a Monday morning, still ecstatically giddy over spending the weekend with her lover, while his wife was away. “It was just like we lived together,” she says wistfully.

Which brings me to this question: Does the modern portrayal of women in art contain any dignity, or is it merely the same message of grateful repression hiding behind a different disguise? The concept of “reality” shows springs to mind. The “Real Housewives” series on Bravo features a group of wealthy women who came into money and power through their husbands. “Kendra” features a young, beautiful wife and mother who came into money and fame through Hugh Hefner (and now her pro-football-playing husband). Is it hazardous to glorify these images of women at the expense of all of the other ones available to us today?

The feminist would argue, of course, that the media’s decision to glorify these women illustrates how subjugated we still are. These women acquired money and power through their relationships with men; in fact, it is because of men that these women are wealthy or powerful at all; and although they start their own charities and plan their own parties, these are more along the lines of “busy work,” meant to create rating-enhancing drama and lucrative tax write-offs (which, again, benefit their husbands).

An anti-feminist would disagree. She would see in this media glorification the underlying message of equality; for no matter how they chose to come into their money and power, they were still making conscious choices, a feat that represents true equality. Kendra may never be as famous as the man who discovered her, but she is certainly more famous than her husband. She is the star of her “reality” show, not because she kowtows to men, but because she makes all of her own decisions. People have the freedom to change the channel and find something more “feminist friendly” if they so desire.

Is that true? If we do change the channel, what other archetypes of women will be waiting to greet us? I thought about why there wasn’t a “reality” show about poor women, single-mothers struggling to get by, or teachers or doctors. When we do see women in these roles, they are fictionalized, decorated, and beautiful. What kind of “reality” is that?

Maybe I’m making too much of things again, I thought. Maybe images of men are just as shallow. Maybe it’s just a symptom of the times. Honestly, “The Situation,” from MTV’s “Jersey Shore,” cannot be doing anything to advocate for men either. The difference is, however, that there are a plethora of powerful men on TV. Powerful men are all around us; and they usually did not get there by relying on their wives’ money.

I would like to see the tables turned a bit: a “reality” show that features a group of young hunks with gorgeous bodies, former pool boys and gardeners, whose older wives are the bread-winners. Let’s watch the lively hijinks that ensue when their disparate personalities collide, as they use their spouses’ money and reputation to attract attention. Oh, and they have to stand out on street corners, usually drunk, in the middle of the night, verbally attacking one another, at least once every episode, kind of like “Jerry Springer” in Prada. Think anybody would watch it?

Which brings me back to “The Situation” and the fact that much of our society already does. We love to watch people humiliating themselves. Just look at competitive shows like “Wipeout,” on ABC. Men and women trip, slip, and fall off things, all in the name of money. When a society blindly chases profit, as America does, it objectifies everyone, regardless of gender. Until we begin teaching people authentic skills with which they can use to help others, we will continue to worship greed and money; and as long as we worship greed and money, women will go on being objectified, the only way they know how.

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