Tuesday, June 18, 2013

What Does That Mean?

There is a movie, called Mona Lisa Smile, that is a particular favorite of mine. I can't stop myself from watching it anytime it's on, or seeking it out (it's on Netflix, by the way). If you've never heard of it, here's a little background: Mona Lisa Smile is set at Wellesley College (one of the Seven Sisters) during the 1953-1954 school year, as Katherine Watson becomes a professor teaching Art History in a time when women are trying to figure out where their place is. The women of the college are mostly there for their MRS degrees, but Katherine seeks to change their minds about what they could do with their lives, and the movie mostly centers around this idea of what feminism really is. Which, of course, got me thinking. What is "feminism"? What does it mean?

One of my favorite scenes is about halfway through the movie. In it, Katherine has just had an editorial written about her, wherein it describes how she is trying to undermine Wellesley and all of it's goals. And...well, she reacts. Accordingly.

After this scene, Katherine visits one of her students, Joan (blonde bob, played by Julia Styles), to try and get her to consider graduate law programs in Philadelphia, where Joan's boyfriend/fiancee/husband (they elope right after this) will be going to graduate school at U. Penn. And Joan's reaction? Another inspiring speech. I tried finding it on Youtube, but the best I can tell you is to watch the movie. Everyone talks about the scene above (which may or may not have been the first scene I saw of the movie), but to me the scene with Joan is equally as inspiring. Basically, Katherine asks why Joan doesn't want to pursue a career in law and be married, and Joan replies that a family is more important to her. Which Katherine reacts badly to.

Is Katherine a "feminist"? To steal a page from the lady herself, "What does that mean?" (Imagine saying it the way she does in the clip. It packs more of a punch.)

I don't think I've really every understood what was so great about "feminism," what made it a subject that had to be constantly discussed when we analyzed readings or history or art. The typical stereotype of a feminist is a woman who doesn't try to do her hair, doesn't wear any makeup, doesn't put on what most of us would consider a polished wardrobe, who doesn't date men because all men are a stereotype, and everything is a study in how it promotes men over women (does anyone remember the "Semester vs. Ovester" scene from Legally Blonde? yeah.).

How is that feminist? How does that image promote the idea that women are equal to men? Because the women of that image are trying to be men? It's penis envy, pure and simple. Women who are trying to be men. Perhaps that's what feminism really is, but if that's the case, then I guess I fail in the fight.

I like being a girl, I like being able to wear clothes and dresses and cute shoes and have bags that are pretty and functional, because, I am sorry, but I'm one of those people, I need a lot of things in my daily life, and if I were a guy, where the hell would I keep them? And make-up. I'm sorry, make-up is fun. That's why when a girl gets some new make-up, she says she's playing with it. And while I don't believe we need a lot, all I can stress is, it's fun. So I guess I would suck as an Enid-style feminist.

I do expect things of women. I expect they be able to cook, I expect them to be cleanly, as a general rule. I expect them to know how to dress well and to take care of themselves and speak well and be intelligent and be able to do their own laundry. And I realize that this is all part of the list of traditional "feminism" no-noes. Women are not to be relegated to the house. But you know what? I expect all of these things of men, as well. I expect them to be able to cook and to be clean and to know how to dress and do all of the things I would expect of women. Being a college student, especially going to an Ivy, I expect men to want the same things in life as a woman.

A couple of months ago, my dad emailed me two articles, one entitled something along the lines of "Ivy League Women Have a Duty" and another, follow up, entitled "To Serve Women." I can't help but say it, I agree with this article. If your going to spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars on a top notch education simply to be thrust into a more desirable market for men, please just leave. Don't waste the precious few spots there are, don't waste your professor's time. Is that crude? Does that make a feminist? Does what I said before about dresses and shoes and make-up negate this idea?

I don't think I really understand this idea that women must be men in order to be equal. Or perhaps I'm misunderstanding the idea of feminism as a whole. Whichever, it seems clear to me that our fascination with feminism is utterly idiotic. Of course women have power. Who the hell is it who continues the human race? Right. Who is who kept the country going while the men were off to war? Right. Who is it who takes on some of the hardest jobs in the artistic world, including the cutthroat world of ballet, as well as that of female singers? Who is who inspired several hundreds of thousands of artists over the years? Right. Who is it who is the personification of various ideas, including everything from Wisdom to Lust? Right. So the idea women need to "take back power"? I wasn't aware we had lost it. Or does being a woman, being described graceful and beautiful and feminine, really seem like such an insult?

Perhaps this post seemed a little less planned than previous ones; that shouldn't surprise you. This idea of feminism has always baffled me, and it comes as no surprise if it comes out in this post. (I'm even not sure when I should be putting quotes around the word, and when I shouldn't!) But here's the question I pose: What does feminism mean? What makes it good, or bad? Who decides?

And for the love of God, what the hell does, "A girdle to set you free" mean?
"It was my choice. Not to go. He would've supported it. . . . I know exactly what I'm doing, and it doesn't make me any less smart. . . . You stand in class and tell us to look beyond the image, but you don't. To you, a housewife is someone who sold her soul for a center hall Colonial. She has no depth, no intellect, no interests. . . You're the one who said I could do anything I wanted. This is what I want." ~ Mona Lisa Smile, Joan (played by Julia Styles)

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