Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Insecurities of (Hollywood) Men

You know what I would like to see an end to? Fictional scenes in biographical films where a woman has to choose between her career and her husband. It seems like Hollywood can't imagine a man would actually be willing to stand by a more famous and successful wife, whatever era they live in, and so they have to write them into every biographical film on a female subject. I honestly can't think of any that don't feature them. And while it is true that some marriages might break up over a husband's insecurity over his wife's success; it's also very true that there are men out there that are just fine with their wife being more well-known or successful then themselves.

In both the Annie Oakley (1932) and Annie Get Your Gun films, after out-shooting Frank Butler throughout a competition, Annie Oakley ends up throwing it at the last minute, because his fragile male ego couldn't handle losing to a woman and because she's enamored with him and thinks she has to lose to win his affections. Yet in real life, she wins the competition between them and after they eventually got together, Butler willingly quit his career as showman sharpshooter to manage Oakley's career. They had a long and happy showbiz marriage with him as manager behind the scenes, and her the successful star, they died within a few weeks of each other and everyone said when Butler followed Oakley so quickly it was from a broken heart.

In The Rosa Parks Story, even Rosa Parks for crying out loud, they show her husband as jealous of the time she's spending working with the NAACP. Which does Raymond Parks a total disservice. Raymond Parks was also active in the civil rights movement, and although he was worried about his wife's safety, especially once she became such a public figure after the bus boycott started; he absolutely did support her work in the movement. The two were married until his death in 1977.

In Princess Kaiulani, a film about the last Hawaiian heir to the throne; Princess Kaiulani is sent to England for schooling to escape some of the unrest at home. There she gets meets and gets engaged to a young man named Clive Davies. The movie is a result of a great deal of speculation, since the whole romance in the film is based upon one letter stating the princess may have been engaged to Davies, all circumstances surrounding it, and the engagement's end, completely unknown. So anyway, Davies claims he will come to Hawaii and support her as princess and later queen, and repeats over and over that he knows how much her people and land mean to her. She gets back to Hawaii soon after the Dole corporation has deposed the monarchy and Davies comes after her to bring her back to civilization and have her be a proper Victorian wife for him now that her people no longer need her. Or something like that. She promptly refuses him and says with a hostile business having just taken over the monarchy in a coup, the new government is now denying native Hawaiians any rights or privileges, so her oppressed and beaten people need her as their advocate more than he needs a trophy wife cooped up a home. But thanks for playing as a contestant in the self-centered egoist contest.

The best send-up of the trope was in The Calendar Girls, a movie based on a women's club in England. After a member's husband dies from cancer, they decided to do their yearly calendar with photos of them posing nude and give the money to a cancer charity. The whole thing becomes a worldwide sensation. Chris (Helen Mirren), who had the idea for it, absolutely relishes their completely unexpected fame. Up until then, she has run a floral business out of her home with her husband, and been an attentive mother to her 16 year old son. And when the whole success thing starts, she makes it very clear to her family that promoting the calendar will last for a year, and then she will be back home, no exceptions. While on the road doing interviews, she gets word that her son has gotten into trouble with the police, and Annie, who's husband was the one who died, totally lays into Chris for daring to leave her family in the first place, for daring to like success, for daring to have fun, etc. And it's all so ridiculous because as I said, Chris up until this point has clearly been an attentive wife and mother, she clearly knows this fame is not going to last and while she's enjoying it she hasn't become overly selfish or arrogant about it, and again, it's only for ONE YEAR! So Chris goes home upset and talks it over with her husband. In a Hollywood film, the husband very likely would have added to Chris' guilt and misery about how badly she's been treating them or neglecting them and all that. But amazingly and refreshingly, her husband simply says I'm proud of what you've done, keep doing it; and our son's an idiot and would be an idiot whether or not you were here. So way to resist the insecurity trap Calendar Girls.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

One step....sideways for human rights?

So yesterday the Senate voted a repeal on the Don't Ask Don't Tell law, which has cost a staggering 13,500 military personnel to lose their jobs because of their sexuality over the 17 years it's been in effect. (I've never quite understood how it's federal law that you can't discriminate based on gender, age, race or sexuality; yet a branch of the federal government is able to do so.) So now it only remains for Pres. Obama to sign into law, and he has already expressed his support of it. And since the Secretary of Defense, and several Pentagon officials have already expressed their support of the Repeal, hopefully there are no appeals. So good on you Congress for finally doing the right thing.

But before celebrating too much, let's see what else Congress was up to this week. Why, the House voted against the Child Marriage Prevention Act (the Senate had already passed the Act unanimously). The House claimed it would support abortion and be too costly. It's alleged cost? Well, the bill itself actually does not specify ANY cost whatsoever. The opponents came up with the number of $108 million over a 5 year period. Even if that were true, this after a tax cut which will create a $858 billion deficit signed just a few days before. And $108 billion over 5 years is an incredibly paltry sum. Especially in comparison to the billions being spend on defense yearly. And finally, the bill says absolutely nothing about abortion or family planning. Not one thing. The bill is to prevent girls from getting married, it is not addressing girls who are already married and possibly trying to get out of said marriage and don't want children because then their families will make sure they stay in said marriage. Nope, not in there.
Seriously Congress, an estimated 60 million girls worldwide under the age of 17 are married off. Because these girls are having children before their bodies are ready: they are dying in childbirth; or they develop fistulas for which many developing countries don't have the doctors or the resources to fix and they have to live with the stigma and infections, smells, and sores that accompany it; their children are often premature, malnourished, or stillborn. They are unable to complete their education, and it is proven that for every year of education a mother has, her family's income and education for her children rises, as well as the size of the family decreasing to a manageable amount. How can that not be a good thing?

So major yeas for doing one thing right Congress, but also major boos for doing another wrong.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Cliches that need to be buried forever

--The bastardized Beatrice and Benedick romance. The sassy female protagonist loathes on sight the arrogant insulting cruel vindictive dirtbag male (but secretly can't stop thinking about him cause he's just so dreamy), and they try to kill each other, literally or figuratively, throughout the story. Yet it turns out, under that crusty evil exterior, the guy's just really an old softy with a heart of gold. And they go from loathing to wedding or bedding within about 4 pages. For examples see 80% of all YA fiction, 60% of all urban/paranormal fantasy, and 100% of all romance.

--As an extension of that bad boy thing, how in period pieces, there's a tendency to Byronify the male hero as much as possible, and make him all brooding, glowering, and mysterious; even if the original character bore very little resemblance to such a character.

--Misery lit and putting characters through every single possible tragedy imaginable without a single ray of hope anywhere.

--The wish fulfillment characters, most notably embodied in the Bella Swann types. If not only the character, but also the narrator, mention almost every other page about how ordinary or plain or awkward or unremarkable she/he is; and the character as written also has zero personality, charm or common sense and is often also self-absorbed in the extreme; don't make every character of the opposite gender fall madly in love with them. Seriously. If your character has all the personality of a rock, and on top of that is whiny, self-obsessed, vacant, and supposedly unattractive--is everyone really going to be falling all over themselves to get with them?

--How many writers have what's touted to be a "feminist" work but their work is only feminist in that it passed a feminist in a subway once. And they can't create their main heroine without making her extremely pushy, shouty, nosy, lacking in any tact or empathy whatsoever; and she must always suffer a huge comedown where she learns her place by ending up in humiliating and humbling circumstances because of her meddling or her reaching outside her sphere.

--The next time I see an female superhero, fighter, police detective or other active profession doing their jobs in high heels and especially stilettos, I can't be held responsible for my actions.

--Protagonists who have never fought or have any training whatsoever going up against a whole gang to bringing them all down single-handedly. Or additionally, a hero/heroine who has never had any magic training or used their magic before managing to save the whole world through their powers.

--The glamor fatal illness, where the character grows more and more radiant and beautiful as they die.

Any others to add?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

My struggle to remain healthy is gradually killing me

So, pain. I've been on intimate terms with pain for some time now. I've had chronic illnesses for 12 years, and so it's not a day goes by that's pain free. Not a day goes by that I'm not in agony. And generally, I don't talk about it. I never have talked much about it. This thing rules my life in so many ways, that I'm bored of giving it so much time and attention, so I don't like to give it additional time and energy by then talking about it. As Thomas De Baggio said: "It is not long before you are under the spell of the disease. Its heartbeat is your heartbeat. There is danger in trying to understand evil, especially when it is so close to you, gaining control...I worry I will become too conversant with this disease in me, and it will hijack my life with my permission."
And additionally, our society doesn't like chronic illnesses or dealing with the differently abled. You need to get better, or it needs to kill you. None of these in between nonsense. And so people often don't really know how to deal with talking about someone else's pain or disability. They tend to back up a little, their eyes glaze over, and you can see them just dying to move on to the next person. You get all sorts of comments along the lines of "You still have that? Maybe if you really just pushed yourself just a little more and didn't dwell on it, you'd feel better. Maybe it's depression. Are you sure it's not just in your head? You can't blame everything on your illness. Yea, I had mono/the flu/broken leg/etc once, so I know exactly how you feel." And you get friends or acquaintances, or family that may say they understand, but after you've had to cancel on them three times in a row, or have a reason why you can't come for the holidays, or whatever else, they take it very personally. It's not your illness, very clearly you are trying to brush them off, and/or you are just being selfish. No matter how much you try to explain, it's never enough. So you get good at trying to hide how bad things really are. And you avoid the elephant in the room for your sake, and for others.

And there's the doctors. Who are not God. Who are not even close.
But who have been set up to be gods, and believe there's nothing they don't know, and nothing they can't fix. So when they come across an stubborn case, they don't like it. They get annoyed, like you are remaining ill just to spite them somehow. Or else they don't try so as to not fail. They give a little pat on the head, say it' s too bad you have this, but there's really not much they can do, sorry. Or if by some chance, you do find a caring doctor who will pursue every possible course for you, and you still remain ill, they throw up their hands and say well, you've certainly got me baffled. And you almost feel bad for putting them through such trouble. While maybe you get one that still doesn't give up on you after that, but still keeps trying, it gets old, hearing from doctor after doctor that you baffle them. That you flummox them. That they don't really know what else to do. And every time you walk out of an encounter like any of the above, another small piece of hope dies.

People like to talk about what a great teacher pain is, and how you must be learning so many Lessons! And Answers! And Truths! And it's true. There is a great deal that you learn from chronic illnesses/pain or disability. But there are probably other ways you can learn the same lessons. Anne Morrow Lindbergh: "I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness and the willingness to remain vulnerable." To which I say, amen. If you don't have some of those qualities, or learn them along the way, your suffering won't teach you are darn thing. It will instead just turn you a cranky bitter person everyone hates to visit like Mrs Snow in Pollyanna.

But you have no choice but to carry on. And so:

and you get through another day and fall into bed and pray for strength to get through the night, and then strength to get through the day upon waking. And you survive, day after day because there's nothing else to do. But you wish desperately for a day where life isn't just survival or mere endurance, but something more. And in the mean time you are still oddly grateful to still be here. To still feel the wind. To see the fall colors, or a waterfall, or the ocean, or the mountains. To have family. To explore the world vicariously through books or movies or the internet, or the stories of others. And if nothing else, pain has taught you to live in the present. To be grateful for those things you can still do. For those rare moments where the pain subsides. For really living in your body--learning your limits, figuring out the signals when a relapse or flare-up is coming on, being hyper-aware of every part of you because you've felt pain in places you previously never even knew existed. For learning that life doesn't ever turn out the way you expect, but even so and despite everything, maybe it's ok after all.
(Blossom of Pain by Edvard Munch)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

House of Bernarda Alba & sisterhood in films

Spoilers below just in case you ever intend to see the following film.

I recently watched the House of Bernarda Alba, a Spanish movie set sometime in the early 1900s. The father of the family dies, and the mother, Bernarda, declares that she and her five daughters are going to observe 7 years of mourning, and none of the daughters are allowed to leave the house until the period of mourning is up. The daughters are between 20 and 40 years of age, none yet married. And naturally, the older ones despair that they will truly miss their chance of finding a husband. But a ray of light shines in that the oldest daughter Angustias, is lucky enough to have a dashing suitor named Pepe declare interest in her (or rather her money) before they go in for mourning, so their engagement is set; but he can only talk to Angustias through the window for the next 7 years till she's out of mourning. And this is where it all starts to go bad. And I do mean bad. The other sisters are extremely jealous and obsess over Pepe; several listen in to the conversations Angustias has with him, one sister does everything she can to steal him away from Angustias, and of course it all ends very badly and with pregnancy, suicide and attempted murder.

In a culture or time where women are taught that their only purpose in life is to be a wife or mother and that purpose isn't realized, and they were allowed little to no other occupations outside of that; no doubt it was possible for some women to become mentally off-balanced and obsessive over it. Stalkings, obsession and murders are committed by women still today. And of course there are far too many unhappy families everywhere where the home is full of back-stabbing, jealousy and bitterness. And bullying is a serious issue among both girls and boys in schools (although despite all the hand-wringing over "mean girls," there's no evidence it's any more prevalent among the girls than boys).
But my issue is that this is the vision of sisterhood that is presented so often in films. Going by the bulk of these films, it seems that sisters or women friends can't truly love and support each other, but are instead doing everything they can to sabotage or destroy each other, often while they go insane over a man they can't have. Again, I don't doubt that it happened sometimes in the past or that it can still happen today. But I get sick and tired of seeing female friendships or sisterhood portrayed onscreen as this twisted ugly thing that is so far removed from the reality I've witnessed and lived. My immediate family is what I refer to as my matriarchy--I have 6 sisters and 1 brother, and that gender disparity carried over into the next generation with 7 nieces and 2 nephews; and then most of my friends have been women. So I'm pretty familiar with a house full of women. I haven't always gotten along with all of my family or friends, especially when in high school where everyone's cranky and pubescent and taking it out on everyone else, and there have been occasional times of envy or resentment or simply irritation and a need to distance yourself from the others. But you know, not once did we ever try to kill each other. Or steal someone else's spouse or boyfriend. Or attempt suicide because of someone else getting the guy we wanted. Or sabotaged someone's career or marriage. Or spread lies about them so they were ostracized from the family. And you know what else, in my admittedly unscientific observations of female co-worker's and friend's lives, neither have they. Shockingly.