How the Media Failed Women in 2013

I think this video ties in nicely to discussions we’ve had about how much has been accomplished with gender equality and how far we’ve yet to go, as well as cultural production. It’s interesting that most of the positive examples focus on popular media and women in media, while the negative examples are much more politically focused, though this may just be a conscious choice of the creator of the video. I found it surprising, too, how much biology and “hysteria” still figure into discourse against women.

Sidenote: Miss Representation, the film by the creators of the video seems pretty relevant to what we’ve been talking about over the past few weeks, as well. Trailer below!

The Role of Raittolbe

Raittolbe and Marie’s relationship in Monsieur Venús serves as a foil to Jacques and Raoule’s relationship and reveals the extent to which Jacques and Raoule’s relationship subverts traditional gender roles and sexual practices. Marie attempts to transform herself socially through her relationship, while Raoule attempts to transform Jacques physically/mentally through hers. In both relationships, the females seem to be the ones possessing agency to manipulate people and relations, and an analogy can certainly be drawn between female agency in Monsieur Venús and that in Pride and Prejudice. However, while Jacques and Raoule’s relationship seems intended to serve as the main subversion in the novel, it can be argued, too, that their relationship often strengthens traditional gender roles, similarly to the argument Catharine MacKinnon makes in “Sexuality, Pornography, and Method: ‘Pleasure Under Patriarchy’”: Raoule takes the role of the man in her relationship and acts “as a man would” by exercising sexual control over Jacques, who takes the submissive role of the woman. In this way, even if Raoule and Jacques’s sexual practices aren’t “congruent with gender identity as it has traditionally been constructed” (xxx), their practices still seem to conform to a heterosexual norm.

That’s not to say Raittolbe and Marie’s relationship does much by way of subversion, either. However, Raittolbe’s character alone presents an interesting case. His sexual attraction to various characters in the novel appear much more fluid than others’, even if he is conflicted about his own. He is at various times attracted to Marie, who may represent a heterosexual norm; to Raoule, as a woman who he knows often cross-dresses and acts as a “man”; and to Jacques, as a man who appears and acts as a “woman.” Even though Raittolbe’s gender identity appears stabler than Jacques and Raoule’s, his sexual attractions put the notion of a stable sexual identity into question.

Looking at Raoule and Jacques alone, sexual identity seems to be presumed, while gender identity is put into question. With the inclusion of Raittolbe, however, both identities are unclear, and in this novel about subversion, it seems as though there’s a double subversion going on, with Raittolbe subverting the relationship of the main subversive couple. What, then, is Rachilde trying to say about gender and sexual identities, given the fact that there still seems to be an ever-present straight male gaze (on Jacques more than on other women in the novel, though this, too, puts into question the notion of a “straight male gaze”)? Raittolbe certainly plays an important role in the development of Raoule and Jacques’s relationship as he acts upon his disapproval of the relationship and his attraction toward both parties, and his presence makes the subversive element of their relationship even more evident. However, in imagining what Raoule and Jacques’s might have been without the interference of Raittolbe, I wonder if Raoule would have treated Jacques any differently in her house if he were alive or dead. That is, if Jacques had lived, would he still have been kept like a prisoner in the Vénérade mansion as a figure for Raoule to control and manipulate as Raoule does at the end of the novel with her wax mannequin of Jacques? If so, what does this then indicate about Raittolbe’s role?

Maureen Johnson’s Coverflip

This was something I kept being reminded of while reading Cixous and was pretty popular story earlier this year, so many of you might have seen it already. Anyway:

YA author Maureen Johnson tweeted this:

And ended up getting a lot of responses like this:


Huffington Post wrote a story about the challenge (called Coverflip) that has a great slideshow of redesigned covers, including both books by men with covers redesigned “for women” and vice versa.

What I was concerned about while reading Cixous was how “feminine texts” could hope to achieve a larger audience beyond women if the publishing industry now is so aggressive/biased in their marketing toward women. She never really addresses the effect (if any) feminine texts may have upon men who read them, though it’s rather problematic if the only people who read women’s texts are women.

More links!

The Anonymous Woman

Many of the texts (Woolf, Walker, Cixous) we’ve read so far in this “Cultural and Knowledge Production” cluster have touched upon the notion of the anonymous woman writer/artist and the ramifications of her work. Cixous claims, “Unlike man who holds so dearly to his title…women couldn’t care less about the fear of decapitation…without the masculine temerity, into anonymity, which she can merge with without annihilating herself” (888). She asserts that it is because women do not have the castration anxiety that men have and that because, implicitly, women have nothing to lose, they can write without fear and truly explore themes of life, ego, etc. as they are collectively experienced.

But what does this mean for women’s authorship if woman does not feel she needs to “hold so dearly to her title” as men do? Is it always true that “feminine texts cannot fail to be more than subversive” (888)? Cixous states that it is impossible to define what feminine writing is (883) and that a work from a female author is not necessarily a feminine text (878). However, what does it mean when a “feminine” work written by a woman is submitted to the public anonymously? Does the public, then, have to recognize the work as feminine for it to be subversive, or will it actually be subversive because they can’t necessarily recognize it as feminine or written by a woman?

From the texts we’ve read, it seems that anonymous texts are empowering to women primarily when they are seen in a feminine light. Otherwise, though, it never seems to be mentioned whether they can effect change elsewhere besides among women. Indeed, this does not necessarily seem to be Cixous’s concern anyway as she writes, “it is by writing, from and toward women…that women will confirm women in a place other than that which is reserved in and by the symbolic” (881). Women shouldn’t have to or try to prove to men their capability because their words would indeed fall on deaf ears and blind eyes. However, what subversion can a woman writer/artist hope to achieve, aside from spurring other women to the realization that they, too, can break free from the symbolic? In that case, won’t she eventually just be preaching to the choir?

Looking now at Walker’s discussion of the anonymous female artist in “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens,” Walker comes to the conclusion that mothers and grandmothers “anonymously” pass on creativity and artistry to their daughters, who sign their own names to their work. In this case, the legacy of women’s artistry is passed on and recognized; some of their works may perhaps be called “feminine” as per Cixous. However, can mothers and grandmothers “anonymously” pass on creativity to their sons in the same way, and if their sons are influenced by their mothers as Walker describes daughters are, do men, too, pass on the legacy of women’s artistry? Or are men necessarily trapped within the “phallocentric tradition” and cannot ever hope to write a “feminine” text?

As both Cixous and Walker describe, women give their love and creativity without bound and without the desperate need to lay claim to authorship. However, this seems to be a double-edged sword as feminine works (or woman-influenced works) may not always be recognized as such. What does this mean for the anonymous woman artist, then, if the meaning of her work relies heavily on the interpretation of the public? Can she create, simultaneously to escape her own personal objectivity and to effect structural change?

Does Pride and Prejudice Hate Women?

In response to “Lizzy Bennet as unlike ‘Other Girls'”.

Margeaux’s post on Elizabeth being unlike “other girls”  was more or less how I felt after our last discussion. Why is it that Elizabeth gets to be unlike “other girls” and praised for it, while Mary is unlike “other girls” and cast off as a socially inept loner? While Pride and Prejudice is a book primarily about women, Elizabeth seems to be the only full-fledged, developed main female character in it. Mrs. Bennet is motivated only by her desire to climb the social ladder, Jane by some inexplicable innate good will toward all, Lydia by her libido, Kitty by her devotion to Lydia, Mary by her study, etc.

Elizabeth, on the other hand, gets to “have it all” and seems to be a character motivated by conflicts, but is she actually a full-fledged character? She says, “‘I deserve neither such praise nor such censure,’ cried Elizabeth; ‘ I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things'” (27), yet we ascribe to Elizabeth intelligence and bookishness (maybe we’re just conflating her with Belle from Beauty and the Beast?). What we do know about Elizabeth, though, is that she seems to like quite a bit: dancing, taking walks with others and by herself, having an opinion, making her sister happy, reading, writing—and this may perhaps be the genius of her character. She allows readers to project themselves onto her character. Elizabeth is at once not the “other girl” and a girl for all girls.

Elizabeth puts herself in direct opposition to Lydia as tells her father:

“Our importance, our respectability in the world, must be affected by the wild volatility, the assurance and disdain of all restraint which mark Lydia’s character…If you, my dear father, will not take the trouble of checking her exuberant spirits…her character will be fixed, and she will, at sixteen, be the most determined flirt that ever made herself and her family ridiculous. A flirt, too, in the worst and meanest degree of flirtation; without any attraction beyond youth and a tolerable person; and from the ignorance and emptiness of her mind, wholly unable to ward off any portion of that universal contempt which her rage for admiration will excite…can you suppose it possible that they will not be censured and despised wherever they are known, and that their sisters will not be often involved in the disgrace?”

While Elizabeth is from a different time and place than our own where the actions of one’s relations directly affected one’s own esteem, what Elizabeth does here is still slut-shaming. That Dumb Slut, Elizabeth says, is going to ruin our family (something brings to mind the Madonna/Whore complex mentioned in this article, among many other things mentioned in the article). Mr Bennet responds in kind, “Let us hope, therefore, that her being there [at Brighton] may teach her her own insignificance” (177), and the topic is dropped. Lydia and her desires have to be shamed into insignificance so that all may be right.

This interpretation of Elizabeth shines a different light on the irony of Caroline Bingley’s comment about Elizabeth: “‘Eliza Bennet,’ said Miss Bingley, when the door was closed on her, ‘is one of those young ladies who seek to recommend themselves to the other sex, by undervaluing their own; and with many men, I dare say, it succeeds'” (29). While it may not be that Elizabeth herself explicitly undervalues those of her own sex (as Miss Bingley does), it is rather the way she is portrayed in light of the other women in Pride and Prejudice that is even more subversive in undervaluing “other girls.”

Note: an argument could be made, too, that there is something problematic about how Darcy is unlike “other guys” as Mrs Reynolds says he is “Not like the wild young men now-a-days, who think of nothing but themselves…Some people call him proud…To my fancy, it is only because he does not rattle away like other young men” (188).

Jane Austen, Game Theorist

In the Freakonomics podcast on Michael Chwe’s book, Jane Austen, Game TheoristChwe says:

So the very first manipulation is Mr. Bingley shows up with his sister and they rent out Netherfield which is this estate nearby. And so Mr. Bingley’s sister invites Jane to come for dinner. And the first manipulation is Mrs. Bennet says, “Well you’ve got to go on horseback.” … The daughters say, “Why horseback? Shouldn’t she take the carriage?” And Mrs. Bennet says, “Well, it’s going to rain and if she goes on horseback it is very likely that they will invite her to stay the night, and hence she’ll get to spend more time.” [I]t seems kind of silly but you have to play for keeps…If you know if somebody marriageable is nearby and you have a chance to spend 20 more minutes with that person, you’ve got to go for it…Mrs. Bennet is not a very sympathetic character, and she seems to be very foolish, but if you look at what she accomplishes, it is pretty good.

If Mrs Bennet, then, is such a great game theorist, or at least an extremely rational strategist, why is it that she’s such an unsympathetic character? If instead the roles were reversed and Mr Bennet were the one anxious to see his daughters married off, would he be presented as unsympathetically? Perhaps an argument could be made that Jane Austen, acting in true game theorist fashion, portrays Mr and Mrs Bennet as strategic foils of each other. Mrs Bennet, more “simple-minded,” speaks openly about her desire to marry her daughters off and the strategies she uses to see her goal through. Mr Bennet, despite his portrayal as not being too involved with his daughters’ affairs, is, too, anxious about his daughters’ future, but doesn’t make it evident: he visits Mr Bingley without his family knowing so that the women may visit him later on. However, an additional case might be made that Mr Bennet does not have to be too anxious about his daughters’ future, even that he might not know the depth of such anxiety.

Mr and Mrs Bennet’s opposing natures intimate that there may be some underlying truth guiding Mrs Bennet’s actions, that she may not necessarily be as simple-minded as she appears. An uncovering of the truth might be found in Charlotte, who says:

If a woman conceals her affection with the same skill from the object of it, she may lose the opportunity of fixing him; and it will then be but poor consolation to believe the world equally in the dark. There is so much of gratitude or vanity in almost every attachment, that it is not safe to leave any to itself. We can all begin freely—a slight preference is natural enough; but there are very few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement. In nine cases out of ten, a woman had better shew more affection than she feels. (15)

This appears to be Caroline Bingley’s strategy toward wooing Darcy, which, however, is fairly ineffective in swaying his affection away from Elizabeth. In her interactions with Darcy, Caroline Bingley comes off as cloying and desperate—uncannily similar to Mrs Bennet. What can be said about Mrs Bennet, then, is that perhaps she takes on this role of “shewing more affection” for her daughters. Presenting herself, whether unintentionally or not, as cloying and desperate to climb the social ladder, Mrs Bennet allows Jane to retain her demure nature in the eyes of Mr Bingley, while still presenting him (albeit via Mrs Bennet) with an overabundance of affection, with the “encouragement to be really in love” needed to solidify their relationship.

Thus it seems that throughout the first half of Pride and Prejudice, women must constantly put some woman (or multiple women or themselves) down in order to raise another woman up. This is evident most in Mrs Bennet, who repeatedly compares her daughters’ looks to each other in order to make one stand out, and Caroline Bingley, who criticizes the Bennets in hopes that Darcy will grow to like Elizabeth less. Jane Austen’s great combination of game theorist and social commentator shines in such cases as she depicts a society in which women must strategically climb over one another, indeed even beating other women down, in order to get ahead, while men hover much more in the periphery with the security of inherited money, essentially guaranteeing them wives and stable lives without having to put in as much effort of their own.