Jenny's Library

Reading Russ – Part 5

Posted on: May 18, 2013

Chapter 4: Pollution of Agency

Russ spends much of this chapter demonstrating that even though it’s no longer scandalous for women to be writers or actresses, women writing about certain aspects of their lives is still considered immodest and renders the author unfit and unloveable in the eyes of popular culture.

photo of actor Quvenzhané Wallis

How sweet is Quvenzhané Wallis in this (and every) picture?

Sadly, I think the mores of the past are not nearly as diluted as all that.  Actresses may no longer be considered “used goods” but sometimes it seems only barely.  As I was reading this chapter my mind kept going back to the appalling behavior of this year’s Oscar host.  Not just when McFarlane called then nine year old Quvenzhané Wallis a gendered, sexual slur on national television.  Not to mention the myriad of other gendered and sexualized insults aimed at the women that were supposedly there to be honored.  But also how important it was to the punchline in his “We Saw Your Boobs” song and dance that the actresses mentioned felt ashamed for having done the job they were paid to do.  To the point that, rather than leaving it to chance, they filmed staged reaction shots showing the actors mentioned hiding their faces and looking shocked and embarrassed.  This wasn’t just a silly song about boobs, it was above all a song about how it’s shameful to be a woman who has let the public see her breasts.

photo of actor Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron wants to know how anyone finds McFarlane funny.

Let’s also not pretend that this scorn of women performing sexuality is something only raving sexist pigs do.

This morning my timeline was all a-twitter over Ms. Magazine’s Spring 2013 cover story about Beyonce, her feminist viewpoints, and her work as a performer.  Most of the women of color that I follow were rightly pointing out that Mainstream (= White) feminists and feminist organizations are a lot quicker to question the feminist credentials of performers of color, while at the same time defending white feminist creators (such as Lena Durham), even when their version of feminism is clearly problematic.

photo of Beyonce

Beyonce doesn’t have time for all this bullshit.

I wonder too if there’s not something to the fact that Beyonce’s public persona, unlike Madonna’s or Lady Gaga’s, is perceived to be Diva rather than Avante-Garde.  There’s echos of the porn wars here, with Lady Gaga being given a pass where Beyonce is not because the latter is perceived as showing off her body only because it makes her money, while the former is assumed to be showing skin in order to make an artistic statement.

photo of Madonna

Madonna wants to remind all of us that we live in a Material World.

An assumption that is also racist.  First for ascribing loftier goals to the white performer.  But also in they way that this viewpoint assumes that black women’s experiences with the Beauty Myth are (or should be?) the same as white women’s, when that’s clearly not true.  Beyonce being beautiful, talented, and sexy during the Super Bowl half time show means something very different culturally than a white female performer doing the same.  Any discussion of her feminism that doesn’t take that into account is going to fail by definition.

In conclusion, knock it the hell off Ms. Magazine; I suspect Russ would be very disappointed in you today.


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