“Professor Marston” Story of Female Empowerment?

As an ardent film fan and passionate feminist, I watch the movie world like a hawk for a glimpse of women telling their stories through film. I subscribe to Women and Hollywood for updates and was severely dismayed when I read this article about the upcoming biopic about Wonder Woman creator, William Moulton Marston. Overall, I’m not a fan of superheroes but have taken special care to avoid the Wonder Woman movie. Even before I knew about her creator, I took issue with her overtly sexual portrayal in comics and on film.

Following the success of the Wonder Woman movie, Professor Marston & the Wonder Women will explore the relationships between Marston, his wife, and his (their?) girlfriend(s). With a commitment to realism, filmmakers cast Luke Evans in the role of Mr. Marston. luke-evans-shirtless-768x780william-marston-435

 

 

 

 

While the real Marston has been hailed as a feminist, I don’t think he deserves that title. Marston has been quoted as saying that “women enjoy submission” and “Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” It didn’t surprise me to learn that he hired a male artist to capture his heroine. She is supposedly a combination of the suffragists and the Varga girls of the 1940’s.

american-scholar-image-pg-85_custom-74cb4b0d9cb7050d3540e16691094402dc991fa0-s800-c154084d3cbb67e4bed4fc9e409d9cbe0d1-vargas-girls-alberto-vargas

 

The trailer makes it look as though Marston’s wife, Sadie Elizabeth Holloway, wanted to bring another woman into the marriage just as much as Marston did but according to an NPR interview with historian Jill Lepore, Marston threatened to leave Holloway if she did not acquiesce to his wishes. There is also, at some point, a third woman who enters the picture and lives in the attic. There’s mention of what sounds like a sex cult that the four of them are a part of in which women

“in their relation to males expose their bodies and use various legitimate methods of the love sphere to create in males submission to them, the women mistresses, or love leaders, in order that they, the mistresses, might submit in passion to the males.”

Lepore giggles a lot during the NPR interview but seems sincere about telling Marston’s story as truthfully as possible. However, I do not find Marston’s story very compelling. The only part of the story that was compelling was that Holloway and the younger mistress, Olive Byrne stayed together decades after Marston’s death. What was it that made their relationship endure?

To me, Marston doesn’t sound any better than any of the other misogynists who need a harem of women surrounding them at all times. I think a lot of people who preach sexual empowerment for women through a sort of cavalier attitude towards sex have a lot more in common with the religious fundamentalists they claim to defy.

120130_dx_sisterwives-crop-rectangle3-large

There’s nothing “progressive” or feminist about Marston’s set-up. Religious fundamentalists from Osama Bin Laden to Mormon leader Warren Jeffs were polygamous/polyamorous as were cult leaders Charles Manson and David Koresh. While the comparison might seem outlandish, we need to think about the people who shaped our views on sex and sexuality. These views are heavily influenced by the patriarchal culture we live in, one in which the interests of men are paramount. Alfred Kinsey, the father of the sexual revolution and lead promoter of the “anything goes” attitude towards sex, did not publish data he didn’t find useful and he also wrote about children’s sexuality with information gathered from pedophiles.

I do not believe Professor Marston & The Wonder Women should be touted as feminist or in any way benefitting women. I think it needs to be examined the way all popular media should be: as patriarchal propaganda. Women and Hollywood, while some of its articles are illuminating, tends to publish stories about ANY movie that’s even remotely related women without regard for whether or not the movies actually help women as a whole. I am not content to subsist off of crumbs when it comes to seeing women’s stories represented in film. And with as much influence as movies and celebrities exert in our society, we need to hold filmmakers and actors to a much higher standard.

 

 

 

Gender Stereotypes are Oppressive

Introduction

Many people fail to see the way in which gender stereotypes harm women, girls, and ultimately, everyone. We tend to take them for granted, never questioning where they came from or what purpose they might serve. In this essay, I intend to examine some of the more prominent gender stereotypes and hopefully answer and raise a few questions for the reader.

Dolls

One staple of “girlhood” in our society is playing with dolls. Dolls have been reinforcing gender norms and shaping the lives of girls for centuries. In an article for Smithsonian magazine, Linda Rodrigues McRobbie notes that:

 

doll1920
Your life is over before it starts, little lady!

“Through the 18th and 19th century, dressing up dolls gave little girls the opportunity to learn to sew or knit..”

 

While some may argue that dolls can reflect more choices and liberation for women and girls, they’ve certainly done their part to narrow the lives of girls in our society.

“In the early 20th century, right around the time that women were increasingly leaving the home and entering the workplace, infant dolls became more popular, inducting young girls into a cult of maternal domesticity.”
Even though the focus of the article is not the history of dolls or their effect on girls in our society, the author points out that:

“The recent glut of boy-crazy, bizarrely proportioned, hyper-consumerist girl dolls (think BratzMonster High) says something about both how society sees girls and how girls see themselves, although what is for another discussion.”

set_bratz_dolls
Eyes that big better imbue them with x-ray vision or something…

Incidentally, there is a Tasmanian artist who has endeavored to make-under the over-sexualized Bratz dolls. Make some with short hair, Sonia!

tree-change-dolls-sonia-singh-1

Long Hair

While hair trends have undergone many changes over time, long hair has been a staple of femininity and thus, a symbol of womanhood, since before the ancient Greeks. In a Time magazine article, archaeologist Elizabeth Bartman said that men “risked scorn for appearing effeminate” if they wore their hair too long.

ancient-greek-man-and-women-BBFEF6

In the same article, sociologist Anthony Synnott notes a Bible passage reflecting society’s attitudes toward gender and length of hair from the book of St. Paul:

“Doth not nature itself teach you that if a man have long hair it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her.”

No, Paul, it doth not. Women do not “naturally” have longer hair than men. However, our culture does dictate that we should see it that way. While it may be socially acceptable (read accepted by men) for women to have short hair, author Jo-Ellan Dimitrius states that:

“men prefer long hair on women as they believe it’s ‘sexy,’ Short hair is perceived as only being attractive on a woman who is slender and/or physically fit.”

landscape-1477937032-pixiecut

Thus, even while this may be an area where women can express themselves a little more freely, there are still cultural restraints (patriarchy) around socially acceptable hairstyles for women and girls to wear.

High Heels 

868d5b391dd57fe3faabcd9e71ae4669-vintage-shoes-vintage-glamourIn Western culture, high heels gained popularity among the women and men of the aristocracy. It wasn’t until the late 18th century that they became unpopular because of their association with Marie Antoinette. After that, flats and slippers became popular for awhile and it wasn’t until women began working for pay outside of the home that heels made a resurgence. In a 2015 CBS interview on the history of heels, curator Lisa Small says,

“I think a lot of it had to do even with wartime technologies. The use of steel and extruded metals allowed fashion designers and fabricators to think about a way to use metal in the heel.” 

…and to reinforce women’s primary identity: sex objects.

“It causes your rear to move, it causes your hips to have to compensate and do the little wiggle, [and] the chest goes out,” said Small. “So these are all biologically determined markers of mating attraction.”

 

24b6907700000578-2911315-image-a-205_1421318655828
She’s probably trying to reach something she can’t walk over to get…

Even if heels cause your body to contort in a way that appeals to biological urges, associating them with femininity and thus, womanhood is extremely socially constraining and demeaning. Small acknowledges that:

 

“Women can feel powerful when they wear high-heeled shoes, they can feel more confident, and that’s all to the better. But it’s a very interesting construction of power. Until men in powerful positions also wear high-heeled shoes, it’s always going to be the question of what kind of power a high-heeled shoe really conveys.”

An interesting question indeed.

Makeup

The use of makeup is strongly associated with women and femininity. Women and girls are expected to use makeup and are highly reinforced in doing so. When we are little, we play with dolls that are obviously wearing makeup, we see our mothers and older female family members using makeup, and we rarely get to see images of women without makeup on. Indeed, it is so rare to see women without makeup that to take a picture of yourself make-up free is deemed an act of bravery!

makeup-free-week-mila-kunis-badge
GASP!

An article for The Telegraph states:

anythingspossibleOverall  90 per cent of women and almost 80 per cent of men agreed that women are still under greater pressure than men to look “well groomed”.

Senior director of Ipsos Marketing, Pippa Bailey says:

“It’s still widely accepted that women are held to higher standards than men and are spending more of their time on personal grooming.”

An article called The Female Economy analyzed women’s buying habits and found that four of the main areas marketers should target when selling to female customers were: food, beauty, fitness, and apparel. I would argue that all of those industries use extremely sexist marketing strategies, not the least of which is beauty.

Women and girls are indoctrinated from the time they are born to believe that they are not good enough as they are. We are told we need to lighten, tighten, firm, enlarge, slim down, pump up–all with the aid of beauty products. Marketers create a self-fulfilling prophecy when they bombard us with images of ideal beauty and promise that the only way for us to feel whole and confident is through use of their product.

42962e750e92bc4e928a5be898f11ebb

“Beauty products and services promote a sense of emotional well-being in women. Those we talked with who spent a higher portion of their income on cosmetics felt more satisfied, successful, and powerful; they also reported lower levels of stress even if they worked longer hours.”

The article’s author admits that the industry is male-dominated with the most powerful positions occupied primarily by men. If wearing makeup were so central to being a woman, shouldn’t those positions be held by them? Some people truly believe that it is in a woman’s nature to want to primp and preen but the aforementioned fact seems to suggest otherwise. There’s nothing in our make-up that makes us want to wear make-up…if you will. 

Conclusion

While gender stereotypes might seem harmless or humorous to some, their function in our society is oppressive. They serve to limit and objectify women, relegating them to second-class citizens. Men and boys are limited by gender stereotypes as well but due to their dominant status are not oppressed by them. It is because of misogyny that men who do things that are seen as feminine are often targets for harassment.

We need to abolish the idea that these things over here are for boys and these things over here are for girls–it’s regressive. We need to stop being slaves to consumerism and build an economy that reflects the value of all people regardless of sex. This will mean building media literacy and thinking critically about how we influence the world we live in and how it influences us.

 

Watch “I Am Jane Doe”

“I Am Jane Doe” is a film by Mary Mazzio about child sex trafficking in the U.S. I had so much come up for me when I watched this: horror, disgust, heartbreak. I thought I had some idea about the extent of child sex trafficking in the U.S. but I was mistaken. This film follows the cases of two girls in particular who were trafficked through the backpage.com website. Please watch and recommend this important film to others. This film is streaming on Netflix now.

Time Article on Wartime Rape by Aryn Baker

I cried when I read this article. Some of the things it describes are so horrendous but it reflects the reality for women all over the globe. Please read it and share it. It is so important that people are exposed to and moved by women’s stories–their realities. It’s so important that women and girls are not ignored or swept aside. Allow yourself to be moved by the stories in this article and allow others to be moved by it as well.

The Secret War Crime

“Crazy” Cassandra

cassandra

A 2014 article by Rebecca Solnit recently sparked my interest in the myth of Cassandra, a woman blessed by Apollo with the gift of prophecy then cursed to never be believed, all because she would not sleep with him. In the article, Solnit uses the myth to illustrate the curse of all women to be questioned, gaslighted, and otherwise discredited when trying to speak the truth.

cassandra1

As is typical for me, I wanted to read more about Cassandra and see if anyone else had come to the same conclusion as Solnit. What I came across was a 1984 article by Mary Lefkowitz discrediting the work of Christina Wolf, Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays. It seems Wolf came to a similar conclusion as Solnit: the myth of Cassandra reflects the reality of all women living under patriarchy.

Lefkowitz describes Wolf’s conclusion as “ambitious” and containing a “series of imaginative leaps.” I don’t know about you, but my imagination did not have to stretch far at all to see the metaphor in the myth of Cassandra. Lefkowitz goes on to say that

 If Mrs. Wolf had looked more closely at Aeschylus instead of relying on a 19th-century handbook’s recasting of the myth, she would have seen that in the original story Cassandra chose her own fate. Apollo offered her, the most beautiful of Priam’s daughters, whatever she wanted if she would have intercourse with him. She asked for the gift of prophecy but then refused to keep her part of the bargain, so the god punished her by keeping her from being believed. If she had slept with him, she would have been able to prophesy and to bear a son who would have become a famous hero – not a bad deal considering what the gods were capable of doing to men and women if they felt like it. The ancient Greeks, whatever their limitations, believed in freedom of choice; their women were no more victimized by the world around them than their men;

they recorded not only the oppression of individuals and groups but of humanity. (bold emphasis mine)

I just about fell over when I read this. I’d like to think that this type of opinion is outdated, but it’s not. Women and men still believe that a woman’s decision to submit is as free and fair a choice as any that a man would make. In fact, this is the view popularized by the “sex-positive” movement. Women who “choose” to acquiesce, relent, and give in to the desires of men are somehow empowered. But the real myth here is that women are just as free to choose not to submit.

61b56d4c70dbca6506438f1aaa88896c

Women who choose to say “no” still face the threat of violence, loss of financial security, and social or physical death. Confronted with this reality, many women feel they have no choice. Or, like Lefkowitz seems to suggest, they decide that unlimited access to their bodies is a small price to pay for safety and security.

It is the devaluation of women in patriarchal society that makes constant violation seem like a viable choice. Indeed, in regards to unwanted sex, women and girls are often told “it’s not so bad” or “it’s supposed to hurt.” They’re made to believe that rape is a fantasy desired by some women and are subjected to a relentless onslaught of media sexualizing violence and dominance/submission.

It’s with this amount of denial, gaslighting, and outright lying that the myth of Cassandra retains its poignancy. Women have and do exist in a world where they are routinely discredited and slandered for speaking the truth. It angers and saddens me to no end that one of the best weapons the patriarchy has found to use against us is other women. It is for this reason that I believe, as is stated in the book description for Cassandra,  that stories like this are “an urgent call to examine the past in order to ensure a future.”

No, “The Beguiled” Is NOT a Feminist Movie

IndieWire author Jude Dry just posted a review of the movie The Beguiled that was so off-base, I needed to address it. If you aren’t familiar with the story, it’s about an injured Union soldier who is taken into an all-girls’ school in Virginia during the Civil War. It’s supposed to be a different take on the 1970’s version starring Client Eastwood. I haven’t seen the 1970’s version but supposedly, Coppola’s version centers the women in the story. Hardly.

Dry goes as far as to call the movie (or at least elements of the movie) feminist:

“A house full of women thrown into a tizzy by the presence of a man isn’t the most radically feminist story; that Coppola tells it by objectifying, emasculating, and symbolically castrating her central male character certainly is.”

Objectifying (if that’s even possible), emasculating, and castrating men are not feminist actions. One cannot use the tools of the patriarchy to bring it down. Objectification and violence are tools of the patriarchy used to dehumanize, silence, and exterminate women. Feminists propose to liberate all women, not become violent oppressors themselves. When women do commit violence against men, it is usually in self-defense and to imagine that it is somehow empowering is frankly, insulting.

Dry goes on to talk about the “female gaze,” describing a supposedly titillating scene in which Kidman’s character bathes Farrell as he lies unconscious. Kidman is annoyingly flustered as she inches closer and closer to Farrell’s penis. In this way, Coppola succeeds in making the scene all about Farrell. That Farrell is somehow “objectified” in the film is absolutely absurd. The male gaze is all about a dominant group (heterosexual men) objectifying a non-dominant group (women) in film. With this understanding, the female gaze is impossible to discern because we have never had power over or even been equal to men. Even if the female gaze were possible to discern, I put forth that it would have little to do with men or their penises.

teaser-trailer-sofia-coppolas-the-beguiled

“He is completely at the mercy of his female caretakers, who can turn him in as a deserter at any time, which would mean imprisonment or possibly death. They are his keepers, and the mistresses of his fate. As he heals, the women use his body for labor. “

They can’t turn him in at any time–they must wait for Confederate soldiers to pass by. And even though the wounded soldier is supposedly helpless, he remains a threat to everyone in the home. Furthermore, he insists on working despite his injury. Dry makes it sound as though they’re standing over him with a whip or something. Even AFTER they saw off his leg, he somehow musters the courage (despite his helplessness) to threaten them all with a gun.

 

the-beguiled-360x240

Dry attempts to frame the amputation of his leg as some sort of revenge for leading on Dunst’s character (he tells her he loves her and offers to run away with her) before creeping into the bed of Fanning:

“Such behavior won’t fly in a woman’s world. Their plaything has broken the rules of the game, and he must be punished.”

The way the author words this makes it sound like an attempt at sadomasochistic erotica. It’s clear in the movie that after a hilarious topple down the stairs, the soldier’s leg is amputated because it’s shattered beyond repair. The goal was to save his life. Farrell’s character is convinced that the women have hacked his leg off because they’re jealous he chose Fanning out of the three eldest females in the home. Farrell is old enough to be Fanning’s father by the way.

tumblr_ol32y51h4u1sujf5so5_1280

After he threatens all of them with a gun and Dunst’s character throws herself at him sexually (I have no idea why), they decide to poison him. This is not a punishment but an act of desperation. Kidman’s character and the younger girls have all decided it’s their only option and when they don’t look sad as he chokes to death at the table, it’s probably because he threatened to kill them all!

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-11-16-27-am-1024x489

There’s nothing feminist about this movie and I find the suggestion that it has some feminist elements or even gets close to what might be termed a “female gaze” to be a gross over exaggeration.

Don’t waste your money on this movie. If you want to see a Civil War-era movie that centers women, watch The Keeping Room. It actually has a somewhat similar premise in that it’s about southern women defending their home against Union soldiers but it’s far more interesting. One caveat is that it’s fairly violent so skip it if you prefer not to see that sort of thing.