Posts Tagged ‘sexism’
Seeing this review of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt at the Los Angeles Review of Books has inspired me to finally write up some somewhat idiosyncratic thoughts I’ve had about the series that I haven’t seen reflected anywhere else. (And thanks to the people who have indulged me about this on Twitter, especially @millicentsomer and @evankindley.) I definitely agree with the reviewer that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a “woman out of time” story, but I really think the interpretive emphasis on “Unfrozen Middle Schooler from the 1990s” should be on “middle schooler” rather than “from the 1990s.” My take is that the 1990s nostalgia is largely driven by the Millennial audience the show is pitching itself at — it’s an engine for jokes but not really the center of the project. “Unfrozen Middle Schooler,” in contrast, is the actual heart of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, at least the way I want to read it as a feminist work.
One of the things I talked about with Lili and Evan on Twitter was whether Kimmy’s abduction is taken seriously as an event or if the bunker is taken seriously as an actual lived environment. Having completed the series now, I still don’t think so: I think “the bunker” essentially functions in the series like being in a coma, or being shot with a Grow-Up Beam, or making a wish to be Big. It’s a magic spell to get Kimmy from middle school to adulthood without having to go through high school and college, which is the source of her power in the series, from her refusal of the usual rules of society to her love of backpacks and bright, mismatched clothing. You can see this utopian imaginary working really clearly in the incredibly infectious theme song, where the removal of the girls from the bunker and a closeup on Kimmy’s ecstatic childlike grin over the lyrics “Unbreakable! They alive, damnit! It’s a miracle!” quickly gives way to a montage of nostalgic, home-video-style images of childhood (and specifically girlhood), which express the same unvarnished joy but also absolute self-confidence (thumb’s up), total mastery of their environment (the dancing, the hula hooping, the monkey bars), and maximum resilience in the face of adversity (the baby plopping down face first).
We return to the in-universe “autotune the news” frame only once during this thirty-second sequence, to be told that “females are strong as hell” — the clear implication to me being that we ought to draw an interpretive connection between the claim of female power and childhood, specifically, girlhood: before sex, before even puberty, before the male gaze, before pervert teachers and abusive boyfriends and quasi-consensual sexual encounters and ubiquitous street harassment and the too-familiar host of other abuses inflicted upon women from the moment they enter young adulthood. What the magic spell of the bunker allows Kimmy to do is pass over the moment in which girls are forcibly conscripted into becoming “women” (somewhat or entirely against their will) and emerge instead as an adult who has not internalized our society’s misogyny or its mean, psychosexual aggressivity. So much of what is delightful about Kimmy is precisely the fact that she has retained the aspirations, expectations, confidence, and general affect of a precocious middle-schooler without having had to temper or diminish herself through unhappy experiences with patriarchy. If the show has a moral or utopian message for women, it’s Let’s all go back to thinking about ourselves the way we did before society told us we were worthless, and it’s a pretty damn good one.
We’ve been working with children’s stories a lot in my “magic as literature” course this semester, and one of the oppositions we’ve really been focusing on (especially as we’ve studied Disney, and Frozen, recently) is the opposition between what mythographers call “the girl’s tragedy” and what we’ve been calling instead the utopia of childhood or (here more directly) the utopia of girlhood. The girl’s tragedy is the female answer to “the hero’s journey,” but the narrative doesn’t work the same way: instead of the boy hero who sets out from home, masters the outside world, slays the dragon, and then returns home to become king, the girl’s tragedy is a story about being ripped from safety and forced to accommodate oneself to the whims of adult men, particularly their sexual urges. The happy ending for the girl’s tragedy — the happiest one available — is that she accepts her role as wife and mother and gives birth to a male son who will then inaugurate the next cycle of heroism; girls and women who refuse to play the proper role are typically cast out of the realm of the human altogether, turned into animals or plants or stars or foam. The utopia of childhood describes those comparatively rare stories that are exceptions, where the girls are neither forced to become mothers nor punished, but allowed to remain what they were without transformation by instead bending the adult world to their will (as in Brave, or Moonrise Kingdom, or arguably Frozen, though in most of these the girl-heroes seem only to buying themselves time rather than enacting a full and permanent transformation of their circumstances).
Of course the utopia of childhood can itself be deeply retrograde, and is frequently misogynistic in its way — we spent a lot of time on “The Problem of Susan” in the Narnia books precisely so we didn’t fall too in love with the impossible fantasy of never growing up (when in the end we all have to). Nor can we safely imagine childhood in such uncomplicatedly rosy terms, both because childhood can also be a time of fierce frustration, competition, and intense pain even when it is not actively shattered through the cruelty and abuse of adults. But all the same there is something undeniably appealing about the idea of returning to a childhood that is both happy and which never gives way to something else, a desire that structures so much of our culture (particularly the middle-class culture of “good parenting”) that it really almost goes without saying. And in the case of Kimmy Schmidt‘s feminist politics of course the idea is not that women find some fantastical way to literally de-age themselves so much as they look to their younger, effortlessly capable and supremely confident selves as inspiration in the present.
There’s one more thing to say about Kimmy Schmidt, which is again about the abduction and the bunker, which would seem to be a rather large problem for my reading of the series. Isn’t Kimmy’s entire situation itself a literalized girl’s tragedy, insofar as she is abducted as a child and put into radical seclusion, all the while being fed obscenely misogynistic lies by a woman-hating male adult? Well, yes! The question of Kimmy’s abduction, and the horrific sexual violence it inevitably implies if thought about too much, is a pretty thorny one for the series: fixated on too much, it threatens to derail any potential for comedy in the show at all. (UPDATE: Someone just sent me Emily Nussbaum’s review, which talks a lot about this issue.) The series cleverly solves the problem by opening the door just a crack — “yes, there was weird sex stuff in the bunker” — and then simply leaving it there. Something happened — perhaps, as Evan suggested in what has become my headcanon, it was all between the girls and not involving the preacher at all — but it hasn’t changed Kimmy, or defeated her. And she emerges from Hell neither pregnant with the monster’s baby, nor transformed into a weeping plant or into sea-foam, but just as unflappable and unbreakable as she was when she went in.
And in any event the treatment of the bunker doesn’t really work the way the ten-second summary of the setup would suggest. The presence of the preacher is actually a further occasion for Kimmy to refuse to internalize her sexist training, precisely because it is now located within a single, odious man against whom she can fight. The button at the end of the first episode demonstrates precisely this: Kimmy proves he is lying to them, he says he’s going to break her someday, and she replies no, he never will. It’s easy to see why, in contrast to the microaggressions and little indignities — alongside the very big ones — that make up girls’ training to be women in our society, which is constantly delivered by parents and siblings and friends and trusted authority figures and widely celebrated mass culture texts, Kimmy’s more direct training in misogyny at the hands of the Reverend never really takes. In the bunker she had an obvious enemy, someone she could tell she was feeding her poison, and so she could reject it. It’s actually outside the bunker where the true brainwashing takes place, which is all the more insidious because it seems like education, like help, like love.
* Coetzee: There is nothing wrong with arguing that a good humanistic education will produce graduates who are critically literate, by some definition of critical literacy. However, the claim that only the full apparatus of a humanistic education can produce critical literacy seems to me hard to sustain, since it is always open to the objection: if critical literacy is just a skill or set of skills, why not just teach the skill itself? Would that not be simpler, and cheaper too?
…in the end, I believe, you will have to make a stand. You will have to say: we need free enquiry because freedom of thought is good in itself. We need institutions where teachers and students can pursue unconstrained the life of the mind because such institutions are, in ways that are difficult to pin down, good for all of us: good for the individual and good for society.
* If you can’t make a case for a discipline on the basis of the actual objects studied by that discipline, it’s doomed. The field needs to have confidence in the things it takes as its subject matter.
* Not for the first time, vandals are wreaking havoc in central Europe. Russian police say they’re looking for the intellectually minded miscreants who graffitied “Kant is a moron”—along with a flower and heart—on the philosopher’s home outside Kaliningrad.
* Keywords for the Age of Austerity 16: Flexibility. Special appearance by Plastic Man.
* The New York Times ran the Duke story—a story about the internal politics of an English department—on its front page.
* Everything’s different in Denmark: Porn belongs in the classroom, says Danish professor.
* What could possibly go wrong? The Scientist Who Wanted To Bring A Death Row Inmate Back From The Dead.
* Rise of the Gender Novel: Too often, trans characters are written as tortured heroes. We’re more complex than that.
* I’m Al Lowe and I created a series of games called Leisure Suit Larry for Sierra back in the ’80s and ’90s along with another 20 games and titles back in that period. I was with Sierra from 1982 until 1998 when it — well, it was the poor victim of a hostile takeover by criminals. How about that for an opening?
* Did Terry Brooks save epic fantasy? Given the years involved if anything did it seems more likely to me that it was Dungeons and Dragons, but it’s a nice remembrance of the franchise regardless.
* I’m good for five seasons at least: Bridgeport Priest Who Ran Meth Ring Pleads For Leniency.
* Really bad idea watch: Sherlock Goes Old-School For Its Christmas Special.
* You had me at fully automated luxury communism (FALC).
* And because you demanded it! Sam Jones Says New Flash Gordon Is A Sequel.
* I have a short piece up at the Cambridge UP blog: “We’re Sorry, the Final Frontier is Closed.” It talks a bit about the recent revival of space frontier and space opera fantasy in big-budget films like Jupiter Ascending, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Interstellar…
Now the trustees of Wayford Woods have announced ‘fairy control’ methods which will curb the “profusion of elfin construction”.
Trustee Steven Acreman said the trend was “in danger of getting out of control” but stressed he was not “anti-fairies”.
“It’s a very complex situation and nobody’s admitting that they’re evicting the fairies,” he said.
* “These beliefs persisted into recent times,” says Butler. “For example, in 1895 Michael Cleary convinced his family and community that his wife, Bridget, was a changeling. This was confirmed by a traditional fairy doctor, who attempted a herbal cure. When that didn’t work, they threatened her with fire, doused, and finally burned her to death.” Well, that’s certainly less charming.
* So by all means, criticize teachers when it is warranted. But resist education reformers at all costs, particularly when they rationalize their reforms as a way to address the problems of the teaching force. Education reformers, no matter their intentions, are the enemies of a unionized teaching force. They are the enemies of public education.
“The faculty and staff,” Mr. Brown said, “are feeling traumatized by this—not just by the loss of the institution, but by the way it has been handled. They seem to have no answers about anything, and that is what feels so deeply troubling.”
I hadn’t even thought about how impossible it will be for Sweet Briar faculty to sell their homes. What a nightmare.
* Who Gets the Endowment? I really hope higher ed media watches the dispersal of Sweet Briar’s endowment and property very closely.
Indeed, at the heart of the standard capitalist narrative is magic, as if the will to realize the abstract ideal of a cornucopia for all will itself — through fervent wishing and belief that can only be called religious — bring about the imagined state. It is the “invisible hand” idea from Adam Smith — the conviction that there really is a hidden force that given free rein sets everything aright. It is the God meme in capitalism and its writings, Smith’s among them, that is to capitalism what the Torah is to Judaism, the Gospels to Christianity, and the Koran to Islam: holy texts whose authenticity and reality must not be challenged or questioned unless as an adolescent moment of doubt, eventually subsumed by the re-embrace of total belief.
* I’ve always wanted a Trek anthology series. And with the ever-lowering cost of CGI effects it could be finally be done…
* In the short term, the contract faculty who teach the majority of courses at York University are striking for higher wages. In the long run, contract teaching needs to be abolished.
In some cases, regulation, not deliberative choice, has led campus leaders to rely on business advice. For example, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights II, signed into law in 1996, requires many of us to hire compensation consultants to ensure that “disqualified persons”—presidents, provosts, vice presidents for finance and administration, etc.—have not received an “excessive benefit” such as inappropriate compensation.In all situations that I have observed, this process has had unintended consequences. Using sophisticated tools developed for industry, the consultants have demonstrated that many higher-education leaders are undercompensated.
GASP! NO ONE COULD HAVE PREDICTED! I wonder if a “compensation consultant” has ever, in history, determined that a CEO was receiving “excessive benefit.”
* Raped on Campus? Don’t Trust Your College to Do the Right Thing. I’d see the story about Oregon’s admin raiding the campus health center for ammo to use against its own students, but I’d never seen the outrageous legal justification for it before now.
If you are a student and seek counseling at your college’s counseling center, your medical records are most likely not protected by the typical medical-privacy laws, otherwise known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Instead, they fall under the aegis of Ferpa, just as Oregon said. And compared with Hipaa, Ferpa is about as protective as cheesecloth.
* This Is What It’s Like To Go To Court In Ferguson, Missouri. DOJ Finds Ferguson Police Routinely Discriminate. Ferguson Police Tolerate Sexual Harassment of Female Officers. What Is Wrong With the Ferguson Police Department? Particular lowlights from the DoJ report.
* What’s happening here is fundamentally simple: the surveillance state enforcing surveillance as the normative form of care. The state cannot teach its citizens, because it has no idea what to teach; it can only place them under observation. Perfect observation — panopticism — then becomes its telos, which is justifies and universalizes by imposing a responsibility to surveil on the very citizens already being surveilled.
* More Companies Are Run By Men Named “John” Than By Women. Just lean in!
* A singular event that has never happened in history before: Kenosha officer admits to planting evidence in homicide case.
* 2016 watch: Bernie’s Reasons Why Not.