Tag Archives: Feminism

Television Shows in the tradition of ‘The Female Gaze’

1. Fleabag (Season 1)

Phoebe Waller-Bridge created, wrote and starred in this quirky comedy drama set in London that is like Bridget Jones but not that glamorous and more depressing. I love everything about this show – its awkwardness, the hamster themed cafe (winning), and the fourth wall breaking dialogue. Her life is in shambles and the people around her are a mess but Fleabag is clever, heart breaking and not afraid to get real.

2. Chewing Gum (Season 1 +2)

This is another show set in London but its main character, Tracey (Michaela Coel), lives in a housing estate, where there are a maelstrom of characters. Michaela Coel is also the writer of Chewing Gum: is anyone sensing a theme here? Tracey grows up with a conservative and über-religious African mom and her little sister. With losing her virginity as the number one agenda, Tracey is a rebel cum laude (or she tries to be), Chewing Gum is heartwarming, funny and hilariously awkward.

Michaela Coel interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQPCyb4HoEk

3. Insecure (Season 1 +2)

Insecure (aptly titled) follows the lives of two African-American women who are navigating modern life in Los Angeles. I adore this show so much! Issa and Molly are in their late 20s and have successful careers but they provide a roadmap of ‘how not to fuck up your love life.’ Side note: the men in this show are exceptionally good-looking (*sips tea*).

4. I Love Dick (Season 1)

ILD is what provided inspiration for this post. This is the only show on this list that is based on a novel (of the same name by Chris Kraus). This is intellectualism meet feminism meet art meet relatable & awkward female protagonist. And it somehow worked! Set in Marfa, Texas, Chris, a filmmaker, accompanies Sylvère her husband who is a research fellow at the art institute. Chaos ensues after she is madly infatuated with Dick – the guy who sponsored her husband. ILD really made me think about the male gaze, objectification of bodies, originality (in life, in art, in thought) and is a wonderfully confusing and stimulating piece of work.

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The Concept of a “Social Thriller” in Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives

Whilst reading The Stepford Wives I was reminded of Get Out, a film I’d previously watched and absolutely loved. Lo and behold I find out Jordan Peele was indeed inspired by the 1972 novel by Ira Levin, which was then made into a film and shot to cult classic status [1]. It is interesting, to say the least, because The Stepford Wives and Get Out are dressed up as horror/thriller stories but that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Jordon Peele labelled Get Out as a “social thriller… inspired by movies that are creepy but humanity is the creepiest part at the centre of it [2].” It intelligently critiques ‘Post-racial’ America – which is the idea that prejudice and discrimination no longer hold sway. Cough. In the movie Chris, who is black, is dating a white woman named Rose. Such a delicate name. Spoiler alert: Rose lures unsuspecting black men to her family so they can brainwash and periodically transfer white people brains into black bodies. Why, you ask? So that white people can live forever in genetically-gifted strong bodies.

The white characters in Get Out are not repulsed by blackness, no. They admire and envy instead [3]. The film doesn’t jump straight to the chase like I did. It gradually transforms into a dark and creepy story. Peele was also inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and the opening scene invokes the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Get Out paints insensitive white middle-class liberals as the true villains. Chris is visibly uncomfortable in every scene, at every insidious comment. Daniel Kaluuya is a fantastic actor and  the film score was brilliantly crafted to boot [4].

The Stepford Wives can also be interpreted to revel a hidden meaning. Socially aware and politically driven, Ira Levin’s story is about a family who moves from the city to a suburb called Stepford. Joanna, our main protagonist, finds the housewives of Stepford to be rather odd. They are uniformly good-looking, Barbie-like, and spend all their time cooking and cleaning. Turns out, the husbands of Stepford run a secret society and transform their wives into submissive robots.

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And Joanna is next. She fears there is something in the water that makes all the housewives so but it is soon revealed, evil lurks in her own house, and her own husband. Joanna is fiercely independent, sexually confident, ambitious – the product of second-wave feminism – and is frightened at the possibility of losing power and control. Ira Levin is also pointing fingers at modern commercialism and technology, which can be easily manipulated by malevolent forces, in this case misogynistic, murderous husbands.

I believe that allegorical storytelling allows hysteria and paranoia of the main characters to blend into the background and bring into focus real-life political issues such as feminism and civil rights. The real enemy is not the devil or the monster, it is society and in it, patriarchy and racism are the horrifying elements. A carrier for contemporary ideas: these stories convey anxieties of marginalised groups over loss of their identity and power.

[1] Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yh9yM00r9JQ

[2] Interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yh9yM00r9JQ

[3] In one disturbing scene, Walter the groundkeeper (aka Rose’s grandfather) runs in the garden at night. He never got over the fact that Jesse Owens beat him at the Olympics.

[4] Opening credits and songs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qA-ONNTBteE

Subversive Feminism in Storytelling: Han Kang’s The Vegetarian and Julia Ducournau’s Raw

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“You are what you eat,” as the saying goes, to which I’d like to add: “or don’t.” As of recent, food has increasingly become a part of identity politics. Anybody on the internet who strongly follows a particular diet has their pitchforks ready for the ‘non-believers’. In this backdrop, Han Kang’s novel [1] about a woman who refuses to eat meat after a nightmarish dream she can’t speak of and Julia Ducournau’s film [2] about a young vegetarian woman who begins to crave meat of all kinds, including human, come across as confusing and shocking pieces of work. The former is set in South Korea and deals with mental illness whereas the latter is set in France and is a coming-of-age drama.

I’d like to argue that the themes of vegetarianism and cannibalism, albeit contradictory, are utilised to serve the same metaphor. These (fictionalised) extremities enable a self-reflection on society that is very, very real. The Vegetarian follows the story of Yeong-hye who lives a passive, domesticated life in Seoul. Her husband, Mr. Cheong works and Yeong-hye does the cooking and cleaning. The story is narrated by three characters, none of who are Yeong-hye. We do not hear her voice, except details from the dream:

“My bloody hands. My bloody mouth. In that barn, what had I done? Pushed that red raw mass into my mouth, felt it squish against my gums, the roof of my mouth, slick with crimson blood.” 

Yeong-hye swears off meat and radically alters her diet. From what I understand, Korean food culture is centred around banchan or multiple side dishes that are mostly meat-based. Yeong-hye quickly loses a lot of weight, perhaps a little too much. Along with meat she refuses to partake in activities that patriarchy dictates she do like wearing a bra, doing her makeup, and being a dutiful wife. In one brutal scene, Yeong-hye’s father forces her to eat meat which shatters every semblance of normality the family struggles to portray.

In part two, Yeong-hye is the sexual object of her brother-in-law’s gaze, an artist in search for some inspiration. He paints flowers over her naked body, has sex with her and films the process. Art. The last section is narrated by Yeong-hye’s sister. In the mental hospital, Yeong-hye strives to become a tree [3]: “Look, sister, I’m doing a handstand; leaves are growing out of my body, roots are sprouting out of my hands…they delve down into the earth. Endlessly, endlessly…yes, I spread my legs because I wanted flowers to bloom from my crotch; I spread them wide…” She stops eating entirely.

And then there’s Raw, which is visually stunning. Justine is a strict vegetarian who enters vet school, where her sister Alexia also studies. At a hazing ritual, Justine is forcibly fed rabbit liver and thus begins her obsession for meat. Her hunger is not satiated until she tastes human meat. Justine’s newfound freedom and desires lend to her agency she never experienced before: sexually and emotionally.

Cannibalism runs in the family. Alexia indulges and encourages her sister’s cravings but Justine decides to control her hunger. This causes a rift between the sisters who literally fight tooth and nail. Justine accepts her dark animalistic side and violence within it, but suppresses her monstrous desires. This caricatures society at large, where the hunger to consume and kill entails unparalleled cruelty and brutality.

Food is a potent device in these stories. Yeong-hye’s refusal to consume meat and ultimately any food, similarly Justine’s taboo desires act as symbols of feminine power and rebellion. They dissent and deviate through their bodies. In my opinion, The Vegetarian and Raw are part of a fresh wave of feminism in art that highlights female sexuality and dynamism [4]. It is uncomfortable to watch. But necessary.

Notes:

[1] Translated from the Korean into English by Deborah Smith in 2015

[2] Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFlXVX2af_Y

[3] Interestingly, there is a Kannada folk tale called The Flowering Tree (translated by A.K. Ramanujan) where a young girl transforms into a beautiful tree when water is poured over her symbolising menstruation and fertility, the  female power of procreation and sexuality. Read here: journal.oraltradition.org/articles/download/12i?article=ramanujan

[4] Movie recommendations: The Witch, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, The Neon Demon, Lady Macbeth