Myths About Women

The class blog for English 104: Myths About Women
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While several representations of women in Mulholland Drive could be identified as feminist, such as women working, living on their own, and lesbian involvement – all show independence from men, however, in reality, the way they are presented distorts true feminist values by equating violent behavior with freedom from gender restrictions.  As Diana Hume George argues in her piece Lynching Women, the depiction of violence against females likely encourages abuse within everyday American culture.  Within this film there are scenes that closely relate female sexualtiy and violence.   During Rita’s assassination attempt, a gun is pointed directly at her, while she is cornered in the back of a limo wearing an evening gown and heels.  As she stumbled away, David Lynch consciously made the decision to present her in a way where her clothing was more disheveled than her actual physical features.  A second example would be the death of several in car crash where men were driving and the women were sitting on top of the car screaming — they were not in control of their safety.  And also, the image of a woman shown dead in her bed, a symbol innately tied with female “duty”.  These are all examples of topics American film watchers are familiar with and yet, a closer look reveals that they incorporate elements which are demeaning.  Additionally, women are also shown as weak and naïve.  For example, right after her assassination attempt/car accident, Rita (who we later find out to be Camilla), completely disoriented, stumbles off the deserted road, through the woods, and into an empty house where she falls asleep.  Betty, another central female character, decides to move to California to try to get a break as an actress.  She finds Rita in her aunt’s house and does not question why she is there; she immediately assumes that she must be a friend of her aunt.  The way she speaks has clearly been scripted to be overly enthusiastic and naïve.  She became close with complete strangers during her plane ride; never does Lynch have her question the safety of a situation, she’s childlike.  

Another misogynistic characteristic of Lynch’s work is his oversexualization of women and tendency to comply with stereotypes.  Near the end of the film, when the audience can assume that action is no longer taking place in a dream, but in Diane’s reality, Camilla decides that they should not see each other anymore.  Now, in this scene both of the women are topless.  One of the few scenes in the movie where David Lynch has the women acting dominant in some way - making a relationship decision, and then going into a fight - they are unclothed.  Aspects of the film where their actions could be classified as more masculine, they are unclothed, thus, innately tying more aggressive, violent behavior, with sex.  At most other points of the movie, where they are not involved, their behavior is much more childlike.  By, firstly, presenting the women as childlike and naive and then tying in situations that involve violence and sex, it becomes very difficult for the audience to think of the characters (and arguably, everyday women) in any other way.  It becomes incredibly dangerous when people are bombarded with this from so many different sources that it is no longer questioned; violence against women has become so normalized that it rarely raises red flags anymore and resultantly women have become more subject to violence.  David Lynch does this subliminally, not overtly, the main theme of the film was not to draw attention to the way women are portrayed in film, rather this portrayal was used to aid in the larger picture, and that is how people become desensitized to the seriousness of this type of content.  As David Lynch said about his character Dorothy from Blue Velvet, “People have an idea that Dorothy was Everywoman, instead of just being Dorothy” (Breskin 63).  Lynch recognizes how easily the audience mixes reality and fiction.

Determine whether Twin Peaks was intended to exhibit feminist themes and do so by not only analyzing the series but several other pieces of David Lynch’s works.  I would be looking for similar themes and approaches to women and the issues directly affect them throughout his stories.

Introduction: A basic introduction to David Lynch and whether on not I believe his works are feminist or not.  If not feminist, I will draw from George’s article; otherwise I’ll find another source.

Paragraph/Section 1: approach to women in Mulholland Drive

Paragraph/Section 2: Blue Velvet

(Paragraph/Section 3: I may choose to address some of his short films; thinking about Rabbits)

Paragraph/Section 4: Twin Peaks

     -Analysis of characters: how the females act and may be interpreted by society; how the male characters react to them

     - Laura Palmer 

     - even if David Lynch was intending on being feminist, how his work was taken by society; what the media turned her into (advertisements, magazine covers, etc.) - “Babes in the Woods”

Conclusion: (depends a lot on which direction I decide to go) Even if David Lynch had intended for the movies and shows to be feminist, how society took it in a different direction and was therefore unsuccessful

Diana Hume George loved Twin Peaks, she made sure to watch it every week and taped it in case she wanted to go back to anything, but then she began to question the message it was sending to American viewers.  George argues that there is a problem in this country regarding women and how violence against them is interpreted, and that violence within the media not only reflects these attitudes, but enforces it.  She mentions that there is a fascination with violence being used against women, and while many argue that Twin Peaks has feminist themes, it rather plays into the fixation our nation has.  The over-sexualization of every female character makes the show much more shallow and is detrimental to society – training people to view every woman as solely sexual.  She argues that Lynch has created a false sense of depth.  While all the plots and intricate twists appear to make the show very complex and meaningful, it’s all an illusion.  Regardless of all of this, she still continued to watch the show.

When looking at the character list from Twin Peaks I actually found it very difficult to match each up with a wave of feminism.  Rather, I find it much easier to say several of the characters embody characteristics that the feminist movements have been trying to fight against.  David Lynch plays up every stereotype, from the ditzy secretary to the beautiful homecoming queen, and a large portion of feminist efforts have been in pursuit of being able to stray from such boundaries.

Audrey Horne, “the spoiled rich girl with daddy issues” as I believe someone put it in class reminds me of a line from Robert Greene’s The Art of Seduction, “Women at last sensed that, since they were weaker, their only resource was to seduce; they understood that if they were dependent on men through force, men could become dependent on them through pleasure” (Greene, XVIII).  After seeing the pilot, it’s incredibly clear that the girl uses her body to get what she wants.  The scene where she pins herself against the wall while seductively telling the story of her friends murder aroused and engaged the men in the room.  A large portion of third-wave feminism is trying to work against the hyper-sexualization of women in the media and the depiction of them as manipulative and sly, and Audrey plays right into that.

The same holds true for Lucy Moran.  She’s presented as ditzy and not bright.  She also holds no more than a secretarial position.  When she typed up what she overheard Bobby and his friend saying for Agent Cooper, he already knew the information; her job has been presented as trivial and frequently unnecessary.  The second wave of feminism began working towards women working away from secretarial positions, getting a decent college education, and working outside the house in a field they were interested in.

Josey Packard is the one character that can easily be attributed to the feminist movement.  Not only is she out of the house and working like the second wave strived for but she’s in a leadership position, which is associated much more strongly with the third wave.  David Lynch also clearly shows how women like this are generally reacted to; he has characters calling her a “bitch” and a lot of people seem to really dislike her.  They think that, because she is a woman, she couldn’t possibly understand the lumber factory that she is running.

The feminist movement is about breaking away from stereotypes so that women can freely be who they want to be without needing to change themselves for what society expects.  While it can be argued that Lynch played so strongly into those stereotypes to make a statement, I sincerely doubt those were his intentions.

Works Cited:

Greene, Robert. The Art of Seduction. New York, NY: Viking, 2001. Print.

Within my first two weeks here at Sweet Briar I met a girl who is the complete opposite of me.  She has no career goals, rather, marriage and children are what she looks forward to most; the only reason she’s at college is because her parents told her she needed a means to support herself if she were to get divorced.  She cringes every time she hears us refer to Sweet Briar as “college” and would much prefer we call it “finishing school” around her.  Once I got to know her better I had her read my copy of He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut by Jessica Valenti.

If I had been asked to write this a year ago, I would have proudly written, “I am a feminist.”  It was a culture I thoroughly surrounded myself with in high school; I read everything from Betty Freidan to Hanne Blank and Valenti.  I made my friends read the books too, and soon had several of them, even the boys, supporting the movement.

My respect for the women involved in the first two movements is beyond awe.  Without them, my role in this world would be so different.  But, today, saying you are a feminist, while it should mean so much, communicates very little.  The feminist movement has something to offer everyone and it covers such a broad range of topics, however, this is also one of its greatest hindrances.  When you call yourself a feminist, no one really knows what you mean.  And unfortunately, people automatically assume the worst – that you’re a man-hating extremist.  Meanwhile, this represents an almost nonexistent portion of those involved.  The stigma attached to feminism severely limits what it is capable of accomplishing. After having read the book, even my friend in the first paragraph agreed that a lot of what society expects of women is sexist and problematic, however, the thought of being considered a feminist greatly displeases her.

Reading this article added to my entrenched ambivalence on the topic.  The first two waves were incredibly successful, but now, at the third wave, everything is beginning to fray.  The direction of modern feminism has no unification.  Different groups within the movement have different opinions on the issues, one of the simplest examples being the split over Slut Walks.  While some feminists are trying to embrace derogatory female terms, how successful could one be in changing the perception of words that have been around way longer that the feminist movement itself?

I struggle to identify with a divided movement and sometimes I question how necessary it is.  I would hope that we are moving towards a society where equal pay for equal work should not have to fall under feminism, rather, it should be common human decency.  I believe that a majority of the rights the feminist movement is fighting for are incredibly noble, but labeling them as “women’s problems,” as opposed to a collective societal problem, causes separations within the population and makes it difficult for more people to identify.

Creon on the other hand, was tyrannical, ill tempered, and extremely fixated on being viewed as weak or feminine.  As he said,

“There’s no room for pride, not in a slave,

not with the lord and master standing by

 

This girl was an old hand at insolence

when she overrode the edicts we made public…

I am not the man, not now: she is the man

if this victory goes to her and she goes free” (533-542).

 

In other words, Creon is concerned about Antigone undermining his masculinity.  This stark contrast between Antigone’s and Creon’s characters control how Sophocles wants each one viewed by the audience.  Because Creon’s actions were so intimidating and nasty, many of Antigone’s actions seemed very brave, but not quite heroic.  Antigone’s actions seemed rash and not fully thought through, more as if her main motivation was an inability to stray from what society told her was her main purpose in life.  Even though the gesture of providing her brother with a proper burial, so that he could be respected and hopefully live a happy afterlife, is incredibly respectable, her motivations must be taken into account.  There is a huge difference between doing something because one feels it is the right and necessary thing to do, and doing something in fear of straying from the way one had been raised.  For Antigone, it would have been incredibly unnerving for her to think she was not fulfilling her duty as a woman, and scary for her to think her brother was left lying in the dirt (once again, because she did not do as society generally would have expected her to).  Sophocles also indicates that her actions were out of fear when he wrote,

"Gladly will I meet death in my sacred duty to the dead. Longer time have I to spend with them than with those who live upon the earth. Seek not to argue with me; nothing so terrible can come to me but that an honored death remains."

 

In other words, Antigone was much more concerned with how she would be treated after death (which then, makes her actions just as selfish a Anouilh’s Antigone) and her ability to live not burying her brother (which would be her own dissatisfaction, and selfishly rooted as well).

            Originally, in my essay on how Ancient Greek women would have interpreted Sophocles’ Antigone I said the women would have seen it as empowering, however, after further class discussing and thought on the topic, I have changed my view.  While the play can easily be taken as very empowering, especially to viewers today, it must be taken into consideration that the mindsets of women at the time were completely different.  They had been raised to be subservient to men, stick to their decided role, and not cause extra trouble, whereas Antigone played a major role in the wounding of an empire.  Therefore, the women of Ancient Greece, and very likely the men as well, would have seen Sophocles’ play as a warning against independent women; in order for societal order to remain intact, women need to be kept in their rightful place.

            One line that very quickly set the tone for the entire tragedy was when Ismene, Antigone’s sister, said, “Remember we are women, we’re not born to contend with men.  Then too, we’re underlings, ruled by much stronger hands, so we must submit in this, and things still worse” (Sophocles, 62).  As background to this, the topic that the entire play revolves around, Ismene’s and Antigone’s brothers had been killed in a battle for control of Thebes.  While one brother was given a proper hero’s burial, the other was deemed a traitor by King Creon and left on the battlefield.  Antigone could not live with leaving her brother without a proper burial, especially because one of the main duties of women at the time was to mourn the dead, so she went ahead and buried him, putting herself directly in conflict with the king.  Her sister, who is more concerned with not upsetting the king, warned her.  Throughout the entire play, Sophocles plays with words, often feminizing the king to make a negative point.  Clearly then, the reminder to Antigone that she is a woman and not to try and compete with men, shows the difference amounts power women and men held in society at that time.  Had Antigone listened to her sisters warning, not of the following events in the play would have ensued.  So, women at the time would see that, in order to avoid all trouble, they should stay in line and obey what society dictates as right.

            Another line that would act as a warning towards women was when Creon said, “And you, aren’t you ashamed to differ so from them? So disloyal!” (Sohpocles,84).  Society as a general rule does a very good job at shaming those who stray from the accepted norm.  No one want to be singled out, to be considered weird, to be looked down upon by a collective group, or to be ostracized.  However, Antigone did respond with conviction; that she did not see any problem so long as she was upholding the honor of her brother.  Sophocles did a very good job as presenting her as a strong-willed character, and while she can be respected for that, Ancient Greek women would not have wanted to draw so much attention to themselves.

            When women are taught to not “contend with men” any diversion from the expected path would be frowned upon.  The first line, said by Ismene, perfectly showcases the mentality women in Ancient Greece were raised and forced to live under.  The second quote, by Creon, shows how judgmental society can be.  And that could easily have scared or warned women at the time; no one wants to draw unnecessary or embarrassing attention to themselves.  These lines, and many other like them in Sophocles’ Antigone would have easily acted as reasons for female audience members to maintain the expected path and for men to make sure their women behaved.

Works Cited:

Sophocles.  Antigone.  Robert Fagles.  The Three Theban Plays.  United States: Viking Penguin Inc., 1982.