Sunday, February 9, 2020

Portrait of Modern Liberated Woman

Brit Marling was not born under an oppressive patriarchy. She was born in 1982, attended Georgetown University-- where she was class valedictorian--, turned down a job offer at Goldman Sachs and sought to find meaning by working in Hollywood. That's right, she went looking for the truth, or whatever, in a fictional world filled with illusions. She escaped investment banking to become an actress, and eventually a screenwriter and producer.

Besides, she thought it would be therapeutic. For that reason she merits a post on this blog. 

So, she has written a story about her journey of self-discovery for The New York Times. I think it fair to see her as a product of a culture that believes that work should be therapeutic. I think it fair to see her as a product of a culture that fills young women’s minds with tales of woeful oppression. Keep in mind, Marling grew up as a liberated American female. This means that she wants her life to fulfill feminist theory, or, one part of it.

If you would like a good dose of psychobabble, try this, from Marling:

But I wasn’t drawn to acting because I wanted to be desired. I was drawn to acting because I felt it would allow me to become the whole, embodied person I remembered being in childhood — one that could imagine freely, listen deeply and feel wholeheartedly.

Let’s see, she had a recollection of being a certain kind of person when she was a child. We do not know whether or not the memories are correct. At the least, we underscore, to echo the apostle Paul, that when you are a child you do childish things. When you are an adult you put away the toys of childhood.

In today’s therapied America, the lesson has been lost. So Marling wants to find her lost past self. And she thinks that she can do it by pretending to be someone she is not. She is effectively taking a turn away from reality and into her mind, her heart and her soul.

How was life going at the time? Apparently, not very well.

I continued to audition and continued to fail. My depression deepened. My self-esteem plummeted. My boyfriend would get drunk and punch holes in the wall next to my head. I let him. He spat in my face. I let him. He dissolved into tears in my arms. I let him. And then I sifted through the ashes of his anger and his father’s anger before him to help him uncover the forgiveness he needed to move on. I was auditioning to be “Dave’s wife.” I was “robot girl, a remarkable feat of engineering.”

Needless to say, we are slightly flustered to see a modern, liberated woman tolerating that much abuse. Why do such women put up with the threats and the bullying? And why do they think that they should be helping their dysfunctional boyfriends excavate childhood memories. Is this what counts as a relationship for today’s liberated females?

Naturally, Marling identifies with abused females. Unfortunately, that is all she sees. Her mind is so thoroughly addled with feminist ideology that she can see nothing but women being beaten, tortured and murdered. 

After a day of running from men with chain saws in audition rooms and a night of running from the man I shared a bed with, I decided I was done auditioning. I felt I had to write my way out of these roles or I wouldn’t find my way in the real world, either. I could not be what I could not see onscreen.

So I went to the library in downtown Los Angeles and started reading books and watching films about how to write dramas for the screen. I clung to Jodie Foster in Jonathan Demme’s “Silence of the Lambs,” to Holly Hunter in Jane Campion’s “The Piano.”

But aside from a handful of exceptions, I was overwhelmed by the number of dramatic narratives that murdered their female characters.

Of course, she could have looked at the novels of Jane Austin or George Eliot, the histories of Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II to find better endings. And, what about Margaret Thatcher. And she might have considered the lead female characters in Shakespeare’s high comedies, Rosalind, Beatrice and Viola. 

In a world where women have more opportunities to lead and to succeed in the real world, Marling gets lost in ideology-driven fictions. 

Being a product of the therapy culture she also believes that stories create reality. It is a common misconception, which, some people believe to be better than actually dealing with reality. One day, one hopes, she will discover that wishing does not make it so.

Even the spirited Antigone, the brave Joan of Arc and the unfettered Thelma and Louise meet tragic ends in large part because they are spirited, brave and unfettered. They can defy kings, refuse beauty and defend themselves against violence. But it’s challenging for a writer to imagine a world in which such free women can exist without brutal consequences.

We live in a world that is a direct reflection of these stories we’ve been telling. Close to four women a day are murdered in America at the hands of their partners or former partners. One out of every four women in America has been the victim of a rape.

I am one of those one out of four. Our narratives tell us that women are objects and objects are disposable, so we are always objectified and often disposed of.

One suspects that there is more to these statistics than the implied indictment of men, but still, Martling grew up in a world where feminism ruled the culture. She might have mentioned that the great feminist heroine, Hillary Clinton was an enabler of sexual harassment and the staunch defender of a rapist. In truth, many other feminists defended Bill Clinton for his predations. As it happens, the Clintons are not fictional characters.

So, good feminist that she was Marling decided to mine an ideologically driven fiction, the fiction about women rebelling against the patriarchy. As it happens, this is a male-produced fiction, whose origins seem to lie in Friedrich Engels’ book, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. Go back a bit further in time and you have Lysistrata. 

In any event, Marling sours on stories of rebellion because they seemed to trap her within the confines of patriarchy. Apparently, she mistakes these fictions for the real world, so she turns toward science fiction.

Even when I found myself writing stories about women rebelling against the patriarchy, it still felt like what I largely ended up describing was the confines of patriarchy. The more fettered I felt inside the real world, the more I turned toward science fiction, speculative fiction and lo-fi fantasy.

But then, after having some success, she discovers that she is being offered roles as the Strong Female Lead. This character, surely a product of our feminist age, derives from the fact that feminists want women to be strong and empowered. Feminists insist that we call all women strong and empowered. They believe that if we keep saying this we can conjure up strength and power in women. As it happens, today’s strong, empowered women have developed the habit of filling the airways with stories showing them to be weak and vulnerable victims of predatory men. 

The feminist solution: more fictional strong women. It sounds very much like what Marling sought. She describes how she learned to play the role:

Enter, stage right: the Strong Female Lead.

She’s an assassin, a spy, a soldier, a superhero, a C.E.O. She can make a wound compress out of a maxi pad while on the lam. She’s got MacGyver’s resourcefulness but looks better in a tank top.

Acting the part of the Strong Female Lead changed both who I was and what I thought I was capable of. Training to do my own stunt work made me feel formidable and respected on set. Playing scenes where I was the boss firing men tasted like empowerment. And it will always feel better to be holding the gun in the scene than to be pleading for your life at the other end of the barrel.

Eventually, she discovers that the strong empowered female is merely a masculinized female. And, we can’t have that, can we?

It would be hard to deny that there is nutrition to be drawn from any narrative that gives women agency and voice in a world where they are most often without both. But the more I acted the Strong Female Lead, the more I became aware of the narrow specificity of the characters’ strengths — physical prowess, linear ambition, focused rationality.

Masculine modalities of power.

So, she reaches something resembling a conclusion. She decides that these strong empowered women are in serious denial of their feminine charms. We ought to emphasize a point that she surely recognizes, namely, that the war against femininity was led by one Betty Friedan. Feminism, in one of its incarnations, has made it difficult for women to embrace any socially defined female roles.

Oops, I should have noted before, Marling does not care about socially defined roles. She is trapped in fictional roles and thinks that that is all there is:

When we kill women in our stories, we aren’t just annihilating female gendered bodies. We are annihilating the feminine as a force wherever it resides — in women, in men, of the natural world. Because what we really mean when we say we want strong female leads is: “Give me a man but in the body of a woman I still want to see naked.”

It’s difficult for us to imagine femininity itself — empathy, vulnerability, listening — as strong. When I look at the world our stories have helped us envision and then erect, these are the very qualities that have been vanquished in favor of an overwrought masculinity.

As for why we need to consider femininity to be a strength, one wonders why she must fetishize the word “strong?”

Anyway, Marling had been there and had done that, in her real life. She escaped the world of investment banking because it’s a man’s world. And because women within that world needed to adopt the ambient ethos and to act like one of the guys.

Some would consider this the feminist dream come true. They would consider it the fullest expression of all of a woman’s potential. Note that Marling was so into this role, an ideologically driven fiction, that she also slept with women. What could be more guy-like? (I should mention that she was a summer intern at Goldman Sachs, which does not exactly make her a banker.)

I’ve played the Strong Female Lead in real life, too — as an analyst at an investment bank before coming to Hollywood. I wore suits, drank Scotch neat and talked about the women and the men I was sleeping with like commodities on an open market. I buried my feminine intelligence alive in order to survive. I excelled at my linear task of making more money from a lot of money regardless of the long-term consequences for others and the environment.

Apparently, Hollywood is a place where women can be women, or better, can play women. Seriously? Margaret Atwood’s paranoid fictions do not, to my mind, represent anything more than feminist ideology fictionalized:

Butler and other writers like Ursula Le Guin, Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood did not employ speculative fiction to colonize other planets, enslave new life-forms, or extract alien minerals for capital gains only to have them taken at gunpoint by A.I. robots. These women used the tenets of genre to reveal the injustices of the present and imagine our evolution.

In any event, since Marling has no use for socially defined roles, she thinks that fictions create reality. She thinks that she can create herself, that she can be whatever she wants. It’s a very large error. Let’s hope she gets over it:

As time has passed, I’ve come to understand what deep influence shaping a narrative has. Stories inspire our actions. They frame for us existences that are and are not possible, delineate tracks we can or cannot travel. They choose who we can find empathy for and who we cannot. What we have fellow feeling for, we protect. What we objectify and commodify, we eventually destroy.

I don’t want to be the dead girl, or Dave’s wife. But I don’t want to be a strong female lead either, if my power is defined largely by violence and domination, conquest and colonization.

What does she really, really want? Why, to be a free woman. No one really knows what that means, does it mean free to play by the rules or free to break all the rules. They are not the same free:

Sometimes I get a feeling of what she could be like. A truly free woman. But when I try to fit her into the hero’s journey she recedes from the picture like a mirage. She says to me: Brit, the hero’s journey is centuries of narrative precedent written by men to mythologize men. Its pattern is inciting incident, rising tension, explosive climax and denouement. What does that remind you of?

And I say, a male orgasm.

Apparently, she had one too many courses in Freud. She cannot be a true hero because she thinks that the hero’s journey fulfills the terms of the male orgasm. She would do well to do a lot less thinking.

Next, she enters into a postmodern delirium about a multicultural paradise, the better to discover who she really is:

But even in the silence I dream of answers. I imagine new structures and mythologies born from the choreography of female bodies, non-gendered bodies, bodies of color, disabled bodies. I imagine excavating my own desires, wants and needs, which I have buried so deeply to meet the desires, wants and needs of men around me that I’m not yet sure how my own desire would power the protagonist of a narrative.

And naturally, she thinks that it all reduces to climate change hysteria. Nothing quite so essentially feminine as apocalyptic panic about the fate of Mother Nature:

Excavating, teaching and celebrating the feminine through stories is, inside our climate emergency, a matter of human survival. The moment we start imagining a new world and sharing it with one another through story is the moment that new world may actually come.

I hate to have to say this, but the grammatical infelicity of the last sentence, the one where the new world is actually coming, reminds us of nothing other than the female orgasm. If Marling does not know that feminist theorizing has been obsessing about the awesome power of the female orgasm for decades now, she needs to go back to her books. 


JPL17 said...

Wow, what a painful read (her column, that is). I assume its publication was timed to coincide with the Oscars so we'll all be in the proper feminist mindset to view the awards ceremony tonight. You know, just in case any of those patriarchy-friendly films win anything.

Again, Stuart, thank you for reading the NY Times so I don't have to.

whitney said...

My question is how did she get an article in the New York Times in the first place. I'm guessing she has family connections or something maybe from school this whole elite managerial class that that's been created in Academia and now she's trying on a new 'career'. It sounds like she has literally done nothing in her life. She graduated from college but thats pretty much the same as graduating from high school now.

trigger warning said...

Brit's writing reminds me of what a musical score might sound like if it were created by more-or-less randomly concatenating snippets lifted from Baroque composers.

David Spence said...

From Wikipedia-"In the summer of 2009, she joined a group of freegans with friend and co-worker Zal Batmanglij, living in tents and retrieving food from dumpsters,[16] to explore how other young people were constructing a meaningful life." No wonder that guy punched a hole in the wall.

UbuMaccabee said...

Completely nuts and headed for the nuthouse. Good news, sort of, is that when the new multicultural world she longs for arrives, a large black man who thinks like an oversexed version of Stalin will organize her life and thoughts for her, and she will be cured. No matter what endgame ensues, it does not end well for girls named Brit.

Anonymous said...

I liked “Another Earth,” “The Sound of My Voice,” and “I, Origin,” two of which she co-wrote. I have not seen “The OA” or “Babylon.”

UbuMaccabee said...

I think she should have gotten the boob implants. She would be fine now if she had. Listen to your mother.