Tag Archives: Angela McRobbie

She never said she wanted to improve her station

“Wickedness is a myth invented by good people to account for the curious attractiveness of others.”

Oscar Wilde

Have you ever come across someone who just does what he wants all the time, with no real preoccupation about how others will react? Someone who acts selfishly and rude and has no concern for how her behavior affects those around her? A person who brings new definition to the term “fuck-up,” but still somehow manages to always land on his or her feet? I’ve come across a few members of this rare breed and my reaction is almost always the same: I view this person with an odd combination of disgust, pity and utter jealousy. As much as they annoy me, these people can pull off something I can’t.  And I hate them for it. So I do what many other people do: I pretend that my judgment comes from a place of integrity instead of a place of petulant envy.

I’ve already mentioned the endless Girls backlash in a previous post, but have not addressed one of the most controversial characters and criticism-magnets: Jessa Johansson. I love Jessa. I love her clothing, her hair and her attitude. She is an ex-junkie with a failed marriage and no significant history of education or employment, but she acts as if she is royalty. I wish I was one-tenth that self-assured. Unfortunately, if I was to be truly honest with myself, I would have to say that I am most like Hannah (foot-in-mouth disease, awkward clothing, familiarity with self-pity, etc.), but I want to be Jessa. Which is really ironic, considering the fact I would probably hate/envy her if I met her in the real world.

I think part of all the Girls hate is the phenomenon I just described. Audiences might take in this selfish, lazy, unduly confident ne’er-do-well, wish that they were a little bit like her and feel furious. And, to a certain extent, maybe this is the case with all the Girls, though Jessa probably warrants the anger the most. Ninety-nine percent of the world does not fit into this white, privileged, self-analyzing universe. And that, understandably, pisses a lot of people off.

Or maybe there is a sociological reason that the Jessas of the world attract so much vitriol. Maybe we are angry at her because a.) she is a failure, b.) because she is unruffled by her missteps, and c.) because our culture is especially concerned with preserving norms. And what is more abnormal than an underemployed, underwhelmed, over-confident druggie? In particular, one who always seems to end up A-okay, no matter what misadventure she stumbles into? It’s no wonder we (i.e. me) view Jessa with anger and awe. As Angela McRobbie describes in The Aftermath of Feminism, “having a well-planned life emerges as a social norm of contemporary femininity.” Think Shoshanna and  her fifteen-year plan and Marnie’s…well, just think about Marnie. These two and their well-thought-out lives are less upsetting to us because they are more recognizable and understandable. We don’t feel as mad at Marnie because at least she tried to hold down a suitable career before going off the rails. And Shoshanna acts appropriately devastated when she flunks one class and costs herself a timely graduation.

Jessa, on the other hand, never concerns herself with following any generic path. In McRobbie’s analysis, women like Jessa , or “those young women under-achievers, and those who do not have the requisite degrees of motivation and ambition to improve themselves, become all the more emphatically condemned for their lack of status and for other failings.” In other words, we dislike Jessa because she has made a complete mess of her life and because she does not seem to have many, if any, regrets about her past. Her philosophy towards life makes ours seem less valid.

So, why is it that I still like Jessa so much? I think it is because she does what I wish I could do, as opposed to what I actually do. I wish I had the bravery–or even the capability–to experiment with everything without feeling guilty or worried. I want to not care at all about what other people think of me. I would love to not give my past actions or words a second glance and be sure of every decision I make. And–let’s be real here–I want her hair and sense of style. Unfortunately, that is probably the most unattainable trait of all. In any case, I think that our society’s collective hostility towards the Jessas of the world is fueled by jealousy and curiosity much more than it is provoked by the people’s actions. We (again, me) will never be like these people. We will never mess up, act exactly as we see fit and still manage to live a fairly fulfilled life. And that drives us up the frickin wall. Jessa does not give a damn about her reputation; I do. And I cannot stand it.

(Image #1 courtesy of theguardian.com; #2 courtesy of pinterest.com; #3 courtesy of hbo.com)

In every generation, one girl is chosen to fight the forces of darkness…and piss off her predecessors

 

“Individuals must now choose the kind of life they want to live.”

Angela McRobbie

In my admittedly limited studies of feminism, gender and sexuality*, there are a few patterns I see over and over. One of these is the conflict between older feminists and younger feminists.  Generally, second wave feminists (those who fought for the ERA, reproductive rights, equal pay, etc.)…

…do not get along with third wave feminists (younger feminists who include sex-positive, global, or LGBTQ activists in their fight).

Why is that? Third wavers sometimes view their founding mothers as stodgy, racist and elitist. Conversely, second wavers sometimes think of their daughters’ generations as spoiled, slutty, lazy and ungrateful. Since I think of myself as a blend between these two groups, I just want to say that both the Betty Friedans and the Tavi Gevinsons of the world have good points and glaring blind spots. But I digress…

I think McRobbie is one of the few feminist scholars who sees these tensions but does not outright attack either group (although there is a slant towards the second wave).  She describes that the media, peer pressure and ideological institutions all “invoke hostility to assumed feminist positions from the past, in order to endorse a new regime of sexual meanings based on female consent, equality, participation and pleasure.” As McRobbie sees it, the world is training us to see the second wavers as man-hating lesbians and to believe that Lady Gaga and her sparkling lady parts are the height of female empowerment. Really, this means that pseudo-feminism and the third wave have become intertwined and blurred. The older generations recognize this, but still feel that sexual agency might be a teensy bit indecent for ladies. And younger generations wish their moms and grandmas would just leave them alone so they can read Gossip Girl in peace.

Whoosh. Did you get all that? To bring it back to the quote at the beginning of this post, young women (like myself) need to find what makes them uniquely happy and liberated and go for it, traditional feminism be damned. Since, as McRobbie claims, “young womanhood currently exists within the realm of public debate,” there is a lot of pressure and opinions swirling around our heads. Can we be political while still being likable? Is it okay to wear clothes that accentuate our hips and breasts? How can we be taken seriously? Am I allowed to think about relationships constantly if I still get a 4.0? Am I selling out if I love Hillary Clinton but still sing along to Katy Perry in my car?

No matter what you do, somebody gets pissed off.

Which brings me to my petite, blonde hero: hail Buffy Summers, the slayer of vampires.

After watching all seven seasons of this show, I have come to the conclusion that Buffy’s character inhabits the tensions and pressures of young feminists. First, Buffy clashes with the Council, Giles (her Watcher), and another slayer, Kendra. Apparently there is some ancient rule book on how to turn bloodsuckers into ashes. You are not supposed to tell anyone your secret; social lives are off limits; you can’t date, marry or have kids; you aren’t allowed to let anyone help you fight the good fight; etc. etc. etc..

Buffy considers that path for about one episode and then just does whatever feels right to her.  She and her fellow Scoobies work together, contribute different skills and create their own family. Willow brings the smarts and the witchcraft; Xander brings the comic relief; Angel brings the brooding sex appeal; Spike*brings the hilarious bitchery; Cordelia brings the fashion; Giles brings the bespectacled, British common sense.  Together, as Milly Williamson points out, they embrace their “socially marginal identities, speaking from and for the experience of outsiderdom.”

You see, Buffy is an Outside Girl because of her vocation and because she doesn’t fit neatly with second or third wavers. She just does what makes her comfortable. Buffy fights demons in halter tops, has sexual relationships with two different vampires, and shares the weight of the world with her friends and mother. Even when they try, no one can tell her what kind of slayer–or feminist–she is allowed to be. Buffy might be “chosen,” but she is  also an individual.

*American Women’s History class; Introduction to Women’s Studies class; Gail Collins’ book; Jezebel; Leslie Knope; Tina Fey; Joss Whedon’s awesomeness

**Nice Segue: I can’t decide which evil, bitchy pop culture villain I love more, Loki or Spike. Please feel free to discuss in the comments.

(Image #1 courtesy of ew.com; #2 courtesy of thegreatkh.blogspot.com; #3 courtesy of the-unpopular-opinions.tumblr.com)