In General 12/17/18

  • Megan Garber from The Atlantic has written a great article titled Hollywood Still Doesn’t Know What to Make of Childless Women. Megan reviews Mary Queen of Scotts and while I have yet to watch, this entire paragraph echoes what I’ve noticed repeatedly to be Hollywood standards; more so given the more blatant Trumpish regression of the last few years (not to be mistaken for the old fashion regular prevailing regression) and the plight of women in Hollywood in general. About four-five years ago at the time Hillary was making her way towards the Presidency, I told a friend that I’d noticed an alarming rise in women characters dying especially those that weren’t mothers but even some mothers were not getting by this male-driven writer’s rage. I tagged it as a part of the misogynistic gamer gate ugliness. She dismissed my theory until the 2016 presidential election then apologized and told me I was right. The below, however, has always been the Hollywood precedent thus the disposable woman trope, which goes to show Hollywood still has lots of work to do.

In that sense, Mary Queen of Scots does deliver on its promise of modernity: It manages to tap into ongoing anxieties that lurk, still, just below the cheerful surface of things, around pregnancy and fertility and motherhood. Here is a movie that assumes its characters’ maternal status to be a reflection of their personalities, their political fitness, their overall characters—a movie that suggests, based on a loose reading of history, that motherhood is implicitly feminine and its absence is implicitly not. The film’s fusty castles echo with whispers of the ways the American culture of the current moment, so proud of its progress, comes to similar conclusions: The woman who is a mother is to be congratulated; the woman who is not is to be pitied.

But besides their hostility to liberal democracy, the right-wing autocrats taking power across the world share one big thing, which often goes unrecognized in the U.S.: They all want to subordinate women.

Because male dominance is deeply linked to political legitimacy, many revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries have used the specter of women’s power to discredit the regime they sought to overthrow. Then, once in power themselves, they have validated their authority by reducing women’s rights.

Trump and his evangelical backers are united by a common desire to constrain the behavior of women.

Over the long term, defeating the new authoritarians requires more than empowering women politically. It requires normalizing their empowerment so autocrats can’t turn women leaders and protesters into symbols of political perversity. And that requires confronting the underlying reason many men—and some women—view women’s political power as unnatural: because it subverts the hierarchy they see in the home.

“The first [gender] difference that individuals notice,” Valerie Hudson told me, “is the difference between sexes in one’s own home. That establishes the first political order, the nature of how things should be in the country.” It is no surprise, therefore, that authoritarians often succeed when women—especially feminist women—threaten male dominance of public life in countries where men still reign in private.

Listening to Kavanaugh speak, I could tell within a few minutes that he had never been asked to account for himself—that despite a prestigious education he could not string together two coherent sentences of self-reflection. Confronted with Ford’s testimony, he had no story to tell; he couldn’t utter the phrase “This is how I’ve changed” or “This is what I’ve learned.” Instead he stripped the rhetoric of self-defense down to its most basic layer: I’m right, you’re wrong; she’s lying, I’m not; she remembers nothing, I remember everything.

How did we get here? It’s a question posed by a thousand pundits and anxious cultural observers. How did social norms for political behavior change so radically that Trump and Kavanaugh’s performances of naked rage are not only tolerated but celebrated by a significant minority of Americans, and treated by the national media as just another variety of public discourse? The answer, unhappily, is that these social norms of masculinity and whiteness, in fact, have remained largely unchanged in America, but the culture’s compensatory regime of polite avoidance and wishful thinking has now partly—not entirely—dissolved.

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