Spanish Film Festival 2019, Part 2: The Good Girls, Ana by Day, Carmen y Lola, The Chambermaid, The Longest Night

Jump in for part 2 of my film reviews for this year’s Spanish Film Festival! All of these films are centred on women and issues of class, as directed by non-Indigenous, non-Black women. But there are other themes of intersectionality that I will draw out.

We start with The Good Girls, a much-celebrated tale about greed and White femininity during the 1982 financial crisis in Mexico. Ana by Day starts from an interesting premise – a White woman comes home to find someone else already in her home: her doppelganger. What to do? We move through risque escapism, as envisioned from a place of class privilege. Two of the strongest films of the festivals follow. For the most thoughtful exploration of patriarchy, sexuality and race I’ve ever seen on film, Carmen y Lola is unsurpassed. It was an engrossing story of a young, lesbian Gitana minority woman in Spain, falling in love in a context where ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ and its complex ties to culture and family are unpacked. Another highlight is a methodical and complex look at the lives of Brown Mexican women who service hotels. If you think that sounds mundane, The Chambermaid will floor you with its poignant study of a woman who has always made herself small to survive. She finds subtle ways to subvert servitude. Finally, with its weighty ideals and harrowing topic of human trafficking, The Longest Night is superb filmmaking but utterly horrific for anyone committed to women’s rights. Let’s find out why.

(Read Spanish Film Festival 2019, Part 1)  Trigger warning: discussion of depicted sexual violence, family violence. Continue reading Spanish Film Festival 2019, Part 2: The Good Girls, Ana by Day, Carmen y Lola, The Chambermaid, The Longest Night

Compulsory Heterosexuality

Paper People is a short Australian documentary film by young aspiring film maker Francis Haddid. It centres on teenager Jessica Barlow’s advocacy to change the way magazines portray women. Barlow started The Brainwash Project to provide alternative stories about girlhood that aren’t reflected by mainstream commercial media. Barlow was inspired by American Julia Bluhm, who petitioned Seventeen Magazine to stop photoshopping pictures of women. Consequently, Barlow led a Change.org campaign to get Cleo Magazine to stop using digitally altered images of young women. She met with the editor Gemma Crisp in Sydney, showing her the 20,000 signatures she’d collected. Barlow reports that the meeting was strange and she wasn’t sure that Crisp was listening to everything Barlow had to say. Continue reading Compulsory Heterosexuality

Husbands Resting Area: Heteronormativity and Shopping

This image stands as a cheeky but clever piece of visual sociology on the social construction of gender: wives shop while husbands rest away from their company. Conversely, husbands do not enjoy shopping. I also see that this photo belongs in the rubric of my beloved sociology of the mundane: shopping is not simply a boring, routine leisure activity, it is a way of doing gender. Women/wives live out or “do” femininity by shopping; while men/husbands do masculinity by not shopping.

The gender-appropriate activities we choose to participate in, as well as the activities that we opt out of, are socially prescribed. Steering away from these gender-appropriate scripts that society expects of us can mark people out as being abnormal, or worthy of ridicule. Husbands provide women the funds for shopping and they should be rewarded with solitude – but men who enjoy shopping must not be “good” men.

The sign is an example of heteronormativity: the heterosexuality of the public assumed to inform only one reading of the activity of shopping. The shop appears to display glittery bangles, bracelets and necklaces which are items that Western culture associates with “women”. Husbands are men. Men don’t like this type of jewellery. In other cultures around the world, such as in various Central Asian societies, men wear a lot of coloured and glittery jewellery, sometimes as a sign of status or wealth. In some sub-cultures within Western societies, men wear various pieces of chunky jewellery, but often such pieces signal strength or character or the aesthetics of belonging, such as with some elements of rap culture. In other cases, men wear jewellery as a counter-hegemonic expression of identity, such as with some queer men. In other cases still, bracelets and necklaces are symbols of counter-culture or rejection of the mainstream, such as with goth sub-cultures.

The sign captured by this photo is meant as a joke, but the punchline works because it rests on the heteronormative presumption that there is only one way of being a husband – by rejecting women’s activities, like shopping.

There’s more to be drawn from this photo about the interplay between consumer culture, class and gender, but I’ll leave it to your sociological imaginations to take it further!

Photo by Maria Heyaca.

Hegemonic Masculinity in Film

1970s Jack Nicholson is THE man. He wins everyone over and gives the appearance of not trying. He walks into the room and pushes the needle off the record player. He looks incredible in clothes. He says something completely terrible and insulting and then is forgiven because he smiles to acknowledge that he knows he is being terrible. What he wants he just takes and if he can’t get it he destroys property. He is charming but he is also evil. Are all charming people evil? Isn’t that sort of what charm is about?

Jack Nicholson believes that men are innately different from women (“cunt…can’t understand normal thinking”) He thinks men have egos that overpower everything around them and appetites that require constant maintenance to be restrained. He does not understand that this is the human condition. It would be insulting to say that he is too old to learn this, but I suspect it is something he has secretly known all along, and that most of being Jack Nicholson is pretending to be “Jack Nicholson” for the enjoyment of people wishing to live vicariously through his imagined lifestyle.

– Molly Lambert.

Jack Nicholson’s celluloid persona are exclusive examples of hegemonic masculinity. That is, a society’s idealised vision of what it means to be a “man”. Raywyn Connell argues that films are one of the primary vehicles for perpetuating hegemonic masculinity. Jack Nicholson’s gender performances in most of his films represent what mainstream society expects of all men: living out the heterosexual fantasy of having sex with as many women as possible and assuming power over women and other “weaker” men. The films that have made Nicholson famous also embody heteronormativity: the presumption that heterosexuality is natural and normal. To be a heterosexual man is to be actively seeking sex with women, but only with emotional detachment, even when this is self-destructive or damaging to others.

The real Jack Nicholson we can never know. But his films represent a patriarchal fantasy.

Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider and Carnal Knowledge.

Quote ia: This Recording.

Global Connections: What ‘Eve Teasing’ in India, the ‘Slutwalks’ in North America and Sexual Assault in Australia Have in Common

Eve teasing – an evil. (Via Critical Thinkers)

Public harassment of women in India is known as ‘Eve teasing’. I’m using this as a case study to highlight the ‘Western’ media’s divergent constructions of sexual harassment at home and abroad.

In Australia and in Western countries such as the USA, the mainstream media tend to portray sexual violence and gender oppression as a barbaric practice that are culturally entrenched in developing countries. Gender violence is the stuff of others – it is something that members of ‘less civilised’, less enlightened societies do. In comparison, the Western media depict sexual harassment and rape in their own societies as fear-mongering events involving individuals, rather thananindictment of an entire culture. (See my discussion of the sociology of crime reporting in an earlier post.)

Today’s post begins with a case study of Eve teasing in India before moving on to discuss sexual violence on a global scale, including the ‘Slutwalk’ movement. I provide more detail on the USA and Australia to illustrate that gender violence against women is widespread in advanced, liberal democracies, as it is in other parts of the world. As today’s discussion is focused on women, I talk only briefly about sexual violence against men but I will return to this issue in the near future. Here, I will argue that the situation in India is one public expression of broader global patterns of sexual assault.

Continue reading Global Connections: What ‘Eve Teasing’ in India, the ‘Slutwalks’ in North America and Sexual Assault in Australia Have in Common

Erotic Capital and the Sociology of Beauty

Catherine Hakim’s latest book, “Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital” argues that women should use their sex appeal to get ahead in life. The book continues to generate press in the UK, USA and in my homeland of Oz, in The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald.  The latter alludes to the fact that Hakim’s work distorts French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of cultural capital. The reality is that Hakim misappropriates the sociological ideas that would otherwise make the concept of erotic capital a useful way of thinking about sexuality. My review of Hakim’s work as well as another study on beauty will show that this type of research simply replicates taken-for-granted ideas about sex and gender. Sociology is useful only when it takes apart everyday ideas to help people better understand the social consequences of behaviour; in this case, sexuality, desire and what is considered ‘attractive’.

Bourdieu argued that economic and life outcomes depend upon intangible social processes, such as cultural knowledge (for example, the type of school someone attends) and social networks (the people we know who might help us to get ahead in life). Sexual capital and erotic capital are concepts that have been used to study the social, symbolic, economic and physical resources that affect the way in which sexual desire is constructed in different societies, and the social hierarchies that affect the sexual power and sexual enjoyment of different groups. This is not the way Hakim applies this concept.

Sexual properties are as inseparable from class properties as the yellowness of lemons is inseparable from its acidity: a class is defined in an essential respect by the place and value it gives to the two sexes and to their socially constituted dispositions. -  Pierre Bourdieu
Sexual properties are as inseparable from class properties as the yellowness of lemons is inseparable from its acidity: a class is defined in an essential respect by the place and value it gives to the two sexes and to their socially constituted dispositions. – Pierre Bourdieu

Continue reading Erotic Capital and the Sociology of Beauty