Thursday, July 29, 2010

If A Lesbian Fell In Hollywood, And No One Were There To Hear Her, Would She Make A Noise?

Our friend at Historiann meditates today on the practice of women's history and why feminism matters. "Women’s history," she writes, "is a large and rich enough field that there are histories of women that aren’t particularly feminist, just as the history of women has expanded far beyond the history of just feminist women to include the histories of women who lived before the invention of feminism as a political movement as well as women who weren’t feminists or even worked actively against feminism." But, she asks: "What would happen if we just stopped writing it? Who in the larger historical profession would notice, or care, or complain?" The answer is not women would care, but feminists would care. "Feminists are the ones who would care if women’s history ceased production. Whether or not they’re women’s historians, feminist historians would notice."

Tie a thread to this post and run it through the blogosphere to Bully Bloggers where, after several days of silence, the comments section of Jack Halberstam's post on Lisa Cholodenko's icky lesbian movie "The Kids Are All Right." Interestingly, this post, on an academic blog that doesn't often attract people who don't get it, has become the site for a polarized conversation about what a "lesbian" movie is supposed to do for either a "lesbian" or a "mainstream" audience; what constitutes a "lesbian stereotype;" and whether it is acceptable for "lesbians" to criticize other "lesbians" for representing a film about a depressingly conventional film as a political triumph over a homophobic movie industry. A critical theme of Halberstam's review -- one that seems to be lost on hir critics -- is that this movie might be about lesbians but that doesn't make it progressive, nor does it represent a cheerful perspective on the state of the lesbian bourgeoisie.

Who notices that there are so few movies that choose gay and lesbian subjects that we over-invest in the ones that do as progressive and/or high art, whatever their flaws? To paraphrase Historiann, queer people do, that's who.

Not surprisingly, those of Halberstam's critics who believe the movie is "good" because it is "realistic" (i.e., represents their reality, and I say that with no sarcasm) also miss critical moments of racism (not to mention the ugliness of Nic's anti-feminist dominance of Jules) in "The Kids Are All Right" that others of us find agonizing. They view the depiction of upper-middle class life in Los Angeles as "mainstream," when in fact the vast majority of GLBT people, like all other Americans, are too poor to afford sperm donors, much less one non-working parent to take care of the kidz. These critics also perceive parenting as a burdensome but socially necessary task for which it is noble to sacrifice the personal and sexual happiness of all adults, straight and gay. The other big problem with these critiques is the assumption in many of them that if Halberstam doesn't get it that sex dies in long relationships, and that people with jobs and children are too tired to do the nasty, ze has never been in a long-term relationship, doesn't parent, and knows nothing about the "mainstream."

Well, take that, why don't you? The assumption that people who do not parent and do not commit to long-term monogamy have no authority to speak to or about those who do replicates the $hitty, narrow politics of the movie. It's not that lesbians committed to monogamy and child-rearing necessarily have bad politics. But they do when "seeing themselves" in popular culture excuses a range of other sins, like not seeing other people who aren't like them. And when they can't perceive that a movie script is sexist, racist, classist and often clunky, actually they do have bad politics, as well as bad taste.

Concluding where I began, Historiann (who does not reveal the nature of her sexuality, her relationship or her parenting status on the blog, and is a pretty radical feminist) has a similar issue with mommy bloggers (which will be revealed in the winter issue of the Journal of Women's History -- reserve yours now!)


Anonymous said...

"Historiann...has a similar issue with mommy bloggers"

I for one, can't friggin' wait to read it.


Mr. B. said...

Excuse me,

Where is Bishop Berkeley?

Oh... Sorry.

Historiann said...

Wow, TR--taking it to the mat! Thanks for the link.

Once I saw that line about the "d!ck up my butt" in the review at BullyBloggers I decided that I didn't really need this movie in my Netflix queue. (I missed that in your review, TR!)

Hollywood seems to have fallen in love with lesbians only since they became "moms" and some of them started having sex with men. Gee, I wonder why that is?

Time to rent The Killing of Sister George.

K said...

To paraphrase, you say that not all lesbians in committed relationships with or with hopes for kids have bad politics, as those with the bad politics of it tend to be the defenders of the film who see themselves depicted on screen. And that, to me, was a huge part of why I disliked the movie. I'm a dyke, about to buy in to some level of convention by getting legally married, with plans for children in the hopefully shorter term future. And that is (part of the reason) I hated this movie. Sure, some of it was painful on this "I can see myself as one of those characters" kind of painful, but on a number of political levels I was disgusted. This is who I am supposed to be? Not as personas or characters, but as political figurations, my masculinity always already lesser than the straight white male, only winning through conventions of homonationalism (as Puar herself described the triumphant end of the movie) qua marriage.
I mourn the loss of queer politics. I resent having to enter the institution of marriage in a legal figuration in order to guarantee my partner's rights as parent to the children I hope to bear and/or adopt. And while I do see social reproduction as an ultimate goal of society in general, it is based in a deeply sociological perspective and not in the individualistic choice to become parent or not. The film assimilates those who share some aesthetic with me, and for that, I am angry.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Our friend at Historiann

Our friend is Historiann!

Comrade PhysioProf said...

OK. Now that I'm done being a dick and I actually read the blog post, I have a substantive comment.

a similar issue with mommy bloggers

Trolling mommy bloggers is the oldest trick in the book. But it is rewarding: when they go shitnuts, they go *shitnuts*. I'm looking forward to Historiann's article.

Anonymous said...

This is a note I wrote to the producers of the movie:

I have to tell you that movie was so awful and offensive I can't easily express my disgust without using profanity. There were so many awful and stupid things in the movie that I can't list them all but the part where she opens the mans pan...ts and looks in awe at the wonder of his penis was absolutely so over the top ugly that it makes my skin crawl just thinking about it. You could have made a great film about diversity and how gay families are wonderful and awful and interesting and banal, just like every other family. The story of how the women decided to have kids, how they decided to do AI instead of going with a friend, telling the stories of thier pregnancies. Instead you chose to reinforce the myth that all a lesbian needs is a good f*ck to make her happy. I'm sorry but there's just no other way to say it. I can't believe anyone would go along with this junk.
Were there ANY gay families involved in the making of this movie?
And what about that business of them watching gay male porn? Where did that come from? That was really sick!

I hope this film closes fast before too many people see it and all the straight men decide to go out and find a lesbian to convert.

And don't bother telling me that the girls end up together in the end. There was too much damage done before that to be fixed.
Yuck.See more

Anonymous said...

re: "non-working parent to take care of the kidz."

i thought feminists were supposed to see that childcare is work even if it not waged.