Tuesday, February 15, 2011

bling + protofeminism

it seems my academic interests are always finding their way into my blog posts. if you don't care for women's issues in the france, please follow the links in the column on the left for more interesting posts by 'a few of my favorite people.' i would recommend this post by jourdan on love, and anything by chase is pure, peaceful poetry. oh and amy always, always has good stories to tell. often illustrated, for the win.

in any case, i'm spending a lot of time reading and thinking about women's issues in france starting in the mid-18th c. lately. i found this treasure i thought worth sharing.
the journal "la femme libre," and later "la tribune des femmes," was a newspaper written exclusively by and for women in the 1830s. what is most striking is that the women published under their first names only - suzanne, marie-pauline, jeanne-victoire - because they felt that "to use their husband's name was to perpetuate their condition of slavery." [1] these women were about 130 years ahead of their time, eh? i think i hear the crackle of torched corsets mingled with the smell of burning microfiber bras.

i guess this is interesting to me because lately i've been a bit preoccupied with the idea of exchanges in relationships. what does it mean to take your spouse's name when you get married? is it a sign of "slavery" as these women (and so many others) believe? i've tossed the idea around of keeping my nom de jeune fille if/when i get married, but i think sharing a last name with your spouse is probably an important part of the unity necessary for a durable relationship.

i also got into an interesting conversation/mild tiff with a (yes, male) friend last night about wedding rings - another symbolic exchange. this friend wants to buy his wife a nice ring - "bling," he called it. me? i want nothing to do with a capital-R rock. it's just that something like this marks an exchange in which the ring is a sort of guarantee for a well-provisioned future. "hey!" says man, "i can buy you this shiny thing now, and that means i can buy you more shiny things later!" i don't want to be convinced of someone's earning potential by the size of the ring they can offer. i guess i tend to look at oh-you-fancy-huh rings as a status symbol: man buys ring for wife to reflect his paycheck. and while i know that's not what everyone sees in shiny wedding rings, it's certainly what i see.

spend five minutes talking to me about relationships and you'll see how far removed my paradigm is from that one. now, i'm not going to claim an real expertise in relationships, seeing as i am far from wed + bed. however, i want my marriage (again, if/when, friends) to be one founded on partnership, joint effort. we're equals here, partner. fancy rings aren't my taste, and i won't wear one to your corporate dinners as a sign of how well your latest investment is doing.

on the other hand, a simple gold band is perfect. keep the symbolism, lose the materialism.

i know, i know... burning microfiber. i just want to have an evaluated perspective on this kind of cultural symbol: rings, names? all great, if done for the right reasons.

[1] McMillan, James. France and Women, 1789-1914. Kindle for Mac, Loc. 2,019.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bodies in clothes, in motion

Did I mention that this is where I am researching right now?
When I entered the Salle Ovale at the Richelieu site of the BnF, I quite literally got the chills.

I am loving my research. I'm dealing with some theorists that propose new ways of thinking about bodies in space and in culture. From that, a couple thoughts for pondering:

(1) Is movement cultural? That is to say, would your body move differently if you had been brought up in rural China? or Ghana? or even Spain?

"[W]e—like all the world’s peoples—consign everything to do with out bodies to the domain of the ‘natural’. That is to say, the territory which is beyond the reach of culture. Always and everywhere the way ‘we’ walk, sit, squat, lean against a wall, stand, sleep, copulate, and so forth is seen as the way the body ‘naturally’ behaves.”[a]

(2) What influence does clothing have on the way we move and think? We traditionally think of clothing being an expression of some internal identity. I wear a skirt on Sunday because I'm a Mormon woman. If I were Senegalese I would wear a boubou.
An external sign of some internal identification, right?

Not according to an article I read yesterday on women's fashion in France in the 1920s. Mary Louise Roberts argues that women's fashion was not only a "marker" (an external sign) of feminist leanings, but a "maker" of cultural change.

What I'm getting at is this: our clothing choices can influence us. Adopting a certain style of dress can change the way we behave and move. I think our relationship to clothing is symbiotic: not only is our dress an expression of something internal, but it also shapes that internal state. Robert's argument is that the more mannish clothing women were sporting, thanks in large part to Coco Chanel, had the "effect of reversing or blurring the boundaries of sexual difference, causing women not only to look but to act (more) like men." [b]

I've seen this at play in my own sartorial choices. I am one of the world's biggest fans of jeggings, and I started wearing them, I thought, as an expression of my own identity and in large part in reaction to the (prudish?) aversion to them in BYU culture. But wearing jeggings changed the way I moved - I had more physical freedom than in traditional jeans and therefore manipulated space differently, which has had some implications for the way I think (though I'm having a tough time expressing exactly what those are...).

And I guess I'll 'fess up on this one, too: I gave up wearing bras about four months ago. Only if my top is diaphanous or form-fitting enough to make it evident will I put on that hated soutien-gorge.

Sometime in mid-October began the in/famous Friday Free Days, when I would literally throw off the clothing I found restrictive and pair jeggings with a flowing top that could hide my lack of a bra. And I began noticing that I behaved differently on Friday Free Days - I felt more relaxed and far more at ease in my own skin, perhaps because I was living more in that skin than I had before.

Sorry if my confession is a little too personal, but I am out in the open (pun intended) on this one.

Basically, I think that clothes really do make the wo/man.

[a] "Dance, Gender and Culture," Ted Polhemus. Dance, Gender and Culture, ed. Helen Thomas. Macmillan Press: London, 1993. p. 4

[b] "Samson and Delilah Revisited: The Politics of fashion in 1920s France," Mary Louise Roberts. The Modern Woman Revisited: Paris Between the Wars, ed. Whitney Chadwick and Tirza True Latimer. Rutgers University Press: Piscataway, 2003. p. 73

Monday, February 7, 2011

you're not in provo anymore

i'm feeling worldly.

two things:

(1) walls in paris apartment buildings are very thin. my neighbors have a very healthy sex life.

(2) pouring herself a glass of wine, my roommate says to me, "ceci est beaucoup moins nocif que le coca, tu sais," which being interpreted means, "this stuff is nowhere near as bad for your health as a coke."

i knowwww but, in the immortal words of my four-year-old mother, "coffee" - and tea, and alcohol - "kills mormons."

this is not provo.

but oh, am i so glad not to be there.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

500 Days of 400 Blows

You've seen Michael Webb's 2009 movie 500 Days of Summer, right? The film proclaims from the outset: "This is not a love story." There is, however, lots to love about the film: Joseph Gordon-Levitt has done some very nice growing up since his performance as the adorably love-struck Cameron James in 10 Things I Hate About You; the soundtrack is a truly excellent mix of Regina Spektor, Feist, Carla Bruni, Simon & Garfunkel; the story is refreshing; there's an excellent dance scene to Hall and Oates You Make My Dreams; and Zooey Deschanel is without question my #1 girl crush.

But I think my favorite thing about the film is its smart intertextuality. One scene is a reference to Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal in which my #1 boy crush, Antonius Block (played by Max von Sydow), plays chess with Death.

In 500 Days of Summer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character plays against cupid. Look familiar?

Of course, I'm not the first one to pick up on that allusion. In fact, the IMDB site has a whole page of move connections, and people far more film-savvy than I have found references to films like He Who Gets Slapped (1924), Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times (1936), Blade Runner (1982), and another Harrison Ford performance as Hans Solo in Star Wars: Episode IV (1977) when Gordon-Levitt's character catches his his reflection in a window.

One reference I have yet to see mentioned, though, is the soliloquies on love, a veiled reference to the French New Wave classic, Les quatre cent coups or in English, The 400 Blows (1959). There are several famous scenes from François Truffaut's film that get cited over and over: the spinning ride at the fair, the Punch and Judy puppet show, freeze frame. The most famous is arguably the scene in which the young protagonist answers the questions of an offscreen psychologist and the actor Jean-Pierre Léaud's lines are said to be entirely improvised. And I think Michael Webb is playing off that important moment in cinematic history here.

Both scenes are shot in black and white, and the camera frames the actors from mid-torso or shoulders up. In both scenes, the characters respond to offstage questions. Even more, in both 400 Blows and 500 Days, the characters discuss their relationships to women - romantic ones, exclusively, in Webb's film, but in Truffaut's Léaud talks about both disappointed sexual encounters when he responds to the question, "Tu as jamais couché avec une fille?"* and his relationship to his (rather absent) mother.

And maybe we can suggest that Webb is even playing off of titles here: 500 Days of Summer and 400 Blows?

Do you ever wish you could just watch movies without having to stop halfway through to make a blogpost about intertextuality? Education has its ups and downs.

*Have you ever slept with a girl?

Friday, February 4, 2011

love, joy, skype, and song

My day could not have gotten off to a better start this morning. One of my best friends Alex and I had decided to Skype, midnight in Provo, breakfast time in Paris.

One wonderful thing about Alex (among very, very many) is that he has roommates who also happen to be wonderful. Want to know how wonderful? So wonderful that four men (plus banjo) sang me Amazing Grace across the Atlantic Ocean and 3/4 of the North American continent. Alex and his roommates Peter, Mike, and Scott made my day and won my heart.
Truly a Grammy-worthy performance.