Let me declare my hand from the outset. Men and women are different. Our gender is not interchangeable. When we act like it is, we run into huge problems. However, it’s a fallacy to argue that difference implies inequality. Just consider the Trinity. Different persons, different roles, total equality. Hundreds of Christians fought and died over this issue – and for good reason. So it’s hardly a modern dilemma.
Given this assumption, there must be, if not a feminine genre, then at least cultural expressions that speak to men and women in uniquely powerful ways. But what are they?
I’m going to start by rejecting ‘chick lit’. In itself it’s usually pretty inoffensive, but emblazoning a book with a pair of high heels and some pink curly text does not an audience make. Whilst fun in small doses, they too often simplify gender to a hungry mass of ovaries. But we women are about a little more than the quest for body beautiful, career and a suitable mate, right?
Perhaps it’s time to round up the troops for a trip to the cinema or a DVD then. Sex and the City? Eat Pray Love? (Speaking for myself, I’d rather lick chilli off a thistle than watch Julia Roberts find spiritual fulfilment in sex, yoga and spag bol. But you know, horses for courses. And as someone whose emotional development was determined largely by ‘Dirty Dancing’, I’m in no position to comment. Nobody puts Baby in the Corner).
So let’s go deeper. How about in the pages of a seminal feminist text? It may be provocative, but the arguments are stimulating and a little more profound. However, I’m not sure that they provide any more of an answer. In this sphere, the level of debate may be higher, but the arguments often centre on exactly same areas as the glossy mags. Again we are reduced to our bodies, our brains and our oppression – albeit from a different perspective. Sure, the ‘solutions’ are a little more satisfying than the bottom of the chardonnay glass – but are they any better? In vilifying men and the media for example, aren’t we embracing the very victimhood we claim to reject?
Here’s what James Walcott writes in a piece on the ‘classic woman’s film’ (‘Carrie Bradshaw Meet Mildred Pierce’, Vanity Fair, August 2010):
The classic women’s cult film is more than a classic weepie or romantic concoction. It endures because it embodies drives and ambitions and longings that vault beyond melodramatic convention and remain compelling even as social mores evolve and sexual hang-ups are slutted aside…they exert power and an emotional hold because of…a searching dissatisfaction that can’t be bought off with a wedding ring.
I’m in agreement so far. But he goes on..
…they are allegories of oppression and liberation for every minority that feels belittled, denigrated and denied.
Er – not so sure. This is not to deny the historical oppression of women – nor the fact that it continues to exist in some areas today – along with racism, homophobia and all sorts of other evils. But if this is what makes a ‘woman’s film’, again, aren’t we defining ourselves in the language of slavery?
So what do you think? Is there such a thing as a woman’s genre? And if so, what does it look like?