Subversion in the Mainstream and James Bond in a Dress

Ready to have your life changed? James Bond just became a feminist.

Today is International Women’s Day. In fact, it’s the 100th International Women’s Day. 100 years ago, women’s rights leaders joined together in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark to campaign for their rights in a concentrated effort, demanding the right to work, to vote, to be educated and trained, to hold public (and private) office, and to end discrimination and victimization in the public and private spheres. (You can learn more about International Women’s Day and historical feminist activism here.) What does this have to do with Daniel Craig in drag?

Well, director Sam Taylor-Wood and writer Jane Goldman have given us a short film where the bravest, most daring, most dashing person in the world has found one mission he doesn’t want to take on: being a woman. I could pontificate on the power of seeing one of the manliest British actors in relatively convincing drag or the subversive nature of Dame Judi Dench’s authoritative narration, so different from the voiceovers that we usually hear from female actors. I could rant about the frustrating fact that despite a woman’s first Oscar win for Best Director was for an action film, this two-minute short is the first Bond film directed by a woman, despite the success of Bond producer Barbara Broccoli.

Maybe that’s an unfair complaint. Kathryn Bigelow only won the Oscar a year ago, and the successes of the short’s writer Jane Goldman (StardustKick-Ass, and Kick-Ass 2) are heartening for women who want to make action movies or other “masculine” genres. The success of Tina Fey’s 30 Rock and Diablo Cody’s Juno are helping women carve a place in the world of comedy.  (Although I’m sure Fey’s new book is going to point out how far we need to go on that front too.)

Women aren’t making Bond films, but Bond films have changed to reflect this new world M references in the PSA. There are lots of interesting feminist moments in Casino Royale, but the littlest one, and possibly my favorite, is around 7:30 in this clip. Bond is kissing Vesper and then she starts saying “No. Stop. Stop it.” In a Sean Connery Bond film this moment would be when he kisses her harder, and then she reveals that she likes it, that no means yes. In Casino Royale, Bond stops. Immediately. And he doesn’t get resentful or scary, or share a sad look with the camera. He’s always looking at her, and he doesn’t resist her paying her share. This Bond is a different kind of Neanderthal, not a perfect feminist partner, but certainly not the paragon of male chauvinism we see in the Ian Fleming novels and 60s and 70s films.

Contrast the dynamic between Vesper and Craig’s Bond and Honey (Ursula Andress) and Sean Connery’s Bond:

“Are you looking for shells?”

“No. Just looking.”

And see the tables turn in Vesper and Bond’s first meeting, where she calls him on his character’s chauvinist legacy:

It is Craig’s portrayal of Bond that makes the PSA so powerful. Continue reading

Why a Month? Theresa Rebeck, Lynn Nottage, Lee Daniels, and World Theatre Day

Today is World Theatre Day. Each year, a theatre maker is selected to write a quote for the community, a sort of suggestion for the rest of us. Lynn Nottage, the most recent Pulitzer Prize Winner in Drama for Ruined, wrote this:

I challenge all of us to sustain the complexity of our world; to invite a
multitude of diverse voices onto the stage. We must open the doors and
windows of our theatres to let the world in. It is our responsibility; it is
our burden and our gift.

I find this a really pressing quote, especially when Theresa Rebeck just gave this speech on the 16th. In it, Rebeck describes the rather strange account of a New York Times review that dismissed her play The Butterfly Collection as a man-hating feminist diatribe, commending Tony-Award winning director Bartlett Sher on his impressive work “done with the playwright so ready to resent him.” She is too classy to name the reviewer. (He now seems to be focusing on writing obituaries as far as I can tell.) The production sunk, offers to publish in American Theater and transfers disappeared. Tina Howe complained to Dramatists and apologies were made, but not to Rebeck herself.

People suggested she write under a male pseudonym for a while, but Rebeck didn’t see the point. There are lots of women playwrights, aren’t there? Continue reading

A Little Note on “Women’s History,” Search Terms, and Kathryn Bigelow

Okay, first of all guys, sorry about disappearing off the face of the Earth. The Vineyard’s been crazy and I’ve started scene study class with the brilliant and eclectic Erica Schmidt so things have been busy in a fun way.

I have a bit of a meta-post today in response to a lot of the searches people have been using to find my blog, particularly this post. A lot of queries about 1) Kathryn Bigelow’s height, 2) her relationship status and 3) what she looked like when she was with James Cameron. So without further ado… Continue reading

Why a Month?: Republican Motherhood

Today marks the beginning of Women’s History Month. From the National Women’s History Project:

It often seems that the history of women is written in invisible ink. Even when recognized in their own times, women are frequently left out of the history books. […]

When we began our work in the early eighties, the topic of women’s history was limited to college curricula, and even there it languished. At that time, less than 3% of the content of teacher training textbooks mentioned the contributions of women and when included, women were usually written in as mere footnotes. Women of color and women in fields such as math, science, and art were completely omitted. This limited inclusion of women’s accomplishments deprived students of viable female role models.

Today, when you search the Internet with the words “women’s +history + month,” you’ll find more than 40,500,000 citations. These extraordinary numbers give testimony to the tireless work of thousands of individuals, organizations, and institutions to write women back into history.Much of this work was made possible by the generous support of people like you.
We are inviting other women’s and educational organizations as well as women’s history performers, authors, historic sites, and museums, unions, military units, universities, and women’s history programs and parents, grandparents, and interested individuals to join us in recognizing the importance of women in history.

The theme for this year is “Writing Women Back into History.” This is an admirable idea, but it’s also immensely depressing that we should have to do so. Perhaps some people would like to argue that we shouldn’t. “When’s Men’s History Month?” they cry. Well, if I may be so frank, it’s the other eleven months. Think back over your secondary curriculum and you will probably notice that most of the people you study and talk about in history classes are men. You hear about women when talking about “women’s issues” like reproductive freedoms, abolition, and labor. (This is not always the case. Big props to Mr. Romanski in the Abington Heights School District for always encouraging a close examination of historical fact that forced us to actively look for the impact of minorities on events.)

So I’m starting a feature called “Why a Month?” where I’ll try to explore the complexities of a notion like “women’s history” that is forced to remain separate  from history in general. I’ll try to examine a lot of the figures and concepts that we tend to talk about when we talk about women’s history. So let’s start with an attempt at injecting women into the narrative that always stuck in my craw.

In American History classrooms, you may hear about women’s role in supporting the country after the Revolution, a concept called Republican motherhood where American Enlightenment philosophers acknowledged the “important role” of women in the new nation as the primary parents of the post-Revolution generation. (This has absolutely nothing to do with the party of George Bush and Ronald Reagan. That Republican Party wouldn’t come around until the mid 19th century.) It was up to the wives of the patriots to raise their  children in a way that not only benefitted but glorified the new American Republic.  There’s a more charitable, educated explanation of the concept that argues that it empowers women in its own special way here.

The video’s right that this is a sign of men valuing women, but in a very skewed way. Valuing “women’s work” is not the same as letting women into “male” professions, especially when women were dressing as men to take part in both the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Motherhood is an important and valuable part of many women’s lives, but what about those who don’t want to have children, who want instead to directly affect policy, to vote or hold public office?

It’s condescending, neigh on offensive to suggest that talking about Republican Motherhood makes up for the relative invisibility of women in historical narrative of the Revolution, when historical fact suggests that women were functioning in the public sphere as widows or by passing as men. Sure, Abigail Adams, felt that she needed to tell her husband to “remember the ladies,” but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t a force within herself. She was her husband’s closest political advisor, even acting as a kind of anti-Tory inquisitor post Revolution, which technically made her both a politician and public official. I mean, does this look like a woman who’s gonna take any guff?

Seriously. Girl is fierce.

We’re definitely gonna need more than a month!