The Feminine Tension



I follow a bunch of rad feminist tumblrs, so forgive me if this topic is tapped, but here you go: one thing that’s very interesting to me as of late is the sort of performative femininity pushed in pop-culture. I think that gulf between the “ideal lady” and the awkwardness of trying to be that lady is what makes Anna Faris pretty consistently funny, and there’s a similar tension with Lana Del Rey*, where she’s trying on a costume of blase cabaret singer from 1957 - loving the wrong man, her “daddy,” her “old man” - but she can’t quite pull it off in various ways. A show like Mad Men - even though I feel like it’s mostly, at its heart, about work - is all about that gulf with the female characters, but where it’s most interesting (and has received the most vehement criticism) is with January Jones as Betty Draper. The idea - as a generally accepted thing, let’s say - that January Jones is a “bad” actress, and how that plays into her role, where her marriage is a sham and she’s following the “right” path, but who is she, really? is sort of fascinating.

At some point I would like to write something long-form about this topic. Perhaps not quite at this moment. The short version, I think is that the performance of femininity simultaneously says that “this performance, this striving for some sort of feminine ideal of womanity, is utter bullshit,” and yet, with the attention these women get for striving (two out of the three named have had plastic surgery) for a typical ideal sort of proves that the game is rigged and people will still give you attention and worth based on an amorphous “ideal womanity.” [Early days, early ideas, let’s say.] I also think the backlash to January Jones as an actress and persona is sort of interesting - she’s kind of utterly herself, un-media trained, in a way that indicates the tyranny of being really beautiful, that it overrides needing to make a good impression. Presumably the beauty is the overriding impression. It’s sort of badass, in a way. (January Jones + Meghan Fox in interviews = two sides of a similar coin?)

Some of the outraged vitriol spit at these women (on the internet, mostly, I guess) makes me feel like I just want to give them a hug and full support.

*I am deep within the throes of a Lana Del Rey obsession at the moment, although I suspect it will wear off in a month or so, partially because the album is inconsistent. But the songs I love on it - “Off to the Races” “National Anthem” “This is What Makes Us Girls” - teeter between hilarious and great. The first two are kind of insane, veering wildly from idea to idea. The last one works for me as a portrait of a Twin Peaks-like youth in Lake Placid. It’s gotta be Lake Placid. Lots of hotels with swimming pools.

I’m a pretty good mimic - I used to entertain my elementary school classes with my spot-on Fred Schnieder from the B52s doing “Love Shack,” I’m still pretty good at it - and I tried to sing “Off to the Races” the other day, like Lana Del Rey. I thought I could do it. She’s in my range. It’s really hard to mimic the studio track. It’s a song sung by about eight different women. It would be hard to recreate in a live show. I start squeaking and petering out around “I’m your little harlot/starlet.”

[In France, The House Bunny was Super Blonde. And No Strings Attached was retitled Sex Friends. Hee! And a note: these observations apply to a specific Caucasian Marilyn Monroe/Grace Kelly idea of “womanliness,” but I would love to know how it affects other cultures.]

Empathy for Betty Draper.

PS. Lana Del Rey