What can I write about women that hasn’t already been said?
At least from my perspective women and womanhood have been in the news a lot recently, or perhaps that is just because I’ve been paying more attention. #metoo, the Irish abortion referendum, gender pay equality, trailblazing female writers, musicians and sports people – whether or not there has been an increase in what is being reported about women, often by women, I feel as if a shift has occurred.
From a personal stand point, I have always felt a sense of disconnection from my gender. I am aware that I am a woman but what it means to be a woman is so very complicated that I often feel it is easier to negate applying the gender terminology to oneself and opt instead for a neutral stance.
The portrayal of women is so very difficult to associate with. When I turn on my phone and check into Instagram, I see womanhood in the form of headless bodies provocatively distorted across various surfaces. I see it in the form of faces bare for a moment before they are covered and perfected for our viewing pleasure various cosmetic products.
What is there to identify with in that? The beauty of other women could be empowering if it were not used against us in marketing and advertising. Many of the models I see are photographed by female photographers or take their own pictures and I suppose there is a freedom in this: of course we are all at liberty to dress our sexuality up or down as we want and, I guess, to profit from that.
So I might associate with female entrepreneurship and ownership in these cases. They are the ones having the last laugh. Perhaps they are.
Last night I watched Crazy Rich Asians and in it I felt myself watching the various forms of womanhood that I myself feel I have been invited to identify with.
Rachel Chu is an economics professor in NYU. Her teaching career, work ethic and intelligence appealed to the young woman in me who has pursued a similar path (though not mathematics and not university teaching!); her sense of humour, confidence at the beginning of the film and composure when she is told of her boyfriend’s wealthy family appealed to the side of me that feels that to be a woman is to be disappointed by emotional vortex I too often find myself in.
Even that I associate being emotional with negativity tells you a lot. Too emotional.
If you haven’t seen the film I won’t ruin it but I will say that throughout the two hours or so that it is running I felt as if Rachel ran into, not the problem of confronting the wealth of her boyfriend, nor his disapproving mother, but the problem of womanhood.
She could have stood in front of a mirror and had many of the conversations that took place in the movie with herself.
Her partner’s mother questions her for following her passion and wonders if she has what it takes to join – and presumably keep up – family traditions through sacrifice. Show me a woman who has not felt similarly; tugged between the desire to have or not have children, for example! Or a young girl wanting to join a boy’s football team; a woman choosing not to wear makeup even; or a woman working out too much.
There are some “passions”, it seems, which are far from womanly and which call into question our right to belong to the gender.
Similarly Rachel has a dead fish left on her bed and is accused by the others at a bachelorette party of being a gold digger. In a scene I found especially poignant, one of the other characters writes a message which says: hook, line and sink her.
And nothing, nothing is more realistic of how woman can treat one another. The enemies for all intents and purposes that Rachel faces in this film are versions of herself projected out for her in the forms of the women we are supposed to be and the ones we face when we deviate onto the path of self-determination, dare I say onto a more ‘genderless’ route.
Rachel’s mother and friend appear in the film in a positive light but because the film’s key ending scene is one where Rachel uses her intelligence and composure to explain her situation to Nick’s mother and she leaves with her own mother who gives Nick’s mother the evil eyes, it is still posits the idea that women have most to fear or disapprove of in other women.
It occurs to me that it might have been impossible to put all of the competing aspects of femininity into one character, Rachel, and that is preciously why there are other females in the movie.
We have the stylish, quirky friend who doesn’t seem to care what others think (loved her!), the protective mother who sees self-interest as both selfish and contrary to familial continuity, the immigrant and self-made mother who represents the capability of women, Rachel herself as a driven economics professor, the ex-girlfriend and cronies who bring her to her knees by questioning her loyalty, her beauty and whether or not she measures up.
One character couldn’t express all that! But one woman – in real life – does. Looking in the mirror in the morning one woman has these competing elements which are dragged out and portrayed individually in their various forms for us to battle with.
Our struggle is an internal and external one, so often created, maintained and perpetuated by ourselves.
Here’s to the days when women just have to battle with an asteroid or, gasp, a secret from their past. That’s child’s play for most of us.