Tuesday, October 6, 2009
What's Feminist about Steel Magnolias?
was on, so I decided to watch it because I always heard people refer to it as a profoundly feminist film. It is also a perennial staple of "Feminist Film" courses.
Boy, was I in for a disappointment! This poorly made, boring flick is nothing if not profoundly patriarchal. The main story line revolves around a young woman who is willing to risk her life and die (which happens in the end) in order to produce a baby. Because the central goal of a woman's life is to make babies. Unless you can fulfill this goal, you are incomplete. So of course, the only reasonable thing to do is for a woman literally to kill herself in an attempt to produce a baby.
There are many other female characters who are mainly dedicated to endless hen-like clucking around the protagonist's attempts to have a baby, as well as interminable conversations about hair-styles, weddings, husbands, etc.
Since the movie was excruciatingly boring, I started investigating the reasons for why some people see this patriarchal piece of rubbish as a feminist film par excellence. The only reason offered by the scholarly articles I encountered on the subject is that the movie "celebrates female camaraderie." This is a very weird understanding of feminism. Female friendships are great but the film is obviously not about that. In Steel Magnolias, we see women of all generations inhabiting a world of their own. It's a world of babies, beauty, and homemaking. It's a world of things that the patriarchal societies always mark as exclusively female. Men are supposed to be detached from these "womanly" interests and concerns, while women have no interest in the pursuits of men. The view of genders as profoundly divided by an unbridgeable chasm of difference is patriarchal. There is nothing feminist about it. Just as there is nothing feminist about this silly movie.