Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What's Feminist about Steel Magnolias?

Yesterday I felt absolutely exhasuted after all my classes and meetings. So I felt like spending the evening watching some good old feminist classic by way of relaxation.
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.


oldfeminist said...

This is one of the films that passes the Bechdel Test, where two women talk to each other about something other than a man.

Aside from that, it sure does have a heapin' helpin' of patriarchy. I've never been one of those "women are better than men" feminists, having been oppressed by people of both sexes, so I have a hard time slogging through most of these.

It's feminist in the eyes of the men who control the film industry, because there are no explosions. A film that seriously questions the patriarchal status quo never makes it to development.

Clarissa said...

I couldn't agree more!

Val said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who hated that movie...it was a hard one to sit through after JR sacrificed herself for the sake of a pregnancy.