We were there to see a French film, farcical and kooky. I settled happily into my seat. Pleased with myself. How grown-up I was. There were shorts. Other clever films. Arthouse. European. And then Amy Schumer cavorted on to the screen in a trailer for her new movie, I Feel Pretty, the premise of which can be summed up thus: average woman with below-average esteem knocks herself out during a SoulCycle class, wakes up believing she's suddenly above-average in the hotness department, a bunch of amazing stuff happens to her, then she knocks herself out again and, duh, realises the only thing that'd changed was how she felt on the inside. It looked beyond stupid, risible even, and I wished briefly, and with all my heart, we were there to see it instead.
A few days later a friend sent an email containing a link to several thinkpieces. One, published in The Atlantic, examined Hollywood's insistence on perpetuating what Naomi Wolf called "the beauty myth"; how Western notions of attractiveness operate as a social control under which women must conform and slave. I Feel Pretty, the article argued, is faux-feminism. The perfect example of the myriad ways in which mainstream media pretends to celebrate body positivity and preach female empowerment, while simultaneously endorsing the system that ensures ultimately no woman feels she can ever measure up. Telling us to love our thickened waists as the camera zeroes rapturously in on the featured extra's pancake-flat puku. I read this and I felt kinda stink. How had I been, even momentarily, suckered into thinking it looked like a bit of fun?
Last Sunday night, as is the tradition in our family to mark the end of the school holidays, we went to the movies. When my husband and children voted to see Avengers: Infinity War, I decided, in the interests of research, to take myself off to see I Feel Pretty. It was as silly as promised, and I was cross with myself when I pre-emptively winced along with Schumer's onscreen date and everyone else in that Event Cinema, exactly as the director so clearly intended us to do, at the patently ludicrous notion of Schumer, with her stout trunk and pendulous breasts, entering a bikini contest. It irritated me, too, that the rules governing what a beautiful woman is supposed to look like could be so ingrained as to make me unquestioningly predict and accept that Schumer and her dowdy friends didn't have a shit show of getting past the bouncer at the exclusive speakeasy.
And yet, in spite of being forearmed with academic analysis, in spite of my own university studies in feminist politics, there was a part of me that couldn't help but enjoy it. Couldn't help but rejoice when Schumer got her man, won back her girl squad, and found her happy place on a stationary bike. Why is that? Is it for the same contradictory reasons I can tell my small daughter to treasure her body because it enables her to do incredible things like ride horses and shoot goals, all the while making hateful mental inventories of everything I would change about my own? Is it with the same inconsistency I can both applaud the #MeToo movement and nurse occasional fantasies of being swept off my feet by a powerful man (and no, in case you were wondering, this is not code for "rape")? Does all this make me a hypocrite? Or does it just make me human?
On raising adolescent boys. Ian: "It is the adult's responsibility and role as the parent to set the standard and expectations. Not the role of the teen to be treated like a spoilt little brat and cajoled, wheedled, or any other fluffy-minded, post-millennial, softheaded way of thinking. You, as his mum, set the standard with the expectation that you will be listened to and OBEYED. Simple."
Jan: "I couldn't believe my lovely, good-natured son had turned into this grunting young man. I well remember the day I was so annoyed at his untidy bedroom (after repeated requests to clean up) that I put everything from his floor into the boot of my car. Then I read about a woman who lost her son in an accident and wished she could still moan to him about his bedroom. That put it all into perspective and I closed the door from then on so I didn't have to look at it. He is now a lovely husband and father, and complains about the mess his kids leave around the house!"