I first started writing this post in July when I was knee deep in my embodiment – technology project. Embodiment absolutely fascinates me. Assuming you’re over the whole Cartesian mind-body issue, embodiment is simply the process of living in the body, a body which is more than just our biology. This is a particularly salient idea in social psychology, as theorists argue that since we cannot seperate ourselves from our bodies, we can only relate to other people through them. Therefore, if our bodies, identities, and social worlds are inextricably linked, it is possible that by changing our bodies, we can change how we feel about ourselves, our roles in society, and how we are perceived by others; all of which are aspects of identity. (Some very cool people are actually looking into the plasticity of the self through changes of the body.)
So it is hardly surprising that people use their bodies as identity projects (aka body projects) in order to express a specific identity and lifestyle-the body is both something we are AND something we have. The easiest way to express individuality, aspirations, and group affiliations is through fashion (although exercise is also a popular), which also explains the proliferation of makeover shows; people genuinely believe changing how you look can and will change your life. In truth, there is something to be said about how clothing affects your success. Unsurprisingly, your appearance strongly influences other people’s perception of your financial success, authority, trustoworthiness, intelligence, and suitability for hire or promotion. Hence why alternative schools of thought offer courses that allow for working on changing perceptions from the outside – in, and why top television programs are so fashion-focused. Professor Karen J. Pine even wrote a book about it and gathered some interesting research-based facts about fashion psychology. That said, I have come to the fairly obvious realization that clothing and shopping no longer play the same status role in my life that they used to, and therefore, matter less to me.
Far more interesting are extreme body projects, as well as the subversive and pervasive effects of… talking.
First, extreme body projects. One of the most reknown body projects is that by Michael Jackson. M
Michael Jackson used the latest technologies in plastic surgery to blur the lines of his sex, ethnicity, race, and age. As the technologies improved, the more he was able to do to alter his appearance. His actions were both socially rooted and had social effects in how he was percieved. It is widely argued that he changed his body because of personal eccentricity, but also because of racialised power relations current in Western society at the time. Body projects are typically the result of a move to regain control over one’s life as well as to defy ideas about what normal is by challenging the roles society has assigned. But are such expressions of individuality truly the result of free will? Or do they occur as the result of social pressures?
This brings us to talking. By talking, I mean discourse, which is written and spoken communication whereby meaning is constructed, rather than pre-existing (as defined by Michel Foucalt and discursive psychologists everywhere). In other words, discursive psychologists believe that joint meaning is constantly being constructed through talk. So an ‘embodied self’ is a ‘social body’ (aka an organic object of discourse). According to discursive psychologists, body projects reflect the pervasive influence of society. By simply defining what it means to have a ‘normal’ body, that definition becomes the truth.
Feminists are concerned with bodies.
They oppose the outdated yet sadly prevalent idea that man equals mind (rational, knowable) and woman equals body (irrational, unknowable). Elisabeth Grosz has fought this idea by comparing the corporeal feminism to a Mobius strip, which unites the inside with the outside, never knowing where one ends and the other begins. She argues that the female body goes beyond biology once it becomes the site of psychological and social forces such as insight, reflection, drive, and agency; i.e., the very definition of embodiment. In the fight to empower women and their bodies, Susan Bordo has brought light to the contentious issue of female body image in discourse and the ‘tyranny of slenderness‘. We’ve all heard the argument about how unfair it is that the evolved definition of a sexy body has shifted from Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s to today’s physical ideal. According to Bordo, the media enforces that only young, athletic, slender bodies can be beautiful and happy, which also explains the prevalence in eating disorders amongst women. She claims that through anorexia and bulimia, women use extreme ways to voluntarily surveil themselves and to conform to patriarchal norms which dictate what standards of feminity are culturally acceptable. At the same time, it is also the way women are choosing to exert control over their lives given such conditions which they may feel powerless against.
Enter Gone Girl. By now I’m sure you’ve already read the “Cool Girl” rant somewhere, but just in case, here goes:
Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.
Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men – friends, coworkers, strangers – giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them. I’d want to grab the poor guy by his lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much – no one loves chili dogs that much! And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version – maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain. (How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like: “I like strong women.” If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because “I like strong women” is code for “I hate strong women.”)
- Gillian Flynn // Gone Girl
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that Gone Girl reflects the current zeitgeist, where it seems that there is no better time for the #Heforshe campaign to be gaining traction. Sati on Cinematic Corner made some excellent points regarding the alleged misogyny of the film. I started copy/pasting quotes from the blog post to link to, but it would never do it justice. Just go read it.
We need scary women characters. Men hit women, cheat on women and frankly they are mouthier than ever nowadays. ‘Calm down’, ‘settle down’, ‘listen you bitch’ etc. They think if they hit their wives they will become submissive and afraid. Worse yet – they think that women SHOULD be afraid of men and should be submissive. They think it’s in woman’s nature to be submissive and fragile. And thanks to Gillian Flynn they can now see that sometimes woman’s nature is to be vindictive, righteous and very, very sly. There is nothing misogynistic in saying some women are evil. It would be misogynistic to say they are weak. And neither of the female characters in Gone Girl is weak.
-Sati // Cinematic Corner
And read the book.