Thursday, October 2, 2008

Feminism and Pam Beesly

by Josh Franklin

I've been thinking a lot about how 'feminist' has become such a feared label. I have always considered myself a feminist, maybe without really considering exactly what that meant. But as I've talked to my friends about writing for this blog, a great number of women have been confused or even dismayed about my feminism. So I've been trying to articulate my own vision of feminism and figure out exactly what about it is so unappealing to my friends.



I love The Office, and I was surprised to read feminists complaining about the turns that the show has been taking. The show did indeed reveal the absurdity of sexism in a dramatic and hilarious way with Michael Scott's antics, and some of that has changed and mellowed. Michael is a much more sympathetic character once new dimensions of his sad saga with Jan are revealed. Jan has become a much more problematic character in terms of feminism after her collapse during the "Dinner Party" episode. But the most interesting new development in The Office is Jim and Pam's blossoming romance, and now engagement. Their relationship is indeed somewhat traditional, and seems to cling closely to stereotypical gender relations.



But what I want to ask is: what do Jim and Pam mean for feminism? Despite the gender stereotypes, their relationship is a fairly good model. Pam does indeed inhabit a traditional female role in the relationship, but she does so consciously. Her relationship with Jim is meaningful and fulfilling, as is the career in graphic design that she pursues in New York.



I have no great love for traditional relationships and stereotypical gender roles, for a variety of personal and philosophical reasons. But for better or worse, Jim and Pam are the characters that my peers seem to identify with. I have always believed that a fundamental part of respecting women is respecting women like Pam. And I feel that amongst my friends with whom Jim and Pam's love resonates so strongly, there is a feeling of alienation; they seem to feel that their lifestyle and values are devalued next to a shiny sexual progressivism.



Despite my personal dislike for them, I believe that traditional forms of gender relations are not necessarily bad. The challenge for a feminist approach to our culture is to figure out how to tell the good from the bad--for there is certainly far too much unhealthy sexism and gendered interaction. So my question to feminists is: am I missing the point? How can I work against the deep injustices that gender can do to us all while still accepting the values of my friends?

1 Comments:

At October 2, 2008 at 6:57 PM , OpenID wmplax said...

Though this is my second response to an article dealing with "The Office," I nonetheless have to respond to what appears to be a relatively superficial reading of the show. I think that the relationship between Jim and Pam goes far beyond simply determining which relaitonships are "good" and which relationships, in a matte of speaking, are "bad"--this sort of perspectivism provides the sort of fuel for unnecessary conflict within the movement. Instead, why not develop a more constructive dialogue that attempts to analyze and deconstruct the constituent forces that contribute to, and help form, Pam and Jim's relationship--certainly, the represent a "normal," or "commonplace" relationship, but to what extent can we consider this process of social normativity--and its associated veins of sociological performativity--as normal? What systems of institutionalization have aided in developing the methods Pam and Jim interact--to what extent is this a mimetic expression, and to what extent is it a social critique (and, most important, to what extent to these concepts interact, intersect and coincide?).

Josh writes: "what do Jim and Pam mean for feminism?" This is a great start, and I whish he would have followed this up with a more conclusive analysis, but the next sentence provides a virtual guillotine to the potential of the evaluation: "Despite the gender stereotypes, their relationship is a fairly good model." How could we possible say "despite the gender stereotypes" when that is precisely what the show--and, by extension, what our analyses of the show--should and do center around? He displaces the importance of reproductive, emergent culture--"doing gender" advocates its centralized position to a more superficial rendering of what it means to be in a "fulfilling" relationship. Yet, before we can achieve any understanding of what this means, we must first understanding how "fulfilling" is defined, what forces have contributed to that definition, and how our own understandings have been molded by popular culture, romanticized culture, and the various ideologies and philosophies that permeate throughout the public and private spheres.

Josh continues: "But for better or worse, Jim and Pam are the characters that my peers seem to identify with. I have always believed that a fundamental part of respecting women is respecting women like Pam." I took issue with a couple things here: mainly, "for better or worse" is a conclusion that leaves a lot to be desired, and the process of "identification" requires further inquiry (e.g. why and how is identification develop/preserved/justified?)...the implication of the second sentence is that there are some women that shouldn't be "respected," that women "like Pam" are truly worthy of respect while others--despite sturctural inequalities, indoctrination into the Baudrillardian "silent majorities", etc.--are a variable diaspora of the feminist idelogy, a displaced mess of insecurities and stereotypes.

He adds: "And I feel that amongst my friends with whom Jim and Pam's love resonates so strongly, there is a feeling of alienation; they seem to feel that their lifestyle and values are devalued next to a shiny sexual progressivism." Perhaps this is just a matter of recognizing the falsity of "sexual progressivism," perhaps it is something deeper...regardless, the disconnect between the insecurities a show can identify--and, through misinterpretation, reproduce--and the willingness of the general public to consume the various images, sounds, concepts and products associated with those insecurities is more a problem of consumerist culture writ large. Obviously, it has profound--and many would argue emphatic--implications in the realm of feminism, but it is unfair to say that women are the only ones who suffer from unfair gender profiling and sexual stereotyping--if we are to follow this argument, then that would have to include a rather broad critique of the systems and subsystems of emergent social space, and its contingent position within the framework of the ideology of the late capitalist period.

 

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