December 25, 2008

Informal Reflections on Gossip Girl (The Prelude to my "pioneering academic work")

So, Naomi Wolf doesn't like the Gossip Girl series of books (though later she said she's be fine with watching the show, though she has yet to, then proceeded to call it "skanky"). She criticises Gossip Girl because it makes girls think they have to compete with pornography but then can still be labelled as sluts. Sure, the mixed messages concerning sexuality in American media suck, but I firmly believe that's not Gossip Girl. The sex on the show, despite what she may say, is not categorically "skanky." The characters have sex for many reasons, btu rarely is their sex only about sex. They use it as a weapon to hurt people (eg. Blair losing her virginity to her ex's best friend, who had slept with her best friend the year before), they use it as a way to express love (eg. Dan and Serena waiting three months to consummate their relationship and finally doing so in a romantic art gallery on Christmas eve), and sometimes they do it to forget how their parents ignore them and don't really seem to love them (eg. Cuck's threesomes with the employees of his father's hotel). Their sex isn't skanky. In fact, sometimes it doesn't even look like fun - it looks tortured!

No, Gossip Girl is not an explicitly feminist text, but feminist criticism of the show kind of bugs me. Don't get me wrong, every show is flawed to some degree and should be critiqued, but I feel Gossip Girl isn't adequately appreciated as a thought-provoking social text. No, I'm not just justifying the fact that I like the show so I can keep up the appearance of being an intellectual. I like plenty of things that I'm sure destroy my brain cells ( US Weekly, anyone?), and I can admit to that. But Gossip Girl is not like One Tree Hill (which I do not watch, by the way); it is not crap! Gossip Girl, while I cannot even remember one actual mention of feminism on the entire show, in my opinion, operates as a sort of argument for why we still need feminism. Don't mock me, I'll explain.

"I Love Lucy" is regularly praised by television historians, because, while it wasn't a show about feminism, it was a show that illustrated why women needed feminism. Lucy was bored out of her fucking mind at home, always scheming to get what she wanted out of her patriarchal husband. And no, Lucy's plans for more freedom and money and recognition rarely had long-term effects, but that's what illustrated the need for feminism! As long as Lucy was a housewife with no option for escape and as long as society and her husband expected her to be that happy housewife, she would remain incredibly UNhappy.

Blair Waldorf, my new feminist icon, is similar to Lucy. She was born in the early 1990's, when postfeminism became a powerful discourse. Postfeminism is full of idiotic and contradictory messages about women being equal to men already, feminism's work being done Blair Waldorf, my new feminist icon, navigates different and contradictory discourses in postfeminism. Her mom, a high-end fashion designer who's all about commodity feminism (buying overpriced clothes and over expensive things as a way to feel "empowered"), presses Blair to wear prim and proper clothes and pursue a relationship with a boy who clearly doesn't care for her (Nate) because it's mutually beneficial to both families' businesses. Blair, rebelling against the boyfriend who pretends to like her for family wealth and the mother who fosters the charade, finds solace by fleeing to a burlesque club (Something big prefeminism in the '50s that's come back in style postfeminism) and performing onstage for Chuck. She strips out of the dress her mother chose for her to wear to dinner with Nate's family that night while dancing seductively for Chuck. She stares right at him as she begins to undress. Blair is courting the male gaze as she performs her raunchy striptease. Chuck, whom she referred to at the episode's start as a "womanizer", is the person she performs for to assert her sexuality. Uses sexuality to triumph over patriarchy is another element of postfeminism. This heterosex-positive discourse contradicts the new traditionalism that is also popular in postfeminism, telling us women are happier back in hearth and home, and yet it is equally part of the discourse. What new traditionalism and heterosexiness have in common for Blair Waldorf, is that both of these competing postfeminist discourses fail to liberate or empower her.

Blair seeks refuge from new traditionalist postfeminism at a strip club, engaging in her heterosexy postfeminism, both this doesn't work, either. She proceeds to get revenge on Nate that night by sleeping with his best friend Chuck, but this sexual rebellion does not make Blair happy. It's not the answer. We learn this the next episode, when she immediately regrets having lost her virginity to Chuck. She goes back to the new traditionalism, once again reconciling with Nate, whom she has reportedly been "Dating since kintergarden." Of course, Nate disappoints Blair again immediately after their reconciliation. The only coping strategy Blair can think of then is to sleep with Chuck again. Thus, she is stuck in a cycle of bouncing between the poles of new traditionalism and heterosexy empowerment. Neither one completes her, however. The different answers postfeminism gives us for empowerment all fail Blair.

Postfeminism ideas of empowerment leave Blair Waldorf feeling conflicted and disempowered at every turn. Just as Lucy showed how unhappy women were in American pre-second wave feminism, Gossip Girl never mentions the word feminism is season 1. Not once, but the world without feminism it shows (one heavily influenced by ideologies prominent in postfeminism), is a scary, dysfunctional place. The loss of Blair's virginity and the fall-out from this event illustrate that postfeminism is bullshit. We're not done with feminism. We still need it. In fact, Blair needs it. In Victor/Victrola and the following episode, Blair finds herself neither happy as a madonna or a whore. Maybe with feminism, it wouldn't have to be a binary. Maybe Blair's feelings of self-worth wouldn't be so heavily dependent on finding a proper boyfriend like Nate or dancing provocatively for a womanizing teen to get revenge on the proper boyfriend who betrayed her. Blair could be a more nuanced individual. Blair Waldorf is my feminist icon because feminism could really help her...She proves postfeminism hurts us. We need to teach young girls about feminism, because they could use it....

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