Saturday, April 3, 2010

Modern Morality Tales

Poor Sandra Bullock.

First, her triumph over winning a Best Actress Oscar gets cut short in one of the cruelest ways possible --- she discovers that her husband is cheating on her, and also that he might be a neo-Nazi, or at least think neo-Nazism is funny or ironic rather than horrible --- and then, this being a backlash era and all, some supercilious op-ed columnist sees fit to use her personal tragedy as a cautionary tale to shame women for daring to have a life beyond their marriages.

There has also been the barrage of relentless, super-exploitative media coverage that never fails to compound the sense that one's life is spinning horribly out of control.

(Here are some sample magazine covers):

And then, the feminists get in on the act! Feminists! The ones who are supposed to have her back, or at least who might be expected not to blame a woman for her husband's failings? Well, they don't seem to be extending that courtesy to Sandra Bullock.

Here's Kate Harding, who is normally spot-on in her analyses and who, until now, has scrupulously avoided blaming victims, writing for Jezebel:
If there's been a bright side for Sandra Bullock during this bizarrely long spell of public interest in her dickwad husband, it's that her own reputation has mostly been spared. But can it survive the Nazi picture?

More to the point, should it?

Don't get me wrong: I am in no way suggesting that a wife is responsible for her husband's behavior. I'm not even saying Bullock must have known; just as it's possible for women not to realize their husbands are cheating or married to other people or, say, responsible for multiple murders, it's surely possible to miss the signs that your partner is, if not an active neo-Nazi, the kind of twisted asswipe who finds humor in taking photos that suggest that he is. But at some point, don't you have to wonder?


I'm all for giving celebrities their privacy amid salacious gossip and personal turmoil, but since Bullock clearly knows all about that photo and the other accusations now, I can't figure out why we haven't heard from her yet. This is not the kind of thing you let slide, even if all you want to do, quite understandably, is hide out and lick your wounds. Perhaps she's just taking her time crafting a blistering statement denouncing [Jesse] James' apparent anti-Semitism, avowing her unfortunate but total ignorance of it and announcing the imminent divorce. But if that's not out by tomorrow? Something's seriously fucked up here. Remaining silent at this point is such an inexplicable career move --- questions of human decency aside --- I can't quite believe we haven't seen such a statement already. And I really can't believe there aren't more people making noise about it yet.


I wonder if similar feelings [of liking/sympathizing with Sandra Bullock] are driving the trend toward demonizing James --- quite deservedly, it seems --- while letting Bullock off the hook for marrying what appears to be a world class asshole. I mean, world class. Jezzies, being the brilliant, skeptical and deliciously unmerciful bunch you are, have already been discussing the possibility that Bullock knew exactly who she married and somehow didn't think the Nazi thing was a dealbreaker. But so far, most folks are curiously silent on the topic. The dominant narrative over the last few weeks --- save for a bit of crapola about how powerful women drive their emasculated men to cheat --- has been that Bullock is a victim who will and should come through this unfortunate episode with her dignity, career and tremendous likeability intact. Because unlike James, she did nothing wrong.

And you know, I like that narrative almost as much as I like Sandra Bullock, in theory; I like that for once, most people seem more inclined to call a douche a douche than speculate about what (beyond stupidity and hubris) would cause a man to step out on his beautiful, talented wife. And because I really like the idea of doing tequila shots and singing along to classic rock with Sandy B. at a dive bar somewhere --- even though I will almost certainly never meet her, she couldn't really hang anonymously like that, and I can't stomach tequila --- I'd really prefer not to consider another obvious angle on Jesse James' overwhelming jackholery in the context of his marriage: the whole "birds of a feather" thing.

So I can certainly understand why people are reluctant to say, "Hey, is it just me, or have we reached the point where it's reasonable to wonder if Sandra Bullock kinda digs the Nazi scene herself?"

But, you know... is it just me, or have we reached that point?
Despite a whole lot of hedging, these passages keep coming back to two points that I think are sexist: 1) Sandra Bullock has a special responsibility to repudiate, denounce, or otherwise publicly air her opinions on neo-Nazism because her husband, who has already demonstrated a capacity and willingness to hide things from her, might be a neo-Nazi; and 2) Sandra Bullock either knew her husband had neo-Nazi proclivities, and tacitly approves, or she is guilty of unusual obtuseness for failing to suspect it.

Ginmar calls this a resurrection of the "angel of the hearth" stereotype, and I think she's right.

Because women are supposed to be the ones who "civilize" brutal men, whenever a man with a wife or girlfriend does something wrong, people also look to blame the woman. Even when she had absolutely nothing to do with whatever it was he did, and when she was probably just as much in the dark about it as everyone else. She's been neglecting her womanly duties by failing to improve her husband or boyfriend's moral character, so she must be a Bad Woman!

More evidence that becoming a feminist doesn't make all your internalized sexism and misogyny magically go "poof."


Kowalski said...

Oooh, excellent post!
What a shame about Kate Harding.

Being a Kraut and all, I find the "she's half-German so what do you expect" arguments in the comments particularly bizarre.

Also thanks for introducing me to ginmar, I haven't read her blog before. She's wonderfully foul-mouthed and ruthless.

Lindsay said...

Yeah, I thought you'd find the "OMG half-German!!" thing weird.

(I *am* half-German! My dad's family comes from there; my mom's comes --- way more recently, like, only three generations ago --- from Poland and the Czech Republic. Being half-German does not make me at all want to be a neo-Nazi, though!)

Also, the weird spacing in that post is totally Blogger's fault. I tried to do my usual leave-a-space-after-line-breaks thing, but Blogger would have none of it, and gave me this ugly wall-o'-text instead.

Anonymous said...

Why not post your findings on kate's site?

Kowalski said...

Heh! I didn't know that, how funny!

It's also ironic that bloggers who deal badly with criticism go on to wonder why people take their criticism to their own blogs instead of leaving a comment.

TheWiredOne said...

I found it ironic that Kate Harding, while claiming to be a feminist, was using the word "douche" as an insult, given how douches are unnecessary and harmful to women. Just sayin'.

Deanna said...

Thanks for this post. I became increasingly appalled the more I read of Kate's post and the subsequent comments. Celebrity or not, no one should have to explain away the behavior of their spouse.

I kept wondering if any of the posters had been married or in a relationship for any lengthy period of time. I say this as one who has been married for over 25 years, and who is not shocked that one spouse can keep secrets from another---even really big secrets.

I also know that, as a parent, my first reaction to learning something really ugly about my spouse would be to protect my children, NOT my own reputation.

I realize that Sandra Bullock has not been married that long, but there is a child involved in whatever decisions are made regarding this marriage, and anything she says publicly may have an impact on that child.

It's too bad that someone who seems to be going through some pretty rough times personally (because of her husband's misdeeds) is being called out by feminists to participate in some sort of public confessional to satisfy their own self-righteous standards.

The Shapely Prose mods frequently tell posters to learn some "feminism 101." In this case, I think they've ignored their own advice, because I'm pretty certain that one of the big rules is that you don't automatically blame a woman for the behavior of a man!

Anonymous said...

It's also ironic that bloggers who deal badly with criticism go on to wonder why people take their criticism to their own blogs instead of leaving a comment.

ha. this would almost be funny if you'd gotten the right blogger. I'm Snarky - the black one. True story.

check the icons. or is that just too confusing for you.

Kowalski said...

Well, you threatened to ban ginmar if she doesn't quit her "toughtalking".

"check the icons. or is that just too confusing for you."

Nice bit of ableism there, I thought you didn't approve of bodysnarking?

Or does that only apply to size?
Cos I'm Kowalski - the visually impaired autistic woman. TRUE STORY!

Weird that since you have an eye disorder yourself that you assume everyone on the internet is sighted.

Jemima Aslana said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Kate's post left me with a very foul taste in my mouth. I'm so glad someone(you) wrote down what was wrong with her chosen instance of unfeminist argument. She's even aware of how unfeminist it is of her to hold Ms. Bullock accountable for her husband's actions. She writes so herself, as if that awareness magically makes it okay for her to do so.

Renee of Womanist Musings did it as well, just to warn you from that one.

And oh how wonderful that one of Kate's co-bloggers comes here to defend Kate and herself with a dose of ableism. That's just great.

I love how snarky's ideals for non-ist behaviour apparently only applies where she officially blogs. When she comments all bets are off. Hmmmm... think there's a word for that. Hyp-something.

Ah well, what can you expect form the big one-person-lead blogs? They turn into a personality cult in which the leader is beyond reproach even if she knowingly does something bigoted. It happened with the transfail at Shakesville, it happened with transfail at Womanist Musings, and now with blame-fail at WM as well as Kate's. Surprise, surprise.

Allow people to think that their voice carries more weight than those of others, and they suddenly think they won't be held accountable anymore. Of course, they won't - not by those who follow them uncritically.