Essay written by Claudia Fernandez
An essay on assumed universality and a brief review of Greta Gerwig’s Ladybird
We are told, as women, that Men means All people. For example when “God created Man in His image” we are supposed to pretend that Man, means Me, and I’m supposed to understand that God is sexless, that He is both She and He, that they mean the same, but they don’t. Womanhood is an afterthought. There are associations with “Woman” and “Her” that don’t FEEL or TRANSLATE in the brain the same as “Man” and “He”.
The problem: literary canon is mostly male: male authors writing about their experiences, their childhoods, their ideologies, their version of truth and value. They create characters from their understanding and write in a way that is sensible and clear, that is, sensible and clear as men define those terms. To be clear is to be “straight to the point”. This isn’t necessary for women; it isn’t necessary to be clear, coherent, rational, and emotionless. It is equally valid to be emotional and cognizant, bright-eyed and optimistic without being ignorant or naive.
The consequence: As a woman, I have to pretend and connect to the little boys and grown men that often play the protagonist in most major novels. We all pretend to be the hero, place ourselves in their shoes and live their story, but does that make me more man? Does not society punish me for behaving like a man? If we follow the virtues and values of the male protagonist, then we simulate male qualities and in turn, become “manly”, which society does not appreciate.
We know the common complaints: a direct woman is a bitch, a sexy woman is a slut, a decisive woman is bossy, a concerned woman is a nag. But a man is just direct, sexy, decisive, and a boss without any of the rest, if he didn’t want to be. There are male allies, and female trans allies, who refuse to accept masculine descriptors as the right to be. .
Women need opportunities not just for equal pay but to get the position in the first place. More than ever in film, women are getting more opportunities (and held to the standard: but is it as good as a man’s work? is as good as a white man’s work?)
Women now are producing and directing movies of incredible power without compromising inclusivity or quality. Women can achieve movies that are just as good, if not better movies than their male colleagues. Witherspoon, DuVernay, and Gerwig are testament.
I want to emphasize the importance of ‘Ladybird’ and how it should be a canonical piece for young girls to watch. It depicts all the highlights of high school life: falling out with your childhood best friend, fitting in with the cool kds, your very first boyfriend and your very first kiss, and your very first realization that he’s gay, your very first school club, your first time having sex, your first time applying to colleges, connecting to one parent more than the other, your mother constantly worrying about you and all environmental details like home, status, family…..
If you happen to be a guy, and (quite frankly) you think this movie is nothing special, too slow, or unnecessarily dramatic, if you don’t understand why everyone’s fighting, or why Ladybird makes a big deal of things that (in your opinion) actually aren’t, but ultimately, if you just can’t connect…maybe you can understand now what Man feels like, for girls.