Monday, September 13, 2010

Another Lady from Shanghai


I finished watching The Lady from Shanghai. I thought about how I would tell my students to either choose a different title, or make the connection the character has to China, and its significance, clearer.

And this leads me to thinking again about what do women want. My friend Jonah used to repeat, I want, I need, I must have, over and over as we were applying to graduate programs: asking for letters of recommendation, and writing personal statements. We laughed about it, but it never occurred to me that of course his desires, the unspoken ones or the ones that go without saying between men and women even if they aren’t involved, were significantly different than my own. The amount of times we used those parts of sentences: I want (“to be able to explore painting (in my case writing) in an environment that….”) I need (“a community of…”) was becoming meaningless (and comical) in the repetition. “I must have” was what we really wanted to say. It was too hard to demand rather than implore. Yet, Jonah said I must have as the punch line, the joke of the desperation to get in, to belong. Looking at it now it isn’t so funny.

It was never clear to Jonah, or perhaps any of my men friends, what the women they knew wanted. We couldn’t tell them. Not clearly anyway. The chestnuts of equal pay, etc. were not the critical issues and the way I put it last night is way too broad. Having a dignified life of my own design sounds right, but just exactly what does it mean?

The one thing I knew I was supposed to want was love. If I couldn’t get that then I was a deficient woman. But the real thing is that we are supposed to want to be loved, or accept love on the other’s terms.

We talk often about what being loved can do for us. The love you got from your parents seems to have helped you to expect love (and accept it) easily. The lack of love I got from mine makes the idea of lovable compromised by the need to earn it, and not being pretty enough (ever) thin enough (ever) blonde enough (don’t laugh) made that a very tough go for me.

It seems that women need to be loved by the world. Perhaps I mean approved of: due to my early lessons approval and love are the same. I bet this is not so different for other women.

I decided long ago that I would not try to be approved of. It seemed the best and only way to be sure if I was lovable: face that gorgon and live, and you must approve of (love) me. But the joke was on me.

Very similar to the femme fatale, I chose to love death. Not my actual death, but definitely the darker, annihilating edge of life. I dared life (desire?) to continue in me despite the lack of love or approval, and for some time. Then, I met a man that approved. He was nuts and of course it ended as the blasted tower. I rebuilt myself in her image again. She is like Hecate: she wants but refuses to need. Of course, I am not sure about any of this I am just talking out of my head.

The thing is I feel that desire in the form of wanting it all has always been prescribed to women as love/approval. Love is all you need was a good idea, but for men it was not describing their own existence, but a way of living with others in the world. For me, the messages of love that I heard were about acquiescence, placidity, and approval. I don’t want to be Brigid O’Shaunessey, but I am more like her than not. I don’t have the real desire to take men toward their doom, but I have fantasized about it with real pleasure. I have to consciously fight that desire to take my desire to the limit every day. For O’Shaunessey, getting the dingus would have meant having the money and having beaten the men at their own game: she would have real power.

I would have real power but for the need to be loved/approved of. Love makes vassals of us all: shanghaied.