If you see a debate on the place of rape jokes in comedy, and your response is to go on Twitter and make vile suggestions about how the woman in the debate ought to be raped or is too fat to have to worry about being raped or any similar comment, you should probably just erase that tweet. And then go die in a fire.
Showing posts tagged feminism
Recently, since women in the US military are now going to be allowed to fill all combat roles, there’s been people wondering if this means women should be part of the draft. Here’s a simple solution that I don’t see mentioned: abolish the draft. After Vietnam, there’s no way it’s ever going to be actually used. There, isn’t that easy? Perfectly fair to both men and women.
because really. (spoilers, if you haven’t for some reason seen/read Les Mis and still want to read this much wankery about it, below)
It hit me this morning that of course the story of Les Miserables turns on the redemption of Jean Valjean, and that there are of course three redemptions: the priest, forgiving him for the theft of the silver and gifting him with more of it “to become an honest man” as the musical says; Fantine; and his decision to save Marius, knowing that in doing so he will lose Cosette but ensure her happiness. (He redeems some other folks along the way, mostly Javert, but that’s another post.)
I was always obsessed with Eponine as a child and up until recently, but as I get older I like Fantine more and more.
And it hit me today that what Fantine redeems Valjean from is being a capitalist, and what he does with that redemption is to be a parent.
Because it is not just that Fantine is poor and a prostitute that horrifies him, it is that he finds out that she was fired from his factory. He’s surrounded by the poor, after all—Fantine is far from the only woman doing street prostitution around town, and there are plenty of others who don’t have work.
That he is to blame for her state, and furthermore that being the benevolent boss actually isn’t a solution, is what he is really struck by and what makes him decide to save her child. (It should be noted that he and Fantine have no idea of the real condition of the child when he decides to go find her. She left Cosette with the Thenardiers because she saw Mme. Thenardier’s solicitous treatment of her own children, which of course is turned on its head both in how the Thenardiers treat Cosette and, later, those same children of their own.)
Remember, when he decides to go reveal his identity so that an innocent man will not go to prison in his place, he tries to tell himself that he’s got a responsibility to his workers, that without him, the benevolent boss, they’ll suffer. (“Job creator” anyone?) He knows that by and large being a factory worker sucks, but he’s convinced himself that he has stood by the exhortation to be good. (Worth noting that what the priest gives him is silver? Money, essentially?)
Fantine makes him realize that it was, for lack of a better word, bullshit. That he wasn’t caring for the workers, he was ignoring and exploiting them just like anyone else.
And so what does he do then? Well, first he ensures that the innocent man Javert’s captured won’t go to jail, because of course. But then he goes and adopts Cosette. (Short version, anyway. The novel has other detours, but I’m going to skip those because good lord so much.)
He becomes a parent.
Not, to be clear, a father. I almost titled this post “Jean Valjean and #nodads” but I didn’t because, frankly, ew. But this line of thought did remind me of this piece by Aaron Bady, which does delve into the different between being a parent and being a dad:
Without a caretaker, of course, a helpless child will die. And without a father — in the strictly biological sense — the child will not even be born in the first place. But I’m not talking about “parenting,” as a thing that adults do when they care for a child or children: a woman can parent, a man can parent, and any other gendered or non-gendered person can serve as a caretaker to a child that needs one (in fact, other children are often the best caretakers, in ways adults are often slow to observe). And while it may not take a village, a village certainly can get the job done. Sometimes a circle of rotating uncles, aunts, neighbors, and whoever else is the thing that socializes, educates, and protects a child that needs someone to do these things, and if you’ve ever seen a good system of communal parenting in action, you won’t forget how well it works.
Valjean is, of course, not Cosette’s father—that guy bailed and ran, as Isabel noted. But he does become a parent to her, and Victory Hugo himself commented on the difference:
He suffered all the pangs of a mother, and he knew not what it meant; for that great and singular movement of a heart which begins to love is a very obscure and a very sweet thing.
In the film, Valjean tells Cosette “I’ll be father and mother to you!”
His realization is that what he was doing wasn’t redemption, not really, it was doing what men do: becoming successful, a “self-made man”, the owner of a factory and the mayor of the town, and that maybe there’s something even more worthwhile than Business. And this isn’t some ascetic renunciation—he draws more genuine pleasure from raising Cosette than he did from being a rich factory owner.
Of course, this line of thinking can easily slide into “being a parent is the most fulfilling thing EVER see, ladies, just stay home with your kids” except that’s not what’s happening here, not really. Hugo is writing a book about love against a backdrop of poverty and failed revolution; he’s pretty damn explicit about this and he explores it in almost every form, and that’s why I consider reading Enjolras as queer almost required, because Hugo is just not the guy who would lionize a man who didn’t love other people. Much has been made of the Christian overtones of the film lately, and the line from the musical “To love another person is to see the face of God” but they’re putting the emphasis on God there and not love another person. (And Isabel’s made this point too.) Valjean has to redeem himself not by making himself rich—succeeding in a capitalist society—or getting married—succeeding in patriarchal society—but by learning to care selflessly for someone else, to see other people’s problems as his own, to connect.
Hugo’s no Marxist; Fantine doesn’t return to the factory to lead a revolt of the working women and indeed it’s the turning of her coworkers against her that leads to her downfall (a critique of the lack of solidarity on the shop floor? I digress almost as much as Hugo himself). She doesn’t return to the factory at all, nor does she become Valjean’s wife or mistress or love interest of any kind. Yes, she dies, which is frustrating for those of us who want to see our favorite characters have some sort of agency and earthly hope. But we see at every step of the way that her poverty, her loss, and finally her illness are things that happen to her because of a fucked-up society and a bunch of horrible men who get away with everything, and the lesson that she leaves is “Take care of each other.”
Yep. Still pretty much obsessed with Les Misérables. This post is just brilliant, not only because it’s all about my obsession of the week.
A post previously published in this space regarding a study about how hormones may influence voting choices has been removed.
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And there’s a huge interview in Salon to help her promote it. I’m pretty sure it consists of a pseudo-intellectual megalomaniac describing how all those other feminists (you know, the type who never called Sarah Palin the biggest step forward for feminism since Madonna) are doing it wrong. Over twenty years on, it turns out that repackaging a pile of misogynistic tropes as a form of feminism is still a lucrative market. I guess you can Google it if you feel the need to read it. I’m not helping Salon troll for page-views with this sort of crap.