I give up: my students in the Gender and Medieval Literature class have let me know that the fight to gain equal rights for women has utterly failed. Life today is apparently much like that of Anglo-Saxon England (although with better plumbing). Men, they tell me, are still expected to be brave and strong like Beowulf and the other warriors. You don't want a guy falling apart in an emergency, one told me, a woman can fall apart. Yeah, another agreed, if you go to a scary movie, you want to be able to hide on his shoulder when you're scared. Yes, as a horror film veteran, I rolled my eyes.
But I have to admit it feels like all the efforts of second and third wave feminists have been for naught. Given the virulent sexism of the political coverage for the last 18 months or so (brilliantly skewered by two of the funniest women working now, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler) even by supposedly "liberal" commentators like Jon Stewart and Keith Olberman, it kind of makes a gal lose all hope.
Teaching the Zemeckis Beowulf film in my upper division course rubs salt in that wound, too. I do still find it shocking that 21st century filmmakers have even less regard for women than the 11th century monks who wrote down the original text. The monks at least thought women had some purpose other than as sexual objects for men, could even seen women as powerful leaders. At least a couple of students in that class were appalled by the film, but it's small comfort when I have creative writing students writing about their future wedding day as "the best day of my life" -- yeah, and it's all downhill after that?
Is it really such a radical notion today that women are people, too? Not defined by biology? Not just not-men? I guess so.