Pavane for a Dead Princess

fIt seems that Princess Leia checked out just before Jabba the Hutt – that giant talking testicle to which she had once been chained – was about to become our president. She didn’t choke him to death with that chain after all. Now he’s our problem. Damn. But it was a good move on her part.

Yeah, sometimes pop references do come together. Donald Trump does look a bit like Jabba the Hutt in those Star Wars movies – a big and sagging-sloppy mess – and he acts like him too – crude and dismissive of everyone and everything, because he’s powerful. Also, as with Trump, everything is transactional to Jabba the Hutt – everything is a deal he knows he will win, no matter who gets hurt. And yes, Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia in those movies, did choke that monster to death – while wearing no more than a quite tiny metal bikini.

That bikini outraged both fathers of young daughters and feminists, but she had an answer to that:

The character is wearing that outfit not because she’s chosen to wear it. She’s been forced to wear it. She’s a prisoner of a giant testicle who has a lot of saliva going on. She does not want to wear that thing and it’s ultimately that chain – which you’re now indicating is some sort of accessory to S&M – that is used to kill the giant saliva testicle. That’s asinine.

Carrie Fisher took no crap. Neither did Princess Leia. Donald Trump now becomes the Giant Saliva Testicle – he needed the appropriate nickname – and Carrie Fisher really is dead. She just checked out.

At this point it might be appropriate to cue up Ravel’s famous Pavane for a Dead Princess – even if he thought that piece was nothing much – because the sweet young thing is gone.

Forget that. Tim Teeman offers this:

Carrie Fisher, who died today aged 60, told truths: hard truths, funny truths, spiky truths. She did it in her books, and she did it on stage, and lately she did it on red carpets and TV shows accompanied by the best-ever sidekick, a dog named Gary, who seemed in his own way to be like his mistress: singular, and pretty focused on doing his thing at nobody else’s behest.

Fisher was an original – a boundary breaker in Hollywood – when she played Leia in Star Wars, a princess quite capable, determined even, to take care of herself, to fight for herself, and live for herself.

Fisher’s sharp intelligence informed that role, and gave Leia all her best edges. Later Fisher said she would have preferred to have played Han Solo – that Leia was too snarky and complaining. But, Fisher said, she was happy that Leia killed Jabba the Hutt, and wore a gold metal bikini while doing so. On another wearer or character that clothing might have implied sexual submission; as worn by Fisher it became pure power dressing.

There’s much more to say about the woman of course – the writing, including several finely honest books, the other roles, her wry show on Broadway about her issues with being bipolar and self-medicating, and her quick wit and all the rest – but Princess Leia was empowering. The first of the Star Wars movies hit the theaters in 1977 and suddenly every little girl wanted to be Princess Leia – as smart and as strong as the boys, if not smarter, and pretty too – and just as important as the boys, or maybe more important. That changed Halloween for a decade. Princess Leia costumes sold out.

This was Girl Power. Maybe a little girl in Altoona or Atlanta really could grow up to be kick-ass wonderful, utterly competent and respected. No one would pat them on the head and get compliant submissive silence anymore. They’d get Princess Leia speaking her mind, which was a fine mind. Deal with it. And there would be a woman president one day. That was inevitable. Princess Leia made that inevitable.

That wasn’t inevitable. Hillary Clinton wasn’t Princess Leia, but Michelle Goldberg argues it was more than that:

Instead of the year that the highest glass ceiling shattered, 2016 might go down as the year the feminist bubble burst. In America, men have always ruled, and right now I wonder if they always will.

Goldberg admits she had been fooled:

For the last couple of years, feminism has been both ubiquitous and improbably glamorous, its pop culture currency symbolized by Beyoncé silhouetted before a giant glowing FEMINIST sign at the 2014 Video Music Awards. On television, women went from ornaments to protagonists, starring in a slew of raunchy comedies in which men were often afterthoughts. Feminist polemics became a staple of fashion magazines. Female college students demanded standards of sexual consent that were often unfathomable to their elders. In my little corner of Brooklyn, ambient feminism appeared to influence the way fashionable young women dressed. They wore oversized shirtdresses or loose wide-legged pants and chunky shoes, clothes for doing things rather than displaying oneself. Last year, the New York Times ran a trend piece about hip young women rejecting thongs in favor of comfortable underwear. Female masochism, it seemed, was falling out of style.

Something was up:

Young women rebelled against the small indignities that make even the most privileged female lives taxing. They defined condescending lectures from poorly informed men as mansplaining. They named the male entitlement to public space that leaves women on trains and airplanes hunched into corners: manspreading. Sometimes the new feminism flirted with triviality and absurdity, but even its silliest manifestations were evidence of a revolution of rising expectations. It was as if the war for parity was nearly won, and what was left was a mopping-up operation.

I never wore one of those T-shirts proclaiming “The Future is Female,” but I came close to believing it. Certainly, I’ve always known that many women don’t identify as feminists, and don’t see their interests as being bound up with those of womankind. But in 2016, the polls foretold a history-making gender gap. Donald Trump’s bombastic campaign seemed like the terminal stage of aggrieved American machismo rather than simply the terminal stage of America.

One should not, however, underestimate the Giant Saliva Testicle and his friends:

In the days before election, I kept returning to a 4,000-word essay by Christopher Caldwell that the Weekly Standard ran 20 years ago. Titled “The Feminization of America,” it was meant to be apocalyptic, but it gave me a giddy hope. “Women are now thought to have more in common with other women than they do with men of similar ethnicity, religion, or income level, their interests coinciding more with those of other women than with those of their own fathers and brothers and husbands and sons,” Caldwell wrote with palpable alarm. “Women now constitute a class – a dominant class.” It wasn’t true in 1996, but in 2016 the world that Caldwell warned of was just visible on the horizon. It seemed significant that his piece both began and ended by griping about Hillary Clinton.

It seems that Clinton, instead of being the admirably feisty Princess Leia, had been cast in another role:

For 25 years, after all, Clinton was reviled as a synecdoche for unseemly female ambition. That’s part of what made her candidacy so fraught. If she’d become president, it would have been in the teeth of widespread male opposition; even the models that showed her winning had her losing the majority of men. She proposed policies that would have increased women’s power and autonomy at every level of society: equal pay, paid family leave, subsidized child care, abortion rights. For all her manifold faults, her election would have both signified progress toward gender equality and made more such progress possible. Before Nov. 8, it looked as if the arc of history was bending toward women.

Trump’s victory has obliterated this narrative.

She was “crooked Hillary” – without the (male) “stamina” to do the job. She has “positions” on issues. He had balls, both actual and metaphoric – he spoke and acted – he didn’t think. Women-folk do that. And he won. And the princess is dead:

However freakishly contingent his triumph, it forecloses the future feminists imagined at least for a long while. We’re going be blown backward so far that this irredeemably shitty year may someday look like a lost feminist golden age. The very idea that women are equal citizens, that barriers to their full human flourishing should be identified and removed, is now up for grabs. A pastor warming up the crowd at a post-election Trump rally in Louisiana promised that with Trump in office, the White House would be a place “where men know who men are, women know who women are.” The massive power of the American state is about to be marshaled to put women in their place.

We might well lose Roe v. Wade in the next four years. Trump has said the issue would then go back to the states, but there’s no reason to think that Republicans would settle for anything less than a national ban. There is a particular insult at the thought of a sybarite like Trump, who still won’t say whether he’s ever paid for an abortion himself, imposing a regime of forced birth on American women. When and if Trump strips us of bodily autonomy, there won’t be any illusions that he’s doing it to protect life or the family or sexual morality. It will be because he has power, and women’s hopes and plans for their own lives don’t matter to him at all.

Controlling the course of our own lives is going to get harder in many different ways. We can say goodbye to Department of Education pressure on colleges to address campus rape. We can expect the end of federal aid for Planned Parenthood and of federal government action to promote equal pay and fight sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination. The Women’s Bureau, the one department in the federal government tasked with responding to the needs of women in the workforce, will now fall under the aegis of former Carl’s Jr. Honcho Andrew Puzder, whose company is known for commercials featuring near-naked women in orgasmic communion with sandwiches. “I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis,” he said. “I think it’s very American.” Like top Trump adviser Steve Bannon, Puzder has also been accused of assaulting his now-ex-wife.

Jabba the Hutt also liked beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. No wait – there were no burgers in those movies. No, wait again – there might as well have been burgers. There was the bikini, and there was Jabba:

In Achieving Our Country, a 1998 book much discussed since Trump’s election, Richard Rorty discussed how culture would change after the ascension of an American strongman. “Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion,” he wrote, adding, “All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back.” This will likely prove prescient. Under an administration hostile to women’s equality and contemptuous of modern political norms, the way we live will slowly start to change.

With colleges no longer worried about federal action on campus rape, enforcement will loosen up, and college men will realize they can emulate the president of the United States with impunity. The same will happen in many workplaces. Trump will be able to appoint a new chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency where a woman would file a complaint if she’s fired for getting pregnant, or if her boss, say, grabs her by the pussy. As avenues of redress for sexual discrimination and harassment close off, men who’ve been stewing about political correctness will discover a pleasing new latitude in their relations with women. Women who’ve fallen out of the habit of survival flirting will relearn it.

One must learn to flirt with the Giant Saliva Testicle. In the third Star Wars movie, those that don’t, die. They fall through the trap door. There is a monster down there.

Goldberg worries about such monsters:

My nightmare is a particularly vicious reprise of the phenomenon Susan Faludi described in Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, which looked at the multifaceted assault on feminism during the Reagan years. Faludi analyzed how as women lost ground politically in the 1980s feminism itself was treated as the cause of their growing distress. A great many indicators of female advancement plunged during Reagan’s reign. Wrote Faludi: “Government and private surveys are showing that women’s already vast representation in the lowliest occupations is rising, their tiny presence in higher-paying trade and craft jobs stalled or backsliding, their minuscule representation in upper management posts stagnant or falling, and their pay dropping in the very occupations where they have made the most ‘progress.'”

Meanwhile, women were told over and over again, and sometimes came to believe, that they were unhappy because they’d put too much stock in equality. “Backlash-era conventional wisdom blames the women’s movement for American women’s ‘exhaustion,’ ” Faludi wrote.”The feminists have pushed forward too fast, backlash pundits say; they have brought too much change too soon and have worn women out.”

Samuel Johnson once put that this way – “Nature has given woman so much power that the law cannot afford to give her more.”

That was from the late eighteenth century, and this is now:

President-elect Donald J. Trump’s transition team asked the State Department this week to submit details of programs and jobs aimed at promoting gender equality, rattling State Department employees concerned that the incoming administration will roll back a cornerstone project of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The one-page memo, a copy of which was provided to The New York Times on Thursday, directed employees to outline “existing programs and activities to promote gender equality, such as ending gender-based violence, promoting women’s participation in economic and political spheres, entrepreneurship, etc.”

It also requested a list of positions “whose primary functions are to promote such issues” – though not the names of people in those positions – as well as how much funding was directed to gender-related programs in 2016. The United States Agency for International Development also received the request, according to a senior official there.

The wording of the memo is neutral and does not hint at any policy change. Nevertheless, some State Department employees took note of the reference to “gender-related staffing,” which they said could also refer to programs focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, though the memo did not refer specifically to them.

They too seem to be worried about the Giant Saliva Testicle we elected, but there’s a pattern here:

The memo is reminiscent of one the transition team sent recently to the Energy Department, which asked for the names of people who had worked on climate change or attended global climate talks organized by the United Nations within the past five years. That more detailed questionnaire, on the heels of Mr. Trump’s appointment of a climate change denialist to head the Environmental Protection Agency, sowed fears that the Trump administration would purge anyone involved in trying to curb the effects of climate change.

Still, this memo might be special, as it is Hillary Clinton, while secretary of state, who did her Princess Leia thing:

In her first year, she created the position of ambassador at large for global women’s issues, appointing Melanne Verveer, who had been her chief of staff when she was first lady. Mr. Kerry kept the post, which is currently held by Catherine M. Russell, a former chief of staff to Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. Some at the department now worry it will be eliminated.

Several of Mrs. Clinton’s showcase projects, like clean stoves for the developing world, had a strong gender component. In travels to El Salvador, India and Pakistan, she gathered female entrepreneurs to discuss their challenges. She often drew a link between the treatment of women and the nation’s security.

“If you look at where we are fighting terrorism,” she said in an interview in 2009, “there is a connection to groups that are making a stand against modernity, and that is most evident in their treatment of women.”

And there’s more:

Mrs. Clinton also gave equal benefits and protections to same-sex partners of American diplomats. In an internal memo, she wrote, “Like all families, our Foreign Service families come in different configurations; all are part of the common fabric of our post communities abroad.”

Although Mr. Trump has a record of derogatory comments about women, it is not clear why he would want to roll back the department’s work in this area.

Okay, Trump may let the gay folks be, as long as the women-folk know their place, but Goldberg sees darkness descending:

If a new backlash comes, some women will embrace it. The uphill struggle for freedom and equality can be enervating. Many women find comfort and consolation in being provided for by a man – or in the dream of being provided for by a man – and are sick of feminists making them feel guilty. Others know how to negotiate the male power structure without challenging it, like Ivanka Trump. In a time of backlash, women will redouble their efforts to accommodate men, and the culture will celebrate their choice in making that accommodation. The backlash, wrote Faludi, “manipulates a system of rewards and punishments, elevating women who follow its rules, isolating those who don’t.”

And then there’s the resistance:

People who are committed to gender equality will try to salvage what they can of the last 40 years of progress. They’ll try to maintain their morale, but living in total opposition to the zeitgeist is hard. In the defining drama of our time, a woman who was the most qualified person ever to run for president lost to a man who was the least. That can’t help but reverberate through the culture, changing our sense of what is possible for women. My abiding fear is that the idea of women running the world will start to seem like an innocent, dated dream…

 Someday I’ll tell my daughter about the time we all thought the future was female. I hope she doesn’t laugh at our naïveté.

She won’t laugh. She’ll roll her eyes and remind her mother that those first three Star Wars movies were science fiction popcorn movies, and Princess Leia was an entirely fictional character. And the oddly feisty woman who played the princess is dead, by the way. She’ll tell her mother to get over it, and then head off to work, at the Trump Hotel down the street, in her tiny metal bikini. Jabba does have a dress code.

Something just died.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to Pavane for a Dead Princess

  1. This is probably the first of your posts whose argument and general “trajectory” I disagree with.
    Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election. Certainly, because of the Electoral College she lost, but by any normal standard, she won….
    Donald J. Trump will be inaugurated President in a few weeks – achieving the pinnacle of power, and in effect a four year prison sentence to the White House – but, I think, he grossly represents the nadir of a long history of American male dominance and not since the Ku Klux Klan was cool, has the “alt-Right’ been so close to the peak of power. But if I believe the reports, Trump will enter office with a higher unfavorable rating among the electorate than any President ever; and President Obama will depart with one of the highest approval ratings….
    I have pointed out several times that it took a non-white 145 years to achieve the presidency of the United States. It took women 57 years longer than black men to achieve the franchise – the right to vote. In today’s world we are backward and primitive. Women chief executives are almost routine.
    This is not the time for women to quit. But I have also (uncomfortably) pointed out to women that they can be their own worst enemy when it comes to power. I watched this, personally, many years ago in the context of being executive director of a large local teachers union. Public school teachers historically have been mostly female; public school leadership, Principals, Superintendents, local Union leaders, was almost always male. The change began with the passage of the Titles in the 1970s when women themselves finally figured out that it was not right that they had to quit their job when pregnant because they could not have maternity leave. In the process they lost the benefits men had…and they were even paid less money.
    But even then it took courageous women to take on the system…and ofttimes their most harsh critics were other women.
    I dedicate this comment to Joan, the first female President of that large local teacher union in 1975, who did stellar service as a pioneer; and to Sandy, a highly qualified woman who felt she deserved to be a high school assistant Principal in a high school in 1978. Sandy didn’t achieve her goal, personally, but legions of women who followed her, who’ve never heard of her, owe her gratitude for paving the way.
    The mantra now will be “give Trump a chance”.
    We shall see.
    I hope Hillary, and others, continue the fight.
    Happy New Year.

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