Sunday, January 31, 2016

Bette Davis and Womanhood, Big and Little (Core Post #1)

“I think men have got to change an awful lot. I think somehow they still prefer the little woman. They're just staying way, way behind and so as a rule I think millions of women are very happy to be by themselves, they're so bored with the whole business of trying to be the little woman, when no such thing really exists anymore. It just simply doesn't.” 

In a 1963 interview with Shirley Eder, Bette Davis pronounced the end of "the little woman" & the failure of male desire to acclimate to women being bored "with the whole of business of trying to be the little woman." "Little woman" has clearly been carved out as a performance here, something that women must continually commit to becoming. Bette Davis herself was in the business of being a "big woman." Laplace's essay on "Producing and Consuming the Woman's Film" deals precisely with the various permutations of agency & desire that Bette Davis embodied, this perplexing role of "femaleness" that she existed both within and without. 

   I liked Now, Voyager only after reading Laplace's various explications of it. It was then that I understood how Bette Davis posits herself within a dialectic of female emancipation and consumerism, and how this constant negotiation allows her to lay claim to being a "big woman" while promoting a politics of the body & a delimitation of gender that insists on little womanhood. Davis exploits this very gap, orienting the female imagination to the number of possibilities liberation offers her only to arrive at eventual containment -- buy this lipstick and be free! 

"...the survival tactic of allurement became their most conspicuous form of self-definition" (Ewen, p 172). As the demands of the social self permeate the affective interior, women become obliged to become public goods; women consume beauty, but it's also what makes them consumable. Bette Davis streamlined such spending decisions by following a logic of feigned disengagement while simultaneously profiting from an erotic capital. These discourses on beauty mirror the discourses on stardom: both are predicated on the fantasy of upward social mobility, the American dream. It is available to all but obtained only by a few. By pretending to exist outside of it, the star persona of Bette Davis was able to market a freedom that you could arrive at only if you weren't ugly anymore--Bette Davis was the Big Woman in the body of a Little Woman. 

Here's the interview!

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