My sister and I took my two teenage daughters to see the movie Eat Pray Love this past weekend. It was enjoyable, if for no other reason than that it gave this wanderer lots of pretty location eye candy to feast my eyes on. And, as a mother who sat watching with her teenagers, I was glad that the producers chose to keep it G-rated. All in all, it was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
But… (you knew there was going to be a but, didn’t you?) the fact that I brought teenage girls to the movie also made me cognizant of a few things that concern me somewhat about not only the movie, but the bigger picture of what this movie & book represent. I couldn’t help but think what messages my 13 and 14 year old daughters are picking up in this era of what Bitch Magazine calls “priv lit”. Here are some of my thoughts on that subject:
1. The movie (even more than the book) does a poor job of establishing why the character is wracked with such angst that she has to ditch a marriage and walk away from her life for a year. The impression that you get in the movie is that Gilbert is just a bit bored and needs to inject some enthusiasm in her life. Well, call me old fashioned, but I don’t want my daughters to believe that you leave a marriage because you’re “a bit bored”. When you’re in a relationship, you commit to it and you work damn hard at making it work. I’m not saying every marriage is going to work (or that they should), but leaving is not a decision that’s made as lightly as the movie would imply. (Granted – they didn’t have a lot of time to tell that story.) Not so long ago, my daughters watched some of that commitment at work, when my husband and I put the whole “in sickness and in health” vow to the test and decided that love was worth sticking around for. Hopefully they’re watching us more than they’re watching the movie screen.
2. I’m all for self-improvement and “living your best life”, but… well, just how dangerous is the message that we’re communicating to our youth that we as women are “entitled” to spending hoardes of money traveling around the world and finding ourselves? What about the “giving back” part of that? When do we remember that our rights have to be balanced with responsibility? Sure it’s good (and important) to spend time growing in our spirituality and learning more about our giftedness, but then what? Then we get to flit away to an island with a sexy Brazillian and never have another care in the world? I guess I’m still too committed to the idea that we find ourselves in order that we can better serve the world. (And… you might argue that Gilbert is doing just that by writing books, etc., but my point is that my daughters only pick up a one-sided view by watching the movie.)
3. Along the same lines, I can’t help but sigh a little about the “luxury of angst” when I have met women in Africa who have to walk 10 kilmetres to fetch water for their families, or women in India who’ve had to give up their daughters (and lose them into the sex trade) to keep the rest of their families alive. Is it right that we get to spend so much of our time and money on ourselves “because we’re worth it”, when some of the luxuries we’re enjoying are on the backs of the poor?
4. As this article so eloquently suggests, maybe all of this priv lit that represents the post-feminist era is actually sending us backwards instead of forwards. “But though Oprahspeak pays regular lip service to empowerment, much of Winfrey’s advice actually moves women away from political, economic, and emotional agency by promoting materialism and dependency masked as empowerment, with evangelical zeal.” Maybe, while we get lost in this culture of “self-enlightenment for our own sake”, we’ll miss the bigger picture of how we can impact real change in the world.
5. And a bonus quote from the article linked above… “It’s no secret that, according to America’s marketing machine, we’re living in a “postfeminist” world where what many people mean by “empowerment” is the power to spend their own money.” Does spending money make us empowered? Really? Maybe we could seek empowerment instead by simplicity and generosity and justice. (I couldn’t help but notice that, although the main character left New York with just a duffle bag, she was still wearing a different outfit in nearly every scene of the movie.)
It’s not that the movie was horrible – it was actually quite enjoyable and there were parts of it that genuinely inspired me. However as I continue to imagine what gifts I’m going to offer the world as I build my consulting/writing practice (and dream of workshops, retreats, etc.), I find I have to examine some of the self-improvement/self-enlightenment/mindfulness work and determine which of it is moving us forward. Which of it is snake oil? And which of it is making us an even more self-centred consumerist culture than we already are?
As I’ve said in the past, I want to imagine what it looks like if “Sophia Rises” and we all learn to trust our feminist wisdom more deeply and let it impact the way we interact with the world and each other. Contrary to what I may have said above, some of it will mean that we have to take lessons from the Elizabeth Gilberts of this world and focus more of our attention on beauty, spirituality and relationships. Those are all very good things and they will help us see our way forward. BUT we have to guard against the temptation to turn these things into self-serving pleasure seeking consumerism.