Victoria Jelinek


Polanski Exhibit in Paris

http://www.france24.com/en/20171030-france-roman-polanski-retrospective-sex-assault-allegations-paris-protest-cinema-weinstein

Chinatown_1It makes me frustrated and sad that feminist groups are protesting this retrospective of Roman Polanski’s work at La Cinémathèque Française in Paris. The exhibit is not about the man and allegations of sexual misconduct against him – it is about his filmmaking, and his films are masterpieces.

As an aside, for those interested in hearing details about his 1973 rape conviction in Los Angeles, the then-girl that Polanski raped supported a 2008 documentary that claimed there was judicial misconduct in the case, which may inform one’s opinion of the situation.

I am NOT defending assault or sexual harassment or sexual predators. I worked in Hollywood for ten years, and am not naive to the innuendos and injustices against women behind closed doors AND on the screen. It bothers me tremendously that I have to insert that disclaimer from the ‘get go’ in the hope of being listened to and not judged as a sexist or “traitor” myself. But sexism and misogyny exist in all fields and are insidious elements in every society. What I AM condemning is what seems to be a fevered frenzy at the moment. I AM condemning the lack of judiciousness on the part of the public. Allegations are ‘coming out of the woodwork’ about claims of hands on knees, or “inappropriate suggestions,” or implicit expectations, or “gropes,” from a variety of sources, which, in my opinion, undermines actual rape, assault, and battery and adds to a cacophony that is no longer really listened to, becoming, instead, part of an over-information storm akin to the environment depicted in A Brave New World. Why aren’t people being more critical about the recent barrage of sexual misconduct claims against celebrities and public figures? Why aren’t people considering the details, such as source, context, the current social climate (desire for celebrity status, however short lived, an age of “alternative facts” and moral perceptions entering popular “knowledge” and worse, politics, rising populism in the face of fear and a general sense of powerlessness, etc.).

Why aren’t we looking to the elements that create sexism and misogyny in the first place? I won’t even get into philosophical ruminations on the role of woman as “other” in society, but suggest concrete considerations: perhaps start with inequality in reproductive care, such as easy access to birth control or a safe abortion? Or inadequate financial help for single mothers? Or inequality in pay for the same work between men and women, as well as unequal opportunities to enter certain fields? Or inadequate practical support and protection for victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault? Or inadequate representation of women in politics, which, perhaps, comes down to inequality in campaign financing? Or inadequate protection for women during divorce, especially from powerful or abusive husbands? Why are we, instead, focusing on the language we use, and exhibits of artwork, and ‘crimes’ based on hearsay propagated by social media platforms whose only interest is in identifying and categorizing the parameters of our consumer behavior?
If we protest the work of a great filmmaker based on his personal life – the details of which have not been proven without a doubt in a court of law anywhere in the world (prompting the question as to whether there is real respect for the law), then soon, we’ll be pulling books from male authors that discuss a woman’s body in a sexual light, of which there are many. And films that objectify women, of which there are many. And if we begin going down that road, we must eliminate classic film and literature that perpetuates stereotypes about women, men, Germans, Russians, Blacks, Jews, Mexicans, the French, the Spanish, Arabs, or the Chinese. Why not watch them, read them, study and discuss them? Deconstruct and consider the context they were created in, and by whom, and the opinions and emotions they inspire in us now and ask “why” frequently. If we start censoring art and expression – which is what this is – then we will soon have a dull, moralistic, constrained society with little imagination motivated absolutely by fear and anger and, likely, suppressed violence. And meanwhile, there will be no difference in the real and practical source of inequality for women, which is, in my opinion, economic and representative inequality. We will have undermined it all in a great, drowning, cacophony without clarity of focus.

Personally, I would not want to live in a society such as this. In what I perceive to be a very worrying time politically, socially, and environmentally, I derive strength from film and literature of the past and present – their excellence gives me hope for and in humanity. And, critically speaking, Polanski’s canon of work is an example of the finest filmmaking.

 

 

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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre book coverFor Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d write about one of my favorite romantic novels, which I just happened to re read recently. It’s good that I re read it, too, because when I had to read it in high school, I was not impressed – I found it decorative, stilted, and, well, boring. This time, decades letter, I realize how much I didn’t understand in the first reading (as well as how badly my English teacher taught the book!). Jane and Rochester’s relationship is ‘saucy’ and risqué, with motifs of masochism. Moreover, Jane is not the dull woman I initially thought she was, but a spirited and thoughtful feminist who challenges the status quo of society.

Set in nineteenth-century England, the novel begins with the story of young Jane, an orphan who lives with an aunt who dislikes her and doesn’t show her any kindness or affection. When she’s ten, Jane is sent to Lowood, a charity school; despite the cruelty of its headmaster, Jane develops physical, intellectual, and emotional strength. She leaves Lowood School to become a governess for Adèle, the ward of Edward Rochester of Thornfield Hall. Jane and Rochester fall in love despite the difference in their ages and social positions. Mystery surrounds Rochester, however; strange sounds and occurrences abound in his manor. Jane leaves Rochester after the revelation that he is married and his wife, who is insane, is being held captive in the attic at Thornfield. After much suffering, Jane becomes the mistress of a village school. She later discovers that she has living relatives and inherits a fortune, which enables her to return eventually to Rochester as an independent woman.

Jane’s life unfolds as a dramatic adventure within an atmosphere of psychological dread and the constant threat of ruination, typical of Gothic novels. Even as there is mystery, suspense, and horror, which define the genre, the novel addresses social issues of the day. Throughout the narrative, Charlotte Bronte raises questions about the limited education provided in church schools, the expectations and opportunities for women, the value of family connections, and the importance of romantic love even when it conflicts with personal principles or the strict values of Victorian society. As a biographical note, which I think enhances one’s understanding of the book, Brontë incorporated into the narrative several elements from her own life. After Brontë’s mother died, an aunt assisted in caring for the Brontë sisters (Charlotte, Maria, Elizabeth, and Emily). The sisters were sent to Cowan Bridge, a school for clergymen’s children. The cruel and hypocritical fervor of the headmaster in Jane Eyre is based upon the evangelical minister who ran Cowan Bridge. Jane’s loss of her dearest friend at Lowood School to tuberculosis recalls the deaths of Brontë’s two sisters who died of tuberculosis at Cowan Bridge. Like Charlotte Brontë, Jane becomes a governess, which was often the only professional option for an educated woman at the time. The role of governess provided a good vantage point for Brontë to observe and write about the oppressive social practices of nineteenth-century Victorian society. Reflecting Brontë’s early feminist ideals, Jane is rebellious at a time when women were expected to be docile and obedient. Through Jane Eyre, Brontë challenges Victorian mores by suggesting a woman’s merits demand the same respect as a man’s; moreover, she challenges the conventions of Victorian literature by creating a well-developed heroine with a rich inner life.

But even as Jane questions gender expectations, societal conventions, religious practices, and the importance of love in marriage, this is not a didactic or dogmatic book. It is, ultimately, a passionate and seemingly impossible love story set within a spooky atmosphere, whose central tenet is the individual’s quest for an independent identity (still very relevant today), which is why it’s one of the most widely read novels all time.



The Baby Diaries – 8

I like children – fried. W.C. Fields

deep fryerIt may be difficult to get a place in the crèche for your child, but it’s even harder to find an assistante maternelle, literally translated as a mother’s assistant, or nanny.

The way the assistante maternelle system works is that she can take from one to three children between the ages of one and three into her home for childcare. At three, the child will ostensibly go to the local ‘maternelle,’ or public nursery school. The assistante maternelle is a person who has been certified and registered by the government to tend to children. The cost of an assistante maternelle is generally about six to ten times more expensive than a place in the local crèche. Being rather enlightened in the way of childcare, however, the French government subsidises the expense of an assistante maternelle for those who pay their taxes. At the end of each month, the employer of the assistante maternelle (that’s the parent of a given child) registers all of the hours, days and ‘indemnities’ the assistante maternelle has charged, on an online system for the entity Paje.fr (the entity that takes care of the subsidies). Shortly thereafter, the Paje partially reimburses the employer based on their taxable earnings and the cost of the given assistante maternelle.

The tricky bit is to find an assistante maternelle. There are ‘x’ amounts of them in a given area, and it is likely that a given child will be in the care of a given assistante maternelle from infancy until they are able to go to the local school. Because the law states an assistante maternelle can only have a few children being cared for in their home at a given time, there is little movement and timing is everything. My husband and I went down to the mairie (mayor’s office) and asked for a list of the registered assistante maternelles in the area. There were about 40. We then marked the nearest to us and called each of them to enquire about a spot for our son in the autumn. Not one had a place. We ended up calling every single assistante maternelle on the list – near and far- and only one had a space available in the autumn or, indeed, at any time over the next year. We went over to her house to meet her. She was French and nice enough, very patient with us as she explained her hours, her holidays, her rights and the time in which one must drop off and collect one’s child. Unlike the stereotype that French women are fit and slender, this one was rather heavy set. I noticed that there was a deep fryer on the counter, which probably meant lots of fatty foods. The assistante maternelle’s husband came in while we were there and he greeted my husband but did not meet my eyes or acknowledge me. I am a mere woman. Later, my husband and I discussed it and to be honest, we didn’t feel the house was very comfortable, and we both felt a little bad that our boy might spend days on end there, but we didn’t know what else was available or what the French households are really like, and we have to work sometimes without our boy and we can’t afford a private nanny. In the end, we rationalised that we liked that the household was French because it would be good for our baby’s assimilation into the culture…and perhaps in a year a place in the crèche would open up? Ultimately, ‘beggars can’t be choosers.’

Or can they? It turns out that there is a woman in my book club who was an assistante maternalle. She’s Welsh and married to a Frenchman who is a fourth generation local. She’s taken three years out to tend to her youngest child, utilising the French system of famille garder, which is a very civilised scheme that allows a woman who has worked and paid her taxes to take up to three years off of work after having a baby and still receive monies from the government. Apparently, her son will be going to school in the autumn and she may then resume her assistante maternelle activities. We phoned her and set up a meeting at her house. She has two little boys, a friendly three-legged dog, chickens, a huge garden, and the parents, grandparents, and cousins all live on plots neighbouring her house and land. She cooks from the garden, believes in organic food and creative compositions, and she speaks both English and French fluently…which is a help, to be honest, as we can then discuss in nitty gritty detail, what happens with our child each day…she’s not sure that she will resume her previous profession, but she’s thinking about it and we’re to contact her shortly. Oh dear, I hope that she decides to return to being an assistante maternalle and, moreover, that she decides to accept our little boy. I know everyone would be happy with that placement…I’ll cross my fingers and hope for the best…



The Pregnancy Diaries – 10

“Guilt: the gift that keeps on giving.” Erma Bombeck

I recently went to the two crèches in the valley and signed my impending baby up for care – a crèche is a nursery from three months of age till they walk. There are only ten spots in each. Both tell me that their waiting list goes back to 2008!

I said that I’d take anything. I then went to the local mairie and got a list of names for all the certified assistantes maternelles, or ‘nounous’, in the valley. These are women who are certified to take care of children in their homes from zero-three years old.
Because they generally keep these children till they’re ready to go to school at three, they, too, are hard to come by. I called each and every one and discovered that all but one is full up for the foreseeable future and beyond (Chamonix valley could do with some more crèches and nounous, for anyone looking to be entrepreneurial).
Then I started talking to mothers about the childcare that they had for their kids here, or the childcare that they’d like (if they’re pregnant, like me). I’m startled to discover that the majority of women here in the valley have either stayed home with their kids till they were school age, or they intend to stay home until their kids are school age.
A few say that maybe they’ll get them in care a day or two a week. They tend to finish their statements of intent by saying something to the effect of, “but I want to spend time with my baby…”This makes me feel like a monster for already planning on putting my unborn baby in external care. So then I perused online to find other women who are not ‘monsters’ because they put their children in care, but who do want time to themselves to work – I believe that a happy mommy is a happy baby, and this mommy will not be happy if she’s a stay-at-home mom (besides, I suspect it’s harder than work work). In my search, I stumbled across the French author, philosopher and teacher Elisabeth Badinter. She’s written a book entitled The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women. I found two articles about her – one in The Guardian and one in The Washington Post. Basically, Ms. Badinter says that more women these days feel a moral obligation to stay at home with their children, despite all the progress of feminist rights.
I quote from her interview in The Washington Post:
For several decades, industrialized nations have been seeing a change in our model of motherhood that is harmful to women. In the 1970s, all the talk was about the rights of women and their vital financial independence…today, the new imperative? To be a perfect mother who knows how to help her child reach his full potential, to raise a gifted, extraordinary radiant adult. Motherhood first, the rest second. The problem is that the La Leche League and a great many experts on childhood have made it their business telling women that they must give unstintingly to their children: their milk, time and energy. Women are urged to reconnect with their supposedly innate reflexes as female mammals to become the good mothers their children need. This good mother gives birth without the benefit of an epidural, sleeps with her child, breast-feeds on demand, and disdains powdered milk and store-bought jars of baby food as harmful relics of reprehensible egotism.
 
Result: The good mother stays at home with her child for the first years of a baby’s life. The main problem with this shift is that it is gradually imposing itself on all women as a moral obligation of the first priority. 
Well, these “modern” practices might suit some women, but not all of them, not by a long shot. 
If I criticize this model of an exclusive and guilt-inducing maternity, it is because the model springs from two assumptions I find aberrant. The first is that the perfect mother is an attainable objective. The second is the belief that women are led by their hormones, just as female chimpanzees.
 
If there were one change you could convince a modern mother to make, what would it be?
I would tell her never to abandon her financial independence. For two reasons. First, in our society, where half of all couples separate, it isn’t prudent to give up one’s job for a few years. 
A single mother raising her child alone is in a very difficult position, and many of them are reduced to hardship. 
Second, I would remind women that they now have a life expectancy of more than 80 years, while the normal activity of motherhood lasts for a decade or so. The children leave home — and then what becomes of the mother?
 
Amen, say I. I’m going to go online and order her book now.