Some woes of orientalism and the lack of female representation in fine dining

Hi earth friends, and welcome to the Talking Egg!

Today we are going to chat a bit more casually about a somewhat political as well as social topic. Unlike our usual format of structured arguments and basis on literary content, we will be venturing into social commentary – which honestly, never hurt anyone. Besides, inspiration hit the fan today for me, which has not been the case throughout the month of August – as you’ve probably noticed with our lack of uploads throughout that month. It is unfortunate, but sometimes writing just has to flow from you for people to be interested, no use forcing something that doesn’t come out from deep inside you.

The other day, I was watching a show called The Final Table. Any people out there that have watched it? Comment below on your thoughts! For those that have not, it is a cooking competition show on Netflix that involves teams of two that cook dishes together for what is a place in the final table of famous world renowned chefs. In the last episode, the teams disperse into individuals and cook against the last remaining. For those wondering, yes I am quite obsessed with cooking shows on Netflix, and I’ve probably watched them all. I have never been that keen on baking shows, perhaps because of my Asian background, however when it comes to cooking I find it strangely fascinating to watch people plate things in the most absurd ways and call it a form of art. I would say I am somewhere between admiration and disbelief that this is something that exists in our contemporary world.

Photo by Jay Wennington on Unsplash

Moving on with my personal anecdote, as I was watching the show, I could not help but notice one of the individuals among the many competing, Canadian Chef Darren MacLean. He was definitely a talented chef like many others on the show, however there was just something about him that made me feel extremely uncomfortable. Now, this is not a type of discomfort that I feel only from this particular chef, it is something that I feel quite often watching other forms of entertainment or interacting with people on a daily. It is that itching feeling where you just feel like you need to squint your eyes in discomfort. An easy way to explain that feeling of discomfort is through the idea of orientalism. For those unfamiliar with the term orientalism, it comes from, on a base level the idea of the occident and the orient, essentially the idea of the West and the rest. The West has for the longest time seen itself as the centre of the world in virtue of the rest existing – hence the existence of these two words in opposition. Another way of interpreting orientalism is also the idea of fetishising yet also barbarising whatever exists outside of the Western sphere. A typical example of this type of mentality (stereotypical duality) is the idea of the ‘noble’ vs. the ‘ignoble savage’. Let me clarify this concept through my personal anecdote about watching The Final Table.

What made me uncomfortable about Chef MacLean had nothing to do with his level of skill. He was clearly a professional that was good at what he was doing, something that was quite apparent, as he made it quite far into the competition. The question however that kept coming to my mind, was ‘why is he so obsessed with Japanese food?’ And, ‘why does he keep speaking about his experience in terms of the struggles he has gone through as a white man?’ For those that have not watched the show, yes, he constantly chats about how he found his way of cooking and way of life through Japanese cuisine (as the caucasian Canadian man that he is) and how he always struggles with the Japanese looking down on him or underestimating his cooking skills because he is a hakujin (and yes, he keeps using that word) – i.e. a white man.

I get it, it must be tough to be spoken to in a way that makes you doubt your skills, your ability to do what you’ve spent your entire life doing. However, why do you feel so strangely entitled to this feeling of recognition? Especially from people that have an actual cultural background in what they’ve been doing? Do you not ask yourself the question of whether you’re taking the place of another POC that could be making it big, that has that background and upbringing without the privilege of throwing themselves into their dream job? How about seeing your own culture and country as a playing field for your innovation and success, as opposed to others’?

The Final Table features many judge chefs that are world-famous, some have even been documented in the well-loved Netflix show, Chef’s Table (e.g. Grant Achatz, Enrique Olvera). Those chefs are well-known for what they do because they work with something they have naturally grown up with. They see cooking as a cultural force, a vision of their identity, and some even further attempt to improve their country’s livelihood by putting their country’s cuisines on the map. You hear even of chefs that are French trained and have experienced the joys of European cuisine, and yet somehow realise with time the importance of the roots they come from – the importance of seeing the beauty in their local cuisines and ingredients, not just that of the luxurious European cuisines people are taught to idolise. Authenticity here, seems to be key. One can borrow skills, knowledge and love of another country’s cuisines and see the beautiful links it may have with their own. However, ultimately the importance of authenticity rings true. Cooking comes from the heart and soul not only from the mind and experience – as we all probably have experienced with family cooking, especially if you come from a POC family.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Going back to Chef MacLean, I found his obsession with Japanese cuisine bizarre and unrelatable. The number of white men I have met in my life that tell me about their bizarre fascination with Japan and other times Korea, has always given me a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth. Fetishisation is the immediate idea that comes to my mind, as well as sometimes an awkward mix of cultural appropriation and mansplaining tendencies these types of individuals tend to exhibit. I get it, you’ve probably been to Japan more often that I have and you probably know more about Japanese cuisine than I ever will. The picture however painted of the caucasian white man explaining an Asian culture (a culture that isn’t his own) to me but also even worse, to other Japanese people just makes me feel really strange. This isn’t singular to cooking: I have had this experience in academia, in travel, in language… The patterns always seem to be there. Knowledge comes also from privilege, especially if you are able to gain knowledge about something beyond your own upbringing and background.

This of course, brings up the question that many caucasians ask: how can I be a specialist in something (that does not stem from my background and upbringing) without being overbearing to POC that may more directly be involved in what I speak of? I personally find the answer simple. Ask yourself the right questions. Give the respect that needs to be given. Don’t overstep your boundaries. The answers always ring the same with these issues and yet nothing ever seems to change – which is really a pity.

Changing the topic slightly, the show also truly emphasised the lack of female presence in fine dining, which in itself is an important topic of conversation. Women have always been primary caregivers at home throughout the entire history of humanity, and have always been at the centre of providing food and nutrition at home. The idea of ‘mom’s cooking’ or ‘grandma’s kitchen’ is a common nostalgic feeling that anyone can feel because of this long history of women being forced to become one with the kitchen. Why is it then, that in fine dining, the arena for really making it big and making cooking a big-name job, the arena where one can become creative and think beyond traditional boundaries – that there are an overwhelming majority of men?

Photo by Ashwini Chaudhary on Unsplash

Gender theorists and academics have long researched career patterns between women and men, how certain careers become less valued and immediately correlate with a lower pay when the sector becomes ‘feminised’. Certain examples include teaching, jobs that were considered valuable and important a century ago when it was exclusively men in the field. The question remains whether all these numbers are a simple reflection of the reactions to the increase in the numbers of people in these careers, hence salaries decreasing in effect (a fact of numbers) – however lots of other researchers and the evidence they provide suggests that that version of the story is skewed. Unconscious discrimination still remains a strong contender in the attempt to explain the numbers. We cannot consider the gender pay gap solely vertically (e.g. in terms of positions within a company), we must visualise it horizontally as well (across jobs, sectors that are considered ‘feminised’ and ‘masculinsed’) to truly get the real picture painted. Not to mention actually start considering domestic work as work should be paid even though it isn’t, and see it as an equally important position in our society, as domestic labour is just as laborious as jobs in the public sphere. It is the invisible labour that we do not consider as important in spite of it being the reason for the success of the next generations as well as the partner that goes out to earn money.

There is a desperate need for us to change the way we view and interact with the world – considering the questions of when and why have somewhat been answered, the how is the next main question that comes to mind at this very moment.

Food for thought,

Meena.

Intersectional book club #2: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

“I had learned that you should always shout louder than your aggressor.”

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Hi earth friends, and welcome to the Talking Egg!

For our second intersectional book club we move towards the wonderful country that is Iran!

For those that do not know much about the country, it goes far and beyond what you see through the lens of Western media, far more than the question of nuclear arms, the Islamic State and state oppression. It is a country of resistance, of strength and of beautiful cultural heritage. This is the inspiring story that Marjane tells in her autobiographical comic, Persepolis. We not only learn about the more recent history of her country, Iran, through her comical, heartwarming tale, but also hear a story of immigration to Europe, the experience of a woman of colour in the West.

After reading Persepolis, I was very much inspired to experience a bit of Iranian culture myself, which I managed to do by accompanying a dear friend of mine from Iran to her local Iranian supermarket visits as well as trying out Iranian food with her. Between large happy bites of Kobideh, sips of Iranian tea and licks of delicious Iranian ice-cream, my friend would tell me all about her wonderful country, and I could really understand better and visualise Iranian culture and society – the way I would read the stories of Marjane. Food can often be the best way to accessing a culture and meeting people with stories to tell – and I recommend you to try Iranian food in any case as Iranian food is absolutely a delight!

Going back however to our book club (I diverge), Persepolis tells a courageous tale of struggles and joys, of loss and understanding, of feeling comfortable in one’s skin and visualising the future.

Marjane grows up in Iran throughout the 70s and 80s, watching her parents fight against the monarchy in Iran with Marxian dreams and hopes for a better future. She experiences the rise and fall of the Shah, as well as the beginnings of what we know today as the Islamic Republic of Iran. She survives a long war between Iran and Iraq, resulting in her parents sending her away to Europe to make sure she is safe from the disasters of war. From heart-wrenching stories of loss (family and friends that do not survive the unfortunate consequences of their revolutionary spirit) to other humourous ones of her own rebellions in Iran (smuggling Western music, wearing her veil very loosely, wild secret parties), we get to see Iran both in the light of the difficulties it goes through, as well as the constant small joys of life the locals experience. We all often fall into the hole of thinking that people from countries of war and strife must constantly be miserable. By doing so we force them to forever be victims, to fit into the narrative of sorrow and loss – which is not all there is to them. By forcing them to lose their agency, their sense of identity, we commit the worst crime of ignorance. Yes, individuals from war-ridden countries do go through difficulty, are very often victims in many of the situations they face. However, that isn’t all there is to them. There are moments of happiness, of deep joy. Celebrations of culture and tradition. Love, food, family and of course, according to Marjane, punk music and cigarettes. They have dimension, depth, in the same way we all love to think we do. This is something that I felt quite strongly reading Persepolis, reading about Marjane’s story.

As mentioned above, Marjane also tells her amazing tale of her experiences in the West. She juggles her guilt towards those suffering and dying everyday in Iran while experiencing the difficulties underlying being an immigrant in the West, including financial struggles, difficulties reconciling her identities, as well as increasing issues with mental health – which, similar to Americanah (our last month’s intersectional book club book), is often seen as a white man’s issue in many non-Western nations. This of course, is very much a false assumption (driven in some ways through long centuries of shame related to mental health issues), however says more on the one hand, about how difficult these countries may realistically have it (mental health becoming just one of the many mountains of basic issues they face such as poverty and hunger) as well as on the other, about the skewed vision that individuals of colour do not feel or experience mental health issues. This vision of course not only originates from white Western individuals but also is often internalised by people of colour, making it somewhat of a vicious cycle (more on mental health in the POC community another time…)

Marjane experiences an initial strong culture shock, seeing sexually liberated Europeans, individualistic values, and the lack of family-centred relationships. Then quickly realises the hypocrisy and the irony behind the scripted sympathies and ‘edginess’ of Europeans (the example of her anarchist friends looking up to her for having lived through a war), understanding very quickly that most individuals either see her as a strange Middle-Eastern pretending to be French, or a martyr that exaggerates her experiences of war and revolution back in Iran. She can never simply just be Marjane, always having to play the role that people expect her to play. Realistically, she has very little money due to her solo young immigrant status, and eventually, after going through depression, finds herself on the streets and becomes very sick with pneumonia. It is only after this she decides to return to Iran. The continuous string that goes through Persepolis and is talked about more frequently during her time in Europe and her return to Iran, is Marjane’s vision of identity. Her father and grandmother’s last words to her before she leaves Iran, to not forget who she truly is and where she comes from, becomes at times her guiding star and in other times a source of stress and heavy responsibility – the main reason for which she refuses to contact her parents and tell them the truth about her life in Europe.

After her experiences in Europe, returning to Iran has its difficulties too of course, as Iran remains an Islamic Republic, and her depression only gets deeper, leading to her attempting suicide. She becomes a lost soul between worlds: feeling a strong attachement to her country, while desiring freedom and liberation (from the Islamic Republic and the veil) which she also finds to be concepts shaped into a hypocritical framework in the West. Her return to Iran ends well however (after university, a failed marriage, confronting the realities of her country), where she does truly remember and find herself again, like her father and the grandmother told her to when she first left Iran. She reminds herself that wherever she goes and wherever she is, there will be positives and negatives, and the story she chooses to tell about these places are within her own power, and within her own strength. It is ultimately, a tale of a woman realising that her agency gives her strength and that no matter where she is as long as she reconciles her identities and feels comfortable in her skin, her heart remains in the right place.

Marjane’s book does end however with a touch of bittersweetness, as she mentions that her loving grandmother passed away after she left Iran for the second time, ending with the line, “la liberté avait un prix…” (Freedom came at a price). A strong reminder of the things we leave behind in exchange for what we may feel is the brighter choice for our lives.

Hope I have not spoiled so much that you do not want to read the book anymore. It’s an amazing read, and I really do hope you will want to check it out for this month’s book club! There is also a movie version of the book, that is quite wonderful too for those wanting to go the extra mile.

See you next month for our next intersectional book club!

Eat your Kobideh,

Meena.

Poetry spotlight #1: Do not live as I did by Park No Hae

Hi earth friends, and welcome to the Talking Egg!

Today we have an amazing poetry spotlight, our first one, and a Korean one at that! This poem is by Park No Hae (박노해), born in 1957. Park No Hae is actually his pen name, and he found inspiration for it through the sentence, ‘the emancipation of workers that are persecuted’ (해 받는 동자의 방). Having been involved himself in many years of manually labour, and having come from a working-class background, he started writing during his years of work, describing the more complex experiences and feelings behind the worker. It was a shock to Korean society that someone with such a background could be a talented and eloquent poet – especially considering the times.

For a bit of background information, Korea had gone through a war in the 1950s, and by the 1980s, the economy was faring a lot better and poverty had lessened; however society had not quite reached stability, and the experience of poverty and war still rang strongly, like a societal trauma. Korea had gone through, at this point (following years of Japanese colonialism and the Korean War), authoritarianism with the Park Chung Hee (박정희) administration, followed by the Chun Doo Hwan (전두환) administration that was involved in the controversial Gwangju Uprising where many students and young workers had been massacred by military forces, under order of the government. There echoed a sense of uncertainty as well as an unshakeable feeling of alienation that had imprinted strongly in Korean society, creating rifts as well as large questions with regards to the nation’s social and political future.

Knowing all of this, I hope you can enjoy the poem below, named Do not live as I did, by Park No Hae. Korean is an extremely concise language, where one can express emotion and feeling through short sentences and words; the English translation unfortunately might not be able to express all of this as well, however I hope you can appreciate the meaning behind the poem nonetheless.

Feel free to share below what you think about the poem, the significance behind it and of course for those Koreans out there, give a shoutout if you are feeling comfortable! Now without further ado, here below the Korean poem, followed by the English translation:

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

넌 나 처럼 살지 마라

아버지,
술 한잔 걸치신 날이면
넌 나처럼 살지 마라

어머니,
파스 냄새 물씬한 귀갓길에
넌 나처럼 살지 마라

이 악물고 공부해라
좋은 사무실 취직해라
악착같이 돈 벌어라

악하지도 못한 당신께서
악도 남지 않은 휘청이는 몸으로
넌 나처럼 살지 마라 울먹이는 밤

내 가슴에 슬픔의 칼이 돋아날 때
나도 이렇게는 살고 싶지 않아요
스무살이 되어서도
내가 뭘 하고 싶은지도 모르겠고
꿈을 찾는게 꿈이어서 억울하고

어머니, 당신의 소망은 이미 죽었어요
아버지, 이젠 대학 나와도 내 손으로
당신이 꿈꾸는 밥을 벌 수도 없어요

넌 나처럼 살지 마라, 그래요,
난 절대로 당신처럼 살지는 않을 거에요
자식이 부모조차 존경할 수 없는 세상을
제 새끼에게 나처럼 살지 말라고 말하는 세상을
난 결코 살아남지 않을 거에요

아버지, 당신은 나의 하늘이었어요
당신이 하루 아침에 벼랑 끝에서 떠밀려
어린 내 가슴 바닥에 떨어지던 날
어머니, 내가 딛고 선 발밑도 무너져 버렸어요
그날, 내 가슴엔 영원히 사라지지 않는 공포가
영원히 지워지지 않을 상처가 새겨지고 말았어요

세상은 그 누구도 믿을 수 없고
그 어디에도 기댈 곳도 없고
돈 없으면 죽는구나
그날 이후 삶이 두려워졌어요

넌 나처럼 살지 마라
알아요, 난 죽어도 당신처럼 살지는 않을 거에요
제 자식 앞에 스스로 자신을 죽이고
정직하게 땀 흘려온 삶을 내팽개쳐야 하는
이런 세상을 살지 않을 거에요
나는 차라리 죽어 버리거나 죽여 버리겠어요
돈에 미친 세상을, 돈이면 다인 세상을

아버지, 어머니,
돈이 없어도 당신은 여전히 나의 하늘입니다
당신이 잘못 산게 아니잖아요
못 배웠어도, 힘이 없어도,
당신은 영원히 나의 하늘입니다

어머니, 아버지,
다시 한번 예전처럼 말해주세요
나는 없이 살아도 그렇게 살지 않았다고
나는 대학 안나와도 그런 짓 하지 않았다고
어떤 경우에도 아닌 건 아니다
가슴 펴고 살아가라고

다시 한번 예전처럼 말해주세요
누가 뭐라 해도 너답게 살아가라고
너를 망치는 것들과 당당하게 싸워가라고
너는 엄마처럼 아빠처럼 부끄럽지 않게 살으라고
다시 한번 하늘처럼 말해주세요

Do not live as I did

Father,
After a day of drinking
Do not live as I did

Mother,
After coming home smelling like Pas*
Do not live as I did

Grit your teeth and study
Get employed by a good office
Earn money as if your life depended on it

To you who could never have bad will
With a stumbling body that does not even contain bad will
A night sobbing do not live as I did

When my heart sprouts the knife of sadness
I also do not want to live like this
Even when I turned twenty
I do not know what I would like to do
Feel unfairness as my dream is to find a dream

Mother, your hope has already died
Father, these days even if I do go to university with my hands
I cannot even earn enough for the food you dream of

Do not live as I did, yes,
I will never live as you did
A world where children cannot even respect their parents
A world where one tells their children not to live as I did
I would not survive in that world

Father, you were my sky
The day you were pushed to the edge of a cliff from one day to the next
And fell onto the bottom of my young heart
Mother, what I was treading on has crumbled under my feet
That day, in my heart the fear that never disappears
The hurt that will never be erased was etched

In the world no one can be trusted
Not a single place to lean on anywhere
Without money there is death
After that day life has become terrifying

Do not live as I did
I know, even if I die I will not live as you did
Where one kills their self in front of their children
Where one must throw away the honest life attained through dripping sweat
I will not live this sort of world
I would rather die or be dead
A world crazy with money, where money is everything

Father, Mother,
Even if you do not have money you remain my sky
You did not live wrongly
Even if uneducated, or without strength,
You are still my sky

Mother, Father,
Tell me once again as before
Even if I lived with nothing I did not live like that
Even if I did not go to university I did not do those things
Whatever the case what is not is not
Live with your chest wide open

Tell me once again as before
Whatever others say live the way that you do
Fight steadfastly against those that ruin you
Live unashamedly like your mother like your father
Tell me once again as the sky

*Pas: a cheap pain relieving patch that can be bought at the local pharmacy in Korea. It heats up when it gets in contact with skin and helps to sooth knotted muscles. It is often used by people that do physical labour.

Love, respect and hope,

Meena.

A documentary review of Taxi Sister (2011)

Hi earth friends, and welcome to the Talking Egg!

Today we have a documentary review/critique on a short documentary about Taxi Sisters in Senegal. It is quite the fascinating topic, and I thought I would take on and write up through a narrower feminist lens on the documentary.

Taxi Sister overall shows scenes that correspond and reinforce feminist ideas to do with gender equality and the meaning of playing gender/social roles in specific social contexts: the brief scenes of Boury facing sexism among her male colleagues, “taxi mans”, are good examples to the strength of the inherent patriarchal values in Senegal, where women are still side-lined and deemed as ‘carers’, ‘mothers’ and ‘weak’, all stereotypical characteristics associated with women (Fine, 2010:XV). This is explained by Firestone (through Marxist theory) by the division of labour created originally due to women being “at the continuous mercy of their biology” as well as through capitalist economic incentives (Firestone, 1979). There are also comments by “taxi mans” on how taxi sisters do not have a certified driving license and are unskilled at driving, a comment which Boury refutes, saying she is more than qualified to drive. Paradoxically, the simple fact that Boury can drive and is standing her ground is a characteristic that opposes the comments from her male colleagues. To him, she is not able to drive and stand her ground and be ‘strong’ because she is a woman – the true irony is that she does all these things and more, something that her male colleague would deem as male characteristics that women are unable to have. Even that there is a divide between calling certain characteristics ‘male’ and ‘female’ puts into question whether there is such a clear cut divide of gender roles – as discussed by Fine on the delusion of gender and the separation, historically by science of the ‘male brain’ and the ‘female brain’ as a useful tool for the successful expression of the patriarchy (Fine, 2010:XVIII-XXII).

Another interesting scene shows Boury telling one of her customers how ‘crazy’ she is because she tends to treat her boyfriend casually, and how despite knowing that men are a supplement to her life she thinks she has a problem. The idea of ‘hysteria’ being a woman’s disease has existed for a very long time, unfortunately further privileging men and marginalizing women. When men acted in a strange manner, it was explainable and there were rational reasons for it, whereas when a woman did so, it was related to a woman’s emotional whims and labelled as ‘hysteria’, defined by Devereux as, “‘evidence’ of both the instability of the female mind and the social function of women defined in relation to their reproductive capacity (their ‘wandering’ wombs)” (Devereux, 2014:20). Boury accepts her ‘hysteria’ as being problematic, as stated by her boyfriend. Instead, some contemporary feminists have been appropriating hysteria: “[understanding hysteria] not as a medical condition but a cultural one, an embodied index of forms of oppression”, and appropriating it as a right to behysterical about the causes they fight for (Devereux, 2014:20). Perhaps this is the filmmaker’s way of pointing out the contrast between the emancipatory aspects shown by Boury’s resistance (when it comes to her as a taxi sister in a job sector dominated by men) versus her lack of resistance and perhaps lack of ideological emancipation (when dealing with men in a romantic context).

These scenes all open discussion to the existence of gender roles/gendered characteristics in Senegal and the problem with the existence of a hierarchy between certain roles and characteristics (Fine, 2010:XXII-XXIII). Boury plays certain social roles as well as adhering to specific gender roles depending on the social context, which reinforces the idea that gender is all but a social construct where we ‘act’ roles out. Like actors on a stage, we choose to identify ourselves in specific ways, depending on whether such identification would give us a more comfortable position/situation. This is much in line with Goffman’s idea of gender as a performance as well as Butler’s idea on discourses creating the whole identity of a person’s gender (Goffman, 1979; Butler, 1990). Boury, at work in her taxi, comments on the horrible driving that the male drivers do and talks about the right for women to work the jobs they want to – she puts on her act, her social role as the ‘female taxi driver’, marginalized yet proud about her career. This contrasts the last scene where Boury is at home and takes care of her siblings, and shares a more emotional scene with the audience (a social role she would probably not portray otherwise), where she discusses the difficulties she feels as a working woman.

The two different roles that Boury plays show an interesting contrast, as Boury faces difficulties both at work and at home. In various families in the 19th century (and still today), men did not do the housework, which lessened the load and pressure that men faced when they came home. The home became an area for relaxation and de-stressing, a contrast to work, which tended to be associated with stress and fatigue. On the other hand, for women, there tended to be more societal pressure related to taking care of children and doing housework when home, which meant that for women, the private and public sphere were not very different; there was no space for relaxation (Fuchs, Thompson, 2005:65-68). This suggests that whereas men’s public and private roles/spheres were very different, for women, their role at work and at home tended to be very similar as society had higher demands for working women than men: working women needed to not only maintain their level of hard work in the public sphere, but also in the private sphere. Even though in our current day this is not always the case, the scenario where both parents work for financial reasons and the mother still acts as the carer for the children/home still happens (Dhanabhakyam, Malarvizhi, 2014:47-48). Boury in that regard faces similar challenges as the new rising working-class women, in that,

“…in the case of employed women, a new additional role is added to her existing role as house wife and mother (…) She is subject to plurality of role expectations, which are mutually incompatible (…) This may lead to role interference, until equilibrium is resorted between different role expectations to which she is subjected (…) Due to this kind of tie-up working women have lot of responsibility to take care of their family members and also participate in family rituals.” (Dhanabhakyam, Malarvizhi, 2014:48).

On the other hand, what the filmmaker does not show in the movie or perhaps, fails to show is important to discuss as well. Although Boury is a working-class woman, oppressed by various intersections, the fact that Boury is able to be a taxi sister and have a cab is a statement. An interesting fact concerning the emergence of taxi sisters was not shown in the movie, discussed by Israel-Trummel: the fact is, taxi sisters were implemented as a government incentive in Senegal to encourage ending poverty and unemployment by providing jobs for women (Israel-Trummel, 2007:10-11). Through advertisement on newspapers, Senegalese women were able to apply for jobs as taxi sisters, and were provided with cabs by the government (in collaboration with Espace Auto, a vehicle company). Although the advertisement did say they would not consider education as criteria for being recruited, the fact that the advertisement was on the newspaper shows that whoever would be able to work the job in the first place would have to be literate (only 29.2% of women in Senegal are literate) and able to read and write French (Israel-Trummel, 2007:25). A driver’s licence was also a prerequisite to recruitment. Israel-Trummel’s research also suggests most of the women recruited had been educated to a certain extent and came from stable backgrounds (Israel-Trummel, 2007:18-21). Whilst taxi sisters might be facing systematic oppression in a job market that is mainly orientated towards men, they nevertheless represent a more advantaged group of people in Senegal. Exemplifying gender issues in Senegal by reference to e.g. taxi sisters could be dangerous as it narrows the scope and disregards the notion of intersectionality with regards to women in Senegal that do not even have access to applying. Nash points out the danger of viewing women that have similar characteristics as a “unitary and monolithic entity” (Nash, 2008:8) – although taxi sisters may be oppressed and treated unequally with regards to gender inequality, whether they have an equally disadvantageous position with regards to class, education, language, age, etc. is an important question to ask (Nash, 2008:9-10).

Taxi Sister makes important points with regards to gender inequality, norms, as well as roles, the patriarchy, the public versus the private spheres and the division of labour through Boury’s everyday experiences as a taxi sister in Senegal. Although these points are well demonstrated, one must not forget that what is shown in the movie or rather, not shown can be a very selective process and miss out on discussions, in this case regarding intersectionality, levels of oppression and group the Senegalese women into a lump as opposed to considering their personal stories, experiences and situations, an important aspect to feminist debates. While the movie did show important debates about feminism, its failure at dealing with intersectionality and Senegal as a whole could be seen as a significant weakness.

Drive on safely and seriously,

Meena.

Sources

  • Butler, J. (1990) Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New York: Routledge
  • Devereux, C. (2014) ‘Hysteria, Feminism, and Gender Revisited – The Case of the Second Wave’, ESC: English Studies in Canada, 40(1): pp. 19-45
  • Dhanabhakyam, M., Malarvizhi, J. (2014) ‘Work-Family Conflict and Work Stress among Married Working Women In Public and Private Sector Organizations’, International Research Journal of Business and Management, 7(10): pp. 46-52
  • Fine, C. (2010) “Introduction” from Delusions of gender: the real science behind sex differences, London, Icon Books: pp. xv-xxix
  • Firestone, S. (1979) The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux
  • Fuchs, R., Thompson, V.E. (2004) “Working for Wages” from Women in Nineteenth-Century Europe, New York, Palgrave Macmillan: pp. 61-84
  • Goffman, E. (1979) Gender Advertisements, London: HarperCollins
  • Israel-Trummel, M. (2007) ‘Unemployment, Women, and Taxis: A Study of the Taxi-Sister Program in its Test Phase’, Senegal: Arts and Culture, SIT Study Abroad, available at: SIT Digital Collections, Donald B. Watt Library & Information Commons
  • Nash, J.C. (2008) ‘Re-thinking Intersectionality’, Feminist Review, 89: pp. 1-15

Series recommendation #1: ‘Daria’, with feminism, the 90s, high school and Sick Sad World

Hi earth friends, and welcome to the Talking Egg!

Today I would like to talk about one of my all time favourite shows, Daria. For a show that was a relative hit in the United States where it originally aired, Daria was not as popular of a show here in Europe. It aired on some late night MTV slots in the early 2000s, but other than that period of time, I have never been able to find this show on any streaming service. Which, honestly is the saddest thing ever. Daria is an amazing show, with an amazing main character. She’s the badass, unapologetic high school nerd that we have all wanted to be: witty, sarcastic, and smart, she is quite the pioneer for her time (the 90s) and dare I say, a witchy feminist.

Watching Daria as a teenager, I learned that it was okay to be nerdy, and that there was nothing shameful about being smart and outspoken. She gave me the courage and the voice as a woman to read what I wanted to, speak of it, and question out loud the emptiness of popularity and the difficulties tied with personal development and identity at high school. She was also however, a teenager with her own insecurities which also made her incredibly relatable (e.g. all the times she’s shy and embarrassed around Trent, her crush and the times when she questions whether she really is that comfortable in her sarcastic high school hating skin), making her just a really intelligent, resourceful woman, a female character that we rarely saw on screen in the 90s, even in the early 2000s.

Daria really stood out for its time, considering shows like Friends and Seinfeld were being aired in parallel, covering little or none of the rich themes and topics that Daria did. Let’s be real, Chandler would have been an amazing gay man with a fun queer parent if the writers didn’t just leave him to be a straight white man in love with Monica (after they get married that seems to be pretty much all that defines him and that is left of his character development, which is such a bummer) – not to mention the awkwardness of the extremely queerphobic jokes they make about his parent. The 90s really weren’t a great decade for representation on the screen (where was the diversity? Accurate representation?) – and female representation that happened to be on screens was often extremely sexist and stereotyped. Taking this into consideration, watching Daria today, you realise how well the show has aged compared to old hits like Friends.

The best part about Daria is not only the main character, but also the secondary characters that were given a lot more character development and spotlight than secondary characters tend to be given in mainstream media. First, Daria’s best friend Jane, a creative spirit with all the alternative funk you dreamed of seeing in a woman: Jane spends most of her time with Daria making snazzy social commentary on high school life, watching their favourite trashy TV programme ‘Sick Sad World’ and eating copious amounts of pizza. Their friendship involves a good balance of creativity/free spiritedness and cynicism/sarcasm: Jane keeps Daria in check by making sure she’s still having fun and enjoying herself, taking her out to social events and making good chat. Daria keeps Jane thinking and reflecting on particular conversation topics that Daria may have an interesting take on, and more widely on morality and Daria’s notion of what Daria thinks should be. It’s the friendship that we all dream of – in some ways. They give to each other what they lack in themselves/what they seek, which honestly is the basis of any healthy relationship. Their friendship is strongest when they collaborate and mix crazy art with critical thought, something we can see during a few occasions when they collaborate on school projects.

Then there’s Jodie. My there is so much to say about her. And her amazing chemistry with Daria. Jodie represents Black Girl Magic to the max – even before this expression was established! She is one of the smarter students at school, similar to Daria, with an extra layer of intersectional identity which we all love and admire. Fearless, brave and outspoken, Jodie is one of the best characters in the show. On one of her more famous moments (have a look at the screenshot below), she speaks with Daria about the reason for which she keeps her ‘public’ image and attitude a ‘socially acceptable’ level of pleasant, explaining that she not only feels pressure from her parents, but also a generally larger pressure from her peers. She tries her best to maintain her image as Jodie, a role model not only for teenage girls but more specifically for young black women. Her statement is extremely poignant on how WOC (women of colour) constantly feel social pressure to impress, not only because we are women, but also having a racial component added to our identities. WOC are often invisible, not only in mainstream media, but also in the way the world views our societies and construct them – and when we do happen to be visible it is always within the lens of certain racial stereotypes mixed with the stereotypes that exist because we happen to be women. It is a complicated position to maintain, as we do not want to be trapped within that narrow vision and want to show that our identity can exist in many fluid, passionate forms; creating also a certain level of pressure to ‘maintain face’. Any false move, and small mistaken and a tumbling amount of stereotypes and accusations on how we are the way we are because we are women, especially WOC can come so quickly, contrary to all the time and effort it may take to build a positive image. Then on the other hand, no matter how much effort and hard work we put in, we seem to always be seen as the WOC, not simply just another woman. Hence the idea of the ‘token POC’. It’s tough, and is somewhat an eternal struggle – which Jodie in Daria seems to understand, and expresses in her own way throughout the show.

The other characters on the show are also extremely interesting. Many of them may seem empty headed and superficial on the surface (and some of them are) but turn out to have deeper levels in their own ways. Even characters like Daria’s sister Quinn, and her friend, Stacy have moments of self-reflection and revelations on what may be the more critical issues in life – and are shown bonding with other characters that may not belong to their shallow group of friends they initially exclusively stick with. Ultimately the show real puts forward the idea that a character does not have to simply be one side of a coin, one way, and that they are more like prisms perhaps, shining different colours and sides of themselves depending on the situation.

Other than the amazing characters and the themes the show touches upon, Daria holds plenty of references to pop culture, witty social commentary and raises questions not only on high school life but also on adulthood, which we have a peek into with Daria’s parents as well as the adults at Laundale High (the high school Daria and her friends attend). It just is overall a very well rounded show.

If I had to point out one disappointment, it was the last story arc in the series where Daria gets her first boyfriend. I won’t get into too much detail as it may be a spoiler, however, I will always hold the opinion that the way she starts dating him is completely out of character, super unfeminist. They also do not really suit each other in terms of personality and mentality, but well, that’s just my two cents. Perhaps I am just disappointed that such a badass female would fall for someone so… Plain and boring. Especially after her crush on free spirited Trent (ooh shade). I guess the writers of the show are the only ones that would be able to explain this decision – however, whatever the case, Daria will always be Daria in my heart.

For satire, dark humour, clever social commentary and more, go watch Daria, now!

“Only today, on ‘Sick Sad World’.”

Na na naaaaa na na,

Meena.