The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

March 28, 2009

Towelhead – this is not about race & ethnicity

Filed under: feminism,films,not writing,social constructionism,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 20:09
Tags: , ,

I watched Alan Ball’s Towelhead last night and I’ve been wondering why I can’t get it out of my mind. 

If you haven’t seen it, Towelhead is the coming of age story of an adolescent girl (Jasira) who, though she is incidental to the lives of the people she is supposed to be important to, in the ways in which she is supposed to be important to them, is also their central focus as she embodies the female sexual power they all want to possess.  These people — her mother, father, mother’s boyfriend, her next door neighbor/pedophile/ letch, and her boyfriend — all attempt to expropriate her budding sexual agency.  They all represent the various ways in which women’s agency is stolen from them by patriarchal society — paternalism, forbidden fruit, the social construction of virginity, dirty sex, inter-gender sexual power threats, etc.   But ultimately, Jasira reappropriates her sexual vitality by recognizing that others have been naming her life for her and, in so doing, taking from her what is rightfully her own. 

The film was originally called Nothing is Private, even though it is based on the book Towelhead by Alicia Erian, and there was a good deal of controversy in the Middle Eastern community about the name of both the book and the film.  I haven’t read the book so can’t speak to it’s title, but for the film, I can’t help but think a title dealing with privacy issues might be more apropos.  The fact that there has been controversy about the naming of the film, rather than the content of the film, is ironic.  Race and ethnicity?  Touchy, touchy.  Patriarchal saturation and sexual subordination?  Whatever do you mean?  Funny, we can talk about racial inequality, but can’t even see the gender inequality when it hits us in the face, as it does in this film. 

And I can’t help but wonder how many people saw this film and immediately condemned Jasira for her normal, natural (and I mean natural in the correct use of the term, not a socially constructed use) sexual explorations.  How many people thought it was normal for the young boy to look at porn — actually just stare at porn, not old enough yet to know what to make of it — but abnormal (icky word) for Jasira to be intrigued and stimulated by it?  How many people blamed Jasira (you were right again, William Ryan) for just being sexual?  And how many of those people, including women — no, especially women — had the same feelings themselves when they were 13 years old?  Or had they been successfully indoctrinated enough into the good girl vs bad girl mentality to completely suppress those feelings and commit a little sexual agency hara-kiri on their own?  Do they resent Jasira for her lack of complacency and compliancy?

This is a film that I’d like to show in my women’s & gender studies classes, but I hesitate — it may be too graphic.  Is it?  Jasira is certainly an everyday she-ro.  What would her impact be on young women who are both thrilled and terrorized by their own emergent sexual energy?  I can only imagine empowerment. Maybe like Jasira they, too, could reclaim the blood they shed as their own.

See this film! http://wip.warnerbros.com/towelhead/  Do it for your daughters.  Do it for the girl you used to be.

Now, back to writing about beer …

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1 Comment »

  1. Thanks for the head’s up on this film. I look forward to watching it.

    Comment by DOMINO — March 28, 2009 @ 20:23


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