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Eat, Pray, Love and a Few Conditions of My Own

Thanks to chongweikk.com for forwarding the link to this Eat, Pray, Love video to an Eddie Vedder song.

And Jennybee forwarded me this interesting (bitchmagazine.org, best URL ever) but, I think, off base article on the film (or perhaps, the book). The author makes many very good points about “priv-lit,” this idea that Oprah and her ilk are poisoning all of womenkind with this false idea that buying things, and traveling the world perhaps, makes you more enlightened.

Eat, Pray, Love detailed Gilbert’s decision to leave an unsatisfying marriage and embark on an international safari of self-actualization. (Publisher Viking subsidized the “unscripted” yearlong vacation.) Gilbert ate exotic food, meditated in exotic places, and had exotic romantic interludes; both culture clashes and enlightenment ensued, as did Gilbert’s ham-fistedly paternalistic attempt to buy an impoverished Indonesian woman a house. The book could easily have been called Wealthy, Whiny, White.

It’s hardly reasonable to demand that every woman who wishes to better her life be poor, or nonwhite, or in some other way representative of diversity in order to be taken seriously. But Eat, Pray, Love and its positioning as an Everywoman’s guide to whole, empowered living embody a literature of privilege and typify the genre’s destructive cacophony of insecurity, spending, and false wellness.

Therefore, it isn’t really empowerment but just another form of consumerism. Like the Sex and the City film that was panned by critics, I sense the knives being sharpened for Eat, Pray, Love – and maybe not at all because the film is bad or good (most agree that Sex and the City was bad). But because women are more easily blamed and hated than men.

It’s really as simple as that. And it’s across all occupations and comfort levels. Women are the mothers and the girlfriends and the whores, and occasionally the outspoken, quirky “best friend.”

Close your eyes for a minute and imagine a man in that same role. Let’s say – oh – Sean Penn. Let’s say Sean Penn’s character was sick of his life revolving around whether or not he was going to get married and have kids, whether or not he was going to die alone, etc. Is anyone going to say that he’s whining? Is anyone going to call him a rich, white, whiner? Probably not. ¬†No one would ever make a story about Sean Penn doing such a thing because men, in literature, film and life are mostly free to do whatever they want. ¬†No one really cares if they are fat, thin, old or young. ¬†Men would, therefore, not feel the need to break away from the vast amounts of identity advertising aimed at them (not to say it doesn’t exist, just that it isn’t as oppressive).

The best example of something like this would be A Christmas Carol, where Scrooge is made to understand why his life has been such a waste. ¬†So maybe if he set off to travel the world, eat great food and sleep with Javier Bardem, no one would care. ¬†But a girl doing it? ¬†A feminist’s nightmare.

I don’t think women watch Oprah because they are rich, white, whiners. Oprah sells an impossible lifestyle and the reason women, all kinds of women from all walks of life, eat it up is because women are more inclined to fantasy than men are. Men use fantasy, for sure, but not to the same degree and not the same kind. So women can imagine going all over the world as Julia Roberts, eating whatever they wanted, swimming naked with Javier Bardem. And how is that wrong again? Can someone please tell me how that is wrong?

The very idea of Oprah is a fantasy come true: poor black woman who struggles with her weight becomes one of the most rich and powerful woman in the world? ¬†Hell, yeah. ¬†Her show wasn’t only just about “living your best life,” it was a one-stop shopping for crime-stopping, cell phone danger, diets, bras that work and bras that don’t work. ¬†She knew that most of her audience wasn’t economically blessed, thus, most of what Oprah chatted about was a lot more heady than people give her credit for. ¬†Only a part of it was about the cool stuff.

I don’t think anyone, certainly not anyone I know, is going to feel inadequate because they can’t afford to travel the world searching for themselves. We went through this in the 1970s, only then it was Meryl Streep leaving her husband and child and going to California to “find herself.” Oh, right, that wasn’t “okay” either. Okay, so in they were all finding themselves by dropping acid and tripping out in Central Park at love-ins? Not okay either?

I don’t think this article is necessarily wrong, and it is a valuable read, but I do think it’s much ado about nothing. Hard economic times, as I recall, welcomes films about fantastically fabulous lives because there aren’t many reasons to pay for movie tickets these days, especially if you’re a woman over 40. What the hell are you going to go see? Oh, right, you’re not supposed to be going to the movies at all because that is something only priv-chicks can do.

Gwyneth Paltrow gets a lot of heat for her site, Goop, which DOES cater to the upper class. ¬†There isn’t much about Gwyneth’s site, other than the spirituality site, that average women can relate to. I suspect they read it because they’re fascinated by the lives of the rich and famous. ¬†At least it isn’t a lie, though. ¬†There are quite a few mom bloggers who pretend to be just ordinary folk but in reality are quite wealthy and living their own “best life,” all the while pretending to be just like you and me — and that keeps their readers coming back (Pioneerwoman, Dooce, etc). ¬†They come back because they like the fantasy, or they like the writing, or they like the pretty pictures. ¬†But which is the bigger lie?

What I’ll always wonder is why women seem to be the only demographic that is ever held accountable for anything. It’s a damn shame, really.

Far be it from me to take away a bone for feminists to chew on – but how about we give women the benefit of the doubt to be smart enough to know what they want, like and need?

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