Humanities & Social Thought Media Non-Fiction

The Administration of Identity Vs. The Experience of Identity (A Series, Part 2 of 4)

{Spoilers for BOY MEETS WORLD and for the new film, “Don’t Think Twice.”}

14212588_328432474171482_5796106988774123007_nI came across this meme on Facebook not too long ago. I reposted it with the note: “Unless you legitimately want to, in which case, you do you.” To my surprise, there was a lot of backlash. For many people commenting on the thread, all who self identify as Leftists, a woman who makes the choice to go to the college her boyfriend is going to in order to be with him has internalized sexism. The questions that arose on the thread included:

– What is the author’s responsibility regarding ethical representation in fiction?
– What is the feminist answer to ‘what should a woman do?’
– What age does a person gain the jurisdiction to decide what makes him or her happy?
– What is the value of choice?

The consensus seemed to be that being able to choose herself over a man made a woman more free,
as opposed to having a choice.  Generally, there was also common agreement on the idea that a teenager might make a bad choice because she’s a teenager,  that is that she cannot yet be trusted to make important social decisions on her own behalf. I was a curmudgeon and disagreed on just about every point.

Don't Think twice
Don’t Think Twice

Not too long after that, I saw “Don’t Think Twice” in the theater.  Brain child of Mike Birbiglia, this was a wonderful movie about what it means to “make it,” and how we change as told through the perspective of millennials, focused on professional comedy. One character, Samantha, gets an audition for a nationally syndicated show, and on the day of her audition, concludes that she doesn’t want to try out. Her boyfriend also gets an audition at the same time, he tries out, and he makes it.  At the end of the movie, she’s broken up with her boyfriend, and become a teacher, choosing to teach students improv instead of seeking national notoriety for her own performance.  Some may come away thinking her choice was a product of internalized sexism, or a reflection of the film writers’ sexism, because her boyfriend’s success is analogous to how we understand success generally, and her decision along the same lines seems like the back up plan. Others will say that this is different because she is choosing between two different career options, not between herself and a man. But perhaps, the correct answer is really “whatever she chooses, as long as she chooses, is a feminist choice.”

This is the question we ask about Topanga and about Samantha and about our sisters, daughters, wives, and friends — is it necessary for them to make decisions which challenge the patriarchal norms in order for them to be feminist decisions?  If those decisions make them less happy, according to their own experience, is it really challenging patriarchal norms? If we say that making decisions which apparently benefit men in their lives exemplifies internalized sexism, are we denying them jurisdiction over their own experiences?

I’m putting this in the series on the administration of identity vs. the experience of identity because I think that often in the literature, in the class room, and at the protest, we are fighting on behalf of the right to make a choice that some women may not want to make. We are therefore dealing with the administration of identity — the right to choose as opposed to the particular decision. The particular decision will always be a product of experience, the right to choose a product of the administration of experience. This difference is key.

By jtp

Joanna Tova Price has a lot of heart.

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