Oz, Virginia Woolf, & Women in Media

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I saw Oz the Great and Powerful tonight. Never have I been so angry and disappointed at a screenplay since A Clockwork Orange or Beowulf (pieces of writing for another time). The film glorified a smoke and mirrors cheat of a man and portrays women as one-dimensional side-characters, full of vengeance born of their interactions with men. Is this what we, what Disney (who feeds the hearts and minds of our youth) wants us to accept as truth?

For godsakes, L. Frank Baum was a women’s suffrage advocate, incorporating themes of gender equality in his many works. Is this how his legacy is to be hackneyed and regurgitated to todays’ youth? Haven’t we grown toward more forward ways of thought?

All I keep thinking about is Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” and how angry I am, how angry she would be. This is not acceptable. Woolf writes of women in fiction written by men, but not in history. She ironically asks what our mothers were doing to have not acquired wealth or fame in our histories and answers- “However, the majority of women are neither harlots nor courtesans; nor do they sit clasping pug dogs to dusty velvet all through the summer afternoon. But what do they do then? and there came to my mind’s eye one of those long streets somewhere south of the river whose infinite rows are innumerably populated. With the eye of the imagination I saw a very ancient lady crossing the street on the arm of a middle-aged woman, her daughter, perhaps, both so respectably booted and furred that their dressing in the afternoon must be a ritual, and the clothes themselves put away in cupboards with camphor, year after year, throughout the summer months. They cross the road when the lamps are being lit (for the dusk is their favourite hour), as they must have done year after year. The elder is close on eighty; but if one asked her what her life has meant to her, she would say that she remembered the streets lit for the battle of Balaclava, or had heard the guns fire in Hyde Park for the birth of King Edward the Seventh. And if one asked her, longing to pin down the moment with date and season, but what were you doing on the fifth of April 1868, or the second of November 1875, she would look vague and say that she could remember nothing. For all the dinners are cooked; the plates and cups washed; the children sent to school and gone out into the world. Nothing remains of it all. All has vanished. No biography or history has a word to say about it. And the novels, without meaning to, inevitably lie.

All these infinitely obscure lives remain to be recorded, I said, addressing Mary Carmichael as if she were present; and went on in thought through the streets of London feeling in imagination the pressure of dumbness, the accumulation of unrecorded life, whether from the women at the street corners with their arms akimbo, and the rings embedded in their fat swollen fingers, talking with a gesticulation like the swing of Shakespeare’s words; or from the violet-sellers and match-sellers and old crones stationed under doorways; or from drifting girls whose faces, like waves in sun and cloud, signal the coming of men and women and the flickering lights of shop windows. All that you will have to explore, I said to Mary Carmichael, holding your torch firm in your hand.”

Yet here we are today, years later, and still depicting women flatly and fictitiously. Have we not progressed? I think of the artist Sydney Phillips Hardin who paints women icons as deflated blow-up dolls to highlight the one-dimensionality in which the media portrays them. We are not flat. There is more to us than our associations to our male counterparts. We are multi-dimensional; not characters, as in fiction, but real women. We do not rely on men to carry our story or write our histories for us.

I feel a bit like Dorothy. Bumped on the head and discombobulated, spun into an Oz where women still take the second seat to men. If I click my pen, instead of my heels, three times maybe I will wake up.

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