It’s a Revolt; not a Revolution
I’ve spent the last few nights setting up computer hardware for a video call-in show my buddy and I are putting together and watching Good Girls Revolt, an Amazon Prime-produced show inspired by the 1970 Newsweek gender discrimination suit.
The show is important. Watch it. (It’s my experience that it’s boring people who think they are too good for TV drama. I have a similar relationship with TV that Mill does with literature. I think it serves as a repository for moral concern. Sure, there is much more bad television out there than good television, but I think that bad TV is easy to spot and turn off, and good television is hugely rewarding. I’m not worried. The same can be said for novels, and folks who don’t engage with any sort of novels or television consistently reveal themselves to me as ethically inept in all of these non-obvious ways.
By the way, Amazon prime’s Fleabag is also delicious. It has a smaller scale than Good Girls Revolt, but it takes chances in appropriate ways, and at least a few of those chances hit their respective marks.)
Let’s talk Good Girls Revolt. Anna Camp carries the drama as a triple-distilled, 200 proof WASP in a post-WASP world. They still have power and influence, but that light has gone out. Kind of like Christendom for Nietzsche. She gets typecast for this role, but she is also very good at it, the way Tom Cruise is good at action movies. Ostensibly, it stars Genevieve Angelson and Erin Darke, but it’s Camp’s role that bears the most stakes.
I’ve been lamenting for years about how there aren’t enough stories on political organizing. It’s hard to capture both why political organizing is necessary for freedom and how fragile and contingent any of these movements are. How do you become part of history without becoming its victim? This is especially important for black people who know that there is a whole generation of civil rights organizers who died broke and broken, struggling so that others wouldn’t have to.
Good Girls Revolt gets points just for being about organizing. And it really is a show about political organizing, including the political education and consciousness raising required just to be emancipated from all of the bullshit we feed white women, and this is racialized because I think we feed non-white women a different variety of bullshit, and if you try to mix flavors for the wrong constitution, you could get sick, e.g., black women read Lean In or Eat, Pray, Love and end up fucking up their lives and the lives around them because they thought that the white lady advice was for them.
So here is the situation: It’s 1969 and you have a bunch of smart pretty young white women working as researchers at a fake Newsweek magazine. And let’s not fool ourselves, they were hired for being smart, pretty, young and white. They all have degrees from fancy private colleges, and they are all upwardly mobile. The issue for them is whether they are going to move up through marriage or through their market-based career.
They come around to seeing how the origin of their predicament redounds to how we have an entire political economy that’s organized for them to not quite, as they see it, reach their career potential.
And all they want in life is to do the work of the vaguely competent white guys around them.
Good Girls Revolt does an excellent job of depicting this. It also shows how 40 years later, we still have shitty news because we’ve found a way to assimilate the most obnoxious class of white women into the game, without actually making them sufficiently less obnoxious.
These aren’t women who are merely oppressed by the system. These are white women who have profited from the system. They’ve just run into obstacles trying to profit from a white supremacist patriarchy the way they want to.
That’s what makes them good girls. They’ve thrived because the fucked up American political order comes really close to working for them. These are small women who are at peace with all manners of a system that takes them 95 percent of the way there, and then are willing to go to revolt to get that last five percent. They want opportunities without those opportunities jeopardizing all of the nice things they have been given to get them where they are. They definitely aren’t concerned about how their struggle for justice needs to be linked to class.
This is an aptly titled revolt, but it isn’t a revolution. I really do think that it’s an important show, even with its blind spots, because it shows how many liberal white women are disasters for struggles for justice. Even in their most conscious moments, they are oblivious to class or awful about race. In the same way that progressive journalism driven by Nick Kristoff is going to be shitty progressive journalism; political progress driven by this class of women is going to be shitty progress. But I think black people know that Nora Ephron will not save them.
These women want women running all levels of the white patriarchy, which would be fine, except we are talking about journalism and the public trust and there are actual stakes in not having a political consciousness that is sensitive to class and race, or even ableism or agism in America.
The good girls revolting fought the narrowest battle they could, and amazon prime is packaging it and selling it as a victory for progress in America. It does depict, convincingly, how the best, brightest, and thoughtful young women could be so well-schooled and committed to a notion of justice that was oblivious to class and race.
It’s the birth of everything awful about liberal white feminism that could very well culminate in Clinton’s election, in a way that everything awful about bourgeois black politics culminated in Obama’s election.
This clique is not one for solidarity. They just want an opportunity to get their employer’s perks, without, of course, jeopardizing the order that delivers them their own.
There are two scenes that jump out at me:
1) When Naomi (Franky Shaw) laments how ridiculous it is that the bank won’t let her renegotiate her loan without her husband’s signature, when it was Naomi’s parents who died and bequeathed her the mortgage money.
I agree that it’s ridiculous that she needs her husband’s signature. I also think we need to talk about generational wealth. The US is punishing you for being a woman while at the same time rewarding you for having wealthy parents in a deeply racialized economy.
2) When Jane (Anna Camp) says that she wants her enormously wealthy dad to stop paying her rent because she wants to do it on her own. The pride with which she said it and the audience was supposed to take it seriously was everything wrong with whiteness in America.
Here you have a woman who is model pretty in her mid-twenties and everything about her says old money with a dad who is willing to write a blank check for her dreams, and she thinks that somehow her future success will be on her own, independent of her fabulously wealthy family and prep school charms. Lady, just take the money and donate it to the ACLU. It’s like Chelsea Clinton or Ivanka Trump saying they are going to quit the family business and win success independently.
That’s just not how it works. When you are of that set, the best you can do is own it, and try to make world a better place from the position you are in. Don’t propagate some fiction that you are somehow emancipated from the generational cash and habits that informed pretty much all of who you are.