Today I was invited to lead a tour and facilitate discussion of an exhibit of some of the films of Chantal Akerman, renowned Belgian feminist filmmaker, on view at the Blaffer Gallery at the University of Houston. By way of introduction, I could point to a parallel in Akerman’s work and my own: we’re both exploring the ways in which women are rewriting the narratives of our lives. Very different otherwise, but a basic interest in common.
Akerman literally revises the operation of film narrative, reorganizing the idea of plot, choosing material from the everyday lives of ordinary people from all walks and realms of life, and making the spectator much more active and responsible in the meaning-making process. No standard film dynamics for her. It’s all about thinking twice, and then again, about the way who we are is determined by political forces at work on the home front, in the theatre and in the wider world, and then intervening in that.
Ready examines the ways in which women in the US, as in many parts of the globe, are reorganizing their own plot lines, within the altered framework afforded us by both the presence of widely available reliable birth control, and the new expectation of longevity that so many of us first worlders live with now. It’s exciting to recognize what ingenious artists of their own lives women are, innovating within our fast-morphing milieu. Definitely political and historically-determined artistry.
It’s exciting also to think through the diverse ripple effects created by the trend to starting later–and I’ll work on charting those effects in the next few days. Here’s a start (in no particular order):
Effect number one: doubling the national talent pool in an expanding number of fields by reassigning what used to be called “the distaff side” (meaning the ladies, defined as weavers)–from the confines of home work to wider fields of endeavor.
Effect number two: lots more new later dads, who come to fatherhood later for many of the same reasons that women do–when they feel ready.
Effect number three: fewer children of divorce? I can’t demonstrate this with data, because the US doesn’t collect divorce data anymore. (Why is that??!!!) But the women I spoke to felt they were less likely to divorce because they came to parenthood with a partner they’d either chosen at a more mature point in their lives, and/or because they’d learned how to compromise around non-pivotal issues and so felt they’d be less likely to leave without trying first to hold things together than they might have been earlier. They also felt that their higher levels of education and earnings meant they had a different kind of status in their marriages than many of their moms did, and that status would create a more equal power dynamic within the couple that would itself make it less likely that they would want to leave.
Effect number four: fewer impoverished kids when parents do divorce. Not all marriages need saving, and later moms as a group make higher salaries than moms who start their families earlier. If moms aren’t working at the time of divorce, they may have a better chance of re-establishing at work if they have degrees, connections and/or a long resumé from the days pre-kids.
It’s late, but I’ll add to the list next time. Chime in with your thoughts if you feel so moved!