A Half-Hearted Celebration Of Lady Rebels In HellionsSeptember 20, 2011 No Comments
Rebel. The word itself is sexy. So when Maria Raha decided to name her book about rebel women Hellions, it should have been a warning that she did not know what she was doing.
The book promises “to give rebel women their due, and celebrate female rebelliousness the way we do its male equivalent.” Seriously, what could be better?
Raha begins by setting up the classic rebel. He is generally, white, middle class and likes to roam about the country experiencing new things. James Dean is her main icon, but she also name-checks Jack Kerouac in On the Road, and Henry Fonda and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider.
Now that she has defined rebel she moves onto the female version, and it is here where it all falls apart. This book is not about the rebels but about their critics, about how they are portrayed in the media. It is less a celebration than it is a 248 page whine.
Most people would agree that Janis Joplin was a rebel but Raha is convinced that she is remembered differently from her contemporaries because she was a woman. The focus is about her tragic end and ignores what she accomplished in her life. As a result, most of her coverage of the rocker ends up doing just that.
She complains that Joplin, because she is a woman, is remembered “more for her death than for being the outsider.” But while I can easily remember that Jim Morrison is buried in Paris, I had to google to find that Joplin’s ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean.
In her haste to get all her criticisms across she ends up contradicting herself. The book’s primary male rebel, James Dean, is more known for his death than what he accomplished in his life. So even if her argument were true, and Joplin was primarily remembered for her death, that would assure her place among the rebel cannon.
Likewise, she is bothered that Amy Winehouse is famous for her addictions, yet part of the rebel mystique is drug-use. It is used to explore the consciousness, experience new sensations and provide respite from the bourgeoisie world. Without it you don’t have a rebel but a wandering hobo.
Raha says that female superheroes had costumes that “made female action stars of the twentieth century much more vulnerable to voyeurism,” but then 20 pages later she praises Buffy: The Vampire Slayer for their treatment of the male love interest: “Angel… provided eye candy for female and gay male viewers alike.”
The book is clearly Raha’s attempt to survey the treatment of all women in pop culture, and her purported focus on rebels is clearly just a means to an end. A perfect example of this is her inclusion of Marilyn Monroe on her list of rebels. She doesn’t bother to explain what dissident activities the star engaged in, but merely says: “She may not seem the rebel, but she is the ultimate example of the difference between male and female iconography…”
Her phrasing is just as disjointing as her points. Hellions is filled with sentences like: “Ripley also fought fertilization by an alien and escaped into unchartered territory — much like the feminist and working-woman revolution out of which Alien arose.” (You’re not missing anything, it made that much sense in context too).
This book is feminism at its worst. She sees these women through a myopic lens of victimhood which prevents her from acknowledging anything that these fantastic females accomplished.
The saddest part is that she has a point, lady rebels are ignored in our culture. What a shame that she squandered her chance to celebrate them.
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