I’ve been in television hibernation this past month, and it took the centenary of women’s day to draw me out. I’ve always been iffy on the subject of women’s day — why, precisely, are we celebrating half of humanity? I guess any publicity- look, we exist- is better than none.
Here I am. Watch me exult.
The excuse for my telly fest (which concluded last week) was my contribution to Popmatters’ Whedon retrospective, which will go up later this month on bogey. The inspiration for my little rant below was Darla, that first modern working girl. For a feminist writer, Whedon is uniformly unkind in doling out her fate, though perhaps after 500 years of killing she was due some dying. Multiple times, even. Darla, Angel’s sire, is the vampire we meet in the first scene of Buffy. Dusted by Angel in season one, she is revived by Wolfram and Hart three years later, tormented in assorted ways (including one ill-fated pregnancy) until she finally kills herself. Amazing how often that happens in Angel: women sacrificing self for spawn. Though I guess Illyria is not, strictly speaking, spawn.
My title, for whedon-trivia, is borrowed off Cordy, from my favourite Angel episode. This would be Billy, in which Lilah kills her misogynist client. What can I say? Lilah’s got me on my knees. Remember when she gives Wesley The Divine Comedy before he goes all dark and they get all horny? In the original Tuscan, too, so classy and clever, which almost made me want to be a lawyer again.
Billy, though, is in close competition with Guise will be Guise, where Wesley impersonates Angel while the original and a fake swami have the following conversation:
Magev: “You’re deeply ambivalent.”
Angel: “Yeah, well, I am and I’m not.”
Magev: “You need to get over her. – Okay, what does she [Darla] look like?”
Angel: “She’s beautiful. – Small, blonde…”
Magev: “Right. So here’s what you do. You go out and find yourself some small, blonde thing. You bed her, you love her, you treat her like crap, you break her heart. You and your inner demon will thank me, I promise.”
And, in spirit with these serendipitous times, a poem I found on Spaniard in the Works,
Only after I’d eaten
(His big family included)
In that order,
And had for dessert
The town’s inhabitants,
Did I find, says Kabir,
The beloved that I’ve become
In anticipation of the essay which overwhelmed my feb, I shall talk about prostitutes to bring in this women’s day. I make, in said essay, the point that it is no coincidence that all the ‘Aurelian’ vamps of the Buffyverse- Darla, Angelus, Dru, Spike- were sired prior to 1900, since they each embody aspects within the ‘greater darkness’ of modern thought. This bit below was written to explain what I meant by that, except, well, it went all tangential and was ultimately edited out. Basically, what I’m saying is this: I would’ve liked Angel a lot more had it been Darla.
The challenge the prostitute poses to civilisation is that she rests on the even more unstable category of “womanhood”. Ever since the Enlightenment, the world has been invented by and for certain men, with endlessly differentiated hierarchies women are largely left out of. We are not oppressed, persae, because we exist in every race, in every nation, in every ethnicity, at every class and juncture of social ordering. But we are irrelevant, and that is somehow worse. Capitalism was widely perceived such a roaring success for so long because it had a hidden army of slaves in women. The female body has been the site of every battle liberalism has ever fought: class, race, caste, tradition, religion. Are we sex objects? Man’s Rib? Mothers? Are we to be endured, understood, tolerated, indulged, disciplined? Men, you notice, simply have to be to count. Women have to jump hoops.
Prostitution cannot, in any liberal discourse, be a legitimate profession- no one can want to do it. People can want to be arms smugglers, nuclear scientists, President Bush, but there is no way women want to derive gain from pain (for sex is often pain, love or lust or whatever else it is). I am not suggesting that prostitution be reconstructed as this pleasurable profession for promising young women (though why not, since marriage is?) merely that it is necessary to understand what makes it so unpleasant in polite company. It is the fact that the transaction involved- sex- is the least important thing about it. It is the realisation that women can sometimes set the terms of the bargain that is so dramatically inscribed upon the body of the prostitute.
In my opinion, that says a lot about the way it is “tackled” by the modern state. The dangerous thing about prostitution is the woman herself, not what she does. This has been imagined through various metaphors, infection and parasitism being the most persistent ones. To bring her in front of power, you have to inoculate her or be expunged. The prostitute is at the bottom of both entrenched hierarchies in the modern world: crime and the state. She is a criminal, she lives on the street, an easy whipping post for both sides. She is the abused body that exists on the peripheries of normal life: and the police are just that shade worse than the pimp. If one takes this to its logical and imperial conclusion, the colonised prostitute is the real scum of the earth– she doesn’t even think she’s selling herself- for her, it’s an alleged tradition (not, of course, her profession). Now imagine the postcolonial whore, gape at the burdens she has to bear. She faces a nationalist tradition that wants her to bear the cross of “Indian Culture”, redeemed of its orientalisation so painstakingly by the nationalists and their emphasis on the sati savitri. She faces a liberal tradition that can barely bring itself to talk about her, except in the limited and disempowered role of social victim. She is intensely debated, defined, confined and regulated, so she won’t burst out of her very useful black hole and expose modernity and ‘Enlightenment’ and ‘Indian-ness’ for the frauds they are.
Lindsey was right. The woman really does deserve her own show.