Orientalism and Western Feminism

There is a clear orientalist perspective in the way western culture views and others Asian and Middle Eastern women. For the most part, images of Asian and Middle Eastern women in western media and entertainment are within the context of sex or service. 

There are two main stereotypes of particularly eastern Asian women in western media, the China Doll/Geisha and the Dragon Lady. The China Doll or Geisha stereotypes are the view of eastern Asian women as sexual and “exotic” objects with the purpose of pleasuring men. This stereotype is based on male fantasy and has significantly contributed to the fetishization of Asian women in western culture. Popular examples of the China Doll or Geisha stereotype are Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), Miss Saigon (1989), and Full Metal Jacket (1987). Also perpetuating the fetishization and hypersexualization of Asian women, the Dragon Lady stereotype is the view of eastern Asian women as domineering, deceitful, and villainous, often shown as using sex as a weapon to trick and harm men. Popular examples of the Dragon Lady stereotype are Rush Hour 2 (2001), You Only Live Twice (1967), and perhaps most famously Alex Munday (Lucy Liu’s character) in Charlie’s Angels (2000).

This hypersexualized view of Asian women by western culture leads to discrimination and violence against Asian women, particularly in the United States. For example, the Atlanta spa shootings in March of 2021 where 8 people, 6 of whom were Asian women, were fatally shot by a white man whose actions, in his words, were caused by “sexual addiction”. These shootings were motivated by both race and gender. The gunman specifically targeted three Asian-owned spas and stated he was attempting to remove the “temptation” of “these places”.

This doesn’t just apply to western culture as a whole, western feminists often overlook Asian and Middle Eastern women in their activism. Western feminists often don’t include Asian and Middle Eastern women in their efforts, fight against stereotypes directed towards them, or recognize the different and intersectional experiences of Asian and Middle Eastern women. Additionally, western feminists often look down on Middle Eastern women for conforming to cultural or religious values. They view Middle Eastern women as people who need to be saved from their culture, specifically in regards to things like hijabs, without considering how Middle Eastern women actually feel about the cultural or religious practices that western feminists have deemed oppressive. 

Overall, the orientalist depiction of Asian and Middle Eastern women in western culture is extremely harmful, othering, and leads to exclusion, discrimination, and violence.

Parallels between Lear and Gloucester

In William Shakespeare’s King Lear, there are many parallels between Lear and Gloucester. Some significant and common occurrences in these parallels are the motifs of madness and blindness. 

Both Lear and Gloucester misjudge their children and make huge sacrifices in order to eventually gain clarity. Gloucester can’t see which of his sons is truly good and loyal until he’s lost his vision. Similarly, it isn’t until Lear loses his power, respect, and eventually his sanity that he discovers it was actually Cordelia who loved him and it was Goneril and Regan who were out to get him. 

There is a common irony in Lear and Gloucester’s storylines where they needed to lose their sight or mind to see or think clearly. It’s not until Lear and Gloucester lose physical clarity and coherence that they can both realize the mistakes and misjudgments they’ve made.

Additionally, Lear and Glocester mirror each other again just before each of their deaths. Just before Lear dies, his eyes stop working, and just before Gloucester dies, he wished that he’d go insane, thinking that would make dying easier. 

These similarities, common motifs, and parallel plots serve to emphasize how greed and mistrust are harmful to authority, respect, and family dynamics.

A Bittersweet Love

In “A Case of You” from Joni Mitchell’s album Blue, Mitchell is explaining to her ex romantic partner that no matter what happens in their relationship, no matter how intoxicating he can be or how unhappy he makes her, she can still separate herself from him and their relationship and whatever happens she can still come out of it okay and standing on her own two feet. 

This is best demonstrated in the chorus;

Oh you’re in my blood like holy wine

You taste so bitter and so sweet

Oh I could drink a case of you darling 

Still I’d be on my feet

When describing him as “in my blood like holy wine”, she’s saying that he’s a part of her, he’s in her blood. Relating him to wine gives the sense that he can be almost intoxicating. But then she goes on to say how she could drink a case of him, continuing the simile of him being holy wine, and she’d still be standing on her feet. She knows that she won’t get swept away by him, he doesn’t have that much of an effect on her. While he’s a part of her, she can still separate herself from their relationship and be able to stand on her own if she needs to. Additionally, she describes him as both bitter and sweet. This implies that she knows that this love could be bad for her but she thinks it’s worth it. She can justify being with him because she knows if anything did happen she would be okay. 

She again shows her confidence in her ability to survive any possible conflict in the relationship in a conversation she has with his mother.

I met a woman

She had a mouth like yours

She knew your life

She knew your devils and your deeds

And she said

“Go to him, stay with him if you can

But be prepared to bleed”

This conversation between her and his mother isn’t exactly painting him in the best light. She mentions his devils and deeds and his mother warns her that she should be prepared to be hurt. These lines are immediately followed by another version of the chorus where she maintains, even after this warning, that she’ll be okay without him if she needs to be. The warning from his mother of “be prepared to bleed” clearly means she should be prepared to be hurt. However, when it’s followed with “you are in my blood” it seems to suggest that if something did happen and he did hurt her she could bleed him out and get him out of her system. Throughout the song-poem, she continues to express how she doesn’t think he can really hurt her because he doesn’t have that much of an effect on her. She again emphasizes this in these lines by saying that if something did happen she could get him out of her system and get over it.

Everyone is a Migrant

Towards the end of Exit West, Hamid introduces a new character, an old woman from Palo Alto. The old woman has lived in the same house in Palo Alto her whole life and as she sees Palo Alto change over time, she starts to feel like an outsider. 

The community has changed so much that she doesn’t really leave her house. She feels like a migrant in the town she’s lived in her whole life. She’s seen new people move in and out of her neighborhood and doesn’t even bother trying to get to know them anymore. She loses her sense of belonging in the community. She compares this to the exclusion that comes with being a migrant. She has migrated through time.

I like how Hamid creates a connection between everyone. Migrants or not. It breaks down the traditional power dynamic that others migrants by pointing out something migrants and “natives” have in common.

Existentialism in Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life”

The Monty Python world is always absurd and not necessarily full of meaning but that is particularly prevalent in their last moving The Meaning of Life. 

In The Meaning of Life, the Monty Python cast attempts to discover the meaning of life. In the film, the stages of life: birth, growing up, war, middle age, organ transplants, old age, and death, are told through sketches and songs. 

In one scene, two tourists are having a conversation about philosophy and eventually give up, stating there is no point. In another scene, corporate executives attempted to discuss the meaning of life but eventually decided it might have anything to do with people not buying enough hats. 

Additionally, throughout the film, there is a recurring theme of the pointlessness of death. In one scene, soldiers yawn as a violent battle is occurring all around them. In another scene, soldiers try to celebrate their captain’s birthday but keep getting shot in the process. 

At the end of the film, they finally reveal the meaning of life to be “Well, it’s nothing very special. Uh, try and be nice to people. Avoid eating fat. Read a good book every now and then”.

The overall theme of the film seems to be the pointlessness of life and death and the absurdity of even trying to figure it out.

The Poor Dog

I find the unusual relationships between Salamano and his dog and Meursault and his mother very interesting. There are many surprising similarities between the two. 

Meursault and his mother seemed to have a rather distant relationship. While Meursault did seem to have some concern that his mother was taken care of when he couldn’t do it himself, after her death, he doesn’t seem to be emotional in any way. At her funeral, Meursault was distracted by the heat and his exhaustion and he never understood why his mother’s friends were crying at the vigil. Even when he gets home and has had time to process his mother’s death, he still doesn’t seem phased at all. “It occurred to me that one more Sunday was over, that Maman was buried now, that I was going back to work, and that, really, nothing had changed” (24).

Unlike Meursault’s indifferent relationship with his mother, Salamano and his dog seem to actively hate each other when they are first introduced to us. Salamano abuses his dog and doesn’t seem to have any emotional connection to it until later in the story. 

Salamano and Meursault both neglect the things they are supposed to be caring for. Salamano assumes that Meursault had a lot of love for his mother despite sending her to a home, just like Salamano loved his dog even though he beat it. 

The main difference between these two relationships is the reaction Salamano had when his dog ran away. “He shut his door and I heard him pacing back and forth. His bed creaked. And from the peculiar little noise coming through the partition, I realized he was crying” (39). Salamano clearly is grieving and despite his previous statements about not wanting to pay the fee to get the dog back, he clearly doesn’t like the idea of the dog being all alone in the pound. Conversely, Meursault never seemed to really grieve his mother’s death. He never expressed or implied any regret about the relationship he had with her and overall, had a general indifference towards the situation. 

While the dynamic between Salamano and his dog was much more violent and harmful than that of Meursault and his mother, Salamano seemed to have a stronger connection to the dog than Meursault ever had to his mother.