Emily in Paris = Emily is Problematic

I wanted to love Emily in Paris, I really did. I wanted it to desperately fill the Gossip Girl shaped hole in my soul. I wanted the fashion. I wanted the silly melodrama to distract me from the groundhoggery of Coronavirus lockdown. I wanted something colourful, frivolous, and (due to massive global restrictions on travel) I wanted Paris.

However, all I got instead was a headache from eye rolling and fatigue from the mental arithmetic of figuring out that it was all bollocks. (I’ll hold my hands up and say it took me until episode 7 to wake the fuck up but once I started paying attention, I got angry. Isn’t that the way?)

It tries. It tries really fucking hard to portray Emily as this woke-as-f sis who is all about her female friends, stands up in the face of sexism, and is all about that career. Unfortunately, it’s the pretty privilege for me…

Photo: Netflix

Emily in Paris is a commentary on pretty privilege. As an able-bodied, white, cisgender, heterosexual female that fits perfectly into Western standards of desirability (including the flowing hair fresh out of a Pantene commercial and that thin body!), she gets top marks in all the exams. For extra credit, she also seemingly has no idea that she’s desirable and it comes across in this “oh, I’m just so clumsy!” naivety. It would be cute but the early 90s called and they want their main female protagonist back…

Get the memo, it’s 2020.

She seems to have success wherever she goes with little effort. A true maverick. Why? Pretty privilege. Florence Given introduces her book with a quick lesson on desirability politics because it’s the foundation of all the bullshit we endure. If we fit into the above ideal, success is more likely to be with us, life will flow a little easier, and society will be happy with our presence not disturbing the status quo. As she states:

We live in a patriarchal society with prioritizes our desirability above anything and everything else.
Which means that…
Life is easier when we dress up.
Life is easier when we shave.
Life is easier when we wear make-up to work.
Life is easier when we have made a visible “effort” with our appearance.
Life is easier when we reflect society’s idea of beauty. Full stop.

Florence Given, Women Don’t Owe You Pretty, p. 32

Throughout the series, she only seems to garner attention from male individuals and, thus, her clientele is made up of white, cisgender, able bodied, heterosexual men. Of course, drawing heavily upon wealth and stereotypical French male characteristics. (Seriously, they’re one step away from showing up with a string of garlic around their neck and a Breton jumper.)

Insofar as challenging the (heavily and, quite frankly, unrealistic) sexist advert she is part of shooting, the male client sends her underwear as a gift and makes fun of her empowered stance by using her phrase “is it sexy, or is it sexist?” Instead of marching to HR and demanding that this tomfuckery is put an end to or, even better, ringing him up and reminding him it’s sexist…she blushes promptly and puts the underwear back in the box.

Even the attempts at making her “empowered” – from fucking these men with no commitment, to her being more sorrowful at spilled peanut butter than pictures of her ex…

Yes, even I was slightly taken in by these. But, quite frankly, it’s not enough.

Let’s move on from the sex and move onto more problematic shit that happens when an entire culture, and an entire TV show, is based upon misogyny, heterosexism, and patriarchy.

Photo: Netflix

Female-female relationships.

First up, Camille – I was secretly hoping that this would be a diversity plot twist, and she would be gay, and Emily would have this wonderful experience of being with a woman but, no; despite the chemistry being fucking tangible (or maybe that’s just my Queer optimism? LMK because it hit different for me.) Camille was teased as an LGBT character, only to be quickly replaced as a potential frenemy. Of course, the heterosexist rule is that all women are competition. She cannot enjoy a full, fulfilling relationship with this woman because she snogged her boyfriend. What’s more, Emily feels guilty for this…instead of directing her guilt as anger toward Gabriel who never bothered to make his stance clear enough from the get go. In one relationship we have the elements of female-female distrust, shame, and misdirected frustration.

Second, Sylvie – The older woman as an enemy, threatened by the younger woman. In the words of Dark Willow – “…bored now.” (If you know, you fucking know.) Also, a little heterosexist competition thrown in there when we encounter the sexist flirtation with Emily and Sylvie’s lover (the underwear dude aforementioned.) As if the ageism wasn’t enough…Might as well, right? If we’re gonna go there, don’t just paddle – wade right in!

Photo: Netflix

Last, but by no means least, Mindy – I mean, no competition there. She’s the outsider, looking in. She’s not in the inner circle, thus sharing the message that perhaps the only way a woman can have a trusting relationship with another female is that if they are so far removed from their lives, only then can they be supportive. Keep ’em out, the patriarchy’s about…

As well as a good French stereotype thrown in, like a frustrated male, effeminate, fashion designer cracking Creme Brûlée as a means of reducing frustration…

We’ve got ourselves a full house of stereotypes.

So, whilst Emily in Paris wanted to be an independent – feminist – but – still – desirable – woman – taking – risks – and – fucking – men – outside – of – relationships – and – I – have – my – career – and – I – am – content – by – myself…

It draws upon some pretty piss-poor stereotypes to get there. It’s a farce. And I know what you’re thinking…

“Laura…it’s entertainment, calm down.”

Photo: Netflix

No…I can’t. I’m paying attention and I’m annoyed. Why?
Because popular culture is the vehicle for distributing common messages and themes in society.
Because popular culture is addictive and inspires millions upon millions of individuals each day.
Because popular culture is a powerful tool and needs to be used effectively to be a force for change.

This is a carelessness I cannot forgive. As our Florence says…

Work on diversifying the content you consume. […] The media shapes our culture, so we have to make a conscious effort to break out of this cycle – it doesn’t just happen. […] Up until now we have been bombarded with the same stories that either make us subconsciously hate ourselves or hate others. It’s time to change the narrative, and the power lies in your hands.

ibid., p. 39

I wanted to love Emily in Paris but…I’ll just settle for loving Paris, instead.

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