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.

Do Something

My heart is so, so heavy right now. All week, we have been made even more aware of the brutality and injustice that is always prevalent in societies. It has existed for millennia and, as the quote circulating on social media states, it is only now being filmed and reaching a wider audience. In any case, racism is embedded in social structures to the point where justice systems have established it in their processes, individuals are repeating it through social learning, and we are failing to be fully aware of what is actually happening. Now, more blood has been spilt and more fires have been started.

Truthfully, I have felt overwhelmed and confused about what to do. There are plenty of resources available to develop knowledge of political system bias. (I have posted some I have watched previously at the bottom of this post.) Furthermore, there are always opportunities to get involved in some of the commentary on social media, from posting your own to elevating other voices to reach your own audience in order to circulate it further.

However, if you are outside of the US like I am, then there is this – do something. UK racism still exists, it is still systemic, and – in some cases – more covert. Do what you can, where you can. It is a process of learning and unlearning. Where you are in a position of privilege to do so – and we all each have individual privileges that are not available to someone else – use that to benefit others. Seek opportunities to speak up, promote, and deepen your knowledge. Then, share that knowledge and the actions that can be taken from that. It’s going to be uncomfortable, it’s going to cause arguments, there will be times where it’s standing for what is right even when others don’t quite see what’s wrong. Whatever you can, wherever you can, however you can.

We have organised society to reproduce and reinforce our racial interests and perspectives. Further, we are centred in all matters deemed normal, universal, benign, neutral, and good.

~ Dr Robin DiAngelo

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism

We are a nation of contradictions. We continue to fight the same battles over and over, decade after decade, generation after generation without facing reality. We put band aids on lacerations and hope the cancer of racial hatred won’t recur.

~ A’Lelia Bundles

Know your history: Understanding racism in the US

Education is not a cure all for all of America’s racial sins. And yet, education is still how most Americans understand the responsibility to fixing contemporary racial injustices.

~ Megan Ming Francis

It may manifest in different forms, and it may be addressed in a very different way, but societies both sides of the pond still have an inherent, systemic, really fucking big issue on their hands.

~  Jazmine Kopotsha

Yes, The UK Does Have A Race Problem. And It’s Just As Troubling As America’s

The Book That Made Me…Find My Personal Power: Period Power by Maisie Hill

Before anyone who does not experience a menstrual cycle turns away from this post thinking “it’s not for me”…get your fucking ass back here, please. This is for you, too. Because even though you may not personally have a menstrual cycle, you experience the menstrual cycle through someone you know, live with, are friends with…

Regardless of how far we have come, we still live within a society that likes to label periods as “women’s problems.”* Going to a doctor about anything mildly related to your menstrual cycle will likely end up with a prescription for a contraceptive tablet. There is so much shame attached to something utterly natural that people will whisper across to their friend with a red face, “…have you got anything?” and panic when their period starts unexpectedly. We are taught to hide it, that our genitals are the gateway to dirt and disgust for 5 – 7 days of the month.

Yeah, I’m angry. This topic has been heavy on my heart for the previous three years and I will jump at the chance to bring it into conversation with my fellow menses mates. In fact, it has become a normal part of everyday conversation with some of my friends to casually reference the fact that we are ovulating or we’re about to call out the bullshit because we’re on the cusp of bleeding. And, you know, the more we speak – the more natural it is to talk about it, the more engaged we are in our relationship, and the more we feel able to take on the day and feel supported by each other.

If this was an Oscars speech, I have Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer to thank first. Their book Wild Power was what started me on the journey of understanding my menstrual cycle and the power that it holds. However, the reason why I am not advocating it here is simply because of the use of language which doesn’t seem to acknowledge the experiences of my LGBTQIA+ menses experiencing folks. I am disappointed I feel prohibited to share this book as it does have so much wonderful stuff in there on a more…spiritual?… level, but the use of language being largely catered toward ‘She’, the use of ‘Feminine’ (even in the context of ‘divine masculine’ and ‘divine feminine’), and the use of the menstrual cycle awareness as a practice reserved for ‘She’ is a little too loaded for me. As a cis female, it worked for me. But I am not the majority.

So, my main thanks goes to Maisie Hill. Maisie’s book Period Power provided the ‘scientific’ knowledge that filled in the gaps of Wild Power. It gave me amazing facts about contraceptives, the hormonal knowledge of what was actually happening during the pre-menstrual time, and how to ride the waves of my hormones to my advantage. Instead of feeling utterly powerless, I was able to understand and throw in a fuckload of compassion toward myself, knowing when to draw my boundaries, knowing what to more or less expect for the day/week ahead, and viewing my body as a blessing not a burden.

Louder for the people at the back: viewing my body as a blessing not a burden.

I first started struggling with my menstrual cycle when I was around 23/24. I am not willing, right now, to go into the details. It was a scary, chaotic, powerless, and angry time. Eventually, I noticed that there was a rhythm to these feelings. I don’t know how or when I first noticed but, regardless, I noticed. Then, I started tracking my cycle to know what to expect, to know when not to make those big decisions, to know when to limit the social contact, and know when I’m more likely to be overwhelmed with stress.** Still, though, the experiences I had that week before my bleed were very often incredibly overwhelming and I found myself thinking each time “This can’t just be hormones, it has to be me. It feels too real.” And, then, it would pass and I would be left thinking “No…It was the hormones.” and then shame would love to rear her head and accuse me of losing my shit once again and being weak enough to fall for the same crap.

Eventually, I got tired of the same routine. I had briefly glimpsed the idea of working with your menstrual cycle on Instagram one evening but the idea wouldn’t leave me. I decided to invest in books and podcasts and online resources to help me navigate this natural phenomenon and help me understand myself. I had worked against my cycle for too long, what would happen if I leaned into it and learnt to really understand what the fuck was happening within me?

Things I am now angry about:

  1. The fact that young people are not taught sufficient information about their menstrual cycle from an early age and are, instead, taught socially acceptable ways of ‘managing’ it and hiding it.
  2. Young people are still majority receiving separate sex education classes, with boys being led out of the classroom when girls have to learn about the menstrual cycle. To this day, I still have no idea what the boys talked about at the tender age of 10 years old in their separate classroom. Not only does this reinforce gender binaries and leave no room for LGBTQIA+ topics, but it further consolidates periods as a source of shame.
  3. Doctors still are massively uneducated in this area which, largely, is the result of the social systems in place and expectations…reproduced in the ways above. As such, whenever somebody attends a doctors appointment about potential difficulties experienced within the topic of the menstrual cycle, we are met with blank faces, or a contraceptive tablet to stop them altogether.
  4. The food we eat during our cycle can massively benefit us. For instance, during the pre-menstrual and during menstruation, we are going to benefit more from proteins and fats than we are heavy carb-laden meals. For me, this would be a meal of avocado and fucking…I don’t know…egg. But, for so many people, access to these foods are limited due to economic standing. Individuals with lower economic status are likely to be hugely restricted in terms of their access to healthy foods anyway and, ergo, foods needed to sustain them adequately as they move through the various phases of their cycle. This brings in a whole host of race, gender, and class issues that need dedicated and sufficient discussion time.
  5. It is still framed in gender binaries. I’ve covered this. But it serves to stand as a point on its own.

There are more points that I have and more points I will undoubtedly find as I continue to research. This is something I have grown really interested and passionate about. It’s something I would definitely love to bring as a feature here at She Uncensored*** but I feel hugely unqualified and lacking in knowledge to pass on such important things to people at the moment. Hence why I will leave it to the experts for now but I will endeavour to develop my knowledge – personal and otherwise – to bring this to you. Because it’s important. So very important.

Anyway, buy the book. It’s really good.

Maisie Hill – Period Power can be bought here:
Amazon UK | Amazon US | Waterstones | Barnes and Nobel

*by the way, this is just another example of heteronormativity and an anti-LGBTQIA+ stance. Trans* individuals experience menstrual cycles, too.

**(To this day, I still do this. There are lots of apps available now that we can download but, if you don’t have access to these online resources, you can always use a good old fashioned pen and paper! I use the app ‘Clue’, but I’ve heard that ‘Flow’ is also really good.)

***You mention LGBTQIA+ but you have a gendered website name? And you’ve used gendered language before?! I am calling myself out on my own bullshit here. The She Uncensored name has been a point of wrestling for a while and it was never intended to banish anyone of any other gender orientation from this corner of the internet. You are all welcome here. It makes me so happy to see a diverse number of readers here but, when I first started She Uncensored, it was purely from my place of standing. After years of biting my tongue and listening to what other people said, or withholding my truth for fear of being heard, I decided to finally speak. It was uncensored, and I am She. I invite all of you to be Uncensored with me. Thus, please feel free to challenge me in any of my language fails to be inclusive, or my ideas appear harmful. This was never supposed to be a one sided conversation, ever.

The Book That Made Me…Start a Podcast: Everything Is Figureoutable by Maria Forleo

If you are ready to step up in any aspect of your life, this is the book that will help you take the leap. This book will crack you open gently, dig out the goodness, help you overcome the internal barriers that are holding you back, and prepare you to launch yourself into a new phase of being. Listen – only read this book if you are really willing to make changes otherwise it’s simply not going to hit the nerve with you.

Maria draws upon her own experience and wisdom, as well as stories of other women, who’ve figured it out. At first, I thought ‘Everything is Figureoutable’ would be about finding success in any venture in life and, on the one hand, it is. Ultimately, it’s about finding your success in life and chasing the things that are deep within your heart to do. Those little soul niggles, those little whispers deep within, that we like to ignore but make us feel very uncomfortable doing so. My concern with books of this genre is that it’s going to be full of overly optimistic and fluffy language (of which, I can handle and somewhat enjoy) but, refreshingly, it’s just pure honesty from the heart with a bunch of tried and tested methods for success.

I usually don’t do the activities in most books. I skip past them because, well, I’m lazy and I just like highlighting the really good bits without doing the work. Also, most of them are crap and half-arsed attempts to bring some dimension to a chapter. However, I felt compelled to do the ‘Insight into Action’ challenges because they were really fucking good. Like I said at the start, you have to be ready to make the changes and, believe me, I was ready to make changes because I was sick of me holding myself back.

This sort of book isn’t just to absorb for some good advice and it definitely won’t do the work for you. It’s what makes these pages so impactful in that it forces you to assess the reality of what is stopping you applying for that job, starting that hobby, changing your career, ending that relationship, starting that new thing…Whatever it is that you are wanting to do and need the little extra push to do it.

I had wanted to start a podcast for around two years, along with a few other things that I really wanted to get stuck into. I was also full of excuses as well as desire. My main fear? Being seen. Ugh – even now I shudder. I hate being seen. I hate being centre stage. I hate people having the ability to openly criticise me. Essentially, I hate the feeling of being vulnerable and I would rather remain in the dark with the shame of being who I am that step out into the open and just try…

…And yet everything I want to try in life, deep down, is about me being seen. Being out there, entirely vulnerable, and doing the creative work.

When reading Maria’s words, I realised my excuses were bullshit and my fears were self-protective measures bringing more harm than good. Whilst lockdown has prohibited me from pursuing other things on my list of “Shit I’d Really Love To Do”, I’m four episodes into my podcast and I am loving every minute. No, I don’t command huge audiences. But I’m having fun and I’ve taken a huge personal risk, pushed myself out of my comfort zone, and tried for something. I’ve put my ass on the line and I know, above all things, it contributes to my personal growth which is something that cannot be replaced.

I mean, honestly? You just really need to buy this book.

What have you denied yourself the pleasure of exploring or expressing because you don’t want to be judged or criticised? What are you still doing, even though you can’t stand it, because you’re terrified to attempt your secret dreams? […] Please, for the love of all things holy, do what you dream of now so you’ll never regret not having tried.

Maria Forleo, Everything is Figureoutable, p. 248

Everything is Figureoutable can be purchased on Amazon