I found a kind of interesting thread about my Women in prison essay which I thought I might respond to here in part. A commenter named xod says:

I found it interesting that Berlatsky refers to camp rather frequently but always without acknowledging its potential. Even in his response to the comments of Jack Hill – who, in his philosophical aside, criticizes western dualism – Berlatsky remains strictly binary, perhaps necessarily, given a second-wave feminist analysis.

I’m not positive, but I think the point xod is making is that I (like second-wave feminists) believe in gender as a coherent and/or useful concept; I’m not using camp to empty gender out or to show that it’s constructed or contradictory or oppressive. And that’s basically correct; I’m definitely not a proponent of the Judith Butler, throw-away-your-gender-and-frolic-freely school. I think gender matters, and I think camp tends to be about gender, not opposed to it. In any case, (like E.M. Cioran and Slavoj Zizek) I tend to like the binary agonies of Western philosophy…. So, yeah, as those dudes put it in Say Anything, “We’re binary by choice.” Or something like that.

The other comment is by Ambrosia Voyeur, and is a little harder for me to figure. She (or possibly he) says:

Great essay, but he lost my faith a bit with this paragraph:

So I like the latter Marie because I read feminist theory and am generally a sensitive new age guy. But I also like her because I’m just a guy. Marie at the beginning of the film is too good, too obviously focused on her husband, her baby, and her own plight, to be a satisfactory object of desire — she’s beautiful, but inaccessible. By the end, though, she’s come down off her pedestal, and so can be an object not of romantic love, but of lust. Which is to say that men like to see women corrupted; loss of virtue makes women sexier.

I would prefer he simply confer visibility and look-worthiness on the non-virtuous, cinema’s central moralistic principle, and build from there. The 1:1 relationship of debauchery and sexuality is familiar, but unfounded by his argument, and this reads a little like a leap directly to “well, men are like this and I would know lol. There’s something this essay could bear to repeat about male viewership’s dependence on generic and presentational cues for the development of arousal, and what those are, as evidenced by the reception of Marie throughout her transition.

The issue of availability to bear the look as object is, IRL, denied by society’s removal of women from the public sphere into either domesticity or prison. Pulling back that curtain and creating a fabulous voyeuristic erotic imaginary is what these films do. Therefore It’s worth pondering why there aren’t more desperate housewife gilt-cage straight-up exploitation films. Damn would I love to see some X rated Sirk.

I have to admit I don’t entirely follow this. She’s saying I guess that I should interpret Marie’s transformation as simply look-worthy; the non-virtuous are worth looking at, but not necessarily sexy. (She also dislikes my appeal to my own desire — fair enough, I guess, though I think it’s a bit disingenuous to pretend, as is done in a lot of academic prose, that one is some sort of disembodied acultural cipher; of course one’s cultural position and gender affect how one sees films, and it seems silly not to acknowledge/access that knowledge. But I digress….) To me the link between debauchery and sexuality seems fairly straightforward; debauchery is generally defined in terms of sexuality, isn’t it? And I think I did get at, at least to some extent, the way that genre and presentational cues are involved in male arousal. My argument is that butchness at the time was a presentational cue which signaled sexual availability, and that that has everything to do with how Marie is perceived, and with what happens to her.

The second paragraph is really thought-provoking, though. Again, I do talk in the essay (especially at the beginning and end) about the erotic importance of female-only space; the idea that part of what is exciting about female-female relationships is male exclusion, and part of what these movies offer is the chance to both experience that exclusion and at the same time to be a voyeuristic witness. I probably could have emphasized that somewhat more in the article (though, for reasons I discuss at length, I don’t think these movies are just about voyeurism). I like the way Ambrosia links this fetishized female space both to domesticity and to prison; that’s a very nice move. I think I would suggest that there are few purely domestic exploitation films because by the time exploitation took off in the 70s, domesticity as an ideal had been pretty thoroughly undermined as an ideology, especially among those likely to watch these films (young people who like porn, basically.)

Coincidentally, I just read the Stepford Wives, which is a kind of domestic exploitation, and…it seems really dated. Basically, the men want to turn their wives into robot housekeepers. To me, that just seems really…boring. Why would you want a wife who was obsessed with cleaning the house? For one thing, how could you afford to lose her income? I think it just doesn’t really jibe with the way women are
exploited today at all (on the most basic level, they are forced into the workforce (welfare to work!) rather than out of it.) The women-in-prison movies, which are much more focused on controlling women sexually, forcing them to work, exploiting feminism rather than negating it, etc., seem a lot more relevant to me.