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Muse? Spews!

January 5, 2015

While doing some research about The Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, I discovered a video on the subject by the YouTuber (among other things) called Anita Sarkeesian and wanted to take a moment to mention something she did that caught my attention at the end of her video. It wasn’t strictly related in my view, but she started getting impassioned on the subject of muses, that weird word I don’t think I will ever use; talking about one’s muse seems reserved for people who are all arty farty.

Of course, that wasn’t the reason she was objecting to it, though I would have had sympathy if it was; hers was somewhat more of a targeted gripe than that. It was a short burst of fury, but clear enough; Sarkeesian feels that “muse” is more or less exclusively a term men give to women, suggesting women are these sort of creative tools, rather than beings with their own artistic ability and choices.

It is true that the term “muse” is bandied about too often and is by far used mainly by men, but it seems unreasonable to assume that the men who use it are doing so disrespectfully, or that it’s some kind of inherently patriarchal term; to me, the term “muse” and the term “inspiration” are about the same.

Perhaps there is room for disagreement there; if you think that “muse” is less akin to “inspiration” and more akin to “a blank slate I can bounce my ideas off of” then I can understand your chagrin. But at least partially relevant here is the fact that the men using the term are probably not thinking of it in this way, but rather in my way.

It is surely always flattering to cite someone as your inspiration, and very personal; these people are usually close friends, wives or lovers. The reason that we infrequently hear the term “muse” being used by women about men may simply be because there are not yet enough women in high positions in the entertainment or art industries. How can you cite someone as being your muse if no one ever asks you about it? Until they’ve had the chance, we can’t say whether or not there seems to be anything inherently patriarchal about the term.

The obvious response is to say that there darn well should be more women in positions of enough authority in the film industry to be heard calling someone her muse, if she is so inclined. Yes, there darn well should be. I can’t do anything about it though, since I’m a man and I don’t work in the film industry. The most I can do is harp on and on about how much I like Me and You and Everyone We Know, Tiny Furniture, If These Walls Could Talk 2 and Lost in Translation.

As for why men don’t cite other men as “muses”, I can only guess – perhaps it would be gay to do that. So, I suppose it is neither misogyny nor homophobia that is keeping the term muse strictly female, but rather homophobiaphobia, or the fear of the backlash from curiously homonormative homophobics who assume everyone is gay until further notice.

The assumption Sarkeesian made was that men who use the term “muse” do not appreciate the independent creative endeavours of the people who they consider to be muses. I think that is a stretch. After all, if they are directors, their muses are probably actors. We can all agree that actors are creatively independent; they bring their own ideas to the film, they are the frontmen (women) for it and in the case of veterans, often the driving force and its whole reason for being. At this point in her career, I’d take any piddling little Meryl Streep film directed by some absolute nobody over a much-sung big-budget feature directed by some hotshot. She’s just that good.

It seems unlikely that someone like Woody Allen, who identifies certain women as muses, would not recognise the creative independence of his actors, since he used to be one. Indeed, I hear his directorial style is quite lax (these days, at any rate), suggesting that he absolutely relies on and values the personal input of actors for character formation.

His name’s on the box, but any film fan knows it’s always a joint effort; a film is not the director’s “baby”. The fact that Allen’s muses all seem to be women is likely to be just because he prefers women; prefers working with them, prefers spending time with them. I mean, this is true of me also, and I’d hardly consider myself misogynistic for it. Usually, spending more time with women means you like them more, not less. Unless you’re a caddish gadabout. I’m not, in case you’re wondering. Something tells me Allen’s no playa, either. Might be the somewhere-between-Deirdre-and-coke-bottle glasses.

I don’t think that I would ever want to refer to anyone as my muse, but that may only be because I just don’t think that one person can give you all the or inspiration and support that you need for work or other parts of life. But then, I’m not in a position, or a culture, where I am expected to have a muse. I’d guess that makes all the difference.

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From → Gender Politics

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