Friday, November 30, 2012

Is Blair Waldorf a Feminist? (Gossip Girl)


As promised on Wednesday, today we tackled one of the great questions of our time. Is Blair Waldorf, Queen of the Upper East Side and generally admitted bitch, a feminist?

If you’ve ever seen the show Gossip Girl, you probably had an instinctual reaction either way. Blair is not a character who inspires lukewarm feelings of apathy. No, she’s more of the heads on spikes type. Everyone has an opinion. But before we get into that, let’s talk about the show.

Gossip Girl is a long-running CW show based on the even longer running book series. Weirdly, the show is actually better than the books (I think, at least), and features some very notable changes. For the record. It follows the lives of privileged, insulated Upper East Side kids, starting when they were in high school, and now following them into their adult lives. The kids all went to the same school and are in the same circles, circles that are defined by intermarriage, infidelity, and rivalry, so just like real life. There were also a couple of poor kids thrown in to keep it interesting, but those characters are either rich or written out by now.

Mostly involving the emotional relationships and tumultuous lives of our heroes, the show featured a slight gimmick where all of our characters were stalked by a gossip site – Gossip Girl. They don’t know who GG is until way into the series (and even then it makes absolutely no sense), but it’s there just so that the voiceover (Kristen Bell) can give a quippy little recap in each episode. Handy, that.

Okay. But who is Blair Waldorf in all of this?

Well, in the beginning at least, she’s the bad guy. The show ostensibly follows Serena Van Der Woodsen (Blake Lively) a reformed bad girl just back from boarding school, who used to be Blair’s (Leighton Meester) best friend. Since Serena up and left Blair right when Blair was in a very hard point in her life and never said a word about it (and also slept with Blair’s boyfriend), Blair is a little pissed. We’re supposed to root for Serena and her new paramour, Dan (Penn Badgely), while booing Blair’s evil scheming ways.

The problem was, most of the viewers actually really liked Blair. And it’s hard not to. Her best friend was a gorgeous Amazonian blonde who slept with her boyfriend and flounced off to Europe while Blair’s parents got a divorce and her world fell apart. Then said blonde flounces back and proceeds to get everything handed to her on a silver platter, while Blair has to struggle and strive. It was really hard not to love Blair and her obsession with old movies, spying on people, and the headbands. Also Dorota. So Blair quickly became a popular character, and the show had to deal with the fact that Serena’s a little hard to like.

None of this, though, is super relevant to the issue of feminism.

Now, an argument could be, and has been, made that Blair is actually an anti-feminist character. The reason for this is that Blair is an unabashed romantic who really really wants to be a society wife and eventually matron. She wants to marry rich and become a grande-dame of society. It’s a little weird for a sixteen year old to want that, but whatever.

It’s notable, though, because for the longest time on the show, Blair doesn’t really have a goal besides finding a husband. She wants Chuck or Nate or some other guy in her life (Marcus, Dan, insert other here). She wants to get married and start her life. Sounds a bit unfeminist to me.

The reason we can’t just write her off, though, is that Blair doesn’t wait for her life to happen to her. She doesn’t wait to meet Mr. Right. If she wants something, she runs at it full speed. To quote her, “Destiny is for losers. It’s just a stupid excuse to wait for things to happen instead of making them happen.”

That’s pretty feminist.

Whether or not her goals are something you can agree with, Blair goes about her life in an unabashedly feminist way. By this I mean that you can never argue that Blair Waldorf is not the acting agent of her own destiny. Life does not happen to her. She happens to other people. So even when she’s scheming to get a husband, she’s still the principle actor in her story, which makes her a much more active agent than Serena ever is, and far more than most Disney Princesses. Blair is feminist because Blair tries and does.

She’s also feminist because she never ever settles. Her romantic past is pretty rocky, and she’s dated a lot of guys, even married a couple. But the reason it looks so much like a battlefield back there is simply because she refuses to settle for anything less than the best. What could be more feminist than demanding that the person you commit to be worthy of that commitment? She’s romantic, sure, but she’s also practical. And she knows that when it comes to marriage, you want to make sure the shoe really fits.

What I’m saying is that, yeah, Blair Waldorf is a feminist, she’s just not a feminist we’re used to seeing. Yes, she’s obsessed with getting married, and yeah, she can be really manipulative and mean. But neither of those things make her anti-feminist. What they make her is interesting.

Feminism doesn’t mean refusing to shave your armpits and driving a Suburu (fabulous cars though they are). Being a feminist means, simply, insisting that you have equal rights under the law, equal opportunities insofar as they can be regulated, equal pay, and the chance to be the acting agent in your own life. That’s it.

So, yes, Blair Waldorf is a feminist. But if you ask her to wear flannel, she’ll probably have you executed.

Mildly terrifying? Sure. But Blair Waldorf is still my lifespiration.

4 comments:

  1. Actually, I find her more feminist in the way she looks up to woman political figures, manages to get a kickass job in a magazine and constantly talks about being a woman in control of her own life.

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    1. Fair enough. I loved how she was constantly either in control of her life, or enraged that she wasn't and trying to get it back. An active protagonist is always a way to my heart.

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  2. I love that even though she was a trust fund kid and "privileged" we saw her working hard for her future. Blair in the books and on the show had a 4.0 GPA, took AP classes, had extracurricular activities, and aced the SAT to make sure that she got into her dream university. While all Serena had to do was make it into Page 6 (gossip column). Blair finds out what she needs to know to impress before interviews and what connections she to forge.

    I love that Little J admired Blair instead of Serena because she saw the effort that Blair made to have the best life she could. I liked that while Blair was spoiled it was Serena that acted entitled. Blair realized she liked living a certain way and would do what it took to maintain that lifestyle or even improve upon it while Serena just expected that lifestyle to continue. Who else but Serena could get hired as a consultant for a movie adaptation of a book she never even read? If it was Blair, she would've read the book, biographies on the author, and historical accounts of that era to make it more authentic.

    I love that Blair didn't just go with the flow and expect things to work out. She realized that only a certain amount of people from her school would get accepted to the college she wanted to attend and sabotaged her rivals. She straddled the line between cutthroat and compassionate.

    Even the reason she loves old movies ties in to her need for control. She knows exactly how those movies end and what will happen in every scene. She dreams in black and white film. She sees her life as a movie and herself as the star and does everything she can to learn the tropes so that she's both the protagonist and the director.

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  3. I think that a lot consider her not to be a feminist because of her relationship with Chuck. They see it as abusive and because she chose to go back to him and he was her endgame they think it sends a message that abuse is okay.

    But I don't think it was that simple. So few shows actually voice the emotional, psychological, or physical abuse inside a ship but GG did with Chuck & Blair. She flat out told Chuck "I would do anything for you and maybe that's wrong" and that she didn't want to play games because she wanted "real pure love". She left him whenever she felt mistreated or no longer could recognize the strong woman she knew she was and didn't accept flowers and "I'm sorrys" from him. She had to see real change and genuine vulnerability and honesty from him.

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