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We live in a very polarized society. On one hand, we’ve got T-shirts selling rape jokes and what seems to be a sudden mass influx of horrific rapes of young women; on the other we’re so politically correct that Paul Tudor Jones, a billionaire hedge fund investor, drew ire when he said that motherhood and success in trading don’t mix. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that taking care of crying babies, changing diapers, breast feeding, wiping runny noses and bandaging scraped knees, driving kids to and from school and soccer practice, organizing birthday parties, and mediating a 9 year old’s tantrums, isn’t exactly conducive to being the top trader on Wall Street.
So when I watched Treibjagd, a short film by Christiane Hitzemann about the power struggle between two hunters, a father and a daughter, I started thinking about what this says about the West’s delicately balanced gender relationships. Are we as emancipated and progressive as we think we are? Or do we still have some gender stereotypes to work through?
In the film, the father brings his daughter on a hunting expedition, during which she has to shoot a deer in order to be crowned the hunting queen. It’s a rite of passage for a new hunter, and passing the torch is clearly something the father has trouble dealing with. On one hand, he doesn’t shy away from treating her in a condescending (and what may be construed as sexist) fashion or from jeopardizing her true success; on the other, he has trained his daughter to be an excellent hunter and pushes her to become the hunting queen.
My question was: How does this reflect woman trying to make it in a traditionally-male dominated society? Would the father had acted any differently if it was a son? There are many examples of father-son power struggles which never become about gender for obvious reasons; is a father-daughter power struggle simply a reflection of the same thing, or does it always have to be tinged with gender stereotypes by default?
I don’t think these questions have easy, straightforward answers. When we’re experiencing difficulty, it’s tempting to paint the situation in black and white; to fall into a us-against-them mentality where we’re pointing fingers. But at a certain point, we have to stop splitting hairs when it comes to gender. A woman is more likely to be called a “spoiled princess” than a man is, because the word “princess” is gender-specific.
With these questions, I asked Hitzemann to give me some insights into the ideas behind her film.
Hitzemann explained that every independant woman she has spoken with has expressed that they had to go through a process to emancipate themselves from their fathers (or father figures). This process was unique to them as women, because “it seems that [fathers] don’t expect the women to grow out of the [father-daughter] relationship and become their own person,” whereas with sons they would simply struggle for dominance. Hitzemann further explained that the crux of the difference seemed to lay in the fact that “the men seem more vulnerable, more torn between the wish to remain “in power” and their love for their daughter.”
The father in the film clearly loves his daughter very much and thinks quite highly of her, otherwise he would not encourage her to excel in hunting, in the first place. The ambivalence the father exhibits in how he chooses to deal with his daughter’s budding independence creates a lot of confusion for her and puts tension on the relationship. Can she truly trust him? Or is she better off completely separating from his tutorship and going her own way? After all, this isn’t simply a power struggle where she knows the opponent. In a simple power struggle, one knows the other side wants to remain in power. However, once other factors are added, such as a father’s love, subconscious notions of what a woman and daughter should be, and the mentor’s own insecurities, the struggle becomes muddled. The father’s complexity highlight these often ambiguous factors which are at play in society in general and for women in particular.
While Hitzemann agrees that gender cannot be ignored in this film, the story is more about a girl and her struggle for independence, rather than the story of female oppression. Hitzemann’s interest lies in what she calls the unique female experience. I understand what she means. Between a world of old fashioned gender stereotypes and a world of a genderless mass of humans lies a third world. A world that is not politically correct. A world that walks that fine and often imperceptible line between gender stereotypes and gender differences. A world where a woman’s experience is by default different than a man’s, not because of gender discrimination but rather out of respect for either gender.
Hitzemann’s film does what so many fail to do: it expresses the female experience without turning it into a feminist issue. It recognizes the inherent differences in how either gender experiences the world, not out of some socio-political agenda, but out of a desire to understand human relationships. One party is not better than the other; they’re simply different and they both require attention, exploration, and understanding.
Perhaps our problem is not that women are not treated like men, but that society is not as concerned with understanding and analyzing women as it is with men. Looking back on 2000 years of Western society, one notices humanity’s obscene amount of navel-gazing. Our “great works” are really about ourselves. How do we feel? Why do we feel this way? Who is the asshole who made us feel this way? For better or worse, human civilization has long been obsessed its own sordid psyche. A culture, much like an individual, cannot evolve and grow without self-awareness. However, this poses a dilemma when the psyche endlessly dissected and poo-pooed over belongs to only half of the world’s population. Most of these “great works” have been executed by, for, and about men.
I feel Hitzemann’s is the most feminist position one can take: to appreciate our uniqueness as women and recognize its strength. After all, our power lies not in how well we can mimic men, but in how confident we are as women. Do not be afraid to be a woman.
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