Tecmerin. Journal of Audiovisual Essays
Issue 10 2022 (2)
Philosophical Frameworks and Feminist Praxes in Lady Bird (Gerwig, 2017)
Rob Stone (University of Birmingham)
In seeking to explore how the participation of women in film and television can promote a revisionist approach to the subversion and realignment of existing norms and conventions, this trilogy of video essays parses the film Lady Bird (2017), written and directed by Greta Gerwig, for philosophical meaning and feminist intent.
A female-centred coming-of-age film that brings the mother-daughter relationship to the fore, Lady Bird explores modes of self-reliance, self-respect and self-determination with an emphasis on a number of issues relating to gender, sexuality and the female genealogy that counters the male-centred bias of the coming-of-age genre. It also reveals Gerwig’s concerns with matters of education and the kinds of options available to low-income young women in a Catholic environment, while more broadly being interested in how young women might improve their financial and socio-cultural status. Examining how such young women are influenced directly by other women (especially their mothers) as well as indirectly by waves of feminist history and praxis, Gerwig essays how they are able to develop the capacity for empathy and allyship that helps them cope with the demands of life in the 21st century.
In her first film as sole director, Gerwig threads philosophical ideas and frameworks throughout her film and ties these to the feminist aims of emancipation and self-determination. Specifically, Gerwig utilises philosophical concepts as practical endeavours, illustrating how the abstract ideas of Immanuel Kant, Jacques Derrida and Luce Irigaray can be deployed as creative praxes for self-determination.
The first video, The Lady Bird Book of Derrida, reveals an explicit declaration of how Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) commits to a process of self-improvement that allows her to realise her own potential, when she makes a performative gesture that literally enacts the process invented by the philosopher and semiotician Jacques Derrida for signifying his principle of différance, which is a neologism that combines the deferral of recognition of difference and the actual difference that this deferral will enable (Derrida 1982). Thus, in a sequence that follows Derrida, Lady Bird enacts a Derridean declaration of her potential in a new symbolic order that she is creating herself, one that erases the notion that she is unable to initiate change.
Next, The Lady Bird Book of Kant, considers the film’s special assembly scene on abortion, which shows how Lady Bird’s attempt at a grand Romantic gesture stumbles into activism and coincides with one of the most prominent campaigns in relation to feminism. On an even deeper level, moreover, Lady Bird’s civil disobedience questions the role of aesthetics in moral philosophy and delivers a vivid illustration of Immanuel Kant’s theory of judgement. By calling into question the limits of a reflective judgement of beauty that, as Kant states, ‘reveals itself as a faculty that has its own special principle’ (2000: 244), Lady Bird separates the aesthetic judgement from the moral one and denounces their conflation in the service of dogma.
Finally, The Lady Bird Book of Irigaray essays how a smart, white, low-income, young woman resorts to the strategies of self-determination proposed by the French feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray. It does this by considering a series of scenes in which she reacts to and reaches for what Jacques Lacan (2002) describes as the symbolic order of the world with all its laws and conventions, competing and dominant ideologies, complex communications, intersubjectivities and complicated relations. This video essay thus explores how Lady Bird attempts to create new spaces for herself by means of various strategies and ploys of self-determination that happen in relation to the central mother-daughter relationship. This is how and why Lady Bird accomplishes what Lucy Bolton calls for in her examination of the impact of Irigaray on the cinema, namely that ‘the relationship between mother and daughter needs to be brought out of silence and into representation’ (2015: 42). This is why the initial visual and aural gag that references the essentially adolescent male fantasy of Star Wars is quickly pushed aside by the serious concerns of Irigaray and Gerwig.
Together, this trilogy of video essays dissects the film to form a cumulative discourse on the adoption and deployment of potentially abstract philosophies as practical tasks that enable feminist self-determination at a narrative level and also point to ways that filmmakers such as Gerwig are, like the character of Lady Bird, developing potent, revisionist means of self-determination.
- Bolton, L. (2015). Film and Female Consciousness: Irigaray, Cinema and Thinking Women. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Derrida, J. (1982). ‘Différance’, in Margins of Philosophy. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, pp. 3–27.
- Kant, I. (2000). ‘Critique of the Power of Judgment’, in P. Guyer and E. Matthews (eds) The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 53–4.
- Lacan, J. (2002). Écrits. London: W.W. Norton & Company.
- Gerwig, G. (2017). Lady Bird. Estados Unidos: A24.
How to cite this article: Stone, R. (2022) Estructuras Filosóficas y Praxis Feministas en Lady Bird (Gerwig, 2017)
/ Philosophical Frameworks and Feminist Praxes in Lady Bird (Gerwig, 2017), Tecmerin. Revista de Ensayos Audiovisuales / Tecmerin. Journal of Audiovisual Essays, 10, 2022(2). ISSN: 2659-4269
Other videoessays in this issue:
Women in contemporary Film and TV
Deconstructing the Construction: The Female Images in Chinese Detective Films, 2010-2020
Ying-Hsiu Chou (University of Washington)
Audiovisual Consumption in the 21st Century: Critical Factors in Scientific Dissemination
Almudena Muñoz Gallego (UCM) y Suelayne Cris M. de Sousa (Universidad Federal de Río Grande del Norte)
The Matter that Composes Your Memory. An Essay on Intimacy, Media and RemembranceVíctor Santos López (Universitat Pompeu Fabra)
From the Archive
Miyazaki's representation mode
Carmen Galán Muñoz, Gabriel Obando Silva y Sandra Prieto Jiménez (UC3M)
Bollywood: music, culture and unrealism
Lucía Fernández Manso, Clara Sofie Lundblad, Daniela Vasquez Martínez y Lucía Vega Díaz