No country for women

16 March 2010

Loved the Coen Brothers’ film. And an earlier trip to West Texas confirmed it: those enormous skies, the constantly changing landscape, the brutality of the sun in a treeless climate, the pleasure of drinking a beer on a porch as the sun goes down in an orange sky. The incongruities of a town like Marfa, where the best food comes out of the Food Shark truck, which is parked only a mile or so from Donald Judd’s high minimalist installations at the Chinati Foundation. So I went back and spent more time there.

Despite the fact that there are women everywhere — eating at the Food Shark, leading the mostly-female tours and directing the operations of the Chinati Foundation, hiking the canyons of Big Bend, running a run-down motel in Terlingua — it’s only men who have a place there. Okay, maybe it’s not a surprise that the historical markers along the route only discuss the male Anglos, Indians, and Latinos who battled so viciously over a whole lot of empty space. But when Chinati featured only a couple of pieces by a sole female artist, I began to get annoyed. Constant elaboration of a masculine interiority by writers like Cormac McCarthy is one thing — and romanticization of that ethic and space by artists and others — but what is the emotional life of the women who live in that world?

It’s a striking absence. Representations of this part of the world still seem to position women as the subsidiary characters in films like “The Big Country” and “No Country for Old Men.” Oh, for a character like Frances McDormand’s in “Fargo” to appear here.

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3 Responses to “No country for women”

  1. servetus Says:

    So why do you think she doesn’t? I love that film for all kinds of reasons, but Frances McDormand’s character is chief among them. Is it possible that women like that stopped moving West somewhere around the MN/Dakotas border?

  2. didion Says:

    I’m really just speaking of cultural representations here, aren’t I? There are plenty of women in West Texas — and always have been — but they don’t seem to get big parts in the films (and museums) in a pop culture that emphasizes the laconic man positioned against the big sky. Let’s just say that on our trip we shared a long conversation about creating the female character who’d be original enough to hold her own, McDormand-style, against the men of that region.

  3. servetus Says:

    Is it that there isn’t a model for a laconic woman apart from the mysterious, sexy one?


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