Awkward

January 18, 2011 § 20 Comments

The experience of reading Awkwardness was awkward. It’s a clever book that started off really well with a smart and well-done first chapter (everyday awkwardness vis-à-vis modern urban working life, as filtered through the pop-cultural lens ofThe Office) but sadly petered off into superficiality with the subsequent chapters. The book is divided into three key areas: everyday awkwardness, cultural awkwardness, and radical awkwardness. For each chapter, Kotsko draws on TV shows or films to help him make his case and further illustrate his theories. He’s very good at doing this without losing focus on his key points and careening wildly off into the vast expanse of pop culture, but this, as I point out later on, might be most significant weakness of his book.

I wanted so much to like Awkwardness – nay, love it unabashedly. The topic of awkwardness is one close to my heart, but even as Kotsko finally admits in his chapter on cultural awkwardness and Judd Apatow, it’s a largely male phenomenon. The boyz, they are so awkward! LOLZ. Throughout the book, the key examples Kotsko references are from shows and films that feature male characters grappling with awkwardness. Certainly, I’m not holding Kotsko responsible for a representation that’s played out in throughout much of American popular culture. But it seems as though Kotsko’s not quite sure how respond to the representative lack of awkward adult women either, although the fact that he limits his scope to TV shows and Judd Apatow films has much to do with this problem. American TV has not really given us enough awkward adult women to deal with, and Judd Apatow gives us women as harpies. Like, LOLZ!

Men dropping in to visit object of lust and affection when object is going through a nervous breakdown = awkward

On the one hand, Kotsko says that awkwardness is a male phenomenon precisely because men have reacted to crumbling social norms with regards to “traditional” gender relations with lack of grace:

If social awkwardness seems like such a male-dominated field, it’s because men have descended into self-pity, defensiveness, and even wilful denial in response to their loss of relative privilege and the cultural awkwardness that followed.

So, men are kind of useless and that’s why they’re awkward, Kotsko seems to say, but it reads like a weak appeasement proffered to women readers. Something about the offhand insertion of that sentence into what could potentially be a more complex issue rubs me the wrong way.

On the other hand, Kotsko’s entire book is written to make a case for awkwardness, and as he writes in the final chapter, awkwardness can be utopian; it can be “full of grace” and create its own spontaneous community that cuts across barriers of race and class. (Gender? We’re not so sure; he doesn’t say.) If this quality is largely male and the phenomenon is largely a male one, women are peripheral to Kotsko’s proposed project of awkwardness. Which is, to say the least, awkward.

Kotsko neglects to ask why women are projected to be in possession of this “basic social grace”, even if they are very often not. Are women inherently “better” at these things? Why is it useful to portray men as awkward and adolescent-like while women are portrayed as “fairly accomplished”, as Kotsko writes, like Katherine Heigl’s character in Knocked Up? Do we not know of real-life women who are, as we would say, a mess and far from accomplished, women who are similarly befuddled as men by changing social mores?

Kotsko writes:

Previously the system was, though obviously unjust from the woman’s perspective, relatively simple for men to navigate: the man got to be in charge, and in exchange he provided for the woman. Now that women have claimed their right for self-determination, however, the situation becomes much less clear, and – most importantly – the inherent prestige that came along automatically with being a man has largely fallen by the wayside. Women are newly-competent and self-assured, while men have followed the opposite trajectory. In short, men are expected to pursue women who all seem to be too good for them, in order to establish a partnership whose parameters are so vague as to virtually guarantee failure.

This is the Apatovian world Kotsko is describing, but it seems that Kotsko seems to agree that it reflects a certain strain of reality. Indeed, if I often seem to confuse Kotsko’s arguments with Apatow’s vision, it’s simply because this chapter makes it hard to separate Kotsko’s arguments from Apatow’s vision; I’m never quite sure of Kotsko is merely elucidating an Apatovian world, or approving it. Kotsko’s arguments don’t seem to go beyond Apatow’s reductive vision, and it makes it difficult to take the entire chapter seriously.

So. How are women “newly-competent and self-assured”? Economically, maybe, a point he points out but doesn’t dwell on. Were men always competent and self-assured in the past and in cultures where they are still considered the “head” of everything: family, society, the workplace? I understand Kotsko’s point on how, post-feminist “revolution” in the States, the erosion of boundaries that prescribe gender relations have left American men confused, the poor things. But I don’t understand how women have responded with “basic social grace” to these changes that leaves them somehow superior in their approach to relationships. This attributes to women some sort of secret, mystical, always-present knowledge about gender relations that gives them a one-up over men. There’s no room, in Kotsko’s formulation of new cultural mores, for the confused or awkward woman. And this is troubling, because it simply reverses the gender binary and pits women against men – again.

Car ride in silence = awkward

Kotsko points out that Apatow seems to have captured a particularly white, middle-class, American male zeitgeist – hence Apatow’s popularity. But while Kotsko acknowledges Apatow’s misogyny and recognises how it undermines the very idea of demand-free, spontaneous and natural “bromances” it purports to promote, it’s also unclear what this misogyny actually means for awkwardness in general. This is because Kotsko wants to hold up a certain element of the awkward male – particularly, his relationship to other awkward males – as ideal and worthy of emulation. Why?  Precisely because it hearkens back to a time of adolescent friendship between boys that is free of demands and rigid social norms, and thus spontaneous and agreeable to all involved:

In this sense, we could say that these friendships that take place during or mimic adolescence, the most intrinsically awkward period in a person’s life, are themselves structurally awkward insofar as they fall outside any given set of recognized cultural conventions – but awkward in a good, promising way.

So it seems that while (white, generally middle –class) men are essentially awkward and unaccomplished, they’re also the key to the “good, promising way” of life, while women (white, generally middle-class), accomplished and “successful”, are the moral police who seek to reinforce social norms and serve as the barrier to true community. Again, this places female adolescent friendships outside of the “good awkward” sphere, as well. But, you say, female friendships, especially in adolescence, comprise manipulation, hatred, envy, competition over BOYS, and girls stabbing one another in the back with their fake long blood-red nails, etc. Boys rarely beat each other up, sexually demean one another by comparing penis size in the locker room, taunt and tease, or police each other’s “gayness” – boys, forever and ever, are like, total BFFs! So of course male adolescent friendships are “awkward in a good, promising way” because boys just want to get along, until the Eve-like harlot-type snake-ish women come into the picture and instigate social policing and rivalry, hot though they are!

Outside of Awkwardness, let’s admit that adult women aren’t generally thought of in terms of “awkward” or given enough leeway to be awkward. For a woman, awkward is shameful and not a trait that can be referred to with affection or lenience. Some of us certainly tend to imbue women with a certain sense of gravitas or “seriousness” like it is somehow intrinsic to the sex when it is certainly not. But perhaps it’s just that biology trumps everything else for some. It certainly does for Christopher Hitchens, who seems to think that the vagina exerts a heavy weight upon the female funny bone, wherever the hell that’s located. There is all that monthly bleeding, leading to a policing of one’s own body – an act that must continually resist awkwardness.

Awkwardness indicates a lack of ordering and policing, but for a woman to relax and slip up means bleeding all over the place, even after the invention of the tampon. To relax and slip up can also mean an unwanted penis inside you, or perhaps a wanted penis, but then again, with undesirable consequences if one is not careful. There is that pesky thing that women have: The Womb. Sex, even when it’s fun, can quickly become unfun with the weight of pregnancy. The potential for a girl or a woman to become a mother is always there, underlying even meaningless sexual intercourse. And mothers are always policing social norms, are they not? The father lays down the rule, but the mother implements the rules. Women just can’t laugh or be awkward. They stand rigid and unbending and unsmiling, like an army of governesses from hell.

The current trend, as Nina Power pointed out in One Dimensional Woman, is the imago of the “sorted woman”, insofar as it serves capitalism’s basic need: labour power. But as Power reminds us, “Sometimes women are supposed to be demented harpies with wombs full of devils and other times they’re supposed to fold up nicely like the ironing board in a suburban bungalow.” As she continues further on:

Certainly, there is this prevalent image of the successful, sorted young woman with enough enthusiasm and emotional reserves after passing all those A Levels to look after a fragile, tortured young man. But really, women no more know what’s going on than men do, and they certainly don’t have an insight into nice, normal stability (as if anyone does).

This could be read as a direct response to Kotsko, only that her book was written and published before his. It must also be noted that Power is British and therefore analyses American culture from a British perspective that is somehow more valuable because it’s better clued in to current capitalist ideology than most mainstream American feminist perspectives. (Um… is my bias showing?)

It’s important to note that there have been awkward women of film and literature, though as with the case of all womanly things, and if women are awkward then they’re also often shown to be seriously fucked-up on some level – and somehow all roads lead back to sexuality.  Again, it’s the Unbearable Wombness of Being. There is a compulsion to present awkward women as otherwise inherently neurotic or hysterical; usually suffering from some form of trauma due to sexual repression, or mentally ill and thus manifesting some form of sexual deviancy. There’s always something excessive about womanly awkwardness that sends them off the “normal” course of things, even if they are stunningly beautiful. In fact, if they’re stunningly beautiful they’re often to be pitied and may even be desired, but more importantly, they must be tragic. If they’re not beautiful, then they’re most likely “doomed” to a life of spinsterhood or lesbianism. In their approach to social relationships and their response to social norms, however, awkward women can certainly demonstrate Kotsko-prescribed traits of awkward. They are unsure of how to deal with men, retreat into their imagination and solitary lives, and demonstrate very little competence in any “worldly” skills. It seems unfair that they can’t somehow get away with just goofing off with their fellow friends, like the male characters cited by Kotsko. Instead, awkwardness for women comes at a heavy price – they go off the deep end, kill people, or die. Some quick examples I’m thinking of include:

The singular trait of the female characters in film and literature who demonstrate awkwardness is that they are very likely to be solitary creatures; alone in the real sense of the word, unable to form proper sexual relationships with men or healthy friendships with women. These are other elements of awkwardness, then, that don’t fit in neatly with Kotsko’s proposed thesis – and one that is very different from the overtly male phenomenon that Kotsko talks about at length. It is perhaps out of necessity that Kotsko had to limit his scope and survey of cultural products – but his argument is certainly weakened and almost flimsy in its acquiescence to awkwardness as being an inherently male phenomenon, and precisely because he chooses to look at shows and films that only confirm and affirm his argument.

A bloody situation - bloody awkward, actually

By framing cultural awkwardness as a largely white male phenomenon, Kotsko is able to make the point that men are confused by changing mores brought upon by the feminist movement from the 1960s and beyond. Yet this also implies that women are somehow less confused because they spearheaded the change and are therefore running the show (at least in terms of social relations between the sexes), which is quite untrue, and a reductive view of gender relations. It also seems to imply that some men’s resistance to changes brought on by feminism only manifests itself in behaviour as trivial as “awkwardness”, when this is hardly the case. Awkwardness, in the case of the characters in Apatow’s movies, is more often than not refocused as a form of wilful passivity and an “opting-out” of gender relations and serious thinking. This is far from being a generally harmless and benign approach.

In the final chapter of Awkwardness, this male phenomenon of awkwardness is also shown to pave the way for an utopian mode of being that is inclusive and non-discriminating, which seems to imply, perhaps unconsciously on Kotsko’s part, how women can prove to be the barrier to this utopia due to a relentless impulse to order social relations. Or something? The womb, it gets in the way? I don’t know. Basing his theory on St. Paul’s conception of a utopian community, Kotsko points the way using Larry from Curb Your Enthusiasm as his example. Although he cites female characters, they are often mere participants in a male-led revolution of awkwardness. If Kotsko were to explore female awkwardness, as mentioned in some examples above, then he would have to reassess his entire thesis – and conclude that awkwardness is a lot more problematic than his too-neat conclusion supposes. To be fair, if Kotsko had explored male awkwardness from another angle – that of anger – then he would also have to think about ways in which awkwardness influences violence, like how it was explored in Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (just to cite one example).

In short (could I have said this at the start?), this book feels like a book written by a white man for white men about middle-class white men and their middle-class white awkwardness.[i] To his credit, Kotsko doesn’t pretend to try to do otherwise, but still. A subheading that said “For middle-class white men who believe they leave in the Apatovian real-world” would have helped. That kind of honesty would have made the strange slide into the final chapter’s “we are the world” utopian vision less off-putting and more palatable. For an example of white men doing awkwardness in a way that simply does not exclude – just watch Peep Show. You’ll be all the better for it.

It seems somehow wrong to talk at length on awkwardness without mentioning one of pop culture’s – British, in this case – best inventions of an awkward female character. Who is it? It is, graceful and awkward readers of this blog, Daisy Steiner of Channel 4’s Spaced. Jessica Hynes plays Daisy as one of the most idiosyncratic, hilarious, and genuinely interesting female TV characters of recent memory. She is totally the opposite of accomplished and graceful and bullshit-female characters of most American popular culture. (Sorry, my bias is showing again.) In fact, she is totally unaccomplished in the conventional  sense, is a writer who does not write, is quite certain she is a Very Intelligent Person although she makes what are usually the worst decisions, is cheerful and annoyingly optimistic and always pleasurably aggressive when you least expect it, and quite possibly just plain batshit crazy. But crucially, she is batshit crazy in the way boys are allowed to be! She is, you know, not weighed down by The Unbearable Wombness of Being! Hyuk hyuk. Etc. Anyway, I love her. You will, too:


[i] I “borrowed” this line from one of my recently-discovered favourite feminist blogs, Millicent and Carla Fran – and this line is in Carla’s blog post about The Green Hornet, about White Man Culture and its pervasiveness.

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§ 20 Responses to Awkward

  • Carla Fran says:

    Oh hello! I was so happy to find this post, let alone be mentioned in it. I have been thinking about this a long time, especially the American/Brit split in how women are presented. I think your awkward woman is what I have clumsily labeled “The Sloppy Jane” and have noticed how the Brits have so much more of these women (absolutely enshrined by the divine Daisy Steiner). And when you said “Awkwardness indicates a lack of ordering and policing, but for a woman to relax and slip up means bleeding all over the place” I immediately thought of Julia Davis’ Nighty Night where she actually serves a panty liner found in a platter of shrimp salad. Awkward, indeed. (Except not for her, she quickly picks around it). And all her behavior is, is the complete lack of order and policing. We have a few posts on Brit vs. American women in comedy over at MCF. Your post has given me a lot to think about. Can you recommend any other books/reading that specifically address this? And the Apatovian…oof, that’s a whole other talk. .

    • Subashini says:

      Hi Carla, thanks for stopping by and commenting… and leaving a trail of juicy tidbits to follow up on! I do remember the Sloppy Jane post(s?) when I browsed through your archives quite quickly. I am definitely going to head back and read more. And I have not watched Nighty Night! This annoys me greatly – that is, not the fact that you mentioned the show, but the difficulty of viewing or acquiring British TV series over here! Argh. The high cost of DVDs and region coding issues often prevent me from buying shows I might be interested in, as well. But now I’m really keen to check this, as well as The Green Wing. And yes, British pop culture – at least in terms of TV – seems to be pretty well-aware of the awkward women and willing to acknowledge her existence. I’ve no idea why, at the moment, but this is something I’ve started to think about… As for Apatow, aiieee. An entire blog could be devoted to the Apatovian.

      Sadly, I can’t give recommendations because I’ve actually not read anything on this as yet. It’s something that occurred to me in a big way only as I was reading Awkwardness. This little light bulb that finally went off. It took long enough, eh? I am thus open to recommendations, as well! :)

  • [...] Bady points me toward a review of Awkwardness by Subashini. It is both the most thorough and interesting review of Awkwardness [...]

  • Adam Kotsko says:

    Thank you for this review. I’ve responded at my blog and hope you can respond further, either in comments or in a fresh post of your own. (I’ve subscribed to this comment feed in case you feel more comfortable responding in your own comment thread.)

    • Subashini says:

      Thanks very much for your response. As you’ve probably noticed I get about two readers per every six months on my blog, and now receiving more than two comments seems to have overwhelmed me. What more a response from the author himself – thanks to Aaron, who… *cough* is supposed to be on Twitter-break.

      To answer your question on whether I would have preferred the inclusion of the “awkward cross-sex relationship” in Spaced, the simple answer is probably a yes. But I suppose beyond inclusion for inclusion’s sake, it’s more of a question of whether there is something worthwhile for your project to be gleaned from that inclusion. From a reader’s point of view I think there could be. The overarching theme of my critique of Awkwardness is its lack of examples involving women (and come to think of it, men of colour) in the project of awkwardness; which, at the end of the book, you try to reclaim as part of a utopian imagining of community vis-à-vis your reading of St. Paul. (I’ve not read St. Paul, so I’m just going with the aspects of his ideas you incorporated into your book.) Your last chapter is very enticing because of this line: “Social orders rise and perhaps evolve and eventually fall, but awkwardness will endure as long as we remain human because it is what makes us human.” The default human option, throughout the book, was the white male. There’s nothing wrong with that if that was the particular strain of human awkwardness you wanted to focus on; but somehow I think then it should been sketched out as such in the introduction, and allowed for in the conclusion.

      I’ve read your blog for some time before buying your book, and have browsed through your archives where it’s clear that you’re pro-feminist. Which I think is probably what made me critique your book more strongly than I would have had it been written by someone I’d never heard of or read before. Is that fair? Probably not, but there it is. “At the same time, I think that attempting to deal with women’s experience more directly as a man might’ve opened me to many more, and more severe, criticisms.” This is true, no doubt, but no reason surely for a pro-feminist man NOT to get into those examples. No doubt you would have had to deal with criticism, but you would have probably also engaged certain women readers who would be willing to enter into a conversation with you about it? I understand what you’re saying when you say why you chose to focus on men’s experience – but the book’s main idea was not presented solely from that viewpoint or only for men readers. In not talking about women’s experience, it effectively blocked off what I think is a crucial aspect of the discussion in a way that you (maybe?) did not anticipate.

      I do think that getting into those examples may have complicated your project, though, and thus taken it in a different and/or strange direction, and I understand this. Like we’ve acknowledged, there aren’t very many awkward women in the vein of Daisy Steiner available in popular culture, especially American pop culture. I think the problem of the awkward women burdened by the body is a big one, though, because I think it prescribes how these women enter into communities and approach relationships with others, which makes the utopia you envision in the final chapter challenging and problematic, if not impossible (by the standards you sketch out). There don’t seem to very many awkward men of colour in popular culture, either, or rather no examples are occurring to me at the moment. The overall sense of your book is that of white males of a certain class bearing the burden of responsibility for awkwardness, and therefore the privilege of deciding how to use it. Does that make sense? I can see that you didn’t mean it to be that way, but that’s what is conveyed through the gaps and absences in the text, at least in my reading.

      Voyou brings up an interesting point – about work precarity and awkwardness, and no one having actually lost a job from awkwardness. Interesting, and something I will have to think about some more in terms of women’s awkwardness in the workplace. For example, in Daisy Steiner’s case… it seems to cost her a few jobs! Also, Tara in True Blood, which suddenly occurred to me – she is definitely awkward at the start of Season 1 and loses a job because of an outburst before she – surprise – has to undergo quite a bit of abuse and thus has to bear the standard TV-female burdens of being used and victimised, becoming prone to nervous breakdowns and fits of regular weeping. But perhaps that’s less to do with awkwardness and more to do with a wilful refusal to adhere to some very basic rules of conduct – although that, in essence, is also the problem of awkwardness.

      And a final comment re: the Apatow chapter; I know you weren’t endorsing the Apatovian since you said as much in the book, yet somehow there were tensions there in that chapter that leads to a murky reading. I suppose you were trying to capture a certain something represented in Apatovian male friendships – awkwardness for its own sake – but again, the Apatovian version comes via a significant cutting-off of other elements. The Apatovian seems irreconcilable with any sort of awkwardness I would want to embrace as a brown woman. (I don’t mean to throw in the “brown woman” thing to reduce it all to subjectivity but I hope you can see what it means here.)

      This is an incredibly long “comment”, and so I shall stop! Thanks again for the thoughtful response; I do appreciate it. Thanks also for writing the book; it has generated quite a bit of stuff to think about and that’s always valuable.

      • Adam Kotsko says:

        It’s true that there’s more to life than being above criticism. Ironically, I received notice of your review right before I had to go teach my feminist theology course, and one major topic in our reading for that day was what a clusterfuck it often turns out to be when men try to be feminists.

        Yes, exploring this supposedly universal human trait exclusively through the false universal of the white male was problematic — I had never thought about it in those terms, but once you put it in those terms, it’s an obvious blind spot. Even if the material available to me makes a primary focus on white men basically unavoidable (though an exclusive one is not necessary), I need to do more to highlight the specificity and limits of the white male experience and dethrone it from its false universality and from the notion that the white male has to be the ultimate “decider.” In any further exploration of awkwardness, I want to address that deficiency, which I thank you for pointing out.

        In other words, you are the first person in the history of blogs to have convinced someone of something.

      • Subashini says:

        Well, colour me gobsmacked! It’s like “this day in internet history” or something; I hope someone’s compiling these rare moments in a reference book.

        Thanks very much for listening and considering what was said. I do appreciate it.

        “and one major topic in our reading for that day was what a clusterfuck it often turns out to be when men try to be feminists” This is interesting. I find that I’m constantly changing my mind about this every other day… must’ve been a feisty class.

  • Millicent says:

    Ha! I love that CF and I both fixated on the same leaky line about bloody women. (I’ve been thinking about it in a different connection—the seventeenth-century was convinced that men’s bodies were closed and women’s bodies were open and leaky and therefore in need of real and constant regulation, both medical and social.)

    Yes, we too are obsessed with the paucity of awkward females. WHY isn’t there a female Peep Show? (Speaking of which, delighted as I was to see Series 7 bounced back from the Series 6 doldrums, I was mildly disappointed that this season’s Dobby was considerably more put-together and poised than she had been in prior manifestations.) Thank goodness for Daisy Steiner and Green Wing’s Caroline.

    One of the odder aspects of the Apatovian world-view is that women–perhaps by virtue of your Heavy Wombs account, which I love— are social regulators because they’re socially regulated. Apatow misses this last part.

    CF has a book on charm. Flipping through it the other day, I wondered when etiquette finally fell under an exclusively feminine purview. It wasn’t always so. These charm books contain one underlying imperative: everything you do should be a source of pleasure to those around you. How you dress. How you sit. How you stand. How you walk. How you talk.

    It used to be that both men and women felt this pressure–the Book of the Courtier is at least as hard on men as it is on women when it comes to perfecting social performance. But in subsequent centuries men have somehow been written out of the charm books; they no longer understand themselves as responsible for giving other people aesthetic pleasure.

    If they can, they’re delighted, of course; but they aren’t trained to think of it as a duty. (To get anecdotal for a moment: my father walks around the house in jeans with holes in them. My mother, in contrast, drilled it into me that it is actually RUDE to go outside without having made up your face. You’re showing a lack of respect to those who look at you.

    It would be interesting to trace the decline of masculine etiquette and think about how that facilitates a world-view that makes male awkwardness palatable, even desirable, while female awkwardness remains something closer to an affront.

    Thanks for a great post!

    • Subashini says:

      Hi Millicent, thanks for the comment. You and Carla have given me lots to think about with your comments, and it really makes this entire women-as-awkward thing more interesting than it ever was! The points about the Book of the Courtier is well-taken, and it would be really interesting to trace the decline of masculine etiquette, as you say. This is an important point to keep in mind, especially for myself, since examples I often turn to tend to be relatively recent – and where the shift that had taken place has already become quite entrenched. And there’s always that danger of assuming that “this has always been the case.”

      As for Peep Show, I’m a very recent convert! I’m only into Season 2, and that in dribs and drabs because we don’t get the show over here. So I’ve heard of Dobby but I’ve not actually reached that stage of the show where she makes an appearance. :) Something about Peep Show intrigues me deeply – it should, for all intents and purposes, be a very bloke-y show. A British Apatovian, really, if you just go by its description on paper. And yet I watch it and I can relate – sometimes terribly well – to these two terribly-awkward men. It’s something I need to think about more, especially since a large part of their awkward foibles are centered on relationships, sex, women, and how to get women. So far, anyway, I’ve never really seen the women being presented as mere objects or potential notches on the belt, even if Mark and Jeremy may talk about it to each other that way. And that’s probably it – the internal dialogue is key. Which makes me wonder if I might, in fact, have great sympathy for the Apatovian man if only I knew what he was thinking!

      On my list – Green Wing and Nighty Night! So much of catching up to do. ;)

  • Carla Fran says:

    This will now be a most mishmashed comment, but also an enthusiastic one. I’m giddy that this is being hashed out somewhere.
    Somebody else was recently tweeting about the humanism of British comedy, and how most characters are shown to be unattractive at some moment. There was also a segment on Marketplace (an American finance radio show)looking at how different American and British expectations of success are. Many Americans expect to be rich, while many Brits expect to live at the same level they always have. Was wondering, in a vague way, if that let everybody show their warts a bit more?

    As for awkward women, the sloppy janes, the nu women, whatever we want to call them, I think they are on the rise.
    In the UK, we have Sophie from Peep Show, Daisy Steiner from Spaced, French and Saunders, Julia Davis in Nighty Night, Maggie from Extras, Sue White in Green Wing, actually all the women in Green Wing, Annie Griffin’s Book Group, Lizzie and Sarah…it goes. In America, we have a new bunch: Amy Poehler on Parks and Rec, Toni Collete in United States of Tara, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Felicia Day on The Guild, Alexandra Goodworth on Headcase. I think the awkward women are gaining, hopefully due to more women writers and creators, and they are appearing in grotesque ways that are startling to see in mainstream media (again, the blood, the leaks!).

    And M., the charm thing really seems to mirror the idea of gaze as well. I think there is a lot there to explore.

    • Subashini says:

      Carla, those are some excellent examples. I’ve only vaguely heard of those British TV shows and am going to enthusiastically hunt them down.

      There’s an interesting connection between willingness to be “unattractive at some moment” (as you say about the characters in British comedy, a perspective I agree with) and the willingness to accept or condone awkwardness. Which leads me to think about Gervais and the recent GG-hosting fiasco – and how Judd Apatow came out in Defence of the Celebrities, condemning Gervais for his deprecating humour. Apparently we’re okay with Brits who are self-deprecating, but if that humour is turned on anyone else – especially Hollywood celebrities – then, well, that’s just mean! Precisely because it renders people who are extremely invested in their attractiveness terribly unattractive for those few moments… on a night when they’re supposed to be celebrated for their attractiveness. This concept of attractiveness – it’s intriguing; it generally means never having to slip up. Success is only yours if you’ve constructed a very careful artifice of awkwardness – no cracks in the “mirror”, no disruption of the gaze, etc. I’m merely thinking aloud here and rambling on… so I’ll stop.

  • [...] wonderful review of how Kottsko’s Awkwardness elides the female experience, complete with his interesting [...]

  • Pseudopodium says:

    “Women are lame, dude.”…

    The last good newish novel I read and the last good newish movie I saw both reprised Death Comes for the Comically Awkward Maiden….

  • Apologies if this is double posting, but I wanted to post with correct email.

    This is copy of response I tried to post over at Adam’s blog (I could not figure out how to reply to his comment here), so I’m posting here as well (I think I put in the wrong email address there as well). So let’s try again!

    * * *

    A friend linked to Subashini’s blog, and I saw the discussion you all were having there, but could not figure out how to reply over there (I’m coming from LiveJournal/Dreamwidth which I find much more conducive to actual conversations), but I was struck by a couple of your points and wanted to toss in my two cents. I’ll also post this comment over there.

    You talk about how “to put forth my understanding of the task and limits of being a pro-feminist man. I understand that task to be acting as an internal critic of male culture” and note the problem of “attempting to deal with women’s experience more directly as a man might’ve opened me to many more, and more severe, criticisms.”

    Between the Scylla of reinforcing the “universality” of humanity through a focus on the (straight white mostly middle class cis) male (I have never seen and will never see an Aptow film, even the previews bore me to tears) and the Charybdis of “attempting to deal with women’s experience,” it seems there’s an obvious way I haven’t seen anybody mention yet–i.e. analyze the masculinities created in the films as specific masculinities rather than in any way universal (given the quotes that S. gave about the changing socio-historical situations of men and women, the methodology seems not to be universalist anyway, or at least not intentioanlly so).

    S. mentioned the lack of men of color–and I would guess that there’s also a lack of working class men, gay men, bisexual men, transgender men, etc. in the films? in your analysis?

    My own scholarship was originally feminist and speculative fiction, morphing in recent years to intersectional theories (critical race, gender and queer) applied to fan studies (in the areas of fandom that are primarily dominated by women, including slash fiction).

    I regularly teach a graduate seminar on Texts and Genders (last fall most recently, all through sf/f) and am struck by how many of my students, despite my careful lecture about differences between feminisms and feminist theories and gender theories still think that someone one can only analyze “gender” by focusing on the female characters. (Only one male student took it last fall, and that was 100% more than took it the previous time I taught it, so these are female students).

    I also agree with Jamie: whatever women do that might be “awkward” will probably be called something different solely because it’s women doing it–I’m thinking of Lucille Ball as the major example (head or co-head of DesiLu portraying a total airhead who couldn’t break into film in her television show). I’m also thinking of how women doing stand-up comedy in the 1960s and 70s (I’m in my fifties so remember cringing in horrendous embarrassment and unable to watch them) had to present themselves as total klutzes of some sort: Phyllis Diller is the primary example.

  • [...] of Apatow’s grown (white, straight) men in a post-feminist, post-gay, post-PC world. Some feminist bloggers have rightly questioned the absence of awkward women from the section, which struggles to maintain [...]

  • [...] of that diarrhea scene, I immediately thought of Subashini‘s fantastic take on Awkward Women, which aligns with the pre-Bridesmaids rules for [...]

  • [...] number of  reviews of Awkwardness pointed out that all the awkward characters discussed in the book are male, and this somewhat blunts the potentially radical force of awkwardness. Judith Halberstam has a [...]

  • [...] have utterly failed to finish reading it, despite enjoying the sections I did read). That post is here – the comments are also very worth reading for links that expand that particular discussion. [...]

  • homiletic says:

    Amazing post as always. But as an Indian ex-colonial subject I irrationally hate Britain and the (somehow unusually middlebrow American? what is up with kids and Dr. Who these days?) fetishization of its cultural artifacts, I won’t join the celebration of Peep Show.

    I will submit that America to its credit (or not) frames its comediennes as uniquely awkward, despite their pretty straightforward “hotness” (perhaps equally problematic but cf. Tina Fey, Lucille Ball, Phyllis Diller, Sarah Silverman). I don’t really have a developed thought on this. But great stuff as always. Lots to think about. Apatow qua Hollywood caters almost to middle american white men, is an opinion I’ve long held.

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