i started writing about jackie because i deplored the way she was written about. shoddy writing, shoddy scholarship, shoddy story-telling.
when you read 97 books about someone, certain trends begin to emerge.
for instance, we have mrs. kennedy, jackie and jack, jackie after jack, jackie and bobby, jackie after o, and no less than four volumes on jacqueline bouvier kennedy onassis and at least two on jackie kennedy onassis.
forgive me! i’m being reductive. there’s also jackie and janet, jackie-bobby-manchester, what jackie taught us and, my personal favorite, jacqueline kennedy: the warmly human life story of the woman all americans have taken to their heart.
the one thing these have in common is a structural reliance upon her names and her relationships (whether they be with her husband, mother, brother-in-law, or the whole of america).
look at this picture. can you even find her in there?
that picture is the perfect metaphor for her story, which has always been reliant upon the filter provided by other people’s stories. we can not- dare not- consider her on her own.
i want to hear about her ride on this camel.
or her reign as queen of the corncobs.
or what was going on in this strange photo of her in tel aviv.
this is my fundamental complaint about biography: the genre is inherently sexist. it does not know what to do with women.
biographies of men are driven by their work and accomplishments. biographies of women are driven by their relationships.
i’ma pretend this is specific to biographies of 20th century iconic women, because women of earlier centuries come with a whole other parade of biographical problems. i say that but, given how this sexism has trickled into film through the whole “woman who had a gloriously beautiful relationship that met with a tragic end thus precipitating the advent of her artistic glory with which the man she loved put her in touch” trope (ie: coco before chanel, becoming jane, etc.), i’m pretty sure it’s pervasive.
there is something fundamentally wrong with the way we discourse about women’s lives.
look at jackie and marilyn and liz.
you could maybe argue jackie did nothing until the 80s (you would be wrong, but you could argue it), but marilyn and liz were legitimately employed. they made movies. and yet in the case of all three, their stories are essentially the same. they are all defined by who they were with rather than what they were doing.
is this a sign of the times in which they lived or a sign of how shite we are at crafting female-centered stories?
among other things, the fact that audrey hepburn is a rare exception to this makes me think it’s the latter. but then, she wasn’t american, so perhaps biographical sexism is something from which europeans are exempt? perhaps it is an american phenomenon? this reluctance to view women as separate from their husbands and mothers and brothers-in-law and take a good long look at them on their own.
[aforepromised assorted rambling: did you know audrey was married to mel ferrer? do you know who mel ferrer was? how about andrea dotti?
i bring him up solely to reinforce my assertion that her romantic relationships are surprisingly unimportant in her narrative (perhaps pointing to something equally sinister- such as our societal need to keep her chaste) and as an excuse to post their wedding portrait…
the marriage didn’t last, but oooh la la, THAT DRESS! la sigh.
sometimes i dream of an alternate universe where jackie married onassis while wearing a pink dress. i mean, can you even?
(photographs by michael ochs archives, getty images; corbis; AP; unkown; UPI; AP; AP/eisenstadt/arnold; corbis; unknown)