Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

Spaces of Their Own: Emotional and Spiritual Quests in under the Tuscan Sun and Eat, Pray, Love

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

Spaces of Their Own: Emotional and Spiritual Quests in under the Tuscan Sun and Eat, Pray, Love

Article excerpt

Postfeminism and Popular Culture

According to Yvonne Tasker and Diane Negra, "postfeminist culture emphasizes educational and professional opportunities for women and girls; [and] freedom of choice with respect to work, domesticity, and parenting (2). At the same time, in What A Girl Wants: Fantasizing the Reclamation of Self in Postfeminism, Negra points out that "postfeminism often functions as a means of registering and superficially resolving the persistence of 'choice' dilemmas for American women" (2). She further argues that "from the late 1990s renaissance in film-centered television series to the prolific pipeline of Hollywood 'chick flicks,' to the heightened emphasis on celebrity consumerism, and the emergence of a new wave of female advice gurus/lifestyle icons, the popular culture landscape has seldom been as dominated as it is today by fantasies and fears about 'women's life choices'" (2). The movies Under the Tuscan Sun and Eat, Pray, Love interrogate issues related to women's choices against a societal background that still upholds traditional beliefs of domesticity and women's main roles of homemakers (dutiful daughters, wives, and/or mothers). In this context, the happy endings of both movies - in which the women have found the right partner - might reinforce Benshoff and Griffin's assertion that "contemporary Hollywood woman's film and romantic comedies still encourage women to see themselves as incomplete without a man" (301). However, novelty regarding the approach to gender roles and choices in these movies - both adapted from best-selling non-fiction books written by female authors - lies in the depiction of the processes of self-discovery the protagonists experience in order to discover an individual identity before they can enter a serious relationship with a male partner. Thus, Under the Tuscan Sun and Eat, Pray, Love explore the emotional struggles the female protagonists undergo after a difficult divorce, their feelings of guilt at having failed to fulfill their roles as "good wives," as well as the physical and emotional contexts they navigate and negotiate on their quest to understand the complexities of marriage, love, family, home, relationships and emotional balance.

Life at the Crossroads

Stéphanie Genz suggests that placing "domestic femininity in a postfeminist frame" exposes "the tensions between domesticity and feminism, home and work, tradition and modernity" (53). Furthermore, she claims that "the housewife is caught up in an array of relationships and tensions within both domestic and public arenas, renegotiating her place in a changed social context" (53). Genz maintains that, as a result, one of the trends in postfeminism examines "the negotiation, reworking, and reproducing" of "women's relationship to home and the wider value of domestic life" in different types of popular culture products (53). In this context, after they get divorced, Frances Mayes (Under the Tuscan Sun) and Liz Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) try to re-define who they are and attempt to renegotiate their roles as women, not as wives or mothers. Both are middle-class, white, in their midthirties, successful in the public sphere (as writers), but less successful in their private lives/domestic sphere (according to traditional societal beliefs about women's roles), as both are divorced and have no children. Frances believed she had a happy marriage until she found out that her husband was having an affair, fact which prompted her decision to get a divorce. Liz, on the other hand, was the one who initiated the divorce, for no "apparent" reason. Liz has been steeped in the traditional concept of a good wife, as her friend Delia reminds her, "a couple of years ago ... you threw yourself into the renovation of your kitchen," and "you were completely consumed with being the perfect wife and cook," an attempt to make her marriage work (as cooking in the kitchen sphere and being a wife are traditional expectations and "inherent qualities" of a woman, Eat, Pray, Love). …

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