I am continuing to think about the betrayal of Carrie Mathison in the last episode of Homeland. There was no reason for the sister to demand custody. She still could have pitched in to care for Franny. The fight between the women, pointlessly pitched, produced female-suffering porn after thrilling us early in the season with Carrie’s destruction of a cyberstalker. Female-suffering porn is so much the air breathed in the culture, it often goes unnoticed as a thing or is given different names. The Handmaid’s Tale trades on female-suffering porn for its sense of suspense and titillation. How many ways can you show women at the mercy of men and other women? How many ways will their attempts to organize and free themselves be thwarted? This show and “Homeland” come at precisely the moment when in reality women have organized in MeToo and other mass forms of resistance. They have been the least passive, the most vocal in reaction to the sabotage of our country and legal systems. Female-suffering porn is not cautionary or prophetic. It’s the comfort zone of narratives that want women the old fashioned way: virtuous and deprived or gratified and dangerous (often murderous).
This morning I am thinking about two people I spoke to at the Village Voice reunion last September. I was surprised to see them, and I slipped into my old patterns with them, and the patterns were pleasurable. Both people, one a man, the other a woman, had been important to me. I could say they shaped my life in certain ways. The relationships had ended. The relationships were not alive when I ran into these people, who are not connected to each other. There they were, and there I was, the old me, the me in readiness, and I loved the feeling of this readiness and this self that is sleeping and can come awake without preparation or expectation. I had not thought about either person in advance. Maybe a fleeting thought about the woman, not the man. The woman was bored and casting around to interrupt the boredom. The man and I bumped into each other over a bowl of pita wedges. We did not eat. Maybe he ate. We moved off to a corner, and he talked. I listened. In both conversations there were moments of Why did you say that? or I didn’t understand why you did that . . . I thought you were angry, etc. In neither case were things resolved. There was not an idea of resumption. I came away feeling happy and sad. It was like wandering in the “Garden of Earthly Delights” or in a dream of your past or in your life as a Dickens ghost. What remains is the sense of who you love, not why, not is it fair, not is it equal. Just love you feel no matter what. It has given me my life.
If Carrie Mathison were a man, a single parent, and in the process of nailing Russian sabotage of the US government, no one would question his parenting performance, no one would raise an eyebrow that he hired help to care for his child, no one would insist he enter a mental hospital for 6 weeks or else forfeit custody of his child. Homeland knows this. Homeland is dramatizing this. Homeland is portraying female ambivalence about having a child and caring for a child with skillful nuance. It has done this since Carrie became pregnant. She does not care, foremost, about being a mother. She cares, foremost, about untangling puzzles and trapping spies, and she is not portrayed as a villain. She is bipolar and has exercised bad judgment along the way, but not about sabotage, not about threatening to kill the cyberstalker who came after her, not about lots of things that are separate from mental illness. On Homeland, not wanting, foremost, to care for a child is not a symptom of mental illness. Buying meds from the trunk of a dealer’s car may be.