Saturday, September 1, 2007
Ma Vie En Rose - The Wellspring of Identity
Society as a Determinant of Gender - Nominated and recipient of numerous awards including Best Foreign Film, Ma Vie en Rose mainly points out the irrevocable powers of society in affecting personal preferences such as gender. The dichotomy between gender and sexuality has been largely interchanged in the film. The distinction between them is crucial to social and political theory. The term gender is used to refer to social and cultural distinctions between males and females, while sexuality is used to highlight biological, and therefore ineradicable, differences between men and women. Gender is therefore a social construct, usually based on stereotypes of ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ behavior. And that’s where the complication in the film arises. For example, at a very young age, Ludovic has no concept of beautiful for females and handsome for males. For him, when he wanted to look good, he applied cosmetics and put on earrings and dress. The social construct which separates the idea of beauty for females different from males makes Ludovic unaware of such distinction, which resulted to different reactions and offensive treatment he obtained from society.
Sexuality’s biological base is always experienced culturally, through a translation, and is inevitably expressed socially. But how society specifically shapes sexuality and/or gender still remains abstract. The most popular perspective on the social shaping of gender focuses on individuals in the family context. This is most powerfully exemplified by psychoanalytic theory, which attempts to bridge the seeming gap between the social and biological worlds by describing human personality as a product of the experiences of love, hate, power, and conflict in families. As manifested in the film, the several conflicts between Ludovic’s parents have affected him in one way or another although those conflicts were a by-product of his personal choice and actions. Due to these consequences, Ludovic was caught between his personal preference versus the repercussions of his actions, resulting to his own personal struggle which seemed to be suicidal in a sense. The analysis of psychosexual development is a complement to the study of society, not its historical replacement. Gender and sexuality both generates wide social relations and is refracted through the prism of society. Gender can be visualized in the image of an onion, as we peel off each layer (economies, politics, families etc.), we may think that we are approaching the kernel, but we eventually discover that the whole is the only “essence” there is, it cannot be abstracted from its social layers.
Ludovic’s family was his primary outlet in his struggle for acceptance. His family, especially his mother, was the main actor that was present all through out his battles in the film. Recent feminist revisions of psychoanalytic theory have focused on the social construction of motherhood under conditions of male dominance. They reveal the centrality of female parenting in the psychic structuring of gender identity. Ludovic’s bond with his mother was not just ‘innate’ but rather ‘developed’ to the point where he declares himself as a girl patterned after his mother. Another outlet that contributed in molding Ludovic’s gender identity is his peers. Peer groups are found in many cultures and they serve a variety of functions. They organize intergenerational relationships outside the family itself. Peer groups are often age based, and as was evident in the film, Ludovic’s peers were of his age, they go to the same school, they live in the same community and most notably his fantasy relationship with Jerome emphasized his conviction that he is indeed a girl trapped in a boy’s body. Upon moving to a new neighborhood, Ludovic found a sense of parallelism in his new-found friend Christine. He also felt a sense of belongingness to the new neighborhood and to his new-found peers. It only goes to show that determining gender can be found at a very young age. It knows no inhibitions, no malice, and no controversies. And the role of society in gender-formation was demoralizing and tormenting as far as Ludovic and his family are concerned. Other social factors such as the media in the form of the TV show Le Monde de Pam also contributed to his socialization in determining his gender identity.
The film as a whole is full of symbolism and is the most innocent film as far as the roster of films in Political Science 167 is concerned. The role of society in gender identity was at play. The cutting of Ludovic’s hair is a sign of losing his identity. His hair is what separates him from the others and cutting it would leave him with no distinction from the rest. The struggle of his gender identity is marked by certain instances of resistance fro his part; when he attempted to kiss a girl but he was turned down, and his refusal to swap clothes with Christine. These were due to trapping situation where he caught himself in between. But these instances only focus on a certain period in the life of Ludovic. That’s why it’s very difficult to determine the success of gender identity despite its origins at a very young age.
Heywood, A. Economies and Society. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2005.
Allansk, R. Sex and Society. New York Publishing. 1995.
- J. Repato
“ I wanted the child's innocence and his amazing certainty make his questions touch our hearts and allow us to understand them “ (Alain Berliner).
I start my paper with the statement made by Alain Berliner, the director of the film Ma Vie En Rose, for from it and through it that we can examine what the director wants to portray in the movie, and what message it wants to convey to its viewers. This paper tries to read between the scenes the ‘questions’ that the director and the film want their viewers hearts to be touched.
The film begins with scenes showing women wearing dresses and high-heeled shoes and men on trousers. From this, the viewers are already introduced to a set-up that emphasizes masculinity and femininity and the difference between the two. Ma Vie En Rose allotted a few scenes showing different couples preparing for a party. However, the differentiation among the couples still is restricted to heterogeneous ones, which only further highlights the exclusivity of masculinity to men, and femininity to women. This is perhaps the reason why the picture of Ludovik, a seven year-old boy walking into the party wearing his sister’s princess dress and later declaring his desire to marry Jerome shatters the completely perfect picture of the normal-loving neighborhood.
The film shows the interactions between culture, nature and society focusing on the issue of gender and how the main character and his family faces complex social constructs in contrasts to their own values. It focused on the interplay between social meanings, personal values and the synthesis of these highlights the process that Ludovik and his family underwent in their socialization. People are born to a world which already has meanings attached to a given sex showing how society limits a person’s individuality. Culture dictates a person’s gender role. A culture and nature dictate an individuals gender identity and at the same time people constantly shapes and reshapes culture giving new meanings to gender roles. This dialectical relationship creates a society that either accepts or stigmatizes deviance to gender roles and this reflects the process of socialization.
Sex is solely concerned with the biological aspect of an individual. It is based on a person’s external genitalia. Ludovik, having been born with external genitalia of a male and an x and y-chromosomes is biologically a male. Culture attaches meanings to a given sex. A given culture has its own meanings of gender roles. Gender roles are the activities and actions that a society dictates to be acceptable and proper given a person’s external genitalia. In this Belgian community gender role includes men liking women. Thus his parents expects him to like girls and wear clothes that other ‘normal’ boys his age wear. However as Ludovik and this film prove, gender identity does not end there.
“ I’m a boy now, but one day I’ll be a girl” asserts Ludovik.
Ludovik is certain he is a girl. Though Ludovik does not conform to meanings of norms in his society, it does not however imply that he does not play a certain gender role himself. In here we see how meanings attached to a gender role is change. Society and to some extent an individual is able to reshape its culture giving new meanings to gender roles. Difficulty arises when the current social meanings contradicts and creates tensions in the process of changing meanings. In the movie as the family of Jerome faces threats of isolation, we see the process of socialization of the family and Ludovik himself.
The context by which Ludovik and his family is important in the development of the film and the characters. It is thus important that the film spent a great deal of effort on the sub-urban neighborhood where the family leaves for it serves as an influential agent by which how the family and Ludovik himself faces his issue of gender identity. This neighborhood is the primary agent of socialization of Ludovik’s family. The constant physical interaction hones the relationship between Ludovik’s family and their neighbors, and entrenches their ability to influence the family’s opinion. In Ludovik’s part it is his family together with their family friends that affected his opinions most. Though, the television shows of Pam serves as his secondary agent of socialization, the physical constraints of Pam as a fictional character and her incapability to console and communicate with Ludovik also restrain the television show’s influence.
Focusing on their primary agents of socialization, their primary groups are also revealed. Primary groups are formations, groups that individuals are consciously member of and they constantly integrate with. It is important to identify the primary groups that Ludovik and his family are members of in order to fully understand their opinions, feelings and more importantly later their decisions. In discussing the primary groups of Ludovik and his family, we will be able to see how their decisions reflect that of the opinions of the society they are in. Primary groups exert a certain degree of pressure among its members for uniformity.
There are three reasons why individuals conform to uniformity. One is that their membership into a specific group restricts the information that they get, limiting their opinions to opinions of the other members of that group. The neighbors of Ludovik’s family see the issue of gender identity negatively. This pose as a symbolic threat to the other members not to contradict these norms. These are the feedbacks that the family receives hence they base their opinions on the opinions of their neighbors. Ludovik on the other hand, being a member of the neighborhood and his family only experiences repression from them. He draws into a conclusion that indeed it could be the reason for god to send him to hell. Another reason is that people value their membership to that group. The family being financially dependent to one of their neighbors highly value their approval. The approval of the neighbors forces the parents of Ludovik especially his father to seek a professional help. This approval also pushed his brothers not defend him when their friends started to beat Ludovik. Ludovik loves his family and do not want to indirectly cause any harm to its members. He values his membership to his family. Lastly, people generally want to be considered as normal. However normality is also a social construct. Society dictates what are considered normal and abnormal, what is acceptable and what is not. Unfortunately for Ludovik and his family, the ‘normal’-loving neighborhood considers being ‘bent’ an abnormal and unacceptable condition. These reasons push Ludovik and his family to conclusions that abhor Ludovik’s assertion of his gender identity.
However, Ludovik’s family finally accepts him towards the end of the film and this reflects the limitations of the influence of the primary groups. It should be noted that the capability of a primary group to influence its members is still primarily based on the importance of the group to its members. As the family grows more financially independent on the neighborhood, the latter’s importance also diminishes.
The film, having used vivid colors to mirror the emotions in the movie, being highly entertaining to watch, having a clear focus on childhood, and having a relatively new point of view on an issue is an effective medium for the socialization of it’s viewers.
It leaves viewers hanging as questions of an innocent child pokes their hearts forcing them to re-examine and reconsider their orientations for that possibility of acceptance into the social norms. It leaves the viewers to rethink that perhaps one day we would realize that Ludovik is right and that it is all but a scientific error. After all it makes perfect sense that way.
- J. Agpalo
Ludovic Fabre, the central character of the 1997 Belgian film “Ma Vie En Rose”, is probably one of the most resolute personas ever brought to life, remarkably despite his young age. However, it is unfortunate that the world around him has been very certain as well, only to make sure that Ludo does not belong.
This essay aims to mainly assert that social control has indeed heavily affected Ludovic’s childhood, or the childhood of any kid, for that matter. The discussion of this writer’s main thesis is taken from the perspective of the framework of panopticism, which was postulated by philosophers Michel Foucault, Jeremy Bentham and John Berger. The corresponding conceptual model depicts the child (Ludovic) as its center. The child is operating within certain a social environment. Consequently, he or she is constantly interacting with his peers, his “significant adults” (coined by this writer for lack of a better term denoting adults whom children are dependent upon), and the society as a whole. Specifically in Ludovic’s case, the social environment focused on is the neighborhood they first moved into, as opposed to Clermont-Ferrand, the next neighborhood they were later compelled to transfer to; the latter will not be discussed here because only the former will be used to establish society’s controlling character. In this analysis of “Ma Vie En Rose”, the nature and relationships of the elements within this conceptual model are to be discussed within the panopticon framework.
The panopticon, a term which in Greek denotes “all” (pan) “seeing” (opticon), is a “design for an ideal reformatory” (Wood, 2003) According to Foucault (who studied at the University of Clermont-Ferrand, ironically), “it is a segmented, immobile … space. Each individual is fixed in his place. And, if he moves, he does so at the risk of his life, contagion or punishment. Inspection functions ceaselessly. The gaze is alert everywhere: …the slightest movements are supervised, … recorded, … [and] power is exercised [within] a compact model of the disciplinary mechanism. Generally speaking, all the authorities exercising individual control function according to … binary division and branding; and … coercive assignment of differential distribution...” to alter the abnormal. (Cartome) Foucault’s work, “Displine and Punish” explains “the micro-power structures that developed in Western societies since the eighteenth century.” (Wikipedia.org) Bentham later asserted “the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power,” and that “the principle that power should be visible and unverifiable.” To clarify, power as unverifiable means that the surveyed must never know when they are being watched, but must be sure that they may always be so. (Cartome) According to Berger, panopticism is a feeling that one is always being watched, and this creates a pressure on him or her to conform by the guidelines and rules set by society. (IMDb.com) In other words, this is the fear that in all moments they are being judged in their actions and if they fail to go along with societal “norms”, which are oftentimes unnatural and irrational, then they will not be socially accepted.
At the first level of interaction, Ludovic’s peers are his siblings, their neighbors, and classmates. Their interaction was initially characterized by acceptance and friendship. This is evident with Jerome, when he tried to return Ludo’s earring during recess at school. It was then when they became instant friends, and also when Ludo resolved to marry Jerome. It is also evident when Ludo and Jerome held their ‘wedding’ at Jerome’s dead sister’s room. This depicts a positive interaction because, firstly, they were in a place where they were not allowed to be in, and secondly, they were acting out a ceremony which is known to only wed heterosexual couples; however, despite these, Jerome still played along in what must have seemed to him as a game. Ludo’s eldest sister Zoe also manifested accpetance, which is expected from her more, as she is family. Evidently, she hugged Ludo at the football net in school when he was crying, and also when she defended him at the dinner table when their father reprimanded him for the wedding debacle. However, the more Ludo expressed his strong belief in being a girl, these interactions changed. Even at the beginning, there was always some petty bullying by Ludo’s classmates, evidently when he brought his Pam and Ben dolls to Show and Tell, indicating the established view that it is inappropriate for boys to play with dolls. But after further adult control, this led to Ludo being physical assaulted by his teammates in soccer, while his brother Tom chose to conform to peer pressure when he prevented their brother Jean from defending Ludo. Sophie pushed Ludo away when he tried to kiss her, saying she does not kiss girls, a remark reflecting her father’s control that Ludo was a “bent boy”. Finally, Jerome’s remark on “going to hell” if he sat beside Ludo in class also reflected his parent’s control, perhaps to stay away from the ‘sinful’.
His peers, being children, are still heavily influenced by their significant adults, namely their parents, through power relations within the home. They are also influenced by their fellow peers, by means of direct social control, but their parents still have greater overall influence since their fellow peers are also subjected to the same politics at home. The children’s parents, in turn, are heavily influenced by the society as a whole, which dictates hetero-normative restrictions. As a result, they impart to their children these rules, leading them to act correspondingly among their peers. Therefore, the inter-peer relationships of the children were impinged by the inter-peer adult relationships, and more so by the societal norms. Specifically, the peer-controlled change is evident in Tom, while the adult-controlled change is evident with Ludo’s peers who are not family, namely, his neighbors and classmates. Nonetheless, society, at this level, is seen to react to Ludo’s actions through the adults, hence only indirectly. Therefore, at this level, the scope of the panopticon is still quite distant, because the intensity of adult social control, which is said to be more stringent and ironically intolerant, is still quite indirect.
The second level of interaction concerns Ludo’s significant adults, who remain the same for both social environments, are his parents Pierre and Hanna, and his grandmother Elizabeth (whom he called Granny). With Granny, Ludo initially saw acceptance, though not necessarily approval, as is evident when she fetched him at school and Ludo declared that he would marry their neighbor Jerome “once [he’s] not a boy”. In fact, she tried to talk him out of his strong belief in being a girl, as evident when she corrected Ludo that he was “not pretty, but handsome”. A parallel can even be drawn from Granny’s character, as she evidently challenged norms by acting too youthfully despite her age; nonetheless, she still indirectly advised Ludo that “we all have to face reality.” However, as the story progressed, she eventually understood the intensity of Ludo’s convictions and even supported him in his wearing a skirt, while at the same time hoping very deeply that such an indulgence would eventually banalize such strong belief, all for Ludo’s sake, because she also wanted him to be accepted in society. Therefore, Granny is not a panoptic character in Ludo’s life; in fact, she even approves of his attitude, though not necessarily in being a girl per se, but more in being admirably steadfast in his beliefs, and she never faltered, taking him in especially when he was most shunned by everyone else.
Ludo’s relationship with his parents is the third level of social interaction. At the beginning, Pierre and Hanna took Ludo’s actions lightly, maybe even to the point of trivializing them, justifying that he “meant no harm” and that “we search for our identity until we are seven”. This is evident when Pierre almost nonchalantly said that Ludo acted like a girl “every so often”. In other words, Ludo’s expression of being female was never an issue in the Fabre household. In fact, this writer believes that the scene where Ludo was embraced by his mother and grandmother while they were dancing at the housewarming party symbolizes that they provided him with tolerance and protection from the real, harsh and panoptic world outside. Therefore, since there was initially little or no panoptic atmosphere in the Fabre household, Ludo felt free, maybe even encouraged, to express his believed gender more widely, out to the society level.
However, as the story progressed, the more society condemned Ludo and his family, specifically his parents, for his actions. In fact, the changes in the Fabre household were catalyzed by his parents’ interaction with society as a whole, inevitably entailing the discussion of the fourth level of social interaction. Society is stipulated in this essay as being comprised of individual members who are living and operating within each of the social environments. It is at this level where Ludo was being most tormented. This is gradually evident in increasing stages in the story. Initially, during the housewarming, Ludo received incredulous gasps and an uncomfortable silence when he came out in girlish hair, outfit and make-up. Also, at Show and Tell at school, his teacher worriedly, though tactfully, tried to confirm with Ludo that he wanted “to be like Ben”, perhaps trying to get an assurance from him. Society’s panoptic character worsened to a more cruel stage. It is evident in the school play where Ludo only playfully grabbed the role of Snow White, and when he was found out, cold condemning stares followed the Fabres out the gates of the school. In fact, in the technical terms of this film, such disapproval was shown in the colors that washed over the scene, specifically hues of grays and blues. Finally, it reached a most oppressive stage when Ludo was expelled from school because “his tastes are too eccentric”, posing difficulties for the Fabres. Therefore, since it is society directly interacting with Ludo, the former’s panoptic character quite firm and distressing.
Consequently, it is at this level when the Fabres, especially the parents, were most ostracized. This is evident in three scenes. The first is the barbecue with Jerome’s and Sophie’s parents, when Sophie’s mother, Monique, commented that Ludo was a “real little housewife” (connoting the wedding fiasco), and when Jerome’s mother, Lisette, remarked that Albert thought “if society were not sick there would not be any loony bins” (connoting Ludo was sick and loony). Hanna defiantly said that Ludo was “not a loony”, and tried to steer the conversation away for Ludo’s sake. The second was when Albert told Pierre that Ludo was that way because he let Hanna control the kids; Pierre defensively replied that they raised their kids well. In these two scenes, all the other parents offer solutions, evoking doubt in the hearts of Ludovic’s parents regarding their family life, parenting skills, and even their marriage. And the last, most oppressive draw for them was the driveway vandalism, “Bent boys out”. At this stage, society’s panoptic quality is at its height, explicitly ordering them to ‘straighten up’ Ludo, or else they are driven out.
As a result of society’s reaction to his parents, their reaction to him worsened, with the wedding fiasco as the turning point; this was the first time when Ludo’s actions were seriously maligned by the panoptic society, effectively leading the parents to suddenly try to conform him to it. They were alarmed for the first time: Hanna vehemently shook Ludo; Pierre impatiently explained the consequences to his job if it happened again. However, alarm escalated to distress for Pierre when Ludo asked what “bent” meant: Pierre violently insisted to refer to a flyswatter, when it was really meant as the French slang for a homosexual. But when Pierre was fired at work, it was Hanna’s turn to cave in: she blamed Ludo for Pierre’s unemployment; and she also made him shut up at the bus stop on the way to his new, less exclusive school, because Ludo’s educational concerns added to their problems due to the breach of the family’s economic well-being. At this level, they now conformed to the panoptic character of society, disciplining Ludo.
In turn, their transformation affected Ludo’s relationship with himself. Initially, he confidently expressed her femaleness to all, wanting to “look pretty”, watching “Pam’s World”, wearing his pants backwards, etc. The wedding fiasco was also another effort for expression but, as it brought society’s first sign of serious disapproval, it perplexed him as to why they disapproved of a simple identity expression. Threatened by society, he flew to Pam’s world, where there are no other citizens, perhaps symbolizing a world without social control. But when his parents themselves rejected him, that was when he resolved to please them by being sent to a psychiatrist, and when he asked them to confirm if he really was a boy, it was when he first saw the relief in his parents. Disappointed that his parents felt that way, but wanting to be loved by them and guilty to go on with his belief, he chose to try hard to live like a boy and obey his parents by putting away his dolls and joining the football team. Now more timid and withdrawn, consequently, he himself has transformed into his own panopticon.
Therefore, as the main thesis is now established, “Ma Vie En Rose” is an effective agent of political socialization, by using a portrayal of a controlling and bigoted society for three reasons. Firstly, it depicts an issue of fantasy versus reality, of youth versus adulthood, as the latter’s power is depicted through the politics of the home, effectively making harsh reality prevail, limiting society’s possibilities, and controlling the former. Secondly, it poses an issue of normalcy, as the basis of social inclusion and stability, effectively compelling society’s members to conform, and implying societal repression and eventual stagnation. And finally, “Ma Vie En Rose” conveys a message of tolerance, rather than judgment, and belongingness, rather than ostracism, of a seven-year-old girlboy who only wanted to be recognized and appreciated just the way he believes himself to be, because, at least in his book, being oneself has never been a crime.
Wikipedia. “Michel Foucault”. Date published: 11 August 2007. Date retrieved: 22 August 2007. From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_Foucault
Wood, David. “Foucault and Panopticism Revisited.” Editorial, Surveillance and Society. Year published: 2003. Date retrieved: 22 August 2007. From: http://www.surveillance-and-society.org
- A. Felicia