May 7, 2015

"That Battle is Over"

"That Battle is Over" is a song overflowing with sarcasm, a glib survey of contemporary post-feminism – a site of conflict now dominated by what Nina Power has described as the "one dimensional woman," the feminine subject of late capitalism, where the hard won freedom of past feminist struggles culminates in the freedom to buy and the imperative to safeguard one's identity against precarious material conditions. Now Power's critique has a video to match.

Hval's song parodies the route taken by a good deal of anti-(or post)feminist discourse: gender equality has been won – that battle is over – and it's now simply up to individuals to choose the life they want. It's not uncommon for that same discursive field to privilege victim blaming, to understand power/agency as a matter of individual choice. What such discourse overlooks, in other words, are the conditions under which one's choices take place, the intersectional nature of oppression and the limitations of our current moment.

What we witness in this video are not scenes of contemporary solidarity but images of antiquated retreat: morose glimpses of conventional feminine activity. Such activity has been a crucial source of support for the proliferation of the nuclear family, not to mention white suburbia. As Hval poses her first few questions ("What are we taking care of?"), we're led into a dimly lit home, a worn-out domestic space: what has been the hidden site of work for many middle class North American women. Here, the role of caregiving demands to be performed: cooking, cleaning, attending to the needs of one's children. In the midst of these archetypes, our guide simply surveys the scene. She appears to be in uniform (a figure who has ostensibly benefitted from first wave feminism) returning from the labour force to that space which was once hers to look after.

The tinted colour palette, along with a cameo from Melissa Auf der Maur, draws parallels to the aesthetics of iconic videos from the mid-90s: videos by Hole, PJ Harvey and others, which, in their own ways, pointed to feminism's unfinished business. Despite the great progress made by women's movements, misogyny and sexism remain all to familiar. The male gaze continues to structure much of our popular culture and these videos, like Hval's, draw the viewer's externality into question. The figures who populate videos like "Violet" and "Down By The Water" are aware that they are being watched; they stare back into the spotlight that exposes them, recognizing the power of spectacle, which has become theirs to subvert. Their performances are parodic, but each one also approaches something emancipatory: an awareness of the deep power that spans across generations of mothers and daughters, a power that surpasses the residues of patriarchy and outshines its spectacles.

The video's director, Zia Anger, also provides some commentary:
I guess it goes back to '96 for me, and the ‘girl power’ mantra I've been repeating since I learned it from the Spice Girls. The female experience is far from singular (and even further from this white, suburban, American-retro dream), yet around every corner there is a common pain, a wisdom of ecstasy, and an obsession with the uncanny that we all share. Collaborating with an entirely female creative team (with the support of a few great gentlemen) gave birth to an exploration of Jenny's song and an inquiry into the sarcasm that pulses through it.
Jenny Hval's Apocalypse, girl arrives this June via Sacred Bones.


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