Friday, November 27, 2009

Femininity in Fire Sale

In class last week, Luis asked us what we thought V.I. Warshawski represents for Sara Paretsky. My response would be that for Paretsky, Warshawski is an idealized version of the Modern Woman. Warshawski is, as others have mentioned, perfectly rational, yet also compassionate. While driven by reason, she is not hardened or emotionless. Warshawski is tough, certainly, but she’s neither macho nor overly-sentimental. While her behaviors are largely “gender-neutral” in that they follow no particular stereotypes, there are moments in which she exhibits some stereotypically “feminine” traits, though presented with a modern twist.

Warshawski is very community-oriented in that she develops strong personal ties to her clients and her team; she cannot help but be helpful. This sense of obligation to others drives her to aid her ailing coach, help out with the basketball team, keep her word to Billy Bysen (despite his father’s threats), pursue Mrs. Dorado’s concerns about Fly the Flag, and monitor April’s health, among other things. Warshawski can’t overcome a sense of obligation to aid and protect others. In place of "maternal instinct", her behavior is motivated from a concern for justice. Her obligation to others comes from her advantageous position as a private investigator.

Interestingly, Warshawski’s body plays a considerable part of the narrative, not just because of the injuries it sustains, but also in terms of her fashion choices and her self-image. Warshawski crosses a muddy parking lot in sandals to avoid ruining her beautiful pumps. She cries over her destroyed designer clothing the day she is hit by shrapnel. She tells us how she looks when she is tired and describes her beautiful clothing. Paretsky gives us a tough, glamorous, crime-fighting woman: she is always elegant, but unafraid of the brutality and the dangers of her profession. Paretsky’s ideal woman is stylish, but unafraid to roll up her sleeves and get dirty. Women don’t have to give up femininity to work in the world of men; Warshawski is Paretsky’s proof of this. Warshawski is Paretsky's proof that women don't have to sacrifice traditionally "feminine" traits and interests to get ahead.

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