today, class, a close reading of the DM’s article of 16 february 2018, entitled: “Sisters who competed to snare the world’s richest men: Schooled by their mother to seek out power, a new book reveals the jealousy between Jackie O and sister Lee and how they both bedded JFK.”
i mean, just right there, yeah?
oh but wait for it.
first tho, BEHOLD the synergy of content and advertising:
because lee radziwill’s 1961 thoughts and the advert for this trump thing on showtime weren’t enough, we needed the layering of the little bites muffin popup over the white house dinner table.
so yeah. couple of things. this is tom leonard- presumably not the scottish poet nor the michigan politician, but rather the DM’s US correspondent tom leonard- reporting on j. randy taraborelli’s new book for the DM. tom leonard, IN NEW YORK.
which, i think, is where he usually is since he’s the US correspondent. anyhoo.
full disclosure: i have not yet read taraborelli’s new book, because i am waiting for it to fall below $12. but i have read his other kennedy books and have a phd in jackie so i feel fairly confident in saying i know that of which i speak.
further disclosure: i am increasingly righteously enraged by the casual sexism that pervades popular biography and writing about popular biography in the mainstream press.
there is a part of me that wants to just laugh at how dialogue-heavy this is:
much like the scene in edward klein’s just jackie where lee radziwill sets her drink down, the novelistic attention to detail is ludicrous while the evidentiary support is totally absent. who did lee radziwill say this too? that is not made clear here.
but look at that again. any words stand out?
be real, how many (heterosexual- because this can also be code) men in public life have been characterized as hissing?
i’m trying to think of famous brothers and literally all i can come up with is the kennedys and the afflecks, but imagine robert kennedy being quoted as saying this exact thing. the verb would be different, non?
so THAT’S a problem.
another problem: this shite.
(oh, hello, truman, my apologies 💋💋💋)
my sweet lord, wtf is that?!
i know, i know. i get that it is tom leonard’s definition of the word ‘geisha’- though i would also note how this definition strips the word of any connotations of effort, training and performative skill.
a woman whose job and talent is performance is quite a different thing from someone who exists only to passively captivate men.
captivate itself has connotations of enchantment which suggest mystical attraction rather than intelligence.
while we’re here, i LOATHE how a quote from the 1960s-1980s is leveraged nearly 40 years later to perpetuate a stale idea of who these women were.
i’m not claiming they weren’t competitive or that their relationship wasn’t toxic. but look at how the possibility of any other interpretation is obscured by the ferocity of the gendering of the language used in telling this story.
lee radziwill hisses.
the sisters are geishas.
this story is pretty much like every competition narrative ever written about two women:
and the women are universally awful.
i’m all for portrayals of complicated and unlikeable women.
bring it on.
but i do not think this is that. this is a story of archetypes.
maybe they were all awful, unlikeable people. as a biographer, i do get the sense that there was a lot of slapping in the house where jackie and lee grew up. but why do i get that sense? because i’ve read books like taraborelli’s that told me this. i’ve not seen first hand evidence of it. i do not really know.
but i think we’ve an obligation to imagine.
this, for instance, doesn’t sound totally great:
nor does growing up in a culture where, as a woman, your entire value and existence is predicated on attaining the interest and financial support of a man.
i currently feel that approximately 45-47% of my existence depends upon securing the attentions of a man. my god, imagine if you were like janet or jackie and lee and it was the ENTIRE thing?!
we’re talking the 1920s-1960s. that is long ago but it also isn’t. when i read articles like this, it feels a hell of a lot closer than it should be.
i mean, how complicated is this!!!
it’s about economic anxiety, cultural expectations, parenting, family relationships.
i am simultaneously aware that janet auchincloss probably had a very difficult life, was probably exhausting to live with and yet has probably also gotten a horrible shake from biographers who paint her as a villain.
janet = “shameless”
jackie = “ice cold”
lee = “mercurial”
admittedly, husted was “dull” but better to be a dull man than an icy woman!
truly. answer me this: is janet auchincloss all that different from mrs. bennet?
all she appears to want here is a better life for her daughters, easier than hers. admittedly, her methods appear to have been occasionally characterized by a violence absent in the bennet family, but the narrative is not all that different. and yet, the bennets are part of a comic romance while janet and her daughters have been, for years now, trapped in a narrative mash-up of mommy, dearest and the house of mirth.
i am not making light of the violence. but i am looking at all the paths that have been bricked up and by which we might better understand these people’s stories. because our understanding so far has been ruthlessly constrained and one-dimensional. for a story about three people, it’s ridiculously de-complex.
ok, let’s roll.
jfk’s political ambitions sound phallic:
some love affairs and marriages are had…
i was drinking coffee when i got to this part of the article- which is DEEEEEEEEEEEP down, literally 35 paragraphs in- and nearly choked.
WE DO NOT KNOW IF THIS IS TRUE!!!!
not friends and enemies but FAMILY MEMBERS!!
i mean, props for admitting you do not know. but who are these family members? i want names! because i suspect they are the same family members who have been talking all along. there is never anything new in these books. we are deep in an echo chamber full of the whispers of people saying things that have been said before.
people i’ve interviewed have actually parroted back to me things they read in previous books as evidence for what they were telling me.
that is actually not first-hand evidence. that is something you read in a book.
predictably, onassis does not fare well here:
“old goat” being a strange compromise between pirate and toad.
seriously, is a requisite for a kennedy book contract that you despise everyone involved?
for the record, i have never read anything suggesting onassis was with jacqueline kennedy while she was wearing the suit and the suit was not by chanel.
and fun fact: taki gave us taki’s magazine which bequeathed us richard spencer.
the article goes on.
janet is “conniving”, lee is “bewildered” and “furious” and “utterly mortified”, jackie is resentful. so it goes…
and then everybody dies.
are you exhausted? i am exhausted.
the thing is, WE CAN DO BETTER!!!! and i know i’ve been shrilling and stridenting about this for ten years now and i don’t sense any real change but i still think we can do better. EVEN THE DAILY MAIL.
there are other ways to tell these stories, more humanely, more fully, more complexly. janet auchincloss can be a bitch but how did her economic insecurity, the precarity of her marriage, the precarity of her whole existence as a woman who was given limited options contribute to that? and how did that, in turn, contribute to the possibilities handed down to her daughters- who we NEVER hear from in these pieces where their comments are always cocktail chatter rather than things they actually wrote.
in 2001, lee radziwill spoke to the biographer sarah bradford.
“i don’t think jackie ever disliked my mother as you’ve heard,” she said. “i think that she was always grateful to her because she felt that she had intentionally enlarged her world– our world– for our sake.”
look at the possibilities that opens up. where is that article? that book? bring it.
3 thoughts on “jackie, janet and lee: “women who existed only to captivate the world’s richest and most powerful men” (emotions via britney)”
This is brilliant! This was a very problematic book but I don’t have your background of understanding (PhD in Jackie, as you say) to unpack it all. Well said and also, hilarious. I loved reading this.
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