Everyone hated it but everyone binge watched it! More like a guilty pleasure, Emily in Paris is a Netflix series that attracted feminists criticising it for its portrayal of male gaze, French cliches and sexual harassments at workplace. On the contrary, for me, it was a show that pushed back against many stereotypes.
The series is written by Darren Star, the creator of cult show Sex And The City, showing us again that the city isn’t just the backdrop to the show. It is an important character, deserving of the titular space. So if viewers see it with a little bit of Parisian stereotype, it is okay!
While some may argue that even with a feminist progatonist, the show need not be a feminist show. I agree! But it does portray strong female bosses, loyal and supportive female friendships (not just the regular #BroCode!) and expressive sexual agency of women. Is that something you get to watch in our desi dramas and Indian cinema?
The character of Sylvie, the head of the Parisian marketing firm ‘Savoir’, and Emily’s boss, is what gives this series a feminist angle. She is a strong boss who knows what she does, gets her work done, is firm and leads from the front. If a man had those traits, we would see him as a strong and successful leader, but since we have a habit of expecting women to always be kind and gentle, we are conditioned to think that women such as Sylvie are villains. In my opinion, she is just way more professional. She does save Emily as a boss in multiple cases and also advises Emily to “Live and make mistakes” in Paris. Also, these gray shades of characters make us relate to them. Like in life, everyone is not black and white.
“As we know the understanding of “shame” is very subjective to different cultures, I think these concepts of feminism may differ as well.”
In addition, Sylvie contributes to the raising of an important question in episode three, entitled ‘Sexy or Sexist?’, about the position of men and women. When Emily criticizes a perfume commercial where a woman walks naked across a bridge under the gaze of three men, Sylvie tells her: “I don’t have such a simplistic way of seeing men and women.” She is convinced that, through the male gaze, women acquire power and sexual liberation. The male client also goes on to explain how the model is wearing nothing but the perfume, which is meant to empower her by giving her sex appeal. Emily then asked if the idea of this male gaze is ‘sexy or sexist?’ It shows how much one’s cultural background influences one’s interpretation of feminism and the role of men and women. The episode ‘Sexy or Sexist’ is the perfect example for this.
Emily, throughout the series, is seen exploring her sexuality with different men. This, again, does not raise an alarm with any of the other characters in the show – there is no ‘moral policing. One could criticize that it lacks realism. However, on the other hand, one could argue that the show raises an important point that it is ok, as a woman, to be sexually free and have casual affairs.
In general, media and films in India do not treat male and female characters equally in regards to sexuality. Usually, a very liberating lifestyle of a man tends to be glorified and it is normalized for them to sleep around with multiple partners because “ladke toh aese hee hote hain” (Men will be men). This is not the case in ‘Emily in Paris’; she is at no point shamed for kissing, or sleeping with different men. Indeed, her behavior isn’t glorified either, instead it is simply not discussed.
“…it does portray strong female bosses, loyal and supportive female friendships (not just the regular #BroCode!) and expressive sexual agency of women.”
As we know the understanding of “shame” is very subjective to different cultures, I think these concepts of feminism may differ as well. What I seek to understand is how, at the end, we are creating an open, understanding and just world for all genders, people and races.
I think the show has got more to say than just Chanel bags, Paris lifestyle and Baguettes!