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“It?” or “My life, My Way?”

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The “it” in She’s Gotta Have It refers to agency over her life. In more simple terms “it” means her life, her way. In fact I believe the “it” in “she’s/I’ve gotta have it” can be substituted with “her/my life, her/my way” whenever the line is said in the film (try it, see at 45:30 and 1:19:09).  However, in male dominated societies like we have in the United States, the social structures in place make it rare for women to have life their way as women are socially regulated by the dominant perspective of how women ought to interact with men and the traditional tenets of marriage and motherhood. Typically in the United States, particularly in the black community, the dynamics of a male-female courtship work through a man eventually taking ownership of a subject and making her “his woman.” Although the woman will also refer to the male subject as “her man,” the social boundaries for acceptable behavior regulated by society empowers the man over the woman simply because more of his behaviors are socially acceptable.  Nevertheless, individuals relinquish a certain amount of agency over their life to their partner as a manifestation of respect (or love) in courtships and as the relationship advances towards marriage and a family, subjects retain less and less agency over their lives. Nola never wanted to relinquish agency over her life to anyone.

As we’ve discussed in class, a woman’s power traditionally comes from her desirability in male dominated societies.

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Moreover, a woman who experiments with multiple partners typically will be called a slut, whore, or as used in She’s Gotta Have It, a “freak,” making her undesirable and undermining her power. Nola hates labels because labels can undermine a woman’s agency in a male dominated society more so than any other social force. In fact the premise of the movie itself is based on Nola attempting to clear her name (see 3:36) of any labels placed on her by the community because of her past actions. Power over her life meant Nola had to transcend the labels that society would understand her through, through an implicit rejection of society’s views of acceptable behavior. However, Nola cared more about having control over her life than she did rejecting society’s moral consensus with regards to sex as exemplified by her relationship with Opal. If all Nola cared about was a rejection of the social boundaries around sexual relations then she would have probably experimented with Opal, but clearly having control over her life and living it her way is what drives her. To look at the relationships between Nola and the others from another perspective: for the men, having Nola is as much about having her for themselves as it is about beating the other guys. Her becoming a prize turns her into an object for which men ought to compete. Therefore Nola understands (albeit in her own way) that in order to maintain agency over her life she has to avoid being won by a suitor, even if that suitor is a girl.

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A man with no power is a boy.

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In general, the term boy usually refers to a lower status (i.e. a bus boy or bell boy). Many of the concepts that Lee plays with in She’s Gotta Have It relate to a man being reduced to a boy when faced with the fierceness of a woman’s power. It happens to Greer, Mars, and Jamie anytime Nola exerts her power over them. The Thanksgiving scene, more than any, manifests Nola’s complete control over the men as she interacts with them like a mother an her three boys. Yet, in essence, that’s what the men had become, boys fighting for Mama’s attention.

(see opening montage)

Notice the opening montage was mostly photos older men or boys, the two stages in life when a male typically becomes dependent on a female (as a boy he is dependent on his mother as an older man he becomes dependent on his wife). The montage also presents girls and women in power positions, most of the girls stare into the camera with strength and the woman standing on the side of the truck stands in a position of desirability above the man walking below her manifesting her power (even if it is as an object).

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