Miscellaneous (한 + Eng)
Dolly Parton: A feminist icon or a corseted female figure?
"Parton never lost her ability to hear the beat, and to make something of it. In a delightful clip that has recently been making the rounds online, from an episode of the short-lived nineteen-eighties variety show “Dolly,” Parton leads Patti LaBelle in “a little rhythm” sounded, washboard style, from the clacking of their acrylic nails. Wearing similar puff-sleeved, sparkling black gowns, the two luminaries briefly harmonize a rendition of “Shortnin’ Bread,” the slave folk song, before collapsing into giggles. The moment can feel silly, but no doubt Smarsh would see its serious feminine brilliance. Acrylic nails, disparaged when seen on the hands of performers like Parton or Cardi B, may very well be responsible for some spectacular feats of songwriting.
... At the sixty-ninth Emmys, in 2017, Parton, Fonda, and Tomlin—all nominees that year—reunited onstage to present the award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie. Fonda and Tomlin, draped in red and black, took their swipes at an unnamed “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot.” Parton, in the middle, cinched in white, joked about vibrators. “Hers was the least directly political comment of the three,” Smarsh muses, but “the one most assured to vex a man like Donald Trump.” In a TV interview following the awards, Parton stuck to her usual script: “I don’t do politics. I’m an entertainer.” Of course, as Smarsh remarks, “Parton hasn’t gotten this far without knowing exactly what she’s doing.”
Yet even Parton, as Smarsh imagines it, has an adversary. Her adversary comes with pants suits and oxfords. She is educated, cool, urbane, fluent, and upper-middle class, contemptuous of a woman’s right to red nails and fancy duds. Yes, she is a feminist, marching and theorizing, looking down her horn-rimmed glasses at frivolous femininity, high hair, and corsets and such. At least, that is how Smarsh sees her. But resentment has never been part of the Parton ensemble, and one can sometimes feel that Smarsh is enlisting her in a battle she’s outlived.
Making reluctant feminists out of famous women tends to be a task more arduous than fruitful, but there’s no doubt Smarsh knows her subject intimately. In May, interviewed as part of a Time 100 event, Parton relented at last. “I suppose I am a feminist if I believe that women should be able to do anything they want to,” she said. That didn’t move the dial half as much as an interview published months later, featuring Parton’s support for the sentiment “Black lives matter.”
The work continues—certainly more effectual, if not louder, than the sound bites. Whenever Parton has returned to her home town, it has had the gravitational effect of a super-massive star, reconfiguring its economic landscape with a fortune enabled by her leaving. Parton gives generously and with heart. There are the many nonprofits that receive aid through the Dollywood Foundation, a philanthropy that shares a Zip Code with the Dollywood theme park, which itself was an outsized act of charity for her home town. Its projects include a twenty-five-year-old book-gifting program dear to Parton’s heart and an impromptu fund assisting families affected by the 2016 Smoky Mountain wildfires. At the time Smarsh wrote her book’s preface, dated March of this year, Parton hadn’t yet pledged anything toward the pandemic, but Smarsh was sure that she would, and Parton did—on April 2nd, she announced a donation of a million dollars to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, for research into coronavirus treatments. All this could be feminism, or whatever Parton wants it to be—giving, giving back, walking in God’s light. When she’s fixing to change course, I trust she’ll let us know."
— Jackson, L. M. (October 12, 2020). The United States of Dolly Parton. The New Yorker.