In Which Not Everything Is Sexist. Surprise!

Hello, all! I didn’t think I’d ever have to start off a post with a heartfelt goodbye for Alan Rickman, but then again, I didn’t think that Alan Rickman had cancer. What the hell, cancer? First David Bowie, then Alan Rickman? That’s not fair. That’s not right. The worst thing about the death of an iconic actor is that their movies are forever changed. I know that whenever I see Phillip Seymour Hoffman in a movie, I always feel a little prick of grief when I remember that he’ll never bring his talent to another project again. That’s how I’ll feel now every time  I watch the Harry Potter movies or Sense and Sensibility. A flash of joy when Alan Rickman appears upon the screen, followed by that horrible, horrible remembrance that he now only exists as a character in a movie. In that sense, he’s become immortal.

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RIP.

Now on to a different topic. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I love to write about movies and TV. That’s because I want to be in the industry someday, whether it’s writing, editing, or directing, I want to be there. As a reader, you might be thinking “well, it’s a long shot, kid, but it’s certainly possible.” I agree with you, reader. You’re reserved, but sensible. If you read any mainstream media,however, you might be thinking something different. According to sites like Huffington Post, Salon, Slate, Jezebel (otherwise known as the ninth rung of hell), The New York Times,  Washington Post, TIME, etc, it’s basically impossible to be a woman in Hollywood. In the words of  an article by Megan Angelo in Glamour magazine (which talks about this A LOT) “a quarter of behind the scenes television jobs, like director and producer–and a miserable 16 percent of film jobs–are held by women.”

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I don’t know what my reaction towards this type of information is supposed to be. Am I supposed to be shocked? Appalled? Outraged? Frankly, I’m annoyed. Not because women only hold a quarter of behind-the-scenes jobs, but because the media seems to think this is an enormous problem. Here’s how I see it: change, especially cultural change, arrives like a slow wind, not a tornado. We’re only just starting to see the feminist advancements of the 1970s and 1980s being implemented NOW in film and television, only after 40-30 years have passed. To expect women to hold 40-50 percent of jobs in Hollywood in 2016  is overly optimistic and naive. The world’s attitude towards women in the workforce is definitely changing, but it’s happening slowly, as a massive wave of change does, so the media needs to stop whining like petulant children and accept that instant gratification cannot be applied to a entire industry.

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Furthermore, these type of declarations might not have the intended effect. Imagine you’re a kid who dreams of joining the film industry. You’ve heard from multiple people how difficult it is to break into the industry, but you’re not deterred. Now imagine that you’re a girl and you’re being flooded with headlines about Hollywood’s impenetrable sexism and the industry’s non-existent positions for women. You might become discouraged, even resigned, to your future in the industry. With this information, you might start to think that fighting for your dream isn’t even possible against those odds. It’s ironic, but the very thing that’s keeping women out of Hollywood might be the fact that WOMEN are telling other WOMEN that they can’t do it, so why try?

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While we’re on this subject, let’s talk about some other ridiculous things, like the Bechdel test. I really don’t like the Bechdel test.  I wouldn’t even find it worth talking about except that it keeps popping up again and again in movie “analysis” (like the article I was reading in Glamour).  To pass the Bechdel Test, a movie must meet 3-4 requirements. There must be two women in the movie, they must have a conversation, and it must be about something other than a man. An optional condition is that the women must be named, but that seems pretty obvious to me. Half of these conditions are reasonable, but the other two, that two women must have a conversation and that it must be about something other than a man, are plain stupid. The problem is that the Bechdel test perpetuates the flawed narrative that movies represent real life. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: fictional media does NOT represent real life. Fictional media is primarily plot-driven. If the plot revolves around a man, then it makes sense for the women in that movie to talk about that man, because, you know, he’s the damn protagonist! It would be nonsensical to have a conversation about what Tricia from work said  or to talk about your mortgage  because those conversations are not essential to the plot.  And not to mention movies that only have a few characters, such as Ex Machina, which would fail the test because who is Ava supposed to talk to? Herself? That movie features a very empowered female character, but would fail the Bechdel test. I think the Bechdel test has some validity when it comes to the amount of women included in a movie, but I don’t think it’s a good indicator of how sexist a movie is.

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Lastly,  because this was also in that horrible article I read, we can discuss the “male gaze.” The “male gaze” is when women in film are shown as desirable objects instead of real characters. And there’s  no denying that is the case. Just take Alice Eve’s unecessary scene  in Star Trek: Into Darkness:

You could almost look at this as a satirical take on the “male gaze.” Alice Eve’s intelligent speech is interrupted by such exaggerated nudity that it’s like the director was saying “look how easily we can get your attention.” And in fact, Eve never misses a beat, showing that in this scene Kirk is the one who is supposed to feel embarrassed.

Objectification is still an issue in Hollywood, but I’d like to argue that the majority of objectification is being done in action/fluff movies, where the very genre relies on naked girls and explosions. That’s how that specific genre makes their money and to change that would be a Herculean effort. But I think that in other genres, like drama and even comedy, objectification has lessened, or at least is now acknowledged as wrong and dehumanizing. A movie  such as the Wolf of Wall Street, where Margot Robbie is literally a walking sex stick , is self-aware enough to acknowledge its reliance on objectification and portray it in a negative light. If you’re watching the scene where Margot pushes Leonardo Dicaprio away with a stiletto and thinking “yes, this is the right way to interact with a woman,” then you’re missing the point.

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Marriage lessons 101 right here

Besides, when is personal choice factored into the “male gaze?” When you say that women are being objectified in movies, you remove that agency that women have to use their beauty as a means of power. Oh, women use their beauty to manipulate, you say? Quelle surprise!!! Even in The Wolf of Wall Street, Margot Robbie is not portrayed as a sex-pot merely for the hell of it. That’s her means of power, her means of controlling a man like Jordan Belfort, and that’s just as legitimate as her winning him over with her smarts. Seriously, why is there the stigma of sexpots? Are female characters now only to be prized for their conversation and eloquent thoughts? That’s not the way the world works. Anyone who says that women don’t rely on their looks to get ahead, even if it’s not a primary factor in achievement, is lying. And anyone who would say that a handsome man wouldn’t do the same thing is lying too.

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Leo was a pretty boy first

According to Google, there is no such thing as a “female gaze,” or at least not in the same way there is a “male gaze.” When female directors implement the “female gaze,” they use it as a way of showing the female presence and point-of-view, not as a means of objectification. Alright, sure. But just because female directors don’t objectify men doesn’t mean that they aren’t objectified; you can look at any teen movie whose primary audience is female to see evidence of that. Shirtless, god-like boys are the primary focus of the majority of plots.

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Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging
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Same film
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The DUFF
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One of the Twilights
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Beastly
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John Tucker Must Die

The list could could go on for ages, but I don’t want to fill up my blog post with any more shirtless men. But as you can see, these movies are directed solely at girls between the ages of 11-16 (I’m guessing, not sure the exact demographic of teen movies). They’re teaching girls at a very young age that boys are sex objects too. Because to be honest, male characters in female-driven teen movies (which almost all of them are) are not well developed. They’re prizes; buff, shiny prizes. They’re objectified just as much as women in action movies, but these movies are directed by men. So why do they objectify their own gender? Perhaps because they (rightly) think that women and girls like to see scantily-clad men, just as much as men like to scantily-clad women.

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Another interesting point is that the presence of shirtless men onscreen has grown significantly since the ascendance of women’s societal standing. If you look at films in the 50s and 60s, the men are never shirtless and NEVER nude (this pertains mainly to American films because European films have always featured more nudity) . Women, however, started appearing nude in the thirties (though that became banned) and then more often in the 60s. But men were really never nude until the 70s, when the feminist movement was really kicking off. Since then, men have become increasingly more muscular and hairless and they’ve become more and more shirtless.

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Look at a young Robert Redford. While he has an athletic physique, he looks nothing like the A-List male stars of today.

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Chris Pratt
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A young Donald Sutherland in Don’t Look Now
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Daniel Craig

So, what happened? Why are men more muscular, more hairless, and more nude than before? To some, it might be a reaction towards a strong societal position for women (i.e show dominance by physical prowess), or it could simply be a product of what women want to see in a movie. Either way, it shows that women have a lot more power in Hollywood, and a lot stronger “gaze” than the media tells us we do.

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P.S

You know it’s January when every movie on Rotten Tomatoes is certified Rotten. At least we have The Revenant to keep us going. And some good horror movies, hopefully.

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