Posts Tagged 'film'

Badass Women & Soothing the Male Ego

                Since the (relatively) recent Lara Croft “attempted rape” fiasco at last year’s E3, I’ve been in a permanent state of rage. They’re taking a well-established, strong, wealthy, educated, sexy-but-owns-it female videogame character and insinuating that an (assumed male) audience wouldn’t want to play as her unless they felt protective of her after an attempted sexual assault.  Even if that wasn’t what Crystal Dynamics really meant; that’s sure what it looks like. So it’s taken me close to a year to be able to write anything about it.

                Not taking into account the fact that the entire games industry all but ignores female gamers, making Lara Croft into a vulnerable character basically just serves to ignite the “White Knight” syndrome in the (again, male) audience. As a female playing the game, I’d feel a lot more empathetic than sympathetic, and honestly it’ll just make me feel uncomfortable. Not to mention, do we really need to see the story of how Lara Croft became Tomb Raider? We’re not about to get a heartfelt and insightful prequel to the Duke Nukem franchise, are we?

                This representation of women isn’t isolated to this one instance, nor just the games industry. It’s the kind of attitude you get in comic books, films and even television to some extent, in which strong, formidable women have to be vulnerable in some way related to their gender in order for the ever-coveted male audience to accept their “masculine” traits of badass-ery. “In Batman: Year One”, for example, Catwoman is a somewhat damaged prostitute — so her mental and physical strength obviously come from years of having to stand up for herself on the streets. In “Kill Bill: Vol 1”, The Bride is both raped (whilst unconscious — passive female much?) and believes she has lost her unborn baby. These are obviously very exclusive experiences to the female experience. (I don’t know of any male equivalent who is a prostitute and/or gets raped and then just turns into a badass because of it — perhaps we need an “I Spit on Your Grave” spinoff?)

                Weirdly, even when male characters need a heartfelt backstory, it’s still the women who suffer. Frequently it is the character’s daughter/wife who is in some sort of peril and serves to provide the male character with some semblance of a plot. Take Max Payne’s back story for example, his wife and child are murdered, and it falls on his hypermasculine pride to “avenge” them and himself. This particular story is used a LOT in action movies as well — “Taken”, for example. Couldn’t Liam Neeson have been the victim of a sexual assault and then gone after the perpetrators? (The short answer here is no, because after “allowing” that violation to happen to him, other males wouldn’t want to empathise, nor would they take him seriously as a “strong” lead male character, as he has been “feminised” by the act. See how it works with the ladies now?)

                It basically boils down to either providing a male character with a reason to go up against other male characters and prove himself as the alpha, or reducing a strong female character to her most vulnerable moment in order to assure male viewers/players/readers that she is still definitely female, and their patriarchal power has never really been threatened. On top of that, these kinds of narratives imply that these women have been forced out of their femininity, and that had they been given the choice, they’d be back in the pink glitter default the rest of us apparently exist within. (No-one can just decide to take on some traditionally masculine traits apparently.)

                So I ask, where is our Duke Nukem? Where is our Jason Statham? WHERE THE FUCK IS OUR JUDGE DREDD?! It is a sad world we live in that after 19 years, one of the strongest women in new media just can’t be accepted until she lives in fear of male sexual violence like the rest of us.

For the women, by the women.

I’ve recently been watching a lot of films and TV made for women, but more importantly, made BY women. I always thought I couldn’t stand “womens tv” but I’ve realised that’s mostly when it’s made by men, or made to reinforce some sort of ideology for the benefit of men. The show that really caught me on this is BBC’s Call the Midwife, of which the second season is premiering with a Christmas Special next month on the 24th.

The creative team behind the TV show boasts a number of women at every stage of production. So although women are behind costume & makeup as usual, they are also responsible for editing, visual effects, camera and sound, as well as the majority female directors and producers. So although the show is by no means produced by an all-female workforce, it is definitely female-centric. Especially when you consider the subject matter, cast, and the fact that pretty much all other film and television is controlled by a very male-dominated population.

It’s so refreshing to watch a television show that is genuinely made FOR women, a TV show in which you are not made to feel uncomfortable because the narrative doesn’t stop every 10 minutes in order to showcase a bit of female flesh to reassure any men watching that although these women seem strong, they do still have their place. Although the women are midwives or housewives or prostitutes, the show manages to not stereotype them, and show them in an impartial light, that displays them as people rather than madonnas or whores. There’s also very few accounts of a woman sacrificing herself for “love”, which is usually the point at which I just turn off whatever it is I’m watching. The dismissal of any men in the audience also lets the humour run freely, allowing the female spectators to laugh at toilet humour, and treat men as playthings or sex objects, as so many of us do in reality – shock horror.

Speaking of crude humour, the 2011 film Hysteria by Tanya Wexler pretty much focuses on it. The story of how the first vibrator came to be invented is a pretty brilliant one, and personally, I think they should be screening this film in schools. The entire film is a wink and a nudge to the “myth” of female sexual pleasure, and I genuinely believe that aside from the love story the film centres around, there is nothing of women that men in general would recognise in this film. As the film industry tends to cater more towards men, the film doesn’t necessarily exclude men, but rather invites them to join protagonist Mortimer Granville on his journey to learn more about what it means to be a woman. Also, Maggie Gyllenhaal is amazing throughout.

Another industry that focuses pretty much wholly on men is that of stand-up comedy. Last night I watched Sarah Millican’s Chatterbox and she managed to really make me laugh as well as just generally cheering me up and making me feel better about myself. Woop. A lot of her comedy comes from acknowledging that a male audience is watching, but not really caring that they’re present. One male in the audience audibly recoils from the word “fanny” during her show, and she’s quick to pick up on it, asking “is it my fanny in particular that offends you, or is it all fannies?”

Really, I don’t know why there isn’t more media doing this. It’s not like the texts I’ve mentioned so far haven’t been popular or made a shitload of moolah, and it’s not like their corresponding industries don’t have plenty of women trying to break through. As far as I can tell, it’s the same old masculine hold on power that they really don’t feel like letting go of, and passing it off as avoiding risk.

You do also have to take into account the difference between the American film industry and the British television industry. Something so commercial as Hollywood is always going to play it safe, whereas the BBC is less reliant on attracting that apparently ever-lucrative male film audience. Plus it’s well known that if you want big numbers in television, you have to aim for the women. (Although I’m sure that’s the kind of thinking which has led to the X-Factor and How to Look Good Naked.)

I do have to mention that Hollywood is looking slightly better these days after the release of Bridesmaids in 2011, but with the What to Expect when you’re Expecting, Friends With Kids, The Five-Year Engagement etc bandwagon that followed I’m really not seeing anything that progressive. When films are made with a predominantly male crew, for a patriarchal industry, you’re still going to see women who look a certain way (with “comedic” tokenism, see Melissa McCarthy’s character in Bridesmaids) and are primarily concerned with (heterosexual) romance and being in constant competition with each other. Which really, is what they’d want us to be doing. Rather than owning the night like the women from Midwife, or finding our own sexual gratification as in Hysteria. Really, does the industry think men’s egos are that fragile?

P.S. This post was originally 7,000 words long. So it might seem a bit disjointed. Maybe I’ll do a thesis on it one day instead.


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