Fall Movie Preview: Insidious misogyny in ‘Gone Girl’

I haven’t seen the movie “Gone Girl,” and neither have you as it’s hitting theaters on October 3, though I did read the book this summer. I was horrified by the misogyny woven through the narrative. Perhaps I was so surprised by the sexism because the only controversy I’d heard of before I read the book was that people didn’t like the ending. I did like the ending. I’ll tell you why, and also go into the plot points of “Gone Girl” but before I do, consider yourself warned: spoilers will be in this post. If you’re going to read Gone Girl— and it is, like so many sexist books I critique, well written and well plotted, I’m talking about technique here– you may not want to proceed much further, except, perhaps, to take a look at this cover of Entertainment Weekly. There you see Amy, the protagonist of “Gone Girl,” shown as a “beautiful” female corpse, a trope Anita Sarkeesian dissects in her latest video: Women as Background Decoration: Part 2 – Tropes vs Women in Video Games. This image of the dead, sexualized female body is, quite literally, everywhere in popular culture. After you check out this cover, I want you to know just one more thing.

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My final comment to those who don’t want spoilers: I have absolutely no problem with women not being “likeable” characters. I want that. I was so excited when I read the comment by the excellent writer Claire Messud who, when asked about her protagonist by Publisher’s Weekly (I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora, would you? Her outlook is almost unbearably grim”) responded:

For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Antigone? Raskolnikov? Any of the characters in The Corrections? Any of the characters in Infinite Jest? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? Or Martin Amis? Or Orhan Pamuk? Or Alice Munro, for that matter? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t “is this a potential friend for me?” but “is this character alive?”

 

Get that, people? Is this character alive?

OK, moving on to spoilers, if you don’t want them, it’s time to leave.

It turns out that the protagonist of Gone Girl, Amy Dunne (played in the movie by Rosemund Pike) fakes her own rape, pregnancy, stalking, beatings, and murder. That’s right, Amy goes through a veritable list of practically every act/ crime that a wicked and conniving (are men ever conniving?) woman can manipulate. While Amy fakes her victimhood, her husband, Nick, played in the movie by Ben Affleck, is falsely accused of killing his pregnant wife. Why, you ask, is Amy motivated to be so awful? She’s a woman scorned, of course, who discovered her husband’s affair with his student.

Here’s one passage describing Amy’s fakery:

I took a wine bottle, and I abused myself with it every day, so the inside of my vagina looked…right. Right for a rape victim. Then today I let him have sex with me so I had his semen…

That particular scene, by the way, refers to another man Amy is setting up, not her husband.

Here’s the problem, and once again, it’s not that Amy is a villain or unlikeable.

In the USA 20 percent of women, 1 in 5, report experiencing rape or attempted rape. The Department of Justice estimates that 60 percent of rapes go unreported. As for false accusations of rape, the FBI estimates that 1-2 percent of claims are fake. Here’s another important fact about false accusation: A 2002 survey of male and female college students shows that they believe a woman lies in 50 percent of reported rape cases. “Gone Girl” perpetuates the popular narrative that rape isn’t real and isn’t happening, that women lie, and falsely accused men are the real victims.

But Gone Girl is fiction not fact, you say. Why am I listing stats here? Am I trying, once again, to censor artists with my PC beliefs? Surely Amy’s story can fall into the 1- 2% of women who falsely accuse men of rape. This is a free country.

This is also a country where Washington Post columnist George Will, a man known as the “most powerful journalist in America” recently wrote that being a rape survivor is “a coveted status.” When others challenged Will that rape is not, in fact, something women want, the conservative group, Women’s Independent Forum called a conference “Rape Culture and Sexual Assault,” putting out this press release:

The White House has embraced the statistic that 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted while in college…The White House has released its “first ever report” on the issue and are using it to push their policy agenda…But many question the validity of the White House’s one-in-five statistic, even as those who challenge this figure are silenced as being uncaring about women…The IWF takes any accusation of sexual assault very seriously. But we are concerned that there is a potentially harmful hysteria developing about this issue. Where does this come from? Where is it going? And who will be harmed?

Lucky for us, Gone Girl answers every single one of the IWF’s (hysterical) questions: Where does it come from? In Gone Girl, overachieving Harvard grad, Amy Dunne, was used but never truly loved by her egotistical writer parents. They penned a best-selling YA series based on their daughter. Where is it going? Female anger and, yes, hysteria, not to mention jealousy, vindictiveness, and aging, leads to violence. Who will be harmed? Nick, of course, innocent men in America who are falsely accused, lied to, manipulated, and victimized by the scorned, bitter women in their lives.

Yes, Of course Gillian Flynn can write about whatever she pleases, but I find it sadly ironic that when I argue for more diverse stories to permeate our popular culture, a culture where people believe that 50% of rape accusations are false, a culture where stories of rape remain secret to the point that the media hides names and identities of survivors, a media dominated by the same old trope ridden narrative, that I am the one who’s accused of stifling creativity. Gone Girl is a best-selling book about to be blockbuster movie that will help to perpetuate  the myth/ story that rape and violence against women is not epidemic but mostly exists in our imagination.

By the way, the end of the book, you know why people don’t like it? Because Amy ends up OK. She and Nick get back together, they’re going to have a baby. (Pregnant for real this time, she stole his sperm.) Apparently, the no punishment-for-Amy-finale is so unpopular that the director changed the ending to make it more of crowdpleaser.

I’ll leave you with some facts about domestic violence in the USA from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence):

One in four women (25%) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime.

 

85% of domestic violence victims are women.

 

Nearly three out of four (74%) of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.

 

Domestic violence is one of the most chronically under reported crimes.

 

Only approximately one-quarter of all physical assaults, one-fifth of all rapes, and one-half of all stalkings perpetuated against females by intimate partners are reported to the police.

 

On average, more than three women are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day.

 

 Reel Girl rates Gone Girl ***SSS*** for gender stereotyping

After I read Gone Girl, I searched the internet about the book’s misogyny, here are some interesting posts

 

The Misogynistic Portrayal of Villainy in Gone Girl

Is GONE GIRL a Misogynist Novel?

14 thoughts on “Fall Movie Preview: Insidious misogyny in ‘Gone Girl’

  1. Thank you so much for your post !
    I’m french and “Gone girl” is released by now, in october. I didn’t know it was a book first, I didn’t know anything about the movie just the critics were ecstatic about it.
    I really like Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck, so I went to the movie theater, ready to see a good movie.
    And I was terribly disappointed, and shocked…really shocked. This movie is misogynistic, so violent against women ! I almost cried at the end…The fake rape, the fake violence accusation, the pregnancy….The message of “Gone girl” is terrible. It tell us men are the victim, and women the liers.

    • Hi Mary Alice,

      I am so offended by this movie, I’m STILL blogging about it. I cannot believe what the movies’ defenders are saying, so warped it’s like through the looking glass, check out my latest posts.
      Thanks for your comment.

      Margot

  2. I found Gone Girl rather reminiscent of Rebecca by Daphne du Marier. Both involve reflections upon marriage and a woman who seems perfect but then the cracks begin to see.
    There is something compulsive about Flynn’s writing style. I remember staying up till 2am reading Sharp Objects yet deciding it was a terrible book.

    As to the commenter wittering on about how disliking a novel means you are unintelligent and just don’t understand it. Nonsense.
    It’s fine to dislike something as long as you can articulate your reasons. Anyway, Flynn’s a popular thriller writer with excellent cover art. She’s not exactly Nabkov.

  3. You have many valid points. However, in this particular book, I believe you missed the point. Amy (main female character) is a sociopath. Gillian Flynn wrote her character brilliantly and accurately. Luckily for you, the fact that you didn’t recognize the sociopathy of this character means you probably haven’t had any personal experience with a sociopath yourself. I have. Once you have, you are unlikely to miss the signs again. I literally got chills the instant I realized (while reading the book) that Amy was a sociopath and that Gillian Flynn must have known one well at some point.

  4. While all of your stastics are correct, the one you failed to cite is that as much as 10% of the population has antisocial personality disorder (sociopathic) behaviors or tendencies. I read gone girl as a fascinating narrative on how concealed and/undiagnosed mental illness can effect those around the mentally ill person. Amy is truly a sociopath of the most disturbing kind…the one who has no care what the implications of faking abuse have on anyone…the person who has no feelings for anyone but can fake all feelings incredibly well. She is not a woman, she is a monster.

    And thanks for warning me about the ending change: I shan’t be watching to movie now. The most disturbing aspect of the whole story is someone with such a severe mental illness continuing to walk the streets, to raise a child, to have a “relationship” with her husband. And it happens more often than people want to believe.

    • I just saw the movie and the ending hasn’t been changed that much from what you’ve described. I haven’t read the book, but in the movie though the husband is now fully aware of who she is, he is fairly powerless to stop it and goes along with her story at the end, and it’s implied that he keeps up the facade of their relationship too, at least he intends to for the 18 years it takes to raise their child. His sister knows and is there for him, but she’s the only one in his support network. He’s definitely biding his time and seeing if he can get out of it, but this seems fairly hopeless. Other than his sister and him, the head detective and his lawyer, everyone seems to believe her innocent. And even the detective, the most likely to have the power to help, is powerless since the FBI has taken the case and believes Amy’s version of events.

      I haven’t read the book but I think I had that same experience of a really interesting story about a psychopath when I watched the movie as you did reading the book.

  5. Messages, both active and passive, in popular media and politics, advance the idea that women empower themselves through false and exaggerated criticism of men’s actions. Sweeping ideas embodied in small works such as books, movies, and political speeches, have a negative effect on our society. Gone Girl is just one example.
    I met a military man who told me that women don’t belong in the military because *so many* of them falsely accuse their superiors of sexual harassment, “just for the attention”. I said, the fact is that there are very few per capita false accusations. But since *so many* men per capita in the military rape – military and civilian, women and men, adults and juveniles – does that make 100% of them rapists?
    A study by the VA, cited in a 12/9/11 article in The Guardian, estimated “that one in three women had experience of military sexual trauma while on active service”. Because they are often slut-shamed and/or punished, victims often don’t report the crimes.

  6. Great post. I’m not sure of the actual statistic, but it’s also worth noting that not only is the actual percentage of false rape claims incredibly small, most of that incredibly small percentage do not consist of false allegations. That is, some women falsely report being raped, but rarely do those false reports actually allege anyone as the responsible party–they’re made apparently due to mental illness or cry for help/attention, and do not name perpetrators.

  7. you shouldn’t be proud of being unable to understand even a “dark comedy camouflaged as domestic thriller” like this.
    your article is so unintelligent, that it is almost unbelievable.

      • I don’t even try to persuade you that you don’t, or that this post does’t even make sense.
        this is a story of a typical middle-class marriage, taken satirically to the extremes, and yes, in this case, the woman is the villain, while in many cases the man, this is not a problem, there are evil men, evil women, they do horrible things, it is comletely normal in a crime story.

        it is possible that most people do not understand it’s irony, do not understand why the ending is not different, but if so, that means simply that most people even in the US are unable to think, perhaps even less able than people in europe. but that is not G Flynn’s fault, blame society, education, parents, etc.

  8. UGH, that’s what this story is about? You’re right, even shows I liked, like True Blood, perpetuate myths about women faking victimhood. A LOT of people aren’t really distinguishing fantasy from reality. I don’t know that we can blame Gillian Flynn for this… the book was a huge success because people eat this crap up. That passage you quoted about how she mutilated her lady parts for revenge was so chilling. This reminds me of that Nicole Kidman movie in which she would do anything to get famous. I saw it back in the day when I thought I wanted to see/know everything, but these days I vote with my dollar for the kind of entertainment I want to support (the kind that promotes positive messages or educates, instead of this kind of salacious garbage). I won’t be reading this book or seeing this film.

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