Groups advocating for boy empowerment and claiming sexism have been asking Hollywood to make more movies with strong male protagonists, but after the financial failure of “Pan,” it’s obvious that movies starring boys aren’t profitable.
A Warner Sisters spokesperson tells Reel Girl, “Unfortunately, while both boys and girls want to see movies starring girls, only boys are interested in stories about boys.”
Perhaps “Pan” went too far trying to please special interest groups who want more male characters in movies. Female characters are left out of “Pan” almost completely. In one scene, Blackbeard, the male villain, who commands a boat of all male pirates, addresses thousands of all male orphan-slaves, saying his audience belongs to “every race, creed, and color, every age and era.” He never mentions females aren’t represented in the crowd at all.
While the movie does feature Tiger Lily, a white woman playing a Native American inspired role, one major female speaking part apparently isn’t enough to bring girls in to see the movie. Warner Sisters will be sticking to mostly female casts in the future: “It comes down to dollars.”
Reel Girl rates Pan ***SS*** for Gender Stereotyping.
Please don’t comment to me about how Tiger Lily or Peter’s mother (who has about two lines) are feminist characters. They represent typical Minority Feisty, a trope seen in almost every children’s movie made today where there will one, two, or three (a minority of) “strong female characters” so we’re somehow not supposed to notice that all others in the movie, including the protagonist of his eponymous movie, are male.
In case you didn’t get it, the point of this post is that movies starring males and directed by males fail all the time, but unlike with female stars or directors, the inability to bring in money is never attributed to gender.
Thank you for your brilliant comment, Maya. So sorry you have to grow up in a culture that is so horrifyingly sexist, but your imagination will continue to protect you. Your costume sounds great! Please send me a pic of you on Halloween. And you can call me Margot : )
Dear Mrs. Magowan:
My name is Maya, and I am an eleven-year-old girl. I am a big fan of Star Wars, and having read your blog for a long time, I am fully aware of the sexism in the movies. I could go on for hours about Princess Leia, Padme Amidala, the sparse females, and their sexual objectification (such as in Leia’s metal bikini), and I thank you for bringing attention to that issue.
Yesterday, my mom and I were browsing the website of Five Below and saw a very cool Star Wars T-shirt with pictures of many of the iconic characters, such as Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Darth Vader, and R2-D2. I was psyched looking at the shirt, until I realized something. “Where’s Princess Leia?” She was one of the main characters of the series, in addition to being the ONLY female. She needed representation. So on a shirt dominated by males, where the heck was she? I had the same problem when we were looking for Star Wars shirts at Wal-Mart. One of them had Star Wars characters in 8-bit pixelization. It was a really cool and fun shirt, but it had the same problem: although it depicted Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Stormtroopers, and even R2-D2, Leia – the only female character (and a totally kickbutt one at that, a perfect role model for girls AND boys) – was nowhere to be found.
Females need representation, in both girls’ AND boys’ merchandise, to show BOTH genders that in the world of fantasy, both males and females can do amazing things. So even if it IS a “boys’ shirt,” that’s no excuse for Princess Leia not to be there. I’m so glad Target realizes this, by showing Star Wars fans of both genders playing together. That advertisement sends the perfect message, and I’m grateful to Target for doing so. I would also like to thank you, Mrs. Magowan, for blogging about it and spreading the word to even more people.
I also have one more thing to share with you. Since I love Star Wars so much, I am probably going to dress in a Star Wars-themed costume for Halloween. The problem is, girls don’t have many options for Star Wars Halloween costumes. Boys have tons of Jedi, Sith, aliens, rebels, troopers, and even droids to choose from. Girls have Leia, Padme, Hera and Sabine from “Rebels,” and Ahsoka from “The Clone Wars.” That’s it. And although Padme practically has a new costume in every scene change and Leia’s wardrobe is nothing to sneeze at either, that is still very few options compared to the boys. Don’t fault the girls for that; fault the makers of Star Wars, for giving them so few choices in a franchise girls can love just as much as boys.
Even worse, my mother and I were browsing Star Wars costumes on the Internet, and almost every female costume for adults that we saw was SEXY. For every Darth Vader costume for males, there was a Sexy Sabine or Sexy Leia costume in revealing dresses that they were NEVER portrayed as wearing in the movies…or, even worse, a Sexy Darth Vader, complete with skintight “armor” and a miniskirt. Boys could have actual costumes that were actually relevant, true to the movies, heroic-looking, and covered them up well. If they were real heroes, they would be able to move, fight, and win in the outfits. Girls’ costumes needed to be sexy, skintight, and disturbingly explicit. There would be no way they would be able to move around or fight in those costumes, let alone do anything but LOOK pretty. The boys looked like heroes. The girls looked like objects for the boys to win. (On another note, wouldn’t people who wore those costumes be cold on Halloween? I mean, it’s an autumn night at the end of October. It’s going to be cold. People need to be covered up and warm, and sexy costumes are disturbingly impractical.) I decided to dress as a Jedi for Halloween. Since so many people were going to dress as human Jedi, I decided to do something different and go as an alien Jedi – a Twi’lek, which is the alien race of Hera from “Rebels”. We were browsing pictures of Twi’leks online, and all of the shown pictures looked disturbingly sexy and explicit – anorexic, supermodel-looking extraterrestrials with impossibly large breasts and barely anything to hide their privates. We had to look and look to find a picture of a Twi’lek that was actually well-covered-up, in cool Jedi robes, that actually looked appropriate. That is what I’m going as for Halloween. Interestingly, all the male Twi’leks were muscular, heroic, and not explicit at all. Hmm…I wonder why?
In conclusion, I would like to thank you for starting up this blog and making the sexism that plagues our society known to the world, especially in the fantasy inhabited by kids. When we are children, our minds are most vulnerable and open to new ideas, and when marketers shape those minds with sexism, that is a terrible thing. Thank you for helping make those ideas known to society and doing your part to eradicate sexism, empower women, and ultimately, lead to true gender equality.
After Warriors MVP Stephen Curry showed up at the post game press conference with his 2 year old daughter, Riley, I became a Warriors fan. Curry is showing the world that he’s a basketball star and a dad, He’s multitasking, something moms are more known for. (Women are “naturally” better at doing several things at once, right?)
Last week, Riley joined her father in a press conference, and some thought she stole the show. I thought it was beautiful, and I wouldn’t change a thing. There can be more than 50 people and 10 cameras—not counting camera phones—in the room during press conferences, so it can be overwhelming. But my husband handled his duties on the podium with ease and class. And my daughter was who she is—vibrant, spunky, and full of life. I hope she carries this with her through adulthood.
Stephen attends practice every day, and gives his all during the games on an almost-nightly basis. When that’s over, all he wants is to see his family, and on the day of that press conference, our daughter wanted to be with her father. I thought it was beautiful for him not to push his daddy duties to the bottom of the list just because all eyes were on him. I believe you should let your children be children, and don’t be afraid to be a parent, regardless of who’s watching.
Family matters! Our children matter! At the end of the day, when all the lights dim, and the cameras are gone, we are still here as his biggest, loudest, and most supportive cheerleaders. We are also extremely proud that in spite of some criticism, Riley was able to share in that experience with her father and bring joy and laughter into the lives and homes of many all over the world.
I’ve blogged endlessly about how the public prefers that girls are seen and not heard. We like our girl children “quiet” and “well behaved.” We will tolerate “boy energy”– boys wrestling, yelling, or clowning around– because that’s “natural,” it’s just how boys are. What’s “natural” for girls? They’re “artsy” and “verbal.” Girls prefer quiet activities like writing, reading and making pictures, they’re just better at that stuff than boys are.
Those stereotypes are bullshit. I don’t know how to be more clear. They have everything to do with sexism and nothing to do with reality. The question I’ve asked often on Reel Girl is this: If females are artsy and verbal, why throughout human history, are the “great” artists and writers mostly men? The answer by the way, is more sexism of course. It’s OK for girls to be good at art and writing as long as there is no power, money, or status involved.
Quiet kids can be easier to be around. I get it. My three daughters are loud. They are active, play instruments, and sometimes yell. I enjoy silence and solitude, and sometimes my family is challenging for me. Did I mention my husband is a drummer? On occasions, I do validate my kids behavior simply because that’s what I need. When I give my daughters positive affirmation for being quiet and negative for being loud, it’s important to realize I’m doing this for me, I’m valuing my kids and training my kids to act in a way that is useful to me, not because its their “true nature.” My goal is to let my kids be kids. They have their whole lives to be grown-ups, though like Ayesha Curry writes, I hope they never learn to stay quiet to make other people comfortable. (I’m not talking about misbehaving in restaurants, obviously.)
“Book of Life” is so retro-sexist, if I weren’t with my kids, I would’ve walked out. Instead, I sat there in the theater with my mouth hanging open, trying to focus on the movie’s dazzling animation instead of the cliched plot.
Manolo, the protagonist of the movie is a bullfighter/ musician. He competes with his rival, Joaquin, a war hero, to marry Maria who is the prize to be won. That’s right, in 2014 children are shown a movie where the female’s role in the narrative is to be a trophy. Typically, as in most contemporary animation, “the girl” actually has a personality! Maria is educated, she likes to read and she likes art. Isn’t that great, parents? Maria is a smart prize. She can fence too, which she gets to do for about 2 minutes of the movie.
“Book of Life” is inspired by Mexico’s Day of the Dead, art I love and used to collect. The characters and scenery are so gorgeously colorful, I tried hard to overlook the sexism. The point where I didn’t think I could take anymore came when Joaquin is at a party with Maria by his side. He is going on and on about himself and Maria mocks him, “I bet you want a wife who can just cook and clean.” She walks away in a huff. At this point, Joaquin’s buddy comments: “Oh, she’s a feisty one!” If you read Reel Girl, you know I use the term “Minority Feisty” to describe the fake feminism that crops up in almost every animated movie made for kids:
If you see an animated film today, it’s likely to include a token strong female character or two who reviewers will call “feisty.” In “How to Train Your Dragon,” Astrid; in “Toy Story,” Jessie; in “Ratatouille,” Colette. She’s supposed to make us feel like the movie is contemporary and feminist, unlike those sexist films of yesteryear.
The problem is that because Pixar or Disney has so magnanimously thrown in this “feisty” female (who may even have some commentary about sexism or male domination) we’re no longer supposed to care that almost all of the other characters in the film are male, including the star who the movie is often titled for and usually his best buddy as well. The crowd scenes in the film are also made up of mostly males.
“Feisty” isn’t a word that describes someone with real power, but someone who plays at being powerful. Would you ever call Superman “feisty?” How would he feel if you did?
The Smurfette Principle has evolved into the Minority Feisty. Now instead of a “token” female in a children’s movie, we may see a few females sprinkled around, a “minority” of them. Parents, the next time you watch a children’s movie, try not to let the Minority Feisty population distract you from the limitations female characters are almost always forced into. Ask yourself: Is the female the protagonist in this film? Does the narrative revolve around her quest? Or is she there to (play a crucial role in) helping the male star achieve his goal/ dream?
At the end of the movie, there is a wedding. I’m not going to call that information a spoiler. After the ceremony, Maria is referred to as “Mrs Sanchez.” She has no quest. Instead, “Book of Life” ticks off gender tropes to become the most sexist children’s movie of 2014.
Susan Schrivjer, the Florida mom who started the petition against Toys R Us for selling “Breaking Bad” toys to adults, tells CNN, “Kids mimic their action figures, if you will. Do you want your child in an orange jumpsuit?”
Toys R Us banned the toy almost immediately after Schrivjer started her protest, so I want to know: Do we all finally agree that kids imitate their toys? And if we do, why are toy stores selling half-dressed, belly-baring, high heel wearing sexualized figures to little kids?
When Melissa Wardy, founder of Pigtail Pals saw this backpack on a first grader, she blogged:
Try this test: If the image can be lifted from the child’s toy/backpack/t-shirt and placed on the billboard for a strip club and not look out of place, then things are seriously fucked.
Wardy, myself, organizations like Let Toys Be Toys for Girls and Boys, and parents have created and signed petition after petition about sexism, only to be ignored in the USA. After shopping at Toys R Us, one mom wanted to know why Slave Leia was the only available Leia. Jezebel reports:
Over the weekend we received a tip from a concerned mother who had come across something very disconcerting while perusing the aisles of Toys R Us. Apparently the only available toy or figurine of the Star Wars character Princess Leia is of her in the “Slave Outfit” from Return of the Jedi. Bikini? Check. Loin cloth? Check. Chain around the neck? Check. And in case you were wondering if it was actually geared towards children, it’s listed for kids ages 4+….This is a perfect and heart-breaking example of how ingrained sexism is in geek culture. It’s not like there’s a Chewbacca toy in a banana hammock.
Wait, so @ToysRUs pulled all of the Breaking Bad figures from their shelves and still sells Barbie? Hmmmm…I wonder what is more damaging
The more we all rail against “Breaking Bad” toys, the more we ignore the sexism and affirm it as normal. It is shocking to me, as a mom of 3 young daughters, that sexism in kidworld is accepted so completely. And this acceptance goes beyond toys to media, which of course loops back to inpsire more toys. In Disney’s movie “Planes,” the fast plane, the hero of the movie, mocks the slower planes for being girly.
Plane One: What’s taking this guy so long? Is he really as good as he says he is?
Plane Two: No, better.
Plane One: Whoa! Who was that?
Plane Three: (Descending fast on top of the other two) Well, hello ladies. Ready to lose?
Plane Three goes on to leave the “ladies” in the dust.
As with the toys, this kind of sexism in movies for children is typical. In “Madagascar 3” a scene features a male penguin mocking other male penguins, “You pillow fight like a bunch of little girls.”
As with “Planes” this sexist scene is so hysterical, it’s the one chosen for the preview.
“When the worst thing we say to a boy in sports is that he throws ‘like a girl,’ we teach boys to disrespect the feminine and disrespect women. That’s the cultural undercurrent of rape…It’s not DNA we’re up against; it’s movies, manners and a set of mores, magnified in the worlds of the military and sports, that assign different roles and different worth to men and women. Fix that culture and we can keep women a whole lot safer.
I want Toys R Us– and parents– to know that it is far more damaging to sell sexist toys to kids than to sell Jesse to adults. The Florida mom asked CNN if we’d prefer our kids in orange jumpsuits. I’d like to reply with this story. A while back my 4 year old daughter was looking through a magazine, and she saw an ad for “Orange is the New Black.” She cried out, grinning, “Look Mama, so many girls!” It’s that rare for her to see an image of a group of women together in the media, no belly buttons, no cleavage, and also, by the way, not all white. She was so excited, she wanted to be in a picture with them, so I took this.
Does my daughter know these women are playing convicts? Nope. Would I allow her to watch the show? Of course not. If I saw “Orange is the New Black” action figures sold at “Toys R Us” would I buy them for her? Absolutely, because Florida mom, I’d rather see my 4 year old in an orange jumpsuit than thigh high boots.
From the first time I saw FCKH8’s video, I really liked it. Perhaps, I’m a fan because of bias. When I started my blog, Reel Girl, I wrote on my “About” page:
One more reason I started Reel Girl– our movie rating system, and the values associated with that rating system, is totally messed up. So many G movies perpetuate the absolute worst kinds of gender stereotypes, yet they are supposedly “for kids.” In my opinion, this kind of repetitive imagery is way more dangerous for children than hearing the word “shit.”
“Cinderella” and all of its endless, infinite adaptations and reincarnations, in my opinion is bad for kids. “Whale Rider” in spite of swearing and drug use is good for kids. Simple concept, yet so hard to convince people of it, that I write and write and write. When I watched the FCKH8 video, I felt like: YES, this is the point I’ve been trying to make: Pay inequity is way more offensive than the word fuck. The video shows what I’ve been trying to tell. It is art. And unlike many writers out there, I am THRILLED when I see my idea coming from someone else as well because it makes me feel like I’m not crazy, like people ‘get it.’ Furthermore, I realize that in order for the world to change, people other than me have to ‘get it.’ If it’s just me with my ‘original’ idea that I’m going for, all I have is my ego, and that is a lonely, static, boring place to be plus nothing much changes at all.
So perhaps, I thought, when I read comments against the FCKH8 video by my brilliant colleagues including founder of Pigtail Pals Melissa Wardy, author of The Princess ProblemRebecca Hains, and author of Her Next Chapter Lori Day, I’m just being selfish here. I’m not thinking about the kids having no idea what they’re saying (and I do believe these girls are too young to understand what they’re talking about.) Perhaps I’m so happy not be so isolated with my vision, I’m blind to the exploitation, hypocritically exploitation I’m trying to prevent.
But after thinking this through, I still like the video. As I wrote, I agree the kids don’t understand what they are saying, this is a job for them. I never thought the kids in the ad were not acting or not reciting lines, and I don’t think the video’s intention is to make viewers assume that. So the question is: Does the ignorance of the kids make the video exploitative? My answer is still no, unless all child actors from the ones in sitcoms who speak in language far beyond their years to any commercial, all who often don’t understand what they are saying, are exploited.
The next question I asked myself: Is the FCKH8 ad exploiting girls because it’s using them to sell a product?
During the World Series last night and the night before, my family and I saw teen baseball star Mo’ne Davis in a Chevy ad. I thought the ad was beautiful. In the ad, Mo’ne says, “I throw 70 miles an hour. That’s throwing like a girl.” Millions of families saw her throw in a mini-movie and heard that line while watching the World Series. We also saw a Mazda ad with Mia Hamm, and my 11 year old, who is a fan of Hamm, said, “Why is she selling cars?” To which I responded, “It’s either her or a male athlete. I’d rather see Mia.” I want to see the images of powerful girls used to sell things, from toys to movies to clothing. These kids are not being exploited because they are being used to sell a product.
The slogans found on the FCKH8 t-shirts were appropriated from other feminist nonprofits. For example, the Feminist Majority Foundation has been selling “This is what a feminist looks like” tees since at least the mid-1990s. So despite their promises to support charities with their t-shirt sales, FCKH8 is actually siphoning money away from feminist charities by stealing their ideas.
Furthermore, quality charities have refused to take FCKH8’s money in the past, because FCKH8 is incredibly problematic. They’ve been accused widely of being transphobic (as a quick google search will show), and their anti-racist work is of dubious merit. For example, their response to Ferguson raised so much ire in the anti-racist community that Race Forward—one of the charities originally listed on FCKH8’s page—announced publicly that they were refusing donations from the company.
So to those who are saying that FCKH8 is a company that’s doing it’s best to promote social justice, and we should cut them some slack? No FCKHing way.
I agree stealing a slogan from non-profits is not ethical. I also didn’t know about using the Ferguson tragedy to sell T shirts. FCKH8 sounds like a company with a bad history. But learning this history doesn’t change how I feel about the video. I still like the video. I still like that the video is going viral and, just like the Mo’ne ad, spreading important slogans out into the world:
* Pay inequality. Women are paid 23% less than men for the exact same fucking work.
*Women who graduate university with straight A’s get paid only as much as men who graduated with C’s.
* 1 out of every 5 women will be sexually assaulted or raped by a man
* Stop telling girls how to dress and start teaching boys not to fucking rape
*We’re glad a women’s right to vote is here, but equality is messed up. It’s walking to the car without fear.
* Pretty is a compliment but here’s how the focus works to girls detriment. Society teaching girls that our body, boobs, and butt are more important than our brains leads us to thinking our worth comes from our waistline. My aspirations in life should not be worrying about the shape of my ass so fuck focusing on how I look and give me a book.
*Instead of cleaning these girls mouths out with soap, maybe society should clean up its act.
*Near the end of the ad, there is a boy in a dress. “When you tell a boy it’s bad to act like a girl it’s because you think its bad to be a girl.”
These are messages I work hard every day to promote, and I believe the ideas are presented in this video in a simple, convincing way, easy for adults– yes, adults– to understand.
Rebecca posts comments on her blog from people who are offended that these young girls spoke of rape and assault. I agree that part is disconcerting, and it is for this reason, I chose not to show the video to my 11 year old daughter who I have yet to tell about rape. That said, I’ve blogged about books for kids that deal with rape, incest, and assault wondering what age is appropriate for these stories. The answer I always get is that it depends on the kid. I want to be the first one to tell my kid about rape, sexual assault, pornography, incest, drugs etc. I don’t want her learning about these issues for the first time from books or movies or other kids. When I’ve written about these kinds of books on my blog, kids and parents have written back that their young kid does know about porn or rape based on experiences that they’ve had– talking to other kids, what they’ve seen, or instances in their own life. Now that they do know, it is important and beneficial for the kid to be able to read literature about it. Here’s one comment that I got when I wrote about Graceling:
Based on the brief snippets of content she saw, I had to not only have “the talk”, but also explain a LOT of things I never thought I’d have to address at that age. Because of this, conversely, she is now very educated on both sex, misogyny, and rape/assault/child abuse. Therefore, I think these books that are written about very serious issues — but in the comprehension style of a young person who can find the characters identifiable — is a great source of information…I have not read these books to endorse them, but now I am interested and will be checking them out at the library. Thank you.
My point is that I don’t think it’s fair to make a blanket statement that little kids should not refer to rape or assault in a video when in the real world, kids see and experience these things every day.
One more thing: As far as the video not having a trigger warning, I don’t post trigger warnings on my blog ever. My whole blog is a trigger. Everyone is unique, and I think it’s impossible to make some kind of assumption about what will trigger readers.
If for some reason you haven’t come across the video, you can watch it here.
This afternoon, my daughter and I opted for “Hocus Pocus” which was on Reel Girl’s list, but I hadn’t seen it yet. The good news is “Hocus Pocus” has more females than males. The witches are played by Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler, and Sarah Jessica Parker. Penny Marshall is in the movie too, which was a nice surprise for me. Vinessa Shaw plays a smart, brave girl and Thora Birch is the 8 year old little sister who gets into trouble. (My daughter really liked seeing a movie with a kid the same age as she is.)
The not-so-good is that the 3 witches are obsessed with being young and beautiful. I am so over this cliche. Recently, I saw it in “Tangled” and “Snow White and the Huntsman,” both stories obviously recycled fairy tales with this tired theme (not to mention any women’s magazine you open, full of ads for potions, spells of eternal youth.) What these women are after is not beauty but power, which is what beauty has represented and signified for women in narratives for thousands of years. I wish writers today could be a little more creative in depicting stories where women are seeking power without relying on the dull and done youth and beauty cliche.
Another thing that annoyed me about “Hocus Pocus” is that in order for a spell to work, a candle had to be lit by a virgin. While I appreciated that the virgin was a boy, the word came up again and again with my daughter wanting to know its meaning. I told her it’s another word for child, but I was irritated the movie put me in that position for no important reason as far as the plot is concerned.
Finally, while there are many girls and women in this movie, the protagonist is a boy. He’s just moved to Salem from LA, and he doesn’t believe in witches. Vinessa Shaw plays his girlfriend and Thora Birch plays his little sister. It is this guy that goes through the transition of coming to believe. Still, he is a Minority Feisty of sorts, and I can’t actually recall another movie where I have seen a gender flip where the male plays this role.
Reel Girl’s list of Monster Movies Starring Females is short. It is almost the same as last year’s list, except I’ve added the wonderful “Maleficent.” My list is so pathetically short that I have included movies just recommended to me, that I have not seen myself. Those are “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and “Series of Unfortunate Events” (which I may watch today with my daughter….) We complain, rightly so, about how sexist Halloween costumes are for girl. It would sure help things out if there were more scary stories starring cool or evil powerful females. Of course, we’d still have the problem of Hermione morphing into the sexy school girl. But I digress. As I asked you in 2013, if you have any monster movies for little kids starring females, to add to my list. please let me know. Here’s the list of 10 movies. Please try to watch girl-centered films with your daughters and sons.
“Gone Girl” makes violence against women into a punchline, and does this so well that even I laughed at the jokes.
Just as the book “Gone Girl” is well written and well plotted, the movie version is well acted, directed, and produced. Watching the movie, even more than reading the book, I felt like I was having a meta experience: watching a movie about storytelling while being manipulated by the story I was being told. “Gone Girl” is the story of a woman who lies about being raped by three different men.
There are a few core beliefs women’s rights advocates have worked hard to get the culture to understand:
(1) Women don’t want to be raped
(2) A woman who is raped did not bring the violence on herself
(3) The #1 killer of pregnant women is homicide
In “Gone Girl”‘ each of these beliefs becomes a mockery, perfectly executed with comic timing, plot points, and good acting to seem ridiculous. I’m going to summarize a few instances below though its from memory, so the quotes may not be precisely accurate, and you’ve got to see it yourself to experience the reaction, I don’t think the typed words on the page will do it.
When Nick Dunne seeks out another guy that his wife, Amy, falsely accused of rape, the guy says,”That’s Amy! She’s graduated from rape to murder.” I chuckled.
When it becomes public that Amy was pregnant (a faked pregnancy by the way) media and townspeople nod and knowingly say, “The #1 way pregnant women die is murder.” The scene is so cartoonish and Nick is so clearly a victim, that when hearing the line, even I rolled my eyes.
When Amy spins the story of how she never should have let another guy she accused of rape into her house, an FBI guy steps in with a concerned face and says, “Don’t blame yourself!” When I heard that line, I snorted.
At the end of the book, Nick falls back in love with Amy and you’re left with feeling that these two deserve each other. At the end of the movie, Nick is still angry. Like all heroes, his experience led him to go through a transition, and you’re left feeling sorry for he guy who only wants to be a good dad to his son.
Describing her book, author Gillian Flynn says:
“It’s a story about storytelling, and in the 24-hour media world, no matter what the content, the media has a disproportionate voice in all our lives. I wanted it to be a third character in a way — Nick, Amy, but also the media. We all weigh in on everybody’s life no matter what. And there seems to be a constant audience monitoring our lives.”
No question that “Gone Girl” is a movie about story-telling. Maybe Flynn isn’t perpetuating misogyny here but being doing something quite brilliant. The joke is on us, the audience. Look how easily we’re manipulated, at this particular moment by beautiful people and great acting into, once again, believing the story that scorned women lie about about rape while its men who are the real victims.
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.
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.
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.
“Actually that comment I made jokingly,” he said. “It’s not that I said that it wasn’t Link. It’s that I never said that it was Link. It’s not really the same thing, but I can understand how it could be taken that way.
“It seems like it has kind of taken off where people are saying ‘oh it’s a female character’ and it just kind of grew. But my intent in saying that was humour. You know, you have to show Link when you create a trailer for a Zelda announcement.”
Because who would ever think that a game titled “Zelda” and a show titled “Zelda” would actually feature a female protagonist making the moves, taking the risks, and calling the shots at the center of the action? I, myself, made this same mistake when I let my 5 year old daughter watch “Zelda” because I thought it was a female based spin off of the Mario Brothers. Silly me! Here’s her pissed off reaction:
Here’s the diamond she’s talking about:
I’m holding out from seeing the show or playing the game, or letting my kids do either again, until Zelda is actually in charge.
Over the weekend we received a tip from a concerned mother who had come across something very disconcerting while perusing the aisles of Toys R Us. Apparently the only available toy or figurine of the Star Wars character Princess Leia is of her in the “Slave Outfit” from Return of the Jedi. Bikini? Check. Loin cloth? Check. Chain around the neck? Check. And in case you were wondering if it was actually geared towards children, it’s listed for kids ages 4+….This is a perfect and heart-breaking example of how ingrained sexism is in geek culture. It’s not like there’s a Chewbacca toy in a banana hammock
This makes me so mad. It’s so twisted. Taking the heroic Leia, one of the few females in the Star Wars franchise at all, certainly the most famous one, then showing her chained and in a bikini again and again and again.
Yesterday, I posted this picture of a LEGO set I bought for my daughter. I chose it because the salesperson told me it was the only one in the store that includes Leia. I regretted the purchase as soon as I saw this mini-fig. Now, I know to check more carefully.
I also posted yet another picture of an illustration from Vader’s Little Princess, where the distorted narrative depicts the slave outfit as Leia’s independent, rebellious choice:
The book has another illustration with the same message:
Desperate for female superheroes to show my kids, I purchased the DVD set of the Wonder Woman TV series starring Lynda Carter. My 5 year old daughter wanted to know: “Why is she in her underwear?” Here’s Wonder Woman as a LEGO minifig (not easy to find at a toy store or Target, even half dressed.)
When Pigtail Pals founder Melissa Wardy dropped her kids off at school, they were walking behind a first grader with a Winx backpack:
On her blog, Wardy writes:
Try this test: If the image can be lifted from the child’s toy/backpack/t-shirt and placed on the billboard for a strip club and not look out of place, then things are seriously fucked.
I’m not saying that 4 year old kids know what being half naked has to do with adult sexuality, but these repeated images teach all children that it’s normal to sexualize girls. Sexualization is very different from sexuality. In her best-selling book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Peggy Orenstein quotes Stephen Hinshaw from his book The Triple Bind:
“Girls pushed to be sexy too soon can’t really understand what they’re doing…they may never learn to connect their performance to erotic feelings or intimacy. They learn how to act desirable, but not to desire, undermining, rather than promoting, healthy sexuality.
In short: sexualization is performance; it’s all about being desirable to others. Sexuality is understanding and connecting to your own desire.
At the reading, Orenstein shared this passage from Cinderella Ate My Daughter:
Let me be clear here: I object– strenuously– to the sexualization of girls but not necessarily to girls having sex. I expect and want my daughter to have a healthy, joyous erotic life before marriage. Long, long, long before marriage. I do, however, want her to understand why she’s doing it: not for someone else’s enjoyment, not to keep a boyfriend from leaving, not because everyone else is. I want her to explore and understand her body’s responses, her own pleasure, her own desire. I want her to be able to express her needs in a relationship, to say no when she needs to, to value reciprocity, and to experience true intimacy. The virgin/ whore cycle of the pop princesses, like so much of the girlie girl culture, pushes in the opposite direction, encouraging girls to view self-objectification as a feminist rite of passage.
That last sentence is again, exactly how Leia is presented in Vader’s Little Princess.
Older girls and women can choose to wear a bikini, or a even chain around their necks if they want, but girls and women should not feel like they have to be “attractive” to men all the time, 24 hours a day. Or even 12 hours a day. Or 6. Or any hours at all. Nor should they feel like they have to be attractive to all men. It’s this kind of fucked up mentality– be attractive to all men, all the time, that leads to men feeling entitled to women’s bodies. I could go on here about the legal ramifications of this as far reproductive rights, coverage for contraception etc, but that’s another post. The point of this one is that 4 year old girls should not be trained that it’s completely normal to be half naked most of the time. The females in kidworld should not be constantly baring their bellies. Please stop selling kids toys and media where females are half dressed. Parents, please stop buying these kinds of toys for your children. They set a dangerous precedent. That’s no slut-shaming but protecting childhood from adult sexuality.
I’d like to collect some images of Princess Leia here that you all think would be good for Disney to base its merchandise on. Here’s a couple to start:
More great posts on this issue from around the web: