We all want complex female heroes and villains, ‘Gone Girl’ doesn’t deliver

The psycho-female stereotype of “Gone Girl” has her defenders. Of course, the writer, Gillian Flynn, who posts on her web site:

“I’ve grown quite weary of the spunky heroines, brave rape victims, soul-searching fashionistas that stock so many books. I particularly mourn the lack of female villains – good, potent female villains . . . The point is, women have spent so many years girl-powering ourselves – to the point of almost parodic encouragement – we’ve left no room to acknowledge our dark side.”

In spite of Flynn’s claim that the lack of representation of heroic females in narratives is a problem solved, here are some facts: In movies today just 30.8% of speaking characters are women; 28.8% of women wear sexually revealing clothing; 10.7% of movies feature a balanced cast where half of the characters are female. Want more stats on the lack of women? Go to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media.

But reality doesn’t stop Maureen Dowd from repeating Flynn’s claim that she’s just being original. In the New York Times today, Dowd writes:

Given my choice between allowing portrayals of women who are sexually manipulative, erotically aggressive, fearless in a deranged kind of way, completely true to their own temperament, desperately vital, or the alternative — wallowing in feminist propaganda and succumbing to the niceness plague — I’ll take the former.

It’s laughable that when a narrative promotes a stereotype, it gets depicted as unique. Once again, I go back to the first post I wrote on Reel Girl after reading the book:

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?

Amy Dunne is a stereotype who fakes her own rape multiple times.

When the epidemic of violence against women in the USA is finally getting some national attention from Obama to colleges to the NFL, ‘Gone Girl’ reads like a Men’s Rights handbook

I wrote on Reel Girl:

“Gone Girl” makes violence against women into a punchline, and does this so well that even I laughed at the jokes…

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.

Gillian Flynn is no Claire Messud. I wish she were.

One thought on “We all want complex female heroes and villains, ‘Gone Girl’ doesn’t deliver

  1. One interesting thing that I feel is worth pointing out is the fact that “Gone Girl” director David Fincher’s previous film was the English-language adaptation of the first book in the Millennium Trilogy, a series well-known for pulling a considerable punch in condemning sexual violence against women. Naturally, this would not go down well with many viewers (mostly the male ones) in today’s societal climate, where pointing out that such violence still exists is somehow considered more hateful with the violence itself. This makes me wonder if, by adapting one of the most blatantly misogynistic works of recent literature, Fincher is somehow trying to “redeem” himself in the eyes of those same male viewers that he alienated by adapting the first book in the Millennium Trilogy.

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