Sunday, May 16, 2010

Oh the Misogyny...Are Women in Entertainment Just Ornamentation?

Sometimes a topic, like a blog post, just won't die. Back in March of 2007 I wrote a post about the female action hero and it continues to be my most-viewed post. I joke about this from time to time and have even attempted to make a few satirical jabs at the fact that what prompts the clicks on the post has more to do with a scantily clad Sigourney Weaver than anything else. That particular post has such an enduring draw that I have even received emails commenting on the post-- one suggesting that women action heroes are popular because they appeal to men as "eye candy" and that any feminist statement about strong women is mostly incidental.

 I have long mused over how to approach this topic. Part of me agrees with the "eye candy" statement-- in fact a large part of me thinks that "eye candy" is one of the most important factors in movie making period. Do we really think Arnold Schwarzenegger is cast in anything because he's a Shakespearean-quality actor? Would "Avatar" have been a monster hit without the CGI? People are visually oriented and when you put a story on the big screen it needs to be appealing to eye-- perhaps more so than it needs to be well-plotted. But once you put a woman in a tight leather outfit, the cries of "sexism" can't be far behind.

  Ms. Magazine has decided that "Iron Man 2" needs to be taken to task for what the magazine perceives as sexist treatment of women (the author also attempts to throw in some racist allegations as well, but we'll stick to the claims of anti-woman bias for now). ...

Secondly, on females and femininity (these lessons are longer, you see, because females need a lot of teaching):

1. Women are for dancing, either around poles or on stage as props. Wherever they are dancing, they should be scantily clad. Note to cameraman: Shoot women dancers from behind so as to get maximum amount of booty shots, as in the opening scene of Iron Man 2 where our gaze is directed to numerous bent-over butts in red spandex hot pants. As O’Herir points out in his Salon review, there is “no irony” in these “loving, loop-the-loop tracking shots of these dancin’ hoochie-mamas with their spray-bronzed legs and perfect Spandex asses.” Rather it is, as this blogger aptly names it, “a vomit-inducingly sexist scene involving various swooping close-ups of womens’ body parts as they gyrate.”

2. Women are objects. When Tony is shown his new car, he makes a joke about the woman standing next to the vehicle: “Does she come with the car?” In other words, women, like cars, should be sleek, good looking, fast and expendable. Tony assesses new female character Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) using the same parameters: Her intelligence, multi-lingual skills and martial arts training don’t seem to matter; he uses Google to find her old modeling pictures. As Froley of ReelThinker notes, she is put “in her underwear just for the hell of it” and her character is no more than a “near-cameo.” This incites Froley to assume that director “Jon Favreau must be some kind of chauvinist dog, because he takes every opportunity to objectify women.”

~ You can read the rest of the list and the article HERE

 Oh lord, where do I begin with my complete disagreement with this assessment of "Iron Man 2" and its treatment of women? First off, it's beyond clear that the author of the Ms. Magazine article (Natalie Wilson) is viewing the movie through a feminist lens and not taking the actual "Iron Man" story into account. Tony Stark a womanizer? Oh no! How can that be? It must be a Hollywood conspiracy against women! Except it's not.

 It has been stated time and again, in the most obvious terms, that the character of Tony Stark is a narcissist and a womanizer. He's a filthy rich, charming rogue who already had women eating out of his hand and now that he has the extra celebrity that comes with the Iron Man suit. He's not just a woman magnet, he's achieved rock star status. How is it inconsistent to show his character partying with the women who flock around him like groupies?

 But what really, really annoys me about the Ms. article is the implication that the awful, horrible men who made the movie hate women, and the women involved in the various roles are basically victims of Hollywood sexism.

 Here's the thing. Modern feminism is schizophrenic. One one hand, women want to have the freedom to behave like sexual predators-- in the vein of "Sex in the City" -- with no repercussions. Shows like "Cougar Town" celebrate the single woman as someone who can pounce on young men as if it's no big deal. And don't even get me started on the reality-television culture that makes celebrities out of women like Paris Hilton who are famous precisely because of their aggressive sexuality. How are men supposed to view women when this has become the norm? I'm sorry, but I'm not sure that Ms. Magazine understands that you can't behave like Paris Hilton and expect to be treated like Mother Teresa.

Let's face it, "Iron Man 2" is more accurate in it's portrayal of the women likely to throw themselves at Tony Stark than Ms. Magazine would like to admit. As a woman, I think that genre films like "Iron Man" are better for women than movies like "Sex in the City" because the characters are allowed to be more than sex objects. Does anyone think that Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is going to be taken advantage of by anyone? And do you think anyone made her put on the tight leather outfit (or pose for the lingerie shots for that matter)? And is the tight leather somehow more objectionable than the sky-high cleavage we see on the cover of every woman's magazine in town? Men are always going to want to look at attractive women-- that's never going to change. And beautiful women are always going to be attracted to powerful, wealthy men. Why is it sexist to put that on film?

 But more importantly, women have accountability in how they are portrayed. How many times have we heard that women want "control" over their bodies? Well, what does that mean exactly? Are we talking about reproductive issues here or about the right to pose in Playboy? And does it matter when women are voluntarily participating in the culture?

 Personally, I don't think "Iron Man 2" is misogynistic. Tony Stark does tend to objectify women, but that's because the only woman that exists in his universe is Pepper Pots. The women who shove their phone numbers in his face are not portrayed as ideal; Pepper-- who just happens to be intelligent and poised-- is.

  While other kick-ass women in movies are often put on display in ultra form-fitting costumes, I wouldn't say they're exclusively ornamental. Milla Jovovich might be in combat boots and a dress slit-up-to-there in "Resident Evil," but she still kicks zombie-butt with absolute conviction. Lucy Lawless as Xena might fight in a bustier, but would you mess with her? And if Linda Hamilton wasn't the quintessential bad-ass in "Terminator 2," then I don't know who is.

 And I think Ms. Magazine needs to take into account that men are often held to the same standards of physical perfection when it comes to action roles. Robert Downey Jr. is as lean-and-mean as he's ever been to portray Tony Stark. Hugh Jackman and Jason Statham are only the latest in a long list of physically imposing men following in the footsteps of Schwarzenegger and Stallone. Are we women being sexist if we don't ask them to keep their shirts on?

 If we're being honest then we have to acknowledge that men and women are idealized in film. Ms. Magazine may think it's beneath their dignity to enjoy a movie that features big explosions and scantily clad women, but they are always free to to exercise their right not to see the movie-- just as I have the right to avoid chick-flicks like the plague. I find it far more liberating to watch a woman (even a scantily clad one) kick some bad-guy butt than frantically try to find a husband. But that's just me...


BStearns said...

I agree completely, another great post! The first thing I'm drawn to think when the term female superhero is brought up is good old Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Now, while Buffy never dressed in form fitting clothing, she was still a good looking gal. But she could kick anyone's ass ten ways to Sunday. People are taking things way too personally these days. Everything is an attack on some thing or another, and it's always someone else's fault.

Did Ms Magazine also fail to notice that the first time we see Black Widow as herself she's kicking everyone's ass while Favreau is having trouble with one guy? But of course that doesn't fit into her picture of him being a sexist pig, so I guess she must've edited it out.


Sullivan McPig said...

Great post. I agree with you.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I agree as well.
And Scarlett Johansson's character wasn't just eye candy - she was smart, tough, and nobody took advantage of her. Add beautiful and what woman wouldn't want to be admired for all of those qualities?

Bill said...

Great post.

I think I have too many thoughts for a comment, though.

I will simply have to link to your post.

Charles Gramlich said...

I agree with you absolutely. I do think the criticisms are sometimes hypocritical, and I think you're right about Arnold, or about, say, the guy who played Hercules.

SQT said...

BStearns-- Thanks! Buffy is always a good example of a non-exploitive female character. But I like the challenge of making the assertion that even if she were wearing skintight leather, she's no one's victim. I don't even think feminism is about women anymore (they eat their own all too often) it's an agenda and if they can pick a grievance and run with it-- they will. If you read the whole article you'll see that they try to make the replacement of Terrance Howard with Don Cheatle some kind of racist issue. Whatever. To me, that just emphasizes my original conclusion-- that the author of that article doesn't know what the heck she's talking about.

Sullivan-- Thank you.

Alex-- She's what I'd want to be if I was a leather-clad bad-ass.

Bill- Thanks for stopping by.

SQT said...

Charles-- I think they're trying to find a way to make women the victims here and it's ridiculous. Women are running their own agenda in Hollywood and they have for quite some time. Every actress that poses on the cover of Maxim or FHM knows darn well what they're doing and they're not being forced to do it. It's time for Ms. Magazine to start commenting on female accountability rather than play the victim card-- it's getting old.

S.M.D. said...

At best you can say that the characters are sexist pigs...because they are. And, shocker, so are a lot of men in the real world. Why is this an issue?

Bleh. Agreed, SQT. We're on the same page.

SQT said...

S.M.D-- Men are as sexist as they're allowed to be. Why aren't women responsible for that dynamic too? Part of the characterizations here might be a blow-back on the politically correct culture too. Are we really shocked that men are tired of having to watch their p's and q's all the time? Like any form of political correctness, feminism has been more than a little shrill at times.

Stewart Sternberg said...

You know, the Black Widow may not have had much to do in this film, but that's fine, it sets her up as a character to be developed in a later episode. She is an important character, but that needs to happen once the Avengers formally come into being. In my opinion.

I sat on a panel with two females, one a would be writer and one a "Super fan" and both were rather angry about the role of women superheroes as flawed. Of course, god forbid they should understand that a hero must have a flaw, that the flaw is the thing that provides conflict, internal and external.

SQT said...

Stu-- I'm not sure what they're looking for. Perfection would get old really fast... But speaking of Black Widow-- what flaws did she display exactly?

Comic books have always had exaggerated women-- but then, the audience has been historically male hasn't it? But that aside, how are men to blame when women have been going out of their way to make themselves look like human barbie dolls. I went to dinner not too long ago and more women at the table had fake boobs than didn't-- true story. So who are the victims here? The women who play up their attributes while pointing at the men who admire them?

I could go on and on...

Kelly Dexter said...

"I find it far more liberating to watch a woman (even a scantily clad one) kick some bad-guy butt than frantically try to find a husband."-I couldn't agree with you more! What an excellent post.

Also, Scarlett's Black Widow costume is nothing to get worked up over. She's not one of the many heroines giving the impression that stilettos and a mini are sensible adventure gear. A catsuit and boots -flats, no less- are pretty practical when it comes to stealthy butt-kicking.

SQT said...

Kelly-- Exactly right. I remember watching "Aeon Flux" awhile ago-- not that great a movie, but I was curious-- and Charlize Theron had these wedge heels that were ridiculous. I can't run in flips-flops, much less heels. A lot of the TV cops shows also have the women running around in pretty impractical shoes. I'd break an ankle.

BStearns said...

Okay, now I have to read this whole article. How can Cheadle replacing Howard be racist?!? I am almost beyond words on how to express my frustration at all this. As you guys have pointed out, political correctness has gone way too far. Now I'm not trying to sound racist/sexist or anything like that, I'm all for equality, but no wonder the world's in the state it's in when we got people that can't take anything as tongue in cheek, and believe everything is an attack of some sort. You definitely hit the nail with this post. Well done, and keep fighting the good fight!


Kendama said...

Kelly-- Exactly right. I remember watching "Aeon Flux" awhile ago-- not that great a movie, but I was curious-- and Charlize Theron had these wedge heels that were ridiculous. I can't run in flips-flops, much less heels. A lot of the TV cops shows also have the women running around in pretty impractical shoes. I'd break an ankle.

Ah, the laughable phenomenon of fighting in heels. I'm sure there are certain types of flat-soled shoes and boots one can give extra traction to that won't make the heroine look butt-ugly.

If a creator wants their heroine to look good while fighting baddies, they should use their imagination a little more. :)

Bugs said...

Well said.

There are only two women of any consequence in Iron Man 2: Pepper Potts and Natalie Rushman. Both of them are portrayed as intelligent, capable, serious, sensible women who just happen to look fantastic. Tony chooses Pepper to take over his company because she's practically been running it already - not because she has great legs. And Natalie was the right woman for the job because her looks would help her get access to Tony's inner circle. Sorry, feminists, but it all works for me.

Monster from the Id said...

As for female superhero costumes - aren't they usually more or less exactly like the male costumes? Years ago, somebody started a fashion for superheroes wearing form-fitting super suits. I think they were based on the outfits that circus weightlifters and acrobats used to wear. So when female superheroes came along, it made sense that they, too, would wear tight body suits. Again, this was not unprecedented: female dancers and circus performers had been wearing tights for years. And since male superheroes were, say, well-developed, it figured that female superheroes would be kinda healthy-looking, too. If anything, comic book fashions were *less* sexist than other forms of attire. Everybody wore tights - no problem.

I think this Natalie person has no idea what she's talking about...

rebelcomix said...

You had me at {Sex and the City sucks}.

Seriously. Every time I have ever heard a woman suggest that she is just like one of the characters on that show, I shudder at the future of our species.

SQT said...

Kendama-- I tell ya, women notice shoes. I'm tall so I don't wear heels most of the time and the heels they had the girls wearing in Iron Man just for walking made me wince. I can't imagine running in heels just to look good.

Bugs-- That's the way I see it. The women who behave as disposable are treated that way. Why should anyone glorify shameless behavior in the name of feminism?

Monster from the Id-- Makes sense to me. I actually have a pretty extensive background in martial arts (going on 20 years of experience) and we usually wear loose clothing when training but tight clothes would actually be practical if they stretch and move well. Loose clothing is very convenient to grab on to. When we train in grappling, part of the skill set is about grabbing the collar of the other person to gain control if practical.

Rebelcomix--I don't have huge issue with "Sex in the City," I just don't understand why embracing those characters is considered good for women. I've only watched one or two episodes, but I couldn't find much to connect with. I don't think prowling for men, shopping for shoes and starving oneself is something to look up to.

Benjamin said...

I'm certainly NOT arguing for the angry reactionary perspective that seems to sadly be the accepted and sadly expected norm in the "feminist" dialogue. Unfortunately this taints anyone voicing a perspective that acknowledges that sexism is quite real and even ubiquitous in our society, which is hard to deny if you look at the abundant evidence.

Anyway, what I want to say is that I noticed a streak of misogyny in both Iron Man movies simply in that, the character of Tony Staek is clearly portrayed as someone to be envied in our materialistic society and when he takes random women to bed with him, the undisguised contempt shown them ONCE HE HAS HAD SEX WITH THEM (in 1st movie Pepper Pots refers to the now vanquished conquest as "trash" and in the 2nd movie there is the demeaning reference to the reporter "doing quite a spread for Tony"). My only concern is simply that,once again, here is another hero role model who young men will look up to and wish to emulate. Really, why is this man treating the womnen he has slept with with such contempt?

SQT said...

Benjamin-- I'm not arguing that Tony should be admired for that behavior. And if you watch "Iron Man 2," you'll see that his friendships suffer a great deal due to his self-centered nature.

My issue with the Ms. article is that women are given a pass for their behavior. I would be furious if my daughter was the type to jump into bed with a man she just met. And I sure as heck don't want her posing in Playboy or stripping-- all that stuff. There will always be men out there who are happy to take advantage of willing women, so it's up to us to teach our daughters to have some self respect.

The scene you mention from the first movie had two willing players and I it doesn't take a genius to realize that Tony wasn't proposing marriage to that woman when he took her home. She knew what she was signing up for. So why give her victim status? She's an adult who's just as responsible for her behavior as Tony is, and if she doesn't want to be treated like trash, she shouldn't act like it.

Avi Green said...

You know what's really absurd about that MS magazine article? This is the same periodical whose debut issues in 1971 were supporting "Wonder Woman for president". They've really come a long way down since that time.

And where was MS magazine 6 years ago when DC Comics published a misogynist screed with blame-the-victim messages called "Identity Crisis"? If you want to learn more about that monstrosity, Peter Sanderson wrote about it here, here, here, and here. I assume they considered the disturbing allusions the miniseries had to 9-11 so okay, they decided not to say anything. A shame, because that's something that could've made for a very good discussion on how comics have so long languished under the radar, the editors have figured they could get away with such dreck.

Weary G said...

LOVE this response.

I was going to post my own response to this article just for own sanity, but I think you did an excellent job of highlighting the hypocrisy of aggressive sexuality in women being okay much better than I could have.

I loved how Ms. Wilson took the whole racism thing out of thin air with the Cheadle/Howard switch. She admits she was wrong on that, but when I called her on explaining HOW she came to such a conclusion, my comment was tanked.

Thanks again for the post. Always like to see sanity on display.

SQT said...

Avi-- I'll have to check those out. I think Ms. Magazine was latching onto something high profile and convenient without really looking at context. I bet the author of the article doesn't even know that Wonder Woman was once lauded as a feminist heroine.

WearyG-- Thanks. I don't know why accountability is such a dirty word. If women want equality, then shouldn't we be equal across the board? If I behave foolishly, then I have to deal with the consequences. How are we ever supposed to be taken seriously if we're always playing the victim card?

Carl V. said...

Here, here. Well said, and thank you for saying it. It is the kind of thing that, coming from me, could easily be written off as being sexist. I think you hit all the points squarely on the head. I don't think there are simple answers to how men and women should be treated and portrayed because it isn't a simple black and white issue. Especially given the fact that context matters a great deal, a fact you accurately point out in relation to Iron Man 2 and the Tony Stark character. I'm impressed, well done!

SQT said...

Thank you Carl-- that means a lot. I didn't really think I was taking a controversial stand, but I guess people are so accustomed to the kind of feminist line in the article I referenced, that it's noticeable when a woman says wait a minute... I don't agree with this.

Carl V. said...

I think so too. I mean, we are all aware that there is sexist stuff out there, on both sides, and it shouldn't be just blindly accepted, but neither should it be railed against unless a person has their facts straight and is doing so from a position with some good points, not just because they saw something that annoyed them.