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...