Tuesday, August 24, 2010

So What You're Really Saying is That Girls are More Detached From Reality Than Boys...

I understand the struggle to find something to write about. I can't read/review a book a day, so I know how hard it is to think of something that isn't just plain filler. But is it okay to check your critical thinking skills at the door?

Now I might be a little more sensitive to the male vs. female thing that sometimes pops up in regard to action films. I don't like to think of myself as someone who automatically takes a feminist view on things because frankly I don't agree with much of what passes for feminism these days. But that doesn't mean I buy into strawman arguments either.

Every time an action movie debuts with a female lead we begin the discussion anew over whether women are credible as action heroes and, given the success of films featuring the likes of Angelina Jolie and Uma Thurman, I'd say that most audience goers are buying into the notion that women can, on film at least, throw down with the men. But does that mean that young women are going to start trying to karate chop their way through the real world?

According to the Denver Post it does.

In a recent article titled Beauty meets brute force: Are tough screen heroines empowering or do they send a dangerous message? the publication attempts to argue that big screen portrayals of tough women will lead to foolish risk-taking among young women.

Is watching U.S. Marshal Annie Frost [Chase]— of the startling blue eyes and set jaw — take down a fugitive after a helluva battle empowering or delusional, dangerous or inspiring?

Should these images carry a warning — like Cesar Millan's "Dog Whisperer" or Johnny Knoxville's "Jackass" stunt outings? "Ladies, do not try these kick-butt maneuvers in a dark alley faced with a real assailant."

"I'm concerned about teenage girls who go and see 'Salt' or go and see Lisbeth ["The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"] in action and then think they too have that kind of prowess," says Merin, an admitted "dyed-in-the- wool pacifist."

Okay, I'm just going to say it. Are these people really this stupid?

What bothers me most about this article is that they try to set up an argument based on the fact that men and women are different-- and then assume that young women are going to respond to these on-screen portrayals the exact same way a young man would.

I'm not saying that women are smarter than men-- far from it-- but we are not as likely as men to watch a movie like "Salt" and think we're going approach the world as kung fu-kicking dynamos. Let's face it, we're more likely to add collagen to our lips in an effort to look like Angelina Jolie.

There was good reason shows like "Jackass" had to have disclaimers on them. Young men watched the show and attempted to perform all kinds of stupidity just like the stunts they saw on the show. The success of YouTube has only hastened that kind of idiocy as people the world over desperately look for their fifteen minutes of fame. But young men have historically owned that kind of behavior.

Young women, on the other hand, are much more likely to emulate the less masculine behavior of the women they see on shows like "Sex and the City" and end up in a "Girls Gone Wild" video-- which scares me a heck of a lot more than the idea that my little girl might be encouraged to fight off a rapist despite the horror of the "dyed in the wool pacifist" interviewed for the article I quoted above.

There have always been growing pains between the sexes and entertainment is the perfect foil for such battles. It's pretty natural that women are going to elbow their way into action films in an attempt to declare their equality in all things-- but can we get real for a moment? Unless we main-line steroids and do some heavy duty weight lifting we're not going to be on an even playing field with most men physically. And that statement comes from a woman who holds a black-belt. I've spent too many years watching women come in and out of the karate studio only looking for a good workout and a cool belt to think that my gender is going to suddenly develop a masculine level of aggressiveness. And despite the alarming trend of the metrosexual, I don't think most men obsess over what color to highlight their hair.

Reasonably intelligent people know that men and women each have their own brand of stupidity. When women decide to dress up as Alice from "Resident Evil" or Lara Croft, we're really not worried about the accuracy of the weaponry. Mostly, we're hoping we look hot.


S.M.D. said...

I don't know if you can say that men are more likely to imitate stupid physical things or violent things they see on TV or in the movies. I think some men certainly are, but some women are too, and only some are going to follow the Sex in the City crowd. I think that's the only major issue I have with your post. There's no template we all come off of. Each gender is incredibly diverse. This is why I think "gender roles" are largely idiotic. Some people fit well into the cliched roles, and some people don't. Trying to cram people into those roles is like trying to cram a square blog through a circular hole. One size does not fit all, as the saying goes.

I think this ties in well with the recent article from a place I've forgotten where the writer claimed that recent superheroes are bad role models for boys. They made two idiotic assumptions: 1) that most of the superheros today are either crazy macho ninjas or slackers (they're not...hello, Spiderman!), and 2) that boys are very likely to look at the characters that fit the author's argument and suddenly try to be them. You'd think that we'd have a nation of crazy macho guys and slackers if that were true. Since we don't, I think the article was B.S. and fell into the gender roles trap...

But, anyway!

RD Williams said...

Ok, here's the thing. Male or female, it doesn't matter, the young people who would try to 'imitate' their favorite action hero are going to do so because it's "their thing" so to speak. I don't mean just dressing up, I mean actually trying some of the stunts they see in movies or on TV. These are the people who would probably find something similar to imitate anyway.

Men and women are different, we think different(for the most part, there are exceptions to everything) it's not just physical differences between the sexes. Most girls are, as you said, more likely to maybe dress up as the hot action heroine rather than to try and kick some guys arse in an alley just because of seeing a movie.

AvDeeBee said...

I believe that most reasonably mature people (teen and up) do know the difference between fantasy and reality. What I hope these movies impart is, that women are capable of defending themselves--with the right training. We get to see Beatrix Kiddo get the beat-down from her master before she became the badass. And, although we don't see it, we're pretty much aware Salt went through the Farm and is old enough to have had years and years of specialized training and experience. I think most people are going to understand that without a kung fu master or the CIA training camp, the best we can do is have enough smarts to avoid an attack, and maybe channel enough badass vibe to scare off the assailant before things get out of hand.

Acting the part of the heroine badasses might not be a good idea in most situations, but, when it comes to being taken to a second location, I would hope every woman would channel some Kiddo and fight back before allowing that to happen.

SQT said...

*Most* guys *won't* try to do the more idiotic stunts they see in movies or television-- *but* they are *more likely* to try. It's teenage boy behavior for sure. It's why young men are charged more for car insurance (something my mom lamented since she had 3 sons). I saw it in my own life all the time whether it was with my brothers or the karate studio. Guys are just physical risk takers.

Young women on the other hand will do other dumb things like plastic surgery and promiscuous behavior if that's what they see floated out there as *cool.*

That's all I'm saying-- is that each gender is more likely to follow one path that is particular to our biology. There will always be individual difference, but to "worry" that women are going to become unusually aggressive due to watching action movies is beyond silly.

SQT said...

Avery-- I'm never going to object if a girl wants to learn how to be a fighter-- and certainly would hope they'd fight back if the situation required it.

I just don't buy that young women are going to respond to the stimuli of seeing women fight on film the same way guys respond to seeing Jason Statham in "The Transporter." We're just wired differently. Women are wired to want to be beautiful just as men are wired to want to be powerful.

T.D. Newton said...

I don't usually make blanket statements, but I would like to believe that any male over the age of 12 would be aware enough to know they're NOT actually a ninja. The same should hold true for females. There's a certain stage of growing up that teaches us "we're only ninjas if we train to become ninjas" and this article seems to imply that many young people just skip it and head straight into deluded adulthood.

Keep in mind the article you linked was written by a film critic. Not that critics aren't journalists, but this is obviously an opinion based on Kennedy's immersion in the entertainment industry, rather than a report on an actual trend. You know, like if there was a sudden outbreak of Catwoman-esque femme fatale vigilantes across the country, in the same way that thrill-seekers injured themselves on shopping carts and other apparatuses after "Jackass" debuted.

That's my take on it, anyway. This article is kind of frivolous to me, in the same way that my speculation about Angels being the next Vampires was. It's putting a feeler out there to see who will argue the point. It's appealing to conspiracy theorists and panicking pacifists like Merin.

There's no hard and fast rule that says a girl can't kick ass, but an article like this thumbs its nose at the line between journalism and blatant sexism. I'm not exactly outraged, but I'm kind of annoyed, especially since I live in Denver. :)

SQT said...

Years ago there was big hoopla over young men who set up wrestling rings in their backyards and attempted to recreate the stunts they saw on WWE, convinced they were going to become pro wrestlers because of all the "practice" they were getting. They were also collecting some serious injuries.

When I was in high school the girls all wanted to look like Madonna. Nowadays I just hope they're not trying to look like Lada GaGa.

SQT said...

T.D.-- it's the comments by the avowed "pacifist" that really make me nuts. So, we're so weak we not only couldn't, but shouldn't fight back?

The rest of it was just drawing spurious conclusions in my opinion.

T.D. Newton said...

SQT, my initial response would be "what's wrong with trying to look like Lady Gaga?" but I'll just assume you mean that achieving her look on a limited budget isn't feasible ;)

Yes, yes, and there were Fight Clubs springing up left and right all over the country after the film came out. People do ridiculous things in their spare time...

T.D. Newton said...

I've heard conflicting opinions about what they "teach" in self-defense classes for women. Apparently if your life is in danger, you're not supposed to try any ninja moves to escape, that's the conclusion.

"Ignore your survival instinct, girls, because you're weak and you'll just get hurt trying to defend your life or 'honor.' You need a man protect you. Haven't you learned this by now?"

Sexism is so obnoxious.

Actually, this reminds me of all the recent hoopla around Bill O'Reilly's criticism of Jennifer Aniston's film The Switch. His general punditry aside, he got all up in arms that "her" film portrayed the message that "you don't need a man." Considering she didn't write OR direct the film, only acted in it, his criticism toward her was also blatantly sexist. All four of the people who wrote and directed the film were men, by the way. O'Reilly basically just breathed new life into an argument against feminism that I wish would just die.

Women don't need men, and men need to get over themselves.

SQT said...

T.D.-- Well, having over 20 years fight experience, as well as having taught female self defense, I'd say that we typically tell women to do whatever they have to in order to survive. Each situation is a judgement call. There are things women can do to specifically fight off a rape attack and I encouraged women to fight if they could, because not fighting will not always end up with survival either.

As far as the O'Reilly thing-- he was specifically responding to a comment she made to the effect the "women don't need men to have kids." So she started it. I've seen his comments and he went out of his way to be respectful toward single mothers. What he said was that we shouldn't forget that kids need fathers too-- and having two kids of my own, I couldn't agree more. I believe in the kind of ying and yang that comes from having parents of both sexes. My husband brings something I just can't. He wrestles with the kids; flings them over his shoulders and plays with them. Moms tend to be the nurturers while dads bring a sense of adventure and teach kids how to meet the world head-on in a good way. I happen to be on O'Reilly's side on this one.

T.D. Newton said...

Fair enough, I wasn't aware it was in response to her comment, so I jumped to a misinformed conclusion.

You would definitely be in a better position for the longview, as my wife and I have no children so far, but I think it's a severe position to take that a man is absolutely required. Wouldn't that be situational, as not all women are effective nurturers, and not all men are capable fathers? This one's a mess, and I don't mind discussing it, but I hope I'm not creating any unnecessary discomfort. I sort of derailed the original thread.

Regarding the self-defense thing, bravo. That's exactly what I would expect to hear. My understanding of self-defense is actually just a core concept of keeping your head in a panic situation, that way you can make the decision about whether to hatch ninja tactics or do something else. The "moves" are helpful, but not always necessary or effective, but staying aware of the situation is absolutely essential.

SQT said...

T.D.-- I don't mind that the thread got derailed. That kind of what this is all about.

For me it really isn't ambiguous that kids should ideally have a mother and father if possible. That doesn't mean that gay couples can't do a great job-- and often do. I just know how hard it is to raise kids and would hate to do it on my own. I also know that each gender brings a polarity that is good for the kids. I don't think it's as much of a quagmire as the media makes it out to be. Most people seek to have kids as the result of a healthy partnership-- single parenting still isn't something most people strive for. I have known some women have opted for single parenthood because they wanted kids and could afford to do it. But it wasn't what they had originally hoped for.

There are always going to be deviations from the norm-- but often times the stereotypical scenarios are best because they work just as matter of practicality.

T.D. Newton said...


Thank you for bringing up gay couples, because I think that's a major speedbump in this discussion. My concern is that the "rule" of man/woman combos, or two parents in general, is treated as some kind of mandate. I won't argue against the success of the man/woman combo for family harmony; if it works, it works, and in most cases it does work (otherwise humanity wouldn't have lasted this long). But to believe that it's success cancels out the validity of single-parenthood or gay-parenthood is, to me, ignoring the indomitable spirit of humanity. Ack, that sounded a little too poetic.

What I mean to say is that I believe there's no "right" answer. There are things that work better for some, and that's great, but it doesn't mean the other methods don't or can't work for others. To try to force round people into square holes seems to be the ongoing trend of the 21st-century.

SQT said...

I think societies go through all kinds of stages. The pendulum swings one way-- then another.

I think I have a different perspective on it because of my age and the fact that my husband works in the finance industry. I know that economic prosperity has a lot to do with how societies function. We're in a stage of flux right now. We had been in a long-term stage of prosperity and when that happens society tends to be looser and moves away from more traditional roles.

But I predict that we're going to see a pull back as the economy continues to shrink. I hate to be the doom-and-gloom gal, but the financial reports my husband brings home are scary and I think we're going to be tightening our belts some more before too long. And people tend to cling to traditions in times of stress out of a need for comfort. So I actually think you'll see a move away from excessive consumerism and outrageous behavior. That doesn't mean we'll see changes in parenting vis-a-vis gender roles. Just more of a search for stability which will actually reinforce traditional roles rather than pull away from them. That's my prediction anyway.

S.M.D. said...

I'm going to nitpick, because I think it's needed here. You said:

"Women are wired to want to be beautiful just as men are wired to want to be powerful."

It's been my experience that women aren't "wired" in the biological sense to want to be beautiful as they are "conditioned" to want to be so. I think we're all "wired" to be susceptible to social and cultural pressures, especially those that attempt to establish gender norms (norms that are usually exaggerations of biological conditions).

Conceptions of beauty are also nebulous, since sometimes they are based on "looks," and other times are based on "biology." The common understanding that a long time ago women who were a bit more, shall we say, curvaceous were more desirable has more to do with the fact that women with smaller frames were more likely to have complications during pregnancy and childbirth (something we've mostly averted today with advanced medicine). Whether it's fair to call that "beauty," I don't know, but it goes to show that beauty is very much a social construction, and one that shifts from biological purpose to social purpose (i.e. having a "hot" wife in modern society reflects positively upon you as a cultural agent).

I should also note that some of the girls I grew up with do not fit the stereotype you're applying here. Some of them were feminine (focused on looks and social conditions), and some of them were masculine (rough and tumble, if you will). I tended to play with the rough and tumble kind, even though I wasn't much of a rough and tumble kid (not by choice; asthma made it difficult).

That's enough from me...

SQT said...

Shaun-- There will always be deviations. But I disagree that you can't ever apply stereotypes. Sometimes they fit.

I grew up the rough-and-tumble kid and grew up to be a sci-fi, action film loving adult woman. But I'm weird in my circle of acquaintances. Most women I know could care less about the things I like. They all go want to see "Eat, Pray, Love" and all I want to do is mock it.

I go to the gym everyday and I see firsthand the lengths women will go to to be beautiful. I've been to dinner parties where there are more women present with breast implants than without. I wish I was kidding. This is mainstream, suburban America and it's what's going on in the world.

Watch reality television on an average day and look at what women are doing to themselves in the name of glamor. No, these are not what passes for the masses. But it is an extreme version of what girls are doing in everyday life. I have a son and a daughter and they are as different as night and day. My daughter is naturally drawn toward girly things (could care less about fighting no matter how much I encourage her to learn) and my son jumps into everything head first.

That's nature, not nurture going on there. But I never did buy into the feminist argument that nurturing has more to do with how we turn out than nature. It plays a role, but genetics are very, very powerful.

SQT said...

Shaun-- I also think we're quibbling here over what passes for beauty over any given age when really the debate is what women prioritize in the real world.

Honestly, most women I know worry more about being beautiful than powerful. They wear make-up, dress in cute clothes, go to the gym. Whatever it takes to make them feel attractive. I think it's just goes back to the basic desire to get a mate (whether it's for marriage is another discussion altogether).

My husband always jokes that he's trying to be the peacock to get my attention. In my experience men tend to strive for physical or financial power to attract women.

Charles Gramlich said...

Men definitely seem more likely to imitate agreession, at least in a fake way, like shadow boxing after watching Rocky, but most still won't do anything too stupid. There is, as you say, a lot of variability in both men and women how they will react to films. The idea that we're creating a generation of young girls who wanna kick ass is pretty farfetched indeed.

SQT said...

That's all I'm saying Charles. Of course you said it better and more succinctly.

S.M.D. said...

It should be noted that beauty can be a form of power, and I would wager than a lot of women know this.

SQT said...

Shaun-- Absolutely.

Stewart Sternberg said...

You know, my stunt doubl is Peter Griffin, so I'm not too ambitious.

Michael G. Hurston said...

You said it!

"When women decide to dress up as Alice from "Resident Evil" or Lara Croft, we're really not worried about the accuracy of the weaponry. Mostly, we're hoping we look hot."

This is true and even works for us guys too! When I dress up (for various reasons) as a Jedi, I don't gain the force, nor does it make me athletic and able to kick ass. I'm still a nerdy guy who has trouble breathing without an inhaler if he runs more than 10 steps. :)

Audrey M. Brown said...

I REALLY like this dialogue. I threw a link to this up on my own blog, and I just really love what you have to say here...

SQT said...

Stu-- I'm sure we all have dreams of perfection, it's the follow-through that slows us down.

Michael-- Glad to know we're not alone. I know my husband frets over how he looks, but in a different way than I do. While I do the old 'does-this-make-my-butt-look-big?' thing he's trying to show off his muscles to their best advantage.

Audrey--Thank you very much. I really appreciate that.