My Cinema

05 July 2011

The Feminist Argument

By // Cinema

Ed. Note: My Cinema’s senior staff writer Rachael disagrees with Kelly’s thoughts on Bridesmaids (found here). So we thought we’d publish her article too, and let you decide. The last time this disparity happened we ended up with two of our most popular and most controversial articles ever (Black Swan: Loveand Hate). Read on after the jump for Rachael’s feminist take on Bridesmaids, Bad Teacher, Transformers and more.

This summer, the role of women in films has become a major narrative in the media with the success of Bad Teacher and Bridesmaids. Both films starred strong female characters who not only got more of the screen time than their male colleagues, but almost all of the laughs were independently generated by their antics. I dare anyone to watch Bridesmaids and decide upon a more outrageously funny character than Mellisa McCarthy’s Megan (whether you find the poop jokes all that funny is a matter of taste, but you can’t deny that the movie went there). And there’s absolutely no one to rival the outlandish cruelty that Diaz’s Elizabeth Halsey perpetrates on everyone in her orbit. Unlike movies like previous summer comedy champions like The Hangover*, women don’t exist in these films to set up punch lines or to provide a voice of sanity within the storm. These are women allowed to be just as absurd, funny and likable as the best Seth Rogen,Ben Stiller, or Zack Galifinakis creation.

I liked these two movies to vastly different degrees. Bridesmaid is the type of movie that I want to see a billion times, that is at once hilarious and true, and despite my need to close my eyes during a certain Bridal Shop bathroom scene, I loved every minute of it. Bad Teacheris a throw away comedy about bad people doing not so nice things and being pretty damn funny while they’re doing it. But my point has very little to do with actual critical review of either movie. My point is about the way they set free their female protagonists, and the laughs that can therefore be had by either gender.In an article for Vanity Fair in 2007, Christopher Hitchens attempted to explain “Why Women Aren’t Funny.” The article, predictably, brought about a lot of ire and a lot of press for the magazine. Even if we continue to conveniently ignore the brilliant work being done by women on the regular on shows like Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock (neither of which can be qualified as “pretty girl cute humor”), this summer seems to prove that comedy can be easily provided by the fairer sex, as long as we provide them with the same quality scripts, characterization, and opportunities as their Y-chromosomed colleagues.

In her memoir, Bossypants, Tina Fey reports being shocked at the casual sexism deployed in the writer’s room of Saturday Night Live by men who would never have dreamed of officially supporting misogyny. This type of soft sexism, in relegating women to the status of meek sex objects without a trace of agency, is a pervasive threat not only to women in the movies but to our continued advancement. Look no further than this summer’s mondo hit, Transformers: Dark Side of The Moon. The first two Transformers were no paragons of equality; in fact it’s widely rumored that Megan Fox skedaddled because she was sick of being treated as no more of a person than the cars that Sam Whitwicky continually drives into battle. In all 3 films, women were meant to be looked at, not listened to.

But god. At least Megan Fox had spunk and a dangerous gleam in her eye, and we understand why it is she ended up with the decidedly less godly-looking Shia LaBeouf. When I walked out of Dark Side of The Moon on Sunday, I couldn’t believe how much I missed her “spice girls” feminism. The women they got to replace Fox was nothing more than a model, deadly delivering lines and screaming Sam’s name to save her. Every single female character in that movie became defined by their inability to do ANYTHING without male help. Even the supposedly strong women paradigm of Frances Mcdormand’s Mearing is revealed throughout the film to be pretty incompetent and capable of sleeping with the film’s resident punchline, John Turturro. Women are literally objects within Bay’s Transformers.

And objects are not funny. They can be the subject of jokes (I think this is what got so many feminists riled up by Knocked Up) or they can set the stage for jokes, but they can’t be funny on their own merits. By definition, they are there to be looked at and acted upon. Good movies allow both genders a sense of personhood. Take X-Men: First Class. Magneto and Xavier get the vast share of good lines and are by far the breakout stars. But every character, be it the treacherous Angel or the confused Raven, makes their own decisions and mistakes. They have a sense of personhood outside of the male characters’ storylines. Raven’s downfall is her choice; she picks Magneto over Xavier not because external forces push her into it, but because it fits within her character.

Which brings me back to Bad Teacher and Bridesmaids. Cameron Diaz’s mistakes in the film are all her own. On the surface, she is an anti-feminist stereotype (the gold digging mantis-lady). But the truth is that within this film’s morality, she is nothing more or less than a deplorable con man. Her gold-diggingness is just evidence of her using the tools at her disposal. In the end, she is not redeemed of her awesomely unfeminine characteristics (not caring about children, saying hideously inappropriate things) because this movie is not about right and wrong, it’s about funny.

And Bridesmaids, which proved that the Apatow dynamic works just a well with leads who have breasts, may be the best counter argument of all to the Michael Bays and Christopher Hitchens of this world. Regardless of your feelings on the movie, you can’t argue that it proved that women can make jokes both ribald and downright sentimental. It featured a female friendship so strong that it rivals any bromance, and a conclusion that may have included a lavish wedding ceremony, but also contained the promise that through her own agency Kristen Wigg’s Annie was finally able to overcome her own failure enough to make changes in her life. In one scene, Annie wakes up after sleeping with her adorable Irish cop love interest, Rhodes, to find him trying to Manic-Pixie-Dream-Boy her into overcoming her failure. Annie rails at Rhodes that she doesn’t need to be saved by him. It’s evidence of her characters inability to connect, sure, but also evidence of the fact that in this movie, women don’t need the men around them to fix them. Just like Annie has to save her best friend from bailing out on a wedding to the man she loves, Annie needs to find her own salvation in order to earn her happy ending by the end of the film.

If Hollywood can take the right lessons from these two movies (and try to ignore the mondo box office for movies like Transformers) we can create a climate where girls don’t think of themselves solely in relation to the boys around them. It’s a dangerous narrative to push on our society. If film’s become both a reflection of our society and an impetus to the forming of our society (both the created and the creator) it is important then that we recognize when film’s fail to imbue humanity in the characters of both genders. When a metal, transforming car has more of a voice in a film than any flesh and blood woman, that’s a problem. And when a series of film’s shows Christopher Hitchens that he can suck it, that’s a thing to celebrate.


*which, for the record, I really enjoyed

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