…that pretends that Regancy England was a great place to be female. I found this film review entertaining and insightful. I hoped you would, too.
Those of you familiar with ThatGuyWithTheGlasses.com will recognize the general format in this review of Zack Schnider’s “Sucker Punch”: two in-character reviewers ruthlessly take apart a film that probably deserves it. On occasion, the dressings-down that takes place on this sight will pause in attacking a bad film’s acting, writing and directing long enough to take a well-aimed shot at the core of its being: its ideas. In the case of “Sucker Punch,” reviewers “Film Brain” and “JesuOtaku” take pains to point out the misogynistic soul of a movie that has the nerve to call itself “Feminist”–and the indictment is more than deserved. I thought the review was pretty good, both as comedy and as analysis, and, Fenemist stuff in Pop Culture/Nerd Culture being part of what I do, I felt compelled to share.
I try to read widely, and as a result, I come across a lot of books that make me cringe, a few that make me wonder where, exactly, Western literature is going from here, and some that make me want to weep for the state of 21st century storytelling in general. This is the first time I’ve ever read a piece written in the 19th century that made me queasy about the state of woman-centered fiction in 2012.
I recently finished Marianne by George Sand, origenally published in 1875, and gave it a pretty low Goodreads rating that had nothing to do with the writing quality, or with Sand’s approach. I didn’t feel right about giving Marianne anything higher than a two-star recommendation because of its tendency to haunt me with its ideas: the tropes that I watched rise before me like specters as I read, reminding me of how far we haven’t yet come in the way that we write stories about women.
As I read I was distracted by the uncomfortable fact that this calm, elegant little story was riddled with the teeth-grindingly frustrating “romance” tropes that still plague fiction–especially fiction about women–to this day. Granted, in 1875 these things weren’t tropes; they were commonly accepted “truths” about how female lives should be lived. Even so, it still hurts my heart to see them turn up anywhere, whether it be in modern YA, a bad Rom-Com, or in otherwise lovely fiction created over a hundred years ago, and it hurts a little extra that a woman like Sands, who was determined to live out a different “life script” than the one the world had offered her, would be content to let her characters live the very script that she had rejected for herself.
This narrative opens with something really intriguing, especially for a 19th century setting: an independent young woman that is apparently content to live quietly, unmarried and childless, pursuing what she likes in an environment of her choosing. This set up left me hoping for a closer examination of Marianne’s life–perhaps a portrait of a woman living her own way, not to Make A Statement, but simply to make the most of her existence. Instead, the narrative progress of Marianne quickly devolves into a roll-call of tropes in woman-centered fiction made distrubing by thier familiarity, including:
1. A story about a man observing a woman, rather than a story about a woman ( a la Daisy Miller). Well hello, there, Male Gaze. Haven’t see you out and about this blatantly since the corset scene in the first “Sherlock Holmes” film.
2. A modern romance in the sense that we have a young woman caught between two men who: a. both want her and b. are both idiots. One of them expects her to marry him about four hours after meeting him, and the other spends a good portion of the story wondering whether or not Marianne has any real intelligence, and discouraging her desire to educate herself. How lovely. Who among us wouldn’t just fall into that man’s arms?
3. A modern romance in the sense that a woman who seems perfectly happy living independently at the beginning of the story ends up married by the end—but at least she marries because she wants a particular person, and not because “oh my goodness must have a man or I’m not complete!” That’s actually a lot more progressive than some things written less than ten years ago.
These themes and plot details would not bother me so much–would probably not even phase me–if they were relics: dim memories from a past in which women were viewed, and viewed themselves, as pretty things that needed a man’s attention and affection in order to be aware of and to embrace their own existence. No, these elements in a 140 -year -old story bother me because I’ve seen them all before–in fiction that was created during my lifetime. For example:
1. Marianne, which is basically the life of a woman told through the eyes of a man, was published in 1875. The last time I saw the Male Gaze used as blatantly as it is here was in the Sherlock Holmes film with Jude Law, released in 2010.
The way that the camera was caressing Rachel McAdams during that scene in which she was wearing only a corset was pretty obviously meant to be sensual, a move that implies two interesting assumptions on the part of the filmmakers:
Firstly, that the only people in their audience are those that would find a slow, intense pan of a woman’s body erotic: i.e. straight men. (Well, technically, that image would probably be sensual to Lesbians and Bisexual women, also, but considering how Hollywood tends to fetishize both of those groups in an attempt to titillate straightmen, I kinda doubt that the director was thinking about drawing in his Lesbian audience when he filmed that shot).
Secondly, that the female body exists in order to be admired and enjoyed by straight men, and thus it is appropriate to film this woman as though her audience were filled with male eyes viewing her solely as a thing to be looked at. In this instance, the camera was functioning essentially as a Male Eye, ignoring the fact that the movie’s audience would alsso include a large number of people who wouldn’t find the female body erotic — i.e. straight women (and, to fair, gay men). This one was pretty hard to ignore, but the Male Gaze still exists in a variety of forms in our culture, both subtle and blatant….and being reminded of how long it’s been around, as a form of storytelling, no less, honestly hit me in the gut a little.
2. Examples of single, autonomous women deciding that, no, actually, they really do need to be married by the time their stories end, abound in modern fiction. Take the protagonist of 2007’s “Eat, Pray, Love,” who makes a big deal of Embracing Her Independence after a difficult divorce…only to end up remarried by the end of the story. I’d be here all day if tried to list every example of this message to come along in the last twenty years, but I’m sure that anyone reading this that grew up in a Western culture can think of many, many more without my help. (Particularly if you happen to be female, since most fiction with a “No, really, you need to be married by the end,” plot is geared toward women).
3. A man who displays a profound disrespect for the basic competence and intelligence of the women he “loves” portrayed as a desirable partner…well, that story element has been at the center of a hugely successful franchise since about 2005. I won’t bother to name it–I think you’re picking up what I’m putting down.
So, in the end, maybe I’m being unfair to Marianne but I can’t bring myself to praise a piece with these themes in it too highly. It’s not simply the fact that those ideas existed in 1875; it’s the pang of being reminded that they are about as prevalent today as they ever were, a realization that that both baffles and sickens me.
i “The Male Gaze”: Essentially the idea that women exist for the purpose of being looked at by men, either in a contemplative or a sexual way, and should take pleasure in being observed and approved by male eyes.
This project was inspired by the comments about this “Nice Guy’s Lament,” on Myspace. If you’re interested in seeing more feedback to the ideas presented in this poem (original text in bold), then please check those comments out here:http://message.snopes.com/showthread.php?t=5676
This made me cry.
Funny, because it just makes me angry.
that i bought you roses
to tell you that i like you
I’m sorry that you’re the kind of person that expects something in return for being loving toward your friends.
That I was raised with respect
not to sleep with you when you were drunk
I’m sorry that you expect to be adulated for simply deciding not t o commit a heinous crime (although, evidently, the thought did cross your mind when you noticed that I was vulnerable.)
That my body’s not ripped enough
to “satisfy” your wants
I’m sorry that you assume that all women are attracted to society’s “ideal” male body type; I’m also sorry that you don’t see me as an individual enough to actually find out what traits (beyond cosmetic features) attract me to someone. Apparenly, all women are the same, and we are all vapid.
that I open your car door,
and pull out your chair like I was raised
I’m pretty sure we already had this expecting-to-be-rewarded –for- simple- decent behavior conversation… and I’m still sorry that you apparently do nice things for others only when you think you will get something from them for it.
That I’m not cute enough
to be “your guy”
I’m sorry that you think I’m so shallow
That a nice face is all I look for in a potential partner
I’m sorry that you’ve accused me of being unable to see past good looks into a real human being, and still manage to continue believing that you are ”not an asshole.”
I don’t have a huge bank account
to buy you expensive things
I’m sorry that
- you have apparently suffered some kind of bizarrely specific amnesia that makes you believe that it’s still 1900, and thus, a woman would be unable to buy the things she may want without your assistance.
- This is the third time that you’ve intimated that I’m shallow (please see “asshole” annotation above).
I like to spend quality nights at home cuddling with you,
instead of at a club
I’m sorry that you feel the your style of passing an evening is, somehow, inherently superior to mine. (Also, I’m a little sorry that you feel it’s alright to “cuddle” me—i.e. touch me in an intimate manner—when, by your own admission, we are friends, and nothing else).
That I am always the one you need to talk to,
but never good enough to date
I’m sorry that I didn’t know that you viewed conversations as bargaining chips with which to buy a romantic relationship from me before I started talking to you.
That I am “just” a friend
I am sorry that you view our friendship as just a means to an end.
If I start not being there,
and being used as a door mat,
only to be thrown to the side when the new asshole comes around
I’m sorry if you’re confused as to why you might be brushed aside when you repeatedly refer to my current boyfriend as an “asshole.”
If I don’t answer my phone anymore when you call,
to listen to you cry for hours,
instead of getting a couple hours of sleep before work
I’m sorry that you lack the courage and integrity to tell me that you would rather I not call you at night, because you need to get up early the following day. If you’d bothered to be honest, I would have understood, and called someone else.
I’m sorry that you can’t realize..
I’ve been the one all along.
I’m sorry tha you feel you are better qualified to decide what I want and need in a partner than I am.
If you read this and know somebody like this
but don’t care
But most of all
For not being sorry anymore
I’m a little sorry that you’re not sorry, too.
That you can’t accept me for who I am
I’m sorry that you expect me to be someone that I am not (i.e. someone who’s romantically interested in you), and yet you are being self-righteous about me not accepting you for who you are.
I can never do anything right,
and nothing that I do is good enough to make it in your world.
I’m sorry that your perspective is so narrow that you fail to see that having my tears on your shoulder and my struggles in your ear does constitute being “in my world.”
I caught your bf with another girl and told you about it,
I thought that was what friends were for…
I’m sorry that you feel I should jump into a relationship with you because you were nice enough to tell me that my last boyfriend was cheating, without giving a thought to the consideration that I might not be over that incident yet. Evidently, what’s emotionally healthy or wise for my life is irrelevant as long as you have your new girlfriend.
That I told you I loved you and actually meant it.
I’m sorry that you feel I owe you something because you told me that you loved me.
That I talked to you for nine hours on Thanksgiving when your bf was threatening you instead of spending time with my family.
I’m sorry that you’re the kind of person that makes sacrifices for others without being forced, and then throws them back in your “friends’” faces when the sacrifice doesn’t yield the results that you want.
I’m sorry that I cared.
We’ve had this I-expect-you-to-sleep-with-me-because-I-act-like-a-good-person conversation twice. Every time you fail to grasp the concept that this attitude, in facts, negates your “nice guy” status, I am more and more sorry.
Ladies always bitch and bitch to their friends that there is never any good guys out there, and they always end up with assholes who mistreat them. Well ladies next time you’re bitching, maybe look up to see who you’re bitching to, maybe that special someone is right there hanging on your every word as usual, screaming in his head “Why won’t you give me a chance?”
“Nice guys” always bitch about the fact that girls prefer so-called, “bad guys.” Well, Nice Guys, the next time you’re bitching about the fact that you’re extraordinary niceness isn’t getting you the payout you want—i.e. a girlfriend — consider how “nice” your mercenary attitude really makes you.
The next time you are listening to a girl’s problems planning to use the gesture as ammunition if she doesn’t thank you with either a one-night-stand or an invitation to the Prom, maybe look in a mirror and think about whether or not you actually care about her as a human being, or only as your potential reward for being so very very “nice.”
Because the person you are usually searching for is right by you.
because your female friends are people, not prizes.
I ran across a recording of your appearance on “The Young Turks” from July of 2011, and was fascinated by your thoughts on representations of men in the media: namely, that everyone shows concern over negative stereotypes of women in ads or on television, but very few do the same for men, creating an unjust double standard. I readily agree that men are often portrayed as incompetent and childlike in both ads and sitcoms. I also agree that this portrayal is problematic, unfair, and does our society as a whole no favors. It’s just as inappropriate as any of the other half-million stereotypes about women, gays, and people of color that the media so enjoys peddling to the wider culture.
So, we’re in agreement on that: consistently degrading portrayals of husbands and single men on television are a bad thing. Even so, there is an underlying hole in your argument that I fear you may have missed: the characters that you are discussing—husbands on TV shows and in commercials—are, by and large, Caucasian, suburban (which usually means middle class) and straight. While your points are valid, un-ironically complaining about representations of white, straight, upper-to- middle-class males still comes off as just a bit absurd to much of the rest of the population. Literally the most privileged, powerful demographic in Western history gets made fun of every now and then? Clearly, the long race of American Civil Rights has a new hurdle to jump. The hearts of black, Latino, Asian, female, Native American, LGBT, Jewish, and Muslim Americans go out to you and your brothers in arms as you stand firm in your struggle.
A lower-middle class, female, over-privileged oppressor