Here’s what I’ve learned in the last 24 hours: women are associative, intuitive and non-intellectual. Women are bad directors because the medium requires the male gaze. Women don’t have conversations in movies. None of these statements have anything in common except that they’re ridiculous gender-based generalizations designed to spark hours and hours of frothing-at-the-mouth frenzy. And it needs to stop.
Let’s start with some basics here: it’s not precisely a secret that the film industry always has been and still is dominated by men. Nor is it news that sexism quietly remains prevalent. It’s hard not to sympathize with an idea like The Bechdel Test, which proposes to measure whether movies meet some kind of basic female parity by figuring out whether there are two or more women in a movie who have names and have a conversation about something other than a man. This isn’t new, but a friend sent me the link this morning.
This seems reasonable, until you look at the list of movies cited: is the biggest problem with, say, “Shrek” a lack of gender parity? (Or, uh, “WALL-E”?) I can think of quite a few movies from last year that would actually pass this test — “Beeswax,” “Halloween II,” “Up In The Air,” “Treeless Mountain,” “My Sister’s Keeper” — but I’m being deliberately obtuse and I know it. It just seems like attacking a wide variety of blockbusters that flatten all the complexities of human experience for being gender-imbalanced doesn’t make any sense.
But hey, I get it! I certainly wouldn’t enjoy living in a world where the “male experience” (whatever that might be) was constantly marginalized and dismissed. There is a point here, even if it’s not one I’m on board with. Let’s move deeper down the generalization pool. From Cannes, Anne Thompson reports that Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Biutiful” is “almost feminine in its associative, intuitive, non-intellectual construction.” Best not to dwell on this: cranking out copy in a high-pressure festival environment is one of the hardest things to do and can lead to all kinds of statements you wouldn’t normally make. I’ll just point out that if a man had said this (women are non-intellectual?), he’d quickly (and correctly) be pilloried for sexism.
Descending down the scale, we find the truly vile. There’s Bret Easton Ellis, who’s never been afraid to say stupid things with great vehemence. “I think [movies are] a medium that really is built for the male gaze and for a male sensibility,” he says, before going on not to clarify anything. “I mean, the best art is made under not an indifference to, but a neutrality [toward] the kind of emotionalism that I think can be a trap for women directors.” And way, way down there we find Big Hollywood‘s Leigh Scott, who somehow connects “Iron Man 2″‘s box office success to the Battle of Saratoga (!) before going on to prove that the film is feminist, not sexist.
This is a small sample of the kind of reasoned gender discourse the internet helpfully vomits up on an hourly basis (gender politics are second only to actual politics as a way to piss people off and drive up traffic numbers). But it’s all stupid. It will never stop, of course — but it’d be nice if it did. Correlating anything to gender is tenuous at best and increasingly repugnant at worst. Let’s leave this to the academics, shall we? There’s nothing to be gained by any of these statements, ever.
[Photos: “Shrek The Halls,” DreamWorks Animation, 2007; “Iron Man 2,” Paramount, 2010.]