AWFJ Women On Film – The Week In Women, June 12, 2009 – MaryAnn Johanson

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Men, bless their blindered little hearts, really, really don’t get it, but at least cable TV loves strong women.

MEN JUST DON’T GET IT. It’s been a very dispiriting week for me as I’ve been searching the Web for news of women in the entertainment industry. Everywhere I turned, it seemed, was evidence not just of the lack of opportunities for women to do anything beyond the narrowest stereotypes of what women should be and what women should want, but also of the great and deep disdain in which many men hold women.

For example, there was the post at Cinematical, by Peter Martin, the provocative title of which — “Jessica Biel: Stripper or Serious Actress?” — belied the fairly intelligent discussion following, that covered both the perfectly normal male desire to look at attractive women and the dilemmas that female actors who want to work but also want to be taken seriously face in today’s entertainment environment. “To strip, or not to strip?” could have been an alternate title for the post.

But the comments following it prove that a gal just cannot win, no matter what she does. She’s either delusional for believing herself “hot enough” to get naked on camera or not fit to complain about being exploited because she colluded in her own exploitation or not talented enough to be worthy of any role other than one that gets her naked.

Then there was Adam Eisenberg, who blogs at OutOfTheBlu, who said this about actreess Megan Fox (Transformers):

I’m not a stalker and I’m not violent.

But ever since I saw Megan Fox, I’ve wanted to hunt her down and club her like a cavewoman.

Let me clarify.

I don’t really want to club her like a cavewoman…that sounds misogynistic and weird. What I mean is I want to club her like a caveman who bonked sexy cavewomen over the head and dragged them by the hair back to their caves.

Seriously, where the f*** does she get off looking like that?

See, it’s cute and funny cuz Eisenberg isn’t really a pig — he just plays one on the Internet. And anyway, it’s all Fox’s fault because she’s so damn hot. If she’d wear a burqa or something, perfectly ordinary normal guys like Eisenberg wouldn’t be tempted to behave like a caveman.

But all that was nothing compared to the post by Jeffrey Wells — supposedly a respected observer of the Hollywood scene — who devoted an entire post, entitled “Just Hot Enough,” to the letter-grading system he uses to reduce women to how pleasing they will be to him:

Life has taught most of us that the best women to be with in a relationship are B-plusses, Bs, B-minuses and C-plusses. I’m not saying you can’t be perfectly happy with a triple-A or a double-A — I’m saying that happiness odds increase when you drop down into the B and high-C categories. Every now and then you’ll get lucky and meet a lovely, spiritually attractive, good-for-the-soul A-minus woman, but the odds don’t favor it.

By the “us” that Wells suggests life has taught this lesson to, he doesn’t really mean all of us: he means men with the same dehumanizing and reductive approach to women.

It gets much, much worse from there. The best (ie, the most horrific) part:

Life would be heavenly and rhapsodic if women had the personality and temperament of dogs — forever loyal, non-judgmental, constantly affectionate. But that’s a loser’s dream.

(Blogger hortense at Jezebel offers an excellent takedown of Wells.)

The commenters on Wells’s post are well worth reading, too, because they’re a perfect example of something I’ve encountered quite a bit later, and that I’ve finally come to understand informs the attitudes of many men who don’t understand what feminism is all about. For those who defend Wells in their comments, it comes down to a simplistic either/or: either people of both genders prefer their romantic/sexual partners to be attractive, or they don’t… and therefore (these guys believe they’ve triumphed at this point), since everyone knows that everyone really would prefer to be with someone attractive, feminists, who are probably lesbians anyway, don’t have a damn hairy leg to stand on when they bitch about something like what Wells wrote.

I’m gonna ignore the misogyny inherent here and give all these men — Wells included — the benefit of the doubt. They say such things as these, and are as genuinely surprised to hear anyone disagree with them as they are, because they really do believe that the whole world sees everything exactly the same way they do. Because the world has, for so long, given the stamp of approval on the white, Western, middle-class-and-up male perspective, they honestly cannot see that theirs is not the only way of seeing things. Try to explain to them, as one feminist does in her pushback to Wells, that not everyone has the same understanding of what constitutes “attractive,” and they literally cannot hear that, because it makes no sense to them. (Or try to explain to them, for instance, that a female Latina Supreme Court justice ruling from her experience is no more biased than a white male WASP Supreme Court justice ruling from his experience, and the blinders they’re wearing completely cloud their appreciation of this fact.)

I’ve been facing the same thing with some male commenters to my review of My Life in Ruins. I complained that the movie suggests that all the many things that bother the Nia Vardalos protagonist — which have to do with job dissatisfaction and the fact that so many people fail to appreciate the art and history and loveliness of Greece in the same way she does — are instantly dissipated when she gets laid by an attractive man, and will no longer bother her now that the prospect of an ongoing relationship with that attractive man is before her. Which is nonsense.

The interpretation of this complaint by some men has been that I’m the one who’s being unrealistic, because of course almost everyone wants to have a nice romantic relationship. And after much virtual banging of my head, attempting to explain that I do not dispute that fact, I suddenly realized: Most men have never, ever encountered the attitude that the only fulfillment they should expect to get out of life — that they will need to get out of life — will come from taking care of a woman. That’s not to say that no one ever bugs men about getting married. Of course that happens. But there is a basic assumption that, sure, a man might be missing something if he’s not married, but a man has lots of other avenues for self-fulfillment, so it’s hardly the end of the world. But the basic assumption for women is that she wouldn’t even be worrying her pretty little head about such nonsense as politics or career or pollutants in the water if she were properly distracted by a man.

So when women complain about how we face this attitude all the damn time — especially in our pop culture! — and we’re tired of it, some men can dismiss this as patent nonsense because they sincerely don’t see it.

I’m hardly breaking any philosophical ground here: this is standard stuff, Feminism 101. But for some reason, although I understood this already, it’s been clicking with me in a much more resonant way lately.

GUESS WHO BLOGS ABOUT MOVIES TOO? I thought I’d found an interesting new film blog this week, Medfly Quarantine… and then I stumbled across this post, by Ryan Kelly, “Notes on the Blogaissance.” He lists some of the “great many lessons to be learned from the blogosphere,” ones that he “most value[s].” Way down on the list is this:

Girls blog about movies, too.

Now, Kelly is only 20 years old, but I might have thought that would mean he was more open to the idea that girls, you know, do think about stuff, and write about it. Surely, it could only have come as a surprise to him that “girls blog about movies too” if he’d previously believed that we didn’t, for some bizarre reason. Why on Earth would anyone hold the default position that women do not write about film?

I might have thought that at my advanced age — twice Kelly’s — I would be immune to this, but I was absolutely crushed to come across this entry on his list. It said to me that everything I’d laughed about in recognition higher up on his list (“Saying you like Mission to Mars will still get you into trouble”) he meant to apply only to boy, the default film bloggers. I haven’t felt so… dismissed and invisible in ages.

CABLE LOVES WOMEN, AT LEAST. Holly Hunter talks to Marshall Fine at Hollywood & Fine about her show Saving Grace, about to return to the cablewaves:

For Hunter, “Saving Grace” represents a kind of security she’s rarely had in her career. Despite an early Oscar nomination for “Broadcast News” and a subsequent win for “The Piano,” Hunter has always scrambled for work.

“I’ve always been offered stuff, but my career has never been as giant as all that,” says Hunter, 51. “I’ve moved laterally, as opposed to vertically. I was never a superstar. I’ve always had to move between a couple of years of unemployment, where offers are not provocative enough to take, and seasons where I work nonstop for a year. It’s always been an erratic rhythm. I’ve always enjoyed my time off. I’ve never liked working as much as I work now. I do get a hiatus but I’d like a little more.”

“So many means of expression are being explored in TV through women who are fully mature, in the prime of their lives, feeling experienced and able to express who they are. We’re not 21. It’s really exciting, in that these opportunities are kind of unprecedented. Glenn Close, Kyra Sedgwick, Mary McCormick, Mary Louise Parker, a show like ‘United States of Tara’ – women are exploring all kinds of new aspects of themselves.”

HOLLYWOOD HATES WOMEN, PART 32,954. Surely My Big Fat Greek Wedding alone makes Nia Vardalos one of the most successful women in Hollywood history by the only standard the industry cares about: money. But even she can’t get a movie greenlit. Why? As she writes at Huffington Post:

A little-known fact: some studios recently decided to no longer make female-lead movies.

Lately, I’ve been in meetings regarding a new script idea I have. A studio executive asked me to change the female lead to a male, because… “women don’t go to movies.”

Really?

When I pointed out the box office successes of Sex and The City, Mamma Mia, and Obsessed, he called them “flukes.” He said “don’t quote me on this.” So, I’m telling everybody.

And we’re hearing it.

OPENING THIS WEEK. The Taking of Pelham 123? Cool, fun, exciting movie. No female characters to speak of. Imagine That? A tedious sitcom, starring a seven-year-old girl and featuring, in one or two scenes, the nagging ex-wife. It’s pretty much all Eddie Murphy and Thomas Haden Church measuring their dicks against each other’s for 90 minutes. Moon? Spectacular low-budget science fiction indie. It’s all Sam Rockwell. Whom I worship. But it could have easily been Cate Blanchett.

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MaryAnn Johanson

MaryAnn Johanson is a freelance writer on film, TV, DVD, and pop culture from New York City and now based in London. She is the webmaster and sole critic at FlickFilosopher.com, which debuted in 1997 and is now one of the most popular, most respected, and longest-running movie-related sites on the Internet. Her film reviews also appear in a variety of alternative-weekly newspapers across the U.S. Johanson is one of only a few film critics who is a member of The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (the Webby organization), an invitation-only, 500-member body of leading Web experts, business figures, luminaries, visionaries and creative celebrities. She is also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. She has appeared as a cultural commentator on BBC Radio, LBC-London, and on local radio programs across North America, and she served as a judge at the first Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film Festival at the 2003 I-Con, the largest SF convention on the East Coast. She is the author of The Totally Geeky Guide to The Princess Bride, and is an award-winning screenwriter. Read Johanson's recent articles below. For her AWFJ.org archive, type "MaryAnn Johanson" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).