AWFJ Women On Film – The Week In Women, January 8, 2010 – MaryAnn Johanson

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Is Kathryn Bigelow female enough?; how to have a nonsexist awards season; Spike TV targets horny dudes…

IS KATHRYN BIGELOW FEMALE ENOUGH? I was all ready to fly into a rage at Matthew Hammett Knott when I saw the headline of his piece at indieWire: “For Your Consideration: Is Kathryn Bigelow a Female Director?”. Except the article turns out to be all about contemplating Bigelow’s position at an Oscar frontrunner, and all the many questions that are cropping up because of it… and how those questions are only cropping up because of ingrained sexism not only in Hollywood but in our culture at large:

Is Kathryn Bigelow a female director?

What a stupid question. Of course, I assume you realize I am not querying her biological anatomy, but even so, whatever my parameters, surely the answer is “Does it matter?”. Whether in terms of cinematic style, significance or persona, surely defining Bigelow as a female director is at best irrelevant and at worst seriously counter-productive. I don’t see any articles asking “How male is James Cameron?”.

Enormous kudos to Knott for Getting It. I mean, what makes a person female is possession of a vagina instead of a penis, right? (I know, I know: there are transgender issues beyond this, but that complicates things in a way that doesn’t really impact this particular matter.) And it is certainly a milestone to be celebrated that a person with a vagina is in position to, potentially, win an Oscar for Best Director, because no person with a vagina has achieved this feat before.

But maybe Knott doesn’t quite Get It. He delves into the thorny matter of whether we should be celebrating Bigelow for succeeding by “acting like a man” — that is, for not making a gooey poetic chaste love story like that girly girl Jane Campion did with Bright Star, and look how little respect she’s gotten because of it — and whether that truly represents a positive step forward for All Things Feminist. But then he says this:

“The Hurt Locker” is an action film, a genre typically the preserve of male directors.

Come on. All movie genres have been the preserve of male directors! And no one has ever suggested that a male director is less of a man — or less worthy of being celebrated as a director — because he makes movies that are supposedly less than “masculine,” such as romantic comedies.

And Knott also points out:

It’s certainly true that “The Hurt Locker” does nothing to forward the representation of women on screen.

As if any art a woman might create is less than important as a notable work by a woman if it isn’t overtly feminist. Should Bigelow be limited to certain types of characters, certain subject matters, certain plots?

The basic point of feminism is that women are people, that women are human. The Hurt Locker is a human story that happens to be about a man. In the genuinely egalitarian world that feminists envision and fight for, it would be no more notable that a woman filmmaker is telling a story about a man than it is when a man filmmaker tells a story about a woman.

HOW TO HAVE A NONSEXIST AWARDS SEASON. Chloe at feministing has revealed her “awards season wishlist”, which walks the brilliant line between crushing the ridiculous stereotype that feminists are nothing but stern, humorless scolds and pointing out that it’s possible to enjoy shallow stuff like fashion and gossip without being bigoted about it. As Chloe says

I have a confession. I love awards season. I love awkward red carpet chit chat and clearly rehearsed “this is so unexpected!” acceptance speeches and yes, I love looking at pictures of people in stunning dresses and dapper tuxes.

I love it all, too. Part of the fun of The Movies is the opportunity to look at beautiful people (of all genders). And there’s nothing wrong with being silly and shallow. But we don’t have to be sexist about it at the same time.

I’d love to see a little less focus on what actresses are wearing, and a little more attention paid to the work they’ve done this year. Women like Catherine [sic] Bigelow, Gabourey Sidibe, Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman and Mo’Nique, to name just a few, have made some real contributions to acting and directing this year. And while awards seasons inherently carries with it some focus on how these women present themselves on the red carpet, wouldn’t it be nice to celebrate their talent and hard work, instead of focusing solely on their gowns, hair, make up and jewelry? Wouldn’t it be nice to hear red carpet hosts ask those actresses about how they prepared for their roles, rather than how they prepared for the awards ceremony?

Again, there’s nothing wrong with asking women about their clothes… as long as we ask the guys, too. And let’s also ask the women about their work, in a meaningful way. It’s just as easy to get all squealy and excited and girly over the fact that a woman is nominated for Best Director (if one or two are, of course) as over a gorgeous gown.

Finally, if we must talk fashion, I’d love to see a ban on the body snark that so often comes along with it. It’s easy, when we talk about gowns and tuxes in a critical way, to talk about the bodies wearing them in the same tone. It’s difficult to draw the line between commenting on a woman’s style and commenting on her size or shape, but it can, and should, be done. For those of us who can’t get through awards season without talking about the fashion, the women at Go Fug Yourself set an excellent (and very funny) example for how to talk about red carpet fashion, without the body snark.

Honestly, it’s really not that hard to limit oneself to making fun of the choice that went into that hideous dress — or tux! — without crossing the line into commenting on someone’s body… male or female.

REAL WOMEN ARE DISEMBODIED TITS. I’ve been seeing ads like this one all over New York City over the last few weeks: on subway platforms, on the sides of buses, on the few telephone kiosks left in Manhattan. And they have driven me bonkers. Now, I know that the HBO series Entourage is basically Maxim magazine for guys too lazy to get off their asses and walk to a newsstand (I reviewed Season One here), but still… seriously, Spike TV dudes?

See, the basic-cable network Spike is going to start running Entourage next week — presumably with major cuts and bleeps to accommodate the delicate FCC-mandated sensibilities of commercial television — and they want everyone to know that this means that

now every guy can get some

I’ve fantasized about cornering a Spike ad exec — I imagine he’d be a sleek, slick asshole who fancies himself God’s gift to women — and asking him, in all pretend innocence, “Get some what?” And I’d love to hear his explanation. Would he actually say: “Tits”? “Ass”? “Booty”? “Poontang”? “Snatch”? Would he actually admit that his ad is intended to liken watching this show with getting laid by the hottest pair of disembodied breasts a horny lonely dude can imagine?

I’m not sure which makes me more angry: the fact that this ad reduces women to body parts that men like, or that some TV viewers will actually be seduced by this.

OPENING THIS WEEK. I suppose it’s notable that Leap Year, the Amy Adams/Matthew Goode “romantic” “comedy” is an equal opportunity offender: it doesn’t just insult women, it insults the Irish, male and female, too. What really bothers me is that so many male critics, such as Movie City News’ Michael Wilmington, seem to think the film is charming enough, even with all its many flaws. Wilmington calls the film “sweet-natured,” he finds Adams “entrancing” with her “big warming smile and genuinely sparkly and crush-inducing gazes,” and he insists that we all

raise a glass to Amy Adams, one lassie we’d really like to miss a train with.

I’d love to ask Wilmington, “Would you really want to spend time with this woman?” Now, I’ve been known to crush on Amy Adams before, and I would love to miss a train with Adams. But the character she plays in this film? Holy God, I want to strangle her: she’s a shallow, spoiled brat who is bitchy for no reason. Would Wilmington genuinely like to be in the company of a woman-child who would just as soon throw your sandwich out the window of a moving car as look at you? Is this cute? Is this desirable? Is this really what men want out of a woman?

Well, and maybe it is, because one of the other big releases of the weekend if Youth in Revolt, which offers us the tedious stereotype of the teenage “nice guy” who thinks that what girl wants is a man who subsumes his entire self to her… and what he gets in return is a girl who manipulates him into buying crap for her and committing criminal acts before she’ll allow him to bed her. Yeah, that’s a model for our children to embrace.

For more, see the AWFJ’s weekly rundown of new releases.

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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).