AWFJ Women On Film – The Week In Women, February 12, 2010 – MaryAnn Johanson

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Pop culture misogyny so bad, even men notice it; Hollywood director says out loud that Hollywood actresses are too skinny and

MISOGYNY SO BAD, EVEN MEN NOTICE IT. Unsurprisingly, the feminist wags at Jezebel — posters and commenters both — had a lot to say about how almost uniformly misogynist the much-hyped Super Bowls ads were during last weekend’s big game. But it turns out that it wasn’t only hairy-legged, cat-owning, lonely lesbian feminazis who took exception to them: the ads were so antiwoman that even men were noticing. Jezebel’s Irin rounds up some of the reaction from the mainstream media to the commercials… from critics with names such as James Poniewozik (in Time), Seth Stevenson (at Slate), Stuart Elliott (at the New York Times’ blog Media Decoder), and Tom Shales and Ezra Klein (of The Washington Post). They range from perplexed and bewildered — gee, where did all this misogyny come from all of a sudden?! — to full-on outrage feminist rage: “Why would CBS turn down a Super Bowl ad from a gay-dating service, then run a bunch of ads with the message that men can’t stand to be around women?”

So said Poniewozik. And perhaps so many men couldn’t fail to see the hate because these ads were at least as hateful toward men as they were toward women. This one, for the Dodge Charger, is particularly awful for how it depicts men as having had all spirit and self-determination flogged out of them:

Who’s doing the flogging? Why, women, of course. Who else would insist that a man not leave his whiskers in the sink, not leave the toilet seat up, not wear his socks to bed, and expect that he be civil to her mother? Lest there be any doubt that blaming women for men’s woes — woes men could quite easily avoid by not living with these ball-busting women in the first place — is meant to entice men into buying a Charger, Dodge spells it out at the video’s YouTube page: “You’ve sacrificed a lot, but surely there is a limit to your chivalry. Drive the car you want to drive.” Men sacrifice, you see. Because they’re chivalrous. But they secretly resent those sacrifices and the women they’re making them for. That’s usually called passive-aggression, not chivalry.

This spoof, posted this week on YouTube, effectively demolishes the notion that men are overly oppressed and utterly unable to do anything about it:

You know what? I do feel so fucking sorry for those losers in the Dodge ad. If they really are living lives they don’t want to live with women they hold in disdain, they have only themselves to blame for it.

REAL WARRIORS HAVE CURVES. Director Chris Columbus had trouble finding an actress to play the warrior offspring of the goddess Athena in Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. Why? According to Digital Spy, it’s probably the last thing that most women trying to make it in Hollywood ever hear:

[T]he women who auditioned were too slender.

Says Columbus:

I needed someone who really had a formidable quality as a goddess. I saw a lot of women in Los Angeles who were so thin that I don’t think they had eaten in weeks. They could barely lift a spoon and I needed someone who could lift a sword.

The really scary thing is, actress Alexandra Daddario, who ended up with the role, hardly looks like a football player or anything:

It does make one wonder how thin the other actresses were… and whatever possessed them to think they could possibly play a warrior in any convincing way.

SOMETIMES BEING A SELLOUT IS ALL A WOMAN HAS. Chris Columbus’s complaints about Hollywood actresses aside, it’s still hard out there for a gal, as Janeane Garofalo explains to New York magazine’s Vulture blog. A few choice excerpts:

It’s been hard in entertainment as a 45-year-old woman to find jobs. They get fewer and far between if you’re older, unless you’re one of the few lucky ones who work constantly, like Meryl Streep. Now, having said that, I’m not comparing myself to Meryl Streep. She’s a national treasure. But, I think most women as they age would tell you that it’s harder and harder to find work.

I think that it would take someone to give you an opportunity, and then it’s incumbent upon you to do a great job. There’s a saying, “You’re only one part away from getting back into the swing of things.” I’m just hoping I can pull a Jean Smart in Garden State. Jean Smart played the mom in Garden State and then it was like the floodgates opened, and she was back in business again. You just need an opportunity and then you yourself have to do a good job, and then you hope that people go, “Oh yeah, I forgot about her.”

and:

Men are allowed to age. Men are allowed to gain weight. Men are allowed to be quirky looking.

And if a woman wants to work in Hollywood, she has no choice but to give in to the prevailing prejudices, as Garofalo reluctantly concedes:

I didn’t say actresses don’t need to lose weight. Obviously, they shouldn’t have to. I still stand behind that. They shouldn’t have to, but I sold out. Total sellout, lost weight. Quitting drinking does contribute to that because apparently I was drinking about 22 pounds of vodka. But yeah, I fucking sold out. That is absolutely a fact. I was heavier and it really gets you almost nowhere, you realize quickly. I mean, I got very lucky in the nineties. Very lucky. But I was usually cast as a person wherein they’re so unattractive, that it defines them. And you get sick of it after a while, and then you realize that it’s just easier. And you don’t even have to be really heavy to be characterized as an overweight actor. So yeah, I sold out, lost weight.

Depressing.

OPENING THIS WEEK. The aforementioned Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief may indeed a feature an actress who isn’t stick thin, but that’s about the only good thing to be said about it, at least as concerns the depiction of female characters in studio movies. Almost all the characters with any impact on the story are male, and much of the driving force behind the plot involves Percy’s desire to rescue his mother (Catherine Keener), who has been kidnapped by Hades, the god of the underworld, in order to coerce Percy’s cooperation. It may be a twist that the damsel in distress isn’t held up as a putative sexual gift to the hero, should he accomplish his quest, but it still doesn’t make room for a woman to do much of anything other than be threatened by one man so another can come to her aid.

Emily Blunt is a more traditional damsel in distress in The Wolf Man, with the added bonus of being passed from brother to brother as if she were a bauble to be inherited. After her fiancé is killed by a mysterious creature on the foggy moors of Victorian England, she enlists his brother (Benicio Del Toro) to investigate the death. And the implication is clear, by film’s end, that she has transferred her affections to Del Toro’s character. As an added bonus, the brothers’ mother exists only so she can be killed, in flashbacks, before the eyes of her young sons as plot point. It’s a standard place for women to be in mainstream films: Prod the hero, then stand aside and let him live the story.

Valentine’s Day is chock full of female characters, and some of them are even quite appealing: Jennifer Garner’s schoolteacher, Julia Roberts’ soldier on leave. Too bad every single one of them is mired in so many clichés that the best you can do is wish they’d had more of an opportunity onscreen to be the fully rounded people the engaging actresses hint they are.

See the AWFJ’s regular weekly rundown of new releases for more.

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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).