Sunday, June 19, 2005

Is It Just Me?

Everyone in the house is asleep but me, which means, if you could tune out the noise of the TV, you'd hear the soft snores of man and beast. There's something very happy in having a pile of sleeping beings on the couch. Still, the dog is lucky there are other folks trying to sleep, or I'd be standing right next to her yelling, "Hey, hey! What's that noise? Is that the sun? Shouldn't you get up right now?" because not everyone in the world likes to be woken up at 6:30 on a Sunday morning and damn it, I want revenge. We went to the first showing of the new Batman movie, which is just as good as you've already heard, so I'll spare you yet another amateur review. Still, there's something going on with the women in these superhero movies that I just don't like and I don't quite know how to talk about it because there's not just one thing that I point to and use it to show you what the problem is. It's just that I came out of this movie with the same thought nagging me that I had when I walked out of the Spidermans: I hate... that might be too strong a word... I strongly dislike the lead female characters. When we were talking about the Batman movie, I asked the Butcher, is it just me or is Katie Holmes's character kind of a bitch? And he said it was just me, that I was being distracted by her real-world craziness. But no, I don't think so. Okay, in part, what bugs me is that the women in these movies are so sure that they know the whole truth about the main character that they feel free to criticize actions they don't fully understand. In other words, they think they're providing the voice of reason, the moral check-point the main character really needs, when we know that they don't have enough information, especially the crucial information, to make those judgments. And then, when it becomes obvious to them that the main character can't be the person the female character constructed in her head and has been goading the male character to be, she withdraws. It's not just that she pulls away because he's not the person she thought he was; she pulls away because he can't be the person she thought he was without endangering the rest of the city. In other words, she seems to kind of punish him for choosing the city over her, even though there's no indication that that's the choice he has to make. And it bothers me that she's made to seem inadvertently bitchy and non-understanding. And you know me, it's not like I think that women have some obligation to be overly understanding, but my god, you'd think these superhero movie women would consider for a second that they don't know everything there is to know. So, I'm bothered that they're characterized as bossy and slightly sanctimonious and that, of course, their sanctimony is utterly misguided. I mean, why is it always "of course." Why are the women always misguided? Is this a kind of object lesson in not worrying our pretty little heads because we don't know as much as the big strong man? Hmm. I don't know if that's quite it. But there's something going on that I'm sure in twenty or thirty years we'll look at all these superhero movies and feminist theorists will be able to say really smart things about what's going on with the portrayal of women, but for now, I don't even quite know how to articulate what bothers me, just that there's something hinkey.


Blogger Taketoshi said...

That's something I've always hated about the lead female characters in those films, too. I think, however, that it's easily chalked up to being a handy way to introduce interpersonal conflict without threatening the clear identity of the male lead as the most important figure in the movie.

And when the superhero(ine) happens to be female, and we possibly don't have to worry about this problem anymore? We get (sigh) Catwoman.

6/19/2005 06:14:00 PM  
Blogger tls said...

Or Elektra.

As with many of your posts, I'm trying to come up with an example to contrast against your point and I'm failing. (Aside, why is Kirsten Dunst even famous anymore?)

What about Lois Lane? Whose track record will undoubtedly be ruined by Kate Bosworth in Superman Returns.

6/20/2005 07:50:00 AM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Kate Bosworth is going to be Lois Lane? I'm just shaking my head.

I was thinking about it this morning and I guess, too, that another thing that just rings false for me is that I lump superheroes in with paramedics and firefighters--but with super powers or super toys. And how many women do you know, especially in their 20s, who are like "Oh, I'm sorry hot firefighter. You aren't the man/woman I thought you were, because you're always being called away from the dinner table."?

No, we love those folks and it's only once we're deeply involved that we're like "I worry about you all the time. What if one night you don't come home? Please quit the job you feel called to do."

But I've never seen that dynamic play out in a superhero movie (though someone may come along and prove me wrong). It's always this weird--"god your hot but I'm afraid of your job, therefore, all we can do is kiss and I will gaze longingly and think about what might have been." Please, that's not how women work (to make sweeping generalizations).

6/20/2005 08:18:00 AM  
Blogger Steve Pick said...

Just to throw in some amateur psychoanalysis, I think comic book superheroes have historically been the product of some serious projections of adolescent male fantasies and fears. One thing adolescent males don't understand at all is the female mind. They have a mixture of mom, teacher, and peers in their viewing of what makes women work.

Now, mom and teacher are world famous for not understanding what is important to the adolescent male. I remember it being extremely vital for me to go save the world at age 13 by, I don't remember, maybe it was refusing to wear shoes. Mom was an obstacle to be overcome in this regard. Meanwhile, it seemed like girls my age couldn't figure out I liked them, mainly because I couldn't figure out how to tell them. So, obviously, they simply didn't understand my powers.

Basically, superheroes are boys writ large, and women are incapable of understanding boys (since, boys don't have a clue what women are thinking in the first place). Thus, the fantasy has to include girls as an obstacle to be overcome, a choice between duty and impossible desire.

I'm not saying I like it, but that's the way I see it.

6/20/2005 09:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shill, I think Kirsten Dunst is famous for feral grinning because that's the main (only) thing she brings to mind.


6/20/2005 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Not to point out the obvious, but I think Kirsten Dunst is famous primarily for her boobs.

Steve, good insight into the problem. I wouldn't have seen it before, but there definitely is a way in which Katie Holmes's character comes across as very motherly, all the time talking about what Bruce's father would have wanted or thought.

6/20/2005 01:01:00 PM  

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