A Few Problems With Some Otherwise Good Films

If you’re wondering why I’m wasting time blogging about movies, your answer is this: we get a lot of our ideas about what is normal, what is cool, what is taboo, what is okay, what is good and what is bad, from pop culture and the media.  That’s why some people are so concerned about the messages sent by Disney movies: they inform children’s ideas about gender at a time when ideas about gender are most malleable.  It doesn’t end when you’re 10 years old, though-~-we continue to let the media inform us about gender, sexuality, etc., throughout our lives.  That’s why I think it’s important to take note of what kinds of messages we are being fed, and what that means for us.

PROBLEM #1: THE SORORITY GIRLS IN LEGALLY BLONDE.

Look, I think sororities can be great, and I talked about this a fair amount in a previous post.  But the sororities depicted in Legally Blonde, at least in the beginning of the movie, show girls who are shallow, in college to get their MRS degrees, and who just generally have nothing important to say.  No one legitimately believes that Elle Woods can get into law school because she’s a pretty, bubbly sorority girl, and apparently pretty, bubbly sorority girls shouldn’t be able to amount to anything in their lives, other than becoming models.

That’s obviously a load of crap, and I love that the movie goes on to disprove this, but at NO POINT in this film do Elle’s sorority sisters come off as ANYTHING but ditzes or bimbos, meaning that Elle, as the exception, basically goes on to prove the rule. Plus, throughout the movie, she’s still depicted as overly concerned with fashion and is just generally not taken seriously by a majority of the characters, largely because she is blonde and beautiful.  Again, I’m glad the movie proves she IS more than just her looks, but it’s still kind of problematic.

PROBLEMS #2 AND 3: LITERALLY ALL OF THE BRIDESMAIDS, PLUS HANNAH, IN MADE OF HONOR

I kind of like this movie?  Sometimes I don’t really like this movie?  It emphasizes traditional masculinity (sleeping around, lots of references to dick size, men showing off their wealth and athleticism, etc), which I DON’T like, but that’s not even the problem I want to discuss here. HANNAH starts out as a really smart, independent woman in the film.  But then she meets the guy she is supposed to marry, and she turns into a lovestruck crazy person who no is willing to give up her entire life to be with a man she only met about a month before, and starts acting like that annoying tenth grade girl you spent hating in high school because she and her boyfriend were inevitably making out in front of your locker. No one likes that girl.

But to make this WORSE, her bridesmaids are lunatics.  One of them has a series of straw feminist moments (“Can someone who’s not a MISOGYNIST pass the splenda?”), one of them is obsessed with losing weight and finding a man (have you never heard of body positivity?  She’s not fat, I swear, she just isn’t our society’s idea of thin–and you can say that the film is satirizing women’s obsession with weight loss, but I don’t think that really happened in this movie), and one of them doesn’t appear to be able to think for herself. At all. Great lineup, guys.

PROBLEM #4:  THE MOM IN ICE PRINCESS

Joan Carlisle is the reason everyone hates people in Women’s Studies.  I’m serious.  She is over the top, she has a ton of straw feminist moments, and she doesn’t believe in projecting sexuality or femininity AT ALL.  I have news for you: rejecting femininity is NOT a tenet of the feminist movement!  She completely stifles her daughter because she refuses, throughout the movie, to acknowledge any concept of success other than the one she has chosen for Casey-~-that is, a Harvard degree-~-and she maligns all kinds of other work that women can do and that her daughter wants to do.  In her world, boys are just a threat to her daughter’s success, and skating is just about looking pretty.  There is so much straw feminism going on that only watching the movie can really make clear to you just how problematic Joan’s character is.

PROBLEM #5: ENID IN LEGALLY BLONDE

Guys, to be clear, I LIKE this movie.  But we need to talk about Enid for a second.  She’s your token sexual minority character.  Fine, fine, the whole cast can’t be gay, I’ll give you that.  But don’t just mention it to make it a plot point.  People’s sexual orientations are not plot points, for crying out loud.  On top of that, she is a TOTAL straw feminist.  She says absurd things like “I’m petitioning the school to call next term the winter O-vester”, so that it will reference ovaries instead of semen (which she says is where the word “semester” comes from-~-it isn’t, by the way).  This makes her, the most obviously feminist character, seem like an overly zealous wackjob, which in turn prevents the other characters from identifying as feminist and makes feminism seem nuts.

AND she manages to do this while slut-shaming Elle. What. The. Heck. If you’re going to be overly feminist then just be overly feminist already.

PROBLEM #6: SO. MUCH. SLUT-SHAMING.

In the following movies:

Sydney White: Rachel absolutely uses slut-shaming to try to discredit Sydney during their college elections.

Legally Blonde: As already discussed.

Easy A: The whole PREMISE of this movie is that the main character is hated by everyone in her school because she is allegedly sleeping around. It’s just a whole movie of slut-shaming. And I LOVE Emma Stone in this movie, and I love the takeaway message, and it’s a funny movie, and at some point it does start satirizing slut shaming, but if you don’t pick up on the satire, then it’s a problem.

Mean Girls: Again, love this movie, there’s just this one problem: half the time it pretends to be sex-positive, and half the time it’s blatantly slut-shaming.  All the girls who are actually sexually active are hated for being “backstabbing ho-bags”, and Regina actually says that “Everyone forgets about [Karen] because she’s such a slut”.  At the same time, the movie shows the girls hooking up with their boyfriends in a way that SHOULD be sex-positive, but is actually just depicted as slutty and something only girls you would hate would do. Sadness.

Raise Your Voice: Awesome movie about Terri (Hillary Duff) overcoming her grief after her brother’s death, finding real friends and love, and following her heart to go after her singing dreams. Slut-shames the crap out her love interest’s ex-girlfriend and deliberately paints Terri as sweet, innocent, and virginal, and her nemesis as sexy and predatory.

In Her Shoes: This improves over the course of the movie, but there is a lot of slut-shaming of Cameron Diaz’s character in the earlier parts of the film.  She may have made some mistakes, but that doesn’t mean she has to be portrayed as a dumb, sex-obsessed bimbo with no other real attributes.  “Hot mess” is an unacceptable complete character description.

Obviously there are others, but you don’t need a complete list.  I think you all get the picture.

I’m not saying these aren’t good movies or that they aren’t worth watching, but it’s worth remembering, when you ARE watching these movies, that what they show isn’t necessarily a good depiction of reality or of the values society should be striving for. Put your feet up, watch a movie, but think a little as you’re watching-~-don’t get sucked into the idea that women are objects, pretty women have to be dumb, smart women have to be undesirable, and slut-shaming is okay.  None of those messages is at all true, and that’s probably worth remembering.

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~ by Randi Saunders on October 20, 2012.

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