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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

daily list: 5 reasons why there are no girls in the movies

New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis wants to know, Where are all the chicks at the multiplex this summer?:

Nowhere is our irrelevance more starkly apparent than during the summer, the ultimate boys’ club. Over the next few months the screens will reverberate with the romping-stomping of comic book titans like Iron Man and the Hulk. The sexagenarian Harrison Ford will be cracking his Indy whip (some old men get a pass, after all, especially when Steven Spielberg is on board) alongside the fast-talking sprout from “Transformers.” Hellboy will relock and load, tongue and cigar planted in cheek. Action heroes like Will Smith, Brendan Fraser, Nicolas Cage, Mark Wahlberg and Vin Diesel will run amok, as will funny guys like Adam Sandler, Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell, Mike Myers, Steve Carell, Jack Black and Seth Rogen.

Go read the whole thing: it’s brilliant, and she’s spot on. But it makes me want to hug her and say, “Honey, be realistic. Everyone knows boys rool and girls drool. Now let’s go get our nails done and maybe have a cosmpolitan, and you’ll feel so much better.” And over that drink I’d remind her of these basic facts of life:
1. Girls have cooties. Cooties muck up the delicate technology used to make movies these days by getting into the mechanisms of digital cameras and clogging up the fans of the supercomputers that create the special FX we all love. We simply cannot risk letting girls get too close to the process.

2. Girls have vaginas. The only way we humans have evolved to tell who’s the baddest badass is via the penis. How would we know who to cheer onscreen if the characters didn’t have dicks to be swung around and brandished like weapons?

3. Girls feel things. Icky things like emotions. Imagine if everyone was exposed to that. We’d all have to start screaming at the horrors of the world around us, like the global war on terror and the melting Arctic and Britney Spears, instead of being able to take it all like, you know, a man, and keep quiet and give ourselves sublimated-stress heart attacks over it.

4. Girls don’t like movies anyway. It’s mostly boys who go to the movies, so why would Hollywood make movies for girls if they can’t even be bothered to go out to the multiplex once in a while?

5. Girls are much better on the small screen anyway. You want a quick wham-bang-thank-you-ma’am? Go to the movies, and the guys are done with you before you even know it’s started. You want a slow-motion orgy of coolness, kick-ass-ness, and, like, awesome girl-ness (which isn’t just about catching men or having babies or getting their nails done) that lasts for an entire TV season, or longer? Turn to Starbuck and Athena and Six and Roslin on Battlestar Galactica, Grace on Saving Grace, Rose and Martha and Donna on Doctor Who, Olivia on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Beth on Moonlight, Samantha on Stargate Atlantis, Alison on Medium, Dahlia on The Riches, Kate and Sun and Juliet on Lost, Patty and Ellen on Damages, Allison and Zoe and Jo on Eureka, Lisa on The Simpsons, Fiona on Burn Notice… Do I need to go on?

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  • Spencer

    Very funny post, MaryAnn!

    My theory: Hollywood is all about instant gratification and lowest common denominator, and it’s just too damn hard (for them) to accurately portray such a complex and complicated creature as Woman. On top of that, have fun juggling the impossible cultural demands: she must be tough, but feminine; emotive, but grounded; kick ass and still be a nurturing matriarch. You’re bound to piss of a lot of people in a lot of ways.

    Alternative theory: For some unknown, godforsaken reason, cheap and easy fluff makes money. People keep paying to see shallow and pedantic portrayals of women.

    I’ll just stick to the real thing, thank you. I like her better anyway.

  • Hdj

    Im pretty sure girls are gunna be fine this summer considering there favorite tv show is turned in to a movie, Sex in the city, and that wretched musical is now a movie, Mamma Mia , thats like the girliest one two punch ever. Makes me sick just thinking about those movies its like I was conditioned to feel sick to ABBA songs but visually its to much

  • MaryAnn

    Dargis makes the very valid point in her piece that the characters of *Sex and the City* are not, in fact, women, but are, rather, gay men.

  • Brett

    That article tries really hard to make a point (and sort of does, I guess), but I find it interesting that the author only wants “real women” in her movies, but fails to account for the fact that none of the men in this summer’s movie crop are remotely close to real. Plus, it’s cute that she automatically discounts Sex and The City (they’re not really women, they’re gay men! HAHA), one of the biggest movies aimed at women to come out in the summer in recent memory (it certainly has more of a marketing push than the usual “counter-programming”).

    And we’re mad that Hollywood is marketing itself to young males? You know, the market that reliably spends money to see the Iron Man’s of the world three or four times? Hollywood is still a business, after all, and it’s smarter to go with the proven model than to take a risk and have a giant flop on your hands (and even then, you can still end up with something that’s tanking, like Speed Racer).

    I’m not against more women being leads in films or being in charge of film companies, but the tone of this article, and your post, just irritates me. Hollywood is not doing this because they hate women…they are just going with where the money is.

  • MaryAnn

    fails to account for the fact that none of the men in this summer’s movie crop are remotely close to real.

    True. But some unreal women would be nice to see, too.

    And, BTW, the *Sex and the City* women are unreal, but not in a way that appeals to a lot of women. Like me.

    And we’re mad that Hollywood is marketing itself to young males? You know, the market that reliably spends money to see the Iron Man’s of the world three or four times?

    See, it was exactly that attitude that I was satirizing with No. 4. Women and girls have proven they will go to movies over and over again if it’s something that appeals to them — like *Titanic.* That movie made a few bucks, or so I’ve heard, and it was girls and women paying to see that movie multiple times that made it a blockbuster. So it’s not about money, because Hollywood could be raking in the dough with more movies like that. But they don’t. Why?

  • Brett

    That’s why I said reliably. Pointing out the biggest movie in box office history doesn’t really change my point (as I think it had quite a bit of cross-over appeal).

    Regardless, I don’t really think we’re arguing here. I just think that the reasons being spouted here aren’t the true reasons why you don’t have more women in summer blockbusters.

  • Spencer

    Not mentioned in this article or the original, but…

    What about Susan and Lucy in Prince Caspian? Lucy is always the first (and sometimes sole) initiate into Aslan’s inner circle (shades of Gnosticism, anyone?), and Susan is the voice of reason– a nice turnaround from the usual man = reason/woman = emotion split. Also, all early indications are that Susan takes an active role in the battle sequences (no word yet on Lucy).

    But still; one movie does not outweigh the preponderance of others.

  • MaSch

    Hmm, considering *Titanic* …

    Do you really think that that girls and women went to that movie to see Kate Winslet? I always thought they came for Leonardo.

    So, girls go to the movies to see hot men, boys go to see tough men … Who the heck wants to see women in the lead? (Except me, once in a while, and you, and some other freaks, I guess …)

  • MaryAnn

    Girls and women went to see *Titanic* for a lot of reasons, probably including DiCaprio, but I think a large part of it was because they liked seeing something that combined adventure and romance with at least a brief nod toward the reality of women’s lives. James Cameron gets women: we’ve seen that in almost all of his movies. He treats them like people, not eye candy.

    Brett, you cannot say that male-dominated, male-oriented action movies are more “reliable” performers at the box office. The playing field isn’t anywhere near level enough to make such a call. No one — NO ONE — in Hollywood is going to suggest that because *Speed Racer* is flopping enormously that the studios should stop making huge-budget CGI action spectacles. Movies aimed at boys and men fail ALL THE TIME, and they keep getting made. But, as noted in the linked article, all it takes it a single movie fronted by a woman or geared toward female audiences for the industry to “conclude” that no similar such movie should ever be attempted again. You can’t talk about reliability in this environment.

  • StrangeAgent

    …and let’s not forget the women of “Firefly.”

  • amanohyo

    Great article. A factor she doesn’t mention is that women are socialized to watch the movies that their male significant others drag them to see. In other words, guys are doing their girlfriends/wives a huuuge favor when they reluctantly allow themselves to be dragged to a “chick flick,” but girls are just expected to accompany their man to whatever movie he’s interested in.

    Not that some girls don’t dig watching “guy flicks,” but the expectation is that even if they aren’t interested, they should participate. Major sporting events are the same way; How many women who could care less about professional sports are expected to watch the big games with (and feed) their man-companions?

    I’m actually shocked that more men aren’t bored by our overrepresentation in the media. I think we pretty much know all there is to know about the male perspective on life, the universe, and everything. I like Lynne Ramsay and Lina Wertmüller’s work, but where are the American female directors? Who’s going to kick ass when Sigourney, Uma, Jodie, and Michelle Yeoh have retired?

    Why is American society moving backward? Cynthia Rothrock was an action movie legend in Hong Kong, and she’s stuck doing low-budget T and A movies here in the states. She’s a lousy actress, but it’s sad to think of the tons of awesome actresses, directors, and writers whose talents are going to waste because studios and producers want to play it safe.

    It’s gotten to the point where I’ll watch almost any movie that either: a) was directed and/or written by a woman, or b) has at least two female leads. Most of the good movies that meet these criteria aren’t in English.

  • Hdj

    Thats really a unsettling image for me, that the cast of Sex in the city are gay men. thats very unsexy in the city for me.
    And to answer StrangeAgent Who’s going to kick ass when Sigourney, Uma, Jodie, and Michelle Yeoh have retired?

    Theres Angelina Jolie , whos still kicking ass pretty steadily,Michelle Rodriguez, and Ziyi Zhang’s allready been taking Yeohs parts.

    and I dont get your point with Cynthia Rothrock first you say you feel bad for her but then you say shes a horrible actress, whats it gunna be you want her back or what? Times change people fade, Like at Jean Claude Van Damme He was the top dog in that Era, event he makes crap now.

  • shoop

    I’ve heard the “Sex and the City” girls are gay men argument before–it’s catchy, but heavily problematic on several levels.
    1) The “queering” of otherwise straight entertainment is more relevant to works of earlier generations–the plays of Tennessee Williams, William Inge, and in England, Terrence Rattigan–writers with gay sensibilities who had to write “straight” to suit the moral and commercial dictates of the times. One could even make a plausible argument for more recent TV entertainment such as “The Odd Couple” and “The Golden Girls” as having a sneaky “gay” sensibility–again, eras when gay characters were unheard of as TV sitcom leads. By the time of SATS, however, such coding was no longer necessary or even desirable, certainly not on anything-goes-HBO-cable. The overall public mindset that could enjoy, say, Paul Lynde or the Village People, without completely “getting” them, no longer existed for all intents and purposes–therefore, again, no reason to disguise gayness.
    2) The power and perspective of the show was consistently female–yes, Darren Star created the show, but with ace scribe Cindy Chupak leading the writing team, and Sarah Jessica Parker executive producing, it’s safe to say the women were, well, women.
    3) The show featured a plethora of gay male characters who were gay and male–often friends with, but clearly distinct from, the four female leads.
    4) The concerns that revolved around Carrie’s writing (almost inevitably prefaced by, “I couldn’t help but wonder…”) were overwhelmingly those of females dealing with, aspiring to, or sometimes rejecting, both female and feminist ideals. Could a fin-de-siecle-version-2000 woman live up to the promise of 60s and 70s feminism? Were the traditional standards undesirable because they were traditional? In attaining marriage, family, career, and power, what were the priorities? Was the answer to “be men”? (Caryll Churchill asks the same question in “Top Girls.”) Or, in a telling and very specific instance with the character of Carrie, if a young woman chooses abortion (as is, and should be, her right), perhaps more than once, what happens when the woman is no longer so young and starts thinking about the ticking clock?–I’m reasonably sure gay men don’t have to worry much about that one.

    I can be about 95% sure that those who posit and/or echo the Sex and the City girls as gay men argument weren’t fans of the show, and didn’t watch that much. Which is understandable–why watch a show often, or at all, when you don’t like it? But such an argument is, at best, an oversimplification of four indelible women, brought to life by four fine actresses and some hilarious, brilliant, annoying, heartbreaking, and life-affirming writing.

  • amanohyo

    Sorry hdj, I realize that bit about Rothrock wasn’t very clear. I meant to say that she has physical grace, and I wish she had been in more action movies. But she’s not very good when it comes to actually speaking lines. Kinda like Jet Li, only not quite as physically talented.

    Van Damme got his fifteen minutes; Rothrock was at least twice as good as him, but was virtually ignored in the US. It kills me to think about what might have been. As far as the new generation of ass kickers goes:

    Angelina vs. Sigourney??
    Zhang Ziyi vs. Yeoh??

    Nothing wrong with the actresses in column A, but the ladies on the right are on a whole other level of badassery. I like Michelle Rodriguez, but aside from Girlfight, she’s usually shunted off to the sidelines.

    To be fair, with the rise of CG, male action heroes have gotten a lot nerdier. Maybe a similar change is unavoidable with women. Maybe the era of tough, physically talented, intimidating, independent women is over, and the best we should expect is pretty little Zhang Ziyi twirling around on a wire or Angelina bouncing through the jungle in short shorts. I hope not.

    @shoop, I agree. I don’t understand the whole gay men analogy for Sex and the City. It seems like an attempt to disregard or oversimplify the show just because it doesn’t support the author’s argument.

  • Grant

    Wait, wait… James Cameron gets women?

    The James Cameron who made Jamie Lee Curtis do a striptease so that her character could avoid embarrassment?

    That James Cameron?

  • Shadowen

    The article is flawed.

    It makes excellent points, and there is no arguing the simple fact that men outnumber women as leads something like ten to one in Hollywood movies, but nonetheless: flawed.

    Small business is about risk. Indie filmmakers aren’t expecting to strike gold anyway. That’s why they have the bal–ahem. That’s why they have the guts to make odd movies, or movies that are hard to understand, or refuse to try to make their movies appeal to everyone. Again: Hollywood is a business. It’s like big oil, except the public face claims to be environmentally friend. Why hasn’t big oil branched out into other forms of energy with any seriousness? Because they’re making all the money they need with petroleum. They are not just businesses, they are corporations, bound by what few rules and regulations restrict the American business world to make as much profit as possible for shareholders.

    Don’t let the whiny little moans from studio execs fool you. Hollywood studios are raking in the dough. The fact that they can do that when so many movies flop just tells you they can afford to risk it…but it seems that the more money someone has, the less willing they are to risk it. (Again, witness the oil companies, which are raking in frankly embarrassing amounts of money.)

    It’s not conscious sexism–though that probably makes it more dangerous. They don’t think of themselves as being sexist, because on the conscious level they aren’t. They aren’t thinking, “Women aren’t as good as men.” They’re thinking, “Women are just as good as men–I love [Streep/Swank/insert favorite actress here]–but movie audiences don’t think the same way I, an enlightened man do.” Accepting this state of affairs as opposed to trying to fix it is akin to perpetuating laws that discriminate against women, or fighting laws that would not discriminate against them, because you think things can’t be changed.

    The main problem, though, isn’t so much that women aren’t getting projects. It’s that they’re not getting projects that result in media blitzes that result in 100 million dollar grosses on opening day. (Things like that are a further problem, because the only movies to do that are based on previous properties–comic book properties, in fact. Name a solo superheroine aside from Wonder Woman.) In larger such projects, they might be part of an ensemble (Cate, Miranda, and Liv in Lord of the Rings), but usually they’re just tokens: the love interest who does a little fighting to show how cool she is and then sits at home and mopes about her boyfriend, and the powerful woman who nonetheless stays at home and lets the men kick ass. (Admittedly, so did Galadriel’s husband, if you capitalize Men.) Eowyn is a FUCKING AWESOME exception.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, y’know what movie should be made? Metroid. Samus Aran is cooler than Iron Man, more determined than Batman, and has weapons that could take out the Hulk. Plus, she’s smoking hot when you see her with her helmet off or those rare times when she’s not even in the armor. And Metroids are gross and slimy. There’s something for male and female action fans alike, the armor and weapons fetishists, the horndogs, the superhero nuts, the videogamers, effects connoisseurs, kids, adults…

  • amanohyo

    But Samus is a loner Dottie, a social rebel. She doesn’t need a man (or a woman), and that’s just plain unacceptable for a studio. Metroid is at its best when you feel absolutely isolated in a hostile world.

    Movies don’t work the same way. Even zombie movies need to inject some kind of interpersonal element, or the audience would get bored. I don’t want to see Samus baby-talking to a cute widdle baby Metroid or falling for some other hunky hunter or swept up in a space-opera or even weenie-waving with Dark Samus in a wanna-be western.

    She is an awesome character, and the games are great, but I pray that she’s never in a movie. A great writer/director could make it work, but it wouldn’t be Samus anymore. I can hear it now, “dude, stay after the credit roll, and you get to see her in a string bikini!” *shudder*

  • everstar

    I read the article and I thought it made a lot of good points until I got to:

    “I’ll just point out that it looks like a clone of “Legally Blonde” (meaning, yet another iteration of “Pretty Woman”), one of those aspirational comedies in which women empower themselves by having their hair and nails done.”

    Bzuh? I won’t deny that Elle likes herself a manicure and a trim, but I thought the point of “Legally Blonde” was that she discovered she had so much more to offer than simply being pretty and polished. By, you know, getting into Harvard Law School. She even manages to use her intimate knowledge of beauty routines, sneered at by her colleagues, to win a case! How in the world is that like “Pretty Woman”?

    I won’t argue that women’s stories are sufficiently represented in film, but for heaven’s sake, let’s not denigrate ones that promote self-discovery, even if they are very, very pink.

  • MaryAnn

    Wait, wait… James Cameron gets women?

    The James Cameron who wrote the women characters of *Aliens,* *Titanic,* *The Abyss,* *Terminator* and *Strange Days.*

    Yes, he understands that women are people. And works that into blockbuster movies that everyone enjoys. His depictions of women are, on the whole, arguably the best of any blockbuster filmmaker.

  • Mathias

    Pop Quiz:

    How many 2008 films have been directed by women so far?

    4. 27 Dresses, Mad Money, Nim’s Island and Stop-Loss.

    Thst’s your problem right there.
    There simply aren’t enough female filmmakers.

    I’d love to know the male/female ratio of students in film school right now.
    Something tells me that that’s where the problem stems from.

  • pedro

    MA, i don’t think the characters of SATC are “gay men”. they’re about as close to the women i know as a tv show ever got.

    90% of all women my age (18-25) are shallow, bitchy, catty, envious, judgemental and worried more about the guy’s car than his inside.

    sure, women in their late 20’s and over are somewhat different. but you’d be surprised how many Mirandas there are in the real world, even in your age bracket.

    and i blame movies and magazines. of COURSE “people pay to see shallow and pedantic portraits of women”! most of the audience for these films is under 30. and girls under 20 model themselves after the girls in those movies.

    i don’t know if i’m making any sense here. probably not. but let’s just say the stereotypical image of high school given by american movies is true in other countries, too. and not just for high school, unfortunately.

    however, my mother and younger sister – two of the most awesome women i know – like the stupid characters in SATC. go figure, right?

  • pedro

    incidentally, MA, have you seen a movie called off side? it’s an iranian movie about how girls in iran aren’t allowed to go to soccer matches. its leads are a bunch of girls – real girls, playing themselves – and the movie is just fantastic!

    (sarcasm) also, i wonder why Carrie from SATC likes “Big”? i wonder why he’s even called “Big”? that’s really deep and not shallow at all, isn’t it? falling for a man because of the size of his gear? some example they’re setting, eh? (/sarcasm)

  • pedro: “Big” is called that because he was the “Big Love”… like, as in “This is the BIG One!”

    also, i have to take issue with your generalization of a whole … generation of young women. i have 15 or so nieces and young cousins between the ages of 15 and 30. none of them fit your disparaging description of them. nor do i believe every young man between those ages is *only* interested in sex or thinks of young women as some sort of plaything.

    perhaps if you were a little less shallow and critical — the young women you meet would be so as well.

  • pedro

    bronxbee, again! :D

    i know a lot of nice girls. REALLY nice girls. funny, involved, brainy, sweet…

    problem: if any of them were in a hollywood movie, they’d either be the “fat girl” or the “nerdy girl”.

    somehow, “hot” girls just don’t seem to have any redeemable trait (apart from a couple of them, one of whom is my sister and the other is the girl i’m in love with ;) )

    and i’m not shallow…they are! but i sure am critical…

  • MaryAnn

    Pedro, perhaps you need to redefine your idea of “hot.”

  • pedro

    hot = scarlett johansson.

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