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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

another female film critic departs…

…some positive voices for a wider, wiser presence for women in the cinematic realm; but girls kissing girls for male pleasure is still OMG hot.

Yup, it’s The Week in Women, my regular column over the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. Enjoy.

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  • JT

    Yeah, it’s not like boys kissing boys ever whip women into a frenzy.

  • Lisa

    but that’s different

    girls kissing girls for male pleasure is often a power thing

    whereas David Tennant kissing John Barrowman is just hilarious esp John’s reaction

    e.g. for women male strippers are just a bit of a giggle

    for men, I often feel that they’re getting off on the domination of a female stripper

    a generalisation, but true for the most part I think

  • Lisa

    also girls kissing girls onscreen is for male pleasure – it’s not generally an expression of their own sexuality – read up on the male gaze

  • MaSch

    Lisa, the correct phrase to use is “Women watch men stripping for fun. Men watch women for DARKER REASONS”

    BTW, “But that’s different when you switch the genders” is the favourite phrase of people who want to defend double standards. It never fails to be unconvincing.

  • Lisa

    omg that’s so true!

    but look at how people react to Adam Lambert kissing a guy on tv and how they react to the Madonna / Britney kiss or whatever female equivalent I hear that ABC has chucked him off a couple of shows over there – think that would have happened to Britney / Madonna male gaze, people!

    I do think that each gender reacts differently to it because we are different – I don’t know if it’s because women can express themselves better/ or because there’s less disapproval of lesbianism (male gaze) or it’s because men find it harder to talk about emotions/ society’s ideas of masculinity and disapproval of male homosexuality (I live in a country where the average age a man comes out is 37!!!!) also the male gaze of sexuality is pretty much the only one out there although things are getting better so are women just conforming to what men want? are we just being exploited? do you think men feel this way? of course we’re different.

    do you guys feel threatened by the clip of David and John? (37!!!!)

  • MaSch

    Have little time, will come back later, but: I myself have absolutely no problems with guys kissing on stage. The other guy who was involved, however … Well, I guess he would have liked to have been informed beforehand ;-)

  • Lisa

    ha! I’m sure he was over the moon!

    doesn’t everyone want to be kissed by John Barrowman?

  • MaSch

    Damnit, didn’t make myself clear … I myself was once a guy kissing another guy on stage (it was the last performance of the play, where people do some things in another way than they did before – here it was a kiss on the mouth instead of a kiss on the cheek). He was not over the moon. But his reaction (disgust and annoyance) was never more authentic than that night.

    So, in the end, my point is (more or less): Guy-on-guy kissing gets at least as much of a woo-hoo as girl-on-girl kissing, even if one of the guys is someone like me. I think both have a place for a little bit of pseudo-naughty entertainment, though I agree that girl-on-girl is far more ubiquitous than guy-on-guy. Wielding the gender-political hammer and citing power structures to show that girl-on-girl is per se bad while guy-on-guy is per se okay is a bit over the top, I think.

  • Lisa

    I’m not saying it’s bad at all! I’m just saying I have never seen it done in a non-exploitative way but then I don’t go looking for it so I haven’t analysed it. Every time I see or hear that there’s going to be a girl on girl kiss I think there’s a show looking for a cheap ratings boost (looking at you, Heroes) I’ve never seen it the other way around. It never seems to be an organic part of the character (maybe in Buffy altho they did kill the gay or maybe Sugar Rush, an English show). I don’t watch Grey’s or Gossip Girl so I don’t know how they deal with it on those shows. When I heard about the Gossip Girl one I thought eww that’s a bit icky cos it sounded like a ratings ploy too and aren’t they all about 13 years old in that show?

    It’s a different woo-hoo tho for men kissing. It’s seems to me that the reaction to Adam Lambert’s kiss has been one of disgust whereas a reaction to a female kiss is like yeah go for it. WOO- HOO! hence the Madonna / Britney kiss being all over the place and Adam’s being blurred – as if it’s going to infect people with gayness!

    What I love about the Barrowman / Tennant kiss is that (A) I would probably react like that and also (B) that it’s actually a lovely thing to see 2 men (gay/bi/straight whatever) kiss each other so naturally and affectionately awww! it’s quite sweet. I don’t get turned on by it.

    You’ve got me really curious about your kiss, tho. what play was that?

  • JoshB

    I don’t watch Grey’s or Gossip Girl so I don’t know how they deal with it on those shows. When I heard about the Gossip Girl one I thought eww that’s a bit icky cos it sounded like a ratings ploy too and aren’t they all about 13 years old in that show?

    They’re all in their twentysomethings playing college freshmen. Gossip Girl also had a gay male kiss before the lesbian kiss.

    Every time I see or hear that there’s going to be a girl on girl kiss I think there’s a show looking for a cheap ratings boost

    Not always, but in the main you’re right. However, that’s not necessarily what MaryAnn is talking about in her article:

    SCI FI GEEKS GET ALL EXCITED WHEN GIRLS KISS EACH OTHER. I’m a sci fi geek, but my fellow geeks really piss me off sometimes.

    She’s not talking about entertainers exploiting lesbianism, but rather men for being entertained. That’s a judgement of male sexuality. In that light I think it’s fair to point out that women sometimes get excited about gay men doing the same.

  • JoshB

    They’re all in their twentysomethings

    Proofreading fail. Sigh.

  • LaSargenta

    I didn’t realize that there was a movement of axing critics. That’s bad news. I mean, for almost every time I’ve disagreed with a critic, or thought one had his or her head up somewhere nasty, there has been a time when I’ve learned something I didn’t know (that wasn’t just a synopsis of a film I hadn’t yet seen). This sometimes happened in the same review.

    I do think that there have been a lot of people who’ve gotten jobs as critics based on very little ability; but, the role of a critic for me is to have a broader knowledge and view than just “what I like” (which is, I confess, often my own point of view). A good critic ties in a range of artistic/social/culinary/etc. ideas and understands what it takes to make or present whatever is being reviewed. So, in a way, a critic should be the epitome of an educated audience.

    I don’t look to critics to tell me what to think, but to expand my way of thinking. (Or to afford me endless amusement at how wrong I think they are…even when they write wonderfully — I’m thinking back to being a pre-teen and teen and groaning at things I disagreed with Pauline Kael about! Of course, now I look back at some of her stuff and laugh at how little I understood when I was 13.)

  • amanohyo

    I knew a couple girls back in my college days who um… took great pleasure and self-satisfaction from privately watching guy on guy kissing. Sure, it wasn’t usually live actors, and I’m not saying all women feel as they do, but please don’t assume that most women only get giggles from this type of entertainment.

    The gap between socially sanctioned female sexuality and what actually goes on in the average woman’s mind remains quite large, considerably larger than the corresponding gap for men. The difference in the actions of the women vs. those of the men at the strip club in MaSch’s linked article has much more to do with the way women are socialized to behave around men than any natural difference between male and female sexuality.

    Women get horny too, but the various social restraints placed on female sexuality throughout history have warped and complicated how it’s expressed. The patriarchal roots of society are deep, far deeper than those of racism, and their legacy invalidates many (but not all) claims of “reverse sexism.” As MaSch pointed out, saying “but how come it’s okay when we switch an unprivileged individual with a privileged one?” can be a good starting point, but only that.

    The issue is not only that faux lipstick lesbianism is OMG hot for geeky guys, it’s also that guys are allowed and encouraged to find such a performance hot in mainstream entertainment – that women as objects who are performing for the pleasure of a man rather than their own is an idea that is celebrated in our culture. David Tennant kissing John Barrowman, yaoi, and homoerotic slash fanfiction are still on the fringes of society, and in order for mainstream society to accept and celebrate the objectification of men solely for female pleasure (I’m not saying this would be a good thing or even possible) it would have to accept the idea of men as vulnerable and powerless (or at least, less powerful).

    One of the reasons that women giggle at faux gay men is that they recognize the disconnect between the powerful position men hold in society and the vulnerable role that these particular men are choosing to play. It is extremely difficult for many women to openly objectify a real man given everything they have been taught, even a Chippendale’s dancer. The most accessible way for a woman to objectify a man for her own pleasure is to make use of a fictional character, because the idea of a real man as a woman’s pleasure puppet is antithetical to the foundation of almost everything we are socialized to believe about men and women.

    I don’t think that objectifying people, men or women, is particularly healthy, but I do believe that individuals with more power tend to objectify those with less, so any movement of yaoi and live action male on male performances (by straight men directed at straight women rather than gay men) towards the mainstream is probably an inevitable result of a more equitable balance of power between the sexes.

  • Paul

    In defense of Buffy, they didn’t kill THE gay, they killed a gay, at which point her g/f, an ex-dark magic addict, freaked out and sought revenge. Fortunately she found love in the next season; they even had an episode of her struggling with guilt about wanting a new g/f.

  • Lisa

    kill the gay was something I read in a list of onscreen cliches like how come people in movies never lock their cars? how the assistant da always gets a parking spot in front of city hall? how come the gay always dies?

    Doesn’t Buffy end up killing Willow (see I told you – the gay must die!!)

    oh yeah I’m sure loads of women get off on it – it just doesn’t do anything for me but y’know more power to them. I did quantify it with a “for the most part”. I’m not thinking about David Tennant kissing John Barrowman in that clip I’m thinking about him kissing me! I don’t find big muscly men hugely attractive (see Tennant, David above) so male strippers are a bit of giggle

    I agree with most of what you said amanohyo – didn’t someone write a book about how women internalise society’s male’s expectations? that sentence kinda gotta away from me but the book was something along the lines of now we’ve got equal rights we can behave how we like but that it leads to women acting for male sexual pleasure instead of their own. I agree with that in part because as you say history has warped female sexuality. The book sounded like it had a conservative agenda which makes me somewhat queasy.

  • JoshB

    Doesn’t Buffy end up killing Willow (see I told you – the gay must die!!)

    No, Willow and her girlfriend Kennedy survive the series finale.

    As I understand it in the comics Buffy time travels into the future and kills a version of Willow there. So if you take time travel storylines seriously *cough*Heroes*cough* then I guess you’re right.

  • Knightgee

    The problem with comparing men getting excited about two women kissing versus women getting excited about men kissing is that men more or less dictate what appears in the mainstream. You will never see a movie marketed today where a male-on-male kiss is done as anything other than humor, whether that humor be “oh look so awkward” or gay panic humor. Two men kissing will never be put out as a way for women to get their jollis in a mainstream movie here in America. Meanwhile, a female kiss is almost certainly going to be used to tittilate and it’s often used to garner ratings or put butts in seats at the theater.

    Examples include Marissa’s experimentation phase on The O.C., Claire’s kiss on Heroes, 13’s kiss on House, the talked up kiss between Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman in their upcoming movie, the kiss in Mulholland Drive. It’s true of comics as well, with Batwoman’s lesbianism being talked up by the writers before she even had a book out. Female-on-female is everywhere and it’s almost never because the writers are planning to explore a real lesbian relationship for anything longer than sweeps, it’s because male viewers will be turned on by it. Comparitively, I can’t think of any male-on-male kisses in popular film, TV, and books that were expressly designed to appeal to a female audience. To say it’s a double standard is to completely ignore the fact that women are not catered to sexually by the mainstream nearly as much as men are and when it happens, it’s never through male-on-male action.

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