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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

is Kathryn Bigelow female enough?…

…how to have a nonsexist awards season; Spike TV targets horny dudes; and more.

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

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  • Can’t we just appreciate for being what she is? Which is a great filmmaker.

  • MaryAnn

    Tell that to everyone who wonders whether her achievement “counts” because she made a “guy” film.

  • Lisa

    re guys at the Oscars – who really cares what they’re wearing – they all look alike (altho I liked the white suit Kevin Spacey wore when he won)

    Won’t it be strange if Bigelow wins for director and say, Avatar, wins best picture? It will look weird if the first woman to win Best Director, doesn’t actually get the gold for best film.

  • t6

    Having a vagina is really not what makes a person a woman. “Womanhood” “Manhood”–these social constructions are way more complicated than just a person’s genitals.

    Is Kathryn Bigelow a woman?
    This reminds me of the question theorist Monique Wittig asked in 1978, “Are lesbians women?” She concluded that they were not. Because woman, is constructed within the logic of a certain kind of heterosexuality, and lesbians, being outside of that logic, cease to be women in our society–and that is where a bulk of the lesbophobia comes from.

    So is Kathryn Bigelow a woman? I dont’ know. Jury’s still out. The media keeps bringing up the fact that she was married to James Cameron over and over…that could be seen as a means to woman-ify her. But I think there is some…sort of issue with her being a director of a male coded genre. And while all films genres are dominated by male directors, not all film genres are male coded. You mention that men aren’t seen as less manly when they helm female coded genres…but I think sometimes they are. The romantic comedy is a female coded genre…but as you have pointed out time and again, they wear their disdain of women quite openly. So I think you could be the dude director and make your romantic comedy and still retain some cred as long as you are humiliating for female lead enough. On the other hand, melodramas…that is a bit harder for a male director to helm without his “manliness” usually interpreted as heterosexuality coming under suspicion. Douglas Sirk, Todd Haynes…they may not actually get to be men in the logic of the white supremacist heteropatriarchy.

    As for Bigelow, I’m quite fascinated by her pedigree and what her pedigree means for her positioning in male-coded genres. She studied film theory and criticism…she studied with Susan Sontag! Also worked with another lesbian Lizzie Borden in Born in Flames. I’m not saying Bigelow is a lesbian, but I’m saying that she has a pedigree that places her intellectually with a level of critical distance to the structures of patriarchy. She is able to see the hegemony and critique it. If one of the things that confers status of “woman” and “man” is blindness and acceptance of the structures of our oppression…then she may not be a woman. Which, of course, doesn’t make her a man either. More like, a human.

    Re Guys at Oscars. I always pay attention to the men at the Oscars, and I’m usually irritated by them.
    Notes to guys going to the Oscars:
    1) Learn to tie a bow tie and wear a real one, not a pre-tied.
    2) A black suit is not the same thing as a tuxedo.
    3) Get your tuxedo tailored to fit you, I’m tired of seeing guys in pants that are ill-fitting.
    4) There are very few opportunities in America formal enough to actually wear some great men’s formal wear. So come on! Go get some style!

  • MaryAnn

    But I think there is some…sort of issue with her being a director of a male coded genre.

    I thought I was clear that the coding is the problem. Perhaps if we weren’t so rigid in how we define “female” and “male” as something other than biological, we could get away from the many problems we have with sexism.

    Certainly, as long as any coded “male” is also coded as “the norm” and anything coded “female” is also coded as “other,” we will not make any progress.

  • LaSargenta

    I know that theorists who write and make their living from being theorist HAVE to define things and people — that’s what they DO after all — but, I am really, really unhappy with this idea of thickening the lines on the boxes drawn around “woman” and “man”.

    Besides, MaryAnn asked if Bigelow is female enough, not womanly enough.

    I’ve (Wittig notwithstanding) always considered woman/man to be related to biological and physical descriptors like “female” and “male”. Then, there was “womanly” and manly” which were psycho-social gender descriptors even though they look like adverbs.

    Maybe the question should have been asked as Is Kathryn Bigelow Feminine Enough? I would have replied “For what?”

  • LaSargenta

    Certainly, as long as any coded “male” is also coded as “the norm” and anything coded “female” is also coded as “other,” we will not make any progress.

    …which makes me just think about coding in general.

    Our (and others as well) society insists on coding stuff with masculine attributes and feminine attributes. The coding changes over time, but it still happens. Is this bad? Good? Neutral? Relevant?

    For some reason, I’m remembering something my father told me: He worked with a labor union, pretty high up and in the administration side of it. He spent a fair amount of time at rank-and-file meetings in evenings. There was one member who drove a backhoe who brought her child with her to the meetings that often went on until quite late. This child was a little boy of 8 at the time of this tale and my father one evening found himself next to the boy and talked with him as the boy played with his mini tonka toys, one of which was a backhoe. My father eventually asked him if he’d like to run a backhoe. The reply was “Nooooo! Backhoes are for girls! I want to run a crane!”

  • Paul

    Ah, coding.

    From “Buffy”:

    Anya: Men like sports. I’m sure of it.

    Xander: Yes. Men like sports. Men watch the action movie, they eat of the beef, and they enjoy to look at the bosoms.

    In my experience, when someone starts to say, “real men do this,” they are about to try manipulating me into doing what they want to me to do. Or, in reverse, when a woman complains about “men” and I say, “I don’t do that,” they say, “Well, you’re not a real man.” Or at least so I was told in college. And so Bigelow’s womanhood is in doubt because she breaks the code, too.

    Again, the wisdom of “Buffy”, even if it’s not quite on topic, I just wanted to share:

    Anya: Men are evil. Will you go with me?
    Xander: One of us is very confused, and I honestly don’t know which.

  • LaSargenta


  • MaSch

    I really wonder whether t6 is a woman/female. Because, if so, I find it quite irritating when a woman/female tells men what to wear for what occasion, especially when prescribing a very uniform outfit; it smacks of, what’s the word, privilege?

    I also find there were far too few instances of Scottish actors wearing a kilt to the Oscars, but that’s about as common as a woman wearing a dead swan for the Academy Awards.

  • t6

    MaSch, I’m a man. And I’m telling other men not to look like sloppy sad sacks at a formal event. I never said the outfit had to be uniform. There is a wide variety of things a man can do within the realm of formal wear.

    Wearing business wear to a formal event, however, is considered uncouth. Wearing clothing that is ill-tailored and ill-fitting makes you look bad.

    That women are expected to spend hours (and lots of money) getting ready to look nice (i.e. to be nice to look at as the objects of the gaze) but men can get away with showing up at the Oscars in an ill-fitted rental does smack of Privilege. But I’d say that smacks of male privilege, not the other way around.

  • MaSch

    t6, since you are male, my first point obviously does not apply. I also must admit that I rarely watch events like the Oscars, and would probably have the same opinion as Lisa, considering “all men(‘s outfits) looking the same”. If you can stand out by wearing a white suit, the dress code for men is pretty uniform (although, as it seems, some uniforms are better fitting than others), which has advantages (time spent on choosing your outfit is brief, you can wear the same suit again and again) as well as disadvantages (Eddie Izzard, for example, might prefer to wear fabulous dresses at formal events (anyone here know if he does?)).

  • t6

    I’ve not seen Eddie Izzard in any fabulous dresses on the red carpet, sadly.

    Men’s outfits don’t have to look the same. As I said earlier, there are many options for variety in men’s formal wear, even if many men don’t take advantage of them. Kilt? What sort of jacket cut–Bolero, swallow tails, tuxedo, cutaway tails, long tails? Double breasted? Single-breasted? How many buttons? What sort of lapel? Notched, peaked, shawl, that sort of Bavarian collar/label? If you are wearing pants, what sort of waist? How are the pants tailored? Are you going a full Zoot style? Regular? Slim? Are you going with a cumberbun? Or are you going with a vest? If you are going with a vest there are an infinite number of combinations for the cut and style you could go with. For your shirt…are you going with French Cuffs? If so, what sort of cufflinks? Will you wear shirt studs? If so, what kind? What sort of collar? Wing-Tip Collar? Something more exotic? More standard business collar? If so, what sort of spread on that collar? Then there is neckware. Are you going with a bow tie? If so, what shape? Wide butterfly, butterfly, slimline? Are you going for a bolo tie? Western String Tie? Ascot? Scarf? One of the more exotic choices? Maybe you go for a more standard tie…but what sort of knot? Full Windsor? Half Windsor? Four in Hand? One of the rarer used knots?

    On top of all that there are questions of color and fabric? White Tux? Okay…What color Shirt and Tie. All white looks different that White Tux, Black shirt, white tie. Or White suite, blue shirt, blue tie. Leather tux is different than linen tux, different than velvet. Pattern? Stripes, Houndstooth? Check? Polka Dots? Paisleys?

    What kind of overall silhouette? Mad Men-esque slim look? A 40s Zoot full look? The 70s?

    How are you going to accessorize? Pocket Square? Tie bar? Collar Bar? Tie Tack? Lapel Button? Buttoneer? Spats?

    There are so many wonderful possibilities!

    There are a few male celebrities who dress well and/or interestingly. George Clooney and Brad Pitt work their formal wear very well…usually in a classic way (i.e. usually black suit/white shirt/black bow tie). Though I was pleased to see Brad Pitt wear a really nice double-breasted tux at the 2008 Venice film festival…and you can always tell that Clooney and Pitt tie their own bow ties. Jamie Foxx has great use of color. Mickey Rourke really goes out there and it is clear that he pays attention…even if his look is more unorthodox…he gets a thumbs up from me. Ne-Yo, Adam Lambert…they all take the time to do something as well. P.Diddy often looks great, and saw Taylor Lautner in a really sharp sharkskin suit recently.

    Anyway, my point is there is inequity in the fact that women are held up to a much higher appearance standard than men are and that male celebrities…not even celebrities, take advantage of this laxity to dress way too casual at formal events–especially American men.

  • Mathias

    I don’t think i understand the issue here.

    Katherine Bigalow is a woman.
    She’s the director of a great film.
    If she wins she will be the first woman to win that category. These are all facts. Where’s the conflict here?

    And i don’t remember anybody asking these questions when Sophia Coppola was nominated for best director for Lost in Translation.

    So the fact that Bigalow is somehow getting more resistense and questions of femeninity because she directed a loud, adrenaline-pumping action/war film than Coppola who directed a quiet, low-key drama about star-crossed travellers in Japan REALLy irks me?

    Who doesn’t wanna see more female filmmakers gaining acceptance from studio exces and directing more and more action films? Wouldn’t that be awesome? Think of all the great films, of all genres, that we’re currently being denied of because of this close-minded attitude.

  • MaryAnn

    Our (and others as well) society insists on coding stuff with masculine attributes and feminine attributes. The coding changes over time, but it still happens. Is this bad? Good? Neutral? Relevant?

    I think it is relevant to point out that the coding changes, because many people simply do not realize this, and assume that the way things are now is the way things have always been and — more insidious — the way things *must* be.

    I mean, the wearing of wigs, makeup, and high heels was once, not long ago — in 18th-century Europe — code for “wealthy, powerful male.” Clearly that is no longer the case. So there’s no reason AT ALL to assume that the things we code today as “male” and “female” are inherently genuinely “male” and “female” and not subject to change.

    The obvious evidence of the world at large surely is proof that the ONLY thing we can truly code as “male” is the ability to fertilize a human egg, and the ONLY things we can truly code as “female” are the capabilities of gestating and nursing a child. And even those things may change as science advances.

    I don’t think i understand the issue here.

    Katherine Bigalow is a woman.
    She’s the director of a great film.
    If she wins she will be the first woman to win that category. These are all facts. Where’s the conflict here?

    That’s what some of us are trying to point out. There shouldn’t be any conflict here. But there is. It springs from a loooong tradition of women’s achievements being denigrated, via a variety of sexist reasoning that are concerned with “pointing out” why these achivements “don’t count” because of how they don’t conform with perceived notions about what women “should” do, “should” like, and “should” respond to.

    Many of these arguments are contradictory, not that this stops anyone from indulging in them. For instance, some may say that Bigelow’s achievement “doesn’t count” because she was “merely aping what a man does” (by directing an action movie featuring exclusively male characters), and that she “sold out” her womanhood by doing so. But if she’d been garnering such acclaim for a “soft,” “romantic” movie, she’d have been denigrated for making a “woman’s” movie, and that’s not worth celebrating because, as everyone “knows,” “women’s movies” aren’t as important or as worth celebrating as just plain old “movies” (ie, the movies that are supposedly of interest to men).

    A woman can’t win.

    The overarching point is this: If we focus on Bigelow as a “woman director” instead of just a “director,” we denigrated her work. Or else we need to start talking about, say, James Cameron as a “man director.” Which, of course, no one does and no one will ever do. Perhaps we should be wringing our hands over how a man could possibly have made a movie with such a touchy-feely “feminine” concept as Eywa, and whether *Avatar* “counts.”

  • t6

    Hm…Brett Ratner gets his gender pointed out…but his gender seems to be “dude” rather than “male.”

    I wonder about Judd Apatow, who is regularly attached to Dick Flicks…if that means his gender is also on the table as a director?

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