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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

New York Times critic AO Scott is all boo-hoo waaaa grrl power

Bronxbee points out to me A.O. Scott’s review of Mr. Peabody & Sherman, which includes this passage:

[W]hile the filmmakers have updated jokes and themes about dogs and boys, their ideas about boys and girls have a musty, regressive feel.

At school, Sherman meets Penny Peterson (Ariel Winter; her parents are voiced by Leslie Mann and Stephen Colbert), a blond-haired, blue-eyed pixie who parrots incorrect information about George Washington in the classroom. Penny’s job in the course of the film is to be mean to Sherman, to get him into trouble, to be rescued by him, and then to marvel at his resourcefulness and bravery. During the airborne scene in Florence, she helps him become “the first man to fly.” The main historical women in the movie are the gluttonous Marie Antoinette and the frivolous Mona Lisa.

It is odd that big-studio animators have taken so long to get to “Frozen” and to “Brave,” and more than a little dispiriting that otherwise imaginative father-son stories like “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” and “The Lego Movie” default to sexism and tokenism. You would think they would be smarter than that, but I guess even a clever old dog has trouble learning new tricks.

Scott is not wrong about any of this. I certainly cringed momentarily at Penny’s line about “the first man to fly,” particularly when (as you can see in the still above), they’re both flying. She could just as easily have said, “We’ll be the first people to fly.”

Now, I didn’t mention this in my review of the film, because it was relatively minor in the grand scheme of the film overall, and it did not impact my overall enjoyment of the film, which remained enormous. (And, see: I don’t always find feminist things to complain about in my reviews! I am capable of ignoring such slights.) Still, the fact that I am even capable of ignoring such stuff is an indication of what women have to do all the time if we want to be able to enjoy most movies at all.

But my main point is this: Do you imagine that anyone — any single person — will accuse Scott of dragging feminism into everything and “complaining because apparently there aren’t enough female heroes in Hollywood movies” and being “some sad [man] desperate for grrl power” and that he’s all “‘Hollywood’ waaaa women can can kick ass too waaaa” and that he should “please [not] ever write another review again, thanks”?

No. Of course not. In fact, quite the contrary: plenty people will now hear such a complaint precisely because it’s coming from a man. Mark my words: You will see commentaries about how Hollywood is treating girls and women that will refer to Scott as if he has made an important point that no one else has made before. Because it’s only been women saying it, and who cares what women think?

  • LaSargenta

    You mean it’s going to be like this? http://punch.photoshelter.com/image/I0000eHEXGJ_wImQ

  • Danielm80

    I’ll be genuinely curious to see the reaction to his review. I don’t know if anyone will say that he went to the screening with a “feminist agenda,” but some people may say that he’s a member of the “PC police” or a “typical New York Times liberal.”

    I’m guessing that the reaction to this blog post will be much angrier than anything people say about A.O. Scott.

    Also, MaryAnn, could you please fix the link to Scott’s review (if you haven’t already)? The correct link seems to be:


  • Oops! I had the correct link — just had a brain fart while assembling the post. Sorry!

    I edited your comment to delete that ridiculously long link, which I foresaw causing formatting problems on this page.

  • Exactly.

  • LaSargenta


  • Bluejay

    I can imagine (or can I?) how incredibly frustrating that is. And it’s something of a catch-22, isn’t it? If society ignores women when they speak up on these issues, obviously that’s bad. The only way that changes is if society listens to someone point out these issues — but if the people who succeed in getting society to pay attention are men, then that dynamic becomes part of the problem too. How can that be changed, and what ought a male supporter of feminism to do?

  • David C-D

    For one thing, give credit. If you are drawing attention to the ideas of others, link/cite rather than making it look like it was your idea.

    I would cite whoever it is that I got that idea from, but I’m too lazy to find out right now.

  • Bluejay

    One should always give credit, of course. But what if an idea is established enough (at least in some circles) that people can think it up without getting it specifically from someone else? It’s likely, for instance, that Scott didn’t need to consult anyone before expressing the observations and opinions in the passage quoted.

    I do think prominent male feminists should point their audiences in the direction of women who have been making the same arguments. Although it still doesn’t solve the conundrum that their audiences then listen to those women because a man told them to do so.

  • LaSargenta

    No, it doesn’t, but it has to start somewhere.

    Rather than referring to published work, I’m going to give an example from the face-to-face environment. This happens time and again in meetings. Some of the worst meetings, imo&e, for this are not work ones, but voluntary, frequently political, meetings. The best way to point people to listening to and valuing an individual who is part of a (however and whyever it is happening) marginalized group is simply to be part of the privileged group and be seen listening. If one feels a need to step in (but not over nor on) to a conversation and defend (but, one hopes, not White Knight) the person’s position or opinion or validate their experience, there’s ways of doing it. No perfect formula, but, if we can carry on a conversation instead of a monologue in other areas of our lives, we can figure out how to do this in these moments.

    Here are 2 personal examples of when (I think), it was done right-ish. No one right way, but I think both worked in their contexts.

    (1) I was on a joint venture for a long time and encountered, identified and analysed a problem that needed lots of others to cooperatively solve. Went to each of them, got nowhere. Went MUCH higher up the food chain without stopping in between. Gave a 2 minute outline of problem/ideal solution steps, asked when (not if) he could accompany me to meeting of all who I’d targeted as appropriate for solving-team, took him to meeting, presented problem all over again, finished, looked at people sitting around table, saw all reps of disparate departments/skill sets/cultures who were also all male AND not from my very surprisingly under-represented skill set (it was a tunnel job, I’m a geotechnical engineer…we had so many Real Estate and IT people that it blew my mind…especially since some of them didn’t seem to be doing their jobs very well) look at each other and then turn to Much Higher Guy Who Had Been Sent From Foreign C-Suite. MHGWHBSFFCS said “Right. I think she’s laid this out pretty clearly. I expect you can follow it.” And, then, he got up and left the room.

    (2) Diversity meeting at a primary school: Had started as series of Town Halls and Breakout Meetings around race…expanded to be class/income/gender/etc., etc. Working class Latina mom speaks up about her child who has a birth certificate that says girl but who has been saying “I’m a boy” since starting to talk. She explains that “J” will answer to female pronouns and the birth cert name when around people who aren’t known to be accepting/supportive, but says consistently to anyone who IS known to be accepting/supportive “I’m a boy” and refuse to answer to female i.d.’s. A white, culturally-standard-US-american, middle-class mom immediately starts speaking about how kids ‘that young’ don’t have a clue and they’re all confused and she‘ll probably change her mind and she…and someone else cut in: “He”. The mom who’d been speaking looked confused. “He. SHE says he calls himself a he, so I’m happy calling him a he.” This was done with a jazz-hand shrug — sorta like this — http://media.photobucket.com/user/stuckgifs/media/JazzHands-Glee.gif.html?filters%5Bterm%5D=jazz%20hands&filters%5Bprimary%5D=images&sort=1&o=49 Mom-who-had-been-running-at-the-mouth looked like she had been slapped. Mom-of-kid-who-had-suddenly-become-topic-of-conflict had been kind of shrinking in her chair under the schooling this idiot had been dishing out started relaxing. (Body language is so important.) A couple of other people turned to her and asked her further questions about her and her son’s and her family’s experience and listened to her.

  • Bluejay

    Great examples, and thanks for sharing. I particularly like #2, because in addition to respecting someone’s gender choice, period, I’m impressed that a parent chose to respect a child’s choice, which happens all too rarely IMO. Well done.

    How would this apply to A.O. Scott, do you think? Should he have done anything differently?

  • LaSargenta

    His review reads like it got severely edited. The tone seems a little more clipped than what I usually read from him, although he is always economical. But, if editing and space constraints aren’t the reason he didn’t cite anyone else in a general way, I think that the only thing that could have been said is something along the lines of “…as so many other reviewers, viz./eg/such as MAJ, etc., have written…”. But, hey, for me, I’m glad anyone who is getting published in a major media outlet is pointing it out. MAJ’s post seems to be more rolling her eyes at the knowledge that our culture will give more creedence to Scott than that his article didn’t cite others. So many have been saying it for years and years, one could try and list the names and run out of column space. Of course, most would be women’s names.

  • David C-D

    To me, it seems like potentially a good solution. Speaking for myself, when someone I respect suggests me to listen to someone, I usually approach that person in a more receptive frame of mind. And often, after listening, I am impressed and seek out more of what that person has to say.

    That has happened often to me on this site. Jezebel, for example, I might not have read except for MaryAnn. Though I find Christopher Hitchens to be frequently obnoxious, I listened to him because of recommendations from this site and I have gained more respect for him.

    That some people think wrongly about women is not a problem that can be solved in one stroke. Exposure to the work and writing of strong, thoughtful women is the best medicine that I can think of.

  • Yeah, I wasn’t criticizing Scott, not at all. I’m almost entirely certain that he’s never read a word I’ve written, so I wouldn’t have expected him to credit me. And I don’t think he needed to credit anyone here at all.

    I was just railing about how even when it comes to things concerning women, men tend to get listened to when women don’t.

  • Bluejay

    Here’s hoping Maureen Dowd’s most recent piece gets listened to, anyway:


    There’s nothing new or particularly surprising here, but I think the stats do make it clear how much of a woman problem Hollywood really has.

  • LaSargenta

    I agree. The suggestion I made was in answer to Bluejay’s “Should he have done anything differently?” Actually, I don’t think he “should” have done it differently, but I was proposing a “could”. I’m sure Dargis has made comments about this.

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