I was chatting to a fellow scriptwriter the other day about a character in a script, a young woman whose function is pretty much just to be ogled, hunted and killed. He flagged this as an example of misogyny.
My point of view is … he’s right. It’s incredibly misogynistic and the men responsible for ogling, hunting and killing her deserve to be punished. Which they are. By women.
In my mind, the fact we show the villains to be unpleasant in both thought and deed towards women and then punished by women justifies (or at least alleviates) the initial misogyny. If the heroes were men and the only female characters in the film were killed to motivate them … it would be a different kettle of unpleasantness (I’m well aware of the ‘girlfriend in a fridge’ syndrome and do keep an eye out for it.*); but as it stands I don’t see the film as being misogynistic (at least, not for that reason) – it’s one scene. In other words, we, the film-makers, aren’t misogynistic, the bad guys are.
He thinks that kind of misogyny is unwarranted and taints the whole film. He believes it speaks volumes about the film-makers themselves.
To be fair, there is a degree of unnecessariness† to the whole thing. To be even fairer, there’s a weight of expectation regarding nudity and violence placed on the film by its title which a paying audience will demand. The storyline precludes violence for most of the first half of act two and the budget meant it was unlikely the main actresses would get their kit off. Adding in the violence/nudity via an ancillary character helps dilute that expectation – it was a producers’ note, one which was debated hotly before being accepted as probably right.
There were (at least) two other examples of misogyny this writer didn’t like in the script. For one of those, I totally agree with him; but it was a production issue which seemed inescapable because of looming problems. The other involved the closing monologue of the film being taken out of the heroine’s mouth and given to a minor male character – the reasons for which were purely practical and to do with not being able to speak through the prosthetics and the amount of time it would take to remove them. Personally, I think it shouldn’t be seen as a man speaking for her, but as her being so powerful she has her own personal narrator.
But anyway, ignoring that and just looking at the first, eminently debatable point: the question is, who’s right?
Is a misogynistic scene acceptable if the bad guys are later punished by women? Given all the bad guys in the film are male and all the good guys (save for two token blokes) are female?
Or is misogyny in a film totally unacceptable under any circumstances?
And where is that line drawn? Is racism acceptable in a film if the racists are punished by the people they victimise? In other words, if the racists are shown to be wrong in thought and deed?
What about homophobia?
Should this kind of behaviour be avoided at all costs? Or can you balance it out with other characters? Is the racism/homophobia angle an unfair comparison given the female character was included partly just to satisfy fifteen-year-old boys’ lust for boobs – in a way a black or gay character probably wouldn’t be? Well, actually, a gay character probably could be.
Actually, is that the same issue? Or does the fact the gay heroes and the gay victim appeal to the same audience make it completely different?
I honestly don’t know and can see both sides of the argument (although I do lean towards it not being an issue given balance later on).
As ever, I’d love to be educated on my wrong thinking and welcome your thoughts on the matter.
* Killing a spouse/lover to motivate the main character is fair enough. It’s a very strong, emotive motivation. The reason it’s so one-sided is because most comics are written by geeky boys for geeky boys – none of whom want to read/buy comics with a female protagonist.
Unless she’s nearly naked. Which just upsets people in different ways.
Superheroes tend to be adolescent fantasies based around a geeky guy/kid being given (not working hard to achieve) magic powers so he can vanquish the bullies. The fantasy being: I too would stand up for myself if only someone waved a magic rock which meant I didn’t have to go to the gym and work really, really hard.
I’m not saying no women harbour similar fantasies. Nor am I saying no men read female superhero books or vice versa. It’s just a general trend which explains why so many superheroes have mutilated/murdered girlfriends. Yes there could and should be stronger female characters in all modern superhero comics; but since most heroes have roots in the 1930s to 1960s … it’s all kind of a legacy/continuity nightmare.
† Made up word!