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 disagrees.

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!

Categories: Industry Musings | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “Misogyny?

  1. Any decent writer *must* be able to write any viewpoint good or bad, male or female. Frankly I think that makes her/him saner than someone who can’t – since he is capable of seeing other viewpoints. Being able to see other viewpoints does not, however, mean that you *have* that viewpoint (an impossibility – how can I be a madman trying to take over the world and also the heroine stopping him?).

    In addition, taken to its logical conclusion, that sort of nonsense would make it impossible to write a bad guy since all forms of prejudice, bigotry or unpleasantness against any social group would be banned, and everybody belongs to some social group so someone somwhere would thereby be insulted.

    Hence, it’s a false argument since without it you cannot have “story”.

    For reference on where this kind of rubbish leads see “The Handicapper General” and “Fahrenheit 451”.

    • In service of the story – yes. In this specific instance, there’s a possibly valid argument it’s not in service of the story; but in service of teenage boys.

  2. As writers we have to be able to take the viewpoint of teenage boys …?

  3. There’s no one right answer, is there? I’m not of the ‘misogyny is always wrong’ mindset, because on that basis you could attack virtually any film which didn’t treat its female characters with kid gloves (and that covers 99% of cinema). It gets more complicated when you consider films like the original ‘I Spit on Your Grave’ (I haven’t seen it but I’ve read a lot about it) where of course the misogynistic men are not only killed by a woman, but by the woman who was their victim. It seems like a nasty exploitation piece in ‘Hostel’ style at first sight. Until, that is, you learn that the writer-director conceived the film after coming to the aid of a rape victim. So is it a justifiable revenge tragedy? Was Meir Zarchi heroically standing up for women’s rights? If so, why did he show the victim’s ordeal in such terrible detail (or so I’ve read)? Could he not have used the same focus as Jonathan Kaplan in ‘The Accused’ who also shows a rape in extended detail but doesn’t appear to invite us to enjoy the victim’s suffering? And why are all these films directed by men, anyway?

  4. In my opinion, a plethora of characterisation should be possible and encouraged. A filmmaker should not be held responsible for the ideas and actions of his characters – but then we are also responsible for our contribution to society as a whole.

    For example, take X-Men First Class (hopefully nothing spoilery, if you haven’t seen it). It opens with a scene of Jewish people being herded into a concentration camp. None of the Nazi soldiers in that scene are seen to be punished for this.

    Erik Lensherr, Holocaust survivor, proceeds to run around Nazi hunting later in the film, with some commentary about war crimes etc. Erik, however, is not a good person. He is a murderer and holds a number of prejudices of his own. However, his motivations are sympathetic because of a shared ideal that says what the Nazis did was wrong and therefore this is partially (wholly?) justifiable vengeance.

    The problem with misogyny, racism and homophobia is when it goes unrecognised. Is it okay for two teenage boys to spy on their female teacher undressing? Is it okay to laugh at the affectations of a camp hairdresser in a feather boa? Is it okay for the female characters to consistently be the ones in peril, needing to be rescued, despite purportly having the same training/strengths as the other team members?

    In your example, I’m all for equal opportunity victims, murderers and avengers. The issue is that there’s a precedent. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was built off the idea that the pretty blonde girl always dies first in a film – and subverts it to make her kick serious ass.

    tl;dr – All characters and plots are possible, but what message are you sending to your audience by using them? Are you playing to their expectations or challenging them? Should we just be entertaining and leaving the “social engineering” to someone else?

  5. If you’ve got a character who holds racist beliefs and vocalises them/acts upon them, you’ve got yourself a racist character and that’s not a problem. As Steve says, any decent writer must be able to write any viewpoint, good or bad. If, on the other hand, you’ve got a scene which depicts a particular ethnicity solely in terms of negative stereotyping and, perhaps, invites the viewer to revel in their mistreatment based upon that race, then you’ve got yourself a racist scene and I’d argue that’s a big problem. Same deal with gender: of course you can have a misogynist character, and that character can act or speak according to that outlook. If, however, you’ve got a *scene* which depicts women solely in terms of… etc. etc.

    I’ve also never understood the idea that watching naked women get mutilated or killed appeals to 15 year old boys. Of course that audience loves watching sex, and they love watching violence, but I don’t agree that it follows that they like watching the two things mixed together. Who would enjoy seeing their object of desire (and I’m aware of the irony of using ‘object’ here) get destroyed? Do art fanatics hold a secret desire to watch the Mona Lisa go through a shredder? I think the reaction to sexualised violence is generally one of revulsion pretty much across the board, except for a very small niche audience in a very dark, lonely corner of the human psyche.

    • So it would be okay to kill an ethnic character so long as they weren’t stupid or lazy or whatever and the scene was intended to be shocking and not exciting?

      What if that character is stupid but every other character of the same ethnicity is clever and heroic? If the scene is intended to shock or upset, does the rest of the film offset the perceived racism of the scene?

      Going back to the misogyny angle – I remember being very uncomfortable watching Jamie Lee Curtis dance in ‘True Lies’ because I wasn’t sure if Arnie’s character was making her dance for himself or for us. It felt out of character for even a spurned husband and like it was there just to cram some flesh in. Or perhaps it was necessary because it served a story purpose which allowed Arnie ot realise his wife was as attractive as the other women he met?

      I don’t really get the violence and nudity mixed together thing either. I frequently get asked to shoehorn extra bits of both into a script and it’s often more economical to just have one scene which serves both purposes rather than add pages and pages of them seperately … but I usually try to give them a story reason for being there too. Not always successfully, mind.

  6. Pingback: 2011 « The Jobbing Scriptwriter

  7. Laura

    I went off out this evening thinking about your questions. Answers popped into my head a number of hours ago so I hope I can remember them now.

    I presume you’re talking about your film Strippers Vs Vampires. If not, I apologise. I haven’t seen the film and have very little desire to however if it’s the strippers getting revenge on the vampires, then I think you’ve missed a whole layer of mysogeny here. AKA why strippers? Why not lawyers or mothers or dinner ladies (actually that last one’s quite a good idea!!!)? Why do these characters strip, presumably for men? To what degree does what they do objectify them? And to what degree does it make others believe they are ‘asking for it’?

    It’s like saying a bunch of jewish people should be the subject of a holocaust because they are money lenders. The perceived failing is already inbuilt and gives their attackers an easily referenced and understandable (even if wrong) starting point. If you see a drama about the holocaust these days, the starting point is usually normal people of a particular faith, not the worst stereotype of that particular racial group you could possibly characterise…. the one that suggests that they were all asking for it, regardless of whether they get their revenge on their attackers by the end or not.

    I can understand the sexual thrill for some people to take their clothes off in front of strangers and for others to watch. I can understand the need to feed your family or pay the mortgage and the justification of taking money for taking your clothes off if someone else is prepared to pay. But somewhere down the line, stripping turns into something else – and this is the thin edge of the wedge. I see the choice of profession for your characters fundamentally mysogenist. Particularly in combination with some sort of attack on them and their consequent need for revenge. If they were a bunch of strippers who go off to build a new school in Somalia or something, they’re not victims. If they’re an innocent office worker who is attacked for no reason other than the depravity of their attacker, they’re a victim but not through any perceived fault or failing of their own.

    Since you may be talking about a different scenario or the strippers my be attacked in a way wholly unrelated to their profession, then I’m willing to be corrected. However I imagine that they are attacked because of what they do with no other motivation from the attackers. So regardless of whether they seek and gain revenge, everything follows from a mysogenistic premise. This is how I understand mysogyny. As opposed to just equal opportunity nastiness.


    • Laura

      Sorry, Strippers Vs Werewolves. I told you I hadn’t seen it, didn’t I?!

      • Hi Laura,

        The problem I have debating this is I don’t really know anything about strip clubs. I don’t know if they’re staffed with empowered women conning money out of men who are so stupid they’ll pay someone to take their clothes off; or if they’re full of weak, vulnerable women who are one step away from a drug-addled porn career and victims of the men they dance for.

        Both circumstances may be true … I just don’t know. I honestly don’t know (or don’t think I know) any strippers and I’ve only been to one club, once for a stag-do – that was probably the most uncomfortable few hours of my adult life.

        I found it a weird atmosphere where women try a variety of lies to get you to pay them to take the last vestiges of their clothing off. Some of them were downright aggressive, insisting I must be gay if I didn’t want to buy a dance; some gave me sob stories about their kids/tuition fees (which may or may not have been true); but only one was actually funny and engaging and made an effort to be interesting to talk to. I’m assuming that was part of her sales pitch; but again, I just don’t know – maybe that was just her?

        I do think stipping encourages the objectification of women; but what I don’t know is whether or not the women are willing participants of this, eager to fleece the stupid. I don’t imagine it’s pleasant, but maybe it is? I just don’t know.

        I’ve never put a stripper into a script unless it was at the express request of the director or producer (which is surprisingly often). Strippers vs Werewolves existed as a (fantastic) script before I was hired – there were changes made during development and again during production, some of which I didn’t have a problem with, one or two I did; but one thing I was adamant about was the strippers should not apologise for being strippers. They shouldn’t be victims, they should be a normal group of women who do a job – some of them like it, some of them don’t; but none of them feel embarrassed or weak because of it.

        Again, I don’t know how true to life this is, but that’s the way the script was written when I was hired and I wanted it to stay that way. They can have negative characteristics, they can lie, cheat or steal like any normal human – but they shouldn’t come across as victims.

        SvW does have a revenge plot – but it’s the werewolves seeking revenge against the strippers. The strippers kick things off by killing a werewolf. Yes, he probably deserved it; but they do start the ball rolling. The werewolves are misogynists as are some of the other men in the film – anyone who treats any woman (stripper or not) as anything less than an equal meets with a sticky end.

        I’m not, by any stretch of the imagination, saying this is a feminist film or anything more than a teenage male fantasy; but it definitely passes the Bechdel Test.

        So yes, I understand your point of view; but not sure I agree – not every film with strippers in is automatically misogynistic.

        Having said that, I love the idea of Dinner Ladies vs Werewolves!

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