DONATE NOW TO HELP UPGRADE LIBCOM.ORG

Newb question regarding feminism

11 posts / 0 new
Last post
yoda's walking stick
Offline
Joined: 6-04-11
Jul 17 2011 22:48
Newb question regarding feminism

How does a lack of substantive female roles in media, say in movies, relate to sexism? I've been reading about the Bechdel Test: http://bechdeltest.com/

I can intuit that there is a connection, but I'd love it if someone could make clear the logic to me or point me in the direction of some place that does.

Is it that the lack of central roles for women reflects a lack of female agency in the wider culture?

ludd's picture
ludd
Offline
Joined: 4-05-09
Jul 18 2011 04:52

I doubt there exists great consensus among feminists about the connection between representation of women in commercial popular culture and sexism. There are vast differences between different kinds of feminism and culture might be impossible to analyze in a definitive way.

At the same time it's very simple. People who produce and direct movies have sexist views. What is widely considered "realistic" adventures for women and men (romantic adventures vs. all other kinds of adventures) is based on historical (and still active) exclusion of women from public life. Women are allowed to be active in a smaller sphere of private relationships but a lot of traditionally permitted female activities don't make for marketable Hollywood movies. Worth mentioning that this exclusion never was fully complete and represents a middle class ideal (something movie producers love too).

Of course recently movie producers have become enlightened so you get women doing action stuff (like the film Sucker Punch). Except it ends up being sexist but in a different way.

Angelus Novus
Offline
Joined: 27-07-06
Jul 18 2011 11:17

I haven't seen Sucker Punch so I can't comment on that specific film, but it seems to me that in the current era "irony" and "self-awareness" are no longer stylistic devices that serve some actual purpose of content, but are rather ways of hedging and avoiding being pinned down.

In the second Baffler collection, "Boob Jubilee", there's an essay called "Rockerdämmerung" which addresses the sort of cheap irony of the late-80s and early-90s indie rock world as a way of not having to take a definite position, so that when one is discredited, one could claim that one was not being serious all along.

I've noticed this sort of culture of having it both ways has become widespread. When the Sopranos was first running, I thought it was the most brilliant, ruthless send-up of capitalist pathology ever to be aired on television. The gangster-as-yuppie/yuppie-as-gangster. And that "Columbus Day" episode in the fourth season that mercilessly skewers North American identity politics.

Then I realized that most people watching the Sopranos regarded Tony as a sympathetic figure they could identify with, and loved the footage of sumptuous New Jersey homes and Italian cuisine. Water coolers and Internet forums everywhere were full of cheery, insipid discussions about who would get "whacked" next episode.

It would be too facile to say I "got" the Sopranos and they "missed the point". Rather, I think shows like that are intended to flatter their diverse audiences and allow them to project whatever they want into them. The self-styled critical types can imagine they see all sorts of social critique, while the well-heeled mass audience sees a well-crafted drama with sympathetic figures and all kinds of pretty pictures.

So, beware "self-aware irony". These days, any cultural artifact that wants to have it both ways is often just trying to avoid saying anything conclusive.

RedEd's picture
RedEd
Offline
Joined: 27-11-10
Jul 18 2011 18:27

I kind of agree with AN that irony is often used in ways that are far from critical. In adition to the mechanism he described (i.e. allowing avoidance of a definite position). I think it can also be used to enjoy racism, sexism, what ever other kind of bigotry, whilst being able at the same time to distance one's self from that. In other words to functionally take a position, whilst avoiding the implications of making that position explicit.

Back the question in the fist post: Nina Power did a good treatment of exactly the question you ask in One Dimensional Woman. Unfortunately I don't think you can read it online, though I think the book is worth borrowing or buying in itself. It mixes marxist class analysis with feminism in quite a fast paced, engaging way. Little bit too much lacan in it for my liking, but not in an overpowering way.

ludd's picture
ludd
Offline
Joined: 4-05-09
Jul 18 2011 20:07
revol68 wrote:
Quote:
Of course recently movie producers have become enlightened so you get women doing action stuff (like the film Sucker Punch). Except it ends up being sexist but in a different way.

In a completely ironic and self aware way, something most idiot reviewers managed to miss.

The irony is obvious to everyone after one of the characters speaks pretty much directly at the audience (the theatrical lobotomy scene). The problem for me was I didn't buy it. I wasn't exactly sure why but the reason RedEd gives makes a lot of sense to me. People who enjoy seeing women abused could enjoy this movie too as an aesthetic experience - the film and the characters (male and female) are too empty for anything to cut against that. The irony just confuses this and leaves people free to put their own meanings into the film. I don't think the movie is hideously sexist or anything, mostly it's cheesy, like Revol said, but it doesn't advance much either.

RedEd's picture
RedEd
Offline
Joined: 27-11-10
Jul 19 2011 03:20
revol68 wrote:
Sorry but this crap about the danger of some enjoying it in a non ironic manner is just bullshit, that exists in everything, the author can't be held accountable for such things.

I'm not seen this particular film, so I can't talk about that. But I'm pretty sure that the mechanism I described is operating in popular culture. Good examples, if you know them (I don't know where you're from) are Al Murray and Jimmy Carr in the UK, who, in different ways, use ostensibly ironic bigotry to cater to audiences who do not take their jokes in an ironic way at all as well as satisfying people who recognise that 'it's all a bit of fun' but enjoy the fun none the less, and people who like laughing at the bigoted personas the performers portray. It's nothing to do with the intent of the performer, though they'd have to be pretty naive not to know what was going on. It has to do with the marketability of the commodity they produce. The two performers I mentioned are extremely skilled (maybe coincidentally?) at creating acts which work for all sorts of people with different ideas, through the gradated use of irony. And that's why I'm so sceptical about whether irony is always as socially distant from the thing its being ironic about as it seems from listening to performers or liberal reviewers.

RedEd's picture
RedEd
Offline
Joined: 27-11-10
Jul 19 2011 03:40

Fair enough. I certainly think that performers shouldn't be held accountable for people who miss the point. And I agree its patronising to say this socio-economic group will get it, this one won't or whatever. But I still think that there are performers who try to unite a room (to use stand up jargon) by telling their jokes in such a way as to not have a point but to appeal to all sorts of opinions, whether by design or by accident/trial and error. And this works both ways. Comedians from poor economic backgrounds taking the piss out of their families for both other people from similar backgrounds and for 'middle class' liberal exist. A good example is Russell Kane. I'm pretty sure he knows that people will take different things from what he's saying, and that his stuff is designed to fit the audiences he plays to commercially as much as it is to speak to them. This is totally not a criticism of him, just a description of what financially successfull stand ups usually have to do. And not have to do in the sense of are compelled to do, but more in the sense of this defines who will have financial success (although the former factor will of course play a big role).