Why subtly sexist media is the most problematic

the-gift_new.jpgI know I wrote a post about blatantly (and excessively) sexist social media accounts pretty recently, but I’m back to bitch about more sexism and gender issues that men don’t want to hear about. Ones that, in my mind, can be a lot more dangerous.

Generally, I find that sexism comes one of two ways in movies, TV shows, books, and other media:

  1. Overtly, often comically so, to a point that it serves as a) satire of sexism itself or b) character development for the stereotypical “douchebag” role
  2. In a much deeper, more subtle way that viewers rarely even pick up on, rendering it not a behavioural habit of certain characters, but something more normalized and ingrained (and therefore accepted/acceptable) in the everyday life of average people

Wolf of Wall Street, for example – one of my most-hated movies of all time – somewhat teeters on the edge of this division, but the majority of viewers can hopefully watch the movie and easily pick out its moments of obvious sexism (which may or may not revolve around doing lines of coke off of girls’ asses). This approach presents the opportunity to analyze and rebuke these rather superficial moments contingent on one’s personal values. A lot of the sexism in the movie is part and parcel of DiCaprio’s character and associated lifestyle, and though it’s disgusting and honestly hard to watch as a female, it exists to shape the character (and the time, and the lifestyle) and begs not only to be noticed, but viewed with a critical eye.

Gone Girl, another movie I loathe, is closer to the latter, as its story basically just implies “women are hysterical psychos who lie about rape”. Viewers may be surprised to learn that 68% of sexual assaults aren’t even reported, 98% of attackers will never be persecuted, and 293,066 women are assaulted each year in the U.S. alone. False allegations are understandably impossible to quantify, but are purported to fall between 2 and 10%. In any case, the norm is that an accuser is telling the truth. This movie focuses on the exception. As if it isn’t hard enough for victims and their cases to be taken seriously.

Then there are movies like The Gift.

I watched the movie  – starring Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, and Joel Edgerton (who also wrote and directed the film) – upon the recommendation of a few coworkers and friends, and I really took little issue with it until its finale. I mean, sure, it portrays the female lead as an over-emotional, over-thinking, formerly drug-addicted (is this why she previously had a miscarriage? Of course the suggested link had to somehow subtly blame her) woman. Fortunately, this is somewhat counteracted by her husband’s increasingly asshole-ish behaviour, and the revelation that her seeming paranoia was justified by a very real threat that very much existed entire time.

By the end, it’s evident that Hall’s character Robyn, though one of the three protagonists, essentially serves as only an object with which the two males taunt and exact revenge on one another based on their troubled history (which she has absolutely nothing to do with). Bateman, playing her husband Simon, repeatedly suggests Gordo (Edgerton)’s attraction to Robyn and his desire to take Simon’s place, at times even rubbing his marriage in the other man’s face. His bullying behaviour towards Gordo, which we learn is an echo of a past dynamic, leads to the man’s final retribution – the never-completely-confirmed rape and impregnation of Robyn, which is suggested just as she gives birth to what Simon thought was his child. The moment is complete with a self-made video of Gordo approaching and undressing the unconscious woman after a fall shown earlier in the narrative and never explained until this point (hint: he drugged her in her own home).

Though I can understand the motivation of this *exciting and unpredicted* plot twist, it really harkens back to some articles I read in university about rape and war. Historically, invading forces pillage communities and rape all of the women they can find. Not because the women have anything whatsoever to do with ANYTHING going on politically, but because they’re just pawns in a man’s war, physically overtaken (and as a result, sometimes impregnated) to prove a point to the opposition. To have the penetration of borders and political ideals felt on a new, personal level. Used simply as grounds for violence between males, this casts women as non-persons, as objects, not in the “sexual objectification” way that we’ve come to be familiar with in media, but on a far deeper, more troubling level. This is exactly what The Gift enacts. And what’s most frustrating is that 99% of people will watch the movie and say, “Whoa, what a twist!”, deeming it a good story. Then there’s me, immediately bothered by it.

I suppose the fact that the first movie review I found after Googling “feminist criticism of The Gift” was met with comments like: “There’s no excuse for ever bringing up sexism in a movie review. Feminism has been dead for at least a generation. Why can’t you just turn off your brain and enjoy the movie?” only slightly attests to what I’m saying. (Imagine if a man disliked and felt personally disturbed by a movie, by the way? The stance would be inarguable, except maybe by other men.) I guess I’ll just remember to casually forget my brain next time I encounter my 10x a day fix of problematic propaganda from the patriarchy (too severe, yes but I really can’t help myself from employing such laughable alliteration when it presents itself). Here’s to hoping I’m not the only one approaching the media around me with at least an iota of critical analysis, whether or not it impedes the enjoyment of said media.




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