On the flip side of demonizing femininity, as covered with MYTH #4, some filmmakers equate feminism with exploiting female incompetence and messiness, often times in ways considered more acceptable, or at least forgivable, in males—like, for example, incorporating graphic depictions of bowel movements in the name of so-called equality. I beg to disagree.
#5 Feminism Isn’t Aggrandizing Female Dysfunction
I PREVIOUSLY referenced James Cameron’s self-congratulatory remarks about his strong female protagonists as opposed to what he considers a “step backward” with Patty Jenkins’/Gal Gadot’s realization of WONDER WOMAN, whom he dismissed as a an “objectified icon.” Within said boast he cited his TERMINATOR character, Sarah Connor, listing a plethora of her ostensibly feminist traits, among which he included that she was a “terrible mother.”
I can only presume he did so to suggest the value of all women need not lie in her ability to be a mom, but in his misguided statement he revealed his own ignorance of what feminism is—and isn’t.
Being a bad mother does not make you a feminist, just ask Margaret White from CARRIE (who punishes her own daughter for the “sin” of menstruation.) That’s not to suggest Sarah Connor is not a strong and admirable character—just maybe not for the reasons Cameron would have us believe.
Sarah Connor is three-dimensional, complete with strengths and flaws, wants and needs, many of which are revealed to us through her voice and actions. This is a wonderful starting point for any character, regardless of gender, race or creed. Upping the ante, when Sarah is put in extraordinarily horrendous circumstances, she rises to the occasion and does her part to save the world. But I’ll reiterate, it’s NOT her dysfunction that makes her feminist. Dysfunction simply makes her human. What makes her feminist is her defiance of patriarchal expectations. She doesn’t let a man, a robot or even her own child (in the sequel) oppress her. She fights for what she believes is right and does so on her own terms. She asserts herself as a first class citizen.
More recently we saw another variation of what Cameron might label a “gritty” female protagonist in Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s ’s MEGAN LEAVEY, based on a true story about a remarkable female marine. At story’s beginning, the drunk and disorderly Leavey gets in trouble for public urination. She has a drug history, has been living off her parents with no job and has no ability to connect with other people. She’s emotionally incompetent. Needless to say, these traits are not what make her story FEMINIST—FRIENDLY It’s not until she takes responsibility for herself, fights for her rights and earns her independence that she gains this additional recognition.
We are seeing more and more movies with female characters behaving badly, which is not a problem unto itself. All women, like all humans, do behave badly now and again, and we shouldn’t shy away from depicting this bad behavior in movies—it’s what make movies interesting after all. But we also mustn’t mistake it for “feminism.” Giving a female character a drinking problem, an ugly outfit, an unattractive appearance or diarrhea doesn’t give her depth. And it certainly doesn’t make her a FEMINIST. That comes from giving her a voice, the ability for independent thought, dimension. Only then will she become real.
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