This started out as a blog post in conjunction with our review of Savages and how Oliver Stone has a thread of less than flattering portrayals of women in many of his films. I spent a weekend re-watching some of his filmography and was alarmed by what I found.
Before I got a chance to start writing though, I attended the final night of the Toronto After Dark Summer Screening Series and had the displeasure of sitting through V/H/S, a horror film that had such a weird attitude towards women that I thought it might fold very easily into what I’d already learned about Stone.
That is, casual misogyny in films. Why is it not discussed more? Why aren’t women more vocal about it? And why, when it’s pointed out, are people so defensive about something that negatively affects 50% of the population? A woman who brings it up is often dismissed as a “radical feminist” (as though that’s a bad thing) and the line of questioning invalidated for that reason. The fact is, the depiction of women in the media has taken a sharp downfall since the onset of the feminist movement in the “˜70s. Are us bra-burning feminists subconsciously (or consciously) being put back into our place by Hollywood filmmakers?
Take Stone, here’s a guy who’s revered as a quality filmmaker. Yes, he comes across as a bit of a blowhard, but the majority of his films have been critically acclaimed. Yet, when you watch them back to back, a disturbing trend starts to emerge. Every single one of his films that I watched over the last week (Savages, Natural Born Killers, Alexander, U-Turn and Talk Radio) contain a line of dialogue that says something along the lines of “women are evil” or “women can’t be trusted” or in one instance, “women: can’t live with “˜em, can’t shoot “˜em.” Strong women are compared to snakes and taken down a peg (by a man) and sexy women are either dumb or conniving and use their bodies as currency. It’s actually kind of startling how overt it is, yet until Savages got me thinking about it, I’d never really acknowledged it on more than a subconscious level. I suppose even a “radical feminist” can’t be on their game 100% of the time.
In the case of the horror film V/H/S, here’s a product that’s being produced by a bunch of men who work within a genre that’s traditionally based on terrorizing women as its central concept, with the sexually active women being picked off and the virginal ones making it though to the end. Even despite that, the frat boy mentality of these filmmakers is particularly aggressive. The film opens with a woman being grabbed off the street by a guy and having her breasts bared as his friend films the proceedings, which only serves to set an off-putting tone for the rest of the film. From there, women are objectified throughout, but not in a way that propels the characters, plot or fright factor forward. Even when the ultimate pay off is a bunch of d-bag bros getting their comeuppance, the road to that payoff feels cheap, filled with gratuitous tit shots and female stereotypes. It’s disturbing, and not in the good, shivery kind of way a horror movie is meant to be.
So, what’s to be done about all of this? Well, I think recognizing and discussing the problem is the first step. Films like Miss Representation have done a great job of asking the tough questions and presenting evidence about why these images and messages are hurtful to the female population. After all, even if you think I’m just being one of those humourless feminist types, isn’t the ultimate emotional, mental and physical well-being of your wife, girlfriend, mother, sister or daughter worth just a few moments of thoughtful consideration about the message the media is feeding you? I think so.
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