Written by Stephanie Rogers. Originally published at Bitch Flicks. Cross-posted with permission.
Last week, I somehow ended up on Cracked.com reading a post called, “6 Obnoxious Assumptions Hollywood Makes About Women.” It’s no surprise that I ended up there, given that I write for Bitch Flicks and have a vested interest in Hollywood’s Obnoxious Assumptions, of which there are many. But. Cracked.com seriously failed with a couple of items in this piece. I considered not even writing about it, but then I realized it had more than a million page views, at least two thousand comments, and more than nine thousand Facebook shares. (Kind of like the readership we get at Bitch Flicks. Wait … no … that’s not quite right … ). With so many people out there reading such a well-intentioned yet problematic piece, I believe it deserves some analysis here.* I know Cracked.com promotes itself as a humor site, and—as hard as this is to believe coming from a feminist—I love humor. Honestly. Ask anyone who knows me—I promise I’m the most hilarious person everyone knows. Humor, however, or the attempt at humor, doesn’t give someone license to say offensive shit under the guise of hilarity. I will say that I agree with most of the Obnoxious Assumptions on the list; my issue resides with the ways in which the author attempts to critique two of those assumptions in particular.
The piece begins with an introduction citing a classic in Hollywood cinema: the sexual objectification of women. Yay, good point! Wait, no. Because after that acknowledgment, we immediately get, “That’s annoying, but it least it makes sense. They’re pandering to men, or they’re sexist, or whatever.” I felt myself cringe a little there, considering objectification of women on screen triggers more than mere “annoyance” for me and exists as one of the main reasons women in general still deal with an assload of inequality—it’s hard to see a woman portrayed as someone who only exists for your pleasure (be it visual or otherwise) as your equal, right? But, red flag aside, I decided to give the author the benefit of the doubt; her main point after all is that Hollywood screenwriters try to make up for the stuff that’s “just for the guys” (like naked women) by giving women something they want—an “everywoman” character who’s just like them! I’m still trying to figure out where women who aren’t white and heterosexual fit into all this.
You can check out the article on Cracked.com if you want to see the list in its entirety, but I’m only focusing on the two most offensive instances here.
Worrying About Being Fat When You’re Not
I’m 100% with the author on this one (at first). She uses perfect examples—like, we’re really supposed to identify with Julia Roberts as “fat” in Eat Pray Love? Or with Toni Collette as the “fat, ugly sister” in In Her Shoes? It’s offensive and ridiculous and, yes, I’m in agreement! But then, we get this:
“Look, I totally get it that nobody wants to see actual fat people on a screen for two hours and Hollywood has to trot out skinny actresses because that’s what the audience wants.”
Oh, really? That’s an interesting and Obnoxious Assumption. In fact, I don’t think I’d mind at all seeing Actual Fat Women on screen. That might—what?—start to maybe challenge Obnoxious Assumptions About Fat Women? Because the author didn’t mean “Actual Fat People,” did she; she meant “Actual Fat Women.” Fat men are all over the damned screen, and they’re all sleeping with Kristen Bell and Elizabeth Banks and Kali Hawk and Katherine Heigl and Reese Witherspoon and Julia Roberts and Halle Berry. Cracked.com’s Obnoxious Assumption? No One Wants to See Fat Women in Movies
Getting Angry For No Reason
Okay, no. I don’t know how something that starts off only mildly offensive manages to derail so … impressively in a matter of a few sentences. I have no doubt, again, that this Obnoxious Hollywood Assumption probably does exist. The author’s take, paraphrased: movies often rely on the idea that in order to showcase a woman as strong and independent, the script must call for her to flip out on men at random, without sufficient motivation. In all honesty, I haven’t thought much about this. I’m sure if I did, I could come up with a few examples of very anti-feminist films and Straw Feminist characters that fall into that trap, but the examples the author uses here—that Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Jennifer Garner in Daredevil physically attack men for no reason—don’t seem to take into account the fact that Kevin Costner and Ben Affleck were both behaving like fucking stalkers, in which case I’d hardly call their ass-beatings unprovoked. The author then hypothesizes about the writers of these films, guessing that,
“Their only picture of a ‘tough’ woman is of a bitchy militant feminist who will scream at you for saying ‘Congressman’ instead of ‘Congressperson.’” That, naturally, is accompanied by a photo of a woman beating a man with flowers, and the caption: “Did you just say hi to me? RAPIST! RAPIST!!!”
In fairness to the author, I think she’s trying to critique the assumption that women aren’t, you know, insane by virtue of being women (the way Hollywood often portrays us), and I agree wholeheartedly with that; but the critique, regardless of the author’s actual intent, ultimately comes across as, “Look, not all women behave like those militant feminists who think all men want to rape them, so I wish Hollywood would stop making that Obnoxious Assumption,” which is just Cracked.com’s Obnoxious Assumption About Feminists. All in all, no.
*So let me just get this over with: This Is Important. I almost didn’t write my analysis because the instinct for many readers is to say: “Why can’t you focus on Real things like Real issues that Real feminists focus on?” So I’ll say it again: This Is Important. This “minor stuff” illustrates a huge problem with why the “Real issues” take such a long fucking time to eradicate. The “we’ve got bigger fish to fry” argument doesn’t work with social activism (and I very much consider what we do here to be social activism) because “Real issues” for women, like rape and physical abuse, exist precisely because the “minor stuff” makes up their core. I can’t talk about rape and physical abuse without talking about media portrayals of women, whether they be in the form of offensive articles (see above), sexist film advertisements that degrade women sexually, or seemingly “harmless” movie trailers that linger a little too long on women’s breasts and backsides, just as I can’t talk about those things without also discussing the larger impact they have on women’s safety, self-esteem, and individual agency. They’re interconnected, and it works the same way for all forms of oppression. So, when more than a million people possibly uncritically read a piece that flaunts fat hatred and plays rape for laughs—believe me, that shit perpetuates fat hatred and rape culture in a very Real way. That’s why I called attention to this. Thanks for reading.
Stephanie Rogers holds Bachelor’s degrees in English and Women’s Studies from The Ohio State University, a Master’s in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Cincinnati, and a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry. In 2008, she and Amber Leab co-founded Bitch Flicks, a feminist film review site that advances “the radical notion that women like good movies.” Her poems have appeared online, as well as in the Best New Poets anthology. She lives in a very tiny studio apartment in Brooklyn.
Stephanie previously contributed the cross-posts, “On Rape, the Media, and the New York Times Clusterfuck” and “Fall Television Preview: The Answer Is No,” both originally published at Bitch Flicks.