review

What feminist filmmakers and Marilyn Manson have in common

Commentary on sexism is indistinguishable from actual sexism. So why keep showing it if you want it to end?

A friend of mine used to do something that irritated me.* Once I sat him down and explained why it annoys me. And even though it doesn’t annoy him, please stop doing it because I ask him to. From then onwards …. he kept doing it but as a form of endearment, as if to say: See? I remember what you said because I pay attention. I know this is the thing you hate. This is now our thing.

In other words he switched from doing it – to doing it ironically. The annoying thing keeps happening.* The irritation is now compounded by the helplessness and the knowledge that it will keep happening, he may even expect me to appreciate that he remembers it. See how it guts you by robbing you of your anger?

The same thing is happening with men and sexist remarks. Of course, they do it malevolently and not as a form of endearment. As it became inappropriate to tell sexist things to women, these men simply transitioned from telling demeaning things to women – to telling the same things, but ironically. Or disguised as a form of social commentary as in “I am saying this because this is what sexist men used to say, not me.” There is no version of the world in which they stop telling the insults, they just go meta on women and enjoy their helpless irritation.

Marilyn Manson was yet another iteration of the same theme. He kept telling (and doing) nazi, sexist and abusive things, but it was labeled as “social commentary”. He tortured people on stage, worshiped a serial killer cult leader, inspired and defended school shooters, glorified rape and pedophilia – but everyone defended it as social commentary.

Now let me spell out his actual commentary: “I fucking like nazism, sexism, abuse and torture.” If that is social commentary then every wife beater is an eloquent commentator on domestic abuse.

Which brings me to feminist cinema, another genre that keeps displaying misogynist behavior – but only as a form of social commentary. In this case the commentary is a narrative finger wagging:

See? This is what you did to women? SEE???

Disclaimer: It is definitely not every piece of feminist cinema ever – although I haven’t come across any allegedly feminist film that was truly devoid of the problem. They all define their role as a narrative baseball bat flung at sexist people – and miss because those people don’t watch feminist cinema.

So let me illustrate my point with the latest disappointment, the 2020 “feminist horror movie” ‘Shadow in the Clouds’. A movie that is so bad it’s almost good – but its over-emphasized misogyny was needed to shed light on what is so desperately wrong with feminism cinema in general, even when they don’t do it this preposterously.

‘Shadow in the Cloud’ had a really funny pitch but a misleading title. It should have been called ‘Misogyny in the Sky’ instead. The first half of the movie is just that: a barrage of thick, relentless misogyny showered on the woman who comes on board of a WW2 bomber and claims to be a flight officer on a secret mission. Every single sentence uttered by Maud, the female protagonist, is met by exactly as many sexist putdowns as men are present. Which is clearly redundant, and not just because of the repetition. If a guy would just make a face at her first remark at the beginning of the movie, we could have all listed all the sexist putdowns ourselves. It is in our intellectual DNA to not believe women, to anticipate them to be devoid of courage and achievement so hard we try to convince them if they claim otherwise.

Because there is no chance that anyone on this planet is unaware of gender stereotypes. But the writers wanted to make sure we get it so the sexism is spelt out like overwritten arguments are on this blog, unedited and seemingly without a single person to look at the script before it was shot. Because that person would have asked what the point was and suggested to just move on to the part when something actually happens.

The sexist putdowns were so overdone that it shed light on what is wrong with all feminist cinema: That they just keep displaying sexism – even though we have literally the entire body of cinematic history to see just that.

If one needs to show bad attitudes against women it is enough to watch virtually any blockbuster ever. If you want archaic gender roles on display you can do the same. Screaming women? That was the casting call for most movie roles written for women: you must scream well. I have seen a million mindless female screams in movies – and not a single one in real life. Women panicking from something and making things worse? Again, we have seen so many on screen, it is a miracle we haven’t started banning women in real life for making things worse with their silly panicking. The message has been driven home, thank you very much. Hatred for women is thick – even by other women. And can you blame them? Both people and women have learned that this is what women are like – from movies. Do we really need more of this on display?

And please don’t give me the “strong female character” bullshit. When sexism and misogyny is piled at your strong female character, that is all that the world sees: the sexism and the misogyny. And maybe a warning for women not to be strong.

Whether you display misogyny and sexism as an example for society or the opposite, as a scathing reminder of “this is what you did to us” – you still keep displaying it. It is still being shown. It is still being seen.

And more importantly: an alternative world is still not being shown and seen. Not in reality, and not on screen.

See? This is what you did to us!” is the underlying attitude of the genre called feminist cinema. The storyteller is effectively yelling at sexist people through the story, showing them the wrongs they did. As if they didn’t know.

Of course, the people who hurt and demean women do not watch these shows. Which is too bad because they would be the only ones enjoying it. They would most certainly get an erection watching women put in their place, mistreated, gaslighted, not believed, belittled, dismissed – especially strong women. Those are the best to put in their place. Even if they crawl out of the mud in the film’s end, the sexism was still reassuringly on display. Sexist people approve of it. It makes them feel powerful, it reminds them that they can still control women so easily. Actual sexist people (men and women) would enjoy these feminist movies tremendously because they are free to ignore the social commentary layer of it and go straight to enjoying the objectification and degradation.

It is like meta-porn, shooting rape scenes to show that rape is bad. The joke is on you. People will rub one out just as well as on actual porn, even if you make your protagonist fight off the rapist and stand up to him in the end.

What feminist cinema fails to do is showing an alternative world in which such things don’t happen at all. A world we are unable to imagine yet. And feminist filmmakers are equally unable to imagine it for now. They are too preoccupied with analyzing their injuries (that are real) and the many ways gender stereotypes act on each and every one of us (that is also true). It may be an inevitable step before a new normality – but it certainly doesn’t serve the purpose of changing the world. It just wastes more screen time and resources on shooting even more sexism and adding it to cinematic history. Like we don’t have enough of that.

It takes more than a female writer to write good female characters

* I intentionally left out the thing to avoid distracting from the point. It is not about the evaluation of the thing and whether it is objectively annoying, or annoying to most people, or annoying to the reader or my friend. That is not the point. The point is that the thing needs to stop – not the excuse for it to change.

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