Friday, 17 January 2014

Offended by sexism? Here's why we shouldn't just look the other way.

What movie will you be watching this month?

Captain Philips? Thor? Superman? Spiderman? Last trip to Las Vegas? Bad Grandpa? Olympus has fallen?

It doesn’t matter. The great majority of the last stock of blockbuster movies still portray a man living the most exciting range of adventures, and women who are either hot 23 year olds, (older) caring mothers/wives, or hysterical bitches (all of them absolutely secondary). Or, in the case of 'leading, cool, non objectifying roles', we'll almost certainly see a woman trying to get married / get a boyfriend / complaining that she’s turning 30 (30 something) and is still single.

Yes, there are strong characters for women, some may say. Characters with deep emotional baggage. But who are they? That one who, against all odds, heroically must... do whatever it takes to feed their young son. Or the one who was raped as a child / at the beginning of the movie / is being raped right now (in a great many indie films I’ve noticed this is a strong excuse for a nude scene). From Erin Brockovich, to TV movies, to more “artistic” movies such as Hummingbird.

What about the last sensation, Hunger Games?, someone will ask. What, you mean a movie based on a book that started filled with political satire and culminated with “should I date Timmy or Johnny?”. And upon endless descriptions of the gorgeous dresses the lead character was supposed to wear (which completely lost the irony and criticism about the horrid futility of dressing up for an assassination show). A movie where the heroin does nothing heroic, she does nothing but hiding, nursing her injured man, adopting the youngest kid to team up with (hint: maternal instinct), and solving the final conflict of the plot by threatening to kill herself if the authorities don’t do what she wants them to do (And. It. Works.). Fine role model for 15-year-old girls everywhere. It says something very meaningful about the world today that the two most successful heroines (written by women!) in the 21st century are a girl who spends 4 movies trying to get married and another one who uses suicide as a form of manipulation.

Adverts are barely different. Even if there are some 'really cool' commercials on TV, with a 'good mix' of genders and ethnicities, it’s always the Caucasian male who has the line, who tells the joke, who sells the product.

I’ve just read a disturbing article by Brazilian blogger NĂ¡dia Lapa. In the article, Nadia analyses commercials where women are portrayed as an object, as oversexualised, as stupid, as a gold digger, or as that inferior being whose only use is to warm up her tummy by the oven to cool it down by the kitchen sink.

The really unsettling part is reading the comments. All the shattering, ridiculing ones come from men (who, by the way, judging by their profile pictures, grammar and rhetoric, are not exactly pillars of intelligence). It is true that there are stupid men and stupid women, and it is true that the position of those who simply don’t care and just carry on with their lives without making a fuss or without buying the product (already a small progress here) should be respected.

But it’s highly questionable to buy into the idea that “The media simply makes what the majority likes”, because then we enter the conundrum of who came first, the chicken or the egg. Certainly most people have grown up with the values that the media transmits, have grown up watching and 'learning' that this is normal (as 'normal' by definition is anything conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected). Going from a home to a school to a street back to a home where certain values are perpetrated, things such as 'girls have to be sexy', 'rich guys are a good catch', 'it’s not girly to show up all dirty and disheveled', 'women can’t drive', among many others (by the way, a guy who 'scores' a lot is some sort of 'champion', while a girl who has casual hookups is a 'slut', so it’s 'natural' that men 'are all cheaters', because 'it’s the man’s nature to look for more than one female to spread his genes' – choose the explicitly offensive version or the pseudo-deterministic yada yada, both are equally ridiculous).

Some will say “I can’t be getting angry at every movie, every rap/pop music video, every TV show. I simply don’t watch what I don’t like, and if the majority would do the same, these shows/movies wouldn’t exist. But as long as the majority keeps watching them, this is what they’ll keep showing on TV”. What is the existing alternative that might encourage people to develop critical thinking and question the contents of what they are being presented with?

It is highly questionable that it’s 'the majority’s will' that’s being offered, when the female parts in movies are relegated to secondary roles around men, when the majority of female political leaders or journalists are still judged by their physical attributes or fashion choices (women who are not exactly music video models) – for more information on that, there’s a documentary on Netflix called MissRepresentation.

Yes, there should be a bigger control over this type of content. Unfortunately, we live in a world where this is still seen as normal, and it’s still acceptable to say “if you don’t agree, just look the other way”.


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