Warning: All the spoilers!
“I have nothing to prove to you”.
Warning: All the spoilers!
“I have nothing to prove to you”.
Do you ever stumble upon a phrase that helps you articulate something you just couldn’t quite define and suddenly it all clicks?
That happened to me recently when I discovered the term “punching down”. I was reading a movie review for Isn’t It Romantic that compared the film to another recent rom-com starting an unconventionally attractive woman I Feel Pretty. Very similar plot lines, but this reviewer felt very differently about the films. She said Isn’t It Romantic was smart, hilarious, and most importantly it doesn’t punch down.
And as soon as I read that, it clicked. That’s what I don’t like about certain comedians, certain movies, certain television shows, certain politicians. They punch down.
So what is punching down? Punching down is when someone of a higher rank, a position of power, a person of superiority makes a joke at the expense of the less powerful or an oppressed group. You might also refer to this as cheap shots, or making someone the butt of the joke.
Or as I like to call it: mean humor.
Punching down is used to make someone or ones feel small. It’s used to downplay, to belittle, to shame, or to dismiss all disguised as humor. Basically punching down is someones way of justifying being a total asshole by claiming it’s just a joke. And quite often, it doesn’t work out so well for the joker.
Remember when Jesse Watters on The O’Reilly Factor went to New York’s Chinatown to interview Chinese-American’s and proceeded to ask horrifically racist questions (do you know karate, should I bow, can I get a foot massage, and mocked their broken english)? It was meant to be humorous, it was meant to show the apparently inherent hilarity of the Chinese culture, when really it was just blatant racism against a group of minorities.
Punching down is all over the place these days. Most women’s issues are punched down (who would want to sexually harass you), our current president does it all the time, Conservatives and Republicans think it’s a fun way to go after the Democrats. Using humor as a way to discredit real issues like sexual harassment or racism just shows that you are a sexist or a racist, not that you are funny and certainly not that these issues are real.
Things that are really funny punch up. Instead of wasting their time going after people who are typically the minority or the oppressed, they go after people with tangible power that’s being abused. A basic element of humor is that your best stuff will come from going after people that are bigger than you.
There has been a lot of critique of comedy over the last few years, claiming that we are all too sensitive and everyone gets offended too easily. What can we even joke about now? To which I say that is absolute bullshit. Making fun of the weak has never been funny.
Michelle Wolf’s White House Correspondence Dinner routine was funny because she went after a powerful establishment with meticulously researched critiques and take downs. Amy Schumer making a rape joke about Hispanics isn’t funny because there is no data to back her up, so she is just further perpetuating a false stereotype of an oppressed group.
Using comedy as a tool to abuse the already abused isn’t just deeply unfunny, it also reveals a lack of understanding of how power is structured. And that is the root of what is really being called out right now. Women and minorities face daily battles and uphill challenges, and those need to be taken seriously. And the biggest factor to be addressed is the abuse of the power structure.
Making jokes about it is not the solution.
Using humor to put people down, make people feel small, silence people, and downplay real issues isn’t funny. When you punch down, you aren’t making a joke, you are part of the problem.
The big movie blitz season is upon us. Oscar buzz is wild, studios are putting their best foot forward, Christmas hype is all around. Movies are coming out for everyone! Dramas, comedies, holiday movies, action films, family films. It’s not just that there is something for everyone, there is an abundance for everyone!
And spoiler alert: these stories are probably going to be super male focused.
Media has had an over-representation issue with men for forever. And it makes sense. Men formed our laws, built our networks, and ran all the companies. So of course the creative works are going to be about them. Representing them and glorifying them.
Luckily, there are many other angry feminists in this world who came before me and have noticed that our media isn’t overly representative of women. And they have come up with some wonderful and simple tests to determine if a film is representing women or not (again, spoiler, a lot of them don’t). These tests don’t even demand or imply that women should be the lead, just that they are being presented as actual characters with agency and participation in the story.
The hard part about these tests is that once you are aware of them, you can’t not see it. You’ll start watching movies differently, noticing if they represent women or not. Suddenly movies you have loved your whole life, genres that were always entertaining, will leave you disappointed.
So, to ruin your viewing pleasure, I give you the Feminist Viewing Requirements!
The Bechdel Test
Two or more named women talking to each other about something other than a man.
The Bechdel Test is my personal favorite. Because it’s the simplest one. Could it really be so hard to write a story that includes two named women characters having a minimum of one conversation that isn’t about a man? Yes. Apparently. This test isn’t even about women being the lead in the film. They just need to be named, interact, and talk about something other than men.
Chick flicks often fail. While these movies tend to involve a lot of female characters, the whole story revolves around romantic relationships with men. The characters aren’t developed much beyond their romantic pursuits.
Not surprisingly, most action films fail. Action films tend to be heavily swayed towards a male cast, and the plot is motivated by the males, and the women are there as sexy props to elevate a man. Even from directors thought to be feminist, like Joss Whedon. His Avengers films, while having at least two named female characters, don’t actually interact with each other. However, Ant Man and the Wasp passes with flying colors! Marvel learned something over those six years.
Great films that pass the Bechdel Test: Incredibles 2, Oceans 8, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Karate Kid.
The Mako Mori
At least one female character with her own narrative arc that is not about supporting a man’s story.
Named after the character Mako Mori in the 2013 film Pacific Rim, this test focuses on the development of a female character. The Mako Mori is an alternative for the Bechdel, rather than a replacement. Mako Mori acknowledges that a film can have great female representation and development without the characters interacting. Mako Mori wants to expand what can constitute a “strong woman” in film.
Inspired because Pacific Rim did not pass the bechdel test, but had strong female characters and a diverse cast, fans felt that the definition of female representation in film needed to be expanded. Ironically, the sequel passes the Bechdel Test, but not the Mako Mori test. Joss Whedon’s Avengers films hold up pretty well to the Mako Mori test, despite failing the Bechdel Test.
Some great films that pass the Mako Mori Test: Mary Poppins, Silence of the Lambs, Titanic, and Pride & Prejudice.
The Sexy Lamp
A female character that cannot be removed from the plot and replaced with a sexy lamp without destroying the story.
The Sexy Lamp test is all about how relevant a female character is to the plot of a work, if the character has any agency or relevance to the story. Proposed by Kelly Sue DeConnick, if the female character can be removed from the story and replaced with a sexy lamp – if, that is, the female character does nothing and says nothing that is relevant to the story, with the possible exception of existing as a motivation factor or quest object – then the story fails the test.
Some films that totally fail this test: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Great Gatsby, and Blade Runner 2049.
Studios have been justifying their overt male representation for years. Claiming that people just don’t want to see films with female leads or people of color. It’s just not a good investment. Then someone takes a leap of faith and makes Wonder Woman and Coco and guess what, people actually showed up. A lot of them. Like a lot. And those silly studios who thought that people will only pay for a movie if it’s about a white man have a lot of work to do.
It’s getting better. It really is. It used to be that in order for me to enjoy a film I had to put my feminism up on a shelf during the viewing, but studios are becoming more aware that they are being watched and are responding to that with positive changes. There’s still a long ways to go, but it is getting better.
We’ve been critical, we’ve been opinionated, and we have made it clear: representation matters in film. And we are watching. So these studios better shape up.
Perhaps you heard the news that Louis CK returned to the NYC stand up stage. Or that Aziz has been doing stand up since May, and Netflix says they are ready for him whenever. Apparently Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose have shows in the works.
It’s been less than a year since the #MeToo movement began. And even less time than that has past since these men and more got some very bad press. Only one has given a true apology and actually taken responsibility for his actions. The rest, well, haven’t.
And I find myself…disappointed.
How many women had to come forward with their stories of horrifying experiences for the world to even pay attention? And even then it was still dismissed, defended, downplayed. No woman’s story was horrifying enough for us to be done with these men. Even Harvey Weinstein was defended as “just being Harvey”.
And yet all it took was one man to take down Kevin Spacey. Don’t get me wrong here, what happened to Anthony Rapp was a travesty. But no one questioned his story, no one defended Kevin Spacey for just being Kevin, no one cried that what happened was too long ago to hold it against him. One man told one story, and Kevin Spacey is done for.
But Louis CK was welcomed with a standing ovation. Louis CK admitted to his crimes. And we applaud his return, as if he were the brave victim to rise from the ashes.
I’m disappointed because I thought maybe, just maybe, women were finally getting through to people that how we are treated, how we are seen, what we have to survive every day, needed to stop. That over sexualizing us, devaluing us, that assaulting us was not okay and forgetting that for even a moment has long lasting consequences.
What is so wrong with being done with these men? What is so wrong with saying that treating another human in a certain way means you no longer get to be rich and famous? Why is our moral standard so much more concerned with forgiving these men than valuing the women they exploited and abused? And what’s the worst that will happen if we are done with these men: we make room for new people. New people who don’t have a history of assault or abuse. And we set a standard that says if you treat people this way you are done, so people will stop treating others that way.
When we forgive, excuse, and downplay what these men have done, when we applaud their return, we are telling the world that this behavior is ok. That nothing truly bad will happen to you, that there aren’t really any consequences. And so more men will behave this way, more women will be assaulted and abused, and less women will come forward because they see how pointless and humiliating it is to seek justice.
I’m disappointed, because for a moment there I really thought change was happening.
James Gunn was fired from Guardians of the Galaxy 3 recently after old tweets were brought to light of him making inappropriate jokes involving pedophilia. A small but loud crowd were in outrage over these old but still horrific jokes, and Disney reacted quickly and swiftly. In the aftermath, it seems that perhaps hardcore right-wingers are going through outspoken liberals Twitters and exploiting old inappropriate jokes to crucify them in this post-#MeToo world. And Disney took the bait.
Ok. So it’s a lot. And I’ve been processing it all. And I’m still not sure how I feel about it.
My first gut reaction: I loved Guardians 2. It’s easily my favorite of the Marvel films. I was not expecting a super hero movie to be so genuine and relatable, especially when the story involves a baby tree that dances and a talking foul mouth raccoon, all while flying through space. But damnit that movie got real, and I was calling my therapist when it was over, and it was perfect for all of the right reasons. Seriously. I was in tears by the end of that film. And so I am sad that he will not be involved in the next film.
But then I started to wonder, is this justified or not? Is this part of the over correction and exploration of the #MeToo movement, or is this just the next phase of cleaning house? Overcorrection is going to happen. Everything offends someone, and now there seems to be a sounding board to scream about it all, and the higher up powers are finally afraid of the masses. But is this necessary or is this going to far?
So here is my long winded opinion.
I’ve never been a fan of Twitter. Free speech is wonderful, and having zero censorship is a privilege we should always value. But just because you can, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. And most people who use Twitter seem to think I can, so why not? Twitter is not censored or regulated like other social media platforms, which has lead many (not just celebrities) to say whatever crass, offensive, or shocking thing they want, simply because they can. And until very recently, no one was overly worried if there would ever be consequences.
Many times now celebrities have tweeted things that got them heat – and that was the point. They wanted the attention (all press is good press). But they didn’t get fired. Because we weren’t taking them seriously. Before #MeToo no one has notably lost work due to something they tweeted, past or present. Now, full television shows are canceled, directors are being taken off big projects, actors or dropping out of films before they even start shooting.
And again, none of this is happening because of the crimes or bad choices they are making. Just like when #MeToo started, those men weren’t losing their jobs because people were trying to do right by the women coming forward, they were losing their jobs because overnight they became suddenly not marketable.
Now they are firing people and canceling full projects because of the feared fallout. For marketing. For profit. For bottom line.
James Gunn wrote and published those tweets almost ten years ago. Long before Disney hired him. They knew they were there, and they weren’t concerned about them then. They are only concerned about them now. Because the small group of loud shouting people have become a feared mob.
But here is my real rub. James Gunn apologized. Honestly, earnestly, apologized. He owned up to his mistakes, took responsibility for them, and agreed they were in poor taste at best. That is not who he is any more, and he hopes we will all let his work speak for itself.
And we aren’t.
So are people allowed to grow and change? What mistakes are forgivable? What actions make up for those mistakes? When is an apology sufficient?
Here’s where I may get some heat. Of all of the celebrity fall outs from #MeToo, I am willing to forgive Louis CK. I may even be willing to watch his future projects. And here is why: he owned it, he fully apologized, he didn’t make excuses, deny it, attack the women who came forward. He took full responsibly, he seems to understand the long reach of his actions, and he seems to genuinely understand he needs to learn and grow. And that’s why I can make my peace with him (does my opinion matter, no; does my forgiveness matter, absolutely not).
And that’s why I am ok with James Gunn. He’s not shouting from the roof tops defending his actions, he is not displacing the blame onto others or drugs, or justifying his wrong doing because others did it too. He knows what he did, he stopped doing it long before the internet decided to charge him for his crimes, and he hasn’t been that person for years.
I believe in repentance and forgiveness, blame my Christian upbringing. If James Gunn made those jokes today, that would be an issue. If he were to dismiss his actions or displace the responsibly on something stupid like medication or culture or someone else did it too so it’s fine, that would also be an issue. But these were past mistakes that he has already repented for. And so I believe he deserves forgiveness. And I don’t think he deserved to be fired, or have his career impacted at all.
We all have our dumb moments, we all have our blind spots, we all need to learn and grow. Making mistakes is inevitable, but owning up to them and apologizing for them is rare. We have to allow people to learn and grow from their mistakes. And we have to accept their honest repentance.
Welp. It happened again. Another Man in Hollywood fails to understand the basic point of #MeToo and, of course, his only real concern is how it affects Him.
Let’s let Henry Cavill speak for himself, and then I will break it down for you:
“Stuff has to change, absolutely….”
-Let’s pause. Every Man in Hollywood who has said “Yes, but…” when discussing the #MeToo movement fails to understand the actual issue at hand. They go on to downplay what is happening, what has been happening, and are only focused on how it affects them. And to prove my point:
“It’s important to also retain the good things, which were a quality of the past, and get rid of the bad things. There’s something wonderful about a man chasing a woman. There’s a traditional approach to that, which is nice….It’s very difficult to do that if there are certain rules in place. Because then it’s like: ‘Well, I don’t want to go up and talk to her because I’m going to be called a rapist or something’. So you’re like, ‘Forget it, I’m going to call an ex-girlfriend instead, and then just go back to a relationship, which never really worked’. But it’s way safer than casting myself into the first of hell because I’m someone in the public eye, and if I go and flirt with someone, then who knows what’s going to happen? Now? Now you really can’t pursue someone further than, ‘No”. It’s like ‘Ok, cool’. But then there’s the ‘Oh why’d you give up?’ And it’s like, ‘Well, because I didn’t want to go to jail?’”
-I have discussed this concept a few times already, but clearly it needs to be repeated again and again until Men get it: harassment and flirting are completely different things, women know the difference, and if you don’t then you definitely should not be talking to women.
-To be clear: these “Old Fashioned” and “Traditional” approaches that he is talking about, those are just fancy words for socially acceptable harassment. And there is nothing Good about harassment. They are part of the Bad that needs to go.
-“Wooing” and “Chasing” women is not “Old Fashioned” or even remotely flirtatious, it is harassment. It always has been, it always will be. Refusing to take “No” for an answer is harassment, not flirting. And while you Men may be lamenting the days when you could push for what you wanted until you got it, us Women are pretty excited and empowered to see those days come to an end. If making women feel uncomfortable at best and unsafe at minimum is considered acceptable to you, then you should not be talking to women any more.
-Regardless as to how “difficult” these “new rules” are for you Men, get over it. Women have spent centuries suffering under the “Old Fashioned rules” and #TimesUp.
-Some of you Men may be afraid to talk to new women in this post-me-too era for fear of being mistaken or confused for harassment. This is not an excuse to go harass women from you past. Those Women already suffered enough under your company, don’t make them suffer any more. Again, if you are struggling with the difference between flirting and harassment, just don’t talk to any women, new or old.
-Superman is the most boring Superhero and everyone knows it (ya, I said it, fight me).
-Perhaps most importantly: you should never pursue someone after they tell you “No”. That is the end of the pursuit. If you continue beyond that, you are no longer flirting, you are harassing. And yes, the worst case scenario for you could be that you end up in jail for it.
-Fear of jail should not be the only reason you listen when someone says “No”. You should listen because you have basic human decency. Jail should not be the only downfall that results in basic respect.
-And finally, Men, this isn’t about you. It’s about protecting Women, finally. Stop making this about you. It’s your time to listen and learn, not speak.
That is all for this week, class. Let me know if you have any comments or questions about another idiot Man who care more about himself than anyone else!
This one has been on my mind for years, but with the #MeToo Movement I’ve been feeling particularly convicted. As a woman, what are my standards for the movies and television shows I watch?
This isn’t a question of genre, taste, or entertainment. This is a question of moral standards before all of the rest begins. How involved do I want women to be in the story? Behind the camera? What’s my sexualized limitations? Are there men in Hollywood who I am boycotting? What about their past work?
Years ago, I learned about the Bechdel Test. It’s a simple test that is merely measuring whether or not women are participating in the story. Not if there is a strong female presence, not if it is a feminist movie, not even if the story is about women. Just whether or not the women in the story are actually participating in it. The Bechdel Test requires a movie to accomplish three things: there must be more than one woman, they must talk to each other, and they must talk about something other than men. It sounds simple enough right? And yet, most movies, even now when Hollywood is supposedly trying to be more intentional about inclusion in film, still don’t pass this test.
After discovering this test, I started watching films differently. I started noticing how women were written, how little women were included, how poorly women were represented in stories. Slowly my tolerance for ignoring these details went away. The more I value women in film, the less I enjoy going to the movies.
You can always tell when a man has written the role of a woman vs if a woman wrote it. I remember watching Bad Moms and thinking the whole time “this is how men think women behave”. It was boring and unrealistic, it was dumbed down, and it was just a bad movie. But when I saw Bridesmaids and Trainwreck I thought “this is how women really are”. These films were described as “women being funny like men” and that could not be farther from the truth. These were women writing women like actual women, who are funny and crass and dirty and witty and complex. They were realistic and relatable. It was a breath of fresh air.
There are many ways that women are just poorly written. Women are always so blatantly over sexualized in films. At best it distracts from the narrative, but at worst it is perpetuating how society views and values women.
Blade Runner 2049 was an awful movie (ya, I said it, get over it). It was boring, it made no sense, and it’s depiction of women is case and point that we as a society are perfectly fine with sexualizing women for no other reason than they have tits so what else are women for. Ryan Gosling’s character – who is a replicant – having sexual feelings at all makes no sense. The tits in this world are not for the replicant looking at them, they are not for moving the story along, they are for the straight guys in the audience. Ryan Gosling doesn’t undergo the kind of objectification women do, even though he has the same insides. He is not objectified like the women are, even though he is literally an object. He is allowed agency, character development, growth and depth. He not only participates in the story, he drives the story. Whereas every woman in this film was sexualized. Every one of them. And that’s why they were there.
And before you claim that this is art, that the director was trying to make a point by sexualizing women, know this: he wasn’t. He objectified and sexualized the women because he could. And it is something so normalized that you don’t even realize that the women watching that film were all disgusted and insulted.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again: sexualizing women has become so normalized that we feel entitled to do so. And it is a problem.
But now there is a new layer to add to the disgust: knowing that the men in the film were actually sexually exploiting the men and women working with them. Should we watch Kevin Spacey movies any more? What about movies produced by Harvey Weinstein? Do we have a moral obligation as women to not only believe one another, but to make a stand together with our actions?
As I become more of a feminist, I find society has less to offer me. The more I value myself and women, the less I can turn a blind eye to enjoy things that exploit women. And I don’t see that trend ending. So I suppose if Hollywood keeps making movies that mainly objectify and ignore women, if they keep casting men knowing how they treat the women around them, if they keep writing women roles poorly, then I just won’t watch many movies.
But is there more to be done? What more can I do other than simply not watching things. I know I can’t change Hollywood, I know that I won’t. But what’s my responsibility in all of this? What’s my role? That’s what I’m struggling with.