Opinion: Sexism or Taste?

I just finished doing the dishes and drying my now soft-and-lavender smelling hands on a clean towel. I then used that towel to clear up some water off the counter. I also clean bathrooms, do laundry, and change diapers. Well, I did change diapers when needed, but my youngest is now potty trained and all we deal with now are the occasional accidents.

I used to think that all meant I wasn’t sexist. While none of the above qualifies for me anything remotely cool (like being a metrosexual, since I don’t shop enough nor care about appearance enough), I did think it meant gender roles and misogyny were not present in my life. And don’t take that the wrong way; I don’t hate women (love them, in fact) and I don’t think there’s any harm in a man doing any household chore or making less money than a woman.

But, after going to the movies twice this week, I realize there is sexism and misogyny present.

Let me explain.

Day or so ago, the wife and I went to see the Seth Rogen flick “This is the End.” As you can imagine, it’s a foul-mouthed, physical, ridiculously raunchy comedy. I didn’t love it (though, when Michael Cera is impaled by the street lamp, I did love it a little bit), but I did enjoy it. It’s not every day you get to see actors do shit like that, you know, making fun of each other and their professions in such a way. At one point, James Franco and Danny McBride have a three-minute argument about coming all over each other and their mothers and everything else. There’s fart jokes, fat jokes, piss jokes, cock jokes; it’s fucking garbage humor. Who can say or do the most outrageous fucking thing next.

Male humor.

Today, the wife and I went to see “The Heat” with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. It’s a generic buddy cop movie with your stiff partner and your over-the-top, nutty one. If this were a reimagining of “Lethal Weapon”, Bullock would be Murtaugh and McCarthy Riggs. McCarthy is a foul-mouthed, violent cop. I think every third word out of her mouth is fuck and well, if you know me, you know I appreciate the word fuck. Carlin and I agree on its many uses.

And the movie was okay; it certainly didn’t completely suck. I chuckled at times, even laughed out loud once or twice. However, if someone gave me a choice between “This is the End” and “The Heat,” there’s no contest. I’m watching a house full of dudes make dick jokes and drinking their own piss.

I wondered, momentarily, if this was more to do with “The Heat” being the overdone buddy cop movie. There’s more than a few of them, for sure. Turns out that’s not it, either. How do I know? Because I’ll watch “Lethal Weapon 4” before “The Heat” and LW4 was fucking horrid. We all wish Murtaugh would retire and Riggs along with him.

Okay, Chris, you’re saying. What’s your point?

Well, after the movie was over, the wife and I were debating the merits of each movie. This was, of course, before we left the theatre itself. Most of the people had already cleared and the usher was sweeping the aisles. He stopped and looked at us, we looked at him, and he goes, “Weren’t you the two in here the other day arguing over that other movie?”

We agreed we were (though, argument is too strong, see above and DEBATE) and he nodded, laughed. I’m sure he sees this kind of thing all the time. Then he leans in, almost conspiratorially, to my wife and whispers something.

“Say what?” I said.

“He said this movie was better,” my wife answered.

Gah!

We left the theatre and things ran through my head. What was it about this movie that put me off? It wasn’t either of the actresses: I haven’t seen McCarthy in much and I don’t mind Bullock. Granted, I tend to stay away from Bullock’s movies because they are, by and large, chick flicks… AHA! As we were driving past Kroger, it dawned on me that “The Heat,” branded a chick flick, was off my repeat radar for that single reason alone.

That’s when I got home and did the dishes, cleaned the counter, ate an oatmeal scotchie cookie, drank a cup of coffee, and started typing. I’ve tried to determine if this is just a one off, you know, the exception to the rule. And no, no, it’s not. I haven’t rewatched “Titanic” or “Pretty Woman” or “27 Dresses” or anything and none of those (except maybe 27 Dresses) are horrible movies. In fact, “Titanic” and “Pretty Woman” are pretty fucking good. I may be biased with “Titanic” though; it was the movie my wife and I saw on our first date.

It might be prudent, considering the topic, to point out that “Titanic” was her movie choice, too.

Now, some might be saying, it’s like a genre thing. But is it? Is “chick flick” a genre? Let’s face it; I love horror and science fiction movies. War movies and comedies are next. Dramatic movies are at the far end of the likability scale.

Before we call chick flick a genre, we need to develop a workable definition. Is a chick flick a movie about love only? Is it a movie with primarily female leads ala “Bridesmaids?” There’s very little love in “The Heat,” at least in regards to romantic sense of the word. So are chick flicks just movies bogged down by emotion? There was emotion in “The Heat” but there was also emotion in “48 Hours.” And believe me, no one would ever mistake that particular Nolte and Murphy movie as a chick flick. “Schindler’s List” is highly emotion and so is “Saving Private Ryan,” but they’re not chick flicks, despite Nathan Fillion’s turn as a whiney soldier in the latter.

It’s obvious (at least to me) that chick flicks must encompass more than this romantic or emotional base, so let’s also throw in movies that have multiple female leads, and the movies focus on the majority of these characters. So while Sigourney Weaver was the lead in the “Alien” franchise, the movies were far more ensemble in nature and therefore don’t qualify. The same thing goes for like “The Hunger Games” or “Tomb Raider.” Romantic movies make up the bulk of the chick flick genre, but I think it’s important to note that subgenres do exist.

The buddy movies, such as “The Heat” and “Thelma and Louise.”

The horror movies, such as “Descent” and “Ginger Snaps.”

The sci-fi movies, such as… well, I can’t think of any here. Surely someone out there knows of a female led sci-fi movie or two?

The comedies, such as “Bridesmaids” and “Pitch Perfect.”

Other than the movies in the horror subgenre, none of the others was particularly bad, just not what I’d watch again.

I don’t think it’s a matter of taste, either. But maybe that’s all it is. Yeah, you know, I don’t rewatch movies with lots of women in them. It’s not that I don’t like these movies, I like them fine (well, not the rom/coms, those suck), so is it “Hello, welcome to Sexism 101?” I doubt I’m the only one, but fucking hell, the guy at the movie theatre was up front that he liked “The Heat” more.

Speak up, people. Men and women, I want to hear your thoughts, so weigh in. Good, bad, ugly, I want it all. Do you share my sexist movie preferences, do you feel it’s just my “taste,” or do you have different ideas?

3 responses to “Opinion: Sexism or Taste?

  1. Sorry in advance if I’m all over the place with my reply. There really isn’t an easy answer to your question, but you’ve sort of already answered it for yourself.

    “Patriarchy” sums the situation up fairly well, in that comedies and/or romcoms focusing primarily on women are “chick flicks” but comedies and romcoms focusing on men are just “comedies.” Are the jokes and humor in “Bridesmaids” and “Pitch Perfect” that much different than, say, “Role Models” or “Wedding Crashers?” Not really; there are fat jokes, sex jokes, bodily function jokes and gags, etc..I’d even go as far as calling “Wedding Crashers” a romcom, to be honest, but you won’t see Hollywood or film critics calling it that, even though it really is a romantic comedy, just that it’s focusing on the guys getting the girls, whereas something like “My Best Friend’s Wedding” would be a chick-flick or romcom because Julia Roberts is the one trying to get the guy.

    As a whole, humans are socially conditioned to think stories with male leads are universal, but female-leads are for girls, chick-flicks/chick-lit, etc.. In other words, you won’t see terms like “guy lit, dude flicks” (dick lit? I mean, it rhymes…) or similar terms to define male-led stories, whereas stories centering on women will frequently get qualifiers and gendered terms. I see this more in mainstream fiction, and not quite as much in genre things like horror, sci-fi, fantasy. I don’t know how savvy you are with YA, but as an example, John Green and Maureen Johnson write for similar audiences and age groups, but you’ll hear Green’s work called YA Fiction and probably hear Johnson’s called “chick lit” even though they deal with very similar issues like coming of age, mourning the death of loved ones, etc..

    Although I don’t see the gendered terms as much in genre stories, the internalized misogyny is still there. This does not make you a sexist person. There will be times where yes, it might be taste, and the writing might not be that good in your opinion. I do think that thinking about this is something you should keep doing as you watch and read more things, and it’s great that it’s something you’re aware of. I like to do this thing sometimes where I’ll look at a film, especially comedies and romcoms, and wonder if the story would have been that much different if it were gender swapped. Would you have thought “The Heat” were more enjoyable if it were about two men? Does their gender and sex really have a large impact on the film, or could it have easily have been men?

    A bigger question would be: do you find yourself often enough not enjoying female-centric comedies as much as you do male-centric ones? If so, why? Are women just not as funny as men? Do you (likely not on purpose or consciously) expect women-centric cemedies (or any genre, really) to be worse or not as good just because they are about women instead of men, before you even see the film? Would you feel weird going to see something like “Bridesmaids” without your wife or another woman with you and only guy friends? What about “This is the End?” Would it be weird if two women went into either film without any men with them?

    I could go on and on about this, but I should probably leave it there. TL;DR: patriarchy and social conditioning make our culture think men’s stories are universal and women’s stories aren’t, and it teaches us that men’s stories are inherently better and that women’s stories inherently are less important/can’t be as funny, regardless of the genre.

  2. My response is far more all over the place than yours was, so hopefully it makes sense. I’m shooting from the hip with my thoughts here, too, and you know how I can be. So stay with me and smack me when necessary.

    Oh no, you called “Wedding Crashers” a romantic comedy!

    I don’t know if I’d agree with that assessment, though I certainly understand how you arrived at it. I can’t comment on “Role Models” since I haven’t seen it (and I haven’t seen “Bridesmaids” all the way through, either, just bits and pieces), so most of what I have to say is in relation to my understanding and opinion of “Wedding Crashers.”

    I do think most of the humor between “Wedding Crashers” and say “Pitch Perfect” is different. Yes, both movies have a romantic element, and in both movies, the main characters are together with their loves at the end. The two movies, however, take completely different approaches to arrive at their respective ends. Sure, both movies have fat jokes, sex jokes, and fart jokes, but “Wedding Crashers” is far raunchier, dirtier, and centers on two guys looking to screw (both literally and figuratively) as many women as they can.

    I’d also not label “Pitch Perfect” as a rom/com, though, so maybe I’m comparing apples and oranges with those two particular films. But let’s put “27 Dresses” in place of “Pitch Perfect” or maybe “Two Weeks Notice” to keep Bullock in the conversation. I think when you compare “Wedding Crashers” to a typical rom/com (such as above) marketed and designed to appeal to women, it’s like comparing ‘Salem’s Lot to The Vampire Diaries. Yes, both have vampires, but one is clearly a horror novel and the other paranormal romance.

    So does the end define the genre? How much does the journey actually count in considering how to classify the narrative? As I said, I can totally see labeling “Wedding Crashers” as a rom/com, except it’s far less romantic than what I would normally consider a rom/com, so my initial instinct is to resist the label, which isn’t based on what I perceive to be my sexism.

    You mentioned whether I had preconceived notions in regards to male-led vs. female-led comedies. My answer is this: yes, I do expect female-led comedies to be worse than male-led comedies, but after sitting here and thinking about it, it’s not necessarily because they’re female-led as much as it is there’s probably already been a male-led comedy made that’s pretty similar. For example, the buddy cop movie—which basically is what “The Heat” is—has been done to death. I can think of at least six male-led funny buddy cop movies that sucked, so why should the expectation of a female-led one be any different? But the same goes for just about any movie at this point, including male-led films; most movies are just tired out rehashes of shit that came before them.

    However, that doesn’t stop me from watching those male-led, shitty movies and resisting the female-led ones. I can honestly say that if I’m given the choice of watching “Cop Out” and “Miss Congeniality 2,” I’m picking the former. But I think I have an answer as to why now. See below.

    You talked about male-led movies considered universal to the human existence. You’re absolutely right; it reminds me of how most Christians think everyone believes in God, whether they admit it or not. I’m not sure where I stand in the debate of universal patriarchy as it applies to movies. I mean, themes are applied universally to everyone. Love is love is love, right? Hate doesn’t have many variations that I’ve seen, nor does revenge or redemption. IF we assume then that these themes are universal, maybe it is a matter of taste or, better yet, a matter of how we identify with the themes that determines our taste?

    As much as we strive for equality, and should have it, we’ll never be gender neutral as individuals and since we each bring our own set of baggage to the movie experience, if we recognize that, does it preclude the appearance of sexism?

  3. “[…] it’s not necessarily because they’re female-led as much as it is there’s probably already been a male-led comedy made that’s pretty similar. For example, the buddy cop movie—which basically is what “The Heat” is—has been done to death. I can think of at least six male-led funny buddy cop movies that sucked, so why should the expectation of a female-led one be any different?”

    But that’s the point. Just because a genre, of any kind, already has x-amount of films about something already, does that mean that there shouldn’t be a new film made featuring women leads?

    That’s the same sort of logic that makes it so hard for women to break into male-dominated genres (and professional fields of any kind) in the first place. With that example, people can look at sci-fi and go “There are already x-amount of books about men exploring outer space and settling new planets and waging interplanetary wars, and probably only half are really good. Why should we publish this book with lots of women in space doing things? It probably won’t be any better.”

    In the broad scheme of things, it’s more about the entertainment industry catering and targeting (white, cis-gender, straight) men and that they should be more inclusive with gender, sexual orientation, skin color, and physical abilities. When one action movie featuring a white guy flops, there will always be more action movies about white men doing things, but if an action movie featuring a woman (or person of color) flops, it will be a long time before Hollywood tries again because “they took a risk doing something different and it didn’t work.”

    I’m not saying we’ll ever have 100% equality. This isn’t about that. It’s more about people turning on the TV, or going to the movies, or picking up books and having more chances to see characters who are like themselves.

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