(1) When you only write women as bitches (bad), sluts (bad), or personality-free plot points who reward the hero with sex or love for zero reason (good), it kind of means that you have a problem with women having personalities or needs, which is misogynist.
(2) When you engage in the man-child construction, in which masculinity is written as inherently irresponsible and reversion to adolescence is either the idyllic fulfillment of masculinity or just man's natural state, this creates a dynamic in which women are either endlessly permissive caretakers or nagging shrews. It means all women are Mommies. This looks like a reversal of the old dynamic, in which women were infantilized and all men were Daddies, but it's not that simple: when Daddy lays down the law and tells you what to do, it's unambiguous, because Daddy is in charge. When women lay down the law, it's uncool: they're supposed to provide and support and love and serve, to provide all that shit that Daddy can't because he's too busy running the world, so when they impose authority, it's a betrayal and they're mean. This is very basic model-of-"ideal"-patriarchal-family-as-structure-for-justifying-sexism stuff, for which see every Women's Studies course ever. So the man-child thing still puts women in an essentially subservient position to men, but it re-writes the story for a historical moment in which women have more power, which makes them scary. (This was all in a post which I took down for reasons that - if you even care - you can read about in my tiresome meta-blogging statement below.) Point being: it is misogynist.
(3) Also, in today's post, we will learn that I basically think there is just about no reason ever to have a graphic rape or sexual assault scene in your movie. Can you guess why?
I am killing SO MUCH JOY this week, people. So, today, the one thing that always always always brings down the party, because: have I mentioned that I also really dislike Tarantino?
Now, I have not seen all of Tarantino's movies, because of this strange habit I have where I don't actively seek out things I dislike, but here's what I do know:
- In Pulp Fiction, a black man who is the most powerful and feared person in the movie is raped by a couple of white dudes, which takes him down a peg. Oh, and then some other white dude TOTALLY KILLS THEM!
- In Kill Bill, our heroine wakes up from a coma to hear two men discussing the fact that she has been raped hundreds or maybe thousands of times, in great itemizing-lists-of-things-one-might-do-whilst-raping-her detail, and also disclosing the fact that they are in fact planning to rape her again right now. Her reaction to this is to lie there long enough for the rapist to climb on top of her and start the rape. Oh, and then she TOTALLY KILLS THEM!
- In Kill Bill, also, a prepubescent Asian girl "seduces" an adult man, and she's shown straddling him on a bed. Then she TOTALLY KILLS HIM!
- In Kill Bill again, because there apparently wasn't enough implied rape of Asian children, a sexy under-the-age-of-consent Asian teen conducts a sexy under-the-age-of-consent seduction by talking to a dude about how she'd be such an awesome good under-the-age-of-consent fuck. In a surprise move, she then TOTALLY KILLS HIM!!!!
- In Grindhouse, a man rapes a woman, at which point her lady friend sort of wanders away and lets it happen. I learned about this because Rosario Dawson, the lady who wanders, apparently objected so strongly to the idea that her character would be complicit in another woman's rape that she asked Tarantino to change the scene. He refused. If I had to guess, having never seen Grindhouse, I'd say he was merely using that inconvenient little rape detail to set up the fact that later, a dude is going to get TOTALLY KILLED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
So, the racism first, because it needs to be addressed: oh my God, Tarantino just loves his people of color. He loves the wacky non-white way they talk, and their crazy cool non-white behaviors, and all their many colorful non-white ethnic traditions and outfits. He especially loves how non-white the women ones are, because they are so exotic. Quentin Tarantino has seen so many movies with non-white people in them: movies with treacherous Asian dragon ladies and movies with sexy Asian schoolgirls and movies with cool black gangsters and movies with mysterious Asian martial arts experts and movies with strong, sassy black women. You probably haven't seen all those movies, huh, but that's OK, he will compile a Greatest Hits list and turn it into a screenplay and film it - and if the characters of color are exoticized or stereotyped or framed as intrinsically Other, well, that's how they are in the movies, dude, do you need the speech about meta and homage and commentary again?
So, then, the women: he really loves the women of color because they're so exotic and not like white people at all, which is sexy, but white ladies can be sexy, too. All women, in Tarantino movies, are sexy. Sometimes women are sexy victims, and it can get really gory, you know, really edgy stuff with objects like needles and car wheels and swords thrusting into them intensely and the blood going all everywhere in these weirdly cathartic throbbing spurts of liquid. Then, some women are all strong and violent, and, like, dominant, and that's sexy too, like when two hot women fight each other and totally go at it, or like when a woman pierces a man with her sword and his guts spill all over her, or like when a woman rear-ends a man's car and calls him "bitch" and promises to "bust a nut in his ass."
The means by which Tarantino substitutes violence for sex or links them to each other are way too punishingly intro-to-psych obvious to even get into in detail (John Travolta's anxious because he wants to fuck Uma Thurman and he's not supposed to, then she's passed-out cold and he rips her shirt open and is anxious about sticking his needle into her; etc.) and are probably, to give him credit, conscious at least 40% of the time. This makes them no less creepy: it still sets up a dynamic where sex is about violence, and violence is about power, and sex is about power, and violence is about sex. Surprisingly, this is actually the very same context we live in every single day, which you know if you've looked at the statistics on rape and domestic abuse in this country. That's why defenses of "commentary" or "irony" fail in regard to his work: he's not subverting it, he's not presenting it as problematic, he's just perpetuating it. He thinks it's cool.
So, of course, rape happens in these movies. Rape has to happen in these movies: it's the most literal and obvious representation of the sex=violence=power dynamic. It happens to women (and a powerful black man, because that "feminizes" him, because that renders him less powerful and therefore less threatening) because when you, like Tarantino, view women less as individual people than as Objects, Classification: Sexy, hurting a woman sexually is the way you hurt her as a woman, through her primary function. Even though these are movies-about-movies, rather than movies about life or people, there are two really common, really destructive narratives (at least) that these rapes always serve. I shall now break it down:
#1: RAPE AS PLOT DEVICE = BAD.TIRESOME META-BLOGGING STATEMENT: So, I took that post down, for reasons mostly having to do with the fact that, in it, I talked shit about someone I used to know, and in various other ways made private stuff public, and sometimes, even sometimes despite my intent, people read what I had written as both personal and cruel - and the bits about that one particular person were, which was not OK, and I wouldn't want someone to do that to me, so I shouldn't do it. The politics of taking something down are weird, because it looks like you're trying to dodge accountability, and I generally believe that when you fuck up you need to own that - hence, this! - but the point is that I have no right to be a jerk, and if the world is better off without a particular post it will get removed. Also, as this relates to Blogging Ethics in General, please do tell me if there is an issue here from here on out, because when there are issues I try to fix them. There. Wasn't that tiresome?
Yeah, are we done yet?
My God, how many movies are there in which One Man's Quest for Justice (meaning: awesome fight sequences) is triggered by the fact that his wife/daughter/whatever has been raped, or murdered, or rapedandmurdered? When your female characters serve primarily as motivators or rewards or plot devices, one super easy way to get the story moving is to torture them, which will make the hero just so mad that he has to go off and cause action sequences. The woman-avenges-own-rape-with-fight-scenes plot is just as ancient and just as problematic. The idea that women have to get raped now so that they can kill later (a) reinforces the sexualized violence-as-power dynamic that causes rape in the first place, (b) makes gendered, sexual victimization a prerequisite for creating Strong Female Characters (who, for Tarantino, are just fetishized objects of a different, more dominatrix-y order), and (c) implies that violence somehow cancels out rape, as if the trauma ends when the rapist does. It doesn't. You can't get un-raped, and decrying the violence of rape while using it as a pretext for a movie that is all about celebrating violence is just a big huge automatic fail for oh so many reasons, which leads us to:
#2: RAPE AS SPECTACLE = BAD.
Here is how rape often happens in real life: between acquaintances or intimates, through coercion or by drugging someone, often without any other physical violence involved. Here is how rape often happens in movies: between strangers, as sensationally and brutally as possible. Action and horror movies are like comedy, in that they work on a system of set-up/payoff, whether it's joke/punchline or scenario/violence. You come for the pay-off, not the set-up, which means that, in these movies, rape is one of the pay-offs you come to see, so they deliver the biggest rape, the most extreme rape, the goriest rape: the best rape. There are people who collect these scenes, and get off on them - which makes sense, given the fact that the act of rape, and its effect on a woman's body, is given loving, detailed, highly eroticized attention throughout. (See also: the graphic-details rape description in Kill Bill. You don't see the rape, but you get to know every single thing that happens to her.) There have been precisely two rape scenes, in all the many I've involuntarily seen, that I respected, and they were on Veronica Mars and Mad Men, respectively: in one case, you see a girl getting passing out, then waking up to realize what has happened, and in the other, you see a struggle, then a woman's face looking away, then the room from her point of view. You see these things through the women's eyes, in both cases. You do not, as is usual, see things through the eyes of a voyeur, or a rapist. Yes, there are other over-the-top and graphic scenes of violence in Tarantino movies and movies in general, there are swordfights and assassins and ninjas, but here is the problem with framing rape as equivalent to those things: when I walk home at night, or take a near-empty subway car, I'm not afraid of swordfights or assassins or ninjas.
#3, BONUS POINT:
Here is an action figure of Quentin Tarantino. It is based on a character he played in a movie he produced. It is called "Rapist No. 1."
Yeah, are we done yet?