Thursday, July 9, 2009

Tales of Performative Gender PRESENTS: Humpday

So: I took this morning's post down! Whoops. In my defense, it was pretty dumb. Also, I consider it my responsibility, as a person who writes blog posts, to give the people what they want!

Strangely, no one ever e-mails me to request poorly thought-out and pretentious ramblings about a book I am not finished reading. No! What THE PEOPLE (meaning the two friends who e-mailed me this link) ask is for me to read the recent New York Times profile of director Lynn Shelton!

Because here is the headline of the recent New York Times profile of director Lynn Shelton:

She’s a Director Who’s Just Another Dude


So: Lynn Shelton is the director of the film "Humpday," which I have been waiting to see for approximately forever, because I believe it will be either the best or worst thing that has ever happened. It has been described as an "Apatovian" "bromance" about some dudes who wind up having sex! Here are some factors that lead me to feel that this may be obnoxious: (1) they are straight dudes who (2) do it, basically, on a dare, and (3) the movie is apparently devoted to how uncomfortable (one might use the word "panicked!") they are. Also, one of them is Josh from The Blair Witch Project. (Joooshhh?!? JOOOOOOSSSSSSHHHHHHHHH!!!!) But, given the fact that the entire "bromance" genre is about the precise limits to which straight dudes can take their affection for each other without getting all gay-panicky (hint: not that far), I do have hopes that the movie might actually have some kind of point.

Let's not spend too much time debating the merits of "Humpday," however! Especially given the fact that I have not actually seen it yet! Let us speak about the article - which, despite being a whole lot smarter than the headline, does eventually come around to the following point:
Speaking of the comfort level it took to “expose myself, no pun intended,”* Mr. Duplass credited Ms. Shelton’s facility with actors, enthusiasm for the working process and, tangentially, her greater affinity for men: “You know those girls who are closer with dudes, in general? She’s got a little bit of that going on, so that obviously plays into it.”

It’s a preference several men expressed on Ms. Shelton’s behalf.
So, you can see where the title comes in. Surely, as a person who makes the "bromances," Ms. Shelton must have some special, not-at-all-girly qualities that allow her to work with the non-girl actors! After all, she is not making the sort of movies that girls are supposed to make - movies about how you can get old and still date Jack Nicholson, or have a satisfying wedding despite your wacky Greek family, or be Julia Child, or whatever - so, really: isn't there something wrong with her? Wouldn't there have to be something wrong with her, in order for her to do these movies well? I mean: maybe the reason she's not making girly movies is that she's just not really a girl.

It's not an uncommon assumption. Kathryn Bigelow has been making action movies for decades - and, despite the fact that it probably takes no special manly insight to know that watching things blow up can be exciting, she's always been viewed as sort of a freak. "What's consistently set Bigelow apart is her ability to play tough in a traditionally masculine world," the AV Club noted in a review of her vampire movie Near Dark. (Play tough? Does making an action movie now require you to have real-live knife fights? Does she have to publicly execute an extra every morning to maintain control of the set?) This is shortly after they've invited viewers to click on a video of a scene in which a boy vampire feeds from a girl vampire, and have reluctantly suggested that it's "tempting to credit these more tender moments to Bigelow's feminine touch." Actually, the scene they have shown is not "tender" so much as it is "explicitly shot to look like cunnilingus" - there are SOME things to be said for the feminine touch, I guess - but you get the point. The point is that doing anything non-stereotypically-girly, as a filmmaker, somehow calls your gender into question. People may not necessarily condemn you, but they do need to process you, explain you, figure out precisely how female or male you are.

In the comments, by the way, some viewers suggest that some of Near Dark's particularly gory scenes weren't directed by Bigelow at all - their "shocking violence" and "effectiveness," they think, mean that they must have been shot by Bigelow's then-husband, James Cameron.

Yes, James Cameron. Director of the single most lucrative girl movie of all time.

But, weirdly, James Cameron's gender cred isn't at all affected by that one movie with the boat and all the tearful kissing. (A woman's heart is a deep ocean of secrets! And urges to dance with the simple people in Steerage!) At least, I don't recall reading any rumors that his girlfriend secretly directed the love scenes, or seeing Titanic-era profiles with headlines like "JAMES CAMERON: 'TERMINATOR' DIRECTOR NOW BASICALLY A LADY." For some reason, men can assert their authority over female genres pretty easily. The problem happens when women do good work in genres reserved for men.

So, anyway. Here's Lynn Shelton's response to the question about whether she liked men better than women and/or was a gender traitor:
She was briefly and uncharacteristically speechless — considering the sources, perhaps — then let loose one of her tumbling guffaws.
You can't blame her.

*This guy sounds like THE WORST.


  1. Of all the many woman-hating totally dumbass sentiments encountered in this here patriarchy, THIS is the one I hate the most. My crustiness renders me fairly tolerant but this one makes me physically angry. This "she's one of the guys" business. This "she's not like other girls" bullshit.

    And really really really a whole lot this one: "I don't like making friends with other women. They are catty/jealous/backstabbish/other evil things".

    To say this you have to believe absolutely that Men Are Good, period, and Women Are Bad, period.

    Stupid. Loathesome. Hate it. Want to KICK IT.

  2. Another ace in the hole for you! You are absolutely right and idiotic articles like this just make me want to kick people in the face.

    Not that I would. Girls don't do that, of course.

  3. I don't think you get it. She's making good horror films and men are comfortable around her, ergo she has a pair of testicles hidden somewhere. Possibly her husband’s. Have they checked the cookie jar?

  4. I work in a male-dominated field. And I hate a) how catty/jealous/backstabby guys can be. If you don't compete you're clearly out of your depth and holding back because you don't know shit and if you do compete you're too pushy and strident and a bitch and trying too hard to prove your intelligence at other people's expense and if you do compete and succeed the best compliment you can get is that you're practically a guy. And b) there is no language to discuss guys' cattiness/jealousness/backstabbiness without using language that basically says "he's behaving like a girl.

  5. Great post. I wrote about the whole "you're awesome, you can't possibly be a lady!" thing WRT gaming/geek culture in particular a few weeks ago. Annoying, misogynist, gender-essentialist bullshit, for real.

    I would get that "you're practically a dude!" "compliment" every once in a while and I used to take it as such! ARGH STUPID WHY. Now I know better.

    Also, good point about how we never ever see the reverse.

  6. Oh, Sady! I love this post. But I also liked the one you took down! I had a very long and fascinating discussion with my partner that was prompted by it, about how political theory - specifically progressive political theory - is developed. Like, Bell Hooks might not have written all the books she did if she had not first read "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" and thought, "Hey, this totally applies, except that the writer doesn't address the place of people of colour and of women!"

    BUT ANYWAY, re: this post, yes. As usual you are right on!

  7. Oh, I need to see Humpday this weekend because I got an e-mail from someone I am apparently vaguely connected to in some way who acted in the film, and they said the number of people who go see it This Weekend determines how many cities/theatres/screenings it ends up getting. So, I don't know if it will be any good, but if you live in Seattle you should go see it at the Harvard Exit Theatre (we could go together even!) and if you live in New York City, you should go see it at the Angelika Film Center. This weekend!

    Also, guys have said things like that to me all my life. Someone wrote in my year book in high school, "You're the only cool girl(?) I've ever met" and several of my friends at the time were constantly telling me, "You're like a dude trapped in a woman's body," blah blah blah. More recently, in fact, not six months ago, some guy at my school was telling me I was the only sane girl in the whole school. What the fuck, man? Seriously. Bullshit.

  8. Megan: those are a perfect set of points and it's wonderful to be able to see it being said and out there.
    M. Caliban: if I were as snarky as you, my life would be that much more complete.

  9. @Chelsea: Following your request, and my own inclination, I DID in fact see "Humpday!" And probably you will see a post about that. I'm kind of shocked that it's only opening in two theaters, given the amount of positive press it's gotten... I guess it will be opening in Berkeley and San Francisco next week? Anyway.