Saturday, March 28, 2009

TIGER BEATDOWN FOR DUDES Presents: That's Not Funny. No, Seriously Dude, It's Not

OMG! Boys! They are so adorable, right? For example, here is an adorable thing boys like to do: sort of deny or dance around the presence of misogyny, no matter how blatant it happens to be, when it comes from somebody they want to like!

Oh, wait, that's not adorable. That is some lily-livered bullshit. Yet people do it, particularly when they're boys: name a famous misogynist (Updike, Roth, Tarantino, Polanski, Apatow, LaBute, etc.) and I'll name you an article or appraisal that contains some cowardly, passive-voiced admission that "some have called his work misogynist." Um, some? Who are these "some?" What were their grounds for leveling this criticism? Can you, the professional critic, give us a well-reasoned argument for or against? Oh, never mind, that sentence is totally over and we're back to talking about how this dude is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Because misogyny, whether or not it exists, is not a serious issue, because women aren't important. Gotcha.

However, I have been instructed not to "read into things" too much! By dudes, no less! Since I always do exactly what dudes tell me, particularly when they seem weirdly insecure and defensive and eager to invalidate what I am saying, I have decided to take these statements at face value. When someone says that "some have called [X] misogynist," without betraying any consciousness of why that might be important, and without delivering any appraisal of the misogyny or lack thereof in the work, I will take this to mean that (a) they don't actually know what misogyny is or why it is important, (b) they have no understanding of how misogyny might be conveyed in the work of an artist and therefore cannot identify it when they see it, and (c) they are completely unfamiliar with the many, many, many works by feminist critics which they might have used to educate themselves on these matters. (Curious fact: even though they are available in pretty much every bookstore and library under the heading of "Women's Studies," dudes can actually read them, and it will not even cause their penises to fall off!) It's OK, dudes: you're not sexist, just really fucking ignorant! There, doesn't that feel better?

Well, I am here to educate and entertain. Hence, the return of TIGER BEATDOWN FOR DUDES! In this ongoing series, we will learn how to identify sexism, and also to not be total dicks about it. This week, we will focus on Art, because y'all seem to have some problems in that sphere. We will start with a fairly obnoxious, seemingly innocuous sexist trope, which I like to call


Here is an indirect way to start today's lesson: I have been watching - and enjoying! Sort of - the televised comedy series Eastbound & Down for several weeks. For those unfamiliar, it is the story of a racist, homophobic, sexist, and in all other ways loathsome ex-pro baseball player, and how he returns to his hometown and is ceaselessly humiliated therein. Now, this may come as a surprise to you, but I am fond of laughing at and/or humiliating loathsome men! So, for maybe two or three episodes, Eastbound & Down and I were cool with each other. The problem came when I realized that I was meant to root for the dude; that he was going to be rewarded; that the show, which initially tried to represent his misogyny as one of his many glaring character flaws, actually endorsed it. This problem was manifested to me through the show's most glaring flaw, which is:

Yeah, her. She is the former high-school girlfriend of the main character, Kenny Powers, played by Danny "Face for Radio" McBride. She is engaged to another dude in the show's first episode; and, in the show's first episode, which is her finest hour, she views him with the absolute disdain which is merited and necessary, given his stupidity, hatefulness, narcissism, and eye-searing lack of any remotely attractive physical characteristic.

"God, I hope he doesn't become a better person and win her back," I noted to my gentleman caller after the first episode, being all too familiar with the conventions of the genre, wherein the dude, like, does one nice thing, thereby causing the lady to forget what an asshole he is and fall deeply in love with him because women are stupid.

Well, he doesn't become a better person, anyway. He's hateful, stupid, narcissistic, and resoundingly homely throughout. He calls her a "bitch" to her face, he makes it clear that he's primarily attracted to her because she has big breasts, his speeches about how she deserves respect and love are always portrayed as dishonest and self-serving and so out-of-character only a complete idiot would fall for them (they're also primarily directed at her boyfriend, because he's the one who needs to hear them, apparently) and when they make out, he comes in his pants, thereby demonstrating that he is not only mentally and emotionally and morally and visually but also sexually inadequate, and that she stands to gain absolutely nothing whatsoever by entering into a relationship with him. By the end of the series, she's totally in love with him, and willing to start life anew with him in a different town. (This comes directly after the "bitch" thing, by the way.) Because, um...?

The "Because, Um...?" Girl is a frequent feature in your Apatow-Brand comedies (and Jack Nicholson movies, and ugly dude/hot wife sitcoms, and basically any movie Woody Allen has ever made). She is the character who gets together with the main dude for no apparent reason other than that the filmmaker feels dudes like him deserve hot pussy. Eastbound & Down is decidedly Apatow-Brand, despite his apparent lack of involvement: the main creative players are Danny McBride (Pineapple Express), David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express), and Will Ferrell (Talladega Nights, Anchorman, Stepbrothers, etcetera). Apatovian cinema, much like herpes, spreads through contact. Also like herpes, it really burns my crotch. (Joke! I do not, in fact, have genital sores! That I know of!)

Katherine Heigl's character in Knocked Up is maybe the most commented-upon case of "Because, Um...?": yes, she's way hotter and smarter and more successful than Seth Rogen, although she is still apparently so broke that she lives in her sister's house, and yes, when some random distasteful stranger gets her pregnant she decides to have the baby, thereby endangering her career and further stretching her finances although the movie makes it clear that she can't even pay for her own apartment, and yes, she decides to involve this stranger in the inexplicably carried-to-term pregnancy despite the fact that he's not responsible enough to wear a condom when fucking a stranger (and she has a weird numb vagina that can't tell the difference between a rubbered dick and a dick au naturel), and also to date him for no reason that is ever explained (do they just start fucking again as soon as she tells him she's up the creek? I have no idea! All I know is, when I learned they were having sex again, it came as a total shock!), and yes, he has one of those last-five-minutes-of-the-movie turn-arounds which causes her to end up with him despite the fact that she dumped him earlier in what is perhaps her one understandable decision throughout the course of the film, and all of this is because, um...?

Here's the thing: Katherine Heigl's character is not even remotely the most offensive or blatant case of this problem. In Superbad, the entire plot revolves around two dudes planning to get girls so drunk that the boys can fuck them, in spite of the fact that they know those girls wouldn't fuck them sober and with corresponding full and informed consent, which, if I'm not mistaken, is what we commonly refer to as "date rape," and at some point Jonah Hill confesses to a girl that he was going to get her drunk in order to rape her because he knows she wouldn't fuck him otherwise, because he likes her so much, and she is okay with this, because, um...? In Stepbrothers, there are not one but two ladies who are irresistibly drawn to the sexual charisma of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, in spite of the fact that the characters are clearly written as, in the parlance of the times, developmentally disabled, and also they look like Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, because, um...? In Pineapple Express, Seth Rogen actually commits rape of the statutory variety, by maintaining a sexual relationship with a high school student, and insofar as the script acknowledges this to be a problem at all, it is supposed to be a problem relating to his "immaturity," rather than a problem relating to his being an adult man who fucks kids, and of course he never faces any consequences, and of course the girl is portrayed as oh so very Muriel-Hemingway-in-Manhattan eager to submit to the sexual advances of a future To Catch a Predator star (if there's one good thing to be said for Diablo Cody, it's that she consciously subverts this; hence Juno's lovable indie-rock pedophile being (a) refused by his teenage lust object and (b) divorced by his adult wife, thank God) and of course the relationship doesn't even end until he decides that she is not commitment-worthy, because, um...?

The skeeviest of these examples, Superbad and Pineapple Express, are both written by Seth Rogen, so I suppose you could argue that he's the real problem, but he seems to only be the most curdled and malevolent example of the misogyny underlying the "Because, Um...?" girls throughout the catalogue. In the non-Rogen-scripted Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the whole message seems to be that women who break the rules and dare to have standards for their sexual partners must pay the price. For lo, it does come to pass that the lovely and admirable and in-no-way-deserving-of-this-shit-role Kristin Bell has to offer to suck off Jason Segel in order to obtain his "forgiveness" for the mortal sin of ending a relationship that was not making her happy, and he can't get hard, which is her fault, and so he calls her the "goddamn Devil." It begins by forgetting to write reasons for women to like or fuck men; it proceeds by arguing that men are entitled to have women like or fuck them, reasons or no (hence the whole, you know, wacky-rape-hijinks thing); it ends by saying that women who don't like you or fuck you in the absence of reasons to do so need to get on their knees and suck your dick, unless they can't even do that right, in which case they're pure fucking evil. It's an old, old, old, old story: good women give sex, bad women withhold sex, and truly worthless women don't inspire men to have sex with them at all.

So then, of course, you have Eastbound & Down, where a man calls a woman a "bitch" and promises to "fuck her up (with some truth)," because she doesn't want to immediately jump into a relationship with him, and her reaction to this is to dump her fiance and move to a new city with him about five seconds later, so he basically verbally abuses her into being his girlfriend, which, if we were encouraged to look into her motivations to the same extent that we're allowed to examine the motivations of the other (male) characters on the show, would be some spooky tragic cycle-of-abuse bullshit - the show emphasizes that the only other characters who are drawn to him are deeply fucked up, I would take "deeply fucked up" as an answer here - but in the context of the show, it's all cool. Because she's not a person; she's a plot point. Because she's a woman.

Fear and contempt of women are the only motivating factors to write a character this way. In Apatow-Brand comedies, the girls who are not "Because, Um...?" girls are either bitches (wives; sexually unavailable women; professional women; ex-girlfriends) or sluts, typically of the crazy drunk variety. (Woody Allen, another prominent "Because, Um...?" writer, uses Manhattan to compress all of the above-listed "bitch" characteristics into a successful lesbian ex-wife, whom he hilariously confesses to having tried to run over with his car. HA! A man trying to murder a woman because she ended their relationship and/or is not heterosexual! It's funny, 'cause that's how a lot of women actually die!) Eastbound & Down takes this tack by having literally only two other female characters, a wife whom we're encouraged to think of as an uptight bitch and a "fuckbuddy" whose only defining characteristic is that she is such a crazy drunk slut all the time. The "Because, Um...?" girl can only exist in the negative space created by this double bind. If women have standards, they're bitches; if they don't have standards, they're sluts: try to write yourself out of this, and you find that the only feasible way to create a non-threatening female character is to give her no motivations or personality whatsoever, to turn her into a cipher who provides love or sex simply because the plot demands it.

Which, if you're a dude - particularly a dude threatened by women! - might just be a hilarious way to vent your gender anxiety and give your male character some pussy without having him face the complications inherent in dealing with actual individual female humans. If you are a female human, however, and are faced every day with people who are threatened by your existence, who are continually sorting you into the bitch/slut categories, if you know how painful and enraging it is to realize that the guy you're dating (or working for, or working with, or hanging out with at a party) is somehow incapable of recognizing that you have a subjective existence, just as deeply felt and worthy as his own, and do not exist simply as an extension of his own needs or desires, it's not that funny. It's pretty fucking bleak, in fact. Particularly when you know that your culture backs him up, and tells him that women actually do exist for his pleasure because they actually are not people like himself, and that these attitudes are so fucking normalized that even objecting to them makes you sound kind of crazy and extremist and, of course, bitchy, and that no matter how hard you work to explain and deconstruct these attitudes within the culture, no matter how prominent or successful you are in the field of said deconstruction, you're always going to be reduced to a nameless "some" who "have called [X] misogynist" in a one-sentence aside in an otherwise 100% adulatory appraisal.

So, gentlemen: the next time you see the "Because, Um...?" girl, I ask that you actually identify her as such, and recognize that she signifies both bad writing and some really reprehensible ideology, and perhaps even that you grow a ball or two and speak out against it! Because, um, it's fucking wrong.


  1. Great post, Sady.

    You know, one of the things that occurs to me reading all this shit knitted together this way is that this is a very obvious Straight White Dood phenomenon, and I will not hold my breath waiting for the rightwing led by Bill Bennett and the culture vultures led by Joe Lieberman and the very Congress itself to engage in serious hand-wringing over the fact that so many Straight White Doods are creating art that is hateful toward women (and gays and the disabled, in many cases, just to start on a long list), even though they have spent a lot of time being concerned about art made by black men, with the marginal ostensible excuse that it is hateful to women and dangerous for children and blah blah blah.

    On another note, it just so happens I caught a bit of Manhattan this weekend, which looks more and more different the older (and more feminist) I get, and it is, in fact, Meryl Streep's partner (i.e. Allen's ex-wife's girlfriend) who he tried to run over with his car.

    Which, in some way, is even worse.

  2. hence Juno's lovable indie-rock pedophile being (a) refused by his teenage lust object and (b) divorced by his adult wife, thank God)

    Great post! That bit caught my eye, because I didn't notice it during the film, but you're absolutely right. It's one of the few instances of a male predator being rejected rather than sympathized with in a movie.

  3. I actually rented Knocked Up, because I think someone somewhere made a convincing argument that it wasn't all that sexist and was sort of interesting for its genre. And I can make allowances for hot women going for dumpy guys sometimes - probably because I've been brainwashed by the culture I live in and the media I'm subjected to to accept that. But then dumpy, inept, one-night-stand guy ends up in the gynecologist's office with her during her pelvic exam! What the fucking fuck! I suppose that's not sexist per se, but it demonstrated clearly how much of a clue Apatow has about women and about the subject matter he was dealing with. Zero! Less than zero.

  4. I. Love. This post. I love it so much I would do its (theoretical) taxes. For free. That is how mind-bendingly awesome this is. I have thought this for the last ten years of watching "rom-coms" or the shit that passes for them, and you wrote it out fabulously.
    Thank you.

  5. @Melissa: WHY HELLO! I definitely agree with you that straight-white-male misogyny is accepted and normalized in culture; black male misogyny is only recognized as a "problem" insofar as it calls on the history of racism, and the idea that black men were hypersexual and violent and (of course) out to Defile the Precious Flower of White Womanhood. (As opposed to white men raping black women, which was basically written into law under slavery, and continues to be a huge problem! But whiteness doesn't own up to that; it would rather talk about sexually rapacious black men.) But yeah, you're right: if "Knocked Up" had been the story of a black woman who couldn't make rent, lived with family members, etc., and got pregnant by some unemployed dude of color she'd had casual unprotected sex with, and she decided to have the baby outside of the Holy Bonds of Matrimony, you can bet that a whole sector of the population would be up in arms against it, talking about "welfare queens," etc. But they're white, so it's a beautiful pro-life affirmation of family values!

    @Pizza Diavola: I'm not a huge Diablo Cody fan, but I really do feel that the way Jason Bateman's character was handled was exceptional, and feminist. He's such a neat little deconstruction of the Apatovian/"High Fidelity" man-child: a thirty-five-year-old teenager who loves his record collection and his guitar and all the other little toys he uses to escape the reality that he is a grown-assed man with grown-up responsibilities and problems, and who worries that his lady is going to force him to grow up because of course he's not "ready" for commitment or parenthood or caring about women's feelings or not trying to sleep with children, and in most movies? The entire story would be about that dude, and his conflicted feelings, and how he eventually becomes marginally less callous and perfidious and narcissistically self-involved. Instead, he fucks up, and the women call him out on it ("You want to 'wait?' For what? For you to become a rock star?") and he faces the consequences, and then the women write him out of their lives and move on. Bravo.

    @Snobographer: I wouldn't be opposed to supernaturally gorgeous women ending up with Jason Segel and Seth Rogen in certain movies if I occasionally saw supernaturally gorgeous men end up with women who looked like the lady equivalents of a Segel or a Rogen. As it is, it's a one-sided construct that obviates the realities of female desire, which is, yes, triggered by pretty dudes. I would like to say, however, that I don't find "Knocked Up" the worst or most sexist of Apatow's movies: his stuff started out with some fairly sympathetic and realistic female characters (Linda Cardinelli in "Freaks and Geeks," Catherine Keener in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" - and she was the one thing I liked about that movie, which I, unlike everyone else on Planet Earth, HAAAAAAAAAATED) and it just seems to get worse over time, as he realizes that audiences and critics are REALLY responding to the man-boy bromosocial sexist shit, which means he can get AWAY with it, which means he's no longer OBLIGATED to spend any time or effort on creating recognizably human female characters. Apatow-Brand cinema is regressing and getting worse as Apatow and his minions give themselves greater and greater license to be more and more blatantly sexist. Which is sad, because there were moments of "Knocked Up" and "Freaks and Geeks" that I really, really loved.

    @ScreamingLemur: Free taxes! Perhaps I may do yours in return!

  6. I wouldn't be opposed to supernaturally gorgeous women ending up with Jason Segel and Seth Rogen in certain movies if I occasionally saw supernaturally gorgeous men end up with women who looked like the lady equivalents of a Segel or a Rogen.

    Yeah, exactly. If you're going to have Sean Connery hooking up with Catherine Zeta Jones (my references are very dated), I'd better see Kathy Bates getting some action from George Clooney.

  7. @Snobographer, again: "obviates the realities of female desire, which is, yes, triggered by pretty dudes."

    STRAIGHT female desire, that is! Ha, darn blogger and its lack of Edit function.

  8. This post is devastating (in the best possible sense). THANK YOU.

    For the longest time I told myself that hey, the entire point of Superbad is that date rape is a really bad idea, right?! And blocked out the rest for my own protection. Ugh. And you are right, it does seem to be getting worse and worse.

  9. Hey Sady!
    I came here by way of Eleniel and felt the need to post too, tho she has said what i wanted to say.
    Devastating. and so so fucking sad.
    I thought maybe i had misjudged Knocked Up, watched until she started to cry about her life being totally messed up, and i turned it off.
    haha, so funny, her life and plans are ruined! that is great comedy! wtf.

    I find Clerks II to be even worse. I will be up all night if i start listing the reasons why, but again, hot woman, dumpy stupid guy who has been cheating on fiancee etc etc etc. UGH.

    Anyway. My thought are muddled. Great post :)

  10. This post is amazing! Thank you so much, Sady! I want to build you a computer (metaphorically), the greatest computer in all the land! I have more substantive comments but I have to go walk my dog. Hopefully I'll remember to come back later and further partake in the conversation.

  11. Fantastic post, all of it. But the second last paragraph really resonated with me. I've been thinking a lot lately about my own experience of desire, and how it is totally ok for women to be presented as objects of desire, but as soon as I start talking about my own subjective experience of desire, both men and women feel uncomfortable.... and do label me extreme (feminist! slut! is how it typically goes. I have one friend who says this with affection, but most do not), for having the audacity to talk about all of this. I mean, I can enjoy sex, as long as I'm vacently filling the fuckbot role, but as soon as I start having my own experience of it and doing it on my terms, enjoying it and talking about it (like an actual human being!), that is somehow way out of bounds...

  12. This post rocked so much. Thanks for the genius. Keep it comin.

  13. This is an awesome post. If I ever get the chance, I will read it aloud to all of my male friends.

  14. Just last night I watched "Brazil" for the first time in years. I used to love this movie, but this time I was really confused by the love-interest character, Jill. At first, she's kicking ass and completely resists the lunatic Sam, to the point of literally kicking him the fuck out of her truck. Then he hijacks her truck, gets a bunch of people killed, and she is suddenly hot for him! "Because, um..." indeed! The only explanation I could come up with was, the movie is all about his fantasy, so that is just the way it has to go. In the commentary, Terry Gilliam actually says that Sam pays the price for falling in love, (even though he gets Jill killed), and that Jill falls for Sam because of his relentless (slasher-film-like, IMO) pursuit of her. Gilliam seems to completely, unironically, think it's romantic.

  15. @Eleniel: Thank you, lady!

    @Twyst: Oh. Dude. Long, long, lonnnnnnng ago: that's when I stopped trying to find Kevin Smith tolerable. Like, I do not know WHAT happened to make this particular toy-obsessed regressive adolescent sexuality thing popular, this thing where you talk about fucking girls and think about fucking girls and write movies about fucking girls but also seem to have, objectively, LESS THAN NO EXPERIENCE OF WHAT GIRLS AND SEX ARE ACTUALLY LIKE, barring maybe what you got from watching porn, but I know I am tired of it and I know when I look at something by Kevin Smith that is all I see.

    @Emylie: A computer, you say! Rarely have I been so enticed by a blog-comment-based offer!

    @Phio: Yeah, I guess retrospectively the "it's all in his minnnnnnnnd" thing makes sense - it's what I use to explain the movie to me - but, with the knowledge the viewer has during that scene, it's just this random thing of stalking a girl till she decides he's cute. Which: I mean: I like Brazil. I even like Manhattan! It just bums me out when this stuff is in movies that I like. WHY DON'T THE MOVIES LIKE ME BAAAAACK. That's what I always wonder.

  16. Oh, thank you so much for articulating so much of what I find wrong with almost any movie labeled "comedy" that's come out in the past decade. I'm so sick of the female character being a "prize" or "reward" for the main d00d.

    I recently had the misfortune of watching Sukiyaki Western Django, and while I'd looked forward to it (having heard good stuff about it) was horrified to see that both of the two female characters (and there were only two) were graphically abused/raped during the film, one by Quentin Tarantino's character (ha!) in what was held up as a "good" relationship. Those with me started discussing the artistic merits of the film (yes, it was very pretty and stylized) but all I could think about was how much the director must hate women. And they couldn't even see why it was so horrifically disturbing. Sigh.

    Please keep writing.

  17. \m/

    Fuck yes! I have never seen those movies (except maybe Manhattan years ago), for precisely the reasons (and more - the central being that I don't like humor that laughs AT PEOPLE - don't get me started).

    I'm going to post links to this all over the damn shop. Sent here by a friend, plan to do them same.

    Rock on!

  18. I recently suggested a movie script to several friends, in which there is a typical situation of "nerd loved girl who is with jock" in which the nerd does demonstrate to girl that jock is not right for her (obnoxious, yes, because girl can't make up her own mind, but I wasn't thinking clearly about that at the time). But when we come to the point where, free of jock boyfriend, she is supposed to throw herself into the nerd's arms, she doesn't. Instead she demonstrates to him, patiently, without "bitch" that he isn't right for her either. In the end, I wanted her to be the hero of the movie, for growing up while the boys around her couldn't.

    Every single male friend I told this movie script idea to told me not to waste my time on it because it would never, ever sell. It wasn't "feel good" and didn't reward the "hero" (who was always the nerd, no matter how many ways I'd try to pitch it so that it was obvious it was the girl) in the "traditional comedy formula."

    And these guys, they're mostly pro-feminist, pretty aware, and not normally complete dorks. But even so, the idea of a movie where the hero is a woman who decides not to be with any of the men in the movie because none of them meet her standards was like something from outer space.

  19. @Anonymous: That's amazing! And, yeah, totally gets at how normalized this stuff is, because even folks who are not consciously of the mind that Girls Are Dumb can't really conceive of something that breaks the rules of woman-as-reward. I would totally watch your movie, for the record.

  20. i love this blog. so many of my friends talk about how hilarious these movies are when they come out, and when i watch them i'm like "what? people aren't like that at all"

    for awhile i actually thought it was a huge avant higher plane kind of thing that i totally wasn't smart enough for and then i realized i just have a better sense of humor than lots of other people, not worse.

    write on

  21. athermit, I absolutely agree about Sukiyaki Western Django. We're supposed to admire the relationship between Grandma and Tarantino? Where he repeatedly degrades and beats her? Yeah, that's sexy. I was left with a very sour taste in my mouth after watching that movie.

  22. It just seems that these movies describe the actual state of affairs in life. And it's a damn dirty depressing SoA.

  23. Anon, that is more or less the mother's plotline in Saving Face.

    She is on good terms with the boy by the end of the story, but tells him he can't move in because she is enjoying not cohabiting with a husband or father for the first time ever.

    I love Alice Wu.

    Also love Will Smith for getting her funding without forcing her to straighten, mysogynize and whitewash the story.