Monday, July 9, 2007

Feminism still too hard a concept for many to grasp...

I was recently alerted to a witty article written by Gloria Steinem entitled In Defense of the 'Chick Flick'. (I will be including some snippets of the article in here. To read the full piece, head on over here.)

She eloquently notes that many films that are considered "chick flicks" are those that include "more dialogue than special effects, more relationships than violence, and relies for its suspense on how people live instead of how they die." She also brings in literature, noting that much of what is considered "great literature" could have fallen into the genre of "chick lit" had it not been written by men. She suggests, "If Anna Karenina had been written by Leah Tolstoy, or The Scarlet Letter by Nancy Hawthorne, or Madame Bovary by Greta Flaubert, or A Doll's House by Henrietta Ibsen, or The Glass Menagerie by (a female) Tennessee Williams, would they have been hailed as universal? Suppose Shakespeare had really been The Dark Lady some people supposed. I bet most of her plays and all of her sonnets would have been dismissed as some Elizabethan version of ye olde "chick lit," only to be resurrected centuries later by stubborn feminist scholars."

Steinem is cheeky when asking readers to adopt the term "prick flick" for any film that glorifies war and violence and that portrays women as objectified sex objects subject to violence. Of course Steinem is not really suggesting that this term be adopted. Her article is meant to be satirical -- to show that gendering movies is unfair, biased and evidence of a society that still has deeply entrenched dualist values when it comes to sex and gender.

The example of literature only serves to further this point -- Steinem alludes to many classic works of literature which could perhaps appeal to more "feminine values" but which are not labeled (and subsequently) dismissed as "chick lit." Her point is that we use the term "chick flick" to dismiss a movie, to show that it doesn't need to be taken seriously as a great work. And the fact that we use a label which is so inherently tied to the "female" side of the spectrum is indicative of much deeper issues than just semantics.

Of course, most of this was lost on most readers of the article over on AlterNet. I read through many of the comments following the article and was appalled by the cruelty and "knee-jerk" reactions which immediately said such things as " does gloria make this junk up as she's sitting on the toilet?", "There are terms altready -- guy flicks, man movies. You don't see people calling chick flicks cun_ flicks so why choose a deliberately offensive term, Ms. Steinem?", " Gotcha, Gloria- male authors get published because they're male regardless of what slop they produce", "This is the kind of article that says 'embittered feminist baby boomer' in loud, capital letters. The author's take on 'prick flicks' vs. 'chick flicks' reveals a certain level of, ah, hatred for men, perhaps?", "Why is literature male dominated? It's not because men are evil and don't allow women to be published, it's because women write garbage such as this article that nobody wants to read."

One reader even suggested that Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) was not even responsible for writing her classic novel: "Oh, and not to mention Mary Shelley, the thinly-educated 17 year old who managed to miraculously write something like Frankenstein after getting married to her famous poet husband Percy Bysshe Shelley who'd do anything for her, and who mysteriously failed to produce anything of comparable value after he died." This reader also said that Alice Walker's writing was mediocre and that her successes should be attributed solely to her sex. Nice.

Many other readers went on about how "offensive" it was that she dared to use the word "prick" -- apparently completely missing her point and failing to notice her satire. God forbid anyone ever say anything offensive alluding to males -- even if it's only in a sarcastic manner. Like the words "pussy" and "cunt" haven't been used in much more offensive (and serious) ways. But then of course, males aren't used to having anything related to their sex be used in a derogatory manner. Many suggested that she should have used the term "guy film" instead. She didn't use that term because no one would have felt offended by it, and she was going for the offensive -- she was going for something that would make people rethink those labels in the first place. Nobody even bothered to wonder why we allow the word "chick" to be synonymous with "woman", when really "chick" is a term that demeans and objectifies women.

Here is what I read in Steinem's article, that many others failed to read:

She wasn't really suggesting that we use the term "prick flick", she was making the point of how it is both unnecessary and offensive to tie a certain type of film to a gender. Many made the point that "chick flicks" are essentially bad movies, which only serves to further Steinem's point that we associate feminine values with poorer quality films that can't be taken seriously. I believe that in Steinem's ideal world, there would be NO "chick flicks" or "prick flicks" -- genres would have nothing to do with gender or sex. But this idea was lost on many, instead giving way to "knee-jerk" reactions to truths that make people -- especially the male sex -- feel uncomfortable. Most feminists do not blame individual men for anything. What women such as Steinem try to show is that there are values deeply embedded within our society and our institutions that gives preference to a certain set of ideas that have been (rightly or wrongly) associated with the masculine. Unfortunately, it seems that many people find it easier to react (cruelly) rather than to critically think about whether there is something still seriously wrong with the way we think.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of what you say (haven't read the comments about the article), but the problem is that the word 'prick' is actually refering to the male genitals (as well as a demeaning word)
Chick is not another word for vagina, and until it is, you (or Gloria, rather) can't compare their use realistically using the terms chick and prick, because your argument would be flawed.
You can get away with calling a girl a chick (some will be offended, some not) but guaranteed that you can not call a man a prick and not anger him. Prick is undeniably an insult. Chick is just belittling, and is even sometimes done innocently with no bad intentions, an no offence taken.

Anyway, I am totally offended by the use of the term chick flick, and it's grating on me more and more these days as films that women like are equated as light,fluffy,shallow,love story films (not a more positive term like dialogue-heavy that you used)

It's well known that most men actually like these kind of films too. But the funny thing is, that due to men belittling women, they have created a problem for themselves because they can't admit to liking said films. Everyone seems to secretly know all this, but won't say it out loud. I actually feel more sorry for men in a way, because men these days are constantly living a lie. Trying to live up to some macho caricature image of beer, cars and violent films.
Women actually like the guys who admit to liking the 'chick flicks'
So really, it's all a giant mess.

(I had to put some generalizations to make my point. Most women, a lot of men etc...Not ALL wo/men of course)