February 28, 2011 ‘The full weight of feminist despair’
I had a slow morning a couple of weeks ago: Mondays are my study days and this was one of the rare Mondays off before Uni starts back where I don’t have a specialist appointment or canteen duty or something to take up the whole day. I had one appointment later in the day so I decided to watch a movie while I continued covering school books.
I had a copy of The Hangover lying around. I don’t know what possessed me to watch it since I already knew what to expect. I think I probably even knew that it would (at least in part) make me feel like shit. But I watched it anyway. Cos it’s ‘just a movie’ right? I thought it might be vaguely entertaining. And it was just that. Entertaining…vaguely. It’s just that in amongst the slick production and the vague entertainment I had to deal with:
a/ the ‘cool’ friend declaring that his life was shit because he was married with a child, let’s get to Vegas/I may never come back (his wife whom it turned out he adored was of course both utterly stunning and virtually erased as a person, i.e she’s there at the end to stand and be beautiful for him to have his ‘moment of realisation’ but she doesn’t offer any opinions, or seem to display any personality, she’s just gorgeous, agreeable and wrestling his child into submission for him)
b/ the ‘nerdy friend’ being what I guess they’d call ‘pussy whipped': his girlfriend was (of course) a nagging ‘shrew’ type, who turned away from his farewell kisses, who demanded obedience, who beat him (which is played as being humorous and only a ‘problem’ in that it showed just how ‘dickless’ he had become) and who had fucked a bartender on a cruise ship and yet was suspicious about his bucks night adventures (and only *this* type of woman would be suspicious about a dude’s god-given right to go fuck some women with his buddies right?)
c/ being given ‘rufies’ played for gags (date rape drugs, haha, how funny)
d/ the inevitable ‘OH WOW, LOOK AT HOW MUCH PUSSY WE GOT WHILE WE WERE AWAY – WE’RE *AWESOME*
You know, I fucking knew it I guess, so why did I ‘let it’ bother me?
Well for one thing I see over and over again that women are sort of expected to go along to these sorts of movies/watch these dvds with their boyfriends, cos it’s a ‘movie’. Whereas say ‘Morning Glory’/’No Strings Attached’ is a ‘chick flick’ and therefore an unfair burden to place on a man.
For another I find it frustrating that these movies have such a massive appeal. The message they send is that women suck, relationships with women suck and most of all marriage sucks. Men who are married are ‘dying a little every day’, women are in control, women are sucking their will to live, controlling them, dominating them, and keeping them from the outrageous adventures they would otherwise be having. They all ARE or GET or WOULD LIKE TO GET married (presumably to the same bland women at home who literally in these movies have almost no presence and certainly no discernible personality – except that is for the Devil-Woman-Ball-Breaking-Bitch. But you know, you score no points *not* being her, since even if you are the apparently lovely and gorgeous wife waiting at home you are derided as the ‘ball and chain’ and the thing ruining your man’s life/holding him back).
I understand why this has appeal as it’s a story men LOVE to tell over and over, to themselves and to each other and to anyone who’ll listen, or any woman caught in the crossfire (apparently invisible during Man-Bonding/Chest-Beating sessions): that BUT FOR their ugly sexless harridan bitch wives who DEMAND children who FORCE them into parenthood, their lives would be one long rock and roll party scene! They’d conquer the world but for their wives! They’d be rich and famous but for their wives! Sexy and wanted but for their wives! Powerful and in demand but for their wives! It’s all about them: they’re the ones who would be having adventures and conquests but for marriage. But if it wasn’t for them, their wives would…still be ugly sexless shrews desperate to pop out more babies and break men’s will to live. Obviously not all men tell these stories. But those that don’t…HOW often do they throw down and challenge their mates when their mates do? How often do they actually say ‘That’s both ridiculous and offensive. I don’t want to hear it’. How often? Well let me say in 35 years I have *never, ever* heard a guy actually throw down like that. Because it’s ‘just a joke’.
So you know, a MOVIE that celebrates men’s spirit and humour and oh so wacky escapades when they for once in their lives escape the clutches of their shrill nagging womenfolk? WHOOOOOOOWEEEEEEEEEE, we’ve never seen THAT before. A movie I as a woman am expected to enjoy/tolerate/find amusement in when the women in it are not people but a bunch of caricatures? Stereotypes that soothe the irritated man, that tell him it’s okay, women are WIERD, OTHER, UGLY, HARRASSSING, BALLBREAKING…or HOT AND UP FOR A ROOT…or good, sweet, kind women who tell you you ‘deserve’ that weekend of immature drunken sleeping around. (I’m just wondering how he’d have dealt with it if she’d said ‘Yes, you deserve it. As do I. I’ll be sleeping with that co-worker I’ve been lusting after, okay?’. Ohhhhhhhh no. WOMEN BELONG MAN!!)
The thing about it is that once you got PAST all of that some of it was vaguely funny – it’s basically then an adventure story. There’s a tiger in the bathroom, a baby in the closet, a missing friend, chases by criminal types, the cops get involved and there’s a time limit to ensue crazy antics galore. Except that it was ALSO homophobic. And racist. And ablist. And predictable. And tedious.
I don’t mind a bit of dull predictability and I don’t mind a ‘dick flick’ but for fuck’s sake people, do we HAVE to celebrate all the varieties of hatred that the white middle class hetero male has cooked up to make himself feel better? He’s so fucking oppressed that the only way he can ‘escape’ and cut loose is to flee to the dessert to take drugs and drink and fuck hookers and molest Asian men and steal from black men and…
I met up with a friend and we discussed watching these ‘harmless’ movies, you know? Movies portrayed as just dumb, meaningless, just a chuckle – except the revolve around the idea that women oppress men, that women are to blame for all that is wrong in their lives, and their women are the only things standing between them and sex-addicted rock stardom and general outstanding and universally acknowledged awesomeness. Except that they set men up as BEINGS, as CONQUERORS, as actual people with desires and thoughts and lives and stuff (albeit total dickwads half the time) but set women up as absent (as in the case of the ‘good woman’, she is good because she is accomodating of his shit and almost silent, she offers no opinions other than ‘Oh, you’re wonderful! Sure fuck around!’) or stereotypes (hooker with the heart of gold – though she’s afforded no real respect, he screams ‘I married a WHORE’ in horror and even though he likes her – because she’s so kind and accomodating compared to his girlfriend – he doesn’t go back to her. Because she’s a hooker. So that clearly wouldn’t be suitable! Isn’t it fun. The wives get no respect then the prostitutes get no respect…hey I see a theme here!) or of course the ball breaking bitch from hell. What male bonding cautionary tale would be complete without her? But those are our options…absent, nothing, bland, oblivious to our partner’s fucking around and totally accommodating of his every whim, or reduction to a prop, a stereotype only there so the men can bond over the hilarity (OH!!! BOOYAH: she’s not just a stripper! She’s a HOOKER!!! That’s just how *bad* she is).
As we pondered these movies my friend said that sometimes when she thought about these storylines she felt the ‘full weight of feminist despair’.
But what tipped me right over the edge into this despair was standing (on the same day) in line at Coles, feeling the full weight of feminist despair and then seeing this old guy in Coles walk straight up to these young pretty high school girls in short skirts and you know DEMAND that they stop what they’re doing/talking about/thinking about and PAY HIM SOME FUCKING ATTENTION. And listen to his diatribe on how they had to COMM-UUUUUUUUUUUUUUU-NI-CATE and EEEEEEEENNNNNNNNNNUUUUUUUUUNNNNNNNN-CCCCCCCIIIIIIIIATE with ‘us oldies’. Because you know, he has a RIGHT to their time and attention and politeness don’t you know??? He’s seen two pretty girls in short skirts and he WANTS TO FEEL THEY THINK HE’S IMPORTANT and goddamn it he should be afforded some respect! And if he has to get it by force and hijack their time and make a scene and bully them into submission well by god, that’s just how it’ll go down okay?
I have to confess that in moods like that I really really struggle with being in a heterosexual relationship. It’s not *my* partner who did those things but suddenly I’m angry that he’s a part of a culture that already expects him to experience me as a ball and chain that already expects him to cast his roving eye always at younger and ‘fairer’ game, who expects he has no sex, gets no love, feels no compassion and care coming towards him. I feel angry that it happens and angry that he hasn’t stopped it somehow. I feel scared that this fury is going to seep like poison into our relationship. I go from commitment and calmness to wild panic and despair and depression. I see again this reflection that a commitment that was asked for (will you marry me) is treated as something the guy stepped in, something revolting, that the women who’ve made this commitment are treated so poorly, talked about so badly and I freak out. Sometimes I want to be married, sometimes I don’t, but we chose together a relationship of monogamy. Is that monogamy going to bite me in the arse and take me from being a real person putting all their energies into building a full life and into navigating communication, into being fair and open and listening and engaging and just reduce me to nothing? To a stereotype? To a punchline? Even if *he* doesn’t do it, his friends or acquaintances will at some point. And? And who will be there to say ‘Oh shut the fuck up, you have NO idea what you’re talking about, it’s offensive and wrong generally and you’re utterly wrong specifically. Why is something I give so much to set up as something that is worthless, less than worthless, an oppression of his potential?
Some days when it all gets to me I want to grab him and demand explanations, to ask him what he will do to make sure it stops, to ask if he really gets what I bang on about, if he takes it seriously, if he understands why it hurts so much to see the casualness with which women are run down again and again. What he’ll do before it’s too late for his daughter? What he’ll do afterwards to explain to her? What he’ll do in defence of me, in defence of other women? I want to grab every male friend by the ear and say ‘Well if you can SEE that it’s wrong, if you GET that it’s a real fucking problem then WHAT??? What *are* you doing? Apart from continuing to watch the movies?’. I want to shout that I’m sick of agreement and headpats that go nowhere, as in really: WHAT ARE YOU DOING?? If you’re not actually going to be brave enough to tell your mates to shut the fuck up when they talk this trash then don’t soothe me by saying you get it, it’s wrong, it’s bad when you know you won’t do anything. Why not say ‘Well your anger frightens me, but honestly I think that the way the world works is fine for me so I wish you’d just deal’, or ‘Well you know I *do* think it’s horrible but I won’t ever do anything outside this room to defend these views, I’ll just let you defend them’, or ‘Well sometimes I’ll do it but to be honest it depends on the context and whether I care about whether that other guy thinks I’m pussy whipped, so probably I’ll stay silent when I care about the person’s opinion’.
I don’t know what to do with this rage either. I mean I get the social pressures etc, except why is it that we’re the ones who have to say something? When the reactions to us can be so much more hostile and aggressive? I mean sure you might be called a ‘pussy’ but you can’t deal with that? I struggle to figure out how to negotiate it, I feel sad when the rage becomes anger at actual people, men I know and love. I worry that it’s not ‘fair’ to them. They’re good guys, they do say things sometimes. But all I can say is that while it might not seem ‘fair’, it’s more unfair to know it’s real, to see that it’s real, to feel lost yourself about how to deal with it, to continue to engage in those sorts of stories, to laugh along, to know it’s problematic, and to see it’s causing actual confusion and pain and expect me to stay silent about how I feel. The world IS horrible to women, the oppression of women IS real, ‘over there’ and over here. We don’t live in an equal world. And then we have to eat a shit sandwich every time a new ‘bromance’ movie comes out because we’re expected to laugh along at how we oppress by virtue of being, how we don’t really exist as people to men, how we’re typed and classified and ignored and derided, and treated like SHIT again and again. I mean really. Wow. So when the rage gets too much and I want to demand answers from specific men and they’re frightened? All I can say is I’m frightened all the time – I live in a world where my chances of getting raped are statistically the same as men’s chances of being raped in jail…I live every day with the fear that you would live with if you were put in jail tonight. It may not be fair to turn it back on you and say ‘I’m angry and what are you doing’ but it’s all I’ve got, it’s how I feel at times and to expect me not to ever talk about it seems to play back into these stupid movies ideas about women: good women shut the fuck up and make everything always completely comfortable for the men in their life.
At least if I air it I know I haven’t shut my mouth so that I get seen as the ‘unusual’ good girl, the easy woman, the ‘exception’ to the rule.