Thoughtful comment on gender and politics

‘Not my daughter you bitch’

I went to see the new Harry Potter film the other night and it wasn’t the special effects or the twists in the plot that blew me away. It was that when Mrs. Weasely exploded  Bellatrix into a cloud of ash with a swish of her wand shouting ‘Not my daughter you bitch’, the group of teenagers in the back row burst into applause.It’s not often that you hear a group of teenagers cheering on a middle-aged mother… in fact, I think I had a pretty unique experience. One could say that their excitement was testament to the huge affection that many feel for the Harry Potter series and the Weasely family in particular.

But the week before I went to see Bridesmaids, which is currently raking in box office takings as well as column inches. I don’t normally go in for this kind of film and I have to admit that I only made the trip when it was given high praise on Radio 4. After listening to a lengthy intellectual debate about the film’s feminism, whether women could do this kind of humour as well as men, and if it was acceptable that the main character’s empowerment came from the traditional 50s pursuit of baking cupcakes, I felt I couldn’t miss it. I loved every minute of this comic masterpiece and genuinely found it laugh out loud funny: the rest of the cinema-goers clearly felt the same. I feel I should pay a special mention at this point to the actor Melissa McCarthy, who is truly a comic genius. If you saw her in Gilmore Girls you’ll know that this woman’s range is more elastic than a pair of M&S knickers, and that’s something that can’t be said about many actors.  My conclusion was that the film’s feminist credentials remained intact, cupcakes or not.

The response to Bridesmaids shows that I’m not alone; many people enjoy seeing women in comic roles… and in many other roles in fact. Films which give women substantive characters do very well (Calendar Girls, Juno, The Kids are Alright to name a few of my favourites); and yet these films rarely get made. On another recent trip to the cinema I saw the Adjustment Bureau. I sat through the whole thing thinking ‘where are the women?’ Maybe this was because I was incredibly bored, or because I’m a feminist, but the only female character is Matt Damon’s love interest played by Emily Blunt who was pretty but didn’t have much to do. Furthermore, all of the ‘planners’ that decided on the paths of peoples’ lives and *spoiler* finally agreed to let Matt and Emily live happily ever after were men. Who made that decision? Was it a decision or a fait accompli? Either way, a few female characters might have helped anchor this very fictional film into something believable.

When women are given proper characters in films they are as exciting, interesting and compelling as men. And because women are as rare in films as they are in boardrooms, when they do appear they provoke debate and media coverage, which ultimately gets bums on cinema seats.  So why are women still seen as the riskier bet in cinema?

3 Responses to “‘Not my daughter you bitch’”

  1. Nina

    I find it really sad when films like Bridesmaids are packaged up as as “women’s” films. Firstly, because this suggests that a film targeted to 50% of the population would still somehow count as niche, and secondly because most of the men I’ve spoken to have enjoyed it just as much as the girls.
    On the other hand, most blockbusters that are regarded as mainstream (rather than targeted at one sex or another) just chuck in one, supporting, female character.
    You only have to look at the massive pay differentials between the highest earning men and women in Hollywood to realise that the blokes are the protagonists in most films.

    Reply
  2. Sue Boudreau

    I’m also interested in the cheering around the word ‘bitch’ by women and girls. This word and ‘slut’ are used like an extra sting in any slap by women against women as well as being used as a weapon by men. What to do about this?

    Reply
  3. felicitydennistoun

    Now that’s a tough one. Some women have tried to reclaim the word ‘slut’ through events like SlutWalk. But the double standard still sticks: she’s a slut, while he’s a player. The word I’d like to see reclaimed is feminism. It saddens me that women feel alienated by the one label that empowers us to claim equal rights and equal opportunity.

    Reply

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