Saturday, 29 December 2012

Is it OK to enjoy sexist films?

Over Christmas I’ve been watching lots of non-strenuous films, the kind that if you nip out to top up your drink and reheat the Christmas pudding, it won’t be much of a challenge to work out what you missed. It’s a great feeling, when all the present wrapping and turkey cooking is over, with a new collection of still-cellophaned DVDs and a few days of dedicating myself to eating and watching.

Here I go, harking back to a time when men were rugged and go-getting, tracking down criminals and chasing people about in fast cars, and women had little to worry about other than looking good in evening dress. Ah, happy days. Hang on a minute...

How do I reconcile my love of these films, and their devilishly attractive yet hopelessly sexist men, with my feminist principles?

Silly girls

Women in so many films look nice, but are mainly pointless. Think Willie (Kate Capshaw) in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, pictured with the lovely Harrison Ford. She is constantly tripping over things in her inappropriate footwear, needing rescuing from animals and being squeamish. There really are a lot of women like this in films.

How many pre-1990 film actresses does it take to change a lightbulb? Just the one to wiggle her bottom until a man turns up to get the job done.

Scary girls

Another film I watched this Christmas was Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat, Kill! Kill! If you don’t know Meyer, his hallmark is sexploitation with big breasts. I bought my husband a box set for Christmas.

This particular film (which is very badly acted), is both pro and anti-feminist. It features vicious women who get their kicks from fighting and killing. They are free and independent, using men only as sex objects and to prove their own superiority. So far so feminist. But Meyer's women are clearly (and infamously) chosen for their figures, most notably their enormous breasts. What the whole adds up to is a big fighty-feisty-girl-breast-fest. Fun though. 

Bond girls

Then there’s the compulsory Christmas Bond film.

In old-style Bond, the Connery and Moore school, women are usually pretty helpless (pretty and helpless) and invariably end up running about in a bikini, getting themselves and the hero into scrapes, but being forgiven because they're so darn attractive.

The women in new-style Bond, Brosnan and Craig, still spend a lot of time in bikinis but tend to be more useful (think Halle Berry in Die Another Day, although she does still need rescuing at the end, but what's a girl to do when she's trapped in a palace made of ice?).

They may be picked so that they look good in swimwear, but then so is James Bond, so I’m not about to complain about that. In The World is Not Enough they even allow a woman to be really clever (Denise Richards), although they ruin it by calling her Dr Christmas Jones. 

Redressing the balance

I’m glad that films are slowly redressing the balance when it comes to sexism, but that doesn’t help me reconcile my love of sexist flicks featuring men of action with my theoretical dislike of their portrayal of women. The later Bond films have proven that you really don't have to show women being hopeless to show men at their best, but it took a long time for Hollywood to figure that out.

When I ask myself what I would change about the women and men in these films, the answer is nothing. I love them too much as they are. What do you do?

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