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PORTSIDE  May 2012, Week 2

PORTSIDE May 2012, Week 2

Subject:

A Superhero for the Ladies

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Date:

Fri, 11 May 2012 23:36:02 -0400

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A Superhero for the Ladies

     The Avengers is wildly successful in part because
     it acknowledges women have brains--and are
     watching.

By Sady Doyle
May 10, 2012
In These Times
http://inthesetimes.com/article/13196/a_superhero_for_the_ladies/

So it turns out women do like movies about violence. And
they're showing up in massive numbers to see this
particular violent movie. Why?

If you saw The Avengers last weekend, then you saw many
mind-blowing special effects. Flying aircraft carriers,
giant robot snakes, etc. But the film's most impressive
special effect has gone largely unnoticed. It's this:
The Avengers presents us with a vision of Scarlett
Johansson in a skin-tight leather catsuit, and then
convinces us that the most interesting thing about her
is what she's thinking.

With The Avengers becoming this summer's (or this
year's) must-see movie, we are being treated to lots of
op-eds on why it's not for girls. The problem is, those
pieces don't have much to do with The Avengers, which, I
would argue, has been successful in part by playing to
women.

For an example of the punditry I'm talking about, take
Moviefone's excruciating "One Girl's Guide to The
Avengers": "As your boyfriend probably told you, The
Avengers is hitting theaters this Friday. But you hate
action movies and you've never even read a comic book."
At this point, given that "you" are apparently a
character in a tampon commercial, you expect to start
hearing about how much more confident you'll feel on
your date, due to increased absorbency. But, no: The
piece promises "cocktail introductions a la `Bridget
Jones's Diary.'" Yikes.

At Salon, Andrew O'Hehir takes a more pro-feminist
approach, bemoaning the sexism of summer movie season:
He says that most big "tentpole" movies are aimed
squarely at young men, that movies for women earn less
critical respect than movies for men, and that Hollywood
is sexist. All of this is generally correct. But
specifically, O'Hehir goes on to say that The Avengers
is more or less identical to Transformers and predict
that "a large majority of [the movie's] ticket buyers
will be teenage boys and young men."

And yet, exit polls showed that the people who saw The
Avengers were "50% over age 25 and 50% under 25, while
60% were male and 40% female." That's a male majority,
but a slim one. And according to a Fandango poll, The
Avengers was the most anticipated summer movie for men,
and second-most anticipated for women. The only movie
women wanted to see more was Snow White and the
Huntsman, another action movie, but with a female lead.

So it turns out women do like movies about violence.
(See also: The Hunger Games.) And they're showing up in
massive numbers to see this particular violent movie.
Why?

I didn't see The Avengers because of its premise or its
stars. (Beyond Johansson, it also features Robert Downey
Jr., Chris Evans and Mark Ruffalo.) I went-as I suspect
many women did-because it was written and directed by
Joss Whedon. Not surprisingly, the guy who's famous for
writing Buffy the Vampire Slayer, an overtly feminist
drama about a teenage girl with superpowers, has a huge
female fanbase.

Directors do matter, even with huge movies. For example,
Jon Favreau, executive producer of The Avengers, made
his name on Swingers, a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the
sort of guys we tactfully refer to as "bros." (Less
tactfully, and more correctly, we call them "sexists.")
Accordingly, his Iron Man (2008) is a wish-fulfillment
fantasy for bros: booze, boobs, wads of cash, and
Gwyneth Paltrow as a shrill, nagging girlfriend who
won't let her man have fun. Favreau's version of Black
Widow, seen in Iron Man 2 (2010), existed largely to
make doe eyes at men, obey orders from men and take her
clothes off in front of men. Any woman who could sit
through it deserves a refund and a Purple Heart.

But for The Avengers, Marvel went with Whedon, a man who
spends his spare time scripting benefits for Equality
Now. He fought the studio to have Johansson included,
specifically because he didn't want an all-male cast. He
cast TV actress Cobie Smulders to avoid having only one
female character, and let Smulders, rather than any of
the burly famous guys, star in the movie's first big
action sequence.

And, most impressively, once he'd cast some female
actors, he actually bothered to write characters for
them. He gave Black Widow a backstory, a personality,
and more screen time than many characters who had their
own movies. He managed to transform her from a vacant
sex object into a compelling character whose primary
weapon is her intelligence. And she never once takes off
her clothes. I shouldn't have to be grateful for this,
but in a post-Favreau world, I am: A male director
bothered to write a female superhero who was interesting
for reasons other than cup size. It's almost as if
ridiculous power fantasies weren't exclusively male!

Granted: None of this translates immediately to the
outsiders who see the sexist posters. But it translates,
hopefully, to word-of-mouth (the evangelical fervor of
Whedon fans is already a factor in this movie's
ubiquity) and repeat viewings, particularly for smart
women who don't mind goofy action. We do see these
movies, and we can like them. And we can make studios a
lot of money by telling our friends that we like them.
All a director has to do is follow in Whedon's
footsteps: Prove to female viewers that you know we're
in the audience, and that you care whether we're having
fun.

ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Sady Doyle is an In These Times Staff Writer. She's also
an award-winning social media activist and the founder
of the anti-sexist blog Tiger Beatdown
(tigerbeatdown.com).

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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