Please Stop Assuming Every Single Thing Is Sexist
Hey, friends, foes, and Internet!
I’m a feminist. It doesn’t make any sense why somebody would live their life with an mindset that could even remotely be described as ‘anti-feminist.’ In fact, those people are kind of funny to me. Cultural artifacts of unqualified American masculinity that are largely based on devaluing women in subtle or not subtle ways, like James Bond, Axe body spray, or most Owen Wilson movies, are so boneheaded they verge on self-parody. To not be a feminist is probably the most retarded thing I can think of.
But something that’s bothered me lately is the idea that feminism is a sport, where feminism points are received per the number of times an argument is made that something is sexist. Coincidentally (not coincidentally), these arguments seem to pop up more often in the face of cultural crazes. And it’s certainly a virtue that a feminist perspective is brought into the national conversation (whatever that is) as often as possible. It’s best that the messages sent by our popular culture are frequently questioned, lest we regress as a culture.
But there’s a difference between having a feminist perspective on an issue and approaching everything with the goal of finding its hidden sexism. The two are confused more and more often. I don’t think anyone would knowingly fabricate accusations of sexism that they make, or be dishonest in a feminist critique. But it’s become annoyingly commonplace to dismiss a movie, a TV show, a book, a trend, etc., as being inherently, irredeemably sexist, as if such dismissal automatically gives one’s feminist identity cred.
It’s counterproductive, and it strikes a nerve. Every time I hear somebody write off something like “The Daily Show” or “The Social Network” as ragingly misogynistic, I don’t think they realize that they are indirectly implicating me, or the millions of people who generally think progressively but don’t see what they’re seeing, in that accusation. How would these accusers feel if people they otherwise respect made no hesitation to callously tell them that the things they enjoy are racist? Or anti-Semitic?
Accusing anything or anyone of sexism is just as delicate a subject, and should be treated with much more restraint and thoughtfulness than is often displayed. Entering into an argument trying to “prove” the sexist intent of a movie or TV show’s creators is not a noble goal. Discussion, on the other hand, is constructive and important, but only with a mutual respect of both parties, and not a distrust of anyone’s intentions.
A side note on “The Social Network”: Most of the women are not depicted well, and Sorkin wasn’t particularly deft in his handling of Colbert’s question on the matter. (Also, I think we saw Stephen Colbert best Aaron Sorkin, which is kind of mind blowing for me, but that’s another blog post for inside my brain some other time.) It seems like many of the people decrying the movie as sexist only point to the fact that some women in the movie are portrayed as overtly fetishized and objectified. But if their portrayal was titillating, then Sorkin and Fincher achieved their goal.
The women at the Phoenix party doing body shots and dancing on tables, intercut with Zuckerberg coding Facemash, only serve as a counterpoint to what Mark felt like he was missing out on: a sexy, social, exclusive atmosphere. At the party, the men were smarmy yuppies and the women were sultry party girls. Nobody comes off well. It’s a college party in a movie — would it have been preferable to cut to a more realistic, but hardly cinematic or even remotely interesting, college party? The movie’s Zuckerberg lives in a world of heightened stakes and dramatic panache.
So does Eduardo, who finds himself getting what he thinks he wants: a successful company and a hot Asian girlfriend. (Anyone who thinks that CS guys preferring Asian girls is serving the filmmakers’ sexist/racist agenda has clearly never met a CS major.) And, surprise surprise, both of them quickly unravel. Sure, he could have broken up with his girlfriend because they just didn’t click, but how interesting would that have been? And it wouldn’t have punctuated his relationship with Zuckerberg at all, which is why she exists in the movie to begin with, starting when he and Mark share bathroom sex with the Asian girls, followed by the excited squeal of, “We have groupies!” Is this scene meant to debase the girls, or to reflect how Mark and Eduardo are immaturely qualifying their rise to success? They’ve already been seen in depositions and we already know their friendship has been severed, so it probably doesn’t turn out well. And whenever more “groupies” show up in the film, they’re there to underscore the deepening chasm to which Mark and Eduardo are free falling, and in a mostly realistic way. Honestly, is it that much of a stretch to think that a teenage girl wouldn’t act like a flirtly, giggly mess if Justin Timberlake offered them hits out of a giant bong?
If I’m fundamentally missing anything, I’d love to hear why you think I’m wrong. Tweet me at @rossluippold or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org because this is a subject I’m genuinely interesting in discussing.
Until next time, bye, Internet!