If Women Like It, It Must Be Stupid

by Melissa Silverstein on August 4, 2010

in Actresses,Movies,Sexism

That is the title of the accompanying piece that talks to best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert in this week’s Entertainment Weekly which has Julia Roberts and Eat Pray Love on the cover.

That sentence is literally the bane of my existence.  Many times (ok, most times) I feel that this is my exact perception of how Hollywood feels about women.

And we all know it’s not just movies.  I think it may even be worse in the book world which continues to perpetuate women’s work as chick lit and men’s work as literature.  Just ask best-selling author Jennifer Weiner.

As EWsays:

When women rally around something in pop culture, it isn’t long before the objects of their affection are loudly trivialized or dismissed.

It’s not that I totally mind the term anymore.  I’ve come to realize that it is here to stay and that what we need to do is make people understand that just because something is painted with the “chick” brush whether it is a book a film or any other medium it does not make it “less than.”

That’s the part the bothers me.  Why is it that things that appeal to women are made to seem trivial, stupid and less than?  Is it about the fact that large groups of women are embracing something?  Is it a fear that if enough women like something we’ll figure out how screwed we’ve been on so many issues that we will all just come together and revolt?  Pleeze.  Newflash – we aren’t that organized.

Shit, we buy more books and see more films, yet stuff that appeals to women is constantly demeaned.  Aren’t our dollars as green as the guys?

I think the main point of the issue and the biggest problem is still that women go to see movies and read books that star men and men won’t and don’t do the reverse.   This has been going on at the movies for some time and it had created a girl ghetto especially at the big studio movies that are targeted at women.  So in order for the films to be successful they have to be really good (which we hope all movies are but know that many are not), or have built in audiences because only women are going to be in the theatres ala Twilight. The pressure is overwhelming.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s book has sold 8 million copies.  There are many women that LOVE the book, (you don’t sell 8 million copies of anything without some serious love) and lots of women who really don’t like the book (I’ve spoken to several of them.)  But even though there are mixed feelings on the book, people know about it, and people are really interested in seeing Julia be Julia again.

This “things women like are stupid” mantra is something people really need to be aware of and call people on so that the narrative loses its power.  I am also guilty of it.  Different people like different things.  Some women like different things than other women.  Some women like things that are different than men.   It shouldn’t make it less than, it’s just different, and difference is what should be embraced.

But guys really need to fucking get over the bullshit about not seeing movies that star women.  It’s just crap.  It’s retro.  The movies are not going to bite.  It’s just a movie.  Two hours will go by and you might actually enjoy yourself.

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Avb August 4, 2010 at 10:19 AM

Even rom coms are geared towards men and boys now. Just read today’s Dowd interview with author/film historian Sam Wasson: http://nyti.ms/bVfuxC

grrljock August 4, 2010 at 12:01 PM

Well, I’m on a one woman crusade to NOT watch movies about men! Seriously though, I find myself coming full circle in terms of the books I read, music I listen to, and movies I see. I started out preferring works by female artists, decided that I probably should widen my horizons, then realized that I really don’t like what’s offered in pop culture and am happy to go back to my mostly female artists diet. The key is, as you said, to keep reminding people (men AND women), dammit, that men’s experiences are not the default human experiences, and its corollary, that womens’ art (music, books, movies) encompasses multiple narratives from “Eat, Pray, Love” to “Zami: A New Spelling of My Name” to the riot grrls.

d August 4, 2010 at 12:51 PM

“Is it a fear that if enough women like something we’ll figure out how screwed we’ve been on so many issues that we will all just come together and revolt?”

Please, I wish we did! :) And I do agree that its worse in publishing, because unlike film, women are writing the majority of the books out now, yes? They are certainly reading the majority of them.

“I think the main point of the issue and the biggest problem is still that women go to see movies and read books that star men and men won’t and don’t do the reverse. ”

I don’t know if that is the case. What about Salt? I know two guys who both wanted to go see this film; it was THE WOMEN in their lives that did not. One pretty much exhorted his gf to go, and the other one may have actually had to go see it himself (I’ll have to check with him). Two people do not a study make, and I hope they were bizarre anomalies, but the numbers speak for themselves:, #2 after Inception, #3 after Schmucks? I would love to look at the numbers for Iron Man 2, since it seems like more women went to see that, and the cast had a similiar makeup except in Salt the woman actually leads the film. If all we support are rom-coms, then that is all we are going to get.

What are we looking for in films, and when I say we I don’t mean the women who frequent W&H: we probably do support a larger range of films. But what the populace at large? I hope Julia does well! And I’ve heard the author speak, and just from that alone, I want the film to make money. But if you have two films, with two lead stars who are not in their 20′s, and the romance does fabulously at the box office and the action film does ok, I can already see producers thinking “see, that is all women want to go to.”

I just think this issue is unfortunately more problematic and complicated than it appears, which sucks because that makes it all the harder to change.

Chris Evans August 4, 2010 at 5:37 PM

“I don’t know if that is the case.”

It certainly is, and has even been said by plenty of people that work in the business (studio execs, directors, etc.)

Why do you think so many women authors use ambiguous pseudonyms?

Katie Bowman August 4, 2010 at 8:04 PM

You know, there have always been more female audience members at the movies than males since the 20′s. We go to see male protagonists because we don’t have many other choices available to us. I think men would learn to enjoy watching movies featuring female protagonists if there were more of them.

Don’t forget that many of the Chinese films that are extremely successful in China and even America feature female protagonists. Men definitely flock to those movies and not all of them are martial arts films either.

Nell C. August 5, 2010 at 5:51 PM

I think part of the problem is that our standards for “quality” are outdated, and dominated by a patriarchal mindset. I don’t think we can expect movie goers to suddenly change their tune, just by becoming aware of a prejudice that’s built into the industry at every step, from a film’s production to its distribution and exhibition. Advertising for movies and critical reception of movies often backs up the negative stereotypes about “chick flicks.” We’re brought up from day one to think girlie stuff simply isn’t as good, and it goes against our instincts to act otherwise.
Perhaps the place to start is with education. If we can accept more female-oriented books and movies into the cannon, maybe people will be more willing to enjoy girl movies in the present. For example, most of the books on high school reading lists are male coming-of-age stories. My feeling is that education reform is the place to start. If we legitimize the feminine voice in a formal environment, then leisure will follow. We might never see a day when a book like “Eat Pray Love” or a movie like “Twilight” is given the same credit as their masculine counterparts, but maybe the next generation can.

Mary August 6, 2010 at 8:21 AM

I also think part of the issue is one of quality. While I think many of the movies geared toward women are of high quality but with low box office sales, I do not think the same is true of fiction. I have found modern women writers to be formulaic and didactic. Men behave badly and women rise to the challenge and find their inner strength. I would love to see more women authors move outside the “women’s issues” box and write a great novel akin to George Eliot or Edith Wharton.

ComicBookGoddess August 6, 2010 at 11:25 AM

I think it’s likely as described in Chapter 10 of “They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War” by Deanne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook. Their research suggested that the marginalization of reports of women in the Civil War (which did not begin until most of their contemporaries died) was a social reaction to the social liberation of women.
In other words, yes, women have a ton of money and freedom now, and it scares something in people that don’t understand, so they have to ridicule women’s choices so that they seem less threatening.

grrljock August 6, 2010 at 11:30 AM

Mary, I disagree; in books we have the same problem as movies. Plenty of women write literature (as a subset of fiction or non-fiction), we just don’t hear about them, i.e., these authors are not promoted as the next Philip Roth (blech). So, just as we see Meryl Streep pop up everywhere on the big screen, we hear about Margaret Atwood, or Joyce Carol Oates, or Joan Didion. Of course these women deserve the accolades, but we need to remind people that women’s talent pool runs deep. We need to stop limiting ourselves to these “safe” authors, and to stop accepting that women can only write about “women’s issues”–as if women’s issues are not human issues.

The Carpathian August 6, 2010 at 12:56 PM

Films aimed at men usually feature exploding cars, exploding buildings, a hard-bodied hero who absorbs more physical punishment than is medically possible, a spandex clad woman with surgically enhanced chest who rarely advances the already slim story line and a script which is filled with lack of character development. Come on, in what alternate reality does everyone — except for the big-chested bimbo — have access to machine guns, rocket launchers and explosives so that they can take out the bad buys or stop a full-on zombie invasion?

Oh, and lets not forget the lingerie clad co-eds in danger movies. I don’t think there is enough sarcasm in the world to adequately describe the viewers of these epic low-budget films.

On the other hand, films aimed at women flow in a wordy circle of revelations and angst with flashbacks to obscure, yet relevant, occurrences in earlier life until the main character “finds herself” and her inner peace/strength and all the characters have a good cry, a cup of coffee and biscotti. Everyone then goes home to an enlightened future free of the problems that grind us all into the dust.

I can’t remember the last time a month-long trip to Tuscany or a road trip through Europe or Asia failed to resolve everything. Except, of course, where you are going to earn an income once you get back home to a job you’ve abandoned. Oops, I forgot, everyone in these films is a writer, artist or other vagabond soul who needs no employer because they are so financially well off that money is of no concern.

Ahhh reality. Just as bad as the other side of the coin where men’s “action films” live.

A new exception to the “chick flick” genre are the vampire movies where a mega-stud ultra horney vampire and a nubile yong woman experience dangerous supernatural and paranormal
adventures — punctuated with all-night-long experimental sex that should be awarded an XXXX rating. Violence and mayhem are all right since you know it will end in front of the fireplace with a glass of wine and a night of non-stop romantic sex.

Of course, women find it “romantic” because the mega-stud has “grown in his self awareness and love of this young woman.” Otherwise, it would just be porn.

Hollywoiod needs to end the stereotypes it currently promotes and actually try intelligent writing with realistic action and emotional involvement — without resorting to spandex and vampires. Surely the major studios are not totally devoid of the ability to do something intelligent. And if they arent, then FIND someone who can.

Bottom line: it doesn’t have to appeal to women to be stupid. With RARE exception, just about EVERY new film these days is monumentally stupid. Brain dead “entertainment” exists on both sides of the sexual fence.

’nuff said

Joe August 6, 2010 at 2:37 PM

Well, in regards to the movie, it actually looks good. The cinematography looks dazzling and the cast is top-notch. Also, I’m a huge Julia Roberts fan. But don’t ask me to read the book. I’ve tried three times, and the writing, I’m sorry to say, was terrible. I expected better from a premise built on an uplifting journey of self-discovery, and all that. Gilbert is no Lahiri, that’s for sure. As for Jennifer Weiner, now, there’s a writer. I had some problems with the adaptation of “In Her Shoes”, but it’s nice that Curtis Hanson took on the project.

greek chorus August 6, 2010 at 3:44 PM

I, too, avoid any entertainment genres that’s just about men. Rare exceptions are some intelligent war movies where the soldiers are men only.

I also avoid movies about women — but created by men (Almovador, for example, likes to make movies with titles invoking the female gender, not as an independant female, but one that comes from being associated with the male — e.g. as mothe or as wife. Well, his films may have female invoking titles, but are really about the man, who is the center of attention of mothers and wives.)

There are exceptions, of course. A rare and laudable exception is Stieg Larsson, author of the tatooed girl trilogy. SALT may be maybe another exception. But I will withhold comment till after I’ve seen it. Another exception would be the films by a master director who specializes in movies about women, such as George Cukor, Mizougouchi or Von Sternberg, for example. Unlike the roles assigned them by Almavodor, masters like Cukor and Mizougouchi have their women protagonists play all the female roles under the sky — as lover, as ghost, as geisha, good twins, bad twins, only once in a while, they could be a mother or wife.

In other words, the word “feminist” does not just signify an enlightened woman. It is applicable to some exceptional men.

TeeGee August 8, 2010 at 6:29 PM

Seems a lot like excuse-finding, for me. I am a man that can choose to watch (and even enjoy!) my share of chick-branded fare, like The Notebook, and stories that’s supposed to be man-stupid-enjoyable I can, and often, loathe. I hated Knocked Up, and at least half of everything made by Judd Apatow.

With Hollywood, it’s all about the flattery of the audience. If you can tell a story that makes even the dumbest audience member feel clever and smart, then you might have a recipe for box-office success (Salt, Inception, etc.). The easiest path to the audience is by flattering them and pandering to them. EPL is merely the latest refinement on that formula.

So, as a man, should I be upset that through that pandering formula, any comedy I am supposed to like is crass, profane, gross, and has more pot references than an Amsterdam coffee shop menu?

Frankly, EPL is not garbage because it’s from a woman’s perspective. It is garbage precisely because if a man would take the same path as Ms. Gilbert, he would be just as insipid, shallow, and self-indulgent.

The road to enlightenment apparently is not just excess, it’s the finances with which to budget a year’s worth of excesses.

Matthew Graybosch August 13, 2010 at 8:30 PM

If you want me to see a movie starring a woman, pick a better one than Eat, Pray, Love. I’m not interested in watching Julia Roberts portray a divorced yuppie who undertakes a spree of self-indulgence and conspicuous consumption masquerading as a spiritual journey.

Ann August 19, 2010 at 10:43 PM

It’s good ole’ fashioned simple sexism, folks. Just ’cause we got lady senators, cabinet members, CEOs and Alaskan half-term idiot governors does not mean we are truly in a post-feminist world…jes sayin’.

skysenshi August 23, 2010 at 10:41 PM

I could name a hundred stupid things that men like and many of them are very unproductive. When I used to run an adult anime site, I’ve seen the most depraved things that men like.

MNP August 30, 2010 at 1:04 AM

What can I say? I find E.P.L. self-indulgent narcissistic WASP-y claptrap. And can anyone dispute that Twilight is one of the stupidest things trees have ever been killed to support? I argue that these things while popular, are foolish indeed.

On the other hand, the main character of Nahoko Uehashi’s Guardian series, Balsa, is an extremely compelling character for all the books are young-adult. (For the uninitiated, Uehashi and Balsa are both women). So rest assured I am not making the headline assumption.

In fact, recently, I came to the realization that I prefer female protagonists because it’s not as socially awkward for them to express the entire gamut of emotions. Even for someone like myself, a male taught by his mother to both express emotion and talk about it freely (my wife is quite happy about this!) reading or watching a man expressing certain emotions is awkward in a way I don’t feel expressing them myself.

JB December 26, 2010 at 2:23 AM

“Is it about the fact that large groups of PEOPLE are embracing something?”

Fixed it for you.

The average person is stupid. Much dumber than you give them credit for. If hundreds of them are in line with me for the same movie, I’m in the wrong line. The problem is that it bothers women that women make stupid movies/books/music. Men make stupid media, too, it just gets enjoyed for what it is, and doesn’t care that it never enters the scholarly pantheon as great art. Die Hard is a very male centric movie that should demand credit as a genre defining movie and the de-facto introduction of an everyman character into the hero-story style of cinema. However, it’s a blockbuster action movie, and will never be recognized as a “Masterpiece” alongside Kurosawa and Lang. Note that this doesn’t bother men.

Yes, your "interests" R silly December 1, 2011 at 6:28 AM

“Why is it that things that appeal to women are made to seem trivial, stupid and less than?

Because the things the majority of women find attractive ARE stupid. Incredibly stupid. You named one yourself: Twilight.Babies, weaves, going out with much older guys, earning less money in the workforce & blaming it on men when it was maternaty leave that set you back. Yes, women’s interests are silly at best.

Enjoy Twilight Saga:Breaking Dawn Part 1!

You know 90% of you commenting here have already lined Stephenie Meyer’s pockets with millions.

YOU ARE SILLY.

Guest April 16, 2012 at 12:01 AM

I dunno. I think a lot of feminists are going overboard with the assertion that to be taken seriously, they/we need to make “serious” art. Lighthearted or romantic + female = stupid? Maybe this is just the immature teenager in me (and while I am still a teenager myself, I don’t think I’m as immature as many of my Kardashian-obsessed peers), but all that “Color Purple”/”Sophie’s Choice” epic-social-issues stuff makes me nauseous. It’s pure shock value and attention-grabbing, IMHO, and I for one, don’t like it. Not everything that’s “women’s issues” absolutely has to be about burqas, the politicization of uteri, and slave-era r@pe narratives… great Goonies, where’s Cyndi Lauper when you really need her to chime in? Girls do want to have fun, you know!

Nothing stupid about smart and funny; just ask Chelsea Handler or (Oscar winner!) Diablo Cody. Sure, Chelsea tells dirty jokes and Diablo got her “big break” writing a sex blog about her days as a stripper, but they’re the ones laughing all the way to the bank. I haven’t read Twilight or seen/read “Eat, Pray, Love,” so I can’t comment on either of these particular items either way. I will argue that Twilight does have an interesting premise — Romeo & Juliet with the added twist that Romeo is already dead — but I don’t think the dismissal of Twilight is so much that it’s geared towards a female audience but the subcategory of age group that matters. You know, though, teenage girls were the primary audience that bought Elvis’ and the Beatles’ “stupid” records back in the day… Not saying Justin Bieber is the modern-day equivalent, but that not everything “light” or “fluff” that women gravitate towards is necessarily detrimental to women’s culture or “stupid.”

Now where’s my copy of “She’s So Unusual” so that I can go have some fun? :-)

Guest April 16, 2012 at 12:10 AM

Oh, and by the way, Die Hard *is* a “stupid” movie but I love Die Hard. I love action flicks and ’80s sex-romp teen comedies, all the stuff we’re supposed to be protesting against because it fosters a bad image of women in the movies? I guess I’m not as “girl-power” as I ought to be because I know of people who won’t even watch the movie because Bonnie Bedelia ends up back with Bruce Willis at the end, back in the SAHM role with no job (because her office got asploded by Severus Snape and his crew of brownshirts) and even retakes her husband’s surname.

Darwin H. Christ, I tell them, it’s a movie. A Bruce Willis movie at that, so don’t expect any lofty sociopolitical diatribes or experimental avant-garde theater. (And yippie-kai-yay with a vengeance.) :-D

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