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May 03 2012

"The Avengers" and Hollywood's gender wars. A writer at Salon argues that summer blockbusters like the Avengers are aimed squarely at young men, while women are supposed to be satisfied with the mid-budget, low-prestige romantic comedies made on the Hollywood margins.

One quote that I strongly disagreed with was that "The Avengers will make a kazillion dollars, and so did "Transformers: Dark of the Moon." The differences between the two are mostly a matter of fine-grained detail; they've both got cartoonish male bonding, a lot of stuff blowing up, and hot-chick eye candy."

My kingdom for an article about gender inequality and big budget movies that actually demonstrates a sound understanding of both of those things and the cultural space where they interact.
I disagree with a lot of this. If you rail against Hollywood making mediocre romantic comedies that pander to the female demographic, encourage the female demographic to stop watching them. Studios make these movies because they can make money. "27 Dresses" had a production budget of $30 million and made more than $77 million. No one forced people to see it.

I also disagree with how the author lumps these movies together. While it seems like “Battleship,” “The Dictator,” “Men in Black III,” “Prometheus,” “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” are all "boy movies"..it's just not true.

57% of the audience for "Batman Begins" was male. That means that nearly half of the audience was female. I don't think studios are ignoring or missing this. These movies have universal appeal. To categorize them as "boy movies" is really doing a disservice to women who are a savvy movie audience because they've chosen to watch movies about superheroes, aliens, and fictional tyrants...which, isn't that kind of a really good way to tell Hollywood, "hey, stop giving us these silly, superficial chick flick movies based on Nicholas Sparks novels. We like action movies, too."
The nominal lead of Prometheus is female, no? Much like the lead of all other movies in that franchise, in fact?

I hate articles like this. To me they all read like someone who doesn't like big summer tentpole movies, is all butthurt about it, so they have to make the fact that they exist at all and are popular a sign of institutional insert-your-ism and the rest of us just philistines.

How about, instead of mentioned "The Hunger Games" as a throwaway before proceeding deeper into his rant, this writer perhaps take a second to realize that "The Hunger Games" absolutely dismantles his theory and worldview in general? Second only to "Avatar" in terms of non-sequels, a freakin' March release, and, by his own admission, very much female oriented (although I always question that notion that a movie is oriented at this or that; I'm the biggest "Hunger Games" mark I know, having devoured movie, twice, and books, thrice over, in the month and a half since it came out).

When I go see "The Avengers" this weekend, it's not going to be cinematic sausage fest in the audience, and I daresay I'm not going to see a single set of restraints pinning the ladyfolk in their seats. Maybe the reason "The Avengers", and probably "Battleship", are going to outperform "What to Expect While You're Expecting" is because...

-- a lot more people in general want to see either of the former than the latter, gender aside?
-- movies aren't cheap, and preference will tend toward movies that indulge the format better?
-- you're more likely to be able to take the kids to the major blockbuster, and more likely to have to leave them alone, pay a sitter, or send them to their own movie to see the less visually enticing fare?

That's just without putting any thought whatsoever into it.
There's a difference between Avengers and Transformers that's a little more blatant than that. Joss writes female characters. Bay's movies features the two most misogynistic female stereotypes. Transformers 3 sexualized one female character to a horrifying extreme, and turned the other into a cold hard bitch - both of which engender rape culture. In Avengers, the females aren't sexualized or punished for lack of sexual appeal. Yeah, The Black Widow and Maria Hill are sexy, but they're also badass women who can hold their own. They serve a purpose BESIDES being eye candy. Yeah, Scarlett is WAY too hot for everyone not to check out. But that's by no fault of Whedon's; any objectification there falls entirely on the audience. It's not like that first character shot in Transformers 3 of the Victoria's Secret model's ass and theighs, prancing up the stairs in panties.

And for the record, I'm a girl and I enjoy male bonding and stuff blowing up. The Avengers isn't geared towards males, because it isn't fundamentally about the male-heavy superhero team, or the action or the violence, but about the group dynamics and the characters coming together to save the world.

[ edited by WhatsAStevedore on 2012-05-03 02:00 ]
Interesting you'd mention that the female lead of Transformers 3 (which I skipped) first appears prancing around in her panties. Yep, you'd never find that in a Joss Whedon joint :) I do recall Megan Fox's first appearance in Transformers 2, though, which was pretty gratuitous.

I find it curious that "Avengers" got mentioned in that briefly appearing list of "sexiest fights" -- you usually can't get on a list that features Bond vs. Xenia Onatopp and Mr. vs. Mrs. Smith without some blatant use of the sexy.

EDIT: I can't think of an ensemble superhero/action flick that isn't about the group coming together to save the world (it worked for the "X-Men" franchise pretty well, for instance) -- there is no need to distinguish "The Avengers" as though it's going to go out and reinvent the wheel this weekend. It's going to what has previously been done extraordinarily well. It's going to be the coming together and overcoming differences and it's also going to be a bunch of really attractive men and women blowing stuff up. It will be all these things, and that's actually perfectly okay.

[ edited by KingofCretins on 2012-05-03 02:04 ]
I always forget that, as a woman, I can't like action movies!! I agree with whatsastevedor about transformers.. That doesn't mean it represents every action movie. This reminds me of all the reviews telling mr that Scott Pilgrim was only for boys...
witch_kat, all that time spent in the kitchen does that :P
A few weeks ago, Fandango, the movie ticket selling website ran a survey among it's customers to see what movies they were anticipating the most this summer. Here is the results (from the Hollywood Reporter since Fandango breaks down the results on multiple pages).

They broke down the results among gender and for women the #1 movie was Snow White and the Huntsman but #2 movie was The Avengers. The Avengers ranked higher with men, but it's not like women were not interested in the movie.

That said, I just looked it up and Box Office Mojo reports that Iron Man 2 according to exit polling on the opening weekend had 60% male and 40% female audience. Which is quite male heavy, but at the same time not quite as female heavy as Twilight.

Hunger Games is brought up, yet it's not mentioned that the huge success of that movie is partly being able to appeal with male & females, younger & older crowd.
As a woman, I 100% prefer seeing action films to romantic comedies (or pretty much anything else) in theaters. If I'm paying for big screen, I want the film to make big screen worth it. Other stuff can wait for Netflix.

And with all the talk of guys wanting eye candy in the article, I thought it curious that there was no mention of how much eye candy the women get in The Avengers. Yeah, guys are more visual, but gals have more than half a dozen leading men to chose from in the film. Guys just have the Black Widow and Maria Hill.

Maybe I'm just atypical, though. Twilight and Sex in the City make me gag, and I choose to go to Transformers 3 for my birthday (hey, Alan Tudyk was in it!).
@KingofCretins: I assume that smiley face was for the first appearance of the female protagonist in "Cabin"?

Even there, we see the difference. While Bay is zoomed in and lingering on backsides, Joss & Drew are showing Dana packing academic books for the fun weekend getaway. Ten minutes later, it is up to Kurt to remind Dana (and the audience) that she isn't wearing pants.
What an idiotic article...which I'm hard pressed to find a central thesis for. And, did I just read this correctly or did he or did he not just claim that Twilight was a good 'female' oriented movie?! Sure, if you wanted young girls to grow up and then regress the feminist movement 30 years. Twilight does nothing but make girls think that having a man in their life is the height of self-actualization. I think Twilight will do more to ghetto-ize women than the Avengers.

This easy comparison of Avengers = Transformers is just irritating. It seems that critics who spout that line already had preconceptions about movies that aren't indie, and have already written their reviews before seeing the movie.

But, what's really infuriating is this easy slide into assumptionville: some movies are 'guy' movies...some movies are 'girl' movies...it's offensive to someone like me who wholly enjoyed movies like 'Ever After' and Titanic...and girls who like action movies.
About a gazillion years ago (okay, it was more like thirty years), I did my college senior paper on the "golden" age of Hollywood movies, the end of which is usually considered to be in the early 50's.

Research showed during the last years of that era that women were more accepting of all types of genre movies, whereas men preferred more action oriented movies. So, films started to be directed more toward men because women liked those types of films, also.

I'm a huge fan of Audrey Hepburn, Doris Day and Marilyn Monroe, but it's easy to see the difference between the roles they played and the parts of an older generation of actresses like Bette Davis, Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, Barbara Stanwyck, Claudette Colbert, Irene Dunne, et al.
As a man, while I enjoy action films, I long for better romantic comedies (particularly of the screwball variety, such as "The Awful Truth", "Bachelor Mother", "Ball Of Fire", "Bringing Up Baby", "Easy Living", "His Girl Friday", "It Happened One Night", "It's A Wonderful World", "The Lady Eve", "Nothing Sacred", "The Philadelphia Story" and "Sullivan's Travels"). I'd love to see Joss write and direct one with Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof as the leads.

[ edited by Barry Woodward on 2012-05-03 10:48 ]
No crap rom-coms for me, thank you. Not that big on explosions either, but give me some good character development in a SF or comic book movie, and I'll be right there. Okay, maybe an explosion.

BTW, Die Hard is my favourite Christmas movie.
The article gets a lot of things wrong (girls don't like comic books, superheros or action movies eh? UM those moves make almost tons and tons of money because women go to them as well as men) but it does get some things right: movie-makers ignore the female market because men are presumed not interested in female-oriented movies (the 4 quadrant tentpole has to draw in men) and often the movies aimed at women are terrible.

Which is just one of the reasons television is better artistically than movies today. Of the shows I watch regularly, three are headed by women (30 Rock, Parks and Rec, The Good Wife), some are ensemble casting (Community, Game of Thrones) and the some are headed by male leads (Breaking Bad, Justified). And of the shows I'm interested in getting into, Homeland and HBO's Girls, the former has a female lead and the latter is all about the ladies.

Then if you look at movies today, and well, as a women, I right now prefer action/comic book movies because the movies made for women are usually terrible. I can list maybe 15 great romantic comedies from the 40s off the top of my head, starring Barbara Stanwyck, Katharine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert, Carole Lombard, Rosalind Russell, Jean Arthur, Myrna Loy, etc. and yet am pressed to name one really great romcom from the last 25 years. If Hollywood made entertaining movies for women, I would watch them! They just don't.
Barry, The Awful Truth is my all-time favorite screwball comedy! Irene Dunne and Cary Grant had wonderful chemistry and comic timing.
This is essay length trolling it is.
"Clue" was based on a board game, and I think that turned out okay.
Agreement on the wonderfulness of Justified and The Good Wife.

The last chick flick I saw in a theater was Four Weddings and a Funeral, and only because someone else chose the movie. I'm not interested in movies that are mainly about the personal problems of the characters unless it's a period film. If it was made in an earlier period or made recently about an earlier period, I know I will at least take an interest in the costumes and the differences in language and mores.

I like historical films and crime stories. Some science fiction, some war films, some movies derived from comics. Not a big fan of actioners, but will watch them if they have another point of interest, such as an actor I like. Charlie Wilson's War was a good movie--politics, social observation and period interest. Anno 1790 from MHz International is my idea of a perfect TV series; it's a well researched political thriller and detective story set in Sweden just after the French Revolution.
dottikin wrote "girls don't like comic books, superheros or action movies eh?"

Of course girls don't like comic books, that's why a title like Young Romance ran for over 200 issues, because it only appealed to stereotypically male comic fans. And as always, it's good to see the media acknowledging that comics are a medium, as opposed to a single genre such as super-heroes.

Oh, wait.
Barry Woodward, Reddygirl, love love old screwball comedies. His Girl Friday is my favorite, and can I recommend one that's been somewhat forgotten even though it's completely amazing? Directed off a Preston Sturges script and starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray (before they starred in the classic Double Indemnity), it's called Remember the Night. I saw it on TCM after Robert Osborne introduced it as one of his favorites, and I've loved it ever since. It's a romantic comedy (Sturges was the modern forebear of Joss Whedon) and yet also sad and angsty. It's also on youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2b2GwpHxJhM
So all those very fit, muscular men in tight outfits aren't enough eyecandy to draw the women in that aren't already wanting to see it for the awesomeness of the movie?
Barry Woodward, dottikin, Reddygirl: Absi-tutely: His Girl Friday, The Philadelphia Story and Nothing Sacred are in my top ten Golden Age Hollywood movies.

They are sheer perfection, and bonus: helped form my notions (afternoon TV movie matinees as a child) of what a woman could be: smart, talented and feisty. They are so embedded in my psyche, I don't remember a time when I didn't know and love them.

(Of course I also like superhero movies: I like movies of almost every sort, except for the majority of horror films - oh, and I guess films about sports prolly leave me a little cold, too.

I started reading this article, but stopped, having found myself in agreement w/ Sunfire's devout wish at the top of these comments.)
Guys just have the Black Widow and Maria Hill.


and Gwyneth Paltrow in her denim shorts.

I noticed a lot of women in the film - while only three had significant dialogue (ok, five if you include the waitress and world councillor Jenny Agutter) - S.H.I.E.L.D. had lots of them working on the helicarrier and none of them were playing Galaga!

And surely we should all long for decent romantic comedies. dottikin, thanks for the link to Remember the Night - the same writing/directing combo made Easy Living (also mentioned above) which is one of my favourite films.
Given how expensive it is to go to the cinema these days, I'll only go if it's a film that I really want to see or that demands a big screen. This being the case, I only really go to the cinema to see Superhero or all out action films.

I'm not a fan of chick flicks, and the only time I've paid to see one at the cinema (apart from Bridesmaids) is when we went to see Scott Pilgrim and it was sold out. We saw The Switch and I was really annoyed at having spent £10 to sit through that! Of course my username doesn't make it obvious, but I am a girl (in mind if not in age).

Seeing Bringing Up Baby mentioned above made me wish we could have seen a Joss directed Katherine Hepburn film. Now there was a strong female character!
VicTopher, Joss + Barbara Stanwyck (who could do noir, comedy, women's pictures, Westerns, everything) is my personal Holy Grail.
I can't believe yet another person is declaring "a new reality in film for women". Bridesmaids and The Help were successful because they were good, and moviegoers went to see it because they heard they were good. The Hunger Games is part hype and part word of mouth (because it really is good). These female-centered pics have quality in common. That's why people go watch them. I've seen Hunger Games on a big screen. If it had been available to me, I'd have gone to see The Help too. Last time I checked, I still had a penis. I want to go see them because I hear good buzz about them. How is it that some people still think good word of mouth, good critiques aren't the biggest reason people go to see a movie? The perceived target audience is only relevant when you're marketing a movie that's not actually good and will therefore only appeal to a tiny piece of the market that's typically male or female. Or Gay. Or whatever. Good movies shine through all that.

Wasn't it The Bitter Scriptreader who had a little rant about the whole "oh, a new era in movies for women" thing around the time Bridesmaids came out?
Really confused by this article, I have no idea what the argument was or what the author was intending to get across.

I would have preferred to read an essay which says both men and women like action films because they are universally appealing and the only thing to say about gender is that Hollywood should try out some more female protagonists in them and let go of the idea that guys won't watch women leading an action film.

It's like the idea that boys won't read books with girl protagonists...it's like, well no they won't if you don't ever write kick ass books with girls in the lead but when people do they are read by both genders.

[ edited by digupherbones on 2012-05-03 12:26 ]
Another flaw in the article is the complaint that all the expensive summer blockbusters are action films and not "chick" flicks like rom-coms. But I thought that was the virtue of rom-coms: the budget can be held down since money doesn't have to be spent on FX or building elaborate strange sets.
I only went to see Bridesmaids and Date Night because my husband wanted to go.
I get what the writer is trying to say, though he did no favors by making sweeping generalizations about women not liking comic book or action movies.

In the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood, there were widely popular genres that appealed more directly to women: women's pictures, romantic comedies, musicals. There were also stereotypically male genres: Westerns, war movies, film noirs. There were great roles for women, which is why the female stars back in the day were really STARS. They could open and headline a movie; today, most major actresses in movies play girlfriends/wives or the leads in smaller, indie movies.

In 1939, which is often cited as the "best" year of Hollywood movies, two of the biggest movies were Gone With the Wind (still the highest grossing movie ever) and The Wizard of Oz... both movies that feature female leads and yet appealed to mass audiences.

The problem is that today's Hollywood devalues women as moviegoers because they'll go to male-oriented movies (duh!) but men won't go to female-oriented movies. That's the ASSUMPTION of many studio execs and it's translated to a dearth of quality romantic comedies, musicals, sensitive dramas (i.e. "women's fare") and an overload of action-y, violence-y movies.
Favorite modern romantic screwball comedy: What's Up, Doc?" (Barbra Streisand, a cast overflowing with comedy gold, and Madeline Kahn's first movie.)

Favorite novelist of female kickass protagonists: Jo Clayton, writer of SF with tons o' action, adventure, comedy, aliens and other cultures, space travel, world building, and the best heroines EVER. (The Skeen's Leap Trilogy and Shadowplay trilogy are my faves.)

*******

I (female) like GOOD movies. Action movies used to be my absolute favorite genre (saw Speed twice in the same day) but now I'm kind of all over the place.

Romantic comedies are the hardest genre to make well in Hollywood because, due to our current culture, there are no good strong reasons for anyone NOT to get together with someone else easily - which is the essence of a rom-com. At least not the way they are making them. Any of the still culturally significant reasons they avoid like the plague. Religious differences are still pretty big obstacles for some, as are race, and ethnic background (depending). making a good, modern romantic comedy in Hollywood would require delving into the midst of the still existing U.S. cultural elephants-in-the-room.

I think Gender Identification Wars might be the new thing. And it's us, the public, vs. the media/marketing machine that keeps trying to stuff us into boxes (like this article). I'm personally tired of feeling like I'm supposed to defend my enjoyment of traditionally female identified cultural aspects because it's regarded somehow as second class culture, while at the same time feeling like I've accidentally (and embarrassingly) stepped into the men's room of culture every time I like some traditionally identified male aspect.

You know, it's true that there are some biologically based leanings to our gender preferences on the grand human species scale. But, the culture around us is what molds us into a demographic.

ETA: a link and ETF: spelling of Madeline (Sorry, Ms. Kahn.)

[ edited by BreathesStory on 2012-05-03 14:14 ]
I remember back in high school going with another female friend to see 40 Days and 40 Nights. While there, we ran into a guy I dated and another male friend (I don't remember if it was before/during/after I dated him... I think before... Ok, looked up the release date and it was after). Anyway, he chastized us for being there - 'How can you come to this? It's totally a guy flick! It's got a sea of boobs in a dream sequence!' (on second thought it's clear that this happened after dating him, if it was before, I probably wouldn't have and if it was during, I can't imagine it would have lasted much longer >.<)

Anyway, any time this gender and movies BS comes up, this is what it makes me think of.
Dottikin - I'm a guy and I don't go to female oriented movies these days because they're mostly terrible. I loved the old rom-coms, like It Happened One Night, but the stuff they put out these days makes me gag. A former girlfriend made me watch Sleepless in Seattle - it was like being tortured to death. If Hollywood would make GOOD rom-coms, they could even get guys to go see them as well as women. Men used to go see the old movies mentioned by several people above, but that quality hasn't been seen in theatres in decades.
As a woman, I can't shake the feeling that I've just been insulted.
Dottikin - I'm a guy and I don't go to female oriented movies these days because they're mostly terrible. I loved the old rom-coms, like It Happened One Night, but the stuff they put out these days makes me gag.

Yeah, I think that's precisely what the article was trying to get at, unfortunately, it was hidden under layers of condescension and awkward stereotyping. Sigh.

I love musicals and romcoms, but I don't watch any modern ones if I can help it. The ones made in the 30s and 40s (and 50s MGM musicals too!) don't make one feel tortured to death. I think the last screen romantic comedy I really liked was Clueless. That was made in 1994? That was 16 years ago!
@msnpr I feel like that too.... Like they're saying there's something wrong with me because I own more action movies than sappy love stories that fill my head with idealised men who rarely exist in the real world.

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