Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sexism from Both Sides

I've been a devoted reader of The New Yorker since middle school, and I’ve been happy to note that the magazine has been riding a fantastic trend of articles focusing on women in the media.  But I’ve never been a fan of their film critics, who have a tendency to veer off subject.  In the magazine’s March 26th issue, critic David Denby veered off in the wrong direction. He scored double points in sexism for making stereotypical assumptions about “feminine” interests, then went on to inexplicably suggest women who are being barred from expressing their (totally un-ladylike) interests should be grateful for that glass ceiling. Because those interests actually suck! Allow my letter to the editor to explain:

In his critical review of John Carter, (link behind a paywall, grrr), the science fiction film, directed by Andrew Stanton, David Denby unwisely resorts to gender stereotyping in an apparent effort to compliment the tastes of women filmmakers.  Denby identifies Stanton’s childhood enjoyment of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom novels as representing a “male affliction,” adding “most women directors became obsessed with different books when they were little girls.”
The many women who love science fiction, action and fantasy, myself included, are tired of having to constantly declare our existence before the mainstream film industry.  It’s almost as fatiguing as having to defend our interests against accusations of pointless juvenility, a practice in which Mr. Denby also chooses to engage. I find it particularly troubling when Denby adds “Even if they [women directors] loved action and fantasy they don’t have enough clout to attract large sums, which may be just as well.”

I suppose Mr. Denby thinks women should consider themselves lucky that entrenched inequality in filmmaking is keeping them from making the movies he doesn’t find enjoyable, regardless of whether or not they want to make them. Perhaps he should consider the possibility that adding more women directors to the mix could strengthen the quality of the science fiction, fantasy, and action genres. I am no particular fan of Burroughs, and I believe John Carter is probably a bore, but I don’t believe Mr. Denby needs to resort to belittling my interests and stereotyping my gender in order to successfully review a film.

Ironically, I was already prepared to dislike John Carter because of some sexist things the director said wayback in November.  John Carter is based on A Princess of Mars, the first novel in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ turn of the century science fiction series. Explaining why he changed the title, Andrew Stanton explained, “I’d already changed it from A Princess of Mars to John Carter of Mars. I don’t like to get fixated on it, but I changed Princess of Mars…because not a single boy would go. And then the other truth is no girl would go to see John Carter of Mars. 

Yeah, you see, I’m a girl. I also like science fiction, especially Space Opera. Burroughs’ novels were some of the first examples of the Space Opera genre. So I was interested in seeing John Carter. Until Andrew Stanton told me I wasn’t. Because I’m a girl. It’s revealing that David Denby engaged in identical sexism while trashing the movie Stanton directed. Turns out it these guys can agree on one thing; stereotyping the interests of women is the way to go.

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