My husband and I went to see Super 8 recently. We don’t go to the movies much right now; Netflix on Demand and Redbox are so much more affordable. But we had planned a date night, and we picked this movie as one we thought we really should see in the theater. Both of us enjoyed it. It made me jump and scream a few times, which is definitely something I look for in a supernatural movie. I was mentally prepared for what a Spielberg/Abrams movie would probably be like, and it was indeed exactly what you would expect a Spielberg/Abrams movie to be like.
My husband, however, found himself nagged for several days (actually going on weeks now) by a lingering digust with the film’s patriarchal slant. He first brought it up to me the day after we saw the movie and asked if I agreed, and I replied, “Of course. But it’s a Spielberg alien movie. What did you expect?” He continued to feel upset, listing elements like the mother literally dying because she went to work outside the home, the absence of mothers for many of the other children, and the ultimate message that only if the Father can recognize his responsibilities and do his job well will civilization be saved.
I responded, “But you’ve seen ET. You know this is what he does. Remember the final moment of the spaceship taking off, when Keyman takes the mother’s hand? You have the perfect image of the family being restored and you realize that the father’s absence was the problem all along.” He continued to feel upset, listing elements like the boy being required to give up his mother’s necklace even when other pieces of metal were left behind, the boy replacing his mother with the young girl who can apparently now play the role of mother/wife, and the structural connection between a breakdown in the patriarchy and an alien invasion. He asked if it didn’t bother me.
I remember when I first starting thinking about feminism, the way I suddenly saw everything in a new light and was enraged by the overt sexism apparent everywhere in our culture, from the false ideal of beauty in film, TV, and advertising, to the limited and stereotypical roles for women on stage and in film, to narratives that ever so subtly or not reinforce that women, in and of themselves, as human beings, are simply not that important. At the time I was baffled that people could get away with it, and the fact that they did made me even more angry.
Doesn’t it still bother me? Of course it does. But this is the art and entertainment that comes out of a patriarchal culture; this is not an unusual movie in any way, it is the kind of thing we see and hear around us all the time. And it bothers me every day all the time. But I’m really not surprised anymore, and that tempers the anger. The knowledge that were I to get genuinely angry about every single one of these slights I’d be angry all the time also tempers the anger. Times would be rare when I could enjoy a mainstream Hollywood movie.
I’m actually very happy that my husband has these experiences sometimes. Not that I wish him any emotional pain, but it makes me feel like all the stuff I endlessly say about the representation of women, sex, and gender, has really sunk in with at least one person, and that makes me think maybe it sinks in with even more people than that. My guess is that as he continues to see the signs and symbols of patriarchy everywhere, he will be less surprised and, eventually, less angry.
Which leads me to my question – how much anger is necessary for activism? Do we need anger to fuel a fight against injustice, or can we find the resources somewhere else, faith, for instance, in what we’re doing, hope that we’re making a difference, or love of the human beings being most hurt by oppression?
I get a weekly email from the National Partnership for Women and Families that provides links to 10 news stories from the week that might be of particular interest to women. Every time I have to ask myself, “Do you really want to read these?” Sometimes I can’t read any of them. I know that the news in them will upset me, and I guess you could say I try to be careful how I choose to spend my emotions.
For today at least (which is about as far out as I can budget in advance, emotion-wise), I’m going to focus on the positive. Here’s to more jobless-recovery nights in the company of my husband and Netflix, and to more movies that don’t minimize women’s contributions to the world.