You may remember that I am the proud new owner of a PS Vita. My original review was written after only playing a few of the Augmented Reality games, a bit of Uncharted: Golden Abyss, and a few hours of Touch My Katamari. I lauded the machine in just about every aspect, and I still have no complaints.
There, I said it.
Some months back, watching the previews for Brave, I thought to myself, “Christ, another Dreamworks moneygrab.” I was shocked to learn that this is Pixar’s doing.
I’m a big Pixar fan: I was a boy when Toy Story came out and was hooked. I’ve watched most of their offerings and been blown away by most (Wall-E being one of my favourites). A lot of times when (bad looking) movies come out, they’re advertised as being “fun for the whole family”, and typically that’s code for “jokes crude enough to make adults laugh but subtle enough kids won’t get them”. Pixar had managed to make genuinely good “family” films. I’m not going to lie, I teared up like a little baby watching Toy Story 3, and I swear to God, was seconds away from genuinely crying. That’s how good I felt Toy Story 3 was.
But there is something I don’t like about what I’m seeing in Brave. I mean, it’s got the crude humour you’ve come to expect from a kid’s movie (but not a Pixar film, I think), and that’s already a turn-off for me. What really bugs me is the “girl empowerment” theme coming from it.
Before moving on, I should clarify: I think women are just as capable as men in almost all areas of life, and vice versa. While I don’t play with Barbies or wear nail polish, it is odd that society deems those two activities as being “lady-like”, and that playing football or video games is a manly activity. I don’t think that there are activities that are, one way or the other, girly or manly. I would argue that men and women certainly think differently and are, due to physiology, better inclined to certain activities (and I would argue that different ways of thinking, for example, are not entirely due to societal constraints), because anyone who tells you men and women are equal are oversimplifying a very complex point. All that said, I don’t need a movie to tell me that girls can do anything boys can do.
And that seems to be the central storyline of Brave. Sure, there’s a witch’s curse (or witches’s? I don’t know how many witches are involved) involved, probably very Macbeth and everything. But the crux of the story seems to be that there’s this girl, destined to be princess, who is fighting societal constraints. She wants to be a warrior, an archer, and not a princess. And maybe marketing is to blame, but it seems like becoming a warrior means giving up her princessiness.
So it feels like we can expect the typical, “oh archery? You’re a girl, girls can’t fire arrows” banter that has come to typify movies about women “breaking out” of their societal constraints. And sure, Brave is a fairy-tale story, so we can assume that where she’s from, they’re not quite as modern in their ways of thinking about women. I get that. But it’s old, overused, and at its core, sexist.
I was discussing this with Tea Leaves and Dog Ears and she pointed out that, at it’s core, saying that there are, activites that are boyish or girly or that one is “breaking” out of these societal norms is in fact, reinforcing them. She’s absolutely right, of course. When a man does something manly, it isn’t exceptional (unless it’s super badass). Only when that act can be classified as girly or wimpy or whatever, is it worth mentioning. The same applies to women. Male actors can have “strong performances”, but never classified as being “strong male leads”. When a woman is a “strong female lead”, it typically means she is not an agent being acted upon but is an actor in the truest sense of the word. She gets shit done, in essence.
But again, this classification implies there is something exceptional about that. And that implies that by being a strong female lead, that actor/character is not being an ordinary female lead, which would be a woman who does womanly things. As long as that classification exists, as long as a woman can “break out” of societal constraints, those societal constraints will continue to exist and if we try to pretend to be enlightened by saying, “oh, there’s nothing wrong with a woman doing manly things” (ie, by continuing to have the term tomboy), we’re just reinforcing the notion that there are womanly things and that there are manly things, when, in truth, there are and should just be, things that people do. As long as Princess Meridia of Brave defies her royal upbringing by doing something that no princess should do (and, let’s face it, in typical storytelling fashion a princess is the epitome of young lady-hood), the story won’t be exceptional or liberating or anything like that. It will just be a story about a woman doing guy things, with the notion that women can do guy things and it’s ok, when the idea should be that anyone can do anything and that tagging a gender stereotype onto an action or lifestyle or whatever is doing as much harm as socially restricting individuals into roles based on their gender.
I will write myself an out, though: Pixar has been able to surprise me just about every time around. Maybe Walt-Disney, best known for reinforcing the princess stereotype (until recently, maybe? I don’t know, to be honest), marketed the movie in an attempt to appear non-sexist and modern. Maybe that’s their target demographic. Or maybe Brave truly is a kid’s movie. I don’t know. The trailers imply what I’ve written and any write-ups I’ve read (and I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen a negative write-up; Brave has made many a “most anticipated movie of 2012” list) seem to follow that too. Maybe, hopefully, Pixar will prove me wrong. Time will tell, I guess.
I would like to take a quick post here to talk briefly about the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.
On December 6, 1989, a twenty-five-year-old man by the name of Marc Lépine went to École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec. There, armed with an illegally obtained rifle and a hunting knife, Lépine went into a classroom at the university, divided the men and the women, and shot all the women in the room, injuring three and killing six. He proceeded through the university, all in all killing fourteen women and injuring ten, while injuring four men. He targeted women specifically and blamed feminists for ruining his life and the world. He turned the gun on himself, in the end.
The incident has been debated since. Some argue that it was the work of a nutcase who was abused by his father while many more argue it was an attack against feminists and women and is thus representative of societal attitudes toward feminists and women.
Personally, I don’t like the way “the feminist movement” in Canada has appropriated the massacre to their own ends. I don’t believe society tacitly or implicitly supports violence against women. I was always taught to never hit women, and I view men who do as being scumbags (though this may be a weird sort of sexism on its own). I think that although Lépine clearly had a troubled childhood and was a troubled individual, what he did was abhorrent and inexcusable. I don’t think for half a second that Lépine represents all men or even a fraction of men in Canada or the US, and I think that while men do commit violence against women, women also commit violence against women on the basis of gender, as women commit violence against men on the basis of gender (and as my own childhood instruction of “not hitting women” tacitly endorses violence against other men). Appropriating any tragedy for political motive, is, I think, scummy, whether that’s the Columbine shooting, The VA Tech shooting, 9/11, or the “Montreal Massacre”. I think these events need to be remembered for what they were: horrifying expressions of violence against innocents. We should always remember the victims (and the perpetrator) and the reasons why, but not attach it to a cause.
Immediately following the event, men at École Polytechnique were criticised for their failure to stop Lépine; some went as far as to accuse these men of harbouring the same feelings as Lépine himself, which again strikes me as being a little insensitive and quite stupid. While we’d all like to imagine that if we were around during the Crusades we’d martyr ourselves for Muslims and Jews being killed for their religion, or we’d join King in the Million Man March, or we’d stand beside Ulysses S. Grant and fight slavery, or whatever, the reaction of most is self-preservation, and that’s how we’re designed; rocking the boat isn’t that easy. As an example, I think that Americans specifically are getting screwed by the banks and corporations and so on (the relationship is obviously more complex than that, bear with me), but I would never join Occupy Wallstreet and I think the movement itself is boneheaded. Back to the Montreal Massacre, it takes a lot of gall to accuse someone who’s been shot and watched his friends gunned down around him of cowardice, and it just a little sexist, too.
But I don’t wish to detract from the severity of the event. Take a minute or two today to think of the women in your life today and the fourteen lives lost at École Polytechnique twenty-two years ago today.