By Charlotte Oliver
December 23, 2013
It is not exactly a secret that women get a bad rap on film and in print – in fact, I would say any trace of equality blew away for good the first time Honor Blackman purred: “Mr Bond, my name is Pussy Galore”.
And yet, we still cannot fight the fantasy: men and women alike continue to buy into the very skewed presentation of gender relations on screen – and, at Odeon’s extortionate rates, that doesn’t come cheap.
So what do you do? Do you swear to boycott Miramax, Universal, Paramount et al forever more, happy to be one of those “enlightened” who boasts: “Oh no, I don’t do the cinema, scoff scoff”.
Or, do you embrace the conflict within – waxing feminist rhetoric with zeal aplenty, while quietly switching on the new Jennifer Aniston must-see? (She was a stripper in her last film, by the way. But a stripper with a heart.)
I tend to choose the latter.
And so it was for this reason that I took myself off to The Misogynist Film Club at Limmud on Sunday night, ready to revel in the paradox of films and feminism and celebrate together as a collective. It didn’t disappoint.
For starters, the room was packed: every section and gender of Limmud society came out to put the film-world to rights. That in itself was encouraging: if more people recognise the bias of films, there is less chance they can do actual harm.
Instead, people can silently weep away at a Nicholas Sparks tearjerker, or laugh out loud as an unappealing member of Judd Apatow’s “fat pack” inexplicably “gets the girl”, all safe in the knowledge that this is not real – and women on screen are not the real deal.
Led by Mekella Broomberg, Jacqueline Nicholls, Rachel Mars and Naomi Less – who also run the same club monthly at JW3 on Finchley Road - the session discussed some of the speakers’ favourite films and why they loved them, despite their somewhat problematic depiction of The Woman.
We saw the highly sexualised depiction of Bugsy Malone’s Talulah, who must rest on her looks in this cruel, harsh world and dumb herself down to snag a fella – putting aside, let’s not forget, the fact that she is played by a pre-pubescent child.
We then had Carrie Fisher’s performance in The Blues Brothers as the jilted ex-lover hell-bent on revenge. Hell-bent, that is, until John Belushi gets down on bent knee and, with puppy dog eyes, offers a whiff of apology. Then she crumbles like shortbread in his sax-playing hands (the woman as an instrument, Judith Butler?).
Naturally, they saved the best until last: Dirty Dancing – that enduring classic that can soften the brow of any “strident” feminist and convince her all she strives to master in life is the perfect foxtrot.
I love it, everyone else in the room loved it, all those who hadn’t seen it were loudly scorned. And yet, as we recognised again, it can be problematic – with areas of misogyny varying from the protagonist’s name Baby, to the fact that there are few genuine female relationships in the movie.
The session was playful and positive – the perfect marker of what feminism should be.
Of course, there is a time and place to get serious - but so long as we remain conscious of miss-representation, there is no reason why we cannot promulgate equal rights and still laugh our way through a Hollywood bonk-buster.
That is what being enlightened means to me.