r/menslibIndia 101: Perspective
Now that we’ve got a “foundation” so to speak, let’s get into the nitty-gritty this time. As always, here is my introductory post. You’ve read it already? Great! As the Black Eyed Peas like to say: Let’s get this started! (I’m old alright? Stop giving me that look.)
Perspective, to be very straightforward, is defined as “a point of view.”
And that makes sense, doesn’t it? Your perspective on something, say your answer as to how good a director Christopher Nolan stems from your point of view on his directorial skills, as an example. Now, you’d wonder why I gave an example like that, right? Yes, you guessed it, we’re talking movies!
Feminist Theory and Transformers:
This time we’re checking out the absolutely wonderful Lindsay Ellis.
Ellis has a whole series applying feminist film theory to the Transformers series of films (and yes, it is abso-fucking-lutely magnificent and is called The Whole Plate: Film Studies through a Lens of Transformers). We’re going to start with one of the videos from that series, the one where she talks about the protagonist of the first film, Megan Fox’s Mikaela Banes.
Confused? Don’t be. I got you.
Paraphrasing from Framing Megan Fox:
In the particular video we’re talking about, Ellis lists all the traits and details we know about Mikaela from the text of the movie, aka the screenplay.
Mikaela is down on her luck but extremely good with cars. She’s constantly rebuffed by men who treat her like an object or a trophy to be acquired and dismiss her skills. She is the only character with an interest in cars (in a franchise that is arguably just car-porn and robots) and she has a backstory that is more developed than the other characters (including one Samuel Witwicky) and it involves her having a juvenile criminal record because she wouldn’t turn her dad in, meaning she sacrificed her future to try and help her dad.
She gets roped into an otherworldly fight between giant robots by previously mentioned halfwit, Witwicky, and with the skills that were mentioned earlier, she self-actualizes and helps save the day by helping the good robots. Now you tell me how she’s not the protagonist of the first film?
Insights from Framing Megan Fox:
Now, I know I’ve lost a lot of you here. You’d be right to ask “What the fuck are you talking about hemingway? Mikaela served as eye candy. She was just a pretty girl in the movie. Sam did all of what did you said. What even?”
The only reason why this is the case is because of this magical little concept called “FRAMING” 🎉
Ellis argues that since ‘film’ is inherently a visual medium, that what you see with the help of the camera aka what you “see” on the big (or small) screen is what you remember. It comes to a head when she tried to get a poll of sorts on Twitter asking about what Mikaela Banes’ character was like and the results, well, they say it all, don’t they?
We see how starkly different the film’s messages are.
The text is saying that Mikaela is a well-rounded character (for Michael Bay anyway) and the framing is saying “ogle at the pretty lady”.
Lady Jessica — Denis Villeneuve’s Dune:
Let’s compare and contrast with another female character from a science-fiction movie, one who is arguably not the protagonist but serves as a very important supporting character to the protagonist, Rebecca Ferguson’s Lady Jessica from Denis Villeneuve’s Dune.
Also, I guess, mild spoilers for Dune? I don’t really talk about the plot much but if you want to go in completely fresh, skip the next two sections.
In addition to Lady Jessica having no traits that could be perceived as objectifying, Villeneuve has already showcased how well he films strong female characters, especially with Arrival (one of my favorites of his).
We see Lady Jessica vulnerable when she has to stand guard for Paul’s Gom Jabbar, we see her knowledgeable in multiple languages and ‘The Voice’, and we are told about the training she gave Paul in the ways of the Bene Gesserit. She even displays combat prowess that Stilgar acknowledges is a result of her being a ‘weirding woman’. Even if we never get to see Lady Jessica train Paul, it is implied and talked about so clearly that you have no doubts.
So, you have a well-rounded character, who is portrayed by the beautiful Rebecca Ferguson, who has a laundry list of very positive traits, directs the protagonist, and affects the plot, and when you see the movie, you damn sure see everything.
Diametrically opposite lies Mikaela Banes, who is a (decently) well-rounded character on paper but framed terribly.
Let’s take a quick tangent to talk about the Male Gaze, shall we?
The Male Gaze is the idea in feminist theory that visual media and fiction (or technically art in general) are created from the perspective of a straight man and so it contains all the unconscious/conscious biases that a straight man living in a patriarchal society would have. I promise I’ll get to talking about the patriarchy soon.
And because we live in a patriarchal society, women were forbidden and shunned from these fields and spaces for the longest time.
The Male Gaze can therefore be argued to be the most important factor as to why women are portrayed the way that they are.
- Women having less screen time than their male counterparts? Yep!
- Female leaders showing more skin than a male leader? Yep!
- Female leaders more likely to show more skin or be naked than their counterparts? Yep!
- Female leaders more likely to be verbally objectified, sexually objectified, and harassed? Yep!
So, you can see that just in film, female representation, objectification, and portrayal have been, for the lack of a more intense modifier, fucking horrible! This even extends past the visual aspect and to the written word. There is an entire subreddit dedicated to how badly men view and write women and female characters in r/menwritingwomen.
Since this is feminist theory we’re talking about, there is so much nuance to add to this. The ‘Female Gaze’ that is usually touted as a defense to Male Gaze is not really the ‘Female Gaze’ as it is using tools that the Male Gaze uses to objectify men, instead of women. Case in point, Channing Tatum and his abs in Magic Mike. An extreme example of this is seen in Michael Bay’s Transformer films themselves where Lindsay Ellis quite eloquently points out how the men are also objectified by Michael Bay here.
Media Shapes the World-View:
There must be a reason why I wax poetically about two film characters, right? This can’t be it or else the title of the article would be “Mikaela Banes vs. Lady Jessica: Male Gaze” and posted to a pretentious film subreddit (or r/movies). Why am I talking about this here?
Lindsay more or less spells it out here: “Media is great at shaping world-view” And since this idea of masculinity is pushed as being normal and relatable, the “acceptable” range of masculinity is narrow.
The Real World:
Media, fiction, art, and any kind of creative expression stem from human consciousness and are based on our experiences. What happens when half the population is excluded from this for most of civilization as we know it? We get the Male Gaze.
But let me ask you something deeper. When you exclude half the population based on sex and gender, what do you cause in the other half of the world? What happens when the female perspective is lost because it is ignored, dismissed, disregarded, and invalidated?
You get the common man’s perspective on women. You get the misogynist, you get the transphobe, you get the fatphobe, you get misogynatomy and hate-anatomy.
This is a result of men being told by their peers, their fathers, and parental figures for millennia that women are objects. It has pervaded into Culture so much that only with the advent of feminism that women are treated like people and even with feminism, you get so much harassment and abuse. Check out r/TwoXChromosomes on a bad day. You’ll see the horror stories that we men will almost never get to experience.
The Incel Tangent:
Speaking of more recent times, a lot of these problems stem from men being inured by the constant framing and objectification of women in popular culture and media. Incredibly depressing examples of this can be seen in the incel community.
You may wonder that the leap from “bad media” to “bad worldview” is a huge leap to make. I don’t want to link the post here but if you really want to see the post, ask me down in the comments and I’ll DM it to you. On r/IncelTear, there was a post from the incel forum that talked about Nymphomaniac.
You know, the FUCKING movie? They are so deluded that they believe a fantasy written for a film that deals with an actual disorder to be akin to real fucking life. And then they use that to promote their cult-ish ideology and their misogyny.
The Real World (cont’d):
There are other real-world problems that stem from the perspective that the “default” is the man’s perspective.
- Seatbelts. Seatbelts are designed with a man in mind and so, it’s difficult and uncomfortable for women to wear.
- VR headsets, something more modern, are also designed with a man in mind and so they are incompatible for most women.
There is so much more. Think tech, think household items. The straight man’s experience being the default is problematic for women in ways that we cannot imagine or even begin to understand because you must understand that this isn’t something that happened in the last decade or century. This is a system that has been in place for millennia.
But let’s stick to culture for a moment.
Conservatives, aka anyone who wants to maintain tradition by any means or anyone who wants to maintain the hegemonic hierarchy by any means, are so protective of their ideals because of this. They refuse to think outside of the box and decry any attempts at doing so to be “woke” and so begins the essentialization of topics. Feminism is grouped with more esoteric ideas and concepts like xenogender and altogether they are dismissed as irrelevant.
Not that there is anything wrong with xenogender but the conservative playbook must be understood. “Woke” and “Wokeism” is used to dismiss extremely important ideas and theories like transgender science because as we know from how the alt-right controls the conversation, we know that a pithy response and retort will stick in the mind more than a well thought out response.
To bring it to Indian culture specifically for a moment (I know, shocking how I actually managed to find something relevant), there is an incredibly telling study that analyses “item numbers” in Bollywood films on the basis of behavioral objectification and visual objectification.
I won’t lie and say I read the entire study, given that in addition to the break, I also fell sick from the lack of sleep (woo!), but I skimmed enough to know what they’re doing and how they did it. IIRC, they analyzed about 200 songs and defined their terms for behavioral objectification and visual objectification. We have a lower threshold for what constitutes risqué in this country. Any amount of skin shown could throw the scales but they’ve clearly defined it based on what is culturally significant and I have to credit the author for their incredible work in this.
The author also talks about the same thing that Lindsay Ellis mentions. People are impressionable. They look to movies to widen their worldview and if the world-view shown in movies denigrates and objectifies women, what will young boys and girls learn?
I know one of your first knee-jerk responses could be Benevolent Sexism but trust me, that really isn’t the way.
The best way that I’ve seen is to honestly call it out. You see someone you know being sexist, call it out because if your rhetoric ends at the keyboard, you are no better than people in this tweet. You have to act. Something as big as standing up for women in the workspace or something as small as helping out in the kitchen. Don’t virtue-signal that your wife or girlfriend or mother is awesome because she does all the stuff, help with the fucking stuff.
Sure, you’re more than likely to get labeled as a feminist at best or a wokescold at worst but you’ll slowly begin to change the perspective of the people around you. There’s a reason I spend so much time and lose so much sleep trying to write all of this when I could be doing something else.
The next best thing you can do is to make sure your kids, your siblings or your niblings learn and know better. I’ve been helping my cousin with this, trying to be a positive role model and helping her defy gender expectations.
And finally, you know what I’m going to say now. Empathy, self-awareness, and acceptance. See, I started there for a reason. I called this triad of traits the foundation for a reason. To even get started with fighting back, learning and understanding the other “perspective”, and trying to redefine masculine culture from what it is, you need to empathize with women, understand their perspective, and be self-aware to know how much you don’t know.
Believe me, I’m still learning. I’m no paragon of fucking virtue. I’m human, just like you.
I’ve been noobhemingway.
References and Further Reading:
- Plan International: Girls Get Equal — A Report
- Keyword search for Female Objectification | IMDb
- Female Objectification in Movies | Growing Up Gendered
- Objectification of Women in Bollywood Item Numbers
- When films objectify women | The Hindu
- The Whole Plate: Film Studies through a Lens of Transformers
- The Alt-Right Playbook: Control the Conversation | Innuendo Studios