Feminists and Film

The Oilfield Expat put up a good post about a year ago asking why, if the Patriarchy is busy dissuading women from studying engineering and pursuing it as a career, so many women nevertheless studied chemical engineering, leading to the process engineering departments of oil companies being full of them:

If there is a patriarchy preventing women from becoming well-paid and successful engineers, they’ve overlooked the Process department.

I was reminded of that yesterday when I saw the good folk at Samizdata link to this Spiked! article on what they call feminism’s war on art:

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) announced last week that it had adopted a system called the ‘F-rating’, intended to draw attention to films regarded as feminist.

These ratings are intended more as a provocation, designed to make people think about how women are depicted in film, and represented in the industry. As the F-rated website describes it: ‘The stories we see on screen need to be told by a broad spectrum of people to represent our diverse culture. Without change, we will train the next generation to only recognise white males as the protagonists and the ones in control of the cameras, scripts and budgets.’

The underlying assumption with feminists is that in the arts world, as with everywhere else, women are kept from participating fully by the deliberate actions of, presumably, men. The idea that perhaps women might not want to go into the film industry in the same numbers as men, or that they might simply be crap at the tasks therein, doesn’t seem to enter the mind of the modern feminist.

The problem with the feminists’ assumptions over women in the arts is the same as the one that The Oilfield Expat highlights in a different context. Whereas he asks “What about the Process Engineers?”, I ask “What about the literary world?” If there is an overbearing Patriarchy keeping women from being scriptwriters and film directors, you’d have thought a similar mechanism would be in force in publishing and literature.

Regardless of whether a Patriarchy exists, in the arts or wider society, literature is one area where women have indisputably held their own against men, and they have done for generations. Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters are canons of English literature, held in the same regard as Dickens and Hardy. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein achieved unprecedented commercial success and spawned an entire genre of horror stories, films, and plays. Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind is considered one of the cornerstones of American literature selling over 30 million copies, as is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The most successful children’s author by quite some margin is Enid Blyton, although perhaps she ran into some Patriarchy at the beginning:

Blyton’s manuscripts had been rejected by publishers on many occasions, which only made her more determined to succeed: “it is partly the struggle that helps you so much, that gives you determination, character, self-reliance – all things that help in any profession or trade, and most certainly in writing”.

Or perhaps not. Note the emphasis on hard work and lack of demands for an F-rating in publishing. A lot of kids today might not be familiar with Blyton’s works, but they will certainly know J.K. Rowling, another female author who has enjoyed staggering success. Less well known would be Richmal Crompton of the William series and Sue Townsend who created Adrian Mole. I could also mention Daphne du Maurier and Joan Aitken, but I think I’ve made my point: if there is a Patriarchal system at work in the arts keeping talented women from realising their full potential, then it is doing a shockingly poor job insofar as female authors are concerned.

The Spiked! article attempts to address this:

Film is unique among artforms. Its emblematical qualities, of capturing and representing appearances, means it often carries the burden of postmodern theories of representation. As such, it has been one of the main focuses of feminist scrutiny.

If you have to resort to language as woolly as that, you’re clutching at straws. My guess is that it is a lot easier for feminists to muscle in on a cushy job around a film set than it is to sit down and write a decent book that people want to buy.

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15 thoughts on “Feminists and Film

  1. I get the impression that if you point out the success of certain female authors, you’ll get someone telling you they don’t count, for various reasons- Blyton was right wing, Rowling’s protagonist was male/she used her initials to hide the fact she was called Joanne, everyone thinks Richmal Crompton was a man anyway etc. etc.

    What the people writing articles like this mean is that they want whatever the artform they are talking about to proselytise their beliefs- any woman who fails to do so is a traitor, and any man who does is mansplaining or patronising them.

  2. I get the impression that if you point out the success of certain female authors, you’ll get someone telling you they don’t count, for various reasons

    I can believe this: I’m reading Jane Austen for the first time, Northanger Abbey, and her observations regarding women would send a modern feminist fleeing into her safe space.

  3. I suspect that Blyton ran into the same problem as many authors of either gender experience with any publisher: rejection letters are easier to send out than acceptance letters, which then entail editing, proofreading, printing, marketing and distribution costs.

    I am fond of telling the story of Doris Lessing whose 1984 manuscript under the pen name Jane Somers tested the willingness of publishers to accept a new author. Her regular publisher rejected it, not knowing that Lessing had written it, and others followed suit though one editor did say in the rejection letter that the style reminded them of Doris Lessing.

    On the other hand JK Rowling managed to get published under another name with a ho-hum novel, so maybe that balances the books.

    As for movies, I have to admit I am more and more reluctant to spend time watching them. The liberal and feminist tropes — piled on top of numerous implausibilities such as bullets shattering back windscreens of fleeing cars but never travel to the front — abound in so many films these days that once you spot them (and they are pretty much blatant so often) the whole charade is impossible to take seriously. We may be willing to suspend disbelief for a lot of it but it takes lot of disbelief to swallow the fact that slim girls can flatten 300 pound men having just jumped off a 50-foot tall building. So IMdB are performing a valuable service for me: I will check to make sure I don’t go and see a feminist-flagged movie.

  4. “held in the same regard as Dickens and Hardy Not by me they’re not. Held in much higher regard.

    P.S. Richmal C was a genre writer of remarkable flair.

    P.P.S. Add the whodunnit writers: for several decades the girls dominated that world on merit – Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, Dorothy L Sayers, …..

  5. Same flaws as in the equal pay argument. If women really did the same work as men for less pay, then there would be a massive overnight displacement of working men.

  6. What Watcher said. This F-rating could be a handy guide to which films to avoid. Bring it on!

  7. “it is a lot easier for feminists to muscle in on a cushy job around a film set”

    No such thing as a cushy job round a film set. I will say for the Luvvies that when filming is on, there are very long hours, much Hurry up and Wait, and the crews have to be there every minute, never losing their concentration.

    A lot of young hopefuls start, but soon finish.

  8. The idea that perhaps women might not want to go into the film industry in the same numbers as men, or that they might simply be crap at the tasks therein, doesn’t seem to enter the mind of the modern feminist.

    Ditto with STEM subjects and other fields too. It’s so annoying – must be hell for women – for these feminazis to push, push, push when people just wish to go at their own pace.

  9. On the other hand JK Rowling managed to get published under another name with a ho-hum novel, so maybe that balances the books.

    Ah, no: I think the publisher knew full well who she was, but the public didn’t.

  10. Richmal C was a genre writer of remarkable flair.

    Indeed. Her understanding of the mind of a ten year old boy is remarkable; apparently she based it on a nephew.

    Having read one of her books recently, I’ve also come to realise it is pretty good social commentary as well.

  11. is there any reason i should care about any of this?

    Not really: it was just an excuse to point out that, regardless of whatever else people think women can or can’t do, they can write as well as anyone.

  12. No such thing as a cushy job round a film set.

    That used to be the case in any business too, I bet. But they’ll have to start inventing them if the feminists are to be appeased.

  13. It should be pointed out that in fiction, at least, consumer expectations influence this a great deal. Nora Roberts writes crime fiction under the pseudonym J. D. Robb because of the perception that readers don’t think women can write crime fiction. I know a handful of successful romance novel authors who are male but write under a female pseudonym because of the reality that women won’t read romance novels written by men. Edith Pargeter pretty much created the medieval mystery genre, but wrote under the pseudonym Ellis Peters for the same reason.

    Sometimes the loons do have a point; there is a very real bias in the fiction market for male vs. female authors, but it breaks down by genre and not always to the men’s favour.

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