Yesterday I watched "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (2014) in an attempt to catch-up with modern culture. Other movies on my To Watch list include: The Neon Demon, The Babadook, Whiplash, Ex Machina, etc... But anyway. Point is, Captain America 2 was pretty good. Shades of conspiracy thriller, bizarrely interesting performance by Robert Redford, definitely appealing to a pop-hungry intellectual like myself.
And this is a big however.
Let's talk about Black Widow's character.
She is obviously, obviously, obviously designed as a sex toy for male imaginations.
Here's my Top 4 Reasons why the male gaze in Captain America (presumably in all superhero movies) is a real thing:
- Cultural Context. This is a fancy way of saying that our culture already has certain things going on inside itself, regardless of the content of a movie (except movies play a role in that culture, it's like the chicken-egg dilemma). Women are oppressed in American society. Fact. Actually, they're oppressed in nearly all societies. Because of this, it's impossible to excuse the hyper-sexualization of Black Widow's character as just "equal titillation" for both genders. Since women are already oppressed in society (less representations in media, less pay in work force, fragile civil rights, their apparent social value derived from the minds of men) any more, even seemingly, visual oppression in a movie becomes 10x more hurtful to the group.
- Equal Titillation is Not Equal. This expands on the previous idea. Guys who pretend the male gaze isn't real like to use the excuse of, "Well, Thor walks around without a shirt on too! Explain that!" The thing is, that's not equal to a woman walking around without her shirt. A man can walk around without his shirt in public and not cause a riot or be arrested... a woman could, however. She could even be blamed if a man rapes her, if she walks around without a shirt. So, you see, that example isn't equal. But the real argument is that Thor isn't constantly sexualized. When he's without a shirt, he's not just communicating sexual appeal to women (which, by the way, most women aren't exclusively turned on by visual appeal), but he's also communicating his power and dominance to other men. So even in that moment, Thor is not a purely sexual being. Throughout the movie, Captain America is hardly depicted as a sexual creature. Nor are the other male characters. Perhaps a "bone" (as a male-rights activist called it) will be thrown to "hungry" women audiences for about a minute per half hour, arguably (ARGUABLY). But do you see how this is different from the constant sexualization of the Black Widow character?
- Movies Made By and For Men. This is the real no-brainer. A group of men are making these movies for groups of men. The superhero demographic, which the numbers fluctuate invariable, range from 60-75% white men. There's nothing wrong with that demographic. This isn't a "war" against white men. It's the liberation of oppressive forces off of minority groups. So imagine for a moment: If a group of men create a movie specifically for large groups of men, do you truly believe certain biases and prejudices are not going to pop up in the movie, if even unconsciously? A group of men making a movie for a group of men are unlikely to sexualize Captain America from his very first screen appearance, to his last wink into the camera. Yet, they are extremely likely to do just that with the Black Widow as played by Scarlett Johansson. Sometimes, male-rights activist will tell me, "But women love these movies too!" And then they usually cry like little babies after saying this. Okay, I hear them. Women like these movies too. As a matter of fact, a surprising survey came out a few years ago showing that HISPANIC WOMEN, believe it or not, are a rising demographic in action movies. And women in general are increasingly coming to these blockbuster superhero action films. HELLO people, this doesn't disprove the male gaze - IT MAKES IT MORE REAL.
- Females Valued Only for Sex Appeal. This is the one that male-rights activists have the most trouble seeing. It's sort of like the glasses in "They Live" (1988). The oppression is hard to see at first, but once you do, you can't un-see it. This idea is the most damning, but really the easiest to understand. Captain America, and the other male characters (yes including Robert Redford) are never sexualized. When they are sexualized, by the way, as one male-rights activist mentioned to me as "throwing women a bone," it's a momentary-phenomenon. It happens for a few seconds, and then we're off back with the action. The women characters, however, and there were few in Captain America 2, were there exclusively to be sex objects for the male audience sitting in the theater. Sustained male sexualization is never permitted. Scarlett pouts, has her jumpsuit half open exposing her breasts, the camera lingers on her ass during action scenes, she's pinned against the wall by the Capt. in an overtly sexual manner (becoming the submissive in a typical male-dominator scenario), etc etc etc. The examples go on and on. If the best a male-rights activist can come up with is the isolated instance of one of the male characters maybe walking around with a shirt off, but are hard pressed to think of any others, then maybe things are not as equal as they imagine.
Women need to be included in the larger conversation about humanity's forward march into history. They also now, for almost the first time in modern history, have the economy, the philosophy, the movement, and the technology to do so. And they're doing it.
Women are going in droves to the movies - and not just superhero movies, but all types, whether it's in theaters or streaming on Netflix. They're literally 50% of total film demographics.
Women get it. That's why it's such a hot issue today.
Just look at the 2016 presidential election.
It's the minds of men everywhere that's still backwards.
Why do people keep making movies that promote a strong, active, productive man who's worth derives from his his ability (of mind / body / spirit), whereas the female characters are SIMPLY VALUED FOR THEIR SEX APPEAL??
If it's a bottom-line thing, lemme tell ya, women are outpacing men as a demographic. The easiest way to cash in on that, if that's your only concern, is to be break from old status-quo ideas on male superiority and embrace the (what shouldn't be, but now is, and soon won't be) radically progressive.