Given all the recent uproar over the new Ghostbusters, I’m once again thinking about gender and cultural politics. This week has reminded me of a date night with the boyfriend from two years ago, watching John Mulaney in New in Town, when he jokes about gender swapping a movie like Ocean’s Eleven. “Ocean’s Eleven with women would never work,” he says, partly because “two would keep breaking off to talk shit about the other nine.” Or else they’d just act really passive aggressive to each other. At this point, Mulaney impersonates one of the women cracking a safe while she tells one of the gang, “I love how you’ll just wear anything.” My boyfriend read my mind and said, “That actually sounds like fun.” He wasn’t trying to get laid, probably because we’d just had sex.
Ever since that night, I’ve thought about what Ocean’s Eleven would look like with a female cast. It would poke fun at the same gender stereotypes that Mulaney does, probably more.
A film like that could work as both harmless fun and an alternative message to young women. It could say, hey, girls can work together in teams. They can solve problems and strategize elaborate plans, even while cracking jokes with each other. They can conform to some stereotypes, bend others, and even break a few.
The recent Ghostbusters reboot sends exactly this kind of message. There’s nothing inherently wrong with casting the leads as women, just like there was nothing wrong per se with the original. It was funny, scary, and inspired. Growing up, I must’ve watched it five or six Halloweens in a row. The film is a classic, and nothing will ever change that.
Nonetheless, I never dressed up as a ghostbuster for Halloween. My brother certainly played ghostbusters with his friends, just like they played Batman and Predator, and I always assumed that imaginary world only allowed boys. I could help them play Ghostbusters. I could answer the phone or make them snacks, especially since I was older and could reach the shelves better. But we all simply understood that I would not touch the proton packs they’d made out of cardboard. I might break them.
That proton pack was therefore neither expressly forbidden nor especially encouraged. That’s the entire point of enculturation. Nobody had to tell me, “You can’t be a Ghostbuster.” When a girl watches the same movies over and over again depicting men as the heroes, the scientists, the explorers, the saviors, then she internalizes that logic.
Sooner or later, that girl becomes a woman who comes dangerously close to buying Rubie’s Ghostbusters Secret Wishes Sexy Costume. The costume is a fetish outfit. I understand that. I’ve worn stuff like this in the bedroom. I probably wouldn’t wear it to an actual Halloween party. More importantly, other women should feel like they could wear a plain jumpsuit version without fear of judgment or speculation that they’re “not sexy enough” because they don’t want to spend their Halloween shivering in the cold darkness. In this vein, the reboot makes no effort to “sex up” the original costumes, and leaves little room for anyone to try and market gendered Halloween costumes for kids—not to mention toys in general.
“Movies don’t just entertain us. They show us what’s possible.”
Movies don’t just entertain us. They show us what’s possible. So when 93.5 percent of the scientists and engineers in family films are played by men, leaving barely 6 percent by women, that necessarily trains girls to prepare for a hard road in STEM fields. Is it any wonder that women make up 24 percent of STEM today?
Gender swapping Ghostbusters doesn’t mean all feminists think the original film was sexist. It’s just fair play. Why do some men have to get their boxer briefs all twisted up at the idea of a well-done, gender-swapped reboot?
Are we surprised? I’m not. It’s human nature that we’ll tend to identify just a little bit more with people who look and act like us. I love Jessica Jones to death. Some of my guy friends aren’t wild about it. One of my Twitter associates says he just can’t get into the story. Meanwhile, he loves Daredevil. That’s fine with me. I enjoyed Daredevil, but if you lock me in a home theater for a weekend with only one screening choice, I’m going to watch my gal Jessica for the third time.
Men who don’t like the reboot aren’t automatically sexists. A lot depends on the reasons they give. It’s fine if you don’t like the latest installment. I haven’t even seen it yet myself, so I’m apt to listen to any critic who can point out actual flaws in the plot, acting, or special effects. Fair reviews would judge this reboot on the same criteria they’ve used for films like the new Total Recall, Robocop, Mad Max, or Star Trek. Does it entertain? Is it appropriately faithful to the original? Does it provide some kind of new spin?
In my opinion, most of these reboot films fall short of their originals. The only Sci-fi reboot I’ve ever seen that tops the original is Battlestar Galactica. And if you remember, people raised hell about a female Starbuck, who carried her weight to say the least.
Now that I think about it, I’m a little disappointed that Katee Sackhoff and Tricia Helfer didn’t wind up in Ghostbusters. I couldn’t imagine stronger female leads.
“Sexism can be hard to spot, because misogynists tend to be assholes in general. Other times, we can see it light years away.”
For the past several months, I’ve tried to ignore the social media maelstrom around this Ghostbusters franchise. Since I write about gender and politics, though, the past week or so has lured me in, especially the racist and sexist onslaught that drove co-star Leslie Jones off of Twitter. Sexism can be hard to spot, because misogynists tend to be assholes in general. Other times, we can see it light years away. Consider this so-called “review” by alleged Gamergate spokesperson and troll Milo Yiannopoulos, whose abusive campaign against Jones got him permanently banned from Twitter.
Yiannopoulos succeeds in channeling months of misogynist fury into a single, hate-fused pile of slander. He goes far beyond criticism, instead aiming for misguided social commentary as he skewers director Paul Feig for making “every man. . .a combination of malevolent and moronic,” and then slams the ghostbusters themselves for accepting government funding at the end of the film. As he writes, “Like all feminists, they can only survive by sucking on the teat of Big Government.” As if that weren’t enough, he goes on describe the film as “a movie to help lonely middle-aged women feel better about themselves after being left on the shelf,” and as an “overpriced self-esteem device for women betrayed by the lies of third-wave feminism.” To top it off, he declares women incapable of developing the “friendly, buddyish camaraderie that men often build together, especially in dangerous jobs.” Sure, we saw so much buddyish camaraderie during the Republican primaries when the men compared hand sizes and traded jabs in lieu of actual policy debates. Elsewhere, Yiannopoulos has proclaimed that a matriarchy like the one gestured at in Mad Max: Fury Road would end in ruin. Ahem. Look at where we are now. Mass shootings and explosions happen on a weekly basis these days. Our own police are gunned down by angry citizens.
I laughed out loud when, despite having earlier stated that he went to see Ghostbusters “with an open mind,” Yiannopoulos later points out how “in early May I wrote about how terrible this film was likely to be.” Unfortunately, by showcasing his prophetic intellect, he accidentally undermines his earlier claim to objectivity. How can you walk into a theater with an open mind if you’ve already publicly predicted how much the film’s going to suck? If I tried that with sex, I’d still be a virgin.
By the way, Yiannopoulos’s review of Mad Max: Fury Road is just icing on the cake of his misogynist logic. I highly recommend it if you need a good laugh.
Sadly, I really wanted to see what this man thought of other reboots like Robocop or Total Recall, but he hasn’t reviewed those films—probably because they left traditional gender roles alone, more or less.
In all fairness, both Robocop and Total Recall have received pretty tepid reviews all around. (Honestly, I think they’re worth watching on DVD.) Plenty of people made fun of Terminator Genisys, as well. But unless I’m missing something, none of the actors in these films have endured the same level of scorn or hatred as the cast of the new Ghostbusters. I don’t remember reading news stories about violent protests against these films before their release, or their trailers becoming the most disliked video in YouTube history, with more than 600,000 thumbs down votes within days of their release.
“I watched the trailer and read the comments only to learn–once again–that nothing unites sexist trolls like something done well by women.”
In fact, I read the news about the Ghostbusters trailer before watching it. I thought at first, “Wow, it must be really bad.” Instead, I watched the trailer and read the comments only to learn—once again—that nothing unites sexist trolls like something done well by women.
So I’m not going to end with the kind of hand wringing that will only gratify misogynists. Instead, I’m going to issue a call for more gender swapped films. I say let’s try The Expendables. Let’s gender flip Tropic Thunder. Let’s also try Fight Club. I’d love to see a female Tyler Durden.