I was watching the extended edition of Return of the King last night, and Jenn popped in and we got into a discussion about what a great job Jackson & co. did sticking to the original heart of the story while boosting the believability and interest of the female characters, and ditching some of the classist bullshit Tolkien was so obsessed with.
And we started talking about these sorts of war movies, how the heart of them is about friendships forged by men, about characters who have been given this huge responsibility, and the arcs those characters take (one of my favorite character arcs is Frodo’s, because he’s given this one task on which the world depends – all he has to do is throw the ring away. He goes on the tremendous journey, and gets there primarily because he’s got Sam, and all he has to do is this one thing: and when the shit hits the fan, when it comes down to the wire, he can’t do it. And I always wonder, how would that person live, afterward? Knowing that when you were tested, when it came down to it, you ultimately failed? Great stuff).
Inevitably, we started to try and think of buddy movies about women bonding in this way, women who would carry each other up the mountain, and about all we had was Thelma & Louise, in which the protagonists, of course, die, so that one doesn’t really count. Female buddy movies tend to be about women who come together over smaller, more domestic issues, and are friends because they have similiar past experiences or live in the same place. They don’t bond over a great world-changing experience. Joy Luck Club, Steel Magnolias, Secrets of Ya-ya Sisterhood.
When you do get those rockin’ types of women, they’re either saving their children, or their love interest (which is never, of course, a woman). So you’ve got Linda Hamilton saving her son John Conner (though in the first Terminator movie, she does save *herself* at the end, which, believe it or not, isn’t seen that often either), Drew Barrymore throwing the prince over her shoulders in Ever After, and Kate Winslet running through the corridors of the Titanic with an ax in a desperate effort to save Leo.
The reason Thelma & Louise was such a big deal is because Louise pulls out the gun and shoots the fucker trying to rape Thelma. She protects her friend. It’s this huge gaping cinematic hole that people have gotten so used to that they won’t even mention it when they say, “Why is it women are their own worst problem? Why do they hate each other and compete over male approval?”
Well, you know what, we don’t exactly get a lot of great images about female loyalty and friendship.
The best women-bonding-in-war movie I’ve seen recently was Cold Mountain (Scarlett doesn’t exactly bond with any women in Gone With the Wind). They totally nailed that one. Kidman has a great rant about how she’s been taught to be an ornament, how she doesn’t know how to *do* anything, and her frustration comes through, that idea that now that the shit’s hit the fan, she doesn’t have any skills whatsoever to deal with her predicament. She and Zellweger get to have a buddy-sort of friendship where a man doesn’t come between them; they don’t fight over him, and their situation is often a life-or-death one.
In fact, I just went and looked through my DVD collection to make sure I wasn’t missing anything mainstream (indy movies tend to get more leeway with this, but I want to stick with what’s up for “popular” consumption), and I couldn’t find anything else. Keira Knightly goes out to save Orlando in Pirates (there’s mutal saving in this movie, which I love), but her and the female pirate don’t even exchange any words, let alone form a friendship.
So where are all the *women* watching each others’ backs? Apparently, these sorts of movies are reserved for “chick flicks” like Under the Tuscan Sun (I like they way they left this one open-ended, which is why I can stomach it: it’s not *really* a romance movie, it’s about finding yourself and creating friendships and families – and doing that your own way).
I suppose war, and performing acts that are seen to impact the very Nature of the Universe or Fate of Humanity have always been seen as male preserves. And if women are involved, it must be because they’re hot on the guys.
I was clicking through movie trailers at apple.com and was startled by the trailer for Miss Congeniality 2: try to ignore for a minute the fact that they feel they have to figure out a plot device for Bullock to go from snorty to hot again and look at this – the trailer makes it look like a buddy movie.
A buddy movie where the two main characters are female cops, and not only that, one of them is black.
Unfortunately, it’s not Lethal Weapon with women, which would be cool; they had to play it with Bullock being prettied up, so there’s lots of “female”/”feminine” jokes they can make. But shiiiiit. A female cop buddy movie? When the hell was the last time I saw that?
OK, yea, there’s Charlie’s Angels. But the recent Charlie’s Angels movies are played so over the top as to be terribly funny. The women aren’t supposed to really be able to do those things. How the hell they’re doing those kinds of kicks in 3-inch heels without busting an ankle, I’d love to know (in fact, I just busted out my pair of 2 1/2 inch sensible, square heels and tried to do a roundhouse kick – it’s almost possible, but if you turn that square heel into a spike, I think it’s all over, and unless you were a dancer, you’d be on your ass). Women are only allowed to kick ass and be friends if they’re little, pretty, and fem enough not to cause anyone to feel insecure. And the angels, though friends, don’t spend much time saving each other. They tend to save their male bosses and love interests.
I know that I find myself writing these gaping-hole types of stories all the time. I’m in the business of fantasy sagas, and the first thing I did was create a buddy-buddy central relationship between a man and woman who, I decided wouldn’t be sexually interested in each other. I was looking for some sort of “pure” unsulllied friendship that had the same feel of the Frodo/Sam or Fellowship buddy relationships. It wasn’t until I got through all of book one (the third version of it), that I started to see that there were pretty much no female friendships in the book, or at least strong ones. The women were still all rotating around relationships with men, even in my egalitarian society. In my female dominated society, where everybody was expected to form close friendships with other women and the default was being attracted to women (the whole Plato idea on its head – women can only truly “love” other women, because only women and women will ever be equal: men will always be inferior), I chose to have the viewpoint character for that society be a terribly staight female fighter with what she considered a rather shameful attraction to men that she’d never really been able to push toward women, and very few friendships with anyone.
There I go, stabbing myself in the foot.
If you see these sorts of images and stories often enough, you internalize them. You make them up that that’s what it’s supposed to be.
Why are women clawing at each other all the time? Why, as my dad said, do so many people think “you women are your own worst problem”?
Because we aren’t taught to like each other. Boys get told to go out and save each other, and women, and kids, and we get told that women are our rivals, our enemies, and that what we’re really looking for is to be that lone female fighter, the “token man” who can then look down on all the women around us. That, or you’re just supposed to be the usual: a love interest, a damsel in distress, etc. etc.
I want more female buddy movies.
I want women carrying each other up the goddamn mountain.