Watching Men

Kotwal ko kaun dekhta hai? “Kotwal” ko kisne dekha?

First, in this totally play-worthy “interactive trailer” of the movie, each of the characters is represented by a symbol that you, the audience member, needs to figure out. It’s a little like the Spice Girls, manufactured personalities distilled into an idiot-proofed symbolism, but then again, the Watchmen is a graphic novel, so I have no major delusions of its profoundness like so many others seem to. Maybe for some parts of me animation is still = cartoon, and I cannot take a Tom & Jerry equivalent too seriously :-).

But anyway, once you play that trailer, see what symbols they have for each of the male characters, and compare it to the one they made for the sole female character. ****SPOILER**** They have everyday objects, like glasses or the smiley face for the other characters, and ‘girl’ for the female character. I don’t know if this means that the makers of the trailer think of women as objects, or if they picture the female form (not female genitalia, but our bodies) in Rorschach tests, or if they’re trying to say the Silk Spectre is a token female, or that the only thing that she stands for is her body, or that her superpower is her sex appeal – all of these explanations just point to some crazy reasoning or just lazy trailer design by these guys. ****SPOILER ends*****

Second, I propose a follow-up test to the Bedchel/Wallace test (read here for a great description).
To pass the Bedchel test your movie must have the following:
1) there are at least two named female characters, who
2) talk to each other about
3) something other than a man.

Corollary to that, I hope I sometime get to see a movie with a strong woman character:

A) Whose sex life I am not made aware of, either its details or the fact of its existence.
B) Who is not, or has not, and will not be sexually assaulted during the narrative.
C) Who does not have a makeover.

I’m really tired of seeing ANY independent woman’s independence having roots in some sexual assault, or in some deviancy. I’m sure there are other ways in which women characters can be made to find their voices or themselves. I’m sure there’s a range of hurdles they must cross, much like the male superhero, to be tested and prove their mettle. But if for once the hurdles were not sexual- or appearance-related, I would be very, very grateful.

I understand why they do it. For most male scriptwriters (or women who write in a predominantly male context, e.g. Farah Khan of Main Hoon Na) and the audience they wrote with in mind, this is just a natural way of viewing women.

Flowchart begins:

  • Do I want to put my penis into her? If no, then of course she’s not worth existing (see a wonderful analysis by Amrita here on female film villains). If yes:
  • Does she want my penis in her? If yes, she’s a slut but also a golden-hearted one. If no, she’s a frigid woman. Since she can be pretty much one or the other, once I establish her interest in me, I can easily go on to the rest of my story. Either way:
  • Does she want the other guy’s penis in her? If yes, she’s a slut, and just a confused, virtue-less whore. If no, she’s a wronged woman and the other guy’s the bad guy.
  • Do I get to put my penis into her or not? If no, then the other guy who does is definitely the bad guy. If yes:
  • Do I get to put my penis into her before someone else does? If yes, she is the heroine of the movie. If no, she dies or is otherwise made irrelevant before the end of the movie.
  • Flowchart ends.

What a wonderful, simple way of establishing good and bad. Almost as simple as Isha Sharvani‘s character in Luck By Chance, who establishes her character with costume colors. Who needs complex story arcs and narratives when you can use sex lives and assault tales as proxy?

For women or men who’re trying to break their characters out of a patriarchal construct, I can somewhat understand what they’re doing too. They usually show sexual assault or attempts thereof as symbolic, as the ultimate form of patriarchy, which our female protagonist needs to go through and then win over. Examples – Thelma & Louise, Bandit Queen. Of course, often the ‘winning over’ is with her life. But she’s a free woman, since she’s ‘suffered the worst’ – and she dies or goes into exile a ‘free woman’. Some really rare times, the protagonist goes through assault and/or rape, and then pays her dues again through exile or life-threatening situations as ‘punishment’ for having escaped the rape, and then is granted her life – changed, modified, somewhat incomplete – but still a life. Example: Volver.

While their attempts to face facts are admirable, what the latter category does is no different from what the former does. Everyone’s just using sex and the sexual act to define their female characters in ways it would be unthinkable to define male characters. And as much as I understand where they’re coming from, I wish someone would be creative enough to give me a kick-ass heroine with a completely mysterious, undisclosed sex life. I wish they made the heroine so kewl, so complex, so real that I couldn’t care less where she keeps her vagina.

Girlfriends, we’ve just OD’ed on TMI. Tell me about yourselves. No, not about that. Everything else. Reveal the rest of your amazing, funny, smart, resourceful, frivolous selves to us. You too, Silk Spectre I and Silk Spectre II. What were your superpowers? What gadgets did you use? Which bad guys did you destroy? What government secrets did you help protect? What is/are your obsession(s)?

Ah, the possibilities.

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