The other night Violet and I watched Pacific Rim – the great big blustery Robots vs. Monsters wanna-be epic from Guillermo Del Toro. It was OK and was exactly what it set out to be: giant human powered robots fighting giant alien monster creatures set to the tone of a bombastically epic musical score with a story as watered down as possible to bolster international appeal, peppered with terrible and predictable dialogue and a generally banal plot all couched in pretty awesome special effects. Ok, so there was that. But my critique of the modern cinematic blockbuster can wait for another day.
Because, really, there was something else that was more notable and I wouldn’t have even noticed if Violet hadn’t pointed it out.
See, there were really only two women in the whole movie (tho that is not what is at issue here). One, the Russian woman, never spoke a word, as far as I can remember, and was only ever dressed in a tight uniform with bright red lipstick like some sort of Robotech hooker. Basically her message to the world is that, if you’re a woman then no matter what you better be looking good. More importantly however, was the other woman – Mako – the co-pilot with the main character, Raleigh. There is this part when she’s finally been given the go ahead by the Commander – who has already referred to her as being a strong ‘girl’ (if he were talking to a male actor he’d say ‘man’ not ‘boy’) – to co-pilot the giant robot suit with him. She walks into the cockpit and Raleigh, the lead guy, says ‘You look good.’
As if ‘looking good’ is her goal – her aim. He didn’t say: I’m glad you’re here. Or: I feel better with you as my co-pilot.
Instead, it’s all about her good looks. As if she is there for his eye candy and his romantic interest. And that is exactly what her role is: she is the romantic interest in the movie. In most movies, any lead woman is inherently the romantic interest (and at the very least endures advances from most men in the film) and thus teaches men across the land that women are there for our attraction, our eye candy, and are just waiting to be noticed for their good looks, other skills being secondary and not worthy of the compliment.
Approach people about this there will be naysaying. No! That’s not true! The woman in Pacific Rim had much more of a role than that! But it will be men who will say that. Women on the other hand… they’ll agree. But many will dismiss it out of hand as one more example of the story that’s told.
Women are taught over and over – in ways subtle and not so subtle – that ‘looking good’ is more important than ‘being smart’ or ‘having courage’ or ‘doing awesome shit’. Women are told at a very young age: “you look so pretty. Look how beautiful you are.” Boys on the other hand are more often complemented on how fast they’re growing, asked about what sports they play, and told they’re looking big and strong. Those are the two primary values we give to each gender as a whole.
Look, Pacific Rim is just one more movie in a long long chain of movies with the Action Hero Good Guy, the eye candy woman who is there to tag along, and a monster/villain/evil/plague/etc to fight that, in the end, HE kills/conquers/etc and is the hero and, in Pacific Rim, he is the one who sends her on her way to, presumably, live while he sacrifices himself.
How rare it would be if we watched HER sacrifice herself so HE can live! It never happens! And don’t be fooled into thinking: well, it’s just a movie. It’s just a story. O, it’s just ‘Hollywood.’
Movies, like music, books, pop culture, and the rest of the media machine are like echo chambers of archetypes. They continue to perpetuate certain myths and stories. As action movies turn more and more into special effects grab bags where a city has to get destroyed in order for us to feel any real emotion and a masculine hero has to save the day, we move farther and farther away from a balanced concept of gender and deeper and deeper into the ‘archetypal’ trope of damsel in distress and the hero who has to save the day.
It’s an old tired story but as long as there’s new youngsters waiting eagerly to plop down their money and go for the ride, there’ll always be a new audience to tell it to and fresh new minds to mold into the dominant storyline: Men = #1, Women = #2.
According to Pacific Rim: it’s OK to have a woman as a co-pilot as long as she is ‘looking good’ and doesn’t muck things up with her emotions.
Note: I’d like to thank Violet for her input on this as a lot of these bits and pieces stemmed from a conversation with her. :)
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