This week, I planned to write about the cringe-inducing example of “femininity” that sat behind me on a recent flight from Wisconsin to Los Angeles (#UnfortunatelySomeWomen). She had artfully tousled hair, that baby-infused voice, and an Ed Hardy tank top two sizes too small for her boobs, and when given the choice between the last two empty seats on the plane (she was late boarding), she bypassed the one next to me in favor of the one between the two middle-aged refrigeration company managers in the next row.
As I listed to her breathlessly inquire about one man’s cracked cell phone (“that’s what happens when you have kids – shit breaks”), coyly threaten to “fall asleep and drool” on them, and feign doe-eyed fascination while failing to correctly comprehend a single detail about their work (which irked the one on the aisle), I could not help but marvel…at how great it is to luck into the only empty seat on an airplane. Oh, and at how this girl represents everything that is wrong with gender relations in our society.
In my brain, I cried out, “Why do some women act like this?!” Almost immediately, the other side of my brain yelled back, “Because it works!” As angry as I am at this girl for choosing to be such a disgusting caricature of stupidity, I am equally annoyed by the men who responded by giving her everything she wanted – including a shoulder to sleep on, both arm rests, several Bloody Marys, and the use of all three tray tables as she redid her manicure mid-flight. Too many women giggle their way through life with an “I just might fuck you” overtone because too many men would rather believe that fantasy is true than demand basic human competence.
So I was going to write about all of that and how it relates to gender imbalances in work and life, but then I watched the Tony Awards. Clint Eastwood showed up to present the awards for Best Direction, and hot damn if that man doesn’t make me completely flip my shit.
I get it – he is very talented. I do not deny that his acting work is iconic, or that the movies he has directed are often brilliant. His career and status are not mysteries to me. But he also appears incapable of opening his mouth without some spectacularly casual sexism falling out.
Even on the Tonys, after delivering the prepared remarks about what makes for great direction, he ended with, “and that’s all true of these guys…and they are guys…because…well…[shrug].” Because well what? Because that’s the way the cookie crumbles? Because directing is a man’s game? Because he failed to notice one of the nominees was actually a woman?
Sure, it’s possible that at this point Mr. Eastwood is more senile than sexist. But I also think age is a lot like alcohol – it doesn’t create new feelings so much as lower our willingness to temper long-existent ones. Age lets the freak flag fly – and America’s Cowboy has flown his skull and cross-boobs flag too many times to be discounted.
My vitriol toward Clint Eastwood as spokesman for misogyny started in August, 2010, when I read an interview he gave in Entertainment Weekly about his then-upcoming film Hereafter. In it, he said, “I like to think of it as a chick flick. But one that men will like too. Or at least one that won’t make them want to stick a Swiss Army Knife into their leg.” Now, Clint was certainly not the first man in Hollywood to make such a jackass comment, nor were his words the most obnoxious thing ever said about “chick flicks”, but the context of the quote brings its inherent fear of the feminine to a whole new level.
Setting aside the disrespect contained in the label “chick flick”, the comment is particularly infuriating because Hereafter doesn’t even satisfy any markers of the stereotype. It is a movie starring Matt Damon, not Meg Ryan; it is a movie with three loosely-related stories about people dealing with the idea of mortality and loss; it is a movie written by a (male) screenwriter who also earned an Oscar nomination for writing Frost/Nixon. Sure, the main character has girlfriend trouble because his psychic connection to the afterlife is intrusive, but the movie also deals with the 2004 tsunami and the London subway bombings.
What exactly was it about Hereafter that made Mr. Eastwood think of it as a “chick flick”? Usually this derogatory term is reserved for films about “girly” things, like marriage and shopping and having babies; by Clint’s logic, a movie is aimed at women if it deals with love, torment, or emotions of any kind, since no man could be expected to tolerate such nonsense without wanting to stab himself. That is the equivalent of me calling The Wizard of Oz a “dick flick” because it has a chase scene and a couple of explosions (not to mention two murders).
The problem, of course, isn’t actually Clint Eastwood, or even that Clint Eastwood sees the world as divided into “girl stuff” and “boy stuff”. It is that too many people still think like Clint Eastwood, and too many of those people are in positions of authority.
As long as our world is primarily run by men, as long as most of those men continue to see women as “other” – be it sexual objects, emotional mysteries, innocent victims, or simply less competent beings – and as long as too many women choose to play into these stereotypes to get ahead, we won’t make much progress as a species. Eliminating all pink toys might be the solution, but so might demanding mutual respect to and from each other.
I know, it sounds crazy, but I’m putting it out there anyway. Maybe I just feel lucky.