Category Archives: Is This Feminism

Ocean’s 8 — Feminist Or Not?

The Ocean franchise is what I like to think of as Smooth Masculine (but still very masculine) — a format popularized by the early James Bonds. They’re stylish and suave. They actually talk, even intimidate, with words rather than their fists. In itself, this digresses from the usual toxic masculine image of an overmuscled, underarticulate (only they call it ‘brooding’) male. Hey, they even show the main leads crying. The Ocean series is also about male bonding, another digression from the antisocial guy, his social ineptitude glamorized as ‘lone wolf’.

Now we have an all-woman spin on the Smooth Masculine. Is that enough to make it feminist?

Let’s start with the plot. The Ocean’s trilogy was respectively about robbing a supersafe, racing to steal a Faberge egg and breaking a casino. Admittedly the first is also about Danny Ocean showing up his rival in love in a schoolboyish fashion but that is a joke underlining the slickness of the operation. All three movies are about cracking a joke at the expense of some guy who eventually lands on his butt. Every plot is a game with an emphasis on fun and some snazzy lines thrown in. The Ocean trilogy isbuilt on the foundation of Danny Ocean and Rusty’s read-your-mind camaraderie and infused with inside joke humour.

And now let’s take a look at what the girls get. There are just 8 women which made me hope there was going to be a line about 8 women being able to do the job of 11 men or about the wage difference. Nope.

Are they having fun? I’m a woman and I’d be hard-pressed to call what they’re doing fun. Shopping, wearing pretty clothes and ogling a shiny necklace — nope, assuming that’s what women bond over is pretty sexist. Which brings us to the object of the plot. Danny’s boys took on casinos and museums, the money and objects themselves of scant interest. It was the thrill of adventure that drove those plotlines. In comparison Debbie’s girls string along listlessly with motivations as flimsy as money, to chase the most clichéd object in the history of women’s desires — jewelry. So far Ocean’s 8 is already lagging behind than the three male dominated movies on story.

Speaking of listless, the movie boasts a starcast even glitzier than the original Ocean trilogy. But only Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchette have any kind of meat in their roles (and even then, I’d call this a low-fat chicken broth compared to the prime ribs that George Clooney and Brad Pitt got). We know the women were partners earlier and that they team up on this. But beyond that, the two characters are pretty much interchangeable as pissed-off (and entitled) white women through the story. Ocean’s 8’s female characters also have worse roles than their male counterparts in the preceding trilogy.

Speaking of white women, much has been made about Anne Hathaway’s self-referential humour but no, it wasn’t that interesting. Neither was her abrupt about-face at the end of the movie. A hot filmstar joins a bunch of crooks because she wants friends? Sounds flimsy. Helena Bonham Carter is (yet another) wasted talent in the film. It takes no mean talent to act like you’re a bad actor and that’s the extent of her prowess on display in the film.

Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter in Ocean’s 8

Rihanna, the queen of inclusivity and the MET ball, shows up in a grungy avatar as the genius geek. But her tech wizardry extends to making the apartment’s lights flicker on and off and hacking into the museum’s security cameras. This does not impress anyone who grew up among teenagers hacking into government systems. What’s more, her ‘wizardry’ has to be supplemented by lame things like angling cameras to blind spots. This is accomplished by tricking a sad-faced old man with a bogus site about puppies (culled from his Facebook feed). Women and technology = Facebook stalking + clueless old people? Compare this to with the hologram of Ocean’s Twelve and the magnetron of Ocean’s Thirteen. This feels like a comment on women’s supposed ineptitude with technology. Or maybe, just lazy writing. Count one for Ocean’s 8’s misogynist subtext.

Mindy Kaling in Ocean’s 8

Mindy Kaling, another POC star is introduced inside a shop that looks like a parody of Bollywood — flimsy fabrics, garish designs and an atrocious Hindi accent, arguing with a similarly parodic mother (slightly less atrocious accent). Her only contribution to the heist is to blend in with the kitchen wash staff and then break the necklace up, in the toilet. I imagine she’s supposed to be the girls’ version of Virgil-and-Turk but she doesn’t have any of the lines or even the situations to add comedic timing. As an Indian, I can’t help feeling she’s this movie’s version of Anil Kapoor in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol — The token brown fool. Add whitewashing & racism to Ocean’s 8‘s troublesome nature.

There is another token Asian who is a pickpocket but as with Rihanna, her part in the heist has to do with a lot of convenient coincidences and other people acting in stupid ways. I thought she might have been a replacement for The Amazing Yen but no, he shows up in a throwback to every dance-through-laser-beams sequence ever (including Toulour in Ocean’s Twelve). Could the makers really not find a female acrobat/contortionist? Even the snazzy action sequences of Ocean’s Eleven’s lift climb are missing.

Rihanna in Ocean’s 8

Okay, so may be the last three points are more about racial inequality than feminism. Maybe not. Feminism like any ideology, is evolving. This movie may have been impressive in the 90s when a film with no brand-name male stars would have been inconceivable. But 2018’s feminism is intersectional. These glaring instances of tokenism run alongside casual racism — in one scene, Cate Blanchette tells a full-mouth chewing Sandra Bullock (when did Debbie Ocean become Gracie Hart?) “I don’t speak Ukaranian”.

Sarah Paulson, arguably a smaller star than Rihanna, still gets a bigger role showcasing the soccer mom/illegal goods fence. This is probably the least cardboard character but is exploited for very little nuance or humour.

No one in this movie is suave or smooth. Perhaps that’s a feminist statement about women not needing to be these things (but I’m really scraping the bottom of the barrel for salvation here). I won’t bother going into the utterly unnecessary nasty ex subplot. Then, I want to know, where’s the movie?

I didn’t get the great lines that made the Ocean’s trilogy such a delight to watch. I didn’t see any fantastic female bonding. I missed the cool gadget wizardry and tech tricks. I didn’t spot any fun action scenes. And I sure as well didn’t enjoy watching talented women grimacing their way through such hackneyed, restricting roles. Even the necklace wasn’t that pretty.

So let’s do a feminism round-up.

Intersectional? Not. If this movie were based on an actual story, it would probably involve whitewashing.

Aspirational female characters? Nope. Every character is replaceable, barely propping the other up or surviving because men slipped up. Add incorrect messages about ‘feminism = male-bashing’.

Breaking stereotypes? Uh, no. I’m looking at you, jewelry chasers, Indian-with-marriage-obsessed-mom, vindictive exes, dumb bimbette who ‘just wants friends’, splashing about on luxury & beauty goods regardless of logic or danger.

Entertaining? No and since this is a film, that is the prime purpose. A story that gives talented actors so little room to entertain, does them (and the audience) grave disservice.

All in all, I think it’s clear that Ocean’s 8 is not only a bad movie, it’s also actively anti-feminist. What else would you call setting up so many talented women in a film that shows women and these actors so poorly?

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

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If You Won’t Let Us Laugh, Someday We’ll Make You Cry

I watched ‘Veere di Wedding’ today. Don’t worry, this is not a review. The film is getting enough of hatred on social media to inspire enough curiosity in you to watch it. There is uproar over the swearing, the drinking, the raucous laughter, the sex talk. Everyone and their grandmother is horrified.

I’ll give away no spoilers and just say, I loved every minute of the film. And now I’m cueing up ‘Gone Girl’ on streaming as a nighttime watch. Me, who shudders at the thought of Bollywood horror films and basic slashers — I enjoyed the story of the sociopath and I will gladly watch it again. At night. You know why?

Because it gives me a sense of vindication, of justice even. I won’t talk about ‘Veere di Wedding’. Let’s talk about ‘Gone Girl’ instead. Why did so many women LOVE it? Because every single one of us has identified with the feeling of doing so much, being so much and still being edited and worse — invisible.

What does that mean? It means we don’t exist the way men exist — as people. We exist like a 24 x 7 customer service operation that must seamlessly and boundlessly cater to the male gaze, the male need, the male ego, the male everything. We don’t even get paid for it, let alone acknowledged. And any sign of our own humanity comes with severe, very severe consequences. What consequences, you say? Slut-shaming, body-shaming, single-shaming, rape culture, violence against women, silencing of women, mansplaining, manspreading. To name just a FEW.

I could not see a single reason any reasonable human being would dislike ‘Veere di Wedding’. It was funny, it was frothy, it was glossy and it was entertaining. It made a few digs at the expense of men’s glaring flaws but you didn’t REALLY believe that we never talk about you, did you? Wait, you did? Then why is the Bechdel test even needed? Literally that if two women can have even one conversation on screen that is not about a man, it passes. So few films do. So clearly we’re expected to yap about men only all the time. Did you think we wouldn’t complain or joke about you? HA!

Curiouser still, didn’t you all really enjoy ‘Hangover’? How about ‘Pyaar ka Punchnama’, that gut-sucking punch to every woman on the planet? That looooooooong diatribe against the entire female race that all of you liked so much, it’s practically a viral poem on Youtube now. ‘Veere di Wedding’ didn’t have even a third of all that. The ‘motherlover’ line? What, now we’re not supposed to tell the truth? You do worship your darling momma, don’t you and wish every other woman was more like her? It’s called The Oedipal complex and all she was doing was stating that. I guess we should leave personsplaining to the men.

But never mind all that. Clearly you can’t handle women’s laughter. But want to know what happens when you suppress her natural positive instincts? ‘Gone Girl’ is what happens. It’s when this woman wakes up one day and realises that this life is shit and it really is so much better without you. She runs everything of course, without credit and with all the harassment and silencing. Why does she need to carry your sorry-ass as well?

Sure, call her a sociopath like Amy. After all, what was Amy but someone who loved Nick very, very much? Yes, that is wrong. You certainly don’t deserve it.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Madonna’s ‘Bad Girl’ – Feminist Or Not?

If you didn’t grow up in the 90s, you may not have seen this video.

Indeed, you may never have experienced the phenomenon that was Madonna. Madonna was such an important reference in pop culture at the time, not necessarily because she was that talented but because of how she represented boundary-breaking of the time. Of course, she’d be a feminist icon of a sort.

I want to run this video/song through the feminist lens. I’m skipping her bigger hits like Erotica, Like A Virgin and others in favour of this one primarily because I lived through the lifetime of this song. MTV had just come to India, when this song came on air. The glossy frames, the shocking sexuality, the unusual sounds — these marked the 90s when I was growing up, discovering who I wanted to be, what I believed in and who I was going to become. I saw this song sneak into the ‘New Releases’ and then creep up the charts to hit Number 1 on the Billboard Top 20. I knew the lyrics by heart (not from an internet site because they didn’t exist in those days) but because it was played so often.

Let’s start with the title ‘Bad Girl’. You don’t see that term get used very often these days, especially to denote what it did at that time. The video and the song lyrics are a perfect illustration of what was considered a Bad Girl.

Bad girl, drunk by six
Kissing someone else’s lips
Smoked too many cigarettes today
I’m not happy when I act this way

Alcohol, sex and cigarettes — the unholy trifecta that made a woman ‘bad’. You can see this attitude in India’s reactions to ‘modern women’ today, well represented by the backlash faced by Vogue’s ‘My Choice’ video starring Deepika Padukone.

At the time, it felt like the song was trying to reclaim personhood for a girl who did these things, with pride. At least, that’s what you’d expect from the woman who told us, “Express Yourself” with the following lyrics:

Long stem roses are the way to your heart but
He needs to start with your head
Satin sheets are very romantic
What happens when you’re not in bed
You deserve the best in life
So if the time isn’t right then move on
Second best is never enough
You’ll do much better baby on your own

Don’t go for second best baby
Put your love to the test you know, you know you’ve got to
Make him express how he feels and maybe
Then you’ll know your love is real

Express yourself

But ‘Bad Girl’ showed that same girl seemingly in regret over those choices. In the video, she goes from man to man, waking up and walking through the day with a gnawing sense of emptiness and lights a cigarette, swigs some booze ending in,

“I’m not happy when I act this way.”

I never fell into addictions the way popular culture did and still predicts women like these will meet their end in. But those addictions represent a certain hollowness under the victory. And that definitely resonates.

Let’s go back to the video. Even as a teenager, I was creeped out by the strange dude watching her without her knowledge. I assumed he was a stalker (though we didn’t know the word at that time since in Bollywood, that just meant The Hero). He watched her at work, he watched her cry, he watched her drink too much, have sex with strangers, do the walk of shame, wash her panties. It seemed like he disapproved. And then after she died, she joined him on his rooftop perch. As they watched her dead body being taken away, he passed her a cigarette, which she looked to him for approval and then took. The End.

That really, really confused me. Was Madonna trying to say that she was giving up her independent thinking and succumbing to the system (patriarchy, I know that now)? Did the Man conquer her, quite literally to death while also rubbing her subversions (alcohol, cigarettes and sex) in her face?

Years later, I read that the man was supposed to be her guardian angel. Ah. That made the eerie hovering in the air, the weird dancing without music, the hanging out outside her window and watching her have sex make more sense.

It’s very possible that the story was about encountering the isolation that happens to a woman who goes against societal norms and her succumbing to it. As a woman who is struggling in a life just like that, I don’t judge this at all. There is no shame in succumbing to a system that is horribly biased against us. Any woman that has failed after trying to subvert the system, is actually dying with honour, after putting up a good fight. That’s feminist.

Watching the video in 2018 made me think the point would have been made a lot better by showing a woman as her guardian angel. Yes, that would have been dangerously close to cliche — the fairy godmother trope. But the guardian angel protects and guides. What would the guardian angel of such an independent, strong human being do to provide value? They would empathize rather than judge.

The one thing any strong woman flying solo needs and lacks is just that. It’s not money or fame or material wealth — she earns it all without needing to pander to men. It’s not self-esteem — she’s learning to manage that too. It’s not motivation, not protection — she’s self sufficient. What she lacks, what we all miss is empathy. As subversive women, the world (even those who claim they are not outright against us) withold empathy. “But you are a strong woman!” they say deeming the need for empathy to be weakness.

I know I don’t absolutely need a boyfriend or husband. I can go without sex, possibly even for the rest of my life. I have taken a stand completely alone more than once so I know I don’t need the numbers. But the crucial difference between a happy life and a well-appointed one is this — empathy from the world. I have none of it. And that is what I would expect a guardian angel, if they existed, to provide.

The man in the video shows not an iota of empathy. He embodies disapproval and judgement. The only touch of softness in his demeanor comes seconds before he knows she’s going to be killed — as he kisses her and then looks at her. With pity, not empathy. Such a male thing. I think a woman would have translated that nuance a lot better. And the whole video would have looked very different.

So that’s that — my feminist analysis of Madonna’s ‘Bad Girl’. If you liked this, drop me a comment and I’ll do more. Well, I’ll do more anyway. But if you have a specific music video or story or film or any other pop culture reference you’d like to see me put through the feminist filter, comment letting me know and I’ll give you a shoutout when I do.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

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