Last week, I went to see Pacific Rim.
SPOILER ALERT: It’s stupid. I know it’s not meant to be taken seriously. I know this. People in giant robot suits fight giant monsters in a futuristic battle for Earth. Not really thought-provoking stuff. But it did leave me with some questions nonetheless. Things like:
Why are there so few women left on planet Earth?
Are they hiding underground? Were they wiped out in a plague? Were they sent to colonize another planet? Did the kaiju eat them all? Actually – the movie does mention (spoiler) that the earlier waves of kaiju were intended to wipe out “the vermin” – us humans – to make way for the kaiju to inherit the earth. So maybe they ate the women to slow down population growth.
Seriously. We’re maybe a third of the way through the movie before they even introduce a female character. And she’s the only female character in the entire movie. Well, ok, unless you count the Russian Jaeger pilot who has two lines and (spoiler) gets eaten on the very first mission we see her go on. In the bustling army base, full of military personnel looking varying amounts of busy, I was able to count three extras that were female in appearance before I just gave up. This is in a scene where probably two dozen people appear on-screen. It was like a shitty game of Where’s Waldo.
Why is the girl such a wuss?
When we meet What’sherbucket (Mia? I got through the whole damn movie without learning anyone’s name), she’s your stereotypical acquiescent, quiet, cringing Japanese girl-lady archetype. She appears to be Colonel Badass’s assistant. Secretary maybe? Concubine. No, definitely not concubine. She wants nothing more than to pilot a Jaeger with Main Character, who she’s been studying obsessively for years because reasons. Colonel Badass is totally against it, because reasons. Main Character is sure she’s totally into him, because he’s a dude and why wouldn’t she be? And also reasons.
They spar. With sticks. He’s all “OMG we’re totally compatible!” (The giant robot suits require two pilots, and they have to be psychically linked so they can move the damn thing around and punch alien monsters in the face.) He tells Co. Badass that W.H.Bucket is his new copilot. Badass says no.
And Bucket? She looks hopeful. Then she looks sad. Then she disappears into her room. At no point does she tell Badass he’s wrong, that she can do it. She doesn’t stand up for herself at all, even though she’s clearly just demonstrated she is capable of administering an ass-kicking. She tells Main Character that she’s aced the simulations – she got a perfect score, which is apparently unheard-of – but she won’t stand up to Co. Badass. Out of “respect.” (How very Japanese of you, Bucket.)
Why? Well, as we find out during a flashback sequence… he’s her father. Basically. She was a little girl in Tokyo when it was attacked by a kaiju, and Badass was in the Jaeger that saved her life. So he, uh, adopted her or something. There’s also a shoe involved. Don’t ask, I don’t know.
Look, the point is: Bucket could have been a really interesting character. She could have been tough, and capable, and smart, and still have been sexy enough to draw the attention of MC. (More on that in a second.) But instead she’s just kind of this useless lump, and the only thing she’s really good for is making the guys in the movie look good. She isn’t even given the opportunity to stick up for herself when one of the other Jaeger pilots (a total douche by all accounts) calls her a bitch and tells MC to keep her on a leash. (Oh, yeah, that flashback sequence? That happens during a training exercise, where she powers up the Jaeger’s plasma cannon and comes within inches of vaporizing the whole army base from the inside out. Because it’s usually a good idea to put a total rookie through complex training maneuvers with live ammunition.) Instead of telling him off or beating his ass to a pulp for looking at her sideways, Bucket does…. well, nothing. She cringes in the background and looks pretty while MC wrestles Douchebag to the ground and tries to make him apologize. Total white knight style. Because it’s the man’s job to save the woman, apparently.
Does the movie even need a woman in it at this point?
Pacific Rim could have gotten by without casting any women at all, and it would barely have warranted an explanation. I think that’s the most off-putting part of the whole thing. Bucket brings nothing to the table by being a woman, except as an awkward and contrived way to convince MC to participate.
Yes, they fall in love. Why? It’s not like they spend all that much time interacting. There’s not anything to be gained by throwing them into a relationship together. It’s not like he’s suddenly motivated to fight to save her because OMG LURRRRVE. They don’t have sex (that we know of). They don’t even kiss on-screen. It’s enough to make me suspect that Bucket was originally a male character, too, and at the last minute someone went “Wait, there are no women in this script. We need at least one woman, for affirmative action purposes!” And then they had to go justify why there was a woman there. I honestly think this might have been a better movie (all things considered) if Bucket had been a male character. Then at least we wouldn’t have this stupid love story just kind of tacked on to our robot-fueled-alien-ass-kicking-fest.
And really, if you wanted to drop a woman into the story to keep the protesters quiet, there are way better ways to have done it. What would have changed if either of the neurotic scientists had been women? Nothing. What about Co. Badass? Nothing. What if Douchebag was a woman? No change. The fact that all these characters were male really points to societal views about what a woman can and can’t do, what she should and shouldn’t be.
Did I hate the movie? No, of course not. It was giant robots fighting giant deep-sea aliens. I never expected it to be Great Feminist Discourse. But it is an excellent example of the kinds of sexism we don’t even think about.
So I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while now: why aren’t there more women in comedy?
I have a theory. Google the term “women aren’t funny” (if your computer’s anything like mine, you can just type in “women aren” and Google will take it from there) and the first half-dozen links are articles discussing, in all seriousness, exactly why women aren’t funny. There’s a lot of evo psych in there – it’s because of their brains, see? It’s because women have to raise children, see? In fact, the Vanity Fair article (yes, Vanity Fair, the WOMEN’S MAGAZINE) goes so far as to suggest that the placenta is actually made of brain cells, and that most of those come from the humor center of the brain. It’s on page two, if you really think you can wade that far through that much bullshit. (And don’t give me the Lighten Up, It’s Just A Joke line – that’s not a fucking joke. Jokes are supposed to be funny.)
There’s a lot of misogyny in there, too – ohh, women are the oppressors of the male sex because we police what they wear, and eat, and how their bodies look; we control their access to medical care and legislate what they can and cannot do with their own bodies; we commit horrible violent crimes against them that we then blame on them because they didn’t conform to societal expectations rigorously enough, and…. oh, wait. I think I got my genders backwards. I’m actually not sure how women became the oppressors in this scenario. But apparently humor is a reaction to that situation – which is why women don’t have any.
I think the reason there aren’t more women in comedy is because there are men that just don’t fucking want us there. I went to an open mic night last week. There was a dude there whose entire five-minute set was about his divorce. I’m sure there can be funny material in there, folks. This guy did not find it. He “joked” about how much of a whore his wife is. He “joked” about how she still bosses him around three years after the divorce (because she asked him to spend more quality time with their son). He “joked” about how she makes everyone around her fat.
In five minutes, I knew why his wife left him. It’s because he’s a massive asshole.
I was there that night because I want to get into doing standup. I’ve been told I’m a pretty funny person, and I figure I’ve got an interesting perspective to share. But, fucking hell… I would never want to go up on stage after a set like that guy’s. If all the dudes in the bar were chuckling and guffawing over the horrible things he said about his ex, then I can only imagine they must believe those horrible things about me, too.
I’ll admit, I struggle with being a humorless feminist. I love humor; I love jokes and comedy and making people laugh and being made to laugh. I love it all. And whether a joke is actually funny or just makes me uncomfortable, my first reaction is to giggle anyway. It’s like a compulsion.
So when someone throws up the straw-man of “Well if we have to be PC all the time, what on earth will we ever joke about?!” it gets me thinking. After all, jokes usually have some element of insult to them, do they not? Humor is about finding and pointing out the differences between expectation and reality. Or it’s slapstick, I suppose, and you can only watch a dude get kicked in the nads so many times before it’s just completely lost its appeal. (For me, that number is one.)
What on earth would we ever joke about? We couldn’t tell racist jokes, obviously. Nothing to do with violence or disrespect against women. No political jokes. No religion jokes. No jokes about little people, or disabled people.
My God. It’s almost like we’d have to make jokes about….. ourselves.
I’ve realized that my favorite comics all have one thing loosely in common: they all make fun of themselves, first and foremost. Brian Regan talks about how badly he did in school, and it’s hilarious. Gabriel Iglesias pokes good-natured fun at his own weight, and I’m rolling in the aisles. Wanda Sykes fantasizes about leaving her vagina at home, and I’m right there with her. Eddie Izzard tells us about leaving his makeup in a squirrel hole, which still makes me giggle a good decade after he said it. And he makes fun of Hitler – I think most people can be comfortable with that.
None of the jokes these people tell ever make me go “Oh, that one was bad.” I never feel weird about laughing at their humor. And I think that’s because it’s all self-directed. Contrast that with someone like Tosh or Adam Corolla, who seem to do nothing but sit in a place of supreme privilege and spew hatred down upon anyone different and, thus, inferior to them. That’s not funny – that’s bullying. And society just goes right along with it. They wouldn’t have gotten popular unless there were enough people out there agree with them, who don’t think they’re total assholes, and who are willing to give them money.
Look. It’s hard to self-monitor, I know. I’m sure I’ve made off-color and disrespectful jokes from time to time. The hardest thing about a blind spot is that you don’t know it’s there until it’s too late. That’s why it’s so important to speak up. That’s why it’s so important that the minority be heard and not silenced by the majority. That’s why it’s so important to examine your own privilege when someone says “Hey, that wasn’t cool,” instead of just telling them to stop being so sensitive. Just because it isn’t a big deal to you doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal to someone.
When the reaction to dissent is an avalanche of hatred and vitriol, it makes one wonder what, exactly, is being defended. Freedom of speech? As Captain Awkward so deftly put it: “‘Freedom of speech’ means you can’t be locked up by the government for expressing an opinion. It doesn’t mean you can’t be kicked out of a party where you’re peeing on the carpet.” Freedom of speech isn’t the entitlement to thoughtlessly spew whatever vitriol is floating around in your head. Your fist ends where my nose begins. You aren’t free to say anything you want, free of social consequences – you are merely free of legal consequences. That is a massive difference.
I think it’s time we were more sensitive. Why is sensitive a bad thing? Because it’s inclusionary? Because it means asking you to admit you may have done something wrong? Because it means you might have to re-examine your beliefs and attitudes? Because it’s considered a feminine trait?
And if asking you to do that means getting an earful of name-calling and profanity… maybe I’m not the sensitive one, after all.
In rather timely other news, there’s a very funny and talented woman in Seattle who is putting together a female-friendly open mic. You can check it out on the Faceyspaces or here. There will be an open mic performance every Tuesday in April, with half the slots reserved for female (or female-identified) comics. There are also a few spaces left in the workshop next week, if you’d rather be onstage getting laughed at and just don’t know how to get started. Either way, if you are in the Seattle area, I strongly recommend you check it out.