Feminist columnist Jessica Valenti has published an op-ed in The Guardian about men who don’t engage or follow women. The article was based on a tweet that she published where a man sitting next to her on the train followed the same people on Twitter, except he had followed no women. Considering the number of @ replies the tweet received and the preceding comments that came with the article, the issue was it was only an invasion of privacy of the man – it was – but it comes to the conclusion that the man is sexist, or passively so.
The guy next to me on the subway was checking Twitter; he followed almost all the same people I did but NO WOMEN. Passive sexism is for real
— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) May 12, 2015
The scenario is incredibly murky and Valenti had opened up a microagression that can be easily misjudged. We don’t know who the man is under the limit of 140 characters, and we could only presume that he’s someone Valenti has just met. We don’t know the number of people he’s following, so her stance could not be useful in determining that the man is sexist. But at the very worst, unless the guy is a drooling men’s right activist, the harm in not following a single woman on Twitter, in my opinion is very mild and this serves as nothing but a passive-aggressive mockery that the internet is very open to.
I’ve already written a post about having bad faith in one’s taste, where people like to mock those whose populist tastes include directors like Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino (coincidently the name of my blog is Lack of Taste, so this may be a frequent topic). I want to clarify that what I’ve written wasn’t a defense of film fans whose cinematic knowledge can be limited. Hell, I watch less than a thousand feature films and that makes me more inferior than the professional critics that I’m following. My counter argument comes down to an attitude that I felt made the film community less encouraging to people who are new to a common hobby and it was made worst when some cinephiles mention ‘white men’ as a pejorative because they don’t expand their tastes.
In Valenti’s piece, she presumes that men cannot be open with the works of women, thus their cultural tastes makes them detestably narrow-minded. She could have given examples of books, film or music by women that men are willing to consume, because otherwise, the piece is nothing short of condescending. Valenti would have her head exploding where she could takes a peep at the Sight and Sound poll and every entry is a film directed by a man. She’ll have her jaw dropped where not a single female directed film have been canonized. By her own logic, the Sight and Sound poll is ‘passively sexist’ for not including female directed movies.
I will admit that I have done things that are sexist online. I have written tweets critical of feminism that made me lose followers (one of which followed me back twice but unfollowed because I made fun of male feminists). Yet I followed several female writers, all of whom have views on movies and music that I agree and disagree with. One of whom is a feminist who have written essays that are critical of her ideology, so I could be worse than the guy on the train for looking up to a woman whose beliefs are appealing to me. That is, you can say ‘but I have female friends’, it doesn’t mean you aren’t a misogynist.
The op-ed touches on a narrative of seeing the art of the underdog succeed, to which satisfaction as an end result feels cathartic. The more people become vehement about it, the more it turns into something obligatory and exhausting for others, particularly men.
As more advocates of film and social justice loudly request that people should seek out movies directed by and/or starring minorities and women, as evident by the emerging hashtag #seehermore, it becomes clear that part of it comes from a view that pop culture should reflect collective progressive beliefs. Lately, the weekend box office was dominated by two films: Pitch Perfect 2 and Mad Max: Fury Road. The former is the directorial debut of Elizabeth Banks, and its leads are women who are ranging from many races. Mad Max Fury Road however has a story in which we see Charlize Theron play a kick ass female amputee rescuing seven girls who are escaping a toxically large male society. I can only speak for that film as it is an empowering fantasy that let the audience escape from the troubling reality plagued by the dehumanization that they’ve experienced. While both films made the same high level amount of money, it seems hard to accept both films accomplishing much since one of them is more progressive than the other, adding to the dissonance I currently have with film culture.
The objective of seeing someone who is not a majority, earning recognition in the media can get overzealous. For example, there was a campaign in January to get Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off included into the Hottest 100 that was started off by Buzzfeed’s Mark DiStefano. The main motivation into this ploy was to see a female pop artist included and to troll music snobs (not to mention she could be the first female solo musician to top the poll). Unfortunately, because it was inadvertently sponsored by KFC, Swift was disqualified cementing the image that Triple J refuses to recognize mainstream music (and that the station and the voters, in part, is sexist). When events of this occur, in which we seek institutions to be more socially responsible, the motivation had become clear.
As modern film culture becomes increasingly liberal, the filmmaker comes first rather than the talked about film. There’s an ongoing project in which film critic Marya R Gates seek a film that have been written or directed by women. The intent of the project should be applauded for giving women as much cinematic recognition and being open as men. Call me sexist if you will, but what if I was skeptical of the films she’d watched? Because it once mattered to me that seeing and supporting a film based on the gender, sexuality and race of the filmmaker could make me a much more enlightened person. Now, it doesn’t.
I was looking forward in seeing Fifty Shades of Grey mostly because it was directed by Sam Taylor Johnson, a woman; the POV is that of a woman, the screenplay and the source material it was based on are written by women and the audience for it was women; it was ultimately the full package where women would participate, despite its questionable content. Unfortunately the film was an entire letdown and now the idea of seeking a film directed by women does not resonate with me that much anymore. Granted, the example I’ve given is very subjective, but it shows that a creator’s identity doesn’t automatically add to the quality of art. But does that statement alone make me as a misogynist? I mean, my favorite film of last year was The Babadook which was from the perspective of an actress, female director, screenwriter. If I didn’t put that film anywhere in my year-end list, does that alone make me a rage inducing jerk? Or if my mind is in a state of where I see everything that is humanist, am I not a healthy-minded being?
This isn’t to say that I’m discouraging others in seeing films directed by women. If that’s your idea of seeing movies, then that should be a positive outcome. But I see this narrative become more about the identity of a filmmaker, and ignoring than the film itself, to the point where it becomes patronizing to said identity.
The more this attitude becomes forced to us, to say that we’re culturally inferior, the more that it reeks of affirmative action. It has become more of a guilt trip for those who rarely engage with voices, to show that they are monsterous consumers if they don’t engage with art that isn’t of their kind. If bad faith in cultural tastes continue, to the point where strong conclusions are made about said individual, then the conversation in regards to pop culture had left an dishonest taste in my mouth.