Rated “P” for Patriarchy

One of the most frustrating things to see, to a person who values truth, is valid points misleadingly mixed with ridiculous assertions. Salon’s article by Soraya Chemaly, “The MPAA’s backwards logic: Sex is dangerous, sexism is fine,” is a case of just such an article. In perhaps Chemaly’s only really substantive point, she questions why a sex scene, which depicts something generally positive and fun, should be rated worse than movies where people are literally ripped to shreds. But this isn’t the place to debate such aspects of American morality (although this might be), and aside from this, it is an exercise in fallacy and distorted reality.

Chemaly’s article focuses on the French film, “Blue is the Warmest Color,” which was given an NC-17 rating for graphic, lengthy lesbian sex scenes, using prosthetic genitalia. However, you don’t need to have seen the movie to realize just how ridiculous the arguments in her article are. In one of her first questions, she prompts the reader to, “Imagine if our movie ratings considered sexism and racism as content that children should not be viewing without parental input.”

Okay, I’m imagining it: I see films rated based on a film reviewer’s political convictions and personal beliefs. You know, more than they already do. That way, every movie a person under 17 is allowed to see will give them just the right politically-correct programming, since clearly mandatory schooling isn’t working fast enough.

The article goes on to complain about how women are often portrayed in passive, “objectified,” roles in movies. Of course, there are often very good reasons for that. In action movies, for instance, it is simply implausible that, without a supernatural or science fiction explanation, the vast majority of women would keep up. Certainly not the willowy creatures popular on the silver screen.

A study from 1997 shows why this is so. In multiple tests of upper body strength, men were able to exert an average of 33% of their body weights with their dominant sides, versus 24% for women. The difference in body mass, however, meant that in terms of absolute force men were very nearly twice as strong as the women tested. Another study showed that even female athletes whose sports depended on grip strength had weaker grips than untrained men. Given that many action movies involve large amounts of close combat, this necessarily means that, with any sort of realism, women will not play starring roles in action movies. If women want more realistic portrayals of effective women in combat, they need to take it up with nature, not filmmakers. Indeed, the cases where major female actors, such as Angelina Jolie in, “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” or Scarlett Johansson as, “Black Widow,” in “The Avengers,” are portrayed beating up men are unrealistic and contrived. Admittedly, Linda Hamilton in, “Terminator 2,” and Jenette Goldstein in “Aliens,” come closer, although a woman like Fredia Gibbs, in her heyday, would be even more realistic.

But of course, showing what would really happen to most women in actual hand-to-hand combat with a man would be a patriarchal celebration of violence against women, right? The (warning: graphic violence in links) depictions of violence against men are clearly much milder and less offensive .

From complaints about adhering in any way to the true nature of our species, the article then moves on to hyperbolic misrepresentation. One complaint is about the movie, “Shark Tale,” which features Kanye West’s song “Golddigger.” “Does the message that all women are manipulative, greedy, money-obsessed whores work for you?” it asks angrily, ignoring the fact that the song is about one woman, not women in general, and that there are indisputably women with a gold digger attitude. Indeed, any man who has dated with and without money can tell you how much of a difference income can make.

Then, the article makes the ridiculous assertion that, ” At the same time, MPAA ratings clearly reveal a serious discomfort with adult women as sexual actors, with depictions of female pleasure, and with portrayals of men as objects of desire.” Really? So, if the actors in Brokeback Mountain were portraying underage characters getting fully nude with extended, explicit sex, complete with genital prosthetics, it would not have an NC-17 rating? The idea that the MPAA acted out of sexism in giving its rating is ridiculous, unless you buy into Ryan Gosling’s statement, quoted in the article, that, ” The MPAA is… trying to force us to look away from a scene that shows a woman in a sexual scenario, which is both complicit and complex. It’s misogynistic in nature to try and control a woman’s sexual presentation of self.”

Apparently, two straight women pretending to have sex with fake genitals is, “a woman’s sexual presentation of self.” Whether the MPAA’s actions in regards to this film are justified or not, there is no evidence, or even any reason to think, that it was motivated by sexism.

It is a shame that, in as large a platform as Salon, they could not start a discussion about our strange approach to sex and violence in entertainment without filling it with ideological half-truths. Their complaints against the ratings of movies with, “beheadings, severed limbs, bloodied torsos, rapes, decapitations and worse,” (that’s right, beheadings AND decapitations) as “sexist,” despite the fact that such violence is depicted far more often against men than women, are ridiculous on their face. Especially given that, as the feminists love to point out, these dying men are often fighting to save a woman.

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