Saturday, July 7, 2012

Sometimes You Get What You Need

In a commentary on the rush of superhero movies that have flooded our theaters in recent years, this excerpt from Manohla Dargis caught my eye (You can read the full article here):

I like some comic-book movies very much, dislike others. But as a film lover I am frustrated by how the current system of flooding theaters with the same handful of titles limits my choices. . . . The success of these movies also shores up a false market rationale that’s used to justify blockbusters in general: that is, these movies make money, therefore people like them; people like them, therefore these movies are made.

So, in effect, movie studios pour huge money into these films, market and merchandise the hell out of them to recoup their budgets, and when they are successful, they use that as proof that they are giving people what they want. And perhaps they are. But, let’s face it, a lot of what they are putting out is just the same old story with a different costume and different effects. We might prefer something else, but the studios won’t chance losing their cash on a “maybe.” They stick with tried and true and we go to the trough.

Anyway, Dargis got me thinking, “Do we get what we want or want what we get?” Are people asking for these movies and getting them, or are they being fed to us and we are just playing along? And then I read this last piece:

The movie industry . . . persists in recycling maddeningly troglodytic representations of women that its embrace of superheroes has only perpetuated and maybe exacerbated. For all the technological innovations . . . superhero movies just recycle variations on gender stereotypes that were in circulation back in the late 1930s, when Superman and Batman first hit. The world has moved on—there’s an African-American man in the Oval Office, a woman is the secretary of state—but the movie superhero remains stuck in a pre-feminist, pre-civil rights logic that dictates that a bunch of white dudes, as in “The Avengers,” will save the world for the grateful multiracial, multicultural multitudes.

And that’s when I thought about jiu jitsu. Some of you may remember that last year on vacation I called a gym to visit a class and was told by the Gym Leader that I wasn’t welcome because, “well . . . women aren't really interested in jiu jitsu.” 

That man, I’ll call him Douche Bag Gym Leader (DBGL for short), DBGL was asking me to want what he was giving me rather than giving me what I wanted. He wouldn’t even let me be the super sex-symbol chick on the sidelines (which you know I would be). No, he gave me the 1930s “let-me-tell-you-what-you-want, little woman” (which never ends well with Shark Girl).
With a larger society (and some DBGMs) telling us that “strong” women are bitches, aren’t sexy, or at best are sexy but really not effective, is it any wonder that more women are not practitioners of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?

For most people who start BJJ, practicing jiu jitsu is about gaining strength. Women who join jiu jitsu classes have to gain a lot of strength before we even step out onto the mat. For me, I had to realize that what the larger world was saying about myself was not what I wanted. It goes against all cultural norms about what a 40-year-old, suburban mother of two should be doing with her spare time. For a while I hid it from friends and family—heck, even my blog is anonymous! I had to be willing to go against that cultural narrative. I had to look Hollywood square in the face and say, “I’m the superhero, thank you very much.”


Manohla Dargis in “Super-Dreams of an Alternate World Order: ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ and the Modern Comic Book Movie.” Published in The New York Times Magazine, June 27, 2012.


  1. Film has had a very unhealthy perspective on women for a long time now. Women are treated as stereotypes, mainly there to be rescued, leered over or produce babies. If a role needs some character, it will invariably be given to a man. Even if it's a cartoon based around teapots or chipmunks, the male teapot or chipmunk will be the one allowed to have personality.

    Same goes for most comic books, except with more muscles and representations of the female figure that owe a lot to teenage fantasy and nothing at all to the laws of physics. I love comic books and a lot of comic book films, but they certainly aren't progressive when it comes to gender.

  2. My favorite is the movie "Barnyard," where the lead cow (and many others) are male. For a while I was trying to figure out whether that was progressive or regressive. : )

  3. Didn't the lead cow have udders? That always just irked me.

    While all the issues in movies and comics you and Can expressed do bother me, I think they're very telling about humanity. EOD, 99% of stories are told from the perspective of White, Western, heterosexual, middle-class+ men and all of them, along with all of the others, buy into those ideals on a daily basis. I think though, to expect mainstream movies to be healthy is like expecting McDonalds to be healthy. Sure, they'll add on some salads and bottled water, by what appeals to the masses is always based on the lowest common denominator.

    That said, I am SO sorry I missed the DBGL incident. That's beyond ridiculous. I think I'd have put that school on blast. Unsportmanlike, sure, but his response was beyond ridiculous.

    1. I like your McDonald's analogy.

      Yeah, DBGL was disappointing to say the least!

  4. I honestly agree with all of your perspectives, too. I actually did some work for a psychology paper last semester that emphasized the fact that Disney is one of the greatest perpetrators of gender-role stereotypes in the media. Of course, fitness magazines and adolescent celebrities don't help this at all, but the only way to eliminate it is to eliminate the media which perpetuates it or ignore it altogther. As for me, I prefer the latter because it's far more controllable!

    This is a very keen observation on your part and I truly appreciate you writing this.

    Too bad more people in modern society dont' think this way. It must be a jiu-jitsu thing ;-)


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