Mr. Treehorn treats objects like women, man!

If any of you are Metafilter-readers or regular NPR listeners, you’ve probably heard about the Bechdel rule this week.  If you haven’t heard of the Bechdel rule, here it is, as written in Bechdel’s comic strip, “Dykes to Watch Out For.”

I only go to a movie if it satisfies three basic requirements: One, it has to have at least two women in it, who, two, talk to each other about three, something besides a man.

When I read this, I thought four things:

  1. Boy, lots of cool people are named Alison with one L.
  2. I bet that every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer follows the Bechdel rule.
  3. But Dr. Horrible definitely doesn’t.
  4. And I bet a lot of my favorite movies fail, too.

It should be noted here that I don’t think that the Bechdel rule should be seen as a hard-and-fast rule–rather, it’s something to make one think about how movies are made, and for what audience.  After all, there are quite a few very good movies that don’t follow this rule, and I’m sure there are some bad ones that do.  It just now occurred to me that a lot of hard-core porn films probably follow the Bechdel rule: the parts at the beginning where they talk about how the cable needs to be fixed, or the refrigerator just broke, or whatever.

Anyway.  Because I find this Bechdel rule very interesting, I’m going to test all the movies on my shelf at home:

The Big Lebowski: Fail.  Two women, Bunny Lebowski and Maude Lebowski, who never speak.

Election: Pass.  Tracy Flick and her mother talk about the election, and Tammy Metzler talks to her sort-of-girlfriend Lisa, though it doesn’t go very well.

Adaptation: Fail. Susan Orlean and Charlie and Donald’s respective love interests don’t talk to each other.

Far From Heaven: Pass.  Cathy and Eleanor talk about the party they host together.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Fail.  Clementine and Mary never meet.

High Fidelity: Uber-Fail.  It’s got lots of women, but they never talk to each other.  This movie fails for a lot of reasons.

Wayne’s World: Fail. Obviously.

The Royal Tenenbaums: Pass.  Margot and Etheline talk about Margot’s depression.

Donnie Darko: Pass. Sometimes Kitty doubts Mrs. Darko’s committment to Sparkle Motion.

Being John Malkovich: Pass-ish.  Lotte and Maxine talk to each other, but they talk about sleeping together while Lotte’s in John Malkovich, so I’m not sure it counts.  That movie’s hard to classify.

Shakespeare in Love: Pass.  Viola and her nurse talk about theatre.

Roxanne: Fail.  Roxanne and Dixie talk, but they talk about men.

Sideways: Fail.  We never see Stephanie and Maya talk to each other.

About Schmidt: Fail. Warren’s daughter and future mother-in-law never have a conversation.

Punch-Drunk Love: Fail. Barry’s sister and Lena talk, but they talk about Barry.

The Man Who Wasn’t There: Fail.  Doris Crane, Ann Nirdlinger, and Birdy never speak to each other.

Pollock: I never watch this movie because it’s too depressing, but I suspect a fail.

So that’s a 64% failure rate.  The point of this, of course, is to illustrate the fact that all too often, women in movies are seen through the eyes of men, or else they’re used as props to illustrate what the central male character is going through.  Rarely are they shown dealing with their own issues that are unrelated to men.

That’s why High Fidelity gets an uber-fail.  All the women in it are props for Rob Gordon to lean against or react to or use to deal with his own issues.  The girls he dumped are happy to see him and talk to him years later, and even when Laura’s dad dies, she chooses to deal with it by having sex with Rob, a plot point that always rang false for me.  I know that the way Rob relates to women is the central point of the movie, but the women in question could really use some help with their self-esteems.

Now that I think about it, the television shows I like follow the Bechdel rule much more often, sometimes even on an episode-by-episode basis.  Buffy, pass.  Veronica Mars, pass.  The Office, pass.  Gilmore Girls, pass.  Lost, pass.  30 Rock, pass.  Granted, most of these are shows with large ensemble casts, and with central issues unrelated to male-female relationships, so it’s easier for them to pass.  But neither Veronica nor Buffy nor the other female characters on those shows could be called props by any stretch.

I’m not sure that this indicates that television is better at fleshing out its female characters, but maybe it does.  Or maybe it’s just that my taste in TV shows runs toward those with female main characters, while my taste in movies runs toward those written and directed by quirky men (Anderson, Kaufman, the other Anderson, Payne, Coens, etc.) who usually write about male protagonists.  Or maybe it’s just that I’m more familiar with television than film.

But it does seem like television has more female writers, directors and show runners than movies have female writers and directors, doesn’t it?

i still think Spanglish was underrated

Via Metafilter, I found this article in the New York Times: “Adam Sandler Still Refuses to Grow Up, and So Do Most Hollywood Comedies.” Here’s an excerpt:

The male rejection of adulthood is now the dominant attitude in Hollywood comedy, even (or perhaps especially) in movies whose sexual frankness makes them officially unsuitable for children. Occasionally you will see a functioning if beleaguered dad, usually a widower, like Steve Carell’s character in “Dan in Real Life.” And sometimes, as in “Little Miss Sunshine,” a coeducational, multigenerational ensemble will carry the therapeutic and satirical burdens of the genre.

But far more often the center of attention will be a guy, his buddies and his toys. He will, most of the time, be nudged toward responsibility, forgiven for his quirks and nurtured in his needs and neuroses by a woman who represents an ideal amalgam of supermodel and mom.

A.O. Scott calls Adam Sandler an “overgrown man-child,” which naturally reminded me of the fact that I place most of the movies Scott is referring to in what I call “the man-child genre.” As in, “After seeing Old School, I am forever done with the man-child genre.” Or, “I didn’t like Anchorman. And I keep forgetting how much I hate the man-child genre.” For me, the man-child genre includes most movies starring Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell, as well as any Judd Apatow film that isn’t The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

But a few Metafilter users took exception to the characterization of some men as men-children:

Besides vaguely mentioning “duty and responsibility”, this article never really defines what it means to be grown up or adult. Clearly these characters can function in society – with the exception of Billy Madison, they usually have jobs and active social lives and pay their own way – so what is it that they lack, precisely?


Since the previous concept of male adulthood pretty much involved working yourself to death for the benefit of everyone else, I’m not surprised that people are running away from it now that it’s socially acceptable.


For all the complaints that men have become man children gripped by consumerism, the alternative exhorted for them is to go have a wife and kids, and a house. The traditional American dream is a bill of goods in and of itself, one that was advertised on TV, in the pulpit, in the movies. For many, the sense of security and purpose was false. The secure job of yesteryear ended with a layoff, the security of marriage ended with a divorce, and the house….

When the previous situation no longer offers the benefits that it traditionally did, why is it a surprise that it is met with rejection?

Interesting. If this is really true–if the men in these movies are considered men-children solely by virtue of the fact that they lack spouses and offspring–then I’ve been remiss in my labeling. Which is interesting because I myself lack a lot of the things that are supposed to make one an “adult”: a husband, children, and a house. Does that make me a woman-child? I don’t think so. I lack these things on purpose; they’re not what I want out of life right now, and I resent any implication that I’m deficient because of that.

But I do still see the characters in those movies as man-children. While it’s fine with me that they don’t have the stereotypical signs of “maturity” like spouses or kids or houses, they have an emotional immaturity that I think is really what turns me off. That, and the man-child movies always manage to tap into my revulsion toward so-called dick and fart jokes, which I see as immature even if they aren’t always.

This Mefi user taps into another one of my pet issues:

I think throwing in “not having kids” as a sign of not achieving adulthood is a canard that prevents the more serious underlying issue from getting addressed.

There’s an instant gratification impulse that fuels consumerism and is a symptom of an extended adolescence. It leads most people to spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need. As resources become scarcer though (especially oil and in turn plastic), this impulse is going to meet a very hard brick wall.

Dear Shaun,

Today at lunch I spent a little time on Ask Metafilter–not looking for anything in particular, mind you, just a general sort of looking. I spend less time online lately, but the Metafiltering is a thing I still do every now and then, usually when I’m trying to avoid doing something else. So there I was, clicking and avoiding, and then I read this comment you wrote, and I started to cry. I didn’t cry about the vegetarian food ideas (Smart Dogs are good, but they’re not that good) or about how expensive Whole Foods is (fucking expensive, but not tear-inducingly so) or about how much I might miss bacon if I stopped eating it (although I’d miss it a lot). No, I cried at this part:

You might get fed up and snap and have a hamburger. You might find that you’re perfectly happy being a vegetarian all the time except Sunday mornings, when you just want to goddamned pieces of bacon with your scrambled eggs. You might not think about the chicken stock in the soup until after you’ve eaten it. That’s ok. Don’t feel like you’ve failed as a vegetarian. Even though, yes, you ate some meat, you are eating less meat. Your new vegetarianism (whatever your reason for it) is not some fragile vase that is going to shatter the second you have a bite of meat. It is as strong as you decide it is, and the boundaries are where you set them. Remember that what’s important here is net benefit. A single hot dog does not erase all the benefits from not eating meat for the previous weeks, months, or years. If you were only 100% vegetarian for a single day that would be better than never.

You wrote it about vegetarianism, but I read it like this:

Your $x (whatever your reason for it) is not some fragile vase that is going to shatter the second you $y. It is as strong as you decide it is, and the boundaries are where you set them.

At which point it became about the long, long list of things I’ve stopped doing lately, things I’ve let languish simply because I’m afraid I can’t do them perfectly. I can’t write a book perfectly, I can’t sew a skirt perfectly, I can’t redesign this website perfectly (let alone post on it), I can’t process my photos perfectly, I can’t do anything perfectly. This particular thought pattern has crippled me to the point where I’ve become paralyzed with anxiety, and I’ve stopped doing anything at all.

I’m sure that this is obvious to other people, but it is not obvious to me: it’s okay if I’m not perfect. Really, it is. My writing is not some fragile vase that is going to shatter the second I split an infinitive; if I only sewed for a single day that would be better than never; and so on and so forth. And that’s why I cried when I read your comment. I’ve always known that “It’s okay if I’m not perfect” is a factual statement, but reading what you wrote made me think that I just might start believing it.

Thank you.