Tuesday October 23, 2018

Women in Refrigerators: Female characters in superhero films, a feminist outlook

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By Atul Mishra

What does a Black Widow bring to the table? What’s Scarlett Johansson’s reel role in The Avengers? Is Rachel of Dark Knight a damsel in distress? Where is Spiderwoman or Batwoman? We hear of the superheroes, but we don’t often hear about super-heroines. There have been all those men like Batman, Superman and Spiderman. Why didn’t anybody (and hasn’t hitherto) write or film women like Batwoman, Superwoman or Spiderwoman?

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Luce Irigaray, Belgian-born French feminist, argued in When ‘Goods Get Together’ that sexuality and the patriarchal machismo that’s inherently been so obvious in our society is legitimately nothing but a transaction. 6301704418_eae771570f_o

The phallocentric divide rivers down to a profit-loss statement. This happens in the film fraternity as well. Some characters have phallus, others don’t. The ones who don’t are aces in the deck of film cards, merely there to sexualize the script.

This has been perpetually present in the movies as well. There have been many female characters alongside our superheroes merely to facilitate the script and monetary credentials attached with the fraternity. As Gayatri C. Spivak asks, “Can the subaltern speak?” The reality of these female characters is that they are subalterns. They don’t really have a voice. Rachel in Batman is a damsel in distress, defined only by her relationships with the men in movie. Mary Jane in Spiderman has to be saved by his Man like the Castle of Otranto. There is a lack of agency attached with the female characters which make them subjugated when juxtaposed with larger than life superheroes. So why have these characters? Probably the Irigaray argument comes into play here that non-phallic human characters are a tool of transaction. Giving a physical reality to these characters like say Scarlett Johansson playing the Black Widow is a way to glue audiences to their seats. No doubt sexuality is the most appealing thing in a heteronormative hegemonic patriarchal culture. The result of this discourse then weakens the already weak character and the actor. But the magic of physicality and sexuality still works on the screen.

Gayatri C. Spivak
Gayatri C. Spivak

Drawing along these feminist lines, Bechdel test comes into mind. As a fact, any fictional work that has at least two female characters who talk about something other than man passes the Bechdel test. Most of the superhero movies fail this test. A few like Thor and Catwoman just passed but most of the others including Spiderman series, Batman series, Avengers and Hulk have failed the Bechdel test.

Even the movie posters have the male machismo angle attached to them. All the theatrical posters of superhero movies have those hulky-bulky-clad-in-a-particular-glaring-costume heroes. The females are subjugated even in the posters let alone the screen and script. So the stern and gloomy reality check of the portrayal of female characters in superhero movies is that first there are dominantly only superheroes and not super-heroines and moreover the grim echelon ascends due to the realization of weak female characters portrayed alongside the Achilles of silver screen.

nemas_supergirl_by_slippyninjaLaura Mulvey, the British feminist film theorist, says- “In film, women  are typically the objects, rather than the possessors, of gaze because the control  of the camera (and thus the gaze) comes from factors such as the assumption of  heterosexual men as the default target audience for most film genres. Women  are the bearer of meaning, not the maker of meaning.”

All this portrayal is also mainly because most of the superhero films have been directed by male directors, be it Niblo and Reed’s The Mark of Zorro or upcoming Snyder’s Dawn of Justice. So superhero films are actually men’s stories with hyper-sexualized women’s stories which make the latter a bearer of meaning and not its maker. The female portrayal can be seen as “women in refrigerators” and one of the stark contemporary examples is Rachel of The Dark Knight where she is murdered for the male’s storyline to progress and catapult the rage of male characters.

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Family Size Can Be Determined By Reproductive Rights: Study

To make freedom of choice a reality, the report urges countries to offer universal access to quality reproductive health care

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Reproductive Rights, abortion
A community health worker holds up contraceptives during a lecture on family planning at a reproductive health clinic run by an NGO in Tondo city, metro Manila. VOA

Family size is closely linked to reproductive rights, according to the State of World Population 2018 report.

The U.N. report says people in developed countries tend to have lower fertility rates because of greater access to family planning services, modern contraceptives and age-appropriate sex education.

The director of the U.N. Population Fund office in Geneva, Monica Ferro, says in places where reproductive rights are constrained, either due to lack of resources or government mandates, people have a limited ability to choose the size of their families.

reproductive rights
Google suspends Ireland’s Abortion Referendum Ads, VOA

“Many sub-Saharan African countries, for example, have fertility rates of four or more births per woman,” Ferro said. “At the other end of the spectrum, you have some eastern Asian and European countries with fewer than two births per women. In both cases, individuals face obstacles to the full realization of their reproductive rights.”

The world population is expected to increase by 2.5 billion by 2050, to nearly 10 billion people, with sub-Saharan Africa expected to contribute more than half of that growth.

Women in Africa must overcome many legal and social barriers to achieve control of their fertility, Ferro said.

reproductive rights
Women in Africa must overcome many legal and social barriers to achieve control of their fertility.

“Women may not have the access to medical services,” she told VOA. “They may not have the access to child care. They may not have access to all the institutional and social support that comes with being ready or being able to plan your fertility.”

Also Read: Brisbane, Australia Protests Against Plans To Decriminalise Abortion

To make freedom of choice a reality, the report urges countries to offer universal access to quality reproductive health care, including modern contraceptives and better education.

It also advocates for a change in men’s attitudes toward a woman’s right to choose the number, timing and spacing of children. (VOA)