Friday, July 13, 2012

Chauvinism, Chainsaw Massacres and Characters

With the release of the movie Brave fresh in our minds, I can’t help but think of this film and how empowering it was to women and, ultimately, how it compares to the portrayal of women in other movies. Brave was probably the first Disney film I saw featuring a female protagonist whose sole motivation wasn’t getting married or being rescued by a prince and, you know, that was okay too.

However, when I spoke to some friends about this, they claimed that women had been positively portrayed in many different films for years and cited a few examples. Not surprisingly, many of the examples were from the horror genre and harkened back to the era of Scream, Friday the 13th and, especially, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. You might have seen a few of these if you get your DIRECT TV from Direct.TV.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest misconceptions some people seem to have when it comes to movies is what is really empowering and what isn’t. In the case of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, let’s look at the heroine known as Sally. When the argument of women and empowerment is brought into the discussion of the film, lots of people like to talk about how Sally is empowered by the fact that she is the sole survivor of leather face’s onslaught, but is she really? Throughout the film, all of the male protagonists around her are killed almost instantly. If any of the male cast members suffer, it is a drop in the bucket compared to what Sally endures. In fact, the entire movie is essentially about watching Sally getting beaten, tormented and terrified. It doesn’t matter whether or not she thwarts her tormentors or escapes because the damage is done.

In the case of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Sally is not empowered, even if she does win out over the opposition. That’s like saying a rape victim who kills her attacker is somehow empowered. The abrupt ending of the movie even lends itself to the notion that Sally is forever scarred by this ordeal and will never be “okay” ever again and that’s really the point. If you want to talk about empowering a female protagonist, then show her with an identity and a motivation and an agenda that doesn’t involve a man, marriage or anything else that can become vaguely codependent. Having a female protagonist who really only serves to be brutalized and saying that, by her surviving it, she is empowered is preposterous and, frankly, a dangerous train of thought that only perpetuates sexism against women and the savagery of chauvinism.

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