Originally published by Ms. in the Biz

When Beyoncé’s latest album dropped, feminists went nuts. This is not the first time they’ve gone nuts over Beyoncé: When Ms. Magazine put her on its cover earlier this year, its readers erupted in outrage that a woman who “writhes around,” scantily clad “for the benefit of men” could be considered a feminist. Millions of other women came to her defense, arguing that feminism is about allowing women to be whoever they want to be. The editors of Ms. stood by their choice, but the disagreement hasn’t faded, and the new album has only added fuel to the fire. The combination of lyrics sampled from a Ted Talk given by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We teach girls to shrink themselves
To make themselves smaller
We say to girls
‘You can have ambition
But not too much
You should aim to be successful
But not too successful
Otherwise you will threaten the man.’

– and those contributed by Beyoncé’s husband referring to himself as Ike Turner, casting her as Tina, and referencing a well-known episode of domestic abuse between them, debate once again flared as to the validity of Beyoncé’s claim to feminism.

Such controversies may not do much to further the cause of feminism, but they sure do generate page views. Not surprisingly, therefore, in the last few years, Hollywood reporters have taken every opportunity to ask stars, “Do you consider yourself a feminist?” While women like Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and even Susan Sarandon have eschewed the term, others have boldly taken up the mantle and declared their commitment to changing the status quo for women in Hollywood.

photo2In an interview with the Guardian, Ellen Page spoke freely about her support for reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights and her appreciation for feminism:

I don’t know why people are so reluctant to say they’re feminists. Maybe some women just don’t care. But how could it be any more obvious that we still live in a patriarchal world when feminism is a bad word? Feminism always gets associated with being a radical movement – good. It should be. A lot of what the radical feminists [in the 1970s] were saying, I don’t disagree with it.

Regarding projects she is writing and directing, she shared, “Of course, if you just write a script in which the woman has control over her destiny and love isn’t the main thing in the film, that’s seen as super feminist. [But] it’s hard to get stuff made, especially if it’s about women. Everything’s about international bankability.”

Geena Davis has thrown the weight of her name, her resume, and her money behind the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, a research-based organization working to “engage, educate, and influence the need for gender balance, reducing stereotyping and creating a wide variety of female portrayals for children’s entertainment.” The Institute found that the ratio of male to female roles in family films – three to one – has not changed since 1946. In a recent guest article in The Hollywood Reporter, she offered some great advice on solving the problem:

Step 1: Go through the projects you’re already working on and change a bunch of the characters’ first names to women’s names. With one stroke you’ve created some colorful unstereotypical female characters that might turn out to be even more interesting now that they’ve had a gender switch. What if the plumber or pilot or construction foreman is a woman? What if the taxi driver or the scheming politician is a woman? What if both police officers that arrive on the scene are women — and it’s not a big deal?

Step 2: When describing a crowd scene, write in the script, “A crowd gathers, which is half female.” That may seem weird, but I promise you, somehow or other on the set that day the crowd will turn out to be 17 percent female otherwise. Maybe first ADs think women don’t gather, I don’t know.

By Jerry Avenaim [CC-BY-SA-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Jada Pinkett-Smith, who questioned the feminist policing of Beyoncé by asking “Whose body is this anyway?” on Facebook, also used the social network to defend her daughter, Willow, when she became subject to vitriolic criticism over a haircut: “This is a world where women, girls are constantly reminded that they don’t belong to themselves; that their bodies are not their own, nor their power or self determination. I made a promise to endow my little girl with the power to always know that her body, spirit and her mind are her domain.”

Pinkett-Smith further defined her brand of feminism with a Facebook post on how sexism harms men as well as women: “There is a deep sadness when I witness a man that can’t recognize the emptiness he feels when he objectifies himself as a bank and truly believes he can buy love with things and status. It is painful to witness the betrayal when a woman takes him up on that offer.” She has also become a spokesperson for the anti-human-trafficking movement through her organization “Don’t Sell Bodies.”

The list goes on and on. Jennifer Lawrence has used her press junket for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire to advocate against women calling each other fat and for more reasonable representations of women’s bodies on screen. Evan Rachel Wood loudly protested the MPAA excision of a cunnilingus scene from her film Charlie Countryman. Natalie Portman called representations of women who are vulnerable just as feminist as those of women kicking ass. Amy Poehler told a reporter her feminism is “just who I am, in the same way that I’m a woman, or I’m 5’2″ or whatever.”

The controversy over Beyonce’s feminism shows no sign of fading, but though the singer was “terrified” before the album’s release, she says now she feels liberated, and the dispute certainly hasn’t hurt album sales. If these women aren’t shying away from calling themselves feminist – and haven’t suffered any repercussions to their careers for it – why should anybody else?

So when reporters ask you, “Do you consider yourself a feminist?”, what will your answer be?


Originally posted at Ms. and Bitch Flicks.

Remember Linda Hamilton (playing Sarah Connor) and her guns in “Terminator 2″?

Summer always makes me a bit nostalgic for childhood. I remember fondly the excitement of being out of school, the long days with nothing to do but read and the cool refuge from the hot Texas sun provided by a matinee of a summer blockbuster at the local movie theater.

Unfortunately, this summer’s action movies have left me nostalgic for more than the air conditioning. Only a few of the most highly anticipated movies of the summer feature more than one woman, and those women are primarily co-stars, not leads. After Earth and World War Z have wives who stay behind while the man goes on the adventure. Elysium co-stars Jodie Foster as a “bad guy,” but from what little information has been released on the plot, her weapon of choice appears to be government red tape. Even Monsters University only has one female student—and she’s a cheerleader.

To make matters worse, the characters who do get in on the action are mostly played by women who cannot believably fight. The Heat is a buddy cop movie starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, but it looks to be more comedy than action. The female hero of Kick Ass 2 is a young girl. And though Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts in Iron Man 3, Zoe Saldana as Uhura in Star Trek: Into Darkness, Gal Gadot as Gisele and Michelle Rodriguez as Letty in Fast and Furious 6, and Rinko Kikuchi as Pacific Rim‘s Mako Mori are supposedly tough, they are so thin that it’s hard to believe that they’re actually capable of action. In fact, though Uhura is present for two of the fights in the new Star Trek, in the first she mainly hides behind a wall, and in the second she merely fires a phaser—which, being a phaser, doesn’t even have any kickback.

This trend is disturbing but not accidental: The diets these women go on to prepare for their roles mean that no matter how much training they do, they’re not eating enough to build muscle. To prepare for her role as Catwoman, Anne Hathaway went vegan and was, by her own account, too weak to master the exercises. Not surprisingly she failed to build any muscle despite intensive training. Gwyneth Paltrow published her “elimination” diet in her book, It’s All Good, and indeed it does appear she does more eliminating than eating. And Alice Eve, whose totally unnecessary underwear scene as Carol Marcus in Star Trek: Into Darkness has prompted its fair share of criticism, told The Telegraph that to prepare for the role she ate nothing but spinach for five months. Perhaps that’s why she and her counterpart in the film, Zoe Saldana (who clocks in it at a whopping 115 pounds), spend most of the movie looking like they are about to cry.

I say we bring back Ellen Ripley. To prepare for her role in Aliens, Sigourney Weaver did dumbbell chest presses, squats, shoulder presses and rows—all with weights—and she didn’t diet at all. Did you hear that? Not at all. I say we bring back Sarah Connor. In Terminator 2, Linda Hamilton did basic soldier training and ate a high-protein diet, and, indeed, she has guns in her hands and on her arms. Or remember when a 140-pound Jamie Lee Curtis did a strip tease to protect her “cover” in True Lies? Now that was a motivated underwear scene. (Note to J.J. Abrams: Having Eve take her clothes off in the middle of rushing from one place to the next for no reason at all is simply objectification.)

These female heroes of yore were popular not just because they were badass: They were also fantastic characters. Unfortunately, the summer movie with the best female fights (and the most diverse casting) is probably going to be the one that provides the least opportunity for character development. Gina Carrano, an actual Mixed Martial Arts professional, and Michelle Rodriguez did almost all of their own fights for Fast and Furious 6, and those fights are pretty damn cool. But because Rodriguez’s character Letty has amnesia, she moves through every moment of the film when she’s not driving or fighting like she’s in a daze. Carrano as Riley never speaks more than one or two lines per scene.

Saldana, Eve and Paltrow are gorgeous and talented, and the problems with their performances are largely the result of underwritten characters. I don’t mean to body shame this summer’s starlets for being slender; I mean to shame Hollywood for asking them to starve themselves, and to shame a culture that thinks starving women are beautiful. It’s not a coincidence that many women action heroes are actually children—that’s about as big as Hollywood lets women get these days.

Media-savvy Geena Davis, in an interview about her movie The Long Kiss Goodnight (in which she played amnesiac CIA agent Samantha Caine who, like Jason Bourne, has forgotten who she was but not how to fight), explained why this matters:

Thelma and Louise had a big reaction, there was a huge thing at the time, that, ‘Oh my god, these women had guns and they actually killed a guy!’ … That movie made me realize—you can talk about it all you want, but watch it with an audience and talk to women who have seen this movie and they go, ‘YES!’ They feel so adrenalized and so powerful after seeing some women kick some ass and take control of their own fate. … Women go, ‘Yeah—fucking right!’ Women don’t get to have that experience in the movies. But hey, people go to action movies for a reason; they want to feel adrenalized and they want to identify with the hero, and if only guys get to do that then it’s crazy.

Long live Samantha Caine. Long live Thelma and Louise.

For more images and stats on women in action movies, check out Feminist Fandom and follow Holly L. Derr on Twitter @hld6oddblend.