Gender/Genre (or why I’m about to Hulk out on Moviefone)

2 05 2012

We have a new, vile example of the marginalization of fangirls (or the general treatment of women as a surplus audience), courtesy of Moviefone.  I have written about the “Princess Naked” and/or “Dr. Girlfriend” gendered Comic-Con stereotypes forwarded by the popular press on this blog in the past, but articles like this one are part of a more persistent and pervasive trend.  Written by Jessie Heyman, “A Girls’ Guide to The Avengers” (since retitled “One Girl’s Guide to The Avengers,” which makes it all better, except that it doesn’t), begins with “As your boyfriend probably told you, ‘The Avengers’ is hitting theaters this Friday…” and somehow manages to go downhill from there.

In addition to reifying the generic pink ghetto (“But you hate action movies and you’ve never even read a comic book,” followed quickly by a Bridget Jones/romcom reference to make us womenfolk feel more comfortable), and offering swoony heteronormative incentives to attend (both of the “Thor’s hammer” and “feign interest to please your boyfriend” variety), the article offers the following helpful advice:

What NOT to say:
“Do you think Scarlett Johansson is pretty?”
“Oh, so it’s like the ‘New Years Eve’ of superhero movies?”
“Who could concentrate on the story with all those biceps?”
“Boys are so weird.”

What to say:
“Thank GOD someone did the Hulk correctly.”
“I can’t wait for ‘Thor 2.'”
“Joss Whedon is the man.”
“Yeah, you’re definitely Iron Man. If he were buffer.”

Now, I’m not going to quibble with the fact that the author of this article failed to decode the acronym S.H.I.E.L.D. correctly, or mistakenly identified Pepper Potts as Tony Stark’s assistant (that’s *former* assistant, thankyouverymuch).  What I will quibble with is the fact that I read one of these articles almost every damn day.  True, they’re not all as blood-boilingly heinous as this one is, but as a point of comparison, let’s go back to a 2009 article in the Los Angeles Times titled “The Girls’ Guide to Comic-Con.”

Featuring a collection of blurbs from online journalists claiming that SDCC was “not just for nerdy guys anymore,” but rather a “smorgasbord for female fandemonium,” the article details 22 lures for female attendees, based on predictions about SDCC’s then-yet-to-be-released programming schedule.  Of these 22 supposed draws for female attendees, 15 (68%) revolved around the promise of “eye candy” in the form of male celebrities, 3 (14%) focused on historically “feminine” genres such as soap operas and weepies, 3 (14%) focused on television series or films featuring strong female characters, and there was 1 (4%) token example of demographic and gender neutral programming (Toy Story 3).  In the rare instances that the article acknowledged a desire for fangirls to see themselves depicted as strong women by the media industry, this “strength” was defined exclusively in terms of fashion sense (regarding the television reboot of The Witches of Eastwick…remember that?!  Of course you don’t.), and empty celebrations of “girl power” (literally empty, as Echo on Dollhouse was described as “airheady”).

Here are a few choice quotes from that article (and trust me, they’re all deeply offensive, and written by male and female journalists alike):

This is all to say that fangirls (and female audiences generally) deal with this marginalization on a daily basis, the Moviefone article is just one example of a pervasive discursive trend that has accompanied the celebration of fanboys as an emergent power demographic.  Newspaper stories put on gasping/fainting airs when it was revealed that women comprised 48% of the opening weekend audience for The Dark Knight (2008).  The articles that emerged didn’t recognize that fangirls were always already part of the “fanboy” demographic.  Rather, they framed The Dark Knight’s large female audience as an anomaly and attempted to deconstruct the film’s appeal for women.  The film’s executive producer, Thomas Tull, cited the “female appeal” and the acting pedigree of stars Christian Bale and Heath Ledger. Other journalists simply wrote off the large female audience as a manifestation of “rubberneck curiosity” to see Ledger’s posthumous performance as the Joker.  The notion that fangirls had long circulated around Batman as a property was never broached as a potential explanation for the film’s success.

We wouldn’t stand for articles detailing “appropriate” careers for women, and so it’s unsurprising over the outcry over the Moviefone article, which suggests “appropriate” genres for men and women to circulate around.  Derek Johnson has done some excellent work on gendered franchising discourses, a “complex and contradictorily gendered phenomenon in which the feminized narratives of seriality [are] revalued through the economic logics of industrial rationality.”[1]  If franchises aim to position themselves as  “seemingly gender-neutral,”[2] the popular press’ coverage of them is anything but.

When I go see The Avengers this weekend (with a bunch of female friends with varying interests in comics and action films, I should note), even my soda selection at the snack bar has an opinion on whether or not I’m the intended audience:

The Dr. Pepper 10 ads have been (justifiably) criticized to death, but the “intended” audience for Marvel properties is also implicit in the majority of the partnered ads between Marvel films and Dr. Pepper.  Hey, check it out, Black Widow has been reduced to Stan Lee’s hot secretary!

A few more things:

– Go read The Discriminating Fangirl’s excellent response to the Moviefone article debacle.

– Keep getting outraged when these articles appear.  They’re not satirical, they reflect the pervasive and persistent devaluation of female spectators by media industries.  Keep tweeting and blogging and commenting (a big “Excelsior!” those commenting at Moviefone, you are all articulate, hilarious people.) and let the popular press know that this discourse is unacceptable.

– Go buy/support Womanthology, or GeekGirlCon, or go read any number of kickass blogs that deal with fan culture in a thoughtful way (I’m looking at you, The Mary Sue!)

– Congratulations, Moviefone, you’ve just made it into my book revisions (hint, it ain’t gonna be pretty…and I know that will disappoint you, because that’s how you like your ladies, pretty and silent and complacent).  Also, on behalf of female comic book fans everywhere, maybe you should stop telling us what to say and what not to say, and hold yourself accountable for what YOU do and don’t say, and stop hiding behind your crappy cardboard Capt. America shield of “satire.”

[1] Derek Johnson, “Devaluing and Revaluing Seriality: The Gendered Discourses of Media Franchising,” Media, Culture, & Society 33.7, 1080.

[2] Ibid., 1091.