There’s this thing going on right now where a movie theater chain is doing “Women Only” screenings of the new Wonder Woman movie. I had a gut reaction, and then a post-gut reaction. Wanna go through them together?
My first, gut reaction is simple: this is discrimination.
Hold on, hold on! Stay with me a second.
That’s the gut reaction. And even in that gut reaction, I’m not insane. I’m not frothing here. This isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. This isn’t even the worst thing that’s happened to me in the last 24 hours. Look up “anal/rectal manometry test” if you want to learn more about the worst thing that’s happened to me in the last 24. While far from being the worst thing ever, having a probe in your butt and performing some tests gives you a certain perspective on what sorts of things fall into the “worst thing ever” category. Not to mention the issues that cause this test to be necessary.
Is a women only screening a travesty? No. A failure of the justice system? No. Do these screenings likely prevent someone who was going to see the movie at this specific chain from doing so? Almost certainly not. Is this adversely affecting my life? No. Am I sitting here, weeping openly for the first time since I saw The Iron Giant with my girlfriend and tried really hard not to cry and failed terribly? No. Is this comparable to a Civil Rights era struggle? No. Am I even going there? Fuck no.
So when I say it’s discriminatory, let’s be clear, I’m not using that word to talk about the degree to which it’s discriminatory or the level of impact these screenings have. I’m talking about the fact that telling one gender they are unwelcome at an event is discriminatory.
Is there a term for “light discrimination?” D-Lite?
I will say that the arguments in favor of the screenings are sort of fun to follow, and there are a lot of people making terrible cases for both sides, as is internet custom. It always seems like the absolute worst people on both sides of the coin come out of the woodwork when something like this happens, and once again, we’ve all filed in to fill our roles. Hardcore Feminist, Fanboy, jerkoff who writes overly long opinion pieces (www.helpfulsnowman.com) and so on.
But so far, very little I’ve seen really speaks to the concern of whether or not this is, in fact, discriminatory.
“Women are discriminated against all the time.” Yes, this is true. However, that being true doesn’t make this event non-discriminatory.
“There are very few good roles for women in superhero movies.” Yes, this is true. However, that being true doesn’t make this event non-discriminatory.
“You men online are so fragile.” Yes, this is true. However, that being true doesn’t make this event non-discriminatory.
“Other events and clubs exist that are exclusive to one gender.” Yes, this is true. However, that being true doesn’t make this event non-discriminatory.
“Man tears! So tasty!” Yes, this is true. I have direct experience with the flavor of man tears. Salty to my taste, but it takes all kinds. However, this being true doesn’t make this incident non-discriminatory.
“We’ve done special screenings before, such as military films for veterans and their families.” This is true, however there’s a big, clear difference there, which is that military enlistment is a choice. And, holding other discriminatory events doesn’t make this one non-discriminatory.
“Fine, then you should do a men only screening of Thor: Ragnarok.” Though it would seem like a leveling to some, this would not make either screening non-discriminatory. It would just mean you have TWO movies for which you’re doing discriminatory screenings. That seems pretty backwards.
And this one, when the issue of equality was raised:
Which I can sort of get behind. It’s accurate. This has nothing to do with equality.
What I’m getting at here is that the arguments in favor of doing this are valid, and the arguments people are making for equality are…pretty stupid and poorly executed, but neither the arguments nor the responses to those arguments really address the discriminatory nature of the screenings.
Probably the best argument in favor of the women only screenings is contained in the above tweet, and it’s the argument that the screenings are not anti-man, but celebratory of women and Wonder Woman.
Here’s an important internet lesson: the world isn’t about you. And what I mean by that is, someone making a list of great female sci-fi authors doesn’t mean men are bad sci-fi authors, and it especially doesn’t mean YOU are a bad sci-fi author. Someone talking about the best black actors in film from the last year doesn’t mean that all the white people sucked. It means those black actors were great!
You can say something is great, and that doesn’t mean you’re also saying something else is awful. Me saying I love New York isn’t the same thing as saying “Fuck L.A.” And me loving New York doesn’t mean I don’t also love L.A. It simply means I love New York, and right now I’m talking about how I love New York.
It’s like this: a lot of us get annoyed when people post workouts on instagram. Because it’s like, get out of my face with that bullshit. But the thing is, it’s not about me or you. It’s about the person posting it. Nobody posts a post-run post (how many times can I say “post”?) because they want to make you feel bad about yourself. They did something that made them happy, and they’re proud of it, and they’re sharing that pride with the world. And they should be proud. They did a thing.
Every time I see someone I know, and their cat is walking on a harness, I’m like, “Fuck you, man! Sicily is smart as hell, and she just doesn’t like a harness on her, and that’s okay!” And then I calm down and remember that every picture of a cat on a harness is not a statement about the fact that my cat does not like to be on a harness. I would venture to say that NONE of the pictures of cats on harnesses are about Sicily.
This is the difference between being proud of who you are and shitting on someone else or another group of people. Being proud of who you are is not the equivalent of saying someone else sucks. Posting a pic of your run or your loaded barbell isn’t the same as saying, “And if you can’t do this or better, you’re worthless.” There’s not always a “and therefore, everyone who is not in this category sucks” at the end of every statement of personal or group pride. I’d go so far as to say that sentiment is rarely part of the equation, to the point where we’re better off assuming people are not saying that.
So, is it possible to view these screenings as a matter of pride, which has nothing to do with the groups outside that pride? Is there a small, nuanced difference between a “Women Only” event and a “No Men Allowed” event?
Maybe. Probably. Give me a couple hours and that’s probably where I’ll be.
The part I’m not sure about is this: Does the very idea of a man being in the theater during the screening of a movie really affect the enjoyment of that movie? And/or does having a theater filled with only women enhance the viewing experience?
The answer to that might be yes. But if that answer is yes, I think the truth we’re putting out into the world is that there are times when a discriminatory practice is not only okay, but enhances our enjoyment of something.
What’s really weird is…I don’t know if I disagree with that truth. If you asked me, in general, if I thought discriminatory practices were okay, I would say No. But if you asked me about this specific one, I’d feel differently. And I want to figure out why I feel this way.
Because, for example, I could see why a gym might have certain hours reserved for women only. It’s not always the friendliest environment for women. And you want to build a sense of camaraderie, and you may have people who are feeling a bit exposed and doing something to lessen that feeling is a plus. That’s a specific, discriminatory practice, and it’s one that’s against people like me, and I’m okay with it.
Why does that feel so different from more classic versions of discrimination?
I think it comes down to the balance of a few things.
Let’s start with the simple fact that, on balance, it’s not a big fucking deal. It’s really not. It’s not like I was planning to see the movie at that theater chain anyway. It’s not like I was even necessarily planning to head to the theater on opening weekend. This doesn’t prevent me from doing anything, and I don’t feel like there’s a large group of voiceless people being prevented from doing something who need an advocate.
And it also bothers me a bit less because the screenings (these screenings, not the movie as a whole) occur to me as marketing, and I think marketing is without morality, which isn’t to say it’s good or bad, simply to say it’s without morality. I have my biases against marketing tactics that, in my eyes, use a social cause to make sales, and it doesn’t take a hardcore cynic to imagine that, when conceiving this event, the theater chain knew it would cause a lot of controversy and also sell seats that would not have otherwise been sold or would have gone to a different chain. It’s not hard to imagine the ease with which this idea is conceived, after which it’s pretty simple to sit back and watch the internet go apeshit. Plus, it’s classic market segmentation. Which totally works. It’s marketing 101 in effect.
While I bristle when I feel like marketing is doing something disingenuous, I try and not spend a lot of energy on talking about the evils of marketing these days because, like I was saying, marketing is not really disingenuous. Because when it comes to marketing, there’s nothing genuine about it to begin with.
Again, can’t stress this enough, there’s very rarely something genuine about the marketing of a movie, but that says nothing about the movie itself. The movie itself can certainly be genuine even if the marketing is not. It also doesn’t say anything about your reaction to it. You may have a genuine reaction to the way this marketing is functioning, and that’s fine. That’s the whole purpose of marketing. I don’t think someone who buys into a women only screening is a sucker. Nor do I think someone who is opposed is an asshole. I think a lot of people will react to it in a narrow variety of ways, and that’s marketing’s purpose, especially in segmented marketing.
And by the time I get to the end of this blog, I think I know what’s going on in my gut, brain, and heart. Butt is a mystery. Like I said, I JUST took that manometry test. Results take like 10 business days.
On the one hand, I think that the idea of this is fine. Not that anyone needed my permission. Personally, I don’t have a problem with this and other similar stuff. If you want to have an actual ladies’ night at your bar, no men allowed, I don’t particularly care. If you want to start a Christian running club, that doesn’t strike me as a bad thing. Frankly, if you started a theater that did only screenings for women, that just doesn’t press my buttons.
And while we’re on that hand, I’m not a huge believer in the slippery slope argument. I don’t think that allowing this to happen is somehow going to result in a dystopian future, that this is what we’ll all look back on and say, “Fuck, we never should have let those Wonder Woman screenings happen.” Hey, if I’m forced to move to the back of the hoverbus so a woman can take my seat 30 years from now, THAT’S the hill I’ll die on. Not this one.
On this first hand, the sum is that these screenings don’t in any way violate my personal dignity, nor do they violate the dignity of anyone that I feel needs an advocate. They’re a good time, and I think we can all ease up.
On the other hand, to say there’s nothing remotely wrong with the idea is probably disingenuous. At the very least, it does suggest that there is something about having a man in the room that lessens the experience of watching a movie, a mostly passive experience (especially at a chain that very actively discourages audience disruption), and if that’s so, that’s probably something that warrants discussion.
It does suggest that there’s an element to women’s pride that can’t be expressed if a man is present. Which is probably something that warrants discussion.
It suggests a lot of things, and I think what I’m trying to say, on this hand, is that we’re okay with not discussing the actual issues at play as long as we get the quippy, back and forth, mean spirited internet comment jizzfest. I think that we’ve sort of decided that this is more fun. More tantalizing. Satisfies some part of our brains more than looking at something and talking about how we feel.
And it’s a bit like a lot of things I have issues with lately. It seems a person’s stance on an issue becomes a with us or against us kind of thing. Your choices are to be with us (pro-screening, therefore pro-women, therefore good) or against us (anti-screening, therefore anti-women, therefore bad). There is no other choice. No middleground.
I present to you a middleground.
I’m ambivalent about the screenings. I do not care. If you go and have a great experience, I’m happy for you. But hey, let’s be honest, I’m only going to be so pumped that you had a good time at a party to which I was politely, gently, as-nicely-as-possible, uninvited.
And at the same time I reject the idea that being ambivalent about the screenings denotes my pro or anti woman sentiment, and in breaking that chain, reject the idea that my feelings about these screenings are a reasonable way to label me a good or bad person.
In presenting a middleground, I also present to you this idea: Most people are probably in some form of middleground on this whole thing. And are on most things. Loud motherfuckers make it seem otherwise, and they’re hard to ignore, but damn it, we have to try. For our own sanity, we have to try. It’s less fun. It’s less like the simplicity of the superhero movies we love where there’s the good guy and then there’s a guy who is not only a Nazi, he’s a red skull head who is TOO EVIL FOR NAZIS AND FEELS THEY’RE SOFT.
This is what’s so fucking weird about movies now and then. The stories surrounding them are almost always more complex, more nuanced, and more heated than the actual events contained in the movies.
And it’s my genuine hope that Wonder Woman breaks that mold. That the movie is more complex, more nuanced, and more exciting than the shit all around it. Or, at the very least, is one of those things.
Okay, I’m gonna hit the POST button. Hera, give me strength.