NY Times Critic Dargis Laments Lack of Women in Summer Movies and "the Symbolic Phallus"

May 2nd, 2011 2:15 PM

New York Times movie critics Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott spray the new crop of summer flicks with a dose of liberal guilt in Sunday’s “Gosh, Sweetie, That’s a Big Gun.” Dargis in particular just can’t be pleased with how women are portrayed by Hollywood. Three years ago she greeted the summer season with "Is There a Real Woman in This Multiplex?”  On Sunday she lamented that the women on screen today are the wrong kind of women, criticizing a scene from "Meek's Cutoff" in embarrassing feminist/Freudian academic language, circa 1968: "I just don’t believe that scene where her character pulls out a rifle to protect the wagon train’s Indian prisoner -- or should I say when she takes possession of the symbolic phallus."

The introductory paragraph set the tone:

The summer season brings the usual cavalcade of testosterone-fueled action heroes, including Thor, the Green Lantern, Captain America and Conan the Barbarian. But action-movie derring-do is not always an exclusively male preserve, and in the last year some women and girls -- Evelyn Salt, Lisbeth Salander and the lingerie-clad avengers of “Sucker Punch,” among others -- have been shooting and not just clawing their way into macho territory. Is this empowerment or exploitation? Feminism or fetishism?

Some of Dargis's exchange with Scott:

It’s no longer enough to be a mean girl, to destroy the enemy with sneers and gossip: you now have to be a murderous one. That, at any rate, seems to be what movies like “Hanna,” “Sucker Punch,” “Super,” “Let Me In,” “Kick-Ass” and those flicks with that inked Swedish psycho-chick seem to be saying. I like a few of these in energetic bits and pieces, but I’m leery of how they fetishize hyper-violent women. Part of me thinks the uptick in bloody mama and kinder-killer movies is about as progressive as that old advertising pitch for Virginia Slims cigarettes, meaning not very. You’ve come a long way, baby, only now you’re packing a gun and there’s blood on your hands (or teeth).

This paragraph from Dargis on a violent scene in the new Western “Meek’s Cutoff” sounds straight from an academic tract penned by a liberal all too willing to find patriarchal symbolism in everything.

I don’t know about an entire chapter, maybe a paragraph. I just don’t believe that scene where her character pulls out a rifle to protect the wagon train’s Indian prisoner -- or should I say when she takes possession of the symbolic phallus. I think the movie would be more honest (and more interesting) if this woman, who appears to take pity on the Indian really because she’s the designated moral center -- a quality that blurs uncomfortably with the fact that she’s a woman -- were as despicable as the men. This frontier proto-feminism is unpersuasive and certainly not as convincing as the film’s vision of Manifest Destiny as collective insanity. By saving the Indian, she ends up mounting the same pedestal on which women have been historically placed, to our detriment.

But Dargis has previously lamented the lack of females in movies. In December 2009, she ranted: “Only a handful of female directors picked up their paychecks from one of the six major Hollywood studios and their remaining divisions this year....Paramount Pictures and Warner Brothers Pictures, meanwhile, did not release a single film directed by a woman. Not one. Feeling queasy yet? Resigned? Indifferent? A little angry?”

Dargis also put a damper on the 2008 summer movie season under the killjoy headline, "Is There a Real Woman in This Multiplex?,” slamming some pretty good entertainment for the sin of being made by men: “Iron Man, Batman, Big Angry Green Man -- to judge from the new popcorn season it seems as if Hollywood has realized that the best way to deal with its female troubles is to not have any, women, that is.”