I didn’t start the weekend planning to go on a lengthy rant about Robert Pattinson, but here I am nevertheless.
I’d spent all last Friday reading tweets for and against the casting of “Rpatz”. He is rumoured to be under strong consideration for the eponymous role in “The Batman” movie, scheduled for summer 2021 release and directed by Matt Reeves (War for the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes).
Great. You like Batman? Here’s some more! Happy? …… …… erm…No?
No. The internet (read as mostly men on the internet) went batshit. Robert Pattinson? The Sparkly one from Twilight? “We don’t want that big-square-chin guy known for playing someone with superhero type powers, having loads of money, strength, and doing lots of night shoots peering moodily down from tall places, who won the Brooding Olympics 2009” the dudes cried out.
But why? What’s the problem?
Well I’ll tell you, it’s women.
Specifically young women and girls. Robert Pattinson got his start in two franchises which had huge followings, which contained a disproportionate amount of women, young women, and girls; and everybody knows that everything that women and girls love is shit.
I’ll show my hand, I’m not hugely invested in Batman. I liked the 1960s TV show with Adam West and Dick Grayson as a kid, I’ve seen some of the films, I’m not a huge Batfan. I don’t really care who plays him in The Batman, I’m not that bothered.
I’m not hugely invested in Robert Pattinson either; I’ve seen some of his films, I’ve heard some of his music, he gave a strong nod to James Dean in Twilight-adjacent photo shoots, I will not be personally affected if he doesn’t play The Batman. As an aside, I am very impressed that Mark Millar called this casting with pinpoint accuracy on twitter in 2017.
What I do care about is the ways in which women are vastly exploited as consumers, while having their taste and interests constantly derided and undermined.
Look at the very basics of marketing: The car industry has been built around making men feel powerful; the cosmetics industry has been built around making women feel shit. Boys are hard-sold sport, and superheroes, and high-status careers (Doctor, Engineer, Astronaut); Girls are hard-sold low expectations, domestic servitude, and reproduction. Gender roles are in place at a terrifyingly early age, and the constant message is that girls are less than, their things are less than, and that boys who like their things are lowering themselves, embarrassingly.
From an early age, if a girl plays with a boy-toy, it might be remarked upon, she might be reminded it’s not for her and nudged back into her lane, but unless she makes the full leap to attempting to experience the world in a way similar to boys (maybe wanting to be a Doctor, Engineer, Astronaut?) then she might escape ridicule. If a boy, no matter how tiny, picks up a doll, or dresses as a nurse, says he likes My Little Pony, or grows his hair, there will be other children, and grown men, and grown women, queuing around the block to point, laugh, comment, dissuade, and enforce the golden societal rule: Everything Women and Girls Love is Shit (and you are humiliating yourself by association). It all ties effortlessly into wider homophobia and transphobia, but at its core is base misogyny. The message is clear: DO NOT LOWER YOURSELF.
You don’t have to look far into the grown-up world to see the ripples of this phenomena. I will clarify, obviously, that what women and girls actually like is as broad as there are women and girls, and includes particle physics, politics, sport, real ale, and not being fucking pigeon-holed, but what I’m talking about here are ‘Things that are associated as being For Girls’. There is a special vehemence to the vitriol heaped upon, for example, “Boy Bands/Girl Groups”, “Chick Flicks”, “Chick lit”, or “Mummy Porn”, as just a few amongst many.
I’ll give you a hint before we even start as to why it’s always “Chick” or “Girl” on everything, never Woman. Chick, or girl, is smaller. Smaller, girlier, and less threatening. The diminutive title bestowed for the sole purpose to make sure it is absolutely clear- this is not man stuff, and it is shit.
Music should be a broad church. No two people will agree on the exact same best 100 songs, or enjoy music in the same way, but the derision and rage directed at commercial pop, and specifically at the kind which attracts crowds of screaming teenage fans really is next-level. I’ve never been a pop music fan, I have commercial radio in my car in the mornings because it blends into the background in a vaguely upbeat way, my son likes it, and I don’t have to pay it attention; It doesn’t set my mood. I wouldn’t buy or stream 99.5% of what I hear, but I don’t hate it, it’s just chewing gum for my ears. I don’t like Jazz music either; my partner does, my sister does, but to me it sounds like a bad anxiety attack in a wanky lounge-bar. I don’t think less of people who like either though- It’s not for me, I am not the intended demographic. Unless the music, its content, or its creators suddenly challenge some aspect of my political or moral compass, I do not have to invest my energy in it. I can let people enjoy things.
You will find though, that some people hate (particularly) Boy Bands, or pop music made for or by young women, with a relentlessness that I feel exposes them. Why do they feel challenged by a handful of sulky teenage boys singing? Why so angry? I’ve heard it over and over, it’s manufactured, it lacks integrity, it fails to have even a single redeeming feature; I don’t think this quite explains their very visceral reaction. For these people it is no longer a matter of taste, it is objectively shit, and these people will tell you all about it. Those same people will also tell you how they never listen to it, and know nothing about it or its creators, because it is shit. So mostly all they actually know is that it is popular, and aimed at women and girls.
Similarly, in cinema, any film in which there is a romantic or romantic comedy theme, probably not too smutty, probably with a female lead or female narrative, is automatically assigned “Chick flick”. If someone non-female does like it, it will probably become “comedy”, not a chick flick at all. You can probably define a chick flick as any film perceptibly designed to be enjoyed by women. Of course Dudebros can watch any old shit they like, without it being typecast as gender-relevant or instantly pushing their combined favourites into a guilty subsection of the film world. I am all astonishment.
In comedy, we have the endlessly repeated “Women aren’t funny” doesn’t matter that it’s bollocks. It doesn’t matter that woman comedians have to fight twice as hard to get booked, that if there is already one on the line-up they might not get booked so as to avoid it looking like some kind of political statement or specialist fundraiser. Doesn’t matter if four fifths of all the line ups ever, and much more beyond are all average white guys… you cant unbalance the bill with too many specialist acts. Doesn’t matter that women have to fight the automatic reaction of men to speak over them on panel shows (more on this later), or the perception of the audience that they are being gobby and domineering when taking up less than their fair share of speaking time (more on this also). Women are told they are shit at comedy before they are even heard.
And in literature we have “Chick lit”. Wikipedia tells us ‘Chick lit […]is genre fiction, which “consists of heroine-centered narratives that focus on the trials and tribulations of their individual protagonists”. So what is the rest of the sum of all literature? Dick Lit? This writes-off literally every book whose central character is a woman. Any written work in which women might find relatable content as the central feature is subdivided off. Not only are things for women and girls shit, but things about women and girls (excluding those specifically designed for the male gaze) are also shit.
Look how early we learn this; in a broad Study of children’s literature-
- Up to 100% of kids books contain a male character, up to 100%. That is to say, as little as 0% contain solely female characters.
- 25% contain no female characters at all.
- Out of a Times listing of the 100 best children’s books of all time, only 53 had a female character that spoke, let alone a central protagonist.
- Across children’s literature, only 19% of female characters had a job or career aspiration, vs 80%+ for male characters.
So from the very first representations we show our tiny girls, they are excluded, under represented and silenced. They are shown that people are not interested in stories about women. Girls’ aspirations are as boring as they are ignored; be a princess, or be fucking invisible.
As women grow, there are other areas of culture which do not represent their wants or needs. At this point let us not forget pornography, erotica, adult fiction, whatever you want to call it. In 2011 50 Shades of Grey was published. In total the trilogy sold 125 million copies worldwide; to put that in context, that’s double what Michael Jackson’s Thriller Album sold ever, and over a far shorter period. Rather than men stopping to look at what is was, who it was for, or why women were enjoying it, derision was instant, and a new phrase was coined; “Mummy Porn”.
It was written by a woman in her late 40s, it was published for women, its central character was a woman and the narrative voice was hers. Women were buying it and talking about it, and talking about the sex in it, and liking the sex in it, and it was horrifying. It was not of course horrifying to the women, they were just adult humans reading a dirty book, maybe getting off on it, and talking to their friends about it- but fuck me, did it horrify the men. Men suddenly found out their mums liked sexy things- actual sexy things and not just a poster of a singer or film star (probably a “shit” one). The wives, sisters, aunts, daughters, and partners of men were suddenly reading this book, and the number of stories that were told about how disgusting it was that (insert female in family or social circle here) had read it were incalculable. Not even talked about it, just read it. Disgusting.
Now we all know women are not allowed to either not like or like sex too much. Blah blah Madonna-whore etc., but the hypocrisy here was genuinely staggering. This book wasn’t just sniggered at by cultural Neanderthals, this was universally derided by almost every man I heard, saw or read talking about it. This was 100% definitely, absolutely, unequivocally and universally shit. Its plot was shit. Its writing was shit- including the grammar, the characterisation, the pace, you name it. Its gender politics were also shit. Even pro-woman, pro-erotic expression, feminist men were saying this was shit. Not because women liked it you understand, but because it was low quality.
Now think about the last bit of Man Porn you saw. Boy Porn. Dad Porn. Be it the “readers wives” stories from the back of a 70’s Jazz Mag blowing from bush to bush in the 80s playing fields of history, or the sex scenes in 90% of popular culture, or the hard-core videos that are passed freely amongst phones, and across the internet. Think about their content. Think about the level of their artistic integrity, or the quality of their plot or prose.
Most of the content of online pornography is actively dehumanising to women. Most of it is actively violent toward women. The vast, vast majority of it is entirely unconcerned with the experience of the women depicted- either within the narrative or specifically the actresses or wives or girlfriends actively involved.
The Porn Industry is worth billions, is watched by millions each and every day, and every day, it involves the real world rape, torture, murder, and sexual slavery of women and girls globally. If you include economic enslavement the numbers are mind-boggling. It incites violence against women and girls. It objectifies, belittles, and diminishes women and girls. The violence in it is not pantomime violence, it is real, even in the “consensual” scenes, women are sustaining life changing physical and psychological damage.
This. This porn. This isn’t shit. This is fun. This is Sexy. This is Cheeky. If all the things we’ve looked at are “for women” then this is definitely “for men”. This is what boys (and girls) are taught that sex should be like; hairless, loveless, joyless, consentless. Unless someone is being “destroyed”, unless someone is being banged in all holes, unless some poor fucking woman is getting a shot to the face at the end of it, it’s not even worth watching. If you haven’t bleached your arsehole then don’t even show up.
But 50 Shades? What of that? Well, it turns out, women like rough sex. Women like to fantasise about being sexually controlled. Women like the story of a mysterious, aggressive, protective but dangerous man, with model looks, claiming them sexually.
Again, When I say “women”, I mean the ones who did like this book. There are over 2.5 billion adult women globally, and even if every copy sold was read by two women, that would still only be 250 million women reading this book- and many of them possibly thought it was shit. What about the ones that did like it? What about the ones who found it sexy, who enjoyed it? Well, it contains many of the same things as much Man Porn; hairlessness, dubious consent, the joyless humping of two people not personally know to the audience; the things it has which differ from Man Porn are notably
- A slow build up
- A female narrative
As you are inside the head of the female protagonist (“Chick Lit”) then the reader can see how the character feels about it all, if she is turned on by it, if she wants it to stop or go harder. We get to know the characters and motivations of the protagonists. There is familiarity, tension, and delayed gratification. This is different to watching a real woman getting gang-banged in a concrete warehouse by real men, and suffering real violence. Women can read it and put themselves into that character, and immerse themselves in BSDM sex that isn’t cold, or exploitative of real women, or focused on the pleasure of the man involved (the sex is, but the narrative isn’t); but it is 50 Shades that we should be embarrassed to have read or watched. It is Mummy Porn and must be singled out as awful. That’s the worst and most embarrassing porn, laughed at, even by intelligent feminist men, because it is so utterly shit. We know it is shit, because women like it. The phrase Mummy Porn only works because it is a dog-whistle for misogyny. If not just women, worse, mature women like this, it must be derided, it is embarrassing, it is low quality, it is objectively entirely without merit.
It doesn’t matter that it encouraged women to openly discuss the kind of sex they liked, or the kind of porn they liked, or that they liked either of those things t all. It doesn’t matter that almost the entirety of Man Porn is violent, dehumanising, and without any shred of artistic or literary merit. 50 Shades is embarrassing because she bites her lip a lot, because your mum might have knocked-one-off to it, because it promoted unhealthy relationship dynamics. Good job nobody is holding up erotica to wildly different standards based solely on the target demographic here eh? I bet the first thing men think when they spit on their palm and click play on “Barely legal step-daughter does X” is “I’m glad this is promoting healthy relationship dynamics.” isn’t it?
Finally, while discussing recent tropes around gender in media, I’d like to bring in the “Mary Sue”. This is a term which comes from Fan-Fiction- a whole cottage industry of fans writing their own stories as extensions, reinventions, and interjections to their favourite narratives of TV, Film, and Literature. These can range wildly from just writing a straight up extra episode or 20 of your favourite show, to bringing together all of your favourite cartoon characters, or Film heroes, and writing explicit and elaborate (usually gay) porn about them. I first became aware of it when I read an article called “Nookie with a Wookie” in an anthology of essays on women enjoying things that they shouldn’t. It was startling, because
- I’d never heard of it, and it seemed really unlikely
- most of it was really graphically sexual in nature, and a huge percentage of that was focused on gay sex between ostensibly straight male characters, and
- because over 75% of people on fan fiction sites both reading and writing, are mature straight women- who we know can only have a sexuality if they are Samantha off Sex and the City.
Again, as with 50 Shades vs Man Porn, most women aren’t going to get off on a picture of a cock and some balls. Women tend to favour context, familiarity, and personal interaction in their preferred fantasies- there is a big difference between the type of autopsy-photography featured in old-school porn mags, and the idea of a hot guy or gal, who you like, approaching you personally. Also, apparently, a lot more women than you might expect like imagining Luke Skywalker getting bummed by a wookie…. , so now you know
As another aside, what some people don’t know is that 50 Shades was written, in full, all three parts, and released online for free as a Bella/Edward Twilight Fanfic. It’s author EL James exactly fitting the common demographic of a fanfic writer… but I digress. Back to the Mary Sue.
A Mary Sue, is a particularly flimsy and transparent shell character or plot vehicle used to insert an obvious representation of the author in (his or) her favourite fantasy. So it would feature a fan fiction, with a very average protagonist, in an average setting, suddenly happening across, for the sake of argument, Jason Momoa, and he realises she’s the only one for him, that she (despite being average and having a surprisingly specific list of confidence-infringing barriers to love) understands him better than anyone else could… and so he ravishes her on the office photo copier, after dissing her work-place nemesis in public, and then taking her away from all this in a private boat to the Seychelles forever. Its key signifiers are that the story centres around the gratification of the protagonist, and therefore the author, that it is usually very poorly constructed, and usually it is entirely unlikely even in a world full of sparkly vampires or ewoks.
Mary Sue is recently being used very differently. It is being used to try to undermine a variety of strong female characters in film and literature, because of their gender. Mary Sue is being used to describe Rey, it is being used to describe Arya, it is being used by men to describe female characters which men feel do not earn their screen time or accolades within the narrative. A man can appear on screen as a fully formed superhero, or fighter, or astronaut, without presenting their CV at all, but a woman must be seen to train, to learn, to gain acceptable motivation to fulfil their character. “Mary Sue” is demanding a deeper level of proof and commitment of the fictional characters within a fandom, exactly as male fandom-gatekeepers demand of any real life woman who says “oh, I like X fandom” and is forced to undergo some sort of rigorous quiz to prove her knowledge and devotion. Even where a fandom starts out as woman-shit, if men begin to enjoy it, value it, or become interested in it, then it can be reclaimed, it’s history re-written, and its borders re- defended by men of the internet and beyond; this phenomenon has recently been given the title Mentrification. You are welcome.
We are so unused to the female voice across the arts, business, or in any public space, that men (and sometimes women) genuinely cannot even accurately assess what an equal contribution looks like, and it appears men are pre-programmed to interrupt women and speak over them when they do try to contribute. When women speak at all, providing a fraction of the input of men in public spaces, they are frequently believed to have dominated the discussion by both male and female listeners, even where men spoke more than twice as often as the women present. The female voice and narrative is so jarring to the public ear that it seems intrusive, and overbearing, even where it is in the minority. Women in public spaces are also often aware that they can seem pushy, and often self-regulate, by speaking for briefer periods, or speaking up less in class if they contributed frequently in the last lesson.
So as these girls grow, the ones who have seen no representation in kids books beyond mute princesses, if all books which feature women or have them in leading roles, are written off under diminishing category headings, who are seen as pushy just for speaking in a mixed group, we are not only saying everything you love is shit, and everything for you is shit, everything that arouses you is shit, everything that empowers you is shit, that you are not welcome to contribute equally or at all, and that the things which you enjoy alongside men, or before men, belong to men and must be protected from the shitness of you liking them and thinking that you can just join in unchallenged.
We are saying literally everything “about” you is shit.
As collateral damage, a bystander in this gender war, Rpatz never stood a chance. He played a character in Twilight, which women and girls liked, it was Chick Lit, with a female narrative and protagonist, the books were universally derided (sometimes hilariously such as This by Charlie Booker, or This by The Oatmeal), I’m sure I could find equally well written and disparaging accounts of books liked mostly by men and teenage boys, because their literature is held to a similar standard of scrutiny, aren’t they?
Not only that, but his character inspired the most famous Mummy Porn of all time, 50 Shades- and (some) Women liked it.
He is literally dripping in girl-“like” and it leaves him forever tainted by association. Doesn’t matter if he’s made other films, even sweet ones like Little Ashes in which he plays Salvador Dali, or Water for Elephants about a young vet in the 40s who joins the circus; neither were big or commercial, and both were credited with decent performances. He’ll always be that sparkly vampire guy, that gay-kind-of-vampire guy, not the really butch vampire type guy (not like Alex Winter, with his big hair, hanging by his toenails in The Lost Boys)
This feeble defensive patriarchal bullshit is so absolutely endemic in everything we do that it goes entirely unchecked. It’s not misogyny to pull apart literally the only erotica you can name that women are publicly enjoying, it is critique. It is politically savvy. Congratulations. Hopefully women will eventually learn from this, be cowed by it, and ensure they never masturbate to bad sentence structure again. In the meantime, heaven forfuckingfend Batman is played by Robert Pattinson.
Are the shades of Pemberly to be thus polluted?