blog
Comments 2

Vanity: a Male Privilege, a Female Sin

I was very excited to watch Unbroken. To see Miyavi in a major American film was incredible, and on top of it the story was not only based on truth but seemed an incredible piece of history. It had a super high rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and that was enough for me. When it was over, however, I was sad to say I didn’t like it.

It was the first film directed by Angelina Jolie-Pitt I’d seen, and I was bored stiff by it. I kept wondering where’s Phil?! the best friend (played by my favourite red-head Domhnall Gleeson) who just disappeared from the story. That, amongst other feelings of boredom and disappointment in the dialogue, made me less than keen on Jolie-Pitt’s directing chops.

This aversion was, perhaps, why I steered clear of By The Sea. Then, I read a critique of the negative reviews she’s been getting. She. Sure, the film too, but mostly Jolie-Pitt herself. Female artists aren’t given the privilege of exploring themselves without it being considered vain. That a woman might want to write, direct, and star in her own project is self-induldgent at best. Men can afford to try this out – they have the privilege, and not only that, they also have the privilege of fucking it up. They may not be hired again as a director, but their very personality is not called into question, is not placed under the microscope in the same way. Women do not have the privilege to exercise vanity.

There is all this commentary about the lack of women in the film industry – and yet, when women want to explore roles that don’t readily exist by creating them, they are given grief for it. I’m not excusing the film for sucking. I have not seen By The Sea but the reviews of it I did read did not make me want to. And, yes, if By The Sea is as bad as everyone says it is, by all means critique it. Give it negative press – but don’t make the review of the film a review of Jolie-Pitt. She is lucky that, as a powerhouse woman in the industry, she has the ability to make and star in these kinds of films. Sure, they may be bad, but that doesn’t mean more women written-directed-acted films shouldn’t be made, and seeing her slammed for creating a vanity project is surely going to put off more women from joining in. The media seems to be saying “this is about Angelina’s narcissism” as opposed to “Oh yeah… Angelina, wow that film was bad.” When we are personally attacked, and described as vain, how can anyone expect other women to take a chance?

She may be a bad director, but she is opening a door that still remains shut to women. We need more women of colour and transwomen to write, act, and direct films about their lives, about their stories. We may fail a million times, but those efforts are all part of a larger context – a context that is sorely lacking in these stories. A bad Angelina Jolie-Pitt film may inspire the next woman Orson Welles to break the mould.

2 Comments

  1. > Men can afford to try this out – they have the privilege

    In what way?

    There is a long tradition of successful A-list actors and actresses trying their hand at directing ….. with mixed results. Jolie is Hollywood royalty, a member of the CFR and a UN ambassador. What are her qualifications for these high status roles, exactly? She seems to be enjoying a great deal of privilege for ‘some’ reason. The one thing we can rule out is ‘male privilege’. It’s not like she’s going to go down in history as a great actress either. There are actresses 100x better than her who do not enjoy anywhere near the status she does.

    > ….. and not only that, they also have the privilege of fucking it up. They may not be hired again as a director, but their very personality is not called into question, is not placed under the microscope in the same way. Women do not have the privilege to exercise vanity.

    Women’s skill and qualifications are so often called into question precisely BECAUSE women (especially attractive, feminine women) have the option of exploiting their looks and their status as female to get enviable roles or job opportunities that are beyond their actual abilities. This is a privilege men simply don’t have.

    > Female artists aren’t given the privilege of exploring themselves without it being considered vain.

    I think it is usually considered vain for everyone. But in the end people only care if it is entertaining or of artistic merit. Men are often good at being self depreciating which stops vanity projects feeling so vain eg Woody Allen.. or even Ricky Gervais.

    > She may be a bad director, but she is opening a door that still remains shut to women.

    Or….. she was able to step through a door which should have been locked, but was unlocked just for her, despite her lack of experience and poor directing abilities (apparently, I’ve not seen the film).

    > When we are personally attacked, and described as vain, how can anyone expect other women to take a chance?

    This is precisely the attitude which, ultimately, keeps the glass ceiling in place. If we could embrace gender equality and criticise women who fail as harshly as we criticise men who fail (instead of shielding them because they have a vagina….. or framing it as being somehow “an attack on ALL women”), then this would help to level the playing field and send a clear message to female would-be directors that they have to work their way up from the bottom – the same way all male directors do (with 99.9% failing along the way, leaving only the most talented to continue a career).

    ‘Helping’ women (in any career) by shielding them from failure and also by offering a ‘leg up’ (positive discrimination, affirmative action, feminist ‘initiatives’ and female only short lists and quotas etc) only serves to (1) give women false expectations leading ultimately to disappointment and resentment and (2) DE-value women’s collective worth in that career in the long term.

    For example how many of the women in Canada’s new 50% female cabinet can say they got there based on merit? None of them. They all now have to live with the stigma of being placed into their positions by a man (Watson’s ‘He for She’ in action). This man even takes credit for having ‘helped women’ by doing so. Whenever women are ‘helped’ (often by perfectly well meaning men or women) to get into a career it just devalues them and spreads (perfectly justified) doubt as to their actual abilities.

    > We need more women of colour and transwomen to write, act, and direct films about their lives, about their stories.

    No we don’t. That is the whole point. By saying that you are defining them as retarded in some way. If any of these people happen to have the skill and talent and make a good film or write a good story then that’s great. People will flock to see it I’m sure. But most would-be actors, directors, writers fail, or at least do not achieve great commercial success….. why should it be any different to women ‘of colour’ or transwomen?

    Of course, you are free to have a personal preference for, say, transwomen writers or directors… but to say we (society) somehow ‘need’ more of them is patronising and basically advocating discrimination.

    Do we ‘need’ more white people in rap music? Do we ‘need’ more male baton twirlers? Do we ‘need’ more straight people in pantomime? Do we ‘need’ more transmen collecting our garbage?

    YES WE DO!!! 🙂

    Like

    • Hey Curiosetta,

      I’m really glad you took the time to read my whole post! I take some of your points, and think you make them well even if I disagree.
      I’m going to also take the time to reply to the best of my ability!

      Men operate from a position of privilege by being men – the same way white people do by being white. I have made no comments on Jolie-Pitt’s abilityt o be a UN ambassador, but I will say that the fame she has garnered (whether you think she’s talented or not) is being put to good use, she is using her privilege as someone famous by bringing issues to light.

      Women helping women is a separate issue from men helping women (re your Canadian cabinet post). I don’t think the industry should just say ‘here’s a free pass for all women’, I think that opportunity should be encouraged for women to be part of the industry from a young age. Jolie-Pitt may have made a terrible film, but that may encourage another girl to say “I can do that better, and I know it’s a door open to me because here’s a woman who did it.”
      Of course Jolie-Pitt is privileged, she’s a superstar and isn’t representative of every woman on earth.

      I’ll reverse the issue:

      Let’s say there’s a food critic named John Rare. He’s famous for his food reviews, but he also really likes to bake. Baking is seen, perhaps, with less stigma now than it was as being a woman’s pursuit. But for the sake of argument, let’s say that baking is seen as very womanly, something women do and for a man to do it is fine but not as common or widely recognised. John Rare bakes a cake and brings it to a fancy party with loads of other critics. They hate it. But instead of saying “too bad John can’t make good cakes, he didn’t use enough sugar” they lambast him personally for thinking he was good enough to try to bake a cake. “John is foolish for trying this. His vanity made him think he could bake. He should just stick to what he knows. His second career as a baker is failing, that kind of ambition is unseemly.”

      While the analogy isn’t perfect, I hope it illustrates the point I’m trying to make. It isn’t about the quality of the cake, it’s the language that is used to criticise it. Men in the film industry who try out these ‘vanity projects’ are not personally brought into the criticism the way Jolie-Pitt was.

      My point was not that Angelina Jolie PItt should not receive criticism for a bad film. As I stated: “I have not seen By The Sea but the reviews of it I did read did not make me want to. And, yes, if By The Sea is as bad as everyone says it is, by all means critique it. Give it negative press – but don’t make the review of the film a review of Jolie-Pitt.” The point I hoped to make, that I seem to not have made for you, is that the tone of the reviews are not about her skill, but about her vanity, whereas, for example, George Clooney was not personally lambasted for the disappointing ‘Monuments Men’ in which he wrote-acted-directed, the way Jolie-Pitt did for By The sea. I do not think she should be shielded from criticism because she has a vagina (a very crude way of framing womanhood, by the way)

      I really hope that you don’t think I’m actually defining transwomen or women of colour as retarded… I think that’s a pretty inflamatory thing to say. But, I will address it – when I say ‘we need them’ I mean that society, in general, needs to hear stories of all of its inhabitants. We as people should be exposed to the walks of life that others experience. I’m not saying that passes should be given to anyone without the requisite talent or skill required to create that, but opportunity begins not once someone is successful, but by being encouraged and fostered from a young age. If a young woman sees the vitriol that Jolie has received, they may be discouraged. My point is that by providing a platform for people of all walks of life to share their stories through the medium of film (in this case) then it will encourage others to do the same. I am advocating proliferation of stories, of diversity.

      So yes, we do need them. We need more stories, more plays and more poems, more films, more songs, more food, more photos, more blogs, all celebrating the people who populate this planet and give it its culture.

      Anyway, I know I can’t change your mind but I’m glad you read my post and offered your contrary opinion. I’d be happy to read more replies as well.

      Cheers,
      Gabriella

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s