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Mansplaining Away Hollywood Misogyny

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by Melissa Silverstein
May 27, 2014 2:06 PM
37 Comments
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This weekend, Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday took a much needed look at the correlation between Hollywood and violence. This is not the first time a critic has taken on the correlation between violence and films. Quite frankly, I'm surprised it doesn't happen more when there is actual data that shows that violence in films affects behavior. (Remember the good old days when cigarette smoke didn't cause lung cancer?) But usually when we talk about violence and films, we talk about violence that is committed against women in films, like the umpteen slasher movies where dismemberment of women seems to be the norm. (And TV is not off the hook. For example, here is a Dexter copycat and someone who was inspired by Breaking Bad.)

But what Ann Hornaday does is discuss the impact that the misogynistic Hollywood complex has wrought in our culture. She took a really raw tragedy that has again touched a nerve and asked some thoughtful and much needed questions about Hollywood and how women fit into the equation. These questions are big and dangerous (to Hollywood) and, of course, there will be pushback. 

Here are some of her points:

"For generations, mass entertainment has been overwhelmingly controlled by white men, whose escapist fantasies so often revolve around vigilantism and sexual wish-fulfillment (often, if not always, featuring a steady through-line of casual misogyny). Rodger's rampage may be a function of his own profound distress, but it also shows how a sexist movie monoculture can be toxic for women and men alike.

"Part of what makes cinema so potent is the way even its most outlandish characters and narratives burrow into and fuse with our own stories and identities. When the dominant medium of our age -- both as art form and industrial practice -- is in the hands of one gender, what may start out as harmless escapist fantasies can, through repetition and amplification, become distortions and dangerous lies."

Hollywood has created a culture where misogyny rules. She's not saying anything that's not true and we all know it. And while we buy 50% of the movies tickets, we spend our time going to see movies about men. We see so many men that many of us can't even begin to think it's a problem because that is all we know. Last year only 15% of the top 100 films had a female protagonist and most even fail the wholly inadequate assessor of the Bechdel Test. Hornaday uses male box-office influencers as examples of this bromantic culture, yet several of those mentioned in her piece, namely Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow, have called her an "idiot" on Twitter and have ridiculously conflated their being mentioned in the piece as part of the problem with them being the reason why this very troubled young man did what he did.

Hornaday did no such thing, and by Seth Rogen having a Twitter hissy fit, he has caused everyone -- at least in the giant Hollywood media complex -- to focus on his aggrievement and not the extremely valid points that Hornaday made. Women are fodder for male fantasies, and never the other way around. But that's typical in Hollywoodland, where the boys rule and they don't see anything outside their own point of view. 

Methinks that the reason why Mr. Rogen et al are all so upset is that the piece actually did touch a nerve -- that is, if they actually read it at all before mainsplaining it away.

Hollywood men are really great about standing up for each other. Count me as #standingwithannhornaday.

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37 Comments

  • Susan | June 1, 2014 6:59 PMReply

    Seth lost any sort of high ground and perspective when he made that Hi-larious date rape movie where he was a security guard with Anna Farris. He was a big enough star to not have to take the job if he chose; he just decided to not see the misogyny. Having your work called out may sting, but that is part of the job. He does star in a type of film that treats women as things. He chose to take it personally.

  • SuzieTampa | May 31, 2014 9:28 PMReply

    Thank you for this post and others. I hadn't planned to comment until I saw the thread was filled with people who just came here to attack.

  • Star | May 29, 2014 6:06 PMReply

    "But that's typical in Hollywoodland, where the boys rule and they don't see anything outside their own point of view."

    Oh God, talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

  • Jeff | May 29, 2014 11:46 AMReply

    Rogen may be advocating for Alzheimer's, but seems to have a very short memory when it comes to the whole women thing. 1 in 4 women will have been sexually abused by the time they're 18. 1 in 6 Men will have been sexually abused by the time they're 17, and that turns to 1 in 5 by 18. In his movie This is the End, male and female rape and sexual abuse were treated as one big joke. That's effing irresponsible. I dare Rogen to look someone who has been a rape victim in the eye and laugh at them.

  • budmin | May 29, 2014 1:58 PM

    Mr. Rogen isn't beholden to your particular notions of responsibility. It' not his responsibility to dictate to his viewers was is or isn't morality. He's an entertainer, not a paster.

  • Jeff | May 29, 2014 10:47 AMReply

    Let's take an important debate about issues such as misogyny, mental health, gun control & racism surrounding a recent tragedy and reduce it to a social media war by using hashtags to pick sides. Also, let's throw around a millenial term like 'mansplaining' that ties a person's thoughts and speech to their gender to invalidate any argument they might have, because that's not at all sexist.

  • JEFF | June 3, 2014 2:15 PM

    Eva, I'm sure the term "mansplaining" has its proper place but I disagree that it applies to this issue. I think that term has been thrown around pretty loosely and is often misappropriated by bloggers and authors trying to capitalize in its cache. Hornaday may be a film critic and is certainly entitled to her opinions on Rogen and Appatow's films. However, Rogen and Appatow are also entitled to defend their work and feel outraged by Hornaday's accusations. I imagine they would respond in the same fashion they did if it was a male critic.

    For the author of the article above to dismiss their arguments as "mansplaining" (and therefore rooted in some form of deep-seeded misogyny) is unfair and hypocritical. The author's assumption that "Hollywood men are really great about standing up for each other" is in itself loaded with sexism. She also failed to elaborate as to how and why Rogen's reponse to Hornaday is "mansplaining" other than he happens to be a man responding to a woman.

  • Eva | May 31, 2014 6:07 PM

    Jeff, I agree with the first half of your arguement. In that debating issues such as mysogyny, mental health, gun control, and racism are important and that is what Hornaday did as a CRITIC. Critics are supposed to shine a light on angles and ideas and step on peoples toes if they have to. Mansplaining is a way to undermine a womans voice, it's not a so called millenial term (whatever that means?) or creating a divide between men and women. You just have to realize that in this case, Rogen was trying to pick on someone who called out a style of movies he consistently creates. The only time Rogen was in a female centrc film was in Take This Waltz which was a great movie. Other wise, most of his movies glorify what it's like to be a man and often makes being a woman a conquest to have vs. to be or to share a life with. There is nothing wrong with a critic calling him or Apatow out on this. Just because she related it to a popular and topical news debate is nothing new, it could be related to say the Montreal massacre just as well. The idea of pop culture being influential to someone who has a mental incapacity is not a new debate but it can be elaborated on.

  • Jason | May 28, 2014 10:32 PMReply

    I agree that sexism and misogyny in Hollywood is a big problem, but using a national tragedy to start this conversation was both in poor taste and a mistake if she wanted to a) be taken seriously or b) have a conversation with a level head instead of the usual shouting match. There's a lot of harm caused by Hollywood misogyny - social pressure, rape culture, male entitlement - all sorts of things. If you see a movie like neighbors and you think it gives you the right to kill people, you were a psycho and you were probably going to kill people anyway. This is not the way to start this conversation. It's horribly disrespectful of the tragedy, and an awkward attempt to connect two unrelated problems that undermines both conversations.

    And you cannot blame Judd Apatow or Seth Rogen for reacting the way they did. She called them out specifically. She called out their movie by name, and said the reason that this specific tragedy occurred is because people like Seth Rogen set up unrealistic male fantasy standards that they cannot live up to. That's insulting on two levels - one, she calls him (essentially) undeserving of a woman's love, and two, she is implying if not outright stating that Seth Rogen is to blame for the death of these women. How could they not be outraged?

  • Susan | June 1, 2014 7:09 PM

    Its not like this has never been noted before. Katherine Heigel called them out for sexism when the Knocked Up came out (and she was crucified in the mainstream press for it). This is a continuing conversation about a continuing problem. And yes they could react differently than defensive - denial. They could stop and look at their work. Maybe absorb the information rather than saying not me.

    No one accused Rogan of blame in the deaths of those people. But yeah, his films are an example of misogyny. Call it like it is. These are not unrelated problems.

  • Eva | May 31, 2014 9:25 PM

    Is it just me, or are all these comments on this thread in defense of Rogen and Apatow coming from a MALE perspective in defense of two popular males in the industry? Ever hear of a little world called solidarity? Not every guy has to be so damn defensive. You can admit that you disagree but that you also understand why a woman may feel a certain way towards a subject matter such as this. Hornaday has every right to feel as she does and make this about senseless murders that was based on a foundation of female hatred. Yes, males were harmed, yes this isn't just about females as nothing is. This was an incident that stems from males, and Apatow's films are primarily male centric. I do not in anyway believe that Hornaday is blaming Seth Rogen or Apatow personally for murders of women. They aren't going to get arrested, certainly nothing bad will come of questioning Rogen's comments other then an open and honest debate. They certainly are not going to lose money from males or females a like due to the nature of Hornadays ideas. She was not involved in any kind of "shouting match" as described in your comments. It was in fact Rogen and Apatow who started chiming in. They targeted one critic of many critics. Nothing is off topic in regards to what a writer may write about, so it's a legitamate conversation because it's her job to write about controversial ideas related to film. Just as this website is. In no way is Hornaday outright blaming them for the deaths. She does not name Rogen but describes a character. A fictional character by the way not him personally. She calls Apatow on the lack of female narrative in his films, not that he is responsible for a mans actions. She does point out that they are not the only films that directively feed into this mentality but that most likely from the very beginning of frat movies JUST PERHAPS men can get persuaded to try and live out that kind of fantastical lifestyle and maybe they compare their lives to these fantasies. Now if woman can have poor self esteem due to the way advertising and the like influences pop culture it is not at all odd to say that men can be affected in the same way. Please relax, and let have an individual have an opinion without trying to take her down or disrespect her. They could have easily responded with tactful thoughts and ideas even like your own but they did not. They took to twitter in limited characters to get their point across and to get their dicks in a knot. For lack of a better description.

  • Star | May 29, 2014 6:09 PM

    This a very intelligent, rational, and well-reasoned comment...that Ms. Silverstein will surely dismiss as "mansplaining."

  • Amber | May 28, 2014 10:22 PMReply

    I think you miss the mark if you take away from this article that adolescent humor in and of itself causes acts of mass violence. Focus instead on Rodger's underlying driving force for his acts - college women weren't fulfilling his sexual fantasies as Hollywood portrays that they should. Notice, as I did, that Rodgers never once mentions having a desire to forge a relation or a connection with a woman. It's easier to see Hollywood influence in this vein. Rodgers clearly has psychological issues, Hollywoods influence in his disturbing image of women is not missed. Don't believe me? I watched a movie the other day: "That Awkward Moment" which, spoiler alert, the awkward moment is when women who men have been using for casual sex are looking for something more. How ridiculous that they think they have value beyond being sexually pleasing to men. Not only do these portrays teach adolescence how to value and treat women but impact and shape women's own perception of themselves? How many girls go to college and have sex with random guys because Hollywood portrays that as the norm and they're just trying to fit in? Rodgers, growing up on the cusp of Hollywood, clearly was influenced by these preceptors in an extreme way but it still speaks volumes on it's detrimental impact to women and how Hollywoods ludicrous portrayals are having real impacts.

  • Ryan Sessions | May 28, 2014 10:14 PMReply

    i like your article, but i don't understand how the word "mansplaining" isn't sexist too.

  • Scott Scribner | May 28, 2014 7:37 PMReply

    "Not said anything that was untrue..."? PLEASE spare us tortured double negatives when trying to justify the ridiculous assertion that adolescent humor causes violent rampages. Hornaday's comments are an absurdly off-base play for attention. This shooter was identified as disturbed from age SEVEN. Almost anything serves as a better explanation than media portrayals of immature behavior.

  • jawsnnn | May 28, 2014 5:58 PMReply

    "Remember the good old days when cigarette smoke didn't cause lung cancer?"

    Remember the good old days when there were no Judd Apatow movies and psychopaths did not kill women for ignoring them? Me neither.

    Count me as #f*ckannhornaday #thinkbeforeyoublog

  • HS | May 28, 2014 4:17 PMReply

    Consistency/hypocrisy test for those attacking "sexist" hollywood.
    1. Make a list of your 10 favorite movies.
    2 In which, if any of them are women not portrayed as sex objects.

  • Joe | May 28, 2014 3:55 PMReply

    I hope you didn't actually get PAID to write this.

  • C | May 28, 2014 3:24 PMReply

    Feminist crap.

  • Joseph | May 28, 2014 3:10 PMReply

    The question I've always had is this: if, as research indicates, women are the primary decision-makers on choosing which film to go see, why are the biggest hits male-oriented action films?

  • budmin | May 29, 2014 2:17 PM

    The secret my friend is that Hollywood has learned to split the difference. Men get an action hero and women get a story. All these Action Movies (Transformers, Iron Man, Thor, Ted ect..) essentially have the same message: Man-child learns to be a better boyfriend.

    It's really quite diabolical. Hollywood gives men the plot, but women get the script.

  • M. | May 28, 2014 3:06 PMReply

    Hollywood is full of fags, how are they misogynist? methinks misandrist should be held accountable for something, fck your one-sided dimensions, women and men hurt, it's nature.

  • Josh | May 28, 2014 3:31 PM

    "Hollywood is full of fags"

    Hey asshole, this isn't the 50's.

  • Adam | May 28, 2014 2:54 PMReply

    Not sure about this. I agree with the essence of what the article is saying about the pertinent problems (namely misrepresentation and casual misogyny) in Hollywood and entertainment movies in general, but I think it's equally true that Ann Hornaday was a bit silly to point the finger at Apatow and Rogen as if somehow they were implicated and not expect a rather short response.

    Taking gender issues completely out of the equation for a moment, it's clear Rogen et. al. didn't take to having their names thrown into such a serious and disturbing tragedy just days after it happened, and I can empathise. It's unfair to suggest there's some deeper, uncomfortable nerve being touched; I don't think anybody would take kindly to being told in any capacity, directly or indirectly, they contributed to what is ultimately one very disturbed man's actions.

    In addition, the debate about Hollywood and violence is not the same as the debate about Hollywood and gender. Films with female protagonists are just as capable of being violent, often revengeful and morally ambiguous stories.

    I appreciate the points Ann Hornaday and this article raised and do think many are good ones, but I reject the idea the negative reaction is somehow entirely "mansplaining", because there are valid criticisms about the way Hornaday approached the subject in her article. She likened Rodger's video to something that "might easily have been mistaken for a scene from one of the movies Rodger's father... worked on as director and cinematographer". As far as I'm aware Peter Rodger only really worked substantially on a film called 'Oh My God' and 'The Hunger Games'; neither film I would describe the way Hornaday does.

    In short, Hornaday made some valid points. In the pursuit of prompting debate and drawing attention to serious issues, however, she also made the mistake of sensationalising her rhetoric and approach to a serious issue and drew some perhaps terse but not entirely unjustified criticism with some of her implications.

    It's simply not fair to outright label this as "mansplaining" and suggest "Hollywood men" are sticking up for each other at the expense of women. We all know misogyny exists and we all need educating about it, but these sorts of sweeping generalisations are just as ill-conceived and unbalanced.

    Elliot Rodgers was a dark, dangerous and disturbed individual. His horrendous crimes do somewhat reflect on the society he (and we) lived in but somewhat inflammatory rhetoric about individuals in the entertainment industry is not really going to make us any progress. Ann Hornaday had good intentions and highlighted a major issue, but she also chose some of her words poorly and the reaction she got is not necessarily indicative of men simply trying to protect themselves from the dark and sobering truth about gender. The temptation to try and put every action through that prism is a dangerous one.

  • fcktrd | May 28, 2014 2:44 PMReply

    What utter bullshit. There is far more emasculation of men going on in Hollywood than misogyny. Get real. It's misled women for decades.

  • Eva | May 31, 2014 9:40 PM

    Haha. Did not mean my comment below to be in reply to FCKTRD. Instead, I meant Adam's.

  • Eva | May 31, 2014 9:38 PM

    Just a note to say that I think this was well written so thanks. Though I do believe that this was a circumstance of "mansplaining" in the sense that instead of actually talking to her about it (she even approached Rogen to film a reiteration a long side her own) they chose to take the low road and post some comments on Twitter. Patton Oswalt also chimed into the debacle. Hornaday did not respond to anything via Twitter and I think she deserves a medal for that. Not a great way to have a discussion. I can assertively thank Hornaday for the discussion because she has created a lot of men looking at this situation and trying to analyze it for better or for worse. Rodgers was a disturbed individual, he was psycho but we know so little of mental health issues and what can set someone off that there is no way you can rule out the entertainment industry being a factor. It does not help that Rodgers was related to the entertainment industry. Also note to everyone in this thread, Hornaday dedicates a very short paragraph to the Apatow comments. Only a couple sentences that have offended many.

  • Andrew | May 28, 2014 2:24 PMReply

    Please... stop acting like Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow were disagreeing with her claim that women need to be portrayed better in films. They were arguing, and rightly so, that Hornaday was literally blaming their films for the Elliot Rodger tragedy, which was the point of her article.

    Hornaday's article was completely tasteless. While I actively support better portrayals of women in film, and more female directors generally, I find Hornaday's attempt to use a shooting spree by a nutcase to try to make her point disgusting. Anything can set off a delusional killer, even a barking dog. Everyone knows this.

  • Jane | May 28, 2014 1:55 PMReply

    Thank you for writing this.

  • Seth Rogan | May 28, 2014 1:36 PMReply

    Maybe I was just angry because of all the films, pro-gun laws and lobbying, current societal outlook on women, etc., my light comedy films were chosen to point the finger at? That's not how you solve problems.

  • Inkoo Kang | May 28, 2014 2:19 PM

    If you're impersonating someone online, the least you could do is spell their name correctly.

  • INDIEWIRE | May 28, 2014 1:33 PMReply

    "Hollywood has created a culture where misogyny rules."

    Do you really believe Hollywood is to blame?

  • Troelski | May 27, 2014 6:10 PMReply

    This felt like a fairly hastily thrown together response. Notwithstanding typos (which have since been corrected), Ms. Silverstein's whole line of argumentation feels scattershot and aggressively stubborn in its assumptions and conclusions about the intent of the monolithic "Hollywood complex". Which sounds like an insidious - and quite fictional, in my opinion - organism whose tentacles grab at ideology much more keenly than they do money.

    I don't mean to suggest that misogyny isn't real - it is, in Hollywood too - but simply that most of the time it is expressed obliviously, by people who may not even know that they habour sexist or misogynist notions about women. It's not a cabale. It's not a concerted effort by a group of men in a smoke-filled rooms. Because in Hollywood the only thing white men in smoke-filled rooms conspire about is money.

    In her defense of Hornaday, Silverstein seems to be throwing the kitchen sink at her perceived 'mansplainers' (who I assume must be Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow in this case, who are conveniently conflated so they can both be held accountable for Apatow's idiot-remark).

    We get the tenuous correlations between fictional violence and real world violence, the inevitable Bechdel Test name-check, after which Rogen and Apatow are made to answer for the lack of representation of women in Hollywood movies - a real issue, but one that seems to be neither here nor there regarding the validity of Rogen's 'hissy fit' after personally being implicated nurturing, albeit indirectly, misogynistic violence.)

    Nuances matter, and while Apatow may be guilty of under-representing women in his movies, it serves absolutely no one to lump the most casual of near-sexisms in with the kind of violent misogyny that incites a massacre.

  • No | May 27, 2014 3:24 PMReply

    I find it incredible that Hornaday's article can blame stupid movies by Apatow and Rogen and yet never once mention the toxic stew of cinematic gun violence in her article by connecting the dots regarding "craven politicians" and the NRA.

    Her article, without mentioning guns, is the equivalent of bell hooks (sic) calling Beyonce a "terrorist" a few week ago.

  • alp | May 28, 2014 1:05 PM

    I'm just going to go on ahead and say I am surprised to see ANYone mention bell hooks' name on indiewire, PARTICULARLY "WoH", AND know how to correctly spell her name, AND claim to have read her.

    You, madam or sir, have impressed me.

    Also, technically that title should be "White-manspaining", if you really want to get all feminist on it.

  • Michael Davis | May 27, 2014 2:39 PMReply

    Quote from Hornaday's article: "If our cinematic grammar is one of violence, sexual conquest and macho swagger — thanks to male studio executives who green-light projects according to their own pathetic predilections — no one should be surprised when those impulses take luridly literal form in the culture at large."

    "Pathetic predilections"? The way I interpret this passage and these words is that studio executives want to promote disrespectful behavior and violence onto women. While I do believe there is a certain level of misogyny in film, I don't think this claim is accurate or verifiable.

    I can agree on the larger point of misogyny and its manifestations in our media, but I think where so many are upset, rightly or wrongly, is that Hornaday's selection of Neighbors as her barometer for her thesis is just flat-out wrong. If you watch the movie, Rose Byrne (who is the best part of the movie) and Seth Rogen have a fairly poignant discussion about sexual politics and unequal standards for men and women. Rogen's way of thinking is thoroughly debunked by her argument, which was great in its emotion and strength. He apologizes, and accepts responsibility for his actions.

    I am sure if you challenged Seth Rogen on his feelings (can we retire the phrase "hissy fit," for both genders, as a stereotype?), he would say that her larger point is a good one, but loses its footing when she uses a wrong example (a better one would be Heigl's The Ugly Truth).

  • paskmgf | May 27, 2014 2:28 PMReply

    You know why so many "mansplain" against these arguments? It's not because they're blind to an issue, or they want to uphold the statis quo, or they don't want to lose power. It's because they genuinely think the argument is idiotic. I think that's why "mansplaining" exists. It's the attempt to debunk "femsplaining". You can't have one without the other.

    And way for this woman that you're mentioning to completely undermine the rich and varied films that have existed throughout history. It's all just men good women prizes, isn't it? That's the religiously fundamentalist cave man culture we live in.

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