A journey in words...

Welcome to my journey in words! A story about health, exercise, weight loss, food addiction, humor, size discrimination, sarcasm, social commentary and all the rest that’s rattling around inside my head...

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Sexism in Cinema: Maiden, Mother & Crone

I truly have no idea what to do with Michael Bay.  The man makes the kind of movies that I love: movies with big explosions, awesome guns, heroic marines, imminent disaster from incoming asteroids and giant robots attacking cities.

When he decided to tackle the Transformers franchise I was kind of thrilled.  I’ve talked on this blog before about my childhood love for the cartoon, my ownership of the toys, and then my subsequent deep disappointment with the one dimensional, adolescent treatment of female characters in the films.

When the third movie in the series was released, I skipped it.  Ted and Kyle went without me and upon returning home declared the film “awesome” and told me that I would like it a lot.  Also, Michael played dirty by casting not only one of my favorite actors, Alan Tudyk, in the movie, but also bringing in Leonard Nimoy to voice one of the robot characters.

So, this past week I caved and ordered the movie in from Netflix, figuring I’d already made as much of a point as I could with my lack of appearance at the actual box office run.

As advertized, the movie was awesome.  The previous two films had problems with the complicated looking robots in fight sequences  - it was frequent that the viewer would be left squinting at the screen and trying to figure out what was going on since it just looked like a quickly moving jumble of metallic… somethingorother.  In the third film, they slowed things down a bit so that one could appreciate the action a bit more.  The plot was interesting, the effects were spectacular, and Alan Tudyk’s role, though small, was kind of perfect for him.  They neatly blended in some historical footage from NASA as well as past and current American presidents and wove an interesting, if entirely fictional back story in and around the first moon landing.  Also, Buzz Aldrin appears in the movie, as himself – which for a space junkie and NASA enthusiast like me earns you massive coolness points instantaneously.

Thumbs up all around.

Now for the unfortunate parts.  As I watched I realized that in this one, Michael decided to deal with women by neatly compartmentalizing them into their three ancient, traditional roles: Maiden, Mother and Crone.

The Maiden of course is the main character’s insanely beautiful, perfectly supportive girlfriend played by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.  Indeed they skipped the bother of professional actresses altogether in casting her and went straight for a runway model instead.  She came off a bit sweeter and less scary-girl than her predecessor, Megan Fox, kind of like Eve to the previous actresses Lilith, but no less stunning in her absolute perfection of appearance.  Mostly in the movie she’s either attractive set dressing in a skin tight mini dress, being encouraging about her boyfriend’s important endeavors or getting stolen back and forth by male characters like the flag in a game of flag football.  She has a pivotal moment toward the end where she uses her ever-so-feminine wiles to convince an evil robot to go attack his evil cohort.  Because you know that’s what pretty girls do – they manipulate guys.  Even big metal guys with zero male anatomy are not immune.

The Mother is the main character’s mom played by Julie White:  She is sweet, slim, pretty, ditzy, nagging and utterly asexual as a mother in her forties apparently should be.  I found it interesting that she was so skinny and fit while the man cast as her husband was sporting some serious middle aged spread in the third film.  Overweight women are something that doesn’t seem to exist in the Bay Universe, they’re entirely mythological… kind of like Unicorns.

And the Crone was the United States Director of National Intelligence, played by Frances McDormand, who most of all really deserved better treatment than this.  She’s an actress of substantial quality who has won a Tony as well as being nominated for the Oscars, Golden Globes and Emmys.  In this film she portrays a mean, stubborn harridan who nearly destroys all of planet Earth out of stiff necked stupidity.  Toward the end when the day must be saved by HOO-RAH army guys and the good giant robots, she basically just stands there in her headquarters impotently watching them fix her mistakes.  She’s like a film character poster child for why women shouldn’t be allowed to have positions of power in government.  Real nice.

And that’s it.  The only three female characters in the whole film, boiled straight down to their component stereotypes with no room left whatsoever for substance.  I realize that these are not movies that are set up for substance, they’re set up for massive explosions and cool robots, but the main character played by Shia LaBeouf is such a refreshingly normal, slightly dorky boy next door that for me he stands in jarring contrast to these two dimensional, paper doll women who inhabit his world.

At one point his mother is nagging him not to let his current supermodel girlfriend get away like he did his last supermodel girlfriend, because he was unlikely to find a third one.  To this I had to chuckle since near as I can tell, in this universe that’s apparently what all the women his age look like.  So really, if he loses this one – how hard will it be to find another?  Not very.

Curious now about the man himself, I did some googling on Michael Bay, wondering if he had a wife and maybe daughters of his own.  I mean is this what he would want his daughter to believe about herself?  Would he want her to think that this is all he sees in women?  It turns out he’s single, with a lot of dogs.  Take that as you will.

My husband sat down with me and watched the movie again since he’d enjoyed it the first time.  As the opening credits rolled he cautioned me not to get too irritated by the lead female.  I asked him what he’d thought of her and his response was, “she wasn’t too annoying.”

Then I asked if there were any long, loving camera shots of her backside in the movie like there had been of her predecessor in the previous two films, and he replied that he couldn’t remember.

Ten minutes into the movie we see our heroine for the first time: shot from behind in a long tracking angle while walking up a staircase clad only in a men’s dress shirt and panties with her mile long legs and perfect little backside hanging out in view for all to appreciate.

Ted and I could only laugh.  Truly, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

Note: If you’re yearning for a complex, engaging and believable female super-heroine like I am, don’t look to Hollywood.  I recommend the book Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey for some really amazing and unique work in this arena.  She creates female characters fully capable of carrying the story all by themselves.

What do you guys recommend?


  1. Do you ever read any of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series? Her female characters are 1) not twiggy thing waifs and 2) hold their own and 3) TIME TRAVEL which is oh, so cool!!

    1. I've never heard of this one, so I'm going to add it to my reading list posthaste - thanks for the tip!