Giving feminism a bad name, Chapter [insert astronomical number here]

So this morning, this showed up in my Twitter feed:

Image

Out of morbid curiosity, I followed the link and found this article in the Jewish online magazine, The Tablet, which skewers “male critics” for giving lukewarm reviews to the new Disney feature, Frozen, and missing its feminist message.

To start with: I haven’t seen Frozen yet.  I’m really disappointed that Disney made a film very loosely based on Andersen’s wonderful story The Snow Queen, rather than an actual adaptation of the story (which has a courageous, active female protagonist, an awesome and terrifying female villain, and other great characters including a lady bandit chief and her bratty but good-hearted daughter).  One friend of mine thought it was great.  Another, a feminist who has a strong interest in female-driven stories, thought it was so-so.

If Frozen is getting mediocre press, that’s news to me: the film has a very impressive 89% “fresh” rating on RottenTomatoes.com (though some of the reviews counted as “good” are not quite as enthusiastic as Tablet author Marjorie Ingall, the magazine’s Life and Religion columnist, would prefer).  Plenty of male critics loved it: Time‘s Richard Corliss, for instance, or The Wall Street Journal‘s Joe Morgenstern (who concludes his review by calling one of the sisters, Elsa, “a heroine for our times”). And some female critics, such as Christy Lemire of RogerEbert.com, were every bit as lukewarm as the male critics Ingall castigates.  The Village Voice‘s Sherrilyn Connelly thought that in terms of its portrayal of female characters, Frozen is a step back from Brave; Ingall emphatically disagrees, which is fine.

What’s not fine is that (1) under the guise of feminism, Ingall has penned a disgustingly sexist and crass attack on male critics, a respectable online magazine published it, and some people are apparently loving it; and (2) Ingall seriously misrepresents both the overall tenor of the reviews and some of the actual critics she slams.

After cherry-picking a few “meh” reviews, Ingall writes:

All these critics are boys. This movie is an extraordinary, subversive story about sisterhood, and it is funny and surprising and weird, and they do not get it because they are writing with their penises.

Really, Ingall?  Really, Tablet?  “Boys”? “Writing with their penises”?  Good grief.  Imagine the reaction if a male writer derided “girl” critics who were insufficiently enthusiastic about some male-oriented movie and opined that “they do not get it because they are writing with their ovaries.”  (Yeah, okay, Rush Limbaugh says this kind of crap, which he rightly gets slammed for.  But I can’t imagine, say, Commentary or National Review Online publishing anything of the sort.)

Speaking of “not getting it,” I think Ingall actually misunderstood the meaning of a line that particularly incensed her in Stephen Holden’s New York Times review.  Holden wrote:

“Frozen,” for all its innovations, is not fundamentally revolutionary. Its animated characters are the same familiar, blank-faced, big-eyed storybook figures. But they are a little more psychologically complex than their Disney forerunners. Its princesses may gaze at a glass ceiling, but most are not ready to shatter it.

Ingall fumes:

Wait, what? It’s true, animated movies fall down spectacularly when it comes to body-image diversity. This is no exception. (My daughter Josie observed that the princesses’ eyes are wider than their arms, and I know of someone who dismissed the film as “Battle of the Snow Barbies.”) But how are they not shattering a glass ceiling? It’s a cartoon in which both of the leads are female, the love story is secondary to the tale of the sisters’ relationship, and oh yeah, audiences are flocking to see it in record numbers despite the tepid reviews.

Actually, I believe Holden is contrasting the film’s princesses, Elsa and Anna, to “their Disney forerunners.”  The last line in the paragraph Ingall quotes is rather clunkily written and confusing, but it sure looks to me like “Its princesses” refers to “Disney’s princesses,” not Elsa and Anna (“most” of two makes no sense).  I think Holden is saying that Frozen‘s princesses do shatter the “glass ceiling,” an interpretation supported by the fact that his next paragraph notes that this is the first Disney animated feature with a female director.

But back to Ingall for this snarky aside:

(I did laugh at the conservative New York Post’s response: “[Disney] too often panics at feminist pressure and orders up formulaically ‘strong, capable, smart’ girls.” Heaven forfend! Love those quote marks. Who’s really panicking here, monkeyboy?)

What Ingall doesn’t say is that the New York Post review by Kyle Smith is actually highly positive (he gives the movie 3.5 stars out of 4, compared to 3 out of 5 from gender traitor Elizabeth Weitzmann in the rival, and liberal, tabloid The Daily News).  Also, Smith is — in this case, unmistakably — contrasting Frozen‘s Elsa, whom he calls “intriguingly nuanced” and “cool,” to the “formulaically ‘strong, capable, smart'” girls from other Disney films.

Oh, and just to remind you: Frozen did not get “tepid reviews.”

To recap:

This is a year in which female-driven movies (Catching Fire, Frozen, Gravity) have done amazingly well with audiences and with critics.

And out of this, a feminist writer manages to get a male-bashing whinefest about slights to women and girls (or to feminism) at the hands of beastly men.

Imaginary slights, I should add.

And then feminists complain that feminism gets a bad press.

4 Comments

Filed under feminism, gender issues, journalism

4 responses to “Giving feminism a bad name, Chapter [insert astronomical number here]

  1. Kelsey

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    I hate it when women (feminists and non-feminists) say stupid shit like “thinking with their penises” when it’s not something the woman agrees with. That’s not progressive, that’s not helping anything or anyone. She definitely gave feminism a bad name here, and we don’t need any more bad press.

    Also, can we stop saying “shattering” and “smashing” and “breaking” the glass ceiling? Come on, we get it. Everyone knows what the glass ceiling is, we understand its significance, and it has literally been smashed by thousands of women already in every job field imaginable. Let’s think of a new catchphrase, shall we? It’s almost as bad as people still calling feminists “hairy, men-hating, bra-burners!” Come on, already!

    Anyway, you’re awesome. Thanks for posting this. I will be sharing it and following your blog. Looking forward to your future work!

  2. I am tempted now to write on this. Thanks for the post. -OM

  3. Ya Know

    This is fantastic. I was thinking the exact same thing when I read the original article. Just ridiculous. Thank you for offering this intelligent response.

  4. As a feminist, I will not defend Ingall’s factual errors, but I will defend her rhetorical style. The strategy that says “The more they tell lies about me, the more I’ll tell the truth about them” is a good one, and I use it a lot myself. But I think it’s a mistake to believe it’s the only strategy. When trying to get through entrenched habits of thought, you’re better off discussing the evidence that makes your case and leaving the other evidence aside. Let your opponents make that case — if they can! Polemic is not scholarship and has a different ethos. (Usually I have to make this point in reverse, when polemic does masquerade as scholarship.)

    This is not a defense of making outright false statements. The only one of those I find is “most of the reviews have been meh”, where removing the quantitative words “most of” would have been a sufficient emendation, one that an alert editor should have made.

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