By D. Lynn Smith
Last month, Marvel’s Avengers, The Age of Ultron came to a theater near you. With it came a controversy over an interview in which Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans joked that Black Widow was a “slut” and a “whore” that went viral because it was so offensive.
When I read this blog post by Jos Truitt of Feministing regarding this topic, and I saw all of the comments basically saying to get over it, I found I couldn’t disagree. And yet I didn’t agree that it was also okay to say these things. Suddenly, I realized I didn’t have an opinion at all… and I should. So how did I feel about men joking around that the only female superhero in their little gang was a slut or a whore?
I was raised in a culture where men were always making jokes about women. And we women were expected to “know” they didn’t mean anything by it. It was just a joke. No harm, no foul. And I bought into it. I bought into it at home when my father’s policeman friends were over for a pool party. I bought into it when I worked for loss prevention for a chain department store and was surrounded by male loss prevention supervisors. And I bought into it when I worked in television and worked with men deep into the ole boy’s network who wanted to make a female protagonist in a script I wrote into a stripper instead of a school teacher.
All this time I put up with “time of the month” comments and sexual innuendo, comments about this “bitch” or “that crazy woman” (or fat woman, or stupid woman, or whatever). And I thought that was the way it was supposed to be. So why was it so wrong for these actors to make jokes about a fictional female character?
Then on Facebook, I saw someone post this, “Don’t Get Comfortable with People Disrespecting You,” and I had my answer. All of those comments, no matter how supposedly innocent, show a fundamental disrespect for women. Period. It doesn’t matter if the comment is made in jest or if it’s made about a fictional female character.
All you have to do is look at the recent controversies where women who speak their minds are receiving rape and death threats, or men thinking it’s okay to fondle cosplayers because of how they are dressed, and you can see that this fundamental disrespect leads to more and more unacceptable behavior.
I mentioned in a previous newsletter that I worked with Cloris Leachman on the set of Promised Land. All the men were frustrated with her because she was “difficult to work with.” There was one scene that she simply refused to shoot and the director came to me and begged me to do something about it. Now I thought of Cloris as an Academy Award winning actress that knew her craft, so I had no problem with that. I went to Cloris and she told me we had to throw out the scene because it didn’t work. I told her that we couldn’t throw out the scene, but that I would work with her until we figured out how to fix it.
Like many people (male and female) Cloris couldn’t put her finger on what was bothering her. So we talked for about 20 minutes (while the crew was shooting a different scene), until I realized what was wrong with the scene. I changed one word. Cloris looked at me and said, “How did you do that?” I answered, “I listened.”
The thing is, Cloris was right. The scene wasn’t working right and that one word, which added a depth to the scene that wasn’t there before, really made the scene much more powerful. The fact that I respected Cloris and her experience helped us come to a wonderful outcome on this and many other scenes that Cloris and I worked on together. And you know what? Cloris won an Emmy for that performance.
My writing partner Danna and I were really the only ones to show the older actresses like Cloris and Celeste Holms respect on the set. Gerald McRaney, the star of the show, asked for just as many changes and, at one point, refused to shoot a scene no matter what I did. He even refused once the executive producer, Martha Williamson, became involved. But he was never labeled, “Difficult to work with.” And by the way, I loved working with Mac, so I wouldn’t label him that way either.
The point is, if we are comfortable with people making derogatory comments about a strong, female lead, what message are we sending men and women alike. I know it’s not a message I want going out into the world.
And so I agree with Jos Truitt in her criticism of the remarks made about Black Widow, and in her criticism of Jeremy Renner’s non-apology. All women need to start taking men to task for the disrespectful remarks they make toward women. I no longer am comfortable with people disrespecting me. How about you?