How I Balance Enjoying Movies and Being a Feminist

April 19, 2018
A hand-drawn photo of a television with a pink background and the feminist symbol on the screen
Art by Kirsten Hemrich

It happened again, after my friend and I had finished watching the latest Star Trek movie. I was complaining because the first Star Trek show aired in the ‘60s, and it feels as if the way women are portrayed on screen hasn’t come very far in that time. After all, in the first two remade Star Trek movies from 2009 and 2013, all but one of the named female characters show up on screen in their underwear, and the other woman dies in the first thirty minutes of the movie. The third movie, which came out in 2016, was miles better than the first two, but they just announced that Quentin Tarantino was doing the next movie in the series, and that does not bode well for a continued decrease in sexism.

It’s particularly frustrating when you remember that Star Trek is supposed to be a depiction of a future where social inequality has been eradicated, where money no longer exists, and where the characters think sexism is a thing of the dark and evil past. Apparently not even Star Trek can survive a big-money Hollywood remake without being stuffed full of Hollywood sexism.

“Why do you even watch these movies, if they make you so angry?” my friend asked with raised eyebrows. “Obviously you have a big problem with them.”

This was not the first time someone had asked me this question. The thing is, I love the new Star Trek movies, and I have watched them more times than I can count. I love the actors they chose, I love the flashy special effects, and I love the prospect of a future where humans roam the stars looking for new mysteries. I just wish they had left their sexism behind when portraying such a glorious future.

I struggle with this problem a lot. I love superhero movies, and I love other sci-fi movies and shows, but most of them contain sexist themes and imagery, or don’t even include women except for minor roles, let alone women of color or LGBTQ women.

My friends’ questions are valid. When we live in a world where, everywhere you look, movies and shows are sexist, and when you turn on the radio, half the songs are as well, how do you enjoy the media that everyone else does when it violates your feminist beliefs? If I stopped watching and listening to everything that was sexist in some way, I’d be deprived of a lot of the shows and movies I enjoy.

For me, it requires some pretty intense compartmentalizing. I think wow, this movie has a great story line, and great characters, but geez I wish it had more women. You have to learn to be critical while still taking what you love from the movie. I can love the general concept and the characters, but I can also critique it. I think that a lot of people don’t understand that.

I’ve also found that there are some lines I can’t cross. I won’t watch a lot of action movies when the commercials’ only depiction of female characters is when they’re wearing swimsuits or skintight dresses, while the men get nice suits and guns. Those movies are too male centric and too white, and they don’t have the magic and made up science that draws me into superhero movies and futuristic movies. There are other movies that are too sexist or too whitewashed for me to enjoy, and I make it well-known that I won’t watch a movie or show for that reason (I can’t handle the sexual violence in Game of Thrones, for example).

What my friends don’t understand is that loving a movie and pointing out its flaws go hand-in-hand for me. Yes, sexism in movies that I care about is frustrating, but being able to talk about that sexism is important.

When you love something, you want it to be the best it can be. Sometimes, you have to sit down after you watch a movie and think, okay it was good, but what can we critique? What did they do wrong?

That sort of mindset isn’t for everyone. Some people can’t stand watching movies with these kind of problems, and I understand! For me, the best way I find to handle these problems is informed dialogue about the issues that these movies possess, but for some people, they find it easier to ignore the problems entirely. I want to participate in the culture that loves movies, but understands that they’ve got many issues that need to be addressed.

But hey, when a movie surpasses my expectations in every way, when there’s no sexism or racism and the plot is good as well? That’s a movie I can get behind. Let’s hope we have more movies like Black Panther, Moonlight, Wonder Woman, and Love, Simon and that way, I won’t have to irritate my friends by complaining while we watch movies in my living room.

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