Works discussed: Her, Disney villainesses, Female Thor, and THE EPIC BATTLE OF HANNAH VS. CEDRIC/CYRIL/CAESAR THE BEAR!
by Ellen Fishbein
The portrayal of Theodore in the film Her as a vulnerable, emotionally complex person combats the feminist image of man as a creature driven by uniquely violent, dangerous male sexuality.
Let’s start before he ever meets his OS (Samantha). We see Theodore on his commute, checking his email and unhesitatingly commanding Next to all the junk mail. Then we hear, “Sexy daytime star Kimberly Ashford reveals provocative pregnancy photos.” He hesitates; then, he guiltily browses a couple of the pictures. Instead of vilifying Theodore for looking at the photos, the film cuts to a view of his dark, lonely home and the melancholy, longing soundtrack of “Off You” by The Breeders. As viewers, we can’t help but feel sympathy for him and hope that he can find a real emotional connection instead of lonely digital illusions.
This first scene sets the sympathetic tone for the movie. We see Theodore fighting to connect emotionally, and instead of seeing aggressive sexuality, we see a tender desire for touch. We want him to enjoy love physically. That’s why we feel bad for Theodore when having sex with Samantha’s human surrogate just feels wrong for him.
Here’s where we need to separate the characters’ thoughts from the director’s. It’s true that if the OS were male and a woman were being pressured to have sex with a strange man, the film may have been received differently. But the director wants us to empathize with the how wrong it is for Samantha to pressure him into having sex with the strange woman. Samantha thinks that the female surrogate’s body will be enough for Theodore to be content, but the director wants us to realize that for men, sex really is about emotional connection. The director is fighting against the notion that men are simple, aggressively sexual beings and is asking the viewer to empathize with Theodore.
Finally, the movie puts us in the man’s shoes as he is mislabeled and misunderstood by cruel women. During his blind date, the woman orders Theodore around and calls him a “creepy dude.” The viewer is supposed to think, “What the hell? He’s been nothing but kind to her —she’s being mean to him for no reason.” That scene might make viewers think twice next time a woman calls a man “creepy.” Also, when Theodore meets up with Catherine to exchange divorce papers, she also misunderstands him and insults him. That scene is meant to make viewers think about how complex relationships are and how hard it can be to communicate when people are hurting. You’re meant to walk away from the divorce scene feeling sad for Theodore. The director doesn’t dehumanize him or make him seem like a bad husband—instead, he portrays the cruelty and pain that can happen during a divorce, and we want Theodore’s pain to stop.
TL;DR – Her is not an activist film. However, the director wants to make you empathize with the male side of relationships and understand that the emotions associated with love, dating, and sex are just as deep and complex for men as they are for women.
So now Thor’s a woman, and anyone with a brain is furious. They are not angry out of a dislike for women, or the belief that women are less capable. It has nothing to do with gender roles, actually, and everything to do with Marvel’s attempt to increase profits by appealing to the female demographic.
The problem with this is that women are not stupid. The old female fans and even just regular women know that they are being targeted because the companies believe that by making Thor a woman they seem less sexist and will sell more comic books.
Many women know both Norse mythology as well as comics plots, so this is a smack in the face. If Marvel really wanted to be progressive, they’d do a reboot of an awesome but lesser known Marvel character or create something new. Instead they are trying to appeal to women by gender-swapping a character that never sold as many comics to begin with.
There is more to be done plot-wise with a new original character, and this turn of events comes off as both lazy and disrespectful. It’s a dumb move on their part made by dumb people who wouldn’t understand their fanbase if they were screaming in their ear and beating them over the head with a heavy object.
For now this will likely be a fleeting chapter in the long list of mistakes that have been made by Marvel comics over the years. Hopefully their next ploy won’t insult the intelligence of nearly every comic book fan.
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