Oh, wait, that’s not adorable. That is some lily-livered bullshit. Yet people do it, particularly when they’re boys: name a famous misogynist (Updike, Roth, Tarantino, Polanski, Apatow, LaBute, etc.) and I’ll name you an article or appraisal that contains some cowardly, passive-voiced admission that “some have called his work misogynist.” Um, some? Who are these “some?” What were their grounds for leveling this criticism? Can you, the professional critic, give us a well-reasoned argument for or against? Oh, never mind, that sentence is totally over and we’re back to talking about how this dude is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Because misogyny, whether or not it exists, is not a serious issue, because women aren’t important. Gotcha.
However, I have been instructed not to “read into things” too much! By dudes, no less! Since I always do exactly what dudes tell me, particularly when they seem weirdly insecure and defensive and eager to invalidate what I am saying, I have decided to take these statements at face value. When someone says that “some have called [X] misogynist,” without betraying any consciousness of why that might be important, and without delivering any appraisal of the misogyny or lack thereof in the work, I will take this to mean that (a) they don’t actually know what misogyny is or why it is important, (b) they have no understanding of how misogyny might be conveyed in the work of an artist and therefore cannot identify it when they see it, and (c) they are completely unfamiliar with the many, many, many works by feminist critics which they might have used to educate themselves on these matters. (Curious fact: even though they are available in pretty much every bookstore and library under the heading of “Women’s Studies,” dudes can actually read them, and it will not even cause their penises to fall off!) It’s OK, dudes: you’re not sexist, just really fucking ignorant! There, doesn’t that feel better?
“God, I hope he doesn’t become a better person and win her back,” I noted to my gentleman caller after the first episode, being all too familiar with the conventions of the genre, wherein the dude, like, does one nice thing, thereby causing the lady to forget what an asshole he is and fall deeply in love with him because women are stupid.
Katherine Heigl’s character in Knocked Up is maybe the most commented-upon case of “Because, Um…?”: yes, she’s way hotter and smarter and more successful than Seth Rogen, although she is still apparently so broke that she lives in her sister’s house, and yes, when some random distasteful stranger gets her pregnant she decides to have the baby, thereby endangering her career and further stretching her finances although the movie makes it clear that she can’t even pay for her own apartment, and yes, she decides to involve this stranger in the inexplicably carried-to-term pregnancy despite the fact that he’s not responsible enough to wear a condom when fucking a stranger (and she has a weird numb vagina that can’t tell the difference between a rubbered dick and a dick au naturel), and also to date him for no reason that is ever explained (do they just start fucking again as soon as she tells him she’s up the creek? I have no idea! All I know is, when I learned they were having sex again, it came as a total shock!), and yes, he has one of those last-five-minutes-of-the-movie turn-arounds which causes her to end up with him despite the fact that she dumped him earlier in what is perhaps her one understandable decision throughout the course of the film, and all of this is because, um…?
Here’s the thing: Katherine Heigl’s character is not even remotely the most offensive or blatant case of this problem. In Superbad, the entire plot revolves around two dudes planning to get girls so drunk that the boys can fuck them, in spite of the fact that they know those girls wouldn’t fuck them sober and with corresponding full and informed consent, which, if I’m not mistaken, is what we commonly refer to as “date rape,” and at some point Jonah Hill confesses to a girl that he was going to get her drunk in order to rape her because he knows she wouldn’t fuck him otherwise, because he likes her so much, and she is okay with this, because, um…? In Stepbrothers, there are not one but two ladies who are irresistibly drawn to the sexual charisma of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, in spite of the fact that the characters are clearly written as, in the parlance of the times, developmentally disabled, and also they look like Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, because, um…? In Pineapple Express, Seth Rogen actually commits rape of the statutory variety, by maintaining a sexual relationship with a high school student, and insofar as the script acknowledges this to be a problem at all, it is supposed to be a problem relating to his “immaturity,” rather than a problem relating to his being an adult man who fucks kids, and of course he never faces any consequences, and of course the girl is portrayed as oh so very Muriel-Hemingway-in-Manhattan eager to submit to the sexual advances of a future To Catch a Predator star (if there’s one good thing to be said for Diablo Cody, it’s that she consciously subverts this; hence Juno’s lovable indie-rock pedophile being (a) refused by his teenage lust object and (b) divorced by his adult wife, thank God) and of course the relationship doesn’t even end until he decides that she is not commitment-worthy, because, um…?
The skeeviest of these examples, Superbad and Pineapple Express, are both written by Seth Rogen, so I suppose you could argue that he’s the real problem, but he seems to only be the most curdled and malevolent example of the misogyny underlying the “Because, Um…?” girls throughout the catalogue. In the non-Rogen-scripted Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the whole message seems to be that women who break the rules and dare to have standards for their sexual partners must pay the price. For lo, it does come to pass that the lovely and admirable and in-no-way-deserving-of-this-shit-role Kristin Bell has to offer to suck off Jason Segel in order to obtain his “forgiveness” for the mortal sin of ending a relationship that was not making her happy, and he can’t get hard, which is her fault, and so he calls her the “goddamn Devil.” It begins by forgetting to write reasons for women to like or fuck men; it proceeds by arguing that men are entitled to have women like or fuck them, reasons or no (hence the whole, you know, wacky-rape-hijinks thing); it ends by saying that women who don’t like you or fuck you in the absence of reasons to do so need to get on their knees and suck your dick, unless they can’t even do that right, in which case they’re pure fucking evil. It’s an old, old, old, old story: good women give sex, bad women withhold sex, and truly worthless women don’t inspire men to have sex with them at all.
So then, of course, you have Eastbound & Down, where a man calls a woman a “bitch” and promises to “fuck her up (with some truth),” because she doesn’t want to immediately jump into a relationship with him, and her reaction to this is to dump her fiance and move to a new city with him about five seconds later, so he basically verbally abuses her into being his girlfriend, which, if we were encouraged to look into her motivations to the same extent that we’re allowed to examine the motivations of the other (male) characters on the show, would be some spooky tragic cycle-of-abuse bullshit – the show emphasizes that the only other characters who are drawn to him are deeply fucked up, I would take “deeply fucked up” as an answer here – but in the context of the show, it’s all cool. Because she’s not a person; she’s a plot point. Because she’s a woman.
Which, if you’re a dude – particularly a dude threatened by women! – might just be a hilarious way to vent your gender anxiety and give your male character some pussy without having him face the complications inherent in dealing with actual individual female humans. If you are a female human, however, and are faced every day with people who are threatened by your existence, who are continually sorting you into the bitch/slut categories, if you know how painful and enraging it is to realize that the guy you’re dating (or working for, or working with, or hanging out with at a party) is somehow incapable of recognizing that you have a subjective existence, just as deeply felt and worthy as his own, and do not exist simply as an extension of his own needs or desires, it’s not that funny. It’s pretty fucking bleak, in fact. Particularly when you know that your culture backs him up, and tells him that women actually do exist for his pleasure because they actually are not people like himself, and that these attitudes are so fucking normalized that even objecting to them makes you sound kind of crazy and extremist and, of course, bitchy, and that no matter how hard you work to explain and deconstruct these attitudes within the culture, no matter how prominent or successful you are in the field of said deconstruction, you’re always going to be reduced to a nameless “some” who “have called [X] misogynist” in a one-sentence aside in an otherwise 100% adulatory appraisal.
So, gentlemen: the next time you see the “Because, Um…?” girl, I ask that you actually identify her as such, and recognize that she signifies both bad writing and some really reprehensible ideology, and perhaps even that you grow a ball or two and speak out against it! Because, um, it’s fucking wrong.