Is the Conjuring Misogynistic?

Short answer: no.

Longer answer: While reading a review of Annabelle in the Boston Globe, I came across an unfamiliar accusation. Peter Keough opened his critique with the following:

“Some praised “The Conjuring” (2013), James Wan’s film about the exorcism of a possessed house, for being scary without resorting to gore or special effects. Others, myself included, found the scariest aspect of the film to be its misogyny.”

I have seen The Conjuring multiple times and enjoy the film very much. I find it to be a well-written, well-acted, retro film of demonic horror. Personally, I had never noticed the misogyny that Keough referred to. After a little digging, the internet was revealed to have a few writers with opinions similar to the Globe. Andrew O’Hehir‘s article,The Conjuring”: Right-wing, woman-hating and really scary, appeared to be the most notable piece of criticism. In it, O’Hehir damns The Conjuring for its portrayal of the Warrens, its use of female antagonists, and its implied message that the Salem Witch trials were justified. He also reveals that he had mixed feelings on the film.

Okay… slow down.

For the record, O’Hehir is not the only one to feel this way, there are other reviews that echo his own sentiments… but let’s look at the accusations. First off, the Warrens. For those out there reading this without seeing the movie, The Conjuring follows the horror standard of “based on a true story.” Ed and Lorraine Warren were real-life Christian demon hunters who roamed the land and looked for evil to exorcise. In short: they were/are religious extremists. The kind of people who are more likely to believe in the devil than Darwin.

Criticisms of The Conjuring take issue with the film’s validating portrayal of the Warrens. In the film, the couple’s faith is shown only as their greatest weapon. It is what allows them to defeat the demon and save the family from harm. While admittedly, the Warrens were not this positive in real life, I am curious as to what the solution here would be? In order for The Conjuring to work as a haunted house horror film – the Warrens have to be more than just religious kooks. The entire threat of the movie would vanish if the Warrens weren’t valid in their beliefs.

The real Warrens were probably wackos... but they are not in the movie.
The real Warrens were probably wackos… but they are not in the movie.

I feel that here is an instance where O-Hehir and other critics are projecting unreasonable expectations onto The Conjuring. EVERY MOVIE that uses the line “based on a true story” is fictitious. It is not the responsibility of any film maker to ever whisper to their audience “just remember kids, this isn’t real.” If The Conjuring were attempting a more meta approach, this criticism would be valid. As such, this is clearly a pure Hollywood thrill ride. The script does not address the fourth wall so director James Wan has no reason to either. It’s not that type of movie – these aren’t the real Warrens. They did not look like Vera Farmiga or Patrick Wilson either. Calm down about the portrayal.

Now, about the female portrayal:

Yes, the evil spirit haunting the house is a woman. A female antagonist does not misogyny make. It would as ridiculous as the claim that all black villains promote racism. Two of the main protagonists are women as well. Elaine Warren (who is depicted as the more essential of the couple) helps Lili Taylor‘s Carolyn defend her family from evil. O’Hehir seems to feel that the film labels women and their behaviors/identity as the source of all evil in the world. Again, this feels like a forced intrusion of perspective. Carolyn is not targeted for possession for neglecting her wifely duties – her family moved into a haunted house! If the ghost had attacked the husband, would that be a vengeful man-hating ghost uber-feminist? No, that would be a ghost.

What do you see? A man protecting a helpless woman or a husband trying to guard his wife? Perspective makes a difference.
What do you see? A man protecting a helpless woman or a husband trying to guard his wife? Perspective makes a difference.

But Carolyn is saved by the power of maternal instincts!

Carolyn is saved by loving her children and not wanting to kill them… you know, not becoming a monster. Could a person project opinions/commentaries of maternal identity onto this action – of course. Yet at its heart, it is a parent refusing to abandon their child, and fighting off an evil force to do it. It is the climax of the film.

Yes, this is a movie that projects religious salvation over evil – because it is a movie about exorcism. Is it validating conservative roles and proclaiming religious faith is the ultimate way to go? Sure… if any audience member actually fights a real demon in their day-to-day life.

The last criticism I would like to address is the charge that The Conjuring validates the Salem Witch trials. This is both a serious charge and a baseless accusation. By claiming (in a fictional movie) that one real witch existed in the 1800s, The Conjuring is somehow saying that those poor victims deserved what they got in the 1600s. There is no line of dialogue that refers to the Salem Witch trials. There is nothing to connect the dots at all. Having a witch in the movie does not condone horrible crimes that happened in real life. There are several witches in Wizard of Oz, and yet I do not think that film is looking to serve as a commentary either.

Yes, witches were totally real. Just look at all the totally real stuff they could do.

The Conjuring, despite its marketing campaign, is not trying to be fact. There are many films that cross that line far worse (The Fourth Kind comes to mind). It is not as intelligent as certain horror gems like The Exorcist, but it is not trying to be either. It is fine to not like a movie, that is a very acceptable situation. That said, projecting an unreasonable set of expectations – and labeling the film as misogynistic – when it fails to follow them, goes too far. Certain people will see scenarios where none exist. Certain people will read novels in the blank spaces between the lines.

There are people out there who feel King Kong was made as a commentary on racism. Sure, if one discounts the people who made it - that is an acceptable thesis.
There are people out there who feel King Kong was made as a commentary on racism. Sure, if one discounts the people who made it – that is an acceptable thesis.

In certain cases, there is something to it. That said, The Conjuring is popcorn. You either like popcorn or you don’t. Just don’t go calling it milk duds. Do not go looking for sin where none exists. That sounds like a witch hunt.

How James Wan probably reacted to the criticism.
How James Wan probably reacted to the criticism.

Special Address: #YesAllWomen

Recently, I heard on the news that there had been another shooting. I tuned it out, I honestly could not deal with hearing about another senseless act of gun violence. The atrocity that I was numbing myself to was, of course, the Isla Vista tragedy. It was not until later that the matter was brought to my attention again. This time I heard more about what had happened: a hate crime – a man (his name really does not matter) shot and killed six people because he was an out-of-control misogynist. Was this the action of a mentally disturbed individual: he probably was. That said, to call this crime “insane” is to put it in a far away box and not examine the issue. This act was not random, it was fully planned out. The savage history of it exists on the internet and can be viewed right now.

There is a perception of this crime as an isolated incident that I feel is incorrect. I am not the only one who feels this way – the #YesAllWomen movement on Twitter, as well as really every feminist and humanist rally out there, acknowledges that this hatred is sadly not isolated. What happened in Isla Vista was an extreme version of an all too common incident. While there is no rationalization to be learned from the killer (NOTHING will ever make what he did forgivable – in any circumstance), there is an alarming window into society. The killer was not evil, he was a human being. He grew up in the United States, he had an education – he was probably a very intelligent individual. That is what makes it frightening. We’re not dealing with a boogeyman, we’re dealing with a person. That is why I am writing this article.

Let me show you a video from Joss Whedon that I saw last year:

Whether you agree with all the points he made or not, there is one line that simply sums up the issue at hand: “You either believe women are people or you don’t. It’s that simple.”

Unfortunately, I believe that it has been (and to a lesser extent, still is) part of the American culture to view women as less than men… as less than people. Now, that is a loaded statement. For the record, I do not believe that American culture directly creates misogyny (hatred towards women), I believe that is only one reaction. Our culture is far more guilty of creating the attitude that, while women are special, they are not people like us men. It goes back to the image of the hero. I have posted this quote on this website before:

eagleLook at that, there’s even a bald eagle next to it. This, to me, is still a beautiful quote. However, the term “hero” is problematic. What is a hero? Well, if you look at culture – you have Hercules, Superman, Han Solo, Indiana Jones, Batman… there are hundreds of examples (many of them are women, I am just focusing on the males to make my point). All of these characters are heroes and they all share similar qualities. They never give up, they keep fighting, they are true to themselves, etc. This pays off in victory. The hero saves the day, beats the bad guy, grabs the girl, and rides off into the sunset. Wait, slow down – grabs the girl? Yes, in many hero narratives, the good guy gets the girl – simply by being a good guy. This makes for wonderful literature but HAS (not could – HAS) contributed to a lesser view of women in society: simply that they are a treasure to be won. A reward for being good.

You may respond with: “That’s fantasy, I know the difference between that and real life.” If so, good for you but not everyone does. Also, this is a behavior that can happen subconsciously as well. Few men probably look at a women and directly wish to “own” her (at least I hope so). Yet there is a belief that good behavior brings rewards. This is not a bad belief to have. We should, as a species, be encouraged to do the right thing… but not for a reward. Fellow internet voice Arthur Chu wrote an article that wonderfully articulates the point I am trying to make (find it here). There does still exist the attitude that women owe men for our generosity, our kindness, our attentiveness… specifically: that women owe us for treating them like men.

Got bad news for all the "nice guys" complaining about being put in the fabled friendzone: if you were expecting sex, you're not being a nice guy.
Got bad news for all the “nice guys” complaining about being put in the fabled friendzone: if you were expecting sex, you’re not being a nice guy.

Have you ever heard a guy talk about how he listens to all his girlfriend’s problems and doesn’t really care but whatever, the sex afterwards made it worth it. I have, and I have not said anything. That’s just guy talk, right? Sure, some of us talk like that when only men are around but… but it’s because we think that’s okay. It’s guy talk – no harm comes from it. Except when it does. I was re-watching a show from childhood recently, X-Men Evolution, and I noticed something I had never even noticed before: Jean Grey was dating a total asshole before she dated Scott Summers.

What does that say about Jean Grey? I know it may look like I’m getting off topic here by talking about a stupid cartoon when people have just died but it is relevant. This is a show that (primarily) young boys, such as myself, watched. It helped to show how Scott Summers, by being the good guy, ultimately got Jean Grey… but seriously, what does it say about her that she is dating such a pig? Relationships say a lot about the individual and, in all other areas, Jean Grey was a strongly developed character. She was cool-headed, mature (even motherly to a point), and very confident… dating the loudmouth, cocky jock athlete. The show never shows their relationship in a positive light so the audience never likes her old boyfriend – you just wait and cheer for Scott to win her over, which he eventually does (to be fair, Jean decides to break up with her old boyfriend and date him but still). It was just such a throw away, another challenge for Cyclops to overcome in becoming the hero. For the record, the show also had some very positive episodes:

Okay, that diversion is done, back to the serious conversation: American culture needs to change. We are far too comfortable in our dismissive views of women as part of life’s achievements rather than as fellow travelers. Some out there may still think that I’m being extreme… it’s the 21st century after all. Very true, when’s the last time you heard someone ask a guy: “are you really going out dressed like that?”

When’s the last time you heard it said to a woman?

Is she being very assertive, yes. To the point of maybe being annoying: sure. Does any of that prevent her from being right and making a point: not the last time I checked.
Is she being very assertive, yes. To the point of maybe being annoying: sure. Does any of that prevent her from being right and making a point: not the last time I checked.

As a guy, I have walked home late at night many times. Was I ever scared that I was going to be robbed: not really. Was I ever afraid that I would be raped for wearing clothing that just turned some rational, civilized human being into a sex-crazed monster: can’t say I’ve had that worry either. The existing rape culture results from this skewed view of women. Who could ever rape another human being? Furthermore, who could defend the perpetrator should that tragedy happen? We do. We do it every day: what were the other factors? Tell me about the girl?

THERE IS NO OTHER CRIME WHERE WE ASK QUESTIONS LIKE THAT.

“Oh, you got robbed? Did you leave that new big screen by a window… shit, man… sounds like you were asking for it.”

Insane right?

“Oh you were drinking, well murdering six people isn’t so bad then. You couldn’t control yourself.”

Seriously, it's not a hard lesson to learn.
Seriously, it’s not a hard lesson to learn.

Women should not be labeled as extremists for asking for the same rights and protection that men enjoy. I am not saying: women, welcome to the crime-free awesome existence that men have, I am simply saying that it is time to stop saying that things are fair and actually MAKE them fair. Should parents teach their sons to be nice to the girl that he likes: absolutely. That said, the next lesson should be “she has no obligation to be nice back.” That’s life.

This is, for us men, a turning point. We have a lot of the power here. There is another video I would like to show you, this one is from Patrick Stewart (yes, as my sources indicate, I am this much of a geek):

Will there still be violence against women if the cultural view is changed. Yes. It isn’t like men are nothing but roses to each other. For the record, men are also not the only ones who can inflict abuse. The reason that I have focused this article on directing men to change is that we are the largest source of abuse. More men abuse women than women abuse men. Sorry guys, them’s the facts for right now.

But stories like this.

And anger like this.

We can all help to put this dark chapter behind us. To use Joss Whedon’s word: genderism is still alive and well in the United States. It always will be… but we can make it weaker. We can make it as backward and as persecuted as it should be. America believes in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is time that we spread that to everyone. So, nice guys, the next time you’re trying to win over a woman, just remember: she is another human being. There is nothing you can do to ultimately change the mind of another human being. Be nice, be the best you can be – just remember that you’re dealing with another you, even if he’s/she’s a different gender.

140527134957-yesallwomen1-horizontal-gallery

The Problem with the "Ideal" Image

This article is a tangent off of the Special Address on misogyny and rape culture in the media world. Specifically, I aim to address views that I did not agree with in an article I read (there are links in the first part of my special address) that declared that video games promote misogyny. The article’s author based this declaration on the fact that women are depicted in a strong sexual manner in video games. I’m not going to waste time arguing that point because it is true. Anyone who doesn’t think women are sexualized, take a look below at Ivy:

 One of Ivy's costumes in Soul Calibur IV.
One of Ivy’s costumes in Soul Calibur IV.

Now Ivy is a character in the Soul Calibur fighting game series. Yeah, she wears that outfit when she’s in physical combat and yes, there are physics applied to her ample chest as she bounces around the screen. Characters like Ivy aren’t unique in video games, if anything they are the standard. It’s not just video games from the Japanese market either.

Samara from the Mass Effect Trilogy, a series that prides itself on its characters. My brothers and I had a nickname for her: Officer Side-Boob.
Samara from the Mass Effect Trilogy, a series that prides itself on its characters. My brothers and I had a nickname for her: Officer Side-Boob.

So yeah, not contending the point that video game women are highly sexualized. This issue, however, has nothing to do with any misogynistic intent on the part of video game developers or the video game community. It is a much larger issue that encompasses both genders and their portrayals in the media world. These video game aren’t being sexualized to reduce their integrity, they are being made in the “ideal” image of a woman (according to marketing). That is what needs to be changed.

Look online, open a magazine, watch a movie, play a video game. Everywhere you look you will see the “ideals” for both genders. Me, I just google-imaged the perfect woman, here’s what I got right on page one:

ny-post-perfect-woman

Apparently the perfect woman should be in a bathing suit, how else would you appreciate her body, right? Anyway, let’s see what google-image search returns for the ideal man:

Ladies, he irons his clothes.
Ladies, he irons his clothes.

So the problems exist for both. Really when you think about it, having an ideal image is always going to create problems. Why: because no one out there is “ideal”; it’s impossible to be so. Being perceived as perfect is just that, a perception. Everyone’s going to have it, it’s going to be different for everyone. There are clearly similarities in the “ideal image”, if people were too diverse on the issue then it couldn’t be marketed. Yet the goal remains a fantasy. No one will ever be “perfect” by society’s standard. Anyway, bit of a ramble but at least slightly relevant.

The concept itself is flawed and its application is even more so. Look at those two images, both are attractive (I guess, that Frankenstein-style face on the “perfect woman” honestly terrifies me) but in different ways. For the woman it’s all about the sex appeal and the pure beauty aspect. For the man, yes there is sex appeal but there is power too. He is in better shape. While the woman is merely skinny (yet with curves), the man is chiseled by muscle. So while the ideal image of a woman is only sexy and visually appealing, the ideal image of a man conveys strength. Is this the case in video games, absolutely. Perfect example:

The male version of Commander Shepard in the Mass Effect Trilogy.
The male version of Commander Shepard in the Mass Effect Trilogy.
Same game but with the female version. I included the criticism because I agree with it. Get that woman a sandwich.
Same game but with the female version. I included the criticism because I agree with it. Get that woman a sandwich.

Clearly Bioware (and the rest of the video game industry) do not exist in a bubble. They are part of the media machine. Is this “ideal” image of woman misogynist in itself: absolutely, she looks unhealthy. I am not backtracking on my initial point. Yes while the created image is misogynist, video games are not. They are simply using the tools that the media world has provided them. Commander Shepard (female version) is a strong character in every aspect outside her body. If the marketing perception of the “ideal” woman changes, expect video games to follow suit.

Not every video game will, there are some developers out there whom I would label as misogynist. I will address them soon, I promise: that second part is coming. However I’m a little tired of hearing video games slammed simply because they are the newest medium. They are a marketed media platform and not exempt from the rules created in our society. Will the perception change: it is constantly changing. Anyone who disagrees with that, check out this image:

An advertisement from the 1940s telling women to gain weight.
An advertisement from the 1940s telling women to gain weight.

Guess what though: there will still be a problem. When society tells an individual how he or she should look, there is a problem. Will they always do this: of course. And there will always be people who listen to them. The good thing about the world (educated nations at least) is that with a little knowledge, this manipulation can be understood and protected against. The marketing world exists to tell individuals that they need things, they will never, ever say that anyone is “just fine the way they are” without including a but immediately afterward.

Cheesy but ultimately true.
Cheesy but ultimately true.

Now, unfortunately society is not simple as my little inspirational cat friend there. There is enormous peer pressure on every individual, I don’t mean to discount that. Is the “ideal” image of woman currently worse than the “ideal” image of man: absolutely. It is incredibly stupid how thin women are being told they have to be, while still maintaining weight in the right places. This image does feed into the rape culture as well. It creates problems and it always will.

Thoughts? Comments? Am I full of it or onto something? Let me know now in the feedback section of this article.

Further reading:

On women – http://newyorksociologist.org/11/Berberick2011.pdf

On men – http://www.public.iastate.edu/~cpb6666/pubs/Barlett%20Vowels%20%26%20Saucier.pdf