Posted by: philosopherouge | September 15, 2007

Rant on Misogyny and Knocked Up

Knocked Up

Lots of articles are addressing Knocked Up, among other recent films, with the accusation by some critics that they are misogynistic. I’m still working on a full response, and having seen the film I’m inclined to agree that it’s an unreal, if not outright misogynistic film.

Empire Magazine’s response that the film is NOT misoginistic

One of the key points is,
[i]”But to call Knocked Up “misogynistic” because (and this genuinely seems to be the argument) a beautiful woman ends up with a schlubby looking slacker is, I’d argue, far more sexist than anything in the film. Queenan’s argument seems to be that women like Heigl go for either good-looking or successful guys or, for preference, both. He completely discounts the fact that funny guys tend to have beautiful wives (check out director Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann; or think Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, Woody Allen and every girlfriend he’s ever had), that women with any sense value a good heart over money, and that really, really, ridiculously good looking men are never as nice and funny and charmingly geeky as the guys they play in movies.”[/i]

An interesting argument, but the characters in this film really do not compare to Brooks or Allen. For one thing, they are not as funny, that’s a matter of taste though. They are also all out druggie slackers without ambition, talent or even something as simple as a job. The author of the article mistakes the fact that the argument is not that it’s misogynistic that a beautiful woman falls for a conventionally unattractive guy. The issue is, he has nothing going for him and not once in the film am I convinced she does love him. She is continually forcing something that clearly does not exist between them, because she thinks it’s the right thing to do. The film isn’t sweet as some suggest, but outright depressing.

The responses to the article are even more depressing, coming back to the recent article by that hack who I don’t even want to bring up, who says women just aren’t as funny as men. Sure if you look at stand-up comedians this is probably a good case, but I’d argue men and women handle comedy in different ways, and the strength of female comedy emerges in interaction with other people. Acting and reacting. It’s only a recent “thing” that women are not given an equal opportunity in acting, if you look at the comedies of the 1940s that mostly centered on gender and relationships, women were equals in comedy to their male counterparts. Rosallind Russell was just as funny as Cary Grant in His Girl Friday, Carole Lombard could out-comedy nearly everyone and that’s just scratching the surface.

In Knocked Up, the women are boring… if not, they are shrill and unpleasant. Women are life suckers, killing men’s spirits to the point where they are on the verge of killing themselves. I’d argue that Leslie Mann gives a good and FUNNY performance, but her character relies so heavily on stereotypes of an overbearing wife that it counteracts her work.

One of the important questions is why women are objectified in this film, and where is this root of this not so recent trend. I think in recent years there has been an unfortunate shift in American mainstream films where young males are THE target audience, this means that women are relegated as being sex objects if they are present at all. Great actresses are having a more difficult time finding roles to play, and some studios are to the point where they are having to tell writers to add or beef up roles for women to make up with their lack of them (i.e. 300 among others,…r=1&oref=slogin). Part of it, as some people have pointed out, also has to do with the small amount of women in the industry, critically and behind the scenes. This however, has always been the case. It still is a contributing factor. There are not many women able to tell their story from a director’s point of view, and with the exception of a few (Almodovar comes to mind) not many men are interested in women as a gender. Another period in time this is rather evident is the 1970s in American film. Very few women characters, and for the most part they are subjected to secondary/sexual characters.

The Ballad of Cable Hogue

The interpretation of women onscreen has always fascinated me, and I’ll hopefully include some of my old writing in the future on some older director’s work. Very often you can find a pattern in interpretation and interest. I think soon I’ll look into Peckinpah’s films, as he is famous for his misogynistic interpretation of women (having just seen The Ballad of Cable Hogue, I think the argument can be made in this case… but it isn’t quite as black and white. Also, I think the female character in Ride the High Country is very interesting and doesn’t fit into the categories I’ve read that some writers have relegated his women. It’s also important to note, that most of his more famous work fits into the western genre, one that hasn’t always been friendly to us girls).

I’ll hopefully have a fuller essay on Knocked Up soon, in the mean time this is the best discussion on the topic I’ve come across. If you’re interesting here it is;

I’d also like to apologize for lack of updates, my computer crashed and school has been overwhelming. I’ve seen a few films that I may review, and picked up a book that may be interesting, especially given this response “Women and their Sexuality in the New Film” by Joan Mallen.

For semi-related interests’ sake, here are some interesting articles/writing on the interpretation of women in Hitchcock’s films:
Focus on the Hitchcock Blonde
The article is titled Hitchcock and Women, says it all really
Probably my personal favourite, looks in depth in the woman’s hairstyles in Hitchcock and their deeper meaning
Article titled Eroticized violence against women in Hitchcock, with focus on Frenzy…/hitchcock.html
Probably the most thorough work I found on Hitchcock, discusses film and his personal life, with a focus on women.



  1. This was a really interesting read, but since I haven’t seen the film in question and don’t have any interest in it, my opinion is obviously rather limited. I thought the previews looked pretty awful though.

    Another period in time this is rather evident is the 1970s in American film. Very few women characters, and for the most part they are subjected to secondary/sexual characters.

    I would disagree with this for numerous reasons. The ’70s was the first decade that benefited from the evolution of the women’s movement.

    It was the first decade that women were really allowed to be action heroines who were willing and able to take men on in their own terms and match their violent behavior (examples include many Blaxploitation films such as Coffy, Cleopatra Jones, Darktown Strutters, etc. as well as the entire Pinky Violence genre, etc.) which I wrote a lot about in recent months.

    You can also find many terrific and strong female roles in American dramas from this period by critically acclaimed directors like John Cassavetes (A Woman Under the Influence & Opening Night), Martin Scorsese (Boxcar Bertha & Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore), Robert Altman (3 Women & Images), Woody Allen (Annie Hall & Interiors), etc. Honestly, I could go on and on, and I haven’t even mentioned European or British films from the ’70s yet.

    I don’t know why women’s roles seem to be getting worse and worse lately, but they do. I guess I would partially blame our culture at the moment that insists on celebrating mundane, shallow and artificially attractive females. It’s currently normal to objectify women and strip them of any inner value. Their appearence or so-called “beauty” seems to be how actresses get their roles and are celebrated in our culture now and talent be damned. I find that 75% of Hollywood films are unwatchable and considering how few women are behind the scenes, I suspect that it all adds up to very few worthwhile roles for female actresses in general.

  2. Sorry about the delay of the reply, I’ve been swamped with school and really wanted to think this out.

    I will agree with you to an extent, but most of the films you mention are more underground or b-movies, which generally have a much wider range of characters and opportunities for film. When I think of the second Golden Age of American cinema I think of films like, The Godfather, the Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver, Dog Day Afternoon, Midnight Cowboy, All the President’s Men, Chinatown, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Star Wars. While few are my personal favourites, it’s no doubt if you were to ask your “average” film buff to name the best American films of the decade the list would ressemble something like this. While it’s not a complete portrait of the decade, as you point out wonderfully, I think this is the perceived image of the 1970s, and there are very few roles for women.

    A few directors broke out of the “boy’s club”, many of whom you mentioned. But overall, it’s a period of time that I think is particularly harsh in it’s general attitudes towards women, when they are portrayed. Perhaps as a backlash to the feminist movement.

    As for action heroines, there were a few in the 1960s, although late and generally they are more “cultish”, like Emma Peel of the Avengers, or the heroines of Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! They did gain significant ground in the 70s though.

    I feel the same way, and with each coming year find myself veering further and further away from Hollywood as I can’t find a reflection of my own interests, ideals and perspectives, mostly as a female viewer. As long as there is seemingly endless foreign filmmakers showcasing women in strong and interesting roles I can be happy, but I would still like to see a change in Hollywood.

  3. You switch to easily between intra and extra-textual criticism. If you are going to stick with intra-textual criticism, then the terrible no-hoper portrayal of men in the film could be viewed as much as misandry as anything else. The terrible bland bane of our times is the leveling of a swift ism (and, the related ‘mis-‘)

  4. I wouldn’t say it’s misandry, for the simple reason that the lives of men are not only glorified (especially the slacker lifestyle), but are generally portrayed as idiot stoners, who deep down inside are nice, dependeable guys OR were nice/super cool guys whose spirit was destroyed by the influence of women in their lives.

    But -isms and mis-isms are so fun 😦

  5. I didn’t expect to hate Knocked Up so much… but I did.

    Misoginistic, yes, and so much worse.

  6. Yay you agree!

    Yea, the misoginy comes second fiddle to a lot of other problems, and issues I have with it. I’m not surprised it’s a critic’s darling, but I’m dissapointed it’s considered so highly.

  7. I’m surprised it’s so popular. But then, I’m surprised by most modern films that are popular. What does Knocked Up do better than its peers? I really don’t know. I have no idea. I can’t think of any separating characteristic that would justify its popularity. Maybe because people think it’s funnier? If that IS the case, then that is a distrubing sign of our society. I found a lot of the comedy mean-spirited and sophmoric/obvious, and, yeah, misoginistic, too.

    Ugh… it’s both depressing and offensive. I hate Knocked Up…
    (that’s a lot)

  8. What I’ve heard about people who like it is that it’s very funny, but also has a sweet-makes-you-feel-all-gushy-inside feeling: I don’t knww what’s wrong with these people. I’m completely with you, it’s depressing and downright offensive.

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