Tuesday, December 2, 2008

In Bed with Sexism (Wedding Crashers)

I’m a pretty good fan of the movie Wedding Crashers. I usually find Owen Wilson funny, and the movie’s pretty silly in general… However, I have an issue with the movie’s treatment of rape as conducted by a female onto a male. Because the subject is treated playfully, I find it indicative of sexism of the creators and of the general movie audience.

The gist of the story is that two womanizing bachelors, John Beckwith (Owen Wilson) and Jeremy Grey (Vince Vaughn), trespass on strangers’ weddings pretending to be so-and-so’s cousins’ children for the purpose of sleeping with attractive women present at the wedding who are in a romantic state of mind. They do this dozens of times, able to get away with it using previous research of the family trees, quick thinking, and charismatic partying attitudes that make them welcome additions to the weddings even though they are uninvited. Their usual tactic of ditching their fictional personas after a wedding is disrupted when John falls for a woman, Claire Cleary, and accepts an invitation from her father to go to their house for the weekend after-party, in hopes of being able to seduce her away from her fiancé.

Meanwhile, Jeremy finds himself in trouble when Gloria Cleary, the nymphomaniac woman he seduced at the wedding who happens to be Claire’s sister, becomes obsessively infatuated with him. In order to help out his friend, he agrees to come go with Gloria as her date for the weekend. Off put by her stalking attitude and extremely aggressive sexual advances, including masturbating him under the table while the family eats dinner, he tells her that he wants to focus on the way they connect as opposed to just sex. All this is in addition to Claire’s fiancé physically abusing him through unduly rough football that causes him injury. The joke is that bad stuff just keeps happening to him.

During the night, Gloria ties Jeremy to the bed while he sleeps. He wakes up to find her sitting on him naked. She tells him that she thought about what he said and decided he meant she wasn’t being adventurous for his tastes. Though he tries to reject this notion, she cuts him off by duct-taping his dirty sock in his mouth and having sex with him as he struggles futilely against the ropes, his muffled screams audible. We cut away to the next scene with nondiagetic soft guitar music, moving cleanly over to John’s laying awake thinking about Claire without the slightest issue as to what’s happening to Jeremy in the next room.

Gloria’s rape of Jeremy is very much treated as a nonissue. It was a rape as opposed to just kinky sex. There was no prior discussion in which Jeremy could offer consent. Gloria, who is depicted as a ditz, just decided this was the kind of thing about which he fantasized and took the initiative. Jeremy himself describes it as rape the next morning and rants about how horrible it was and how much therapy it would take to get over it.

However, the rape is treated as no big deal in the whole scheme of the movie. Bad things happen to Jeremy, giving the audience schadenfreude laughter, and the rape is just one of many unpleasant things he has to experience. Perhaps it’s not the worst thing, even, as Claire’s annoyed fiancé shoots him in the rear with a shotgun during a quail hunt the next day.

After the wedding crashers are exposed, Jeremy is finally free to leave. However, he realizes that he has fallen in love with Gloria and continues to date her. Gloria reveals that she was insecure about her ability to keep men in a relationship and so lied about being a virgin, and it would seem that much of her extremely clingy behavior falls away at this point. He later proposes to her and he marries her by the end of the film.

So, a character rapes another character who subsequently falls in love with and marries the rapist. From that barest description, it sounds inexcusable even within a comedic context. Rape is generally considered to be a crime a man commits against a woman or perhaps against another man, but it’s never really thought of as a crime a woman could commit against a man. I’m sure that were the genders reversed there would be considerable outrage about the film. Feminist groups would be up in arms over it and anyone who professes amusement would come off as a total creep in many circles.

This is clearly not the case of the current dynamic. A female character raped a male character and no one really cares. There is a definite, sexist difference in the way film audiences view nonconsensual activity.

Oftentimes when male characters are abused in such ways that would cause outrage were a female in their position, I see the term “misandry” thrown around, as in hatred of men. The thought is that such male characters are abused because people in general have strong dislike for masculine characters and thus become sadistically delighted at their misfortune. I find this viewpoint to be flawed.

The problem with the above opinion is that it assumes that misandric people are both in the position to direct the production of such material and make up a large chunk of the consumer population. Widely available media indicate that this is not the case; in fact, the general indication is that most media contains sexism going the other way. Furthermore, the abused male characters are not depicted in the manner one would expect of a victim of hate.

In the films seriously criticized for perceived misogyny of the filmmakers, the female characters tend not to get a similar treatment to Jeremy Grey of Wedding Crashers. From what I recall of feminist-style film analysis (admittedly not much) is that while the misogyny takes different forms, one of the most pervasive is sexual objectification. The female characters are made to be pleasing to the eye at all times so that the male audience can view them as sexually attractive eye candy, even (or indeed particularly) when they are being victimized. When the abuse of female characters is done out of misogyny, there is also a definite sense of retribution, in which the characters are deemed guilty of some crime that warrants payback the male viewers can feel and appreciate even if the crime is as insubstantial as “being a bitch.”

Jeremy is subject to none of this dehumanization. On the contrary, Jeremy remains one of the central protagonists of the film and is respected as a lovable and good-hearted figure. Although his continued abuse sustains much of the film’s comedy, it is not taken any more seriously than is classic slapstick. I therefore conclude that the mindset is sexist in the other direction.

Men and women are not seen in the same way. When it comes to scenes of rape committed on a woman, it would seem to always be either depicted as a hideous crime or as a sexually exciting moment for the misogynistic sadists in the audience. As can be seen in Wedding Crashers, rape committed on a man is seen as harmful but ultimately not much to worry about. While I am unqualified to make any declarative statement regarding the sexism responsible for promoting these views, I can offer my speculation.

I suppose it’s probably due to the view of women as damsel-in-distress archetypes. Like, because women are so much weaker than men that sexual assault can only be considered as a really big deal, assuming the filmmakers don’t dehumanize them altogether. Likewise, men are seen as the strong macho type by default, to which attacks aren’t taken too terribly seriously. In addition, males subject to the kind of attacks seen as characteristically a kind only used against females are seen as weak for having been reduced to a “female” status. Because of the strong gender definitions and associations within American culture, males exhibiting effeminate qualities are hi-larious – especially if they’re totally heterosexual as with Jeremy. Gloria is not seen as a monster because she is seen as a crazy “stage five clinger” who doesn’t properly understand, disrespected by the viewer to deny her responsibility and to allow her to remain a potential love interest. Furthermore, her sexual aggressiveness allows the character to be sexually pleasing to the male viewers.

So, in conclusion, I find the movie Wedding Crashers, while funny, to present a worrying sexist cultural perception of sexual assault as perpetrated by a woman against a man. I believe this sexism to be based in the disrespect of femininity, despite the readily apparent victimization of a male person in the described event. I find this evidence that progressive sentiments will better society as a whole. All this said, Wedding Crashers is still a very funny movie. I’ve got issues with some of the stuff they chose to include, but overall I find it enjoyable entertainment and would certainly not discourage people from seeing it because of this minimal sexist element. All I ask is for people to remain aware and thoughtful.


Anonymous said...

Rape scene was disgusting. Imagine a man tying down a woman in the middle of the night, mounting her naked and putting a sock in her mouth so she can't scream. what the fuck.

Anonymous said...

"Feminist groups would be up in arms over it..."

Feminist groups ARE the people who protest "humorous" depictions of sexual abuse, no matter who the victim. Feminists promote gender equality in order to make humiliating, offensive attacks on men as anathema as those on women (and visa versa, depending on the situation). Feminists are your friends, don't insult us by saying we don't get up in arms about this kind of stuff.

General Rylee said...

This was posted a long time ago, before I really got a handle on how I wanted to analyze media. Now I do so fully from a feminist perspective. I plan to revise the article at some point (I'll have to rent the movie).

And, yes... the people I've seen objecting to the Wedding Crashers rape scene are all feminists, myself included, but I've also seen a lot of feminists ignoring this movie. If the genders were reversed, feminists would universally consider this movie a big problem, but instead a lot of feminists ignore it or dismiss the rape as just kinky sex with a lot of foreplay (probably because the movie itself seems to think that's what happened, based on Vince Vaughn's character's discussion with the priest).

--Article author

Anonymous said...

I just saw the movie last night for the first time and was appalled that rape was treated as a joke--and so insignificant the victim would actually then fall in love with and marry the victim. Jeremy very clearly objects before she stuffs his dirty sweaty sock in his mouth and duct tapes it in.

I don't think this can be described as misandry though. All the writers, directors and producers are men. It is the female character, Gloria, who is badly represents women. (In fact, all the female characters badly represent women--the mother who forces John to feel her breasts, all their wedding conquests are gullible ditzes, and even Rachel McAdams's character is weak and indecisive.) And the misrepresentation of rape here I think is not because it was a woman doing it to a man, but because it being only men who created the movie, and rape being a crime that usually happens to women, they just don't understand what rape is. Being men, they think it can never happen to them, so it's something they can take lightly. So in a weird sense, I think it was misogyny at work here.

I think it's no accident it was feminists who reacted negatively to a man being raped by a woman. Because it is women who understand that rape is no laughing matter, no matter who it happens to.

RosieP said...

"And the misrepresentation of rape here I think is not because it was a woman doing it to a man, but because it being only men who created the movie, and rape being a crime that usually happens to women, they just don't understand what rape is. Being men, they think it can never happen to them, so it's something they can take lightly. So in a weird sense, I think it was misogyny at work here."

It sounds as if you're still blaming men. When a man includes a scene in which a woman rapes a man, it's still misogyny. I don't even understand that.

Who cares about the reason behind the scene or anything else? A person was raped by another . . . regardless of gender. And it was dismissed in an offhanded manner. It's disgusting . . . regardless of the genders of the both the victim and the perpetrator. It's disgusting regardless of the gender of the person or persons who dismiss the rape.

Vanessa Vieites said...

Thank you for bringing this up! That line made me cringe as well because as a feminist I thought that scene was deplorable and inexcusable. Jokes about rape towards men stem from a patriarchal system that says that men "can't get rape" (I have heard this numerous times from men themselves)-that men can't be that vulnerable. So please stop assuming it is feminists who find this kind of stuff funny or innocent.

Daniela said...

Wow, you're upset because a bunch of dudes created a movie where they normalized your gender being assaulted? Welcome to our world buddy! I love how instead of shifting your focus on what would push MALE producers to turning something as dehumanizing as rape into something funny, you'd rather whine about feminists... Your analysis is a piece of shit.