Spoiler Alert! Catwoman, feminism and the alleged exploitation of ‘female’ traits

by Madeline Price

*SPOILER ALERT – DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU HAVE SEEN THE DARK KNIGHT RISES*

The Dark Knight Rises, in terms of the movie itself, was just as good – perhaps better – than I expected. The twists, the turns, the very, very, VERY loud action, the crazy-wheels-going-the-wrong-way motorcycle, the female leads – absolutely mind blowingly good. Wait, wait, wait, hold up there – female leads?

Catwoman (the versatile Anne Hathaway) is mostly what I’m talking about here. When I first heard that she was going to portray Catwoman, I was a bit sceptical. As an actress, she

Image: projectfree-tv.net

seemed too dainty, too feminine (traits that are to be admired, not seen as an hindrance) to play the jewel-thieving cat burglar. I was more than happy, however, to be proven wrong.

However, there were two things that really annoyed me about her character and how she was portrayed; her relationship with Bruce Wayne/Batman and her exploitation of alleged ‘female’ traits. Up until the last half hour of the movie, I was so elated, so proud, to see Catwoman as a female lead character who was notin the movie as any romantic interest for the main male lead. And then Melinda Bates (Bruce’s romantic attachment for the film) turned out to be a baddy (mind blowing twist by the way!) and Catwoman was back on the table. That disappointed me a little – she was a much stronger lead when she wasn’t attached to Christian Bale’s/Batman’s/Bruce Wayne’s face (in a lip-lock fashion, not in a surgically attached fashion).

Now don’t get me wrong, she didn’t exactly become a submissive housewife when becoming the romantic attachment, but she did become the ‘Why didn’t you leave when you had the chance?’ overly emotive romantic interest type – worried for the hero’s life as opposed to the lives of 12 million of Gotham City’s residents. Ah well, what can you do?

The second thing that disappointed me a little was her exploitation of supposed ‘female’ traits – hysterical screaming/crying in gunfights, seductive swanning around, and so forth. Granted, these traits were used to perform some crazy badass-ery, but still – it was massive exploitation of female stereotypes, stereotypes that should have died a long time ago (for more female stereotypes, I recommend the wonderful Leslie Knope. Now, granted, she probably wouldn’t have been as good at getting away with things as she was if she didn’t use these stereotypes to fool people into thinking she was, for lack of a better word, just an ordinary woman, but by having these traits she did portray one MAJOR female stereotype: manipulation. All too often you hear the phrase ‘manipulative woman’, and I honestly think this was the worst alleged trait that Catwoman could have portrayed, but, as said before, these manipulative tactics allowed her to get away with thieving, killing and tomfoolery. Worth it in the long run? Well, I don’t really know.

And that brings me to Melinda Bates, the other female lead. The twist that she was actually the one trying to destroy Gotham City under the disguise of a wealthy, educated, yet self-made woman (and Wayne’s love interest), was, I admit it, pretty mind blowing stuff there. But, you will notice that, when there is a female villain, she is never mediocre. You never get a female villain who is only ‘a little bad’ – they always go the entire ten yards, think Cruella De Ville (she killed puppies, while her male henchmen brought them to her), the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland (brutally beheading how many civilians?), Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada (ok, not exactly killing her interns or anything, but pretty damn brutal) and Phoenix in X-Men: the Last Stand (truly psychotic). Compare to the male villains of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (ok, I admit it, absolutely terrifying, but in the movie you didn’t see him kill that many people), Jafar from Aladdin (I don’t think he actually killed anyone at all!) and even compare the Batman Begins associate villain Dr. Jonathan Crane (aka Scarecrow) – he is nothing compared to Melinda Bates, he tried to cause Gotham to tear itself apart, while Bates tried to nuke it! There is no comparison in relation to the latter – she is definitely more evil. That’s just my note on female villains – they are never half-evil, and, in the case of Bates, she also exemplifies the manipulative attitudes of Catwoman.

But, other than all that, it was definitely the best movie of the trilogy and I honestly can’t wait until they start the Batman and Robin saga!

~ Madeline Price
You can find this piece, along with Madeline’s other kick-ass feminist musings, at her blog thefeministagenda.

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