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

by Madeline Price


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.


Film Review: Made in Dagenham (2010)

By Joanna Horton

‘Equal work for equal pay’ continues to be one of the most widely discussed issues in the feminist movement. In fact, I’ve found that it is very often referenced by idiots people arguing the point that feminism is no longer needed. Technically, yes, women are paid ‘the same’ as men. However, as many feminists point out, this ignores the significant wage imbalance between male and female-dominated industries. The fight against this form of pay inequity continues today – earlier this year Fair Work Australia handed down a pay rise to the (predominantly female) community sector after the Australian Services Union’s long and forceful ‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’ campaign.

‘Made in Dagenham’, however, goes back to the beginnings of the fight for equal pay, re-enacting and dramatising the 1968 sewing machinists’ strike at the Ford plant in Dagenham (at the time one of the largest private employers in the United Kingdom). The film focuses on Rita O’Grady, a 1960s working woman with a husband, two children and a job assembling car upholstery for Ford. She and the other sewing machinists (all women) want a pay rise, but upon meeting with their (male) union representative, they realize that they’re being paid a fraction of men’s wages across the board, simply because their work is ‘women’s work’. They decide to strike for pay equality, and Rita is suddenly thrust into the role of strike leader.

Watching how the fight for equal pay unfolded in the public eye is, of course, always fascinating. However, another facet of the film explored how the struggle occurred in the private lives of the men and women involved. I found this particularly interesting as it gave rise to explorations of gender relationships, family responsibilities, and men’s role in women’s liberation.

Image: moviegeekblog.wordpress.com

For instance, the boyfriends and husbands of the women strikers in ‘Made in Dagenham’ initially support their cause. They’re all good unionists and most of them work in the automobile assembly part of the Ford plant. However, as the strike stretches on, many of the men become fed up with the lowered household income and the increased family responsibilities being placed upon them. This particular kind of man is what I like to call a ‘brogressive’ – a supposedly progressive dude except when it comes to feminism (i.e. a movement that threatens his privilege; that threatens the lifelong knowledge that his dinner will always be on the table). My favourite scene in the film is one where Rita’s husband tries to tell her what a great guy he is because he takes care of the kids sometimes and doesn’t hit her. Cool, do you want a medal? Rita lets him have it. “Rights, not privileges!” she tells him. “It’s that simple, it really bloody is.” (I may have pumped my fist at this point.)

This statement, of course, shows how the struggle for equality in public mirrors the struggle in private. As feminists are so fond of reminding everyone, the personal is political. Many opponents to equal pay tried to tell women that they were lucky to have jobs at all – why bother making trouble by demanding equal pay? Well, for the same reason that women should ‘make trouble’ when their husbands aren’t being supportive: We’re people, and deserve to be treated that way.

As you can probably tell by this point, I liked ‘Made in Dagenham’. It’s funny, moving, thought-provoking, occasionally tear-jerking AND feminist. I recommend seeing it with other feminists for a maximum-solidarity viewing experience. (I went with a friend to see it in the cinema, and we got a Couples Combo at the candy bar and made incessant jokes about being on a feminist date and accidentally touching hands in the popcorn bucket. Which was even funnier because we accidentally attended the senior citizens’ showing in the middle of the afternoon and were surrounded by octogenarians.) Not only is it a thoroughly enjoyable viewing experience (worth it for the 1960s hair and outfits alone) but it’s guaranteed to get you fired up about equal pay and feminist issues in general. Maintain the rage!

Fun factoid: ‘Made in Dagenham’ was released in Germany as ‘We Want Sex’.

~ Joanna Horton

You can find this movie review in the current herstory issue of wom*news.