Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Against Evidence

This will come as no surprise to anyone, but people are sometimes bound and determined to ignore evidence if it doesn't support their position.

What's especially frustrating about a lot of the people who spout unwarranted assumptions is that they think they are very logical, too.

I haven't seen the new Wonder Woman movie, but I've heard it's doing fantastically. It's being reviewed well and it's making a lot of money. But people who expected it to fail and wanted it to fail are "seeing" shortcomings--maybe an occasional "meh" review from someone important, maybe pointing out that it didn't make as much money as another movie--and they're taking those "observations" and dragging them into a conclusion that supports their agenda.

Most notably: assumptions like "women directors can't handle superhero movies," "nobody really wants to go see movies about women," and "any movie that puts a woman at the front and center is therefore feminist propaganda." 

I found myself wondering, when I saw these sorts of comments, what a female-centered movie would actually have to do to satisfy these demands. I mean, we'll pretend for a second that people who expected/wanted it to fail because eww girls are actually willing to apply logic to their interpretation. Were they willing to do so, what would they need? If they were to make a list of what a movie needs to have to satisfy them and they were not told they were going to have their list used as a grading system for a movie like Wonder Woman, would the movie pass?

Again, I haven't seen it, but what I have seen is a lot of female delight at being able to see someone of their gender participate in a superhero movie that's about a woman, and a lot of male confusion (and denial) over its importance. It's interesting how they can say women shouldn't need female superheroes to enjoy a movie but sneer at Wonder Woman being relevant to them in the same breath. And of course, if you ask some of them, it's because the movie isn't anything but feminist propaganda, but what does that mean? Does it mean any movie that focuses on a woman is therefore a gendered message, while "men's" movies aren't? Does it mean if a movie focuses on the glorification of female power, it must be doing so at the expense of male power (which is, to be fair, the manly-man focus of a dozen dozen franchises)? Does it mean female independence from male-focused storylines constitutes hatred of men (as many antifeminists are quick to code any feminist message), in a way male stories that make women disposable or objectified are somehow not hatred of women?

Recently I told a man I have no sense of direction, and he immediately blurted, "Yeah, most women don't."

He felt comfortable saying that in front of a woman, to a woman, about women. Didn't worry whether generalization about women in a very unflattering way would be offensive or upsetting. After all, I've just said it about myself, and I'm a woman, so how is this a wrongheaded statement? 


It's basically like this.

If I suck at directions and I'm a woman, I'm evidence for "women suck at directions." If a man sucks at directions, it says nothing about his gender. (I also suck at math by the way.) Everything we do is seen through a gendered lens by these people. They say we're obsessed with "feminism" and trying to shoehorn unnecessary messages into movies and crying about unfair treatment that objectively ended in society when we got the right to vote. Do they know what it's like to still be treated like anything we do badly is evidence of and consequential of our gender, while anything we do well is in spite of it? (Unless it's cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing?) 

I also recently had a conversation with a man about how men probably drop everything to help me with a certain task when he himself never gets offered help with that task. He was talking about something I literally can't ever remember being offered help with except once it was someone who did it with obvious ulterior motives and once it was another woman. And despite that, he responded as if my experiences still confirmed that men are always offering me help while he has to do the task by himself and no one ever thinks to help him . . . and on top of that, this was spun as evidence of "female privilege." Without ever considering that sometimes when women are offered help it is in a very pushy way and paired with condescension. It often comes across not as "would you like help with that?" but as "you are naturally disadvantaged to handle that on your own; I will rescue you because you are less capable than I am." (You can tell which one a helper is pretty easily by how they react to refused offers. They always get very pushy, and sometimes they stick around to criticize however you're doing it, making it clear that they would have done a better or quicker job if you'd just let them help.)

Similarly, the Wonder Woman movie is a superhero movie in a genre that is dominated by male characters, male actors, and male writers/directors. The director and main actor of Wonder Woman are women. If the movie doesn't make as much money as the best male movie, or it isn't critically acclaimed with the best ratings, or the director and actor do not have the best star power, or the movie does not win the most awards, it is because women are inferior on whatever level these people want to push. Women can't make good superhero movies. People don't want to see superhero movies about girls. Stories about women are inherently less interesting. That particular character sucks for some reason, and it isn't because she's a woman, but every other female character they can think of is also unworthy of a movie for some reason, but this doesn't indicate either a massive issue regarding how female characters are written OR a personal prejudice--no, not at all. 

Meanwhile, mediocre and bad movies written about and by men are not presented as evidence that male movies have failed, and they are not upheld as experiments that determine society's interest in male stories. If a male director about a male superhero fails, no one decides it's time to stop making movies about men, or that less established male actors shouldn't be cast, or that less experienced male directors shouldn't be hired to direct movies because they're a risk. The men will continue to be given chances to tell these stories with no thought to whether their gender has anything to do with it, while women's participation will continue to be held to different standards and will continue to involve gleeful men concluding that stories about chicks are failing for reasons directly tied to them being about (and presumably for) women.

If you leave out the name and demographics of the superhero movies and you analyze them, it would be hard to figure out which movies had more female participation than usual. But these folks will still insist that women's incompetence is an objective fact, and on top of that they don't take into account how many men just like them are looking at movies like Wonder Woman and turning up their noses because they assume it's not for them--how much negative press and lack of confidence in women's work becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And furthermore, when women don't see themselves doing these things, THEY think women can't/don't do them, or they think female participation is unusual to the point of having less confidence in it, and they internalize expectations that make them think their own gender just isn't as good at these things. 

Against evidence, people do frequently come to conclusions about "how things are," and sometimes they change their opinion based on very negative biases they won't admit they have. I'll never forget the time I was describing one of my favorite movies to a friend and he was laughing and saying it sounded funny and expressing interest in seeing it, until he asked a question that revealed (through pronoun use) that he'd been thinking the protagonist was a boy. When I clarified that it was about a girl doing those things, his enthusiasm visibly evaporated, and when I asked if he wanted to watch it later, he said "Well, it sounds funny, but a little unrealistic for me." 

Oh. SHE, not HE. It's a GIRL MOVIE. I thought it was a real action hero. Can't picture GIRLS carrying a fantasy adventure. The movie might have fantasy creatures in it but I was fine with the level of realism there until you mentioned a girl adventurer. That's UNREALISTIC. How would she even run in a skirt? 

We've got a long way to go and some of that is going to require people to stop pretending their biases are evidence-based. 

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