Alternate universe of just female agency?

I recruited a friend to watch some of our GirlPower movies with me, a while back. I thought that talking through some of the scenes would be helpful. It didn’t go well. That was the week we were watching Set It Off. We chose to watch it over the others because it involved bank robbery (that was his reason). We stopped the movie halfway with a declaration from him: “I am sorry, Becky. I can’t watch this.” I was happy to stop and go to the library and finish it by myself, because he had been complaining the entire time we watched that “This is not real life. There are no men in this.” He said that a movie was supposed to feel real and this one failed because “men are a part of life, and there are no male heroes in this.”

Apparently we cannot have a frame that excludes men. But we can have one that excludes women.

Anyway, when I was done being mad about it, I thought intensely about it. My thoughts are not completely formed on this, but this is what I have so far:

I went to an event here, at Amherst,”A Reconsideration of the Making of the Cuban Revolution: Women in the Clandestine City Movement and Women in the Sierra”, where a female veteran Consuelo Elba from the Cuban Revolution was hosted. We watched her parts of some work that she hasn’t finished yet as well as  documentary “Mujeres de la Guerrilla” (“Women of the Rebel Army”) about female fighters from the revolution, telling the story of over 20,000 fighters that are not included in history. They were spies. They fought on the frontlines. They were nurses. Etc. Some of them went on to work in the government. Others became mothers and grandmothers. One said her life was so boring right now because she had to do things she hated like doing dishes and cooking. There were all kinds of narratives in there.

But you see, the story of the Cuban Revolution with just their experience is not complete. And neither is the story that eliminates their experience. An ideal story would be one that captured both the woman’s story and the man’s story.

How do you do that though when the woman’s angle has a lot of ground to catch up on?

Before I came back to school at the end of this summer, I had been working as a journalist and some stories were hard to write because there was just not enough information on the women. (I tried to take on only assignments that dealt with women’s issues). I ended up involved in recapturing the history of one of the youngest kingdoms in the region (It was formed in the late 60s). All the historians that have helped me in this project have asked me “Why just the woman’s angle?” Luckily for me, the men from the founding battles have died and the women are still alive so it helps to say “because they are here.”

Their questions though have made me wonder if in concentrating on the woman’s narrative, I was doing the same thing history had done for generations: told one side of the story. I have different motives, and maybe that is my saving grace. But the outcome mirrors the norm we work against.

Maybe my friend is right, to an extent. But if I have learned anything, it is that when the frame shifts so do the methods. Prof. P has talked about the fighting scenes and explained about how if it is a female actor, she would have to employ different moves in fighting from a male actor’s moves. What kind of directing then would that call for if there is an equal distribution of male and female actors?

Same with history. If I was to do a documentary about child soldiers before this class, I would think of boys being taken out of their homes and forced to kill family and to rape girls. I would try to recapture their rehabilitation as grown men in the communities they destroyed. But after this class, I would have to look for the girl soldiers too. I would have to incorporate gender discrimination issues when I include their stories as sex slaves. I would have to also tell how they had to work doubly to earn their gun, how they were placed at the frontlines so they died first, how they never get rehabilitation when they return to the communities. It would not just change my frame, it would probably change my agenda too.

This is not all tied up neatly because I remain conflicted. Popular Culture is linked to life as we live it, and as long as the world outside excludes, it will be difficult to see different in magazines, videos, movies, etc. But it leaves me with many questions. This is my list:

-Is it possible to have a female hero and not have her interpreted as a statement to all male heroes out there?

-Can a GirlPower movie be a GirlPower movie with both a female and male actor that have equal agency?

-Is a movie/story that empowers women and gives no air time to men the same as the stories/movies that are all about men and have no woman actors? In an alternate-world style, that is.


2 thoughts on “Alternate universe of just female agency?

  1. “He said that a movie was supposed to feel real and this one failed because “men are a part of life, and there are no male heroes in this.”

    This is an interesting perspective. I agree that oftentimes leaving out women’s narratives is deemed okay, but the moment we overlook a man’s perspective, all hell breaks loose. I think your friend’s discomfort with this movie is a good thing. If we hope to change the way we look at things, it has to start by challenging the way things are today. If it made him angry or uncomfortable that there were no male heroes in the movie, I think it’s actually a step forward in getting him to acknowledge that it’s not always about men.

    Maybe getting your friend to finish the movie is the next step? 🙂

    • I bring good news. I did not get him to finish the movie, but I recently had a random conversation with him about gender and his attitude has changed. He is actually happy to read recommended links now!

      It was indeed a step forward, like you said. He is able to see a difference in the framing of things and acknowledges that a lot of narratives are not included in the mainstream.

      He is a senior and he is regretting not taking classes in WAGS. An attitude that made me want to break out in dance, in Val on a day. For real.

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