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Sigourney Weaver says that Avatar lost to The Hurt Locker because the Academy wanted to give the award to a woman.

Our heroes always have feet of clay. Oh Sigourney, why you gotta do this to me? Even if this was taken out of context, the quote is pretty bad, obnoxious enough that I really don't feel like reproducing it here. The heart of it is at Feminist SF, above, and they provide a link to the whole thing at Huffington Post.

There are a few things I want to say about this. First, there's the total lack of historical context: Kathryn Bigelow was not only the first woman to win a Best Director Academy Award, she was one of only four to even be nominated, in the entire history of the Oscars. Would anyone have said that Sofia Coppola lost to Peter Jackson because she was a woman? How about the hundreds of women who never even got nominated (including several whose movies were nominated for Best Picture)? There's no doubt that Bigelow's win was a big deal (Women & Hollywood has some good perspectives on why), and I think it's fair to speculate that the Academy voters might have been partially motivated by the opportunity to make history. There are plenty of stories about films, actors, and directors that have won awards, at least in part, because they struck a chord with the zeitgiest. But to claim that it's the only reason, when they've let other opportunities like it go by, takes a very short view. And it looks an awful lot like sour grapes on Weaver's part.

But the part that really struck me is how, once again, we have a woman setting out to take another woman down. It's depressingly typical, to the point that I'm surprised that this story hasn't traveled further in the media (Weaver made her remarks to the Brazilian press back in April), because it fits so well into the "catfight" trope that the mainstream media loves so much. It puts me in mind of a post from Tiger Beatdown that I was thinking about recently for unrelated reasons*. This bit caught my attention then, and it seems particularly relevant here:

But I will say that I have, recently, been reading a book called Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, by Rachel Simmons. One passage in this, which grabbed me and blew my mind and suddenly made about a thousand troubling incidents way more easy to understand, was about how female bullies pick their victims. The author interviewed a whole bunch of girls about this, and she came up with a really good, really obvious answer. So, do you want to know how they pick their victims?

They pick the girl who seems the most confident.

And this is the dynamic I see at work here, exactly. What shows more confidence than getting up on the stage and accepting the world's most prestigious award for your work, without apology and without acknowledging, either subtly or overtly, the generations of women who came before? On reflection, I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner.

If you followed the stories around Bigelow's big awards season back at the beginning of the year, you might remember that no one was happier for her than James Cameron; not only was he gracious, he seemed genuinely pleased that she and her work were being recognized. Now, I'm not saying that he purposefully unleashed Sigourney Weaver, a woman who has worked on many of his films, to attack Bigelow as his surrogate. But it is a little suspicious to me, that Weaver is the one saying this. I can certainly understand Weaver's loyalty to Cameron -- after all, it was in his movies ("Aliens" in particular) that Weaver was able to make her name as a viable ass-kicking action hero. But she could have been supportive of him without tearing Bigelow down. It's an everyday meme writ large, and it makes me sad.

*I say I was thinking about it for unrelated reasons, but were they, really? That post was a response to the Clay Shirky "Rant About Women" that was the talk of the feminist blogosphere a few months back. In that post, he wonders why women tend not to be as bold about self-promotion as men, and the overwhelming response was, basically, everything I just said above: we're socialized not to, and we get smacked down when we do. In a recent interview about the lack of women pundits, Shirky admits the omission of this fact was a stupid mistake on his part, which makes me feel more charitable toward his rant than I did at first. But anyway, I was thinking back to his post, and these particular responses to it, because of a post by [personal profile] renay where she talks about the marginalization of critics in YA Lit blogging culture. Could this be another form of women attacking exceptionalism, the pack circling around anyone who dares to stand out, in this case by daring to hold a strong, critical opinion, using calls for "niceness" as a cloak? I'm not saying definitively that it is. But it sure makes me think about it.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 3rd, 2010 06:29 pm (UTC)
Great entry
I have no useful comments, just wanted to say thank you for posting this.
May. 4th, 2010 01:48 am (UTC)
Re: Great entry
Thank you and you're welcome! Glad you liked it.
May. 4th, 2010 12:16 am (UTC)

That's...that's all I've got.
May. 4th, 2010 01:53 am (UTC)
It is pretty augh-worthy, isn't it? Sometimes it feels like all we can do is throw up our hands.
May. 4th, 2010 09:10 pm (UTC)
Whooops! There goes my lunch break, reading all those links.
Auurgghghghg. After clicking through to read Sigourney's obnoxious quote, it unfortunately read as much worse than "mere" sour grapes. Trash talking. That quote reminds me of all the women I purposely avoid, and why I often find it hard to meet women peers who aren't trying to take me down a peg (in our competitive masculine academic world). Gah. I hate that kind of behavior.

The Tiger Beatdown post... oh yes, especially, "Women can be primary agents of enforcing misogyny on each other, and women can be supremely effective at eviscerating or draining or punishing other women’s confidence." Some time ago for an anthropology class, I read a book about matriarchal societies that still exist right now and -- surprising to me then -- the women engaged in serious amounts of trashing, controlling behavior, and general confidence beat-downs on other women (particularly younger) in order to keep girls/women in line. I was so disheartened after reading it...
May. 5th, 2010 01:56 am (UTC)
Re: Whooops! There goes my lunch break, reading all those links.
Interesting, and yes, disheartening, that it happens in matriarchal societies as well. I wonder why that is? I tend to be of the view that gender differences are socialized rather than inborn, but if that kind of dynamic still presents itself when there isn't the patriarchy to enforce it, it gives me pause.
May. 5th, 2010 05:59 am (UTC)
Re: Whooops! There goes my lunch break, reading all those links.
I really want/need to believe that there are social solutions to societies' gender-based issues.

Maybe, rather than thinking about this as inborn vs socialized, it's more like the biological basis of human behavior provides a certain range of ways that people tend to be, and, based on that plus environmental conditions plus prior (pre)history, societies develop and some of those societal manifestations manage to amplify the worst or the best of humankind.

(my round-about way of saying patriarchy sucks, but other forms of society have the potential to suck just as much)
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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