Thor: Hammering an undead sexist cliche

One thing I completely missed in reviewing Thor is it’s treatment of the female characters. I hadn’t even thought about it much until after reading these two reviews.
Natalie Portman’s Jane is, at the start of the movie, unattached, committed to and passionate about her work and perfectly happy being so. She’s not angst-ridden because she doesn’t have a man, and there’s no suggestion making work a priority is a bad thing (there’s also the fact that Sif is as kick-ass as any of the Warriors Three). Even if I didn’t notice it, that’s refreshing.
One of the things that frequently annoys me about romantic comedies of the 21st century is introducing a woman as a smart, career-oriented professional who loses all interest in any sort of career as soon as she finds a man.
•In How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days, Kate Hudson is a professional nonfiction writer (the movie is quite daft about professional writers, but that’s another story). At the end of the movie, having lost Matthew McConaghy, she’s quit her job (because she can’t get to write anything but fluff) and is heading out of town to a new one. He catches her before she leaves, proclaims his love so presto, she’s staying … and the fact she’s now unemployed is apparently irrelevant (who needs a job? She has a successful man!).
•In Sweet Home Alabama, Reese Witherspoon is an ambitious Big Apple fashion designer who needs to divorce her ex-husband back in yes, Alabama, in order to marry Patrick Dempsey. By the end of the movie, she’s happily in love, popping out babies and has no interest in a career (the closing montage shows hubby is a big success, she’s busy being a mom).
•In Fever Pitch, the problem isn’t Jimmy Farrell’s obsession with the Red Sox as much as Drew Barrymore (according to the film) being an obsessed workaholic who puts too high a priority on her job.
•In Kate and Leopold, ambitious Meg Ryan decides she’d sooner live with Hugh Jackman in the past than take a job promotion.
I know some women do give up their jobs or switch jobs or cut back to make their love life work. But hey, I gave up my job to move up to Durham and TYG; I’ve met guys who moved from other continents to be with a woman (living near a major air force base, there’s a lot of that). Somehow I don’t see that option explored much on screen.
Consider the difference between Nicholas Cage’s Family Man and Nancy McKeon’s 2003 TV movie, Comfort and Joy. Both Cage and McKeon are high-powered executives transported to parallel worlds where they’re happily married nobodies. The difference is, Cage is shown loving every minute of his fabulous life; McKeon is shown to be miserable because despite her success she doesn’t have a man.
(Although the cliche certainly precedes the 21st century, I can’t but wonder if some of it isn’t the anti-feminist post-9/11 wave Susan Faludi writes about in The Terror Dream.)
There are exceptions to the rule. Morning Glory suggests Rachel MacAdams needs to let go of work more, but the fact she has a great job and does a great job is part of the happy ending. When In Rome, despite starting out with Kristen Bell asserting she’s never met a man she loves more than her job, never asks her to choose or implies that she has to.
And now we have Thor, even if it isn’t a romantic comedy.
More please.

11 Comments

Filed under Movies, Undead sexist cliches

11 responses to “Thor: Hammering an undead sexist cliche

  1. (Here from Isabel Cooper’s blog)

    Have you checked out Sliding Doors? It explores two potential lives a woman has based on whether or not she catches one train — in one, she stays with a cheating jerk, and in the other, she starts a relationship with a guy who supports her career, and she finds satisfaction in her life as much from her job as from the relationship. The ending of the movie is a huge bummer, but does end up with some hope that things will turn out all right. It’s kind of a nifty exploration of some of the ideas you’re talking about here.

    I kind of think that Stranger than Fiction might work, too, as it features a woman who is happy with her job, who gets a man who is terribly unhappy with his to change through their relationship. It also features an awesomely wacky (female) author and her (female) assistant, who both seem content without relationships, if I recall correctly. This one’s a 2006, so it’s post the 2001 possible change-date.

    Out of curiosity, did Thor pass the Bechdel test? I haven’t gotten a chance to see it yet!

  2. frasersherman

    Thor does pass the Bechdel test IIRC, with Darcy and Jane discussing work as well as Thor.
    I loved Stranger than Fiction, and yes, you’re quite right about it. Sliding Doors was good, but I admit I don’t remember many of the details (other than the ending—a bummer, as you say). I’ll have to look again.

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