On their website running up to the election, the Tories listed the primary issues they would be concerned with; among such standards as ‘the economy’ and ‘climate change’ was listed ‘women’, reducing, with astonishing glibness, half the population to a mere issue in a checklist. With their startling arrogance in dismantling the welfare state, despite losing the election even with the backing of the entirety of the right-wing press and campaign cash-injections so large they could dent Third World Poverty, it was soon clear that the only women they actually cared about were married ones, with single mothers finding their child benefits slashed by George Osborne – if you’re not going to be a man, so their message seems to say, you better at least be married to one.
Declaring ostentatiously your care for women’s liberation while acting in a contrary manner is how the forces of reaction are getting it done these days, and not just in politics. Oozing smugness and complacency, Edgar Wright recently appraised the lead female (that is, the second fiddle to the male protagonist), in his new film Scott Pilgrim Versus the World, as some kind of mould-breaking role model. Based on the graphic novels of Bryan Lee O’Malley, the film tells the story of a lovelorn dork (the insipid Michael Cena) who must battle the ex-boyfriends of Ramona (the equally flat Mary Elizabeth Winstead) in order to win her. “Ramona isn’t a reward, she’s a person”, Wright recently stated, but whatever the liberal protestations the film or the filmmakers attempt to make, one can’t get past the basic fact that the film’s structure collapses without this win-the-woman ideology.
Mired in the language of videogames, it might seem too obvious to point out the sexist influence of the likes of Donkey Kong, in which an ape must pass several stages before he can win the ‘prize’ princess. That the protagonist of that game is a primate seems fitting; is the plot of Scott Pilgrim really so different from the notion of cavemen fighting over women? The same ideology can be found in other films of similar success; a recent example is Slumdog Millionaire, in which a boy is basically rewarded the girl of his dreams if he can win Who Wants to be a Millionaire?; it’s not that the show is giving away women as prizes, but rather the plot is so structured as to make winning the show the only way to get the girl. That these films make this patriarchy implicit in the plot structure as opposed to explicit in the plot itself is no excuse.
In an early scene from the film, Pilgrim is seduced into bed by Ramona; she gets into her underwear, crawls over to him on all fours and then suddenly turns him down, claiming “I reserve the right to refuse sex”, but this pathetic attempt to convey equality is pre-emptively undermined by the fact that it is she who’s in her underwear, not him; the character might seem autonomous, but Winstead is disturbingly submissive. The scene sums up the contemporary conservative attitude to women; sure, you can declare your independence, just be sure to do so in your underwear love.