Subtle Sexism (and how not to fall)

I just finished watching Passengers, which was wonderfully acted and very visually interesting, but otherwise sucked, on which critics agree. But I noticed something beside a very poor screenplay that bothered me. The movie followed an all-too-frequent pattern, something I like to call “fantasy girl.”

Jennifer Lawrence gave brilliance, strength, and depth to her role, but character is revealed by choice, not by personality, and no matter what she did with Aurora, Aurora had to end up in a subtly sexist role by nature of the screenplay.

I see this over and over in films and TV and adult novels written by men. The female isn’t quite a person. She’s often wonderful, a great character, and is more than a sexy lamp. She passes the sexy lamp test. But she exists for the man. At the end of the day, her life objective is to please the man.

My husband Jonathan commented that he felt slimy after the film because of how appallingly Jim’s cosmic sin against Aurora was addressed. Jim committed something unthinkable against her, and the whole film just sort of shrugged.

That’s because at the core of this screenplay, I detected male-fantasy steering the ship. I’m lonely! She’s gorgeous! Ooh, I commit a terrible sin! Oh, but all I have to do is tell her she’s beautiful and she’s all over me like a little sex kitten! Oh, and then I save everyone heroically with a dramatic speech and then she loves me forever because she just can’t help it!


She’s a fantasy woman, inserted to fulfill the male dream. She is not her own person. I believe the movie shrugged off the sin Jim committed against her because in the realm of the film it was okay… because you can do what you want to a fantasy woman and at the end of the day, it’s okay. Because it’s not about her, it’s about you.

I am not proposing a fire storm, piranha twitter rage, or hatred of the male species. (I adore the male species.) It was my beautiful, authentically feminist husband who pointed me to this flaw in the first place. Also, we as women are not off the hook. Watch your RomComs and make note of whether the man is a person or a package. We as humanity do this. It is sexism both ways. Both ways, I object.

What I am proposing is that we watch. I lived a portion of my life under the lie that I would be loved if I gave a man what he wanted. Not because I was myself. It’s so subtle. We often fail to recognize it in ourselves, in our stories. But films like this just make it worse, and we need to consciously deflect the message that that is a woman. A woman is you. You will be loved and you matter because you are you. You are no one’s sidekick. You are a protagonist meeting up with another protagonist, choosing to sail through life together.





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