It happened while watching the Bruce Lee classic, “Enter the Dragon.” Lots of punching, kicking and chopping. Mayhem with a capital M. As a bonus there was also a plot.
Watching it this time was different though; I was caught off guard by something I’d never before paid any mind. At least consciously. And that’s the problem.
Amid all the kung fu-ing going on was the obligatory sex scene. Most movies tend to have them. In this one, the caretaker of the palace was strolling room to room offering female servants to male guests participating in a prestigious martial arts tournament.
When sex scenes appear in action movies, my mind typically throttles to idle until the fighting resumes. As I remember, that’s also how I was as a kid. It was different on this viewing; I found myself looking at the scene from the point of view of a female and found it particularly distasteful.
Though nothing graphic or remotely steamy happened on the screen (it was all implied), I felt repelled. And I also remember as a teen watching, it never even registered in my mind that there was anything remotely wrong with what was going on. This was Kung fu movie and it was just the obligatory sex scene, right? Wrong.
Such gratuitous, condescending depictions of female sexual objectification and exploitation play out time and again everywhere – in movies, magazines, TV and on the internet. And in many instances, women don’t even remove their clothes. Sometimes it’s the way the male actor(s) leer at female actor(s) or the submissive role they are often compelled to play. The verbal/visual movie messaging translates to something like this:
“It’s the natural order of things for men to dominate over women and for females to ‘present’ and ‘submit’ themselves in ways that are attractive to men. After all, it’s what happens in nature with the birds and the bees.”
The reverse is true in many cases. Yet in our society, flawed macho reasoning has been wrongly cemented into our culture by tradition. When this messaging happens in media, I have come to consider it a form of brainwashing.
The trouble with media is that when you see/hear something over and over and over again, you can begin to buy into the notion that fiction is fact. Consider your favorite brand of something you buy when shopping; is it really the best product or is it ‘the best’ because it’s so familiar, thanks to the nonstop advertising you see everywhere?
So it goes with conscious and unconscious messages. And strong is the person who can resist its influence. We all seem smart and rational enough to know when we are being manipulated. Trouble is, when it’s going on 24/7, one tends to get worn down. It’s like the Grand Canyon: it used to be hardened rock surface… until water (and time) wore it down into mile-deep crevices.
Gender bias at a mass media level has had a corrosive effect on the ethical treatment of females as fully formed human beings in our society. And it’s not just happening in fringe rap videos. Instead, think about mainstream sitcoms like “How I Met Your Mother.” It’s one of TV’s highest rated programs and regarded as harmless humor. Sexism isn’t harmless and it’s never funny.
Personally, I work to remain on guard against unconsciously objectifying women. That means constantly reminding myself of ‘invisible’ forces that negatively influence my thinking. Easier said than done in a culture drowning with patriarchy.