To be a feminist director, you have to not be a feminist

After Kathryn Bigelow’s glass-shattering Oscar win a few weeks ago, there has been endless discussion about the first woman in Oscar history to win best director. Everything from her too “macho” movies to her “willowy” frame, has been discussed, dissected and eventually devoured by feminist writers, anti-feminist writers and writers with out any gender alliance at all.

This Sunday’s NY Times (read here:  featured another glimpse of Bigelow as a female director carefully and skillfully treading the line between empowered Hollywood woman and brilliant gender-neutral director.

Nothing points out this politically daunting feat better than this anecdote about a 60 Minutes interview with Bigelow.

“During the interview Ms. Bigelow explained to the apparently baffled Ms. Stahl [60 minutes interviewer] the meaning of scopophilia, a significant word in feminist film theory, though Ms. Bigelow kept gender out of her definition (“the desire to watch and identify with what you’re watching”). She insisted that there was no difference between what she and a male director might do, even as she also conceded that ‘the journey for women, no matter what venue it is — politics, business, film — it’s, it’s a long journey.’”

While using the language of feminism, Bigelow explains the intricacies of gender in film without offending either male or female audiences. She is able point out obvious inequalities in the film industry, while still making her larger point that audiences want to watch something they identify with whether that is directed by a man or woman.

What the Bigelow’s of this great American art world teach us is that women need to be given free reign to create art without the restrictions of categories and without the obligatory vocabulary of feminism. The art women create should be valued because it is art and beautiful not because it was created by a woman and not because it somehow is a ode to feminism.

We will know that world has changed when a “chick flick,” that is a movie for which female audiences identify, wins an Oscar and nobody even notices if the director is male or female. But as Bigelow so diplomatically says that could be a “long journey.”


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