When Hollywood proposes a reboot of a classic movie, I usually groan. It’s tiresome to watch an establishment with so much money and creative talent at its disposal refuse to take a risk, always resorting to safe offerings with a built-in audience from the get-go.
But when rumours started circulating of a plan to reboot Ghostbusters with an all-female cast, I was intrigued. When Paul Feig announced Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig, and Leslie Jones as his ghostbusters, I was thrilled. With the exception of Jones, whom I’ve yet to see allowed to evolve past the cliché of "big, angry black woman" on Saturday Night Live, the other three have proven their impeccable comedic timing, talent, and versatility. In fact, McKinnon is probably the best thing about SNL these days.
But my cheers of joy (and those of many others) were immediately drowned out by the collective high-pitched whining of many men busy complaining their childhoods had suddenly been ruined because icky women had been allowed to enter sacred territory, which, up to now, had been vagina-free. As Ghostbuster Dr. Ray Stantz might have been inclined to say, “Everything was fine with our system until the power grid was shut off by d*ckless here.”
From what I’ve seen so far, the outrage has very little to do with honouring a classic (a classic that 30 years later is uncomfortably sexist and only moderately funny), and everything to do with certain people’s inability to fathom a world where women are the main leads of a movie intended for all audiences. If you can suspend reality to believe that four geeky scientists can get together and successfully fight supernatural beings with slime, why is it so difficult for you to believe that they can be women? After all, being a ghostbuster is a job. It’s something you do, not something you are. The job description has no special requirements for penises.
Every time I see men on social media “explain” how Feig is pandering to women and the PC crowd or shrewdly capitalizing on “feminist anger,” it irks me. Not only is it ridiculous that some fans are reacting like an all-female cast is the end of the world as we know it, but it also demonstrates an often-unintentional reinforcement of a system in which “men” are the normative sex, the barometer against which everything else is measured.
All-male casts with the occasional secondary female character (usually the love interest with the long legs, the few lines, and the quick death) are the status quo in action movies. Yet these are called movies, not "guy flicks." They are targeted at all audiences.
But the minute a movie predominantly features women or deals with issues traditionally considered women’s domain (the home, love, emotions, etc.) it is derogatorily referred to as a “chick flick.”
It is no different, really, than the way female writers are often viewed and undervalued in the literary world. In a poignant essay, Ruth Franklin explains the difference between achieving the kind of equality that involves gaining admission to the world of men, and the kind that allows for total acceptance of the female presence. Citing examples of how female authors are seen as "less than" (they read less, get reviewed less, are relegated to “chick lit”), Franklin makes a compelling case for how the second kind of equality has yet to be achieved.
“That type of equality involves remaking the landscape itself, redefining the terms on which value is assessed, rewriting the book of myths.”
So undervalued are women as main leads of a major storyline that some die-hard fans have been angrily urging Feig to consider a Ghostbusters re-make with the original cast. Forget the fact that no one’s figured out how to bring Harold Ramis back from the dead, or that Bill Murray has never expressed interest in doing one. He reportedly once read a draft for the third film, shredded it, and sent it back to Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis with a note saying, “No one wants to pay money to see fat, old men chasing ghosts!”
While some people still can’t wrap their brains around this celluloid horror, Murray has given the all-female cast his public blessing.
The truth is that women and girls are woefully underrepresented in front of and behind the cameras in Hollywood and portrayed in a very limited set of roles. This is a wonderful opportunity to take a popular yet outdated classic and inject new blood into it. It’s an opportunity for movie-goers to see women as multi-dimensional heroines, dynamic, strong, capable, fumbling, and funny, in a storyline where the fact that they’re female has absolutely nothing to do with anything.
The misplaced outrage had me thinking of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s response to NPR’s Nina Totenberg when asked how many women on the court would be “enough." Bader's answer was, “When there are nine.”
“When I say ‘when there are nine,’ people are shocked," she said. "But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”
Men have historically monopolized political power, our collective voices, and our artistic representation as human beings. When women suddenly infiltrate what was traditionally men’s territory, particularly when they come in and take over major roles, they are seen as an anomaly, an oddity, a gimmick. They are seen as over-reaching.
But it’s not an anomaly to reinstate women to their rightful place as half of the human race. It’s not an anomaly to consider women’s voices as having equal value and therefore deserving equal space. It’s not an anomaly to have women playing roles that don’t rely or play on their gender.