I’ve been planning to go see the new Ghostbusters ever since dudes on the internet started trolling it a few months ago. Solidarity, sisters. But I was not expecting this kind of visceral fangirl reaction I’ve been dealing with ever since I saw it.
I watch endless clips of Kate McKinnon. I made myself a Ghostbusters t-shirt. I don’t understand how this is happening. I think I have a problem.
I also re-watched the original, which I have to say reads very differently when you come to it with gender on your mind. When I saw it as a kid, I don’t remember much except for the attack of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. What stuck with me the most this time is what happens to Sigourney Weaver.
Let’s review Dana’s arc.
Dana is a cellist. She gets harassed regularly by her annoying neighbor, who continually tries to ask her out, oblivious to her lack of interest.
She discovers a portal to hell in her fridge; calls the exterminators.
One of them, Peter, offers to come to her apartment to assess her complaint. He is only using this as a pretext to get close to her. He examines everything in her apartment except the fridge, including her bedroom. He stands too close to her. He makes inappropriate comments. You can see the moment in her face when she realizes she is alone in her apartment with a strange guy who is not going to fix her ghost problem and just wants to get in her pants.
She safely kicks him out, vows to never call those exterminators again.
He shows up outside her work. He says he has some information about her problem. He makes some jokes. He asks her out. She says yes, for some unfathomable reason that I suspect has more to do with continuing the story than with believable character motivations.
- A demon possesses her body, makes her proposition and make out with one guy she mostly hates, and then makes her have sex with another guy she definitely hates. The movie treats this as a punchline, but I’m pretty sure what Dana has experienced here is supernatural sexual assault. Her body has been literally taken over and used for sex against her will.
- So clearly what she’d really like to do most after getting her body back is kiss a guy she’s barely met and with whom most of her interactions have been negative, in front of thousands of people.
Dana is not the only woman in this movie. Three other women make appearances: a beautiful ditzy undergrad being flirted with by Venkman, a nerdy ditzy secretary who lusts after Egon, and a ghost lady who visits Ray in a dream. Winston is the only guy in the movie who doesn’t get his own groupie.
This may be the one of the “top 100 comedies of all time,” but its portrayal of women is pretty dismal.
Now is the part where someone says, “You are way over-thinking this. This is just a silly movie about some guys who hunt ghosts.”
YES. It is a silly movie about guys who hunt ghosts. It is not trying to make a point. It is just trying to be a fun story. And that’s where the real influence of genre fiction comes in.
I love this quote by Chimamanda Adichie:
“Stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize.”
Sometimes, we seek out movies and books that will challenge the way we think; show us perspectives we haven’t seen. There are “serious” books and movies written for this purpose. They win prizes. They’re well reviewed. They’re a vital part of our cultural output.
But most of the time, they’re not well-attended. What really gets us out the door is stories. Stories about heroes who save the world, stories about pirates and robots and zombies and spies, stories about dinosaurs coming to life, stories about people who hunt ghosts. We’re there to be entertained. We don’t realize how our worldviews are being shaped by the stories we consume.
Who gets to be the hero? What kinds of relationships are valued? Who’s the victim? Who’s the villain? All these things form a part of our unconscious understanding of the world. That is the power and the danger of storytelling, and it’s one of the reasons I love writing genre fiction.
I’m not necessarily saying that the original Ghostbusters is responsible for the way its most rabid fans speak about women. You can argue correlation or causation there: which came first, the misogynist, or the misogynistic story he loves so much?
But I do have a guess as to why the new Ghostbusters brought out the fangirl in me, and it’s not just Jillian Holtzman’s dance with her power tools.
Though that helps.
It’s not really trying to make a point. There’s no tone of “GIRLS can hunt ghosts TOO,” which would be annoying. It’s a silly movie about some women who hunt ghosts. It’s just trying to be a good story.
Stories can dispossess and malign without saying a word, simply by leaving people out, simply by casting them as the victim, the villain, the sex object, the punchline.
Stories can empower and humanize people without saying a word, simply by making them the heroes of their story.