How Ghostbusters Mirrors Feminism in the United States


Women’s rights has evolved in the United States.  In the last 100 years, women have earned the right to vote, can go to college for high paying jobs, can divorce their husband, participate in college and professional sports and can have a voice in society.  In response the virus known as sexism and hate has fought back; blocking legislation, using religion and “family values” as justification to hold a glass ceiling over women.  However, like any good virus, sexism and hate has evolved.  It has not gone away, it has only resurfaced.  It is subtle; people aren’t outright sexist because they will be attacked.  It is no longer “cool” to be anti-woman so these attacks are not so obvious.  In the last 6 years we have seen a pushback where these less than obvious attacks make their way into our lives.  We see it masked as “family values” and other phrases. The new Ghostbusters movie is one that mirrors progress and pushback.

Let us start with progress.  Since women earned the right to vote in 1918 we have seen women enter more and more into the workforce, the birth control pill was invented, women’s participation in athletics at all levels has skyrocketed.  Sexual harassment is not nearly as common as it once was.  In Hollywood we have seen women take a stronger role with huge blockbusters like Twilight and the Hunger Games earning huge at the box office.  Comic book films are the rage now and we see several prominent women heroes and ones getting their own films: Black Widow, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel.  Supergirl debuted on TV last year. Patty Jenkins is directing Wonder Woman. Ava DuVernay directed the highly successful Selma.  Plus sized women are standing up for themselves and earning their place in the world.  Women are earning more opportunities and they are not all part of the “Hollywood” type body.  Melissa McCarthy, Meaghan Trainor and Leslie Jones are examples of this.  At the 2016 Rio Olympics we see lots of women stealing the show or being showcased: Katie Ledecky and Simone Biles are just as important as Michael Phelps or Kevin Durant.  Ghostbusters mirrors this: we see a remake/sequel, a tent pole film that is designed to spawn sequels starring 4 women.  Not only that but the women in Ghostbusters, while beautiful, are not “Hollywood” beautiful.

But just like women’s rights and respect in the US, Ghostbusters has experienced a pushback.  If you look at the United States, there has definitely been a pushback against women gaining equality.  Women are still sexually harassed every day, even as they walk down the street.  You can see endless Youtube videos where all women do is walk in a major city and they get harassed all the time.  Women’s reproductive rights were under attack when the Affordable Care Act was being put into law.  Women do not get paid as much as men, even though they work the same job.  Words like “bitch” and “pussy” are used for insults.  In pop music, women are prizes to be conquered, to be won; sociality, men can be promiscuous and women cannot.   There is still a mentality of victim blaming of rape victims (yes, this happens, look up a guy called Brock Turner and even look how colleges cover up rape and sexual harassment on their campuses).  Hilary Clinton, potentially the first woman president in the US, has been criticized for her looks, including clothing, smile and laugh as reasons to disqualify her to be president; you don’t see that type of criticism for men.  Look at the way Donald Trump, a potential presidential candidate, speaks to women; from his comments about Fox News host Meagyn Kelly, suggesting she was on her “period” which is why she was asking him tough questions, to how he suggested Carly Fiona was unelectable because of how she looks, to mocking his opponent’s (Ted Cruz’s) wife’s looks.  Donald Trump is praised for his “non-PC” talk; this type of talk has led to questionable and outright offensive language towards women.  This is tolerated and even celebrated in the States.

The Ghostbusters film mirrors this as well.  The vitriol hate for women taking on these roles is undeniable.  Yes, some people are against this film because they don’t want to see it but there is a section of people who are against this, consciously or unconsciously, because the leads are women.  When Cinemablend reported that Sony might make an all-male Ghostbusters a year ago, here are some of the comments:

“I wana watch ghostbuster male lead character only, YEAHHHHH. I can’t hardly wait :)”

“The all female cast version will suck..”

“Two new Ghostbusters films ? Which team am I gonna call ?
definitely not the one with any fat chicks.”

That is just a sample of some of the things said about the women.  Then there are Youtubers (specifically the Angry Video Game Nerd, James Rolfe) who was not even going to give this film a try because it supposedly “ruins his childhood.”  The trailers are the most disliked videos on Youtube.  Look, nostalgia is fun and great but that does not excuse some of the thinly veiled sexism.  The reaction would not have so much venom and vitriol if it were men in the leads.  We are about to have a Ben-Hur remake, we had a Planet of the Apes remake there is a Magnificent Seven remake and yet when a reboot that stars women is about to come out, everyone loses their minds.  Ben-Hur is a much, much more classic film than Ghostbusters.  People do not seem as attached to the Magnificent Seven classic being remade.  What’s the difference?  The only major difference is that women are headlining the Ghostbusters one.

There are people who think the movie is poor based on the trailers and who did not like the film itself. But there was a campaign to make the film fail when it was hitting a 73% on Rotten Tomatoes. People did not want to accept that this film was probably decent to OK. If you look at the Rotten Tomatoes approval difference for blockbusters between audience and critics the audience tends to like the film ore. Even if the opposite is true, it a small difference, less than 9%. For Ghostbusters the disparity between critics and audience is mammoth. Critic ratings are 6.5 out of 10 and user rating is 3.2 out of 10. Suicide Squad, which holds a 26% on Rotten Tomatoes has a 71% audience approval rate. Other blockbusters that have a higher audience score than critic score include Jason Bourne, Independence Day: Resurgence, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Legend of Tarzan. Yet the discrepancy for Ghostbusters is staggering. When something is that big of a difference, there is something more to it. People’s outrage spanned beyond what is typical; it has roots in sexism, just like contemporary attitudes in the US today. Sexism is alive but subtle; it is not malicious and sometimes unconscious.

Now, I’m sure there are some who genuinely didn’t want a Ghostbusters 3 without the original cast.  I get that.  That’s fine.  But for the vast majority of people hating this movie before it even came out… It was because of this new reboot with the female leads.  It makes us uncomfortable.  However, if we want true equity, we need to accept that minorities and women deserve a place at the table.  I’m not saying that all the hate came from sexism; what I’m saying is the level of pushback and hatred is stemmed from a system that over and over again benefits men and is now seeing other people wanting a fair system.  It makes us uncomfortable because we are not bad people; but we (men) do have benefits and we are used to a system where men are the heroes, women are the heroines and as long as that imbalance is maintained we feel OK.  But when that is challenged we become uncomfortable.  We are not all sexist but we (men) are content with the sexist system and that is wrong.

This Ghostbusters’ film shows that while progress does happen there is still a huge pushback.  Not just because of the all-female cast but these women do not fit Hollywood’s “ideal” beauty for women. Instead, these women are all funny on their own merits.  Women are now having the same opportunities as men.  However, there are still issues.  Women do not get paid the same as men in Hollywood or in other areas of work. There are people who want to push back against this, masking their sexism behind other veils (“this is ruining my childhood,” “stop remaking classics,” etc.).  While some are definitely genuine, this type of reaction would not happen if this were males or even the original cast being the leads.  Ghostbusters is a mirror and a reflection of the role women and attitudes (both successes and struggles) towards women in the United States today.


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