Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Lechery is a Vice

And it should be treated as such in popular media. Often it is not. Point in case: Iron Man.

I hope to see the day when promiscuity in men is treated the same as women, when sexism is as universally offensive as racism. Instead of the hallmark of dashing heroes, womanizing should be treated as a vice, like smoking, or beating a dog. In Iron Man, Stark is supposed to be irresistible to women, and he takes advantage of this trait at every chance. We've seen this before to a lesser extent in James Bond movies, and it was offensive there, too, but what really makes the lechery in Iron Man so revolting is the way it's portrayed. Stark treats every woman he meets as a sex object - and they like it! I'm sorry, no. If a man asks a woman for sex who is just trying to maintain a professional relationship, she's going to slap him, not screw him. There is the possible exception of groupies and their idols, but that's not what we saw in Iron Man. The reporter from Brown wasn't a fan, but she screwed Stark because... um... he's just that irresistible? Or maybe he paid her, but if so there's no hint in the movie. It's not just unrealistic, it's misogynistic. Stark screws them and throws them away. He doesn't even stick around to say "thanks," or "good bye," but has Pepper "take out the trash."

That brings me to Pepper Potts - the perfect little personal assistant. Feminine, dainty, obedient, submissive, and accommodating of Stark's exploitative lifestyle. She wears high heals and skirts - pretty, not practical, as she can barely run when it's her turn to be the damsel in distress. Oh, and when Stark comes on to her at the art benefit, it's not sexual harassment, it's just sexy. Even though she knows he's probably got more STDs than a crack whore in Tijuana, and that he'll just toss her out once he's had his fuck.

Allow me to put the bigotry of Iron Man in perspective. Suppose that instead of being a lecher, Stark had a reputation and flair for manipulating black executives into shining his shoes and calling him "Master." If the studio even had the gall to release the movie, it would have gotten protests and boycotts. Where were the protests? Where was the condemnation? What saddens me most about this movie is not that it was released in this form, but that no one even notices how misogynistic it is, or if they do, they don't care. Iron Man got rave reviews in Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and Variety. Of the three, only Rolling Stone even bothers to mention the fact that Stark is a lecher. I only found one mention of Iron Man and misogyny in mainstream media, and the purpose of the article is to point out the lack of women-driven films in 2008 and 2009.

Sexism is so pervasive in the country that we don't even notice it most of the time. I barely thought about it before taking a course in gender and media. Now that it's been pointed out to me, I can see it everywhere, which is one of the reasons I dislike so much of popular media. (Of course, sexism abounds in classical literature, as a reflection of attitudes of the time, but it wasn't discussed in any of my classes.) They say that the first step to recovery is to acknowledge the problem. Sexism in the USA is real. If we can't even see womanizing as a vice, then we have a very big problem indeed.


Anonymous said...

It's great to really think about the 'passive' entertainment we consume -- using things like big-budget films as a springboard to constructive thinking is fantastic, and makes a real use out of the media!

I've got a different take on the situation than you do, however. I'm more on the end of wanting to see the day when promiscuous women are treated in the same way as promiscuous men. Rather than casting a new set of shackles to place around the sexuality of men, I'd like to see the shackles around women shattered. Rather than wishing people would reign in their sex-drives due to likely STD infection, I'd like to see biotech solutions that make STDs as common as polio.

'Lechery' could be a virtue, not a vice, with a few advances in equality and medical safety! I don't see anything inherently wrong with sex, nor with enjoying being a 'sub' as opposed to a 'dom'.

Megan said...

This is interesting because it reminds me of a discussion I had about Fight Club recently. In that movie, I noticed that they (the directors, producers, whoever) made a point of showing off Brad Pitt's body in subtle ways, like standing in a position to lift his shirt a little and show off his abs. They do this constantly with any attractive female characters, but this is the first time I've seen it done with a man.

At first I was excited and thought that they finally cared about female viewers and realized that women are sexual too. Then my friend pointed out that they didn't objectify Brad to please the ladies, but probably just to challenge the male viewers. I believe this is the case, because the movie was marketed as a manly movie. So basically they have this assumption that it's only the male viewers who count.

Jackie said...

@ Anon
Promiscuity: if A = B then B = A. I understand the assumption that I meant that men should shamed as promiscuous women are, but that wasn't the point. It should be equal between the sexes, regardless of which way it goes, and that was my point. Personally, I don't care what people do in private, so long as they use protection. Unproteced sex is like biking without a helmet. Most of the risk is on the individuals involved, but it also raises the costs of healthcare and welfare for the rest of the society. I'd love to see biotech solutions, too, but for now, people should use the protection that's available.

Lechery: Lying to a person and making them believe they are special to you, only to dump them after sex: that's hurtful. That was how it was unapologetically presented in Iron Man, and that is what I'm against.

Kyle P. said...

Megan, that can still be interpreted differently. It could be such that the creators felt that only men needed to be challenged - that women are already enlightened. I'm not saying that's the case (i.e. mAnne Coulter), but it's a possibility.

tom said...

Oh! How civilized we Americans are!

Even with any choice of currently available protection, neither the chance of fertilization nor the chance of STD transfer is zero, so there are still risks for both. If we increase the number of intercourse incidents drastically (i.e. if, as Anon suggests, people were as lax about sex as they are about shaking hands), there would be significantly more pregnancies and faster STD-spreading, regardless of protection. That's OK, though. Maybe the number of STD-caused deaths will be about the same as the number of additional pregnancies, and nobody will know the difference.

Kyle P. said...

Megan, I think I misunderstood your argument, looking back at it now and talking with Jackal about it. I think you're right.

Tom, Anon's thing was basically predicated on having "biotech solutions" that totally annihilate STDs. You can say it still won't make it zero percent chance, but so what?

I think I'd rather people were hard-working rather than hard-you-know-whatting, though. I still don't see what's wrong with Anon's point.

Autumn said...

I don't know. Of course the women in the movie were presented as objects, so are the men (at least Stark, who looked pretty buff, even in captivity). Stark is a lecher, but he's a known lecher; the reporter was not unaware of the situation, and she was not upset the next morning. She knew she was having a one-night-stand. I submit that this is actually a refreshing situation, i.e., one in which a woman is allowed to have a simple sexual desire and to unashamedly follow through with it. Also, the lecherous part of Stark is one that he appears to be growing out of as the film progresses, so it is seen as immature and shallow behavior.
Lastly, it is the only film I can think of in which an interrupted potentially tender moment, where the male hero must go off to uncover some plot point, is not ignored or seen as quirky or cute; Pepper Potts is actually pissed about it, although not as much as would probably be appropriate.
I'm not trying to make any sort of case that Iron Man is a great step forward for women, but I don't see it as any more sexist than other Hollywood fare, and in some respects it is probably less-so.

Jackie said...


You're saying the reporter wasn't upset when Stark didn't stick around but had Potts throw her out - as "garbage"? Please. They even made the point to show a bunch of models acting if Stark should know them, without Stark being able to remember the encounters, demonstraighting the one-sidedness of the relationships. Stark, and thus the movie, treats every woman he meets as a sex object. He even flirts with the Humvee driver when he finds out she's a woman.

As far as sexualizing Stark, they didn't go out of their way to do so. He was covered by the reporter in their lust scene. They showed him without his shirt on, but that's just as much to impress men with his muscles and to show off his glowing chest piece as it is to please women. They did not sexualize the two supporting males, Rhodey and Obadiah Stane, at all.

I was pleased to see that Potts didn't fall in bed with Stark, but I don't see why she was so breathless over him in the first place. And it seems like she needed him to stand her up to remind her what a dick he is. I agree, though, it's nice that she remembered and pointed it out to him when Stark again came on to her.

As far as him reforming, that wasn't made clear. He was too preoccupied with becoming Iron Man to go out and find women to hump, so he hit on his assistant instead. Maybe we're supposed to see his sexual harassment of Potts as a step up from his usual lechery. I don't.

There are plenty of Hollywood movies that are as bad. That doesn't excuse the misogyny of Iron Man. It just shows the pervasiveness of the problem.

Megan said...

Saying that people should just have sex less because there are risks is like saying people should drive less or play sports less or interact with other people less because there are risks. The real problem behind STDs and unintended pregnancy is that people are intentionally kept uneducated about effect birth control, or they shamed so much that they are too embarrassed to use it. Many STDs are treatable and even curable, but they spread more easily when people are too ashamed to see a doctor, or when doctors are too judgmental to treat people for them. Removing the stigma of sex for both men and women would go much, much farther in dealing with these problems than shaming ever could. If people should have sex less because of diseases, then people should also go to stores less and touch door handles and phones less, because they can get diseases that way too.

John said...

Peripherally related:

Robert Downey, Jr. is going to play the title role in the upcoming movie Sherlock Holmes.

From the preview, it looks like he'll be playing the Great Detective as a lecher. In fact, other than the Victorian setting, he could have been playing Tony Stark.

John said...

Please note:

Tom also feels movies, video games and pretty much anything else that can't be done while running or rafting is a waste of time.

Jackie said...


With the popularity of detective dramas like CSI, you'd think they'd be able to sell the movie on the cerebral appeal. Sherlock Holmes had no interest in sexual conquest. He never treated women poorly, and if he ever flirted, it was only to further an investigation - and being a gentleman of the times, there never would have been a physical relationship. But when did movies ever concern themselves with staying true to the original material?