“First of all, NO guy should ever comment on porn for women. Let us do it. We’ll leave you boxing movies, OK?” –A Commenter on The Dissolve Who Shall Remain Nameless
I was shocked by this comment on no fewer than three levels. First, there’s the idea that romantic comedies are “porn for women.” Because, you know, I’m pretty sure that’s porn. I’ve watched plenty of of romantic comedies in groups of female friends, and as far as I can tell, no one was actually getting off on them. Second is the idea that, despite romantic comedies’ being labeled as “porn for women,” their spiritual equivalent was in fact boxing movies. Bwuh? And third, there is the idea that film criticism relies on gender and that there are some films you are automatically excluded from having an opinion on because of bits that are rather distant from your brain.
Okay, so I don’t in general like boxing movies; this I admit. I also have a category I’ve mentally labeled “Guy Movies”—things like Cool Hand Luke, where I’m busy thinking about the logistics of getting fifty eggs while you’re in prison. None of the guys I’ve known who saw that movie ever considered it. However, I still watch them. When I have things to say, I still review them. (Not here; I still maintain a Letterboxd account.) And even if I don’t like them, I still believe that why I don’t like them is valid to consider just as why it might be valid to consider why I did, if I did.
Part of it is that it’s just ridiculous to assume that all men like one thing and all women like another—even the person whose comment prompted this in the first place admitted that she doesn’t generally like romantic comedies. I think most of them are bad myself, but I think most of any genre is bad, and we’re just fortunate enough to remember the good. Heck, there have even been romantic comedies that I haven’t liked and my boyfriend has! And, of course, he doesn’t like boxing movies any more than I do. I watched Rocky and Raging Bull and various others because I’m more of a film buff in general than he is, and he had absolutely no interest in them. He even kind of made fun of me for watching Rocky, I suspect because he thought it was like the sequels.
In his My Year of Flops article about Bratz, Nathan Rabin—whose article on Failure to Launch arguably started me on this train of thought—mentioned that Roger Ebert was in the critics’ screening room. He cited this as an example of Roger’s work ethic, because Roger was very sick at the time and went to see Bratz anyway. (The review, if indeed he wrote one, does not appear on Roger’s website, though he refers to it in a review of something else.) That’s because reviewing movies, regardless of their intended audience, was his job. If he hadn’t reviewed romantic comedies, about the only person reviewing them for a large amount of his career would have been Pauline Kael, the only woman really working in the film criticism business, or at least the only one anyone has heard of.
Because that’s the thing, isn’t it? Up until quite recently, you didn’t get to choose a female reviewer for romantic comedies and a male reviewer for boxing movies. You got a male reviewer, or you got Pauline Kael. Even today, most of the big names in film criticism are male. I faithfully watched At the Movies while Roger was sick and Richard Roeper had his revolving cohosts, and they were almost never female. Even when they weren’t actually film critics, they were male—Jay Leno or Kevin Smith, for example. Today, if you poke around online, you can find female film critics; after all, I consider myself one, for all I’m an amateur. However, most of the big names are still male.
Now, there’s a good argument to be made about exactly what’s wrong with having an exclusively male perspective in film criticism, and you can narrow it down still further based on the general commonality of them even beyond “they’re male.” That is not, however, what I intend to argue here. Really, I have two more points to make about it.
First of all, one of the ways you get to know a film critic is by learning what they don’t like as much as by learning what they like. I know, for example, that Roger didn’t much like superhero movies, with a few exceptions, because they never lived up to the superhero movies in his head. (Roger read comics; did you know that?) So if he liked a superhero movie, as he liked Spider-Man 2, you knew that it was worth seeking out because of the movies he didn’t like. You can’t build a profile of someone’s tastes if you only have a few genres to judge by.
The second and perhaps more interesting point to consider is that it shouldn’t matter. It matters that most film critics are male, but it doesn’t matter whether or not each individual film critic is male. Yes, Nathan Rabin brings a different perspective to film criticism than I do. However, that’s also because we live and have lived in different parts of the country. We had different upbringings—my father died when I was six, and I was raised by a single mother along with my two sisters. We’re very close in age, and we’ve had similar interests, but there are many differences as well. Narrowing it down to one single attribute? That’s just silly.
Besides, he’s funny. I care a lot more about what people has to say and how they say it than I do about what attributes they do or don’t have. Does the review say things worth reading? I’ll read it. I don’t care if it’s a man writing about a romantic comedy or a woman writing about boxing movies.