Fuzzy feminist thinking

This is pretty unbelievable. Michael Calleri recounts how his relationship with the Niagra Falls Reporter came to an end when the new editor objected to publishing his movie reviews when the films in question featured strong female characters  (labeling Snow White and the Huntsman as one example of “fuzzy feminist thinking” that he found offensive).  The editor wrote:

If you care to write reviews where men act like good strong men and have a heroic inspiring influence on young people to build up their character (if there are such movies being made) i will be glad to publish these.

i am not interested in supporting the reversing of traditional gender roles.

i don’t want to associate the Niagara Falls Reporter with the trash of Hollywood and their ilk.

it is my opinion that hollywood has robbed america of its manliness and made us a nation of eunuchs who lacking all manliness welcome in the coming police state.

Horrifying, but kudos to Calleri.

16 thoughts on “Fuzzy feminist thinking

  1. What’s new? As a screen writer I’ve battled against the negative representations of woman. All female writers will be confronted by chauvnistic producers, directors, who hail themselves as feminists but are part of the elitist problem. We need to explore the politics of film making.

  2. The owner of the paper may be blind to male privilege that does occur in society and perhaps even in these films. His level of outrage is ridiculous. Requiring a movie reviewer in his paper to submit to these kinds of rules is pretty outrageous. Nevertheless, I get the feeling that the owner’s view is being misrepresented.

    Judging by the actual quotes from the guy, it doesn’t look to me as if his problem is as much with strong female characters (as the reviewer’s complaint puts it) as it is with the reversal of traditional gender norms, where men are given a subordinate role. The reviewer seems to me to misunderstand the point. His actual quote makes me think it’s more about men never being given strong roles than women sometimes being given strong roles.

    Even if making a movie with weak male characters is not as bad as making one confirming traditional norms because of instrumental reasons (the history of women being subordinate), surely it’s equally intrinsically bad. If inequality is bad, then what this guy is opposing is bad. I think we ought to grant him that much, even if his reaction is way out of proportion, and a more severe injustice is completely off his radar.

    Also, should we think “strong characters” is equivalent to “characters with traditional male roles”? I would think Jane Austen has strong female characters, They certainly don’t have traditional male roles. I’m not sure if that mistake is the reviewer’s or the owner’s, but those notions seem to be confused in this discussion. It might be perfectly right to complain when fiction restricts women too much to caregiver roles. But certainly that’s not the same thing as not having strong women.

  3. I’m a bit lost JP.

    A movie with weak male characters is intrinsically bad?

    The editor doesn’t seem to be taking a stand on “inequality” at all. He just thinks films with non-heroic male characters are bad influences on young people. I guess that what movies are for, to inspire young people? And that’s the model of manliness we should be shooting for – what’s been traditionally depicted in movies?

    Additionally, if his claim is that men are “never” given strong roles (or traditional roles, or whatever), he hasn’t been to the movies lately.

  4. I’m not saying I agree with this guy’s stance, but it has a component that I think is good and often ignored in feminism. He has notions I strongly disagree with about what masculinity should require. But it seems to me that his objection isn’t so much to strong women as it is to weak men. And he has a portrait of feminism that’s not remotely fair to most feminists, although there have been those on the fringes who have such views. But his take is that feminists want to portray women as strong at the expense of men (rather than in a way that is beneficial to both, as I think most feminists would), and he thinks men don’t have good role models (which may be false, but if so it’s not because we’ve reversed traditional gender roles but because movies today generally steer away from thinking of characters as role models). Some of this is tied up with elements of masculinity that I wouldn’t endorse, but I think there’s a sliver of truth to his point, even if it’s wrapped in nonsense that I’d criticize (on both factual and moral grounds). The sliver of truth is that we shouldn’t sacrifice male role models with characteristics that are heroic and worth imitating. I don’t know that a lot of people are doing that, and I haven’t seen the particular movie he singles out to know if that’s an accurate representation of that movie. So this isn’t something I’d be especially loud or strident about. But I did think Calleri was misrepresenting the guy’s objection. It didn’t seem as much to me about the presence of strong women as it was about the absence of strong men.

  5. So by Pierce’s interpretation of the guy’s reasoning, Hamlet, for instance, sucks and is morally corrupt? Just getting clear on the claim.

  6. Jeremy, I took the objection to be something more like strong women are in themselves a reversal of traditional gender roles. Did you read the whole quote on the linked article? It went as follows:

    Michael; I know you are committed to writing your reviews, and put a lot of effort into them. it is important for you to have the right publisher. i may not be it. i have a deep moral objection to publishing reviews of films that offend me. snow white and the huntsman is such a film. when my boys were young i would never have allowed them to go to such a film for i believe it would injure their developing manhood. if i would not let my own sons see it, why would i want to publish anything about it?
    snow white and the huntsman is trash. moral garbage. a lot of fuzzy feminist thinking and pandering to creepy hollywood mores produced by metrosexual imbeciles.

    I don’t want to publish reviews of films where women are alpha and men are beta.

    where women are heroes and villains and men are just lesser versions or shadows of females.

    i believe in manliness.

    not even on the web would i want to attach my name to snow white and the huntsman except to deconstruct its moral rot and its appeal to unmanly perfidious creeps.

    i’m not sure what headhunter has to offer either but of what I read about it it sounds kind of creepy and morally repugnant.

    with all the publications in the world who glorify what i find offensive, it should not be hard for you to publish your reviews with any number of these.

    they seem to like critiques from an artistic standpoint without a word about the moral turpitude seeping into the consciousness of young people who go to watch such things as snow white and get indoctrinated to the hollywood agenda of glorifying degenerate power women and promoting as natural the weakling, hyena -like men, cum eunuchs.

    the male as lesser in courage strength and power than the female.

    it may be ok for some but it is not my kind of manliness.

    If you care to write reviews where men act like good strong men and have a heroic inspiring influence on young people to build up their character (if there are such movies being made) i will be glad to publish these.

    i am not interested in supporting the reversing of traditional gender roles.

    i don’t want to associate the Niagara Falls Reporter with the trash of Hollywood and their ilk.

    it is my opinion that hollywood has robbed america of its manliness and made us a nation of eunuchs who lacking all manliness welcome in the coming police state.

    now i realize that you have a relationship with the studios etc. and i would have been glad to have discussed this in person with you to help you segue into another relationship with a publication but inasmuch as we spent 50 minutes on the phone from paris i did not want to take up more of your time.

    In short i don’t care to publish reviews of films that offend me.

    if you care to condemn the filmmakers as the pandering weasels that they are…. true hyenas.

    i would be interested in that….


    Now, nevermind the irony of an editor writing such an email, but I thought it looked like he was saying whenever women are portrayed as having more power, strength or courage than a man, that’s a problem for him. As an FYI, Snow White and the Huntsman features a female villian, and plenty of strong men, it just so happens that the the protagonist is a female lead, and is stronger than she was the traditional narrative. So, I don’t think it’s plausible to say that his objection is to an absence of strong men. Of course, I think this is a pretty impoverished view of what constitutes a good role model. There are all sorts of strength, and he seems to be only recognizing a certain kind of strength as good for men.

  7. Yes, I was basing my comments on the email itself rather than on how the rest of the discussion presented the email. I didn’t get the impression that it was strong women (as he defines that) but weak men that were the problem. But that might just be a faulty inference. It may well be that his only evidence for weak men was the presence of strong women, and he wrongly concludes that there are no strong men (by his standard) in the movie.

    I haven’t seen the movie, and I suspect he hasn’t either. My impression is that he wasn’t judging by the movie but from what the rejected review said. It probably just highlighted the strong women, said nothing about strong men, and he concluded the gender roles were reversed.

  8. JP,

    While you’re certainly right that showing women as strong (in whatever sense) doesn’t require showing men as weak, it’s still unclear to me what the main objection is. If anyone is portrayed as “heroic”, someone else needs to be portrayed as being in need of saving. Why not men, every once and again? Could there even be a story where every character was strong?

    If it were never (or even seldom) the case that men are portrayed as heroic, maybe there would be an issue. But that’s certainly not true (Bond, anyone?). More troubling is this idea that there is something in principle wrong with men being portrayed as weak – as the editor said, “the male as lesser in courage strength and power than the female”. The simple if uncomfortable truth is that lots and lots of men are lesser in courage, strength and power than lots and lots of women. The suggestion that movies or other literary forms should shy away from such depictions is to insist that they not reflect reality.

  9. We need to get clear what a strong character is. Very often, a strong character (in the narrative sense) is a weak, flawed character. That is why Hamlet is a strong character, even though he is weak, or perhaps because he is weak. A strong character (I’ll now use the term in its narrative sense) therefore paradoxically doesn’t need to show anything like strength as traditionally associated with masculinity. The latest Catwoman and Lara Croft are heroic, but they are not narratively interesting. It’s not sufficient for a character to have weaknesses in order to be a strong character. So, for instance, Penny in the early seasons of Big Bang Theory (after which I stopped watching – so perhaps she has more character development later on) may have the weakness of picking out the wrong boyfriends, but this is narratively uninteresting. Now if we look at the narrative sense of strong, *very few* women manage to be strong characters. The Starbuck character from the reimagined Battlestar Gallactica series comes to mind as someone who is both heroic and strong. But such characters are still far and few between.

  10. To continue my line of thought, the dearth of strong female characters is a movie and television problem. As Jeremy points out, for instance, Jane Austen’s women are strong characters (invariably, they have some weaknesses that make them interesting, for instance, Anne’s docility of listening to her aunt rather than marry the guy she wants to marry).

  11. Helen makes extremely interesting points which I enjoy thinking about, but I would resist being too charitable to the Reporter editor. He’s the one who needs clarity on what a strong character is, and his view of the badness of “alpha” women is pretty simple! (I’m sure Helen probably agrees, I’m just redirecting attention to the errors of the editor.) He objects to any movies in which men are depicted as “as lesser in courage strength and power than the female.” This is an editor who selectively runs reviews of narratives that further one view of gender power-roles, so that other narratives are simply ignored. What a careful architect of his preferred reality he is, and what a terrible newspaper editor.

    On his view, though, I suspect an Austen adaptation won’t run afoul of his worldview, since (e.g.) Lizzy and her sisters still maintain their appropriately subordinate position to men even as they exhibit degrees of courage or other virtues. I’m assuming the man also wouldn’t object to a movie like The Avengers, in which both men and women are heroic? (But even that is not clear to me, since the Black Widow totally pwns her captors.)

  12. “If you care to write reviews where men act like good strong men and have a heroic inspiring influence on young people to build up their character (if there are such movies being made) i will be glad to publish these.” ANSWER = TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD.

  13. A data point. The editor who wrote the email is Frank Parlato, Jr. His main Web site is frankparlato.com, but he also owns the domain manmaking.com. There’s not much up there now, but the Internet Archive has some of it:


    This will tell you perhaps more than you want to know about the thinking behind the email (and his firing of female employees). Among other things, he advises men “to stop looking inordinately at the blood and pus filled body of woman,” and advocates chastity as a way to avoid “groveling at the feet of woman.”

    I’m not sure it’s traditional gender roles that he’s after, exactly. It sounds more like a sort of male separatism.

  14. Jeff Binder, thanks! I fantasize learning he doesn’t think men’s bodies contain blood: “Look upon the mercury-filled bodies of men! We are quicksilver! Cool us not!”

Comments are closed.