What Is Celebrated in the Cynical Send-up of "Promising Young Woman"
On the topic of objectification, just because I was thinking about this yesterday:
The opening moments of the movie Promising Young Woman are an, at-first-glance, amusing parody of a type of “male gaze” scene that is very common: A dance club, a montage of body parts bumping and jiggling... but in PYW the joke is that all the dancers are men. Instead of close-ups of the figures of attractive women jostling within tight clothing, writer/director Emerald Fennell gives us close-up of unattractive men in work clothes -- khakis and oxfords -- awkwardly maneuvering their pudgy dad-bods. I believe the song scoring this scene is a dance remix of “It’s Raining Men.”
It’s a funny gag that effectively sets up the ethos of the movie: Men are awful in myriad ways ranging from clueless to malevolent -- enabled in both by a patriarchal pass; essentially “rape culture” -- and women are knowing victims who must go to sacrificial extremes to reveal this truth.
When I see the typical version of a scene like this -- one leering at women (also common: the long tracking shot of a woman’s posterior as she walks, preferably in a bikini bottom or underwear) -- I usually have a mixed reaction. Yes, I recoil at the shameless objectification of lingering shots of bosoms and behinds; but, as a hetero male, I also like looking at nice female bosoms and behinds. That “male gaze” everyone complains about lately is pretty much the same as my gaze. Maybe I should feel bad about that, but it is what it is. (Yes, PYW, I am part of the problem.)
But this opening scene of PYW bugged me almost immediately as the initial jolt of the joke wore off. There is no complicated objectification in the opening scene of PYW. PYW hates these men -- at best, it pities them -- who are dancing. It is a scene of mockery, disdain. Fennel is saying: Look at these ugly, pathetic men who are clueless about their unattractiveness. They suck. It’s cruel.
The sexual objectification of women, on the other hand, may unfairly reduce multi-talented and dignified women to one-dimensional objects of value, but, still, it values them. The male gaze is, essentially, admiring, and often full of awe. It approaches women like (one-dimensional) works of art, while Fennel’s gaze approaches men like they are scarecrows dressed in bad clothes and stuffed with garbage.
The objectification of women is often lumped into the broader category of “misogyny,” but Fennel’s pure misandry reveals the lie of this. Objectification of women is a (too-narrow) expression of love for women, one which celebrates biology and fertility and primal intimacy. What is celebrated in the cynical send-up of PYW?