Let’s Talk: Blade Runner 2049

My post about the first Blade Runner (1982) is still one of my favorite pieces on this site. (I know there aren’t a lot of pieces to choose from, but bear with me, I’m trying.) Blade Runner is a classic movie, in which I see a lot of negative things about women.  Having recently seen Blade Runner 2049, twice now, I want to talk about this sequel and how it treats women.

There’s two ways we can do this. We can go about this tick-for-tack, or look at the broader picture, or both… so let’s try both. Broader picture: Blade Runner 2049 is an improvement over the original in its treatment of women. That’s a low bar, but it passes. It even passes the Bechdel test, a feat the original is far from accomplishing. The original never gets two named female characters in a room together, not even Pris and Zhora who are ostensibly in the same boat as runaway replicants. 2049 accomplishes this a handful of times. (Though, only Joi and Mariette’s conversation passes the test. “You can go now, I’m done with you.” “Careful now, I’ve been inside you. Not as much there as you think.”) Luv is also seen talking to an unnamed female character, wherein she’s basically selling slaves to a customer; worth mentioning but not a Bechdel-test candidate.

I feel like I’m sliding into tick-for-tack territory, so why not dive in?

  • Blade Runner has three named female characters: Rachael, Pris, and Zhora. Two out of the three end up dead, or 66%.
  • Blade Runner 2049 has seven named female characters: Lieutenant Joshi, Joi, Luv, Freysa, Mariette, Dr. Ana Stelline, and *spoilers* Rachael. Four out of the seven end up dead, or 57%… hardly an improvement.

  • Blade Runner presents two out of the three female characters as antagonists (I’m counting Pris and Zhora as antagonists). Even if you feel a great deal of sympathy for Zhora for getting shot in the back, part of Decker’s mission is to hunt and kill her.
  • Blade Runner 2049 presents one out of the seven female characters as an antagonist. Mariette may be rude to Joi, and Freysa presented as mysterious, but only Luv is a villain.

  • Blade Runner features a disturbing sexual assault committed by its male protagonist, Deckard. (Blade Runner 2049 makes that even weirder by having Deckard and Rachael go on to have a child together.)
  • Blade Runner 2049 does not feature sexual assault. That being said, a “newborn” female replicant is murdered by being stabbed in the abdomen by her creator after being shamed for infertility.

Blade Runner 2049 sharpens the focus on humanity and their violence against replicants, but it’s hard to ignore how many women it kills in telling its story. Robin Wright’s Joshi is killed by Luv, on her mission to find “the child.”  Joi is killed by Luv, for no reason other than to hurt K. Sean Young’s Rachael dies during childbirth, *eyeroll* then remade by Wallace only to be killed again by Luv.  After Luv kills three named female characters, she herself is drowned by K. It’s a scene you’re not exactly happy about; K fights viciously to get the upper hand on Luv. it’s not clean, it’s not victorious, but it’s still violence worth examining.

Coming out of Blade Runner 2049 the first time, I found myself thinking about how our movies have to do better than making the “strong female characters” the villains who themselves have violence visited upon them. Two times in the movie I felt sympathy for Luv: once, when she’s crying while watching Wallace murder the newborn replicant, and again when she lashes out at Lt. Joshi for attempting to kill the miracle-born child replicant. In both scenes, you really feel like she has the replicants’ best intentions in mind, even if she’s subservient to Wallace. She’s destroyed that her creator can’t match Tyrell’s accomplishment, and furious that Joshi’s first instinct is to destroy a miracle just to keep peace between humans and replicants. When K finally drowns Luv, it’s not as tragic as it should be — because she destroys Joi out of sheer cruelty — otherwise her death might have matched that of Roy Batty’s.

Another death I keep reflecting on is’ Rachael’s. It’s devastating, quick, and brutal – and it shows how little Deckard’s learned in 30 years. He rejects this replicant created by Wallace, because her eyes are the wrong color — brown instead of green. It’s a way of throwing this “gift” in Wallace’s face, but it’s so cruel of Deckard. She’s immediately killed by Luv, because Deckard rejects her, and what did he think would happen? The movie doesn’t linger on this, but if it really cared about replicants as people, or women, it may have explored how Deckard basically got someone killed because of her eye color — a person with memories, feelings, and a potential future. (It’s also worth noting that Blade Runner 2049 opens with a shot of a green eye opening.)  

Walking out of the theatre a second time, an older woman commented: “That was good, but pretty sexist. I get that the older movie was sexist, but why did this one have to be too?”

Blade Runner 2049 is an amazing movie, and a great sequel that stays faithful to the original universe, so much so that it falls into the same traps as the original. Violence against women is constant and predictable, the threat of sexual violence lingers in the air, women are used as sexual decorations in every corner of the cyberpunk city scape, and we continue to have a preoccupation with male protagonists. Again, I love the movie, but these things really matter! They matter to viewers, a larger number of whom are looking out for these things nowadays, and if you make viewers happier by representing women in better ways, you might also sell more movie tickets! Instead of generating conversations like “Wow, that was some old-school sexism” imagine if Blade Runner 2049 had started conversations like “Wow, their vision of the future is bleak, but at least it wasn’t especially bleak for women!” I like to imagine that movie, and it’s too bad 2049 wasn’t that movie.

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Thoughts: On The Women of Westeros, and “The Future is Female”

“No matter where we look in Westeros, the future is female: Cersei to the South, Sansa to the North, Daenerys to the East.” – Laura Hudson, Wired

Game of Thrones has a rocky track record with its treatment of women, full stop, sentence over. Yet, early on in the show it was clear that the Women of Westeros (and Essos) would at times rise up to be total bad-asses. Sometimes that happens through violence, (Arya, Dany, etc.), sometimes through cunning (Olenna, Margaery, Dany again). On the whole though, taken into account the often pointless ways women are sexualized and brutalized on the show, it’s hard to endorse Game of Thrones as feminist. Game of Thrones is made with feminist values, contains feminist lessons and characters, but if you asked me “is Game of Thrones feminist?” I might shrug my shoulders or laugh at the thought.

“You mean the show that turned some consensual sex acts from the book into rapes on the show? You mean the show that continually uses sexual violence as a threat to needlessly amp up the stakes for women? You mean the show that could have written it’s way around a lot of the sexual violence on screen? No, I don’t think it’s particularly feminist.”

But the future is bright. Season Six left almost all seven kingdoms and major military forces under the control of women — women who either out-smarted, out-fought, or out-lived the men who previously held those positions of power. It’s a very promising time for the Women of Westeros — even if some (Cersei and Dany, for instance) are only going to leave one woman standing by the end of the season.

I return to the beginning of this post. Towards the end of an excellent review/recap by Laura Hudson, she uses the phrase “the future is female” which is so jarring to my ears that, well, it ended another Mary Beton hiatus. This is the first thing I’ve ever read of Hudson’s, but judging from a Twitter bio that lists Feminist Frequency as a place she either wrote for, or contributed to, I imagine she knows exactly why “the future is female” is weak tea.

But first, let me make it crystal clear what I’m not saying.

“When so-called “feminists” state that the future is female, they are showing their true colors. This movement is no longer about creating equal opportunities for men and woman, but it is obsessed with claiming that women are superior to men and that all men are worthless.” – Sarah Taber, The Daily Wire

Fuck that, full stop, end of sentence. But Sarah’s interpretation is part of the problem with the slogan, wherein female is immediately code for “woman” to most of the population that’s never taken a Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies course. We should be getting behind slogans that are blunt, even if they’re note catchy. Anyways, rhetorical issues aside…

My problem with “the future is female” as a phrase, slogan, or fucking t-shirt has nothing to do with man vs. woman, because “male and female” and “man and woman” is like “sound” and “color” to me — they describe completely different categories. “The future is loud” doesn’t exclude beige, because, fuck it, beige can be loud if it wants to — but “the future is blue” would exclude beige because, beige will always be beige.

“One problem with “The Future Is Female” slogan is that it elides the distinction between sex and gender. It erases queer, trans, and other non-binary people entirely.” – Sam Miller, Left Voice

“The future is woman” is a phrase lacking alliteration and punch, but it’s sure as hell more inclusive than “The future is female” — and “The future has no gender” even more so. I’m drunk and upset, but clear-minded enough to stand up for this, no matter the consequences. “The future is female” is a shit slogan, and I’ll die on that hill.

Your “The Future is Female” shirt will get you a smile from a TERF. Do you really want to make TERFs smile?

Call Me: Man-Womanly

“It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple;

one must be woman-manly or man-womanly. … Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated.” ― Virginia Woolf, A Room Of One’s Own

Fatal. Deadly. Obsolete. Impossible.

To be a man pure and simple.

Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated.

What follows is not a pure endorsement, but a mediation on Woolf’s words. How I wish I could just embrace Woolf word for word, but I can only embrace Woolf for what I believe she was trying to say. In her words I see myself, and many others, struggling to define themselves within, or outside of, the two-gender spectrum.

Most of us know there are not two genders.

Still, that won’t stop me from using man and woman here, because that’s how so many people will define us. Woolf is, I believed, trapped in the language of her time. Terms like “opposite genders,” “woman-manly,” and “man-womanly” to me, speak of a system she’s aware of, but using the system’s language. Were it possible for her to be introduced to the modern gender studies vocabulary, I don’t doubt she would happily adopt in terms like “gender spectrum.”

She might instead say: “It is impossible to be a man or woman purely. Period.” It is not so much that opposite genders must be married, or consummated, but that on this gender spectrum, we all lie defined between two ideas. If “Particle A” was man and “Particle B” was woman, and the rest of us were just particles nestled in between, we could only be defined by our proximity to Particle A or B, but we could not occupy the same space. The manliest man that you can think of is not a man purely. Men and women are ideas, the manliest man you can think of is, or was a human being, and humans are not ideas.

 

Thoughts: On Donald Trump

For months this has been one of my least favorite pieces on the site but I’m not going to take it down. I can’t forgive people for voting for Trump, they simply put too many lives at risk by doing so, but, hey, this is how I felt immediately after the election so I’ll leave this garbage-take up for posterity.

Forgive and progress.

Democracy happened last night. The result was not what I wanted, and it kept me up at night, but I have no adjectives that you haven’t heard before. I could tell you that this was the most dangerous vote in our country’s history, I could say I feel ashamed by my country, I could express my fear, but others are already writing about this much better than I ever could. I don’t see a value in serving up the same emotions, in a diluted, weaker voice. I can’t serve up anything but an imitation of the real thing.

See, Women, Muslims, LGBTQ, POC; so many others have already given this election result the descriptions it deserves, and here I am, a part of the demographic that voted 63% in favor of Donald Trump. As a part of the 31% of white men who did vote for Hillary Clinton, I’m left with a lot of questions, and I’m holding out hope of finding answers.

There has to be a lesson here.

I trust the people I ally with when they say Hillary Clinton lost this election in part, or entirely because of, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and islamophobia. For the 59 million votes cast for Donald Trump, at least 1 of those 5 traits is present in each voter. For the 6 million votes cast for third-party candidates, I don’t know. I hear arguments that voting for ideology over the safety of say, the black community, is a form of racism, and I see where that’s coming from.

A part of me worries about the fact that white, rural America sent a message last night, and that progressives aren’t going to listen, and if we don’t listen, we don’t retake the White House in 2020. With a Republican Congress, Donald is going to get things done, and if he pleases his electorate, and has good approval ratings, he’ll run again. When he does, if progressives again call Trump supporters unquestionably racist, sexist, etc. we will lose.

We’re going to need some of Donald Trump’s 59 million voters on our side in four years.

In the GOP postmortem of the 2012 campaign, it was concluded, more or less, that you can’t win the Latinex vote if the first word out of your mouth is “deportation” or they won’t listen to the next sentence. Progressives have no ground to gain by calling 59 million Trump voters racist, as they will too, ignore our very next sentence. We cannot and will not give up our morals and principles though, it’s the right thing to do and it makes us who we are. Young people, by and large, are on our platform, and they’re passionate about it, but old, generations-long racism and sexism, status-quo gender and sexuality norms, and deep-rooted Christianity is not going to die out in four years.

We’re going to have to teach and educate some people, and out of those 59 million people, some are redeemable. If you don’t believe that, then where is the hope? The time to forgive is coming soon; forgive those sins, heal, teach, and progress.

Thoughts: My Beard Did Not Invalidate My Femininity

Maybe I’m stating the obvious,

but when I started growing a beard this year, as a part of a New Year’s resolution to just be a hairier, happier human being — I wondered what facial hair would do my gender performance. I have messed around with facial hair in the past, but that was back before I changed my presentation drastically. With infinity scarves and fanciful flourishes came a clean-shaven look, and that felt right. That’s the me that a lot of people first met, everyone in the social justice academia space, whether it be secularists, the LGBTQ community, feminists, or all of the above, they met clean-shaved me. And hopefully they picked up on some queues I was throwing out there.

I suppose the concern about growing a beard was two-fold: I did not want to be perceived as being more masculine, nor did I want so sub-consciously start acting more masculine just because I was getting beardy.

But growing a beard didn’t change anything!

At least, it didn’t change anything about my gender performance. My overall style does feel a little bit different because it’s not a tightly-trimmed beard, so the whole “fancy flourishes” thing feels like it’s become a “scruffy artist” persona.

The most interesting thing about my beard is that I think it actually highlights anything feminine about my gender performance, rather than mask it. It creates contrast; it might make feminine performances more surprising; more jarring; it might make someone stop and think.

 

Let’s Talk: Blade Runner (1982)

I heard Netflix was going to pull Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner on May 1st, which was the incentive I needed to finally watch this landmark film that I had ignored on my “Watchlist” for years. All I really knew going in was that this was a defining film in the Cyberpunk genre, starring Harrison Ford and dealing in topics of Descartes reality; what is real, how can we tell what is real? Perhaps I’m forgetting my philosophers, it’s been years since I’ve taken a philosophy course.

Anyways. First things first: did I like the movie? Yes, but it’s not perfect. For the record, I watched the theatrical cut – and from the sound of it I would have much preferred the director’s cut, which doesn’t include the really cheesy ending. That Rachael is this extra special Replicant that won’t die in four years feels overly optimistic; especially when Tyrell establishes with Roy how difficult it is to make the Nexus 6 Replicants live as long as they do. The ending of Deckard and Rachael driving off into the woods, with that line about Rachael being special and all of that, made me want to gag. There was already such a great “ending” with Edward James Olmos’ line “It’s too bad she won’t live, but then again, who does?” Deckard reflects on that line  one more time, takes Rachael into the elevator to escape, and fade to black. Perfect ending; the Blade Runner goes on the run with his last target. My only problem with this is that this pivotal philosophy comes from EJO’s character Gaff, who isn’t established at all. Here’s all you, as the viewer, know about Gaff.

  1. Deckard’s former boss.
  2. Has a thing for origami, which makes him mysterious, I guess?

That’s really it – and maybe I’ll pick something up on a second view, but just because he’s mysterious doesn’t exactly earn him this moment. He needed dialogue. He needed something to make this turn in the story earned. Under-use of EJO = Strike #1.

Rachael Is Sorely Under-Used = Strike #2

I’m almost of the mind set that this should have been Rachael’s story. Deckard serves as our noir detective, and as a genre piece this is important, if not crucial. But it is easy for me to re-imagine this movie where Rachael is the focus, and Deckard the supporting character.

I’m not sure what the trajectory of Deckard’s character is. He’s tired of violence, does his “one last job” falls in love and runs away. I suppose he comes to understanding the humanity of the Replicants; but as someone tired of killing them, he must already be sympathetic on some level. Deckard isn’t so different from an American Slave Hunter, right? These Replicants that are Tyrell Corp. property occasionally escape the off-world colonies where they are forced to work, and as a Blade Runner it’s his job to retire them. Roy and Leon even explicitly say to him how “To live in fear… that’s what it is to be a slave.” Is Blade Runner basically the story of a reluctant Slave Hunter realizing his targets were more human than he could have imagined? I guess I should say that I’m absolutely sure of Deckard’s trajectory, I’m just not sure whether it sustains the movie on its own. It leaves me with a lot of philosophical quandaries; very few regarding Deckard, and almost all concerning Rachael.

Rachael is a Replicant who doesn’t know she’s a Replicant when we first meet her. It’s only the Voight-Kampff test administered by Deckard that builds any sort of doubt about her reality, and their confrontation in his apartment  that shatters her reality. We see plenty of Rachael, all her scenes are pretty pivotal, all give the mind so much to chew on… even the uncomfortable scene where Deckard forces himself on her (which I’ll come back to later…)

I Just Wish We Could See More Of That

Following Rachael’s doubt about her humanity, the destruction of her reality, and then the discovery of her purpose – to live and enjoy life – changes the movie completely. In the already packed 2 hours of Blade Runner, I understand we can’t both have this Cyberpunk detective story and a gripping tale about an AI realizing it’s an AI. That might not even make for a great movie, but I think it’s a movie I prefer rather than an uninteresting detective story set in an interesting world. Does that make sense? The world of Blade Runner and the crisis that Rachael and the renegade Replicants face is very interesting, but watching Deckard track them down… isn’t. It’s a means to an end of getting to that philosophical stuff. Since it’s just a means to an end… we could hypothetically trim that down and see “more of that.” By the way, since the unicorn dream sequence doesn’t exist in the theatrical version, the idea that Deckard is a Replicant never really came to pass, even though I was waiting and waiting for that shoe to drop.

Also, No Means No

I’m sure somebody’s going to think that I can’t have fun or I’m not thinking out Deckard’s state of mind here… but Deckard forcing himself on Rachael was weird. He kisses her, she tries to leave his apartment, he forces her to stay, and “teaches” her to enjoy physical contact? That’s the implication at least but noooo. It makes Deckard feel like a creep, why does he just assume Rachael, being a Replicant, can’t decide on her own that she does not want any part of this kissing? Rachael is established as having emotional responses, valid emotional responses, so I’m just not sure why Ridley Scott, who has a pretty good track record with his female characters, had to have her “transformed” in this way. I suppose, maybe, if Deckard is a Replicant and you think of this scene as the one where he discovers emotions… ah I don’t know. No matter what, this scene just felt weird =Strike #3. 

Still, all of those strikes basically amount to me enjoying the movie a little bit less. I’d give Blade Runner a 4/5 as a movie, and like… a 2/5 on the feminist scale of 5 being “most feminist,” and 1 being “not feminist at all.”

 

Thoughts: On Kate Bornstein and Language

TW: Potentially Transphobic Language

Last week the University of Pittsburgh welcomed Kate Bornstein as the keynote speaker to their GSWS “Gender and the Body” conference. She talked about herself, Tibetan Buddhism, postmodern theory, gender theory, and going deeper than tackling patriarchy, but rather society’s all-encompassing hierarchy that includes mental health, religion, gender, race, sexuality, intelligence, etc.

There was a lot of really good stuff here, and as somebody who hasn’t been in a University class in close to a full year, it was really stimulating. I need to be presented with new, challenging ideas like this.

And quite frankly, all of us young GSWS students could use a lesson from historical figures like Kate Bornstein.

I’ve had a copy of Kate Bornstein’s “A Queer and Pleasant Danger” for over half a year, and seeing her in person is going to propel me to finally read that, but during her keynote I realized I had read her work before in GSWS 101, Gender Outlaw. Excerpts at least.

Seeing Kate is like seeing a Trans Treasure, an icon, and I count myself very lucky to be able to hear what she had to say. Hypothetically, even if I didn’t understand or agree with what she was saying, I would have respected the ?#@* out of her opinions (but I often understood and agreed).

Towards the end though, Kate veered into a subject that I think may have offended some, and as she noted, some people left the room at this point.

I want to talk with those who were offended, rather than triggered by her comments, and I’ll clarify the difference.

Kate Bornstein talked about why she identifies with the word Tranny, and the history and etymology of the word. Tranny, largely understood to be a  Transphobic slur, had friendly communal roots, according to Kate. I found her perspective so refreshing and interesting. Perhaps there are some similarities to gay men who can use the f-word endearingly, or black people reappropriating the n-word; I’m not sure – neither of those words originated with positive connotations as Kate claims the “t-word” did.

But if the t-word triggers you, sends you into an emotional spiral, and you had to leave while Kate used it, I’m not taking up any issue with you! You do you, you do what you have to do to stay safe. But the hypothetical situation of people being critical of how Kate identified, and explaining her identity, and the history of her identity, is disappoints me.

Instead of learning from Kate, some must have left hoping to send a message that her language was offensive.

Like I said earlier, Kate is a Trans Treasure, somebody who’s been around the block and seen some ?#@*. The idea of some 18-21 year old young inspired idealistic person walking out to show Kate “you shouldn’t use that word” is so disappointing, because that same person is walking out on an explanation, something that might expand their view on a situation. Context matters here! This is Kate Bornstein, keynote speaker at the GSWS conference, do you really think she’s here to stir things up, or cause harm?

Kate humorously flip-flopped on those who left, “I’m not sorry. I’m a little sorry… I’m not sorry.”

I just think it’s important to hear some radically left ideas, especially if you’re painting yourself as a radical. Kate’s 68 and a cancer survivor, and we were all so lucky to hear her speak. Now, would I be here advocating that we all listen to old Trans-exclusionary-feminists just because of their years of experience? No. Would I advocate that we all go listen to MRA’s on campus because they’re also radical? No. All I’m advocating for, is for some young GSWS majors who think they might know everything about what words we should and shouldn’t use, and consider language to be the be-all-end-all, to reconsider.