Guys, we need to talk about that lone girl on the team. You know, the only one “allowed?”
Think of your favorite movie featuring a team, something like Ocean’s Eleven, Baby Driver, World’s End, or even a Guardians of the Galaxy.
How many women are on the team?
Was it one? Did I get that right?
Actually, in Ocean’s Eleven, the one woman isn’t even one of the titular eleven. In The Expendables, we don’t even get a woman until the third movie – and don’t think I didn’t notice when I saw the first one. My first thought on leaving the theater was “Where was Michelle Rodriguez?” That happens a lot, too – the all-male team – but that’s not what I’m here to talk about today. I’m here to talk about that one woman who’s allowed to play with the boys.
My feelings about clowns are well documented on social media so I won’t be seeing IT, but I’m familiar with the story. It’s a good story and I enjoyed the original series (Tim Curry’s clown is more funny than scary, which is the only reason I didn’t throw my TV out the window. Fuck that clown in Poltergeist, though. Fuck it to hell.), but it does fall into that “one girl allowed” trap.
We went a long time with only one female Avenger, and she still hasn’t gotten her own movie. You don’t have to go far to find examples.
Here’s how it works. You’re a group of boys, but you’ll allow ONE girl in, as long as she’s a tomboy. She must be tough and way cooler than all the other girls because she’s willing to do the fun stuff boys do like ride around on bikes or steal priceless artifacts, not just sit around playing with her Barbies all day and being lame. If you’re kids, maybe your lead boy has a crush on her, but she doesn’t have time for that shit because she’s too busy being cool. When she grows up, though, she becomes Zoe Saldana in The Losers – a sexy badass who’ll flirt with you just enough to think you have a chance.
It’s a clearly established message, one we see play out in a film like Working Girl, where the women eat each other. There is room in the boy’s club for exactly ONE woman, and that one woman must be tough as nails. If another woman comes along, she is a threat to you. She might take the place you worked so hard to earn. What if she’s tougher or sexier or better at throwing rocks at clowns? You’ll be pushed out and replaced, because there’s never more than one. So you hate that other woman, and you will do what it takes to keep her away from your boys. And this is why you hear that old adage that women hate each other. No we don’t. We’ve just been taught to see each other as a threat because we’re not allowed to work together if we want to be successful.
And before you’re like “Get over it, lady. They’re just movies,” realize that this mimics our daily lives. I’ll never forget when Ken Marino was on The Nerdist podcast and Chris Hardwick asked him why he never had more than one woman in the cast of The State. I’m paraphrasing (not by much), but this is what Ken said: “We had Kerri Kenny. Why would we need another woman?” They had what – ten men in that cast? But why would you need more than one woman? It wasn’t a joke – this was Ken’s actual reasoning. (And white people as far as the eye can see, while we’re at it)
Movies about women doing “grrrrl power” stuff is totally fine. A chick flick like Waiting to Exhale or First Wives Club? Go for it, ladies. Just don’t touch our man’s world with your delicate manicured fingers.
Need proof? Look at what happened with the female Ghostbusters. More than one woman holding a gun? And none of them are even wearing spandex and sliding sexily under a laser beam? (Although, OMG now I really want to see Leslie Jones wear spandex and slide sexily under a laser beam) And they’re FRIENDS? And THE MAN IS THE DUMB SEXY ONE? THE WORLD IS ENDING!!!!! EVERYONE PANIC!!!!
Men hate women liking the same things they like so much that they actually said a Ghosbusters movie about women would ruin their childhoods. Like, those actual words were used, and not just by one or two guys either. I gotta tell you dudes, I survived all the Ghosbusters being dudes. I survived all the kids in Stand By Me being dudes. I survived all the Expendables being dudes. I survived all the thousands of heist movies (Go watch The Hot Rock, you plebes) being about dudes (and usually one woman). My childhood was ruined by shitty parenting, not by watching movies about boys. I sure do wish I’d had some female Ghostbusters to look up to, though.
Boys get to have movies where they share a bond of friendship by going on adventures together. Girls get to have movies where they share a bond by drinking wine and talking about boys. We like having adventures too! We like busting ghosts! We like leaving the house and traipsing through the woods! And not just one of us – a LOT of us! Sometimes together! If the idea of that threatens your sense of self, the problem is you.
That’s why I’d like to conclude by giving a big shoutout to The Fast and Furious series. As that series has expanded, it’s gotten not only more diverse in color, but more diverse with women as well. Sure, you’ve got Letty, who is the stereotypical tomboy who’s normally allowed to exist in movies about teams, but you also get Gisele, who’s all grace and poise and has her own agency. You get Ramsey, who’s smart and quippy. You get Hobbs with a female partner he relies on – more than once, even – and the relationship feels real. Say what you will about those films and their silliness, they allow their characters to expand away from what we’re used to seeing over and over, which is probably one of the reasons they’re so successful.
I’m tired of going to the theater to see the same sexy tomboy surrounded by white dudes (and one funny black guy) in every single movie. So bring on your lady Ghostbusters. Bring on your Amazons. And also bring on some new story about women that isn’t a reboot or adaptation or a story about a fucking road trip where we chat about how much boys suck or compete for a man. Bring on some goddamn girly adventures, because as Cindy Lauper once said in Goonies, which was allowed to have TWO girls, “What’s good enough for you is good enough for me.”
QUICK NOTE: Originally mentioned at the top of the post that Kung-Fu Panda only had one female character on the team, but it turns out we forgot about Viper, played by Lucy Liu.
Emily Blake is a screenwriter/producer/script supervisor/dog lover. She cohosts Chicks Who Script, a filmmaker podcast that focuses on women and minorities (Chickswhoscript.com), and tweets a lot. She is a Gryffindor.