You are optimistic to engage uninformed, untalented men who have undeserved access to public audiences, as they explain women’s problems to you. Multiply that feeling by slightly more than half the US population and extrapolate over a life span of, on average, 81 years, and you get the sense of why so many women are so deeply frustrated.
You are right, of course, in your critique of National Review Online‘s Smith’s assessment of why the Bechdel test, which is a very basic measure of whether a film gives any consideration to women apart from their use by men characters, is silly. Smith’s argument (I’m being generous with that term) is so bad that you wonder if he was actually trying or if he, like so many other mediocre men, is coasting on snideness alone. As a “critic-at-large”(Rich Lowry, if you are reading this, please, please find someone with an ounce of sensitivity as a viewer or talent as a writer to replace Smith. He’s so remarkably unskilled that it’s not even fun to argue against him.), Smith teaches his readers nothing about film or music (Illustrative quotation: “There isn’t a lot to argue about when it comes to music: Either you like it or you don’t.”); as a politics writer posing as a critic, he’s as uninformed as he is unbearable.
A brief summary of his recent writing about gender and film:
- The Handmaid’s Tale is nothing at all like America under Trump, despite many, many women saying it is, even those these women presumably might know better than Smith what their experiences have been under a president who has said he supports “some sort of punishment” for women who undergo abortions.
- Emma Watson thinks she’s as heroic as Rosa Parks for accepting an acting award that seeks to overcome the “gender binary,” but it turns out she’s not that heroic at all. (Smith: “Oscars tend to go to those who play people in extreme situations and historical figures. That’s a big advantage for men…”)
- Wonder Woman is pretty good, despite “some opportunities for political correctness that [director Patty] Jenkins can’t resist.” It works in part because “the film actually has a healthy awareness of how men and women differ from and complement one another,” according to Smith, a man I can’t imagine having anything at all to offer an actual human woman.
There is plenty of overwrought (sometimes nearly hysterical) writing about Hillary Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, Kathy Griffin, Katy Perry, Lena Dunham, and Elizabeth Banks, but they all amount to the same thing: Smith knows nothing about women, fictive or real.
But back to the matter at hand: Smith’s dunderheaded attempt to take-down the Bechdel test. I’ll add to your fine argument these four points:
- Smith assumes that in order for a movie to include an on-screen moment between women characters who are doing something other than talking about men, that movie must be written by a woman. This also assumes that men cannot write women. While this is too often true and is entirely true of Smith, it’s not required. We might ask more of our screenwriters who are men.
- It assumes that stories centered on men are more worthy of telling than stories centered on women. (Films need heroes! seems to be Smith’s line of thinking.) Of course, women are heroes–but, more than that, stories with nuance, driven by character, are also worth telling. They often require more talent to tell, but that just means we need to (See point 1.) demand more of our movie makers.
- Smith’s argument is factually incorrect. Not only do audiences love stories about women (from Gone with the Wind to Dirty Dancing to The Little Mermaid to Kill Bill to Bridesmaids to Hidden Figures), these films are, across genres, profitable. They make money, earn Oscars, and inspire Happy Meals toys.
- And to Smith’s argument that women should write fantasy novels that will brought to the screen if they want to watch them: has he not heard of JK Rowling, the first writer to become a billionaire based on her books? Not only is Rowling a woman, the real hero of the Harry Potter books is Hermione Granger.
Above, the real hero: Hermione Granger.
Which reminds me: next time we are tempted to read Smith’s commentary, let’s read Teen Vogue instead.