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On Anachronisms, Sexism, and Reality

This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.

We just received a comment on the Wolverine review that I'm not going to publish because it doesn't even begin to respect our comment policy. However, I had to share this one bit of it:

Of course it's a bunch of men, most of the movie was set in times before women were allowed in the army, much less help with anything non-medical or teacher related.

Let's leave aside the incorrect statement that "most" of the movie was set in times before women were allowed in the military. The part that interests me is the appeal to historical accuracy in a movie about a man with magical self-healing powers who has big metal claws sticking out of his hands.

During the part of the movie where Wolverine is in the mutant ops team that I mentioned in the review, the commenter is correct that in the military, women were not allowed in combat roles. I find it hard to believe, though, that Bad Guy Stryker would really care. Unless you specifically make the argument that he would have been just as sexist as his compatriots, despite his embrace of any and all means to his end in every other way, I just can't respect objections like this. If his attitude is your argument, I can probably respect that, because sexism does have the tendency to result in bad decisions - in this case, not using a powerful mutant as a weapon just because she's a woman. But I can't go with the argument based solely on historical policy, as if Stryker was thinking "Gosh, it's too bad that women aren't allowed in the military, because otherwise this mutant who can shred metal with her mind would come in really handy."

A similar came up in the comments on the review of Van Helsing, with commenter kira saying this:

i liked the movie. it kept with the era the film was suppose to be in, if the woman were stronger it wouldn't have fit right. i mean u cant have a caveman with a car it just doesn't fit. i do agree that Dracula's brides could have been tougher,but in the context of the time once again women not being string blah blah its fits. plus they would have been turned earlier in time when women were way timid.

Again, we have to leave aside part of the comment, in this case the part where it's argued that women living in rural areas in the late 19th century were "way timid." (Though I am not a historian, it doesn't seem likely to me given the demanding lives people led at the time.) The filmmakers aren't to blame for their sexist movies because history was just like that! It's not their fault there just weren't any women!

In a movie that's set in reality, I am usually down with this (though I would also argue that we need more movies depicting what everybody else was doing while the white able-bodied men were Making History). In the scenes in Wolverine that were supposed to be set during regular military operations during World War I, for example, I would not have expected to see a fully integrated team, because that was not how things worked.

In stories about monsters and demons, though, where we're obviously not dealing with reality? Sorry, I'm not buying it.

1 Comment

Zahra said at May 26, 2009 4:18 PM:

This is just priceless. Where are all the cries for accuracy in terms of shots being fired at a distance, or reactions to punches, and the like?

Action films aren't about realism; they are about escapist fantasy. The problem is that they only offer escape to that same proportion of white straight able-bodied men who look like the leads.

And finally, as someone who does care about history, you'd be suprised what women did do in various periods of history, and how much of that has been erased from our common knowledge base by the easy assumption that they couldn't have been important. Which we are clearly still facing.

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