I love the SyFy Channel Saturday night movies. The goofy effects, the giant monsters, the sometimes wooden acting, it's all a delicious cheese sandwich to help me relax into the one night of the week where I don't feel rushed to accomplish ALL THE THINGS before I go to bed. I try to judge them by what they are, and not by what I want them to be: silly, shitty movies that accomplish what they set out to accomplish, no more, and no less. Sometimes they're even pretty good.
This past week, the Saturday night movie was The End of the World. It was about a group of geeks who owned/worked at a video store specializing in disaster movies, the judgmental SO of the geek who actually owned the store, the faintly evil cousin of the geek who actually owned the store, the disapproving parent of one of the geeks who worked at the store, the disaster guru idol of all the geeks, and a bunch of extras. The extras fell into three categories: evil looters who wanted to take stuff from our heroic geeks, assholes at the mental hospital where the disaster guru had been committed, and people at the military base.
Now. Looking only at what I've written above, how many of these characters were female? If you guessed "judgmental SO" and "disapproving parent," then ding ding ding! We have a winner!
None of the geeks were women. The SO even knowing what the Death Star was called was treated as a virtual miracle, and something so hot as to make the alpha geek temporarily forget about saving the planet, because she was speaking Forbidden Knowledge, yo. She was saying things that implied girls could be geeks too, and man, that was so impossible it was like she was demonstrating super powers! The mother figure was literally introduced calling one of the secondary geeks at work and asking him how the job search was going, because it was time for him to get a real job, in the real world, amirite girls? (The SO had a similar speech.) That's how we should interact with geeks! We should drag them kicking and screaming into respectability, because no one can ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever be happy and fulfilled just being a professional fan of things. And women can't even start being fans of things. It's not allowed.
None of the extras were female. None of the secondary characters, apart from the two listed above, were female. One of the female characters was there to nag and be a burden; the other was there to be a prize and to be enlightened about how Geek Things = Man Things and Man Things = Awesome.
And here's the thing. None of these characters—not a single fucking one—had such a gendered role that their character could not have been played by a member of the opposite sex. Testosterone did not unlock the key to saving the world. Estrogen did not cause the cataclysm. You could have literally flipped a fucking coin for every single role, and cast accordingly. "Whoops, female lead, male antagonist, female love interest..." Better yet, make it a d10, and if you roll a ten, roll again for assigned birth gender, and then go from there. "Female lead, male antagonist, ftm love interest..." It would have been the same damn movie.
But they didn't do that. They went with boys and boys and boys, and an exclusionist narrative that had me saying sadly "I like disaster movies. I exist, too."
I wound up stopping the movie halfway through because the lack of female voices had become so alienating to me that I needed to wait a while before I came back and finished watching. It was an okay movie. I won't be watching it again. There's no one for me there.
Men can identify with women, and should. Women can identify with men, and should. But there's a big difference between saying "Seanan, you should have been able to identify with the struggles of the protagonist, regardless of gender," and saying "Seanan, you should have been able to accept a world that cast your gender into the role of harpy and martinet, and not felt objectified or rejected by this setting." I did identify with Owen. I did care about his story.
It was everything around him that lost me. And honestly, I'm still lost, and I've been lost too many times.
Sometimes it would be nice to be found.