This week, we had a movie night here at the Apartment of Abundance. The pick for the evening was the 1992 hit thriller Basic Instinct, starring Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone, and directed by Paul Verhoeven. For those of you not familiar with the flick, it's about a police detective (played by Douglas) and his investigation of a terrible murder (in fact, a string of bizarre killings), and his fiery relationship with a woman (played by Stone) who might be involved in the murders.
As the movie progresses, we learn more and more about Stone's character, and her relatively colorful sexual history, including sexual relationships with men and women, kinky tendencies, and a refusal to fall in line with the conventional wisdom of sexual exclusivity and male sexual power and privilege over female sexuality. We also eventually learn that she's a deceitful, manipulative, and murderous nut-job. A guy friend of mine, who was also watching the movie, at one point excitedly exclaimed something along the lines how empowered a woman Stone's character was, and noted how awesome that was.
Now, I'm all for honest portrayals of empowered women in movies, but my friend's comment left me somewhat perplexed. Stone's character, while obviously sexually expressed and adventurous, was also deceitful, murderous, emotionally unstable, and used her sexuality to manipulate others into doing her bidding. In fact, this movie seems to go out of its way to convey the notion that "sexually expressed woman" = "nut-job". And, it's not the only time director Verhoeven has tried establishing this kind of link, having later created similarly "sexually open yet manipulative, back-stabbing and unstable" female characters in 1995's camp extravaganza Showgirls.
Of course, Verhoeven's not the only one. Male directors and writers and producers have been obsessed about the femme-fatale for as long as there's been movies. From Barbara Stanwyck in the film classic Double Indemnity... to Tura Satana in Faster Pussycats! Kill! Kill!... to every female villian that ever graced a James Bond flick... to Denise Richards turn in Wild Things... to Rachel McAdams in the Sherlock Holmes movies... the message is clear. Despite mens' obsession with them, they're great for a quick roll in the hay, but no more. They're a threat... to the age-old "ideals" of female chastity and institutionalized patriarchy... and to decent society... and are certainly not the type you'd pick to bring home to meet the parents, right? Stone's murderous ways are proof. I mean, can you imagine a woman like her trying to raise children?!?
It's simple, boys. Get involved with one? You pay a price... which leaves women with one choice. Suppress your sexuality, meet a nice boy, and everything will be juuuuust fine.
Doesn't sound terribly empowering, does it?
So, where are the movies and television shows which show truly sexually empowed female roles models? Strong women who end the movie well loved and more than satisfactorily sexed up... without cutting someone's throat along the way? Please comment! I welcome your movie and TV references!