Reflections on “Goosebumps”
More Women as Reward
*WARNING: Spoilers ensue below***
“She doesn’t know she’s not real”. This was a key line in the plot of the newly released “Goosebumps” movie, which takes a plethora of Goosebumps characters and references to the books and combines in them in one entertaining, but flawed, family film. Although both young girls and boys have (and continue to) enjoy the series that originally started in 1992, the movie’s central female character, the “daughter” of R.L. Stine, Hannah, is yet another staple in the “women as reward” trope.
While it’s clear from the start that Hannah is an important part of the story, and will undoubtedly be a love interest for the main character, I had hopes that her character would be able to stand on her own. Buuuut…that never happens. While I enjoyed the film overall and found the references to the books to be well-placed, the movie does not give the numerous young girls watching any female character to look up to. The twist of the movie lies in the fact that Hannah is actually not Stine’s daughter but is actually a creation of his imagination like the other “monsters” of his book. She is a companion crafted from his deep-seeded loneliness, to cheer him up, to make him feel that he is not alone, which is more than a little messed up. Instead of emulating an ideal, she literally is a figment of his imagination come to life, forever sixteen years old, forever answering to her father who keeps her home-schooled in his house, moving her from place to place so that the secret will never be revealed. In a sense, she is basically a trapped princess that the main character hopes to rescue at the start of the movie.
Once the main character realizes she is a character and that her father never revealed this information to her, he confronts Stine, with that lovely line directly said. I find it telling that the main female character of the entire movie believes she is autonomous, believes she is “normal”, believes she has the right to go beyond her father’s control, to love and to live, but is actually a literal instrument of her father. Nice.
Surely, in a movie that centers on high school kids, and has an entire scene in a high school dance, there are female characters of importance? Nope. The only other young female character in the movie is the young girl (whose name was probably mentioned once but never again) who bestows a kiss on the nerdy friend of the main character after he saves her from a werewolf. This role is nearly identical to the role the actress played in Paper Towns-hot girl who lavishes her affection on the socially awkward male friend archetype.
To top it all off, in the conclusion of the film, Hannah is brought back to life, this time as a REAL girl (a la Pinocchio) by R.L. Stine much to the delight, and seemingly for the main male character as evident by the huge grin on his face as she magically materializes. Truly, a living, pretty reward for all that he has done throughout the film. -____-
Why is this a problem? It promotes the idea that if a man does the right thing, if he proves himself to a woman, she is indebted to him-sexually. He has “won her heart”, her affection now belongs to him. This is a horrible idea to convey to young children, whether male or female. As for the young girls watching, it not only deprives them of a powerful female character to project themselves onto, but it also teaches them that, even in a fantastical world where anything is possible, this is what they are for. As said so eloquently in this Feminist Frequency episode, “the Women as Reward trope is set up to fulfill a very specific male entitlement-oriented fantasy”. The young boys who consume such media now are more likely to instill belief in the idea that women are there for them, are a prize to be won, instead of other human beings with agency and with the ability to make their own choices regardless of the men’s actions.
In criticizing this aspect of the “Goosebumps” movie, I am not tearing it apart as a sexist, horrible piece of media. I do not believe that at all. I did enjoy the film and was happy that my younger siblings were so engrossed in the film. I hope to point these flaws in the plot and character development in order to say that I expect more. All script writers and those involved in the movie business do have the ability to make films with female characters that have agency and purpose outside of the male character’s affection. I believe that it can happen and I cannot wait to see those kinds of female characters, that are starting to show up more often (“Mad Max”, anyone?). For movies targeted towards children in particular, young girls should have female characters that are actually portrayed as individuals with their own wants and needs.
Is that too much to ask for?