Ghostbusters: So this is what it’s like for guys!
I walked into the Ghostbusters movie happy, but not overly excited. I’ve enjoyed action movies for quite a long time without feeling like there was a gap in my life. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of the lack of representation and all the problematic portrayals that were out there, but they didn’t turn my stomach or keep me up at night. So I went in expecting to enjoy myself at an action movie and have an extra tingle of happy at the fact that the Ghostbusters were ladies.
I never expected to walk out of there feeling as though I’d been missing something all my life.
So this, I thought giddily as my friend and I exited the theater, was what it was like to be a man watching a standard action movie. To imagine that this is what it’s been like for men all along! To have characters who look like you and represent you, and for those characters to be competent, kick-ass professionals and fully rounded human beings. With real, human drama illuminating their actions and decisions that in no way involves love interests or petty jealousy.
This movie gave me battle-hardened friendships. Moments of glory and moments of panic. Humor that doesn’t come at the expense of the main characters’ dignity or humanity. The fact that the Ghostbusters are women is never denied, but it’s also never used against them by the narrative. (The bad guy mentions it a few times, but it only goes to show what a clueless dirtbag he is.)
And for all the movie gave me, I was just as stunned at what it didn’t give me. That being the “reverse male-gaze” point of view I was afraid of. I imagined, in my worst-case scenario brain, a movie ostensibly aimed at women but clearly directed and written by men. Where men are treated like slabs of meat for the women to fawn over. Because if that’s what men want their women to be in movies, it stands to reason that that’s what women want their men to be like too. Right? (Spoiler: WRONG.)
Instead, we get male characters who, if handsome, are never out-and-out objectified. Chris Hemsworth’s character is good looking, and it’s mentioned, but aside from one visual gag, he’s not cheesecaked at all. There are no groan-worthy pan shots over his body or close-ups of his rippling muscles. The ladies don’t make him go shirtless to work. He’s dumb as a box of rocks, but there’s never a “men are so dumb” moment. It’s him, as a character, not his gender, who’s the butt of jokes, and even then he’s not dehumanized. By the end of the movie, the Ghostbusters truly care about him as part of the team.
If anything, the men are by and large painted as moderately ineffectual, but it doesn’t feel like an attack on the gender. It’s more necessitated by the story. The men find them selves in the position of trying to shut the Ghostbusters down, but it’s more than clear they don’t have a workable alternative. The two government agents who are supposed to be discreetly handling New York’s ghost problems stand around quite literally doing nothing. It can definitely be read as a subtle feminist commentary — even when the women are the only hope they’re asked to sit down and shut up — but it never feels demeaning to men in general. (And if it does to you, maybe it’s because you’ve just never been on that side of the equation. Welcome to the way women have been portrayed on film for years. Enjoy your taste of it.)
And these ladies never do sit down and shut up. They go about their ghostbusting business, loud and proud and in charge, from the opening to the end. They get shit done no matter who tells them to stand aside. And in the end, they earn their glory not because they’re women, but because they’re Ghostbusters.
It’s cheer-worthy, to watch these ladies light up the town with their proton packs and (extremely cool) new weapons. But despite the narrative never calling attention to it, I was struck by the fact that these heroes looked like me. I’d never realized how powerful that was until it was right there, giving me something I’ve never had before. It was an electrifying moment, to realize all I’d been missing.
As a fandom girl, I’ve spent years trying to glean personal meaning from media that has never had me as the intended target. (Looking at you, dudebro show about ghost hunting.) My participation in fan culture has been derided and belittled for years, and I’ve learned to take it all in stride — both the fact that I had to grasp for straws of relatability and the fact that I would be looked down on for doing so. I figured, that was just the way the media culture works. But the truth was, I never knew just what I was missing.
Until yesterday. Yesterday, for the first time, an action movie looked me squarely in the face and said, “Guess what? I’m here for you. I’m doing this for YOU.”
And it did. And I loved it.