Does vengeance equal feminism?

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

Warning – spoilers on ‘Gone Girl’ – book/movie review

Has anyone read the book, “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn?  A NY Times bestseller that was made into a movie starring Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck, the book/movie is disturbing on many fronts.

It is meant to be dark humor when intelligent, manipulative, psychopathic Amy gets revenge on her mediocre, selfish, entitled husband Nick, through an intricately planned out and meticulously executed series of chilling crimes.

On the surface, it seems like we’re finally seeing a complex woman character, a rarity in bestsellers and Hollywood.  Amy isn’t sweet, warm and compassionate.  She IS the bad guy.  And there are reasons given for the warping of her mind as well – the emotional manipulation of her parents.

However, as you progress through the novel, Amy goes on to concoct a false murder charge against her husband (using compellingly manufactured evidence), and when that begins to fail, uses her innocent ex boyfriend in her schemes, then murders him, then accuses him of rape and abuse, returns to her husband but continues to manipulate him with threats of turning the media and law enforcement against him.

I found the plot severely undermining the very real abuse that countless women face and it almost seems to match the thinking of men’s rights activists who constantly talk about “false rape charges” and “false abuse charges” as their reason for opposition to rape and abuse laws. In reality, the law enforcement in many countries shames and silences rape victims rather than taking their reports seriously; yet, what we have here is a twilight zone of a woman victimizing several men who slighted her as well as ensnaring the entire media and law enforcement.

Gillian Flynn considers herself a feminist and claims that her book is also feminist because of its “non-conformity to the traditional perception of women as innately good characters“. Somehow, her argument doesn’t quite fly.  So, Amy is not good and sweet and boring.  However, Amy’s character feels like a comic book evil temptress, complete with the perfect sexy body and dark, destructive mind.  She’s completely stereotypical in that she brings to life the worst nightmares of misogynists.

The book is bursting at the seams with other male/female stereotypes.  Nick is clumsy, reticent, somewhat clueless, a little selfish, a “little” unfaithful, but essentially good-hearted.  Amy is classy, privileged, articulate, intelligent, and if a woman is privileged/intelligent, then of course it follows that she must also be manipulative and evil.  Nick’s mediocrity makes him “innocent” and his selfishness is “mostly unconscious” and his unfaithfulness is overshadowed (and forgiven?) by Amy’s incredible capacity for vengeance.  The “evil media” takes advantage of his male inability to pretend grief, when what he’s actually feeling is relief. (makes you want to give him a hug, doesn’t it?) Amy’s intelligence however is used for a destructive purpose. Maybe another argument for men’s preference for “simple women”?   When asked to describe his wife, Nick actually says in frustration, “She’s complicated!”  (Sorry, Nick, a woman is a human and humans are complicated, what you should’ve got yourself is a toy if you wanted something simpler.)

Other charming women characters in the book include Amy’s emotionally manipulative mother who has used her daughter for her personal fame and riches, a media siren who is bent upon making Nick’s life hell, a 20 something voluptuous student who throws herself at Nick (home wrecker?) and crime groupies who want to use Nick and take selfies of themselves with him. The only real woman in the book is Nick’s rough-around-the-edges twin sister, Margo, who also co-owns the bar with her brother. She tries to help her immature brother despite her frustration with his mistakes. She tries to remain fair to Amy even though she dislikes her. But even Margo lets us down when she says “complicated (woman) means b***h”.

Here’s a quote from the book, which has been used to illustrate the underlying feminist tone of the book –

“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and jams hot dogs into her mouth …. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined manner and let their men do whatever they want. …. Men actually think this girl exists. ….. And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. …… Maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics.”

In the above sense, the book does hint at the irony of it all – the real progress that women have made in the social and emotional realm of relationships is still minuscule.  We are leading nations, heading successful companies, but who are we at home, really?  A Nooyi who is ordered to go pick up the milk?  A Sandberg who suffers mommy guilt?

Here, I began to have hope.  I thought the author was portraying how women are forced into certain roles by society and in the process, let their whole lives revolve around selfish, uncaring men who want to see a sugar coated, simplified, corseted version of them.  And I hoped that Amy would eventually refuse to be straight jacketed, that she would emerge free from the selfish expectations of society.

However what does Amy DO ABOUT THIS?  What does she do to fight this cool girl burden and set herself free?  She becomes one!!!  How un-empowering is that!  She becomes this cool girl that Nick wants her to be. And Nick predictably falls head over heels for her.  But she’s mad at him for making her do this, so she takes revenge.  There is absolutely NOTHING feminist about this.

Another argument that Flynn put forth for feminism is that women are sick of being used and brushed aside, and when Amy finally begins to take back control in the relationship, when she starts calling the shots, it’s a win for the women’s cause. On some level, is Amy’s viciousness deeply satisfying to all of us women, who are familiar with some form of oppression or the other?  I thought about this but could not find a shred of fulfillment in the self-destructive nature of vengeance.  The argument that getting even feels good is faced with one problem – relationships are not held together with a gun to someone’s head. Freeing oneself from abuse doesn’t mean abusing the abuser.  You are no longer free when you inflict pain on someone, because you are taking on a burden. Taking back control of her own life is what Amy should’ve done, not taking control of Nick’s life. Ever heard of a thing called divorce, Amy? So, much more simpler that revenge.

Feminism is not about being a martyr, nor is it about taking revenge on men for the lost opportunities, but to demand equality in all spheres of life.  And this is what makes the book extremely disturbing – because it taps into the age-old fears of men – that women are irrational, nasty, manipulative creatures, sexually controlling and bordering on insanity, who if given the power (equality misconstrued as power), can easily destroy men to bits.  This mindset of fear is at the root of misogyny and the book does a great job of amplifying it.

Gone Girl is oddly reminiscent of the film noir movies of the 1940s, which possibly reflected men’s fears about women’s newly emerging post-war independence.  A series of films had at the center of the plot, a troubled, brooding male (Robert Mitchum, Fred MacMurray, or Humphrey Bogart) who succumbed to the evil charms of an intelligent, seductive woman.  The outcome of this interaction would be destructive for both of them. The men invariably were lead astray on to a twisted path of deception, murder, and mayhem under the influence of these femme fatales.

With this book/movie (Gone Girl), the virgin-whore dichotomy is still firmly in place.  Men continue to feel torn about choosing between the “simple, good, non-threatening, but boring woman” and the “interesting, sexy, intelligent but ultimately destructive woman”.  Neither kind of woman exists in reality.  The only place they exist is in the fear-ridden minds of misogynists, and the books and movies that flow from them.

If you read the book or watched the movie, please share your thoughts on it. If you didn’t, please share your thoughts on the concept of vengeance, getting even, and feminism, or on the distorted/appropriate portrayal of strong women characters in books and movies.

31 thoughts on “Does vengeance equal feminism?

  1. “With this book/movie (Gone Girl), the virgin-whore dichotomy is still firmly in place. Men continue to feel torn about choosing between the “simple, good, non-threatening, but boring woman” and the “interesting, sexy, intelligent but ultimately destructive woman”. Neither kind of woman exists in reality. The only place they exist is in fear-ridden minds of misogynists, and the books and movies that flow from them.” That was somewhat along the thoughts I had. I wondered why dysfunction was a selling point…If I had written that story, it would have ended the moment Amy found out that Nick was having an affair. I would have had Amy confront him, leave him alone and stay as far away from him, build a life conquering her Mental aberrations to live a fully Functional life in her own terms, without needing to make a Person who clearly doesnt care about her, live with her…But then, I know why I cant write a book now, dont I🙂.

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    • Agree🙂
      But I liked the way Flynn explored marriage – a relationship that requires a lot out of people. I loved the opening lines
      “When I think of my wife, I always think of the back of her head. I picture cracking her lovely skull, unspooling her brain, trying to get answers. The primal questions of a marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other? What will we do?”

      Not only is the use of “skull” jolting, it sort of represents the intense (and simultaneous) love and hate that people in a relationship can feel. And it makes you wonder if after decades of marriage, are we still the same people? Or would our lives be drastically different if we had married someone else? I think this happens even in happy marriages. I wish this is what Gillian Flynn explored more – make Amy saner (neither good nor bad entirely), make Nick (imperfect, yes but) easier to empathize with, and how their marriage unravels.

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      • Those lines did take the cake. Yes, marriage takes a lot, but I think that is the same for any relationship that requires each others presence(physically or in absentia) 24/7/365. I think we survive most relationships intact because of the distance. Distance is required for Sanity. We cant have love without knowing hate, that is the property of perception, we perceive in dualities. I dont think we are the same, we are changing each day ever so subtle that we dont notice it. but when we notice we changed when we consider a big bulk of time past. I dont think a marriage survives passive aggressiveness. In the story, I felt that both Amy and Nick were passive aggressive, they didnt confront things in a direct – listen, accept and move on – manner. They didnt have the Honesty required to do so within themselves so they couldnt have that with each other. To a degree that is how people are in reality. Most of us loathe confrontations so we play at manipulation(either our own emotions or others emotions) via, avoidance, letting go, taking it in our stride, dominating the other, being the victim, enabling bad behavior etc. I think that was the appeal of the story, it showed a glimpse of reality that we recognize but wouldnt ever admit to ourselves or in public.

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        • absolutely agree – a relationship gone horribly wrong, the ease with which people lie to people they love (or once loved), the endless depravity of the human mind – it’s all well captured

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  2. Thank you for this engaging, thoughtful post on this popularized book. My friend tried to explain it while we were on a road trip and had difficulty. Now I know why, the themes or revelations could be out of the box, or surprising/disturbing but also sound like same ol same ol. No, vengeance does not equal feminism, I certainly hope not. Replacing one repressive idea with another does not sound liberating at all. This is a terrific topic, thanks for asking.

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  3. I have both read the book, as well as seen the movie. I found both very disturbing, which is not surprising. Though Nick seems to be an a****le – forcing his wife to move from NY city to a small town, taking her for granted, sleeping with his (much younger) student – in the end, you end up kind of sympathizing with him for being stuck in the marriage with no way out. A nightmarish situation…wonder what Amy got out of it at the end of it all, other than total control of another human being. Is controlling others so much more important than personal happiness?

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  4. Gillian Flynn considers herself a feminist and claims that her book is also feminist because of its “non-conformity to the traditional perception of women as innately good characters“

    That’s the crux of the problem, as you’ve pointed out.

    “Innately good character” is only one type of traditional perception of women. Even as her film avoids falling into this trap, it does falls into others – for instance, that of portraying women as innately manipulative, vindictive and inscrutable creatures.

    I did enjoy the book and the film; its portrayal of Amy’s progressively pathological inclination to violence was rather riveting. And I personally don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with making a movie where the lead female character demonstrates sociopathic behaviour.
    But to claim that this alone makes a movie especially feminist in tone is misguided at best, and disingenuous at worst.

    As for vengeance – it’s rarely a successful strategy in fighting oppression, much less a morally sound one, although there is no doubt that it can be immensely satisfying and is an impulsive response that many would succumb to if given the chance. Such is human nature.

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  5. 1. To me, the central theme of this book is relationships/marriage. Not every relationship is cozy + perfect. Not every person who is in a relationship is a good, moralistic and “deserving” person.
    And not every relationship is healthy. Sometimes both parties are to blame. Conflicting personalities in a flimsy unequal relationship with economic stresses? There definitely are cracks.
    We hear so much about how relationships make people better. This is a good approximation of the flip side – how you can really bring out the beast in each other.

    2. I definitely agree with the point about the ending pandering to MRA conspiracy theorists.
    The question is, how DO we show an evil woman, without resorting to typical MRA stereotypes?
    She can’t be violent. She can’t be an adultress. She can’t be money-minded. She can’t be lazy.
    Because the MRA stereotype covers the entire gamut doesn’t it? The stupidity of MRAs argument doesn’t lie in calling women evil -( we all agree that women can be evil) but in the claim that ANY woman who files cases of divorce/domestic violence/rape is evil.

    3.Would we be happier with the roles reversed?
    Lazy, chilled out Amy and sociopathic ,high strung Nick.
    Psycho Nick finds out that chilled out Amy is cheating on him with a younger man. He then fakes his murder, frames an elaborate MRA type setup – greedy woman kills hard working man. Then Amy goes on TV to play dutiful wife. Circumstances make Nick to return to Amy and then he gets her pregnant and forces her to stay in the marriage.
    While I do like this version better, we wouldn’t consider this feminist either, because Amy ends up staying in an abusive marriage. To me, a “happy” ending destroys the value of this book – its meant to be a disturbing look at toxic relationships.
    Psycho Nick is also way more disturbing because he is a physical threat, but he’s also sadly a cliche. Manipulating women to stay in relationships is deadly common (and also way easier).
    Manipulating a man to stay in a marriage? Needs lot of thinking and is therefore better subject matter to write fiction on.

    4. “the “simple, good, non-threatening, but boring woman” and the “interesting, sexy, intelligent but ultimately destructive woman”. Neither kind of woman exists in reality. ”
    I think both these types of women DO exist. But there are hundreds and thousands of women who don’t fall into either category, and we need to see more of them(which I think was your point). What I don’t get is why WOMEN can’t seem to write diverse female characters. With some concern OTHER than relationships.

    5. Gillian’s assertion that this book is feminist – I think this issue doesn’t have a simple yes or no answer. I love some of Amy’s monologues – the “cool girl” bit, “getting traded for a younger, bouncier version” etc. Amy is a well written female sociopath IMHO.High IQ, elite upbringing, forced to compromise. The feminism lies in the fact that at times you empathise with Amy. You understand the cause of her rage(though you don’t agree with her actions). But this would have stood out better if Nick was also violent(its hinted at in the book). I also don’t like how Nick’s flaws are somewhat benign – he could’ve atleast been shown embezzling money or his narcissm could have been emphasized. The solution in this book I think would be to not to tone down the evilness of the woman, but to make the man more evil.

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    • yes I was saying this in an earlier comment … if Amy had been toned down and the book was about marriage between two imperfect people, it would’ve been more believable, more interesting, more subtle. You’re suggesting making Nick’s faults less benign – an interesting thought.

      I agree with you on women characters’ biggest concern being relationships. It would be nice if women’s nastiness had a different arena – workplace (as in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest) or in hero worship (Misery) or something other than the attentions of men.

      about the 2 kinds of women – I was not speaking in terms of numbers – I’m saying these are caricatures created for women. As in, if you are good, you’d better be asexual. If you are sexual, then you must also be bad/evil.

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      • Ah yes, true, these caricatures are nauseating.So called chick-lit (Meg Cabot/Sophie Kinsella/ Stephanie Meyer) only serves to reinforce these caricatures sometimes.

        Also,on re reading your post, I do agree that Amy’s character can’t really be called feminist. The most that can be said for her is that she has tones of feminism. In fact I feel like feminism has next to nothing to do with this book,its simply a good thriller.Earlier, I saw a lot of subversive plots, innuendos etc, but Gillian’s interviews sort of imply that her idea is nowhere as complex as some of us want it to be.

        And I think feminist is a very abused word these days. Stephanie Meyer says Bella from Twilight (who basically weeps and moans through 4 books) is feminist. Its sort of painful see writers(especially the female ones) make comments like these.

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  6. I read the book some time back – it came heavily recommended and I remember being quite disappointed at the end. I did not like the way it pictured men as somehow being unable to help their choices i.e. if you do things a, b and c, then you can lead them to do thing d. Sounds too much like rape culture training to me, like saying if you dress skimpily and go out to a pub late in the night alone, expect to be raped. The man can’t possibly help himself. This was especially during the times where she manipulates the ex boyfriend and also the initial phases of the relationship between Nick and Amy. I read it at the same time as I read Liane Moharty’s The Secret Husband and found that one much more satisfying.

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  7. I didn’t read the book, but watched the movie. The movie was not so much about feminism. The way I understood the movie, Amy was portrayed a psychopath, who takes on a carefully plotted path of life. When she quotes “I made him the man he is now” and her willingly wanting to cling on to the product of her hard work (I mean the man she made) the character itself is portrayed as being intelligent , highly manipulative and an adamance to get what she wants. Many other movies do portray male protagonists as psychopaths.. I take it as it is, just a fictional imagination of the writer. Nothing more.

    I personally think no one can or should generalize that “women are manipulative” on the whole. People are people.

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    • Actually I thought the movie was worse than the book – Amy’s complexity is toned down and what we’re left with is a familiar stereotype of a woman – “the crazy, manipulative b***h who gets her way”. In the book, details on the warping of Amy’s mind give at least partial credence to the idea of looking at her as a human being.

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  8. I want to open by saying, I absolutely enjoyed the book and thought the movie was one of the best ones of last year (Rosamund Pike is simple unbelievable in the role). I also think Gillian Flynn writes some good unsympathetic female characters, but what sold the movie and especially the book for me was perspective. I think it is important to judge the movie within the larger frame of feminism of course, but more important is if the story and the actions taken work for the situation and the characters as we have been introduced to them.

    For Amy, a lot of the talk revolves around her treatment of the men in her life. But the most illuminating incident is the one about ‘Hillary Handy’, her best friend from school who she accuses of stalking and gets expelled. This at the young age of 14 or 15. So she has always been a psychopath. Her violence and manipulation isn’t really limited to men at all. She manipulates the naive neighbour next door as well. And we know she does all this because we are given a direct look into her head. And that’s why it’s different from ‘the books and movies that flow from the minds of fear ridden misogynists’. In these stories, the woman is always the other, the unknown, the ‘femme fatale’. Not so in this specific story, here we have access to her thoughts.

    She doesn’t set out with the intention to seduce and manipulate Nick. There is no ‘Grand Plan’ in place from the beginning. It is clearly a reaction to the dissolution of their marriage and their eyes being opened to the reality of each other. Of course the sane woman wouldn’t react that way. But this isn’t a sane woman’s story. This is Amy Dunne’s story. I think expecting every story to be a representative story is limiting the possibilities of story telling.

    Yes, death of the author and everything, but context matters and the fact that a woman wrote this story is a very important point of view to have (she also wrote the screenplay for the movie).
    You are being slightly disingenuous when you dismiss the sister simply because she calls Amy a bitch (she’s right!) and when you don’t mention the detective at all, who is diligent in her job and the later on Nick’s side. There is also Nick’s dead mother, shown as a perfectly ordinary single mom who courageously leaves her husband and works her entire life.

    And the boyfriend who she kills and accuses of rape and abuse is actually holding her captive and abusing her. But not in a way to be readily obvious. She’s in a gilded cage essentially. So she gets out by a more ‘obvious’ accusation of rape and abuse.
    I could go on for a while on this. But I think what it comes down to is how to judge it within the spectrum of the media that we consume, how to judge it in relation to the popular conceptions and narratives that surround women’s lives, and how to judge it as it’s own story. I am a movie buff, so I look at it as film first and social commentary second. I just think that Gillian Flynn understands a lot of these cliches and these fear and deploys them well, so that it’s never just ‘a misogynist’s worst nightmare’ or a ‘feminist’s wish fulfillment revenge flick’.

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    • Thank you Utpala for presenting an alternative viewpoint.

      I wanted to look at it as a “woman who happens to be a psychopath” situation alone. And for a good part of the book, I did. I was fascinated by the way Amy’s mind works. Here are the reasons why I couldn’t look at it as Amy Dunne’s story and had to look at it in a feminist context:

      1) Gillian Flynn asserts that the book is feminist – therefore it is only natural that readers will examine this angle. In Flynn’s own words, “”I had about 24 hours where I hovered under my covers and was like: ‘I killed feminism. Why did I do that? Rats. I did not mean to do that.’ And then I very quickly kind of felt comfortable with what I had written.” Therefore the feminist/misogynist debate.

      2) Even though the background and Amy’s childhood is included, the bulk of the book focuses on the intricacies of marriage and man/woman roles within it. I couldn’t ignore the fact that so much of Amy’s rage is because of Nick’s entitled, selfish behavior, and the pressure for Amy to give up on herself and become a ‘cool girl’ in his eyes. This is very representative of man/woman expectations within a marriage. In fact, when Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike were interviewed, they said that the intricate way Amy thinks definitely makes her a woman, which sounds to me like a dangerous stereotype.

      3)I forgot to mention two more women characters – the neighbor, a very gullible homemaker with 3 kids, and battered woman who steals from Amy. So, if you include them, we have a total of 7 stereotypical women characters. Nick’s mother is not really much a character in the book. Margo and the detective seem to be the only real women. Even if we set aside Amy as a study in psychopathy, how do we ignore the crime groupie, the media siren, the home wrecker, the dumb homemaker, the manipulative mother? Really, do we need to see such excess of stereotyping?

      4) Even Amy the psychopath could’ve looked ordinary which would’ve made her more interesting. Making her sexy and beautiful detracted from the psychopath theme. Amy using her sexy charm made her more of a femme fatale. Other writers have created complex, unlikeable characters in films, while not making the mistake of endowing them with predictable traits (using beauty as a poison) – Katniss from The hunger Games, Tiffany from Silver Linings Playbook, Jodie Foster in The Accused, Lizbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – somehow Amy fails to join their ranks by failing to avoid stereotypes.

      5) Every film is not only art on it’s own but also exists within the social context – we can’t separate the two and still keep art meaningful. Some of the most acclaimed Chinese cinema came from the socialist era and reflect the struggle between individualism and the state. Film noir movies were dark, pessimistic, and brooding. They reflected the fear and disillusionment of their time. Baroque art was grand and theatrical, representing the opulence and ambition of the rulers. Renaissance art reflected hope and defiance. Gone Girl brings to us a host of female stereotypes in a time when we are struggling to break these, hence the commentary on it being feminist versus misogynist is inevitable. Gillian Flynn herself did not see a story of a woman’s abuse as completely separate and detached from the feminist context.

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      • The day female writers can create female characters without having to worry about the repercussions, is the day feminism will really have won.

        Why shouldn’t a female writer create a negative female character without worrying about how it contributes to negative stereotypes?

        If the world insists on holding on the good woman/evil temptress dichotomy, is the female writer really to be blamed?

        Perfectly normal, non-psychopathic women are scapegoated everyday because men continue to believe in unrealistic and harmful stereotypes.

        If one woman is a bad driver, it means that all three billion of us (probably less) are bad drivers.

        If one Amy Dunn is evil and psychopathic, it means all womankind has these innate traits. If men insist on dealing in stereotypes, as the vast majority do, women’s actual behavior and motivations don’t really matter.

        The male author who created Hannibal Lecter did not spend 24 hours under his covers worrying if he was stereotyping men.

        I mean, despite the appallingly high incidence of sexual violence, do women believe that all men are rapists and predators?

        If women can see past stereotypes about men and treat every man as an individual, why the heck can’t men?

        Why is it that it just takes the writing of ONE negative female character for men to believe that all their fears about women are true, so very true?

        I mean, if men can stereotype women after a lifetime spent with them, after knowing them as friends, lovers, coworkers, neighbours, sisters, wives, daughters, mothers, fellow human beings, then isn’t the problem with men’s thinking?

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        • You basically echoed my thoughts on the matter (in a much better, articulate, understandable way).You raise a super important point here – What one woman does immediately reflects on the collective

          But when I re read Priya’ s post I sort of think that the problem starts with Gillian calling Amy feminist. That comment apparently was apparently a response to people calling her misogynist because she writes such creepy female characters.
          I agree that on a very deep, visceral level, Amy is built from the idea of feminism, but its so deep and so subtle that its almost invisible.
          I wish she hadn’t used that word to describe Amy though.

          Also, The crazy amount of negative attention that Flynn is getting simply for writing a thriller is nuts.How come male writers like say Stephen King for example who write really,really disturbing stuff are never accused of being psycho or misogynist?

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        • “Why shouldn’t a female writer create a negative female character without worrying about how it contributes to negative stereotypes?”

          That’s because for the longest time, no one worried about stereotypes. No one questioned them. We had an excess of them in literature. Now, we see the damaging effects of this on our collective psyche and we are beginning to question it.

          The problem is not with creating evil women or negative stereotypes. The problem lies in caricaturing them. It is not just one psychopathic, destructive female that we need to worry about …. it is countless ones throughout legend and literature,…. be it Medusa, Mary Magdalene, or Lady Macbeth, that are pitted against sweet, compliant characters.

          Women don’t have a monopoly on goodness and a variety of characters definitely makes interesting reading. But, please make them real.

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  9. When I read the book, I didn’t think of all this stuff. I thought it was a very good comment on the messed-upness of marraige as an institution, even in its Western avatar, and how it warps those involved.

    Later I read the feminist critiques, and while I agree, I’m on the fence about whether to take issue with the characterising of Amy as the evil one. I think the points you raised are good ones though. It’s not just Amy, it’s all the female characters. Like Fatal Attraction redux.

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    • Yes, it reminds me of Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, Play Misty for Me – all movies with lethal lovlies like Amy.

      The more real/subtle evil women I like – the Mrs. Danvers character in Rebecca (book and movie), Louise Fletcher in the role of the cold, punitive nurse in ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, and Kathy Bates who plays Misery’s Annie Wilkes.

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      • In our Gender and Philosophy class which is populated by boys who don’t believe feminism needs to be a thing as such, the movie Birdman came up and the female critic (who is not very nice? I haven’t watched the movie). And I suggested that we could look at whether there is a return of the trope of the evil professional woman, such as the ones in the films you mentioned. Miranda Priestly in Devil Wears Prada also came to mind. I don’t know enough about the film scene to comment on whether it’s a trend, in the same way as those films were in the 80s, but it is, it’s appearance alongside MRA, would be interesting to analyze.

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  10. Comment from Utpala Barve:
    (Utpala, posting your comment down here, as our sub-thread is stretching too long.)

    Utapala Barve: “Thanks for the reply…there’s a lot to unpack in the story.
    I’ll start with your fourth point first because my favourite part about Amy is that she isn’t ordinary, she is ‘Amazing Amy’. The beauty as poison thing only works on a specific type of guy. The guy and the girl who rob her at the motel, she never even considers seducing him at that moment, or that her beauty is going to help her any. But the examples that you give of unsympathetic characters…well they just aren’t unsympathetic…who the hell doesn’t root for Katniss? Or lisbeth…she might not be perfect but we are most definitely asked to be on her side. I don’t think the narrative ever asks us to be on Amy’s side…we might accidentally end up cheering for some of her acts or understand some of her motivation…but she is quite clearly the villain. And that’s what I find refreshing…I like my Leslie knopes and my Buffys who are clearly the heroes, and the Carrie Mathesons and Lisbeth salanders who are damaged and problematic and might not behave in ways that are ‘ the norm’ but who are narratively on the side of Good. But Amy Dunne is my Hannibal lector…an immensely enjoyable Villain…and that’s fine too. Which is what I think Gillian Flynn was after.
    As for the stereotypes, it traffics in them for both genders right. And it’s told from the point of view of both Nick and Amy, who are both unreliable narrators. I mean Nick lies to us right within the body of the book. And yet there are definitely 2 good models of womanly behaviour. Are there any for men? Is her father less guilty of cashing in and manipulating his daughter as compared to the mother? Is Nick less culpable in the affair simply because he is telling the story? Is Desi a victim only because he gets killed? Is tanner bolt a good guy because he is a stereotypical charming rogue of a lawyer? Is he not fame hungry as well. Ultimately only Margo comes out well in the whole business. Are these women stereotypes or archetypes? What strangely stood out for me, is that all these women are doers. There are almost none of the meek characters that stand back and do nothing, they are drivers of story and action takers. And maybe these actions are worrisome for men because it is out of their control, which plays into the nightmare scenario reading, but it is hardly passive.
    Social context matters for art, but there is hardly only one reading of it. Baroque was a reaction to the austerity of the late renaissance high mannerism style, and while the art almost overflowed with life, societal rules and regulations were even more restrictive. And genre matters as well. When you traffic in the realm of thrillers and horror, you do cash in on fears. But the absolute impossibility of any woman being that meticulous and that non stop evil gives the lie to the mra scenario.
    About the marriage thing, the disillusion runs on both sides. She resents being the cool girl, but never lies( to us, the readers) about the fact that she is putting on an act. I don’t really see the problem with her rage at Nick, it’s really the scale that’s the problem right…she could have screwed his life in some minor passive aggressive way ( because she does not do confrontation and is very petty…notice spitting in drink when annoyed with the girl in the motel). But because she is built that way, she goes for it.
    Again, could go on and on. I have read both sides of the argument, and her other books stay firmly on the side of very damaged and problematic but rootable for protagnists and deal with non romantic female relationships…but I found the scope and the style of this one more imteresting.

    But if you were to name excellent female villains, who would you name”

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  11. Just chiming in to say that I loved this review. I like the questions you’ve raised. I would have liked this as a ‘story’ in itself, though I wouldn’t relate to the central character. It wouldn’t make a good feminist, reading, though.🙂

    Like

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