MANifestos & manthems

9 March 2010

When Kathryn Bigelow won her Oscar, the orchestra burst into a rendition of “I am Woman, Hear Me Roar.” My friends and I thrust our hands high in the sky from our position on the couch, thrilled that she’d won. And then I thought, “Wait.”

First, there’s the obvious fact that I now know the Helen Reddy song less for its 1970s feel-goodness than for the ironic 2006 Burger King version, which they call the “Manthem”:

Enlightened sexism, anyone? As Susan Douglas brilliantly defines it, this ethos follows the argument that “women have made plenty of progress because of feminism — ideed, full equality has allegedly been achieved. So now it’s okay, even amusing, to resurrect sexist stereotypes of girls and women.” Even better to resurrect funny caveman stereotypes of men who need hamburgers, Dockers, Old Spice, and Axe Body Spray to clarify their über-manliness and ironic sensibility. “Now that they ‘have it all,'” Douglas explains in the voice of the enlightened sexist, women and girls “should focus the bulk of their time and energy on being hot, pleasing men, competing with other women, and shopping.” Meanwhile, men can go primal — ironically, of course, but the effect is the same. As Kjerstin Johnson shows in a Bitch blog post, there’s even a fake-umentary about plummeting testosterone levels and the emasculinization of men in America. Ha ha!

I’m thrilled by Bigelow’s Oscar win. But in this cultural environment of enlightened sexism, it’s hardly a feminist triumph, as Helen Reddy might have desired. It’s all well and good for so many commentators to trumpet the fact that “The Hurt Locker” is a really good dude film (see? women can even direct good films that dudes want to see, not like chick flicks at all!) and that Bigelow has a knack not just for putting together great action scenes but finely-wrought interactions between men.

It’s all about the guys. Who can blame them, in this stifling environment of feminist control, for issuing such a long series of MANifestos and manthems? In the meantime, ladies, get back to the gym!

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