A Thank You Letter to Guillermo del Toro for “Pacific Rim”

*Editor’s Note: This is a spoil-heavy post; I suggest waiting till you’ve seen the film before reading this.

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Dear Mr. Del Toro:

 

I am writing this letter to thank you for populating the world of Pacific Rim with people of variety, equality, and difference.

Thank you for a film where men are allowed to be both physically strong and emotionally expressive. The world of Pacific Rim includes brothers, fathers, and sons who vocalize pride (and the occasional bit of chagrin) with each other. 

Thank you for a world populated with people of different races and nationalities, and for not including a single joke or line that undermines any of their personal power. In fact, race is never discussed in Pacific Rim. It’s not even a factor. Instead you give us Stacker Pentecost, played by Idris Elba, a black man who is both military commander and loving father to his adopted daughter, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). It’s a pleasure (and rarity) to see any diversity on screen, and particularly for it not to matter a damn iota to the characters depicted on screen. 

Thank you for including strong female characters in Pacific Rim. Admittedly, this beautiful picture would not pass the Bechdel Test, because there are no interactions between female characters. However, your representation of women in this film matters in great part because of what is missing: any discussion of their gender. There are two female pilots in this film: Mako and the Russian Lt. A. Kaidanovsky (Heather Doerksen). They may never interact with each other, but there are also no conversations between other characters about how they can’t do their jobs or how hot they look in their pilots uniforms. Indeed, the only time gender is even brought up is when Mako is referred to as a “bitch,” and this is done in a moment of tension and disapproved of. It’s the only gender-infused insult in the film, and it comes not after she sleeps around or cheats on someone, but after she fails her first test run as a pilot. In fact, the insult cuts so deep because it’s the only gendered moment among the pilots, and thus it’s out of place in the Jaeger-pilot world.

Thank you for your depiction of Mako, a woman both capable of great emotion and great physical strength. Yes, she is motivated by a sense of revenge, and yes, she often has a tear in her eye, but she is also able to overcome her metaphorical demons (mentally) in order to overcome some literal demons (physically). She is one of the best recruits for the pilot program, and we get to watch her kick some serious ass with a bow staff. 

Thank you for not making Mako a typical action hero female: a character relegated to the sidelines so that she may be lusted after and later rescued by the hero. Instead you tell us her story and make her as equally damaged (and as equally important to the plot) as her co-pilot, Raleigh Becker (Charlie Hunnam). They have each lost something, and their stories are given equal weight. They share the burdens of the past and the present equally. It’s an equality rarely seen in action films (or indeed, any major Hollywood films of late).

Thank you for never suggesting that Mako’s power lies in her ability to be sexy or flirtatious, but instead in her actual physical strength and the power of her mind. You don’t subject us to gratuitous images of Mako in her underwear or undressing. She and our hero never sleep together. They are bonded by shared terrors, by present fears, and they are literally “compatible” with each other because of their brains–it’s their mental compatibility that makes them good co-pilots.

And thank you, thank you, thank you for that ending, which emphasizes their bond as co-pilots and equals–as two people who save the world, and who care for and respect each other. Thank you for giving us a moment of pure male-female friendship, bonding, and appreciation, without insisting that the bond exist because of sexual and romantic chemistry. The lack of a kiss is a most satisfying absence.

Thank you, Mr. del Toro, for creating a cinematic world that is vivid, beautiful, and terrifying. Pacific Rim was a real film experience, and–monsters aside–it was a world I could really get behind.

 

Sincerely,

Reel Feminist

 

What Manic Pixie Dream Girl?

There are few cinematic terms I despise as much as the phrase “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” (MPDG for short).  My problems with this term are legion, so first off let’s have a little history.  Nathan Rabin coined the term when describing Kirsten Dunst’s character ‘Claire’ in the Cameron Crowe film Elizabethtown.  According to Rabin, Dunst epitomizes the MPDG, a female character who “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”  These women are describes as bubbly, childlike muses who exist solely to inspire a male protagonist, encouraging him to embrace and enjoy life.

The MPDG is one of those cinematic terms that was assimilated as soon as it was uttered; a lot of people accepted its existence as fact immediately, as if Rabin’s term was absolute and not to be questioned.  No one seems to care if it’s a particularly useful or accurate term.  The AV Club (which originally featured Rabin’s Elizabethtown review) later published a list of “16 Films Featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls.”

The problem is that I don’t think the MPDG even exists.  The AV Club and other websites have spent a lot of energy chasing rainbows, trying to chronicle a supposed Grand History of MPDGs in Cinema, supposedly proving this trope exists by shoehorning some of film history’s most notable female characters—from Diane Keaton’s eponymous Annie Hall and Kate Winslet’s Clementine (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) to Katharine Hepburn’s Susan (Bringing Up Baby)–into this category.  I can’t possibly think what Claire in Elizabethtown has in common with Annie Hall, except perhaps that they’ve both fallen for neurotic men.  Indeed, if these women represent the MPDG, perhaps we could just as easily dub Orlando Bloom’s’Drew Baylor’ and Woody Allen’s ‘Alvy Singer’ the archetypal Neurotic Suicidal Boyfriends.  Or would that be reductive?

Yes, there are characters like Claire in Elizabethtown, who are childlike and irreverent.  However, not all of the characters considered MPDGs are as one-dimensional as Rabin would have you believe.  The MPDG is not an archetype, but is instead a failure by screenwriters to create multidimensional and realistic female characters.  She represents a lack of interest by screenwriters and directors to develop nuanced and complicated depictions of women on screen, when cardboard cutout women who merely stand, look pretty, and say compelling things would do just fine.  Because, lest we forget it, this is not our story: it’s the male protagonist’s story.  Elizabethtown, for example, is the story of how a suicidal man’s life is saved, not how one girl actively choses to do the saving.

 

The inclusion of so many complicated, strong female characters on these lists illustrate just how arbitrary and useless the definition of the MPDG really is, and how people eager to verify this term via example are actually misreading and/or oversimplifying complex female characters.  Many MPDG lists wrongly include Clementine from Eternal Sunshine, and Summer from 500 Days of Summer.  Clementine, for example, is explicitly not a MPDG: her character actually turns to the male protagonist of the film and says “Too many guys think I’m a concept, or I complete them, or I’m gonna make them alive. But I’m just a fucked-up girl who’s lookin’ for my own peace of mind; don’t assign me yours.”  She explicitly tells Joel (and the viewer) that she is just a girl—she is no MPDG–and yet here we are literally assigning to that character the very thing she makes a point of rejecting.

It’s the same problem with 500 Days of Summer—people imagine that Summer is some quirky girl meant to cheer up and reinvigorate the depressed male protagonist, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s ‘Tom’.  In reality, the crux of the film is that Tom not only has to take control of his own life, but that he wrongly imagines Summer is his own personal MPDG.  In fact, director Marc Webb was asked specifically whether Summer was an MPDG and denied it, noting: “That is one of the codes of the movie. He falls in love not with her but the idea of her.”

It’s not bad enough that Hollywood chooses to make men the protagonists of most movies.  No, we as viewers have to oversimplify and quantify some of our most well-drawn, unique, and complicated portrayals of women on screen.  Labelling Annie Hall, Clementine, and other female characters as MPDGs serves as a means of dismissing them.  They are written off as manic (emotional) pixie (troublesome) dream (imaginary) girls (not women). In other words, the application of the term MPDG to a breadth of female characters serves as a means of highlighting the many one-note representations of women on screen, while simultaneously reducing any richer female characters to supposed one-dimensionality.  MPDG is a term used to turn women into girls, characters into quirks.  Ultimately, just as Tom did to Summer, American pop culture writers, theorists, and film viewers alike have fallen in love with the idea of the MPDG, when in reality she doesn’t exist.

The Women of “Castle”

My roommate and I have watched virtually every episode of “Castle” together.  We sit on the futon in our small apartment, humming (and snapping our fingers) to the theme music and trying to guess whodunit each week.  As ardent “Firefly” fans, we first tuned in to “Castle” because it stars Nathan Fillion.  As the shows’ namesake, Fillion’s Richard Castle is a witty, charming, and boyish mystery writer who teams up with the NYPD to solve crimes.  Fillion is as winning as ever in this role, but this post is not a love letter to him (I suspect he receives enough of those in the mail already), but rather a love letter to the show’s ensemble of female characters.  The women of “Castle” are some of the most well-drawn and complex female characters on television today; while many prime time shows are populated by glamorous housewives and sexy teens making bad choices, “Castle” is populated by strong, multifaceted, independent women.

Detective Kate Beckett

Castle’s counterpart on the show is Detective Kate Beckett, played with great nuance by Stana Katic.  Beckett is one of the youngest women to become a homicide detective in the NYPD.  She is beautiful, yes, but this matters less than her incredible intelligence, strength, and morality.  She believes in the sanctity of the law, and each week she acts as the methodical, logical counterpoint to Castle’s wonderfully spontaneous and silly self.  We see her chase down criminals, expertly interrogate them, and put them behind bars.  She is a woman in a predominantly male environment, but she doesn’t just hold her own–she commands respect.

Beckett’s best friend is Lanie Parish (Tamala Jones), a smart and sarcastic Medical Examiner who also works for the NYPD.  Like Beckett, Lanie works in an occupation often perceived of as man’s work.  Career-driven women are often portrayed as (to quote the 2004 Stepford Wives) “high-powered, neurotic, castrating, Manhattan career bitches.”  Lanie and Beckett are certainly high-powered, but they are perfectly logical and sane.  They do not succeed by metaphorically castrating, but by working in tandem with their equally intelligent male coworkers–their strength does not come at the expense of others.

Lanie excels in her field, but she also balances her work with a personal life, dating Detective Javier Esposito (Jon Huertas).  Yet Lanie does not fall into either of the two major traps for career-driven women in relationships on screen: she is not controlled or overwhelmed by her love, nor is she punished for her work ethic.  Many female characters on television (I’m looking at you Meredith Grey) date coworkers and are governed by their feelings, allowing their emotions to affect their work.  Lanie keeps her feelings from impacting her job, however, and keeps her personal life off the clock.

It is also refreshing to watch a show where women are portrayed as professionals capable of real, intimate female friendship.  Women on screen are often portrayed (to use a term I despise) as frenemies a la “Gossip Girl”–they are in bitter competition with each other, and will harm each other to succeed.   Lanie and Beckett, however, are fiercely loyal friends; what’s more, they also maintain friendships with the male members of the NYPD, namely Lanie’s boyfriend Esposito, and his partner, Detective Kevin Ryan (Seamus Dever).  The gender lines are not drawn in “Castle”–people are people, cops are cops, and everyone respects their colleagues.  Esposito and Ryan (played with warmth and expert comic timing by Huertas and Dever) are respectful of their coworkers, and work in tandem with Lanie, Beckett, and Castle.

A moment between father and daughter

One of the best surprises of “Castle” is its portrayal of the father-daughter relationship.  One of my favorite characters in the ensemble is Castle’s teenage daughter, Alexis (Molly Quinn).  Along with Richard’s mother, Martha Rodgers (Susan Sullivan), Alexis lives with Castle in his Manhattan apartment.  The two women serve as Castle’s sounding boards and voices of wisdom.  It’s refreshing to see a teenage girl on screen who isn’t a boy-crazy sex fiend or drunken socialite who hates her parents.  Alexis and Castle have a loving relationship, and Quinn plays Alexis expertly as an honest and kind old soul.

Although I started watching “Castle” because of Nathan Fillion, I’ve stuck around for both him and his costars.  The writers and actors of “Castle” illustrate that women on screen need not be cardboard cutouts of slutty teens, love-sick sad-sacks, or vindictive bitches.  Castle may be, as he notes, “ruggedly handsome,” but Kate Beckett is a bad ass, and so, so much more.

Leading Ladies

I first saw Leading Ladies a little over a year ago, when it screened as part of the 2010 lineup of New York City’s LGBT film festival, Newfest.  Enamored with the film, I interviewed one half of its directing team, Erika Randall Beahm (who co-directed the film with her husband, Daniel Beahm) for a piece originally featured in the now disbanded and archived online feminist collective, Elevate Difference (formerly Feminist Review).*  Leading Ladies continues its festival circuit, appearing next at the Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival on September 9th, and is now available on DVD.

It may seem quite an impossibility, but the film Leading Ladies is, simply put, a quietly revolutionary dance musical. While most dance musicals (think Dirty Dancing, Save the Last Dance) center on the boy-meets-girl heterosexual love match, Leading Ladies is a beautifully wrought girl-meets-girl story. It is simultaneously a dance musical, coming-of-age story, and coming-out narrative. The power of the film comes from its ability to maintain the generic conventions of the story while completely rejecting the hetero-normativity that is typically the narrative thrust of the genre. What’s perhaps even more amazing is that Leading Ladies succeeds at thwarting convention within a conventional structure while simultaneously being a whole lot of damn fun. Lesser films would sink under such weight.

Helmed by first-time directors Erika Randall Beahm and Daniel Beahm, this joyous film tells the story of the Campari women. The matriarch of the family is ballroom-dancing stage mom Sheri, played by Latin and Ballroom Champion Melanie LaPatin. Sheri has two daughters: like-minded drama queen and dancing champion Tasi (Shannon Lea Smith), and Toni (Laurel Vail), Tasi’s practice partner and the wallflower of the family. The film centers on Toni’s relationships, particularly with the emotionally volatile Tasi, and an unexpected romantic attachment to Mona (Nicole Dionne), a bubbly and outgoing woman Toni meets at a dance club. While LaPatin’s acting is a bit stiff, Smith’s neurotic and self-obsessed Tasi is played to high-pitched perfection. Vail might be the real star of this film, however, as she says more with her eyes than many actors can express with a word. She artfully plays the Ugly Duckling, the quiet witness to familial squabbles and the glue that keeps the Camparis together.

Leading Ladies has an ebb-and-flow, alternating between slow and quietly stirring scenes and vibrant, fast-paced dance numbers (most notably a hysterical and boisterous number set in a grocery store). The heart of this film beats loudly and quickly, and it leaves the viewer invigorated and deeply moved. To learn more about her hopes for the film, its generative process, and the ideological concerns that lead to its creation, I recently spoke with co-director Erika Randall Beahm.

Beahm co-wrote the film with Jennifer Bechtel, a friend and LGBT youth advocate in Champaign, Illinois, and Bechtel was struggling to find mainstream films that spoke to the young gay community. As Bechtel and Beahm perceived it, most gay and lesbian cinema tends towards violence or explicitness, while mainstream cinema features gay characters as “the sidekick.” Beahm and Bechtel thus sought to create a “family-centered gay and lesbian film for the mainstream market.” Their hope is that Leading Ladies provides gay youth with a positive portrayal of gay romantic love and thus “open a dialogue within themselves” and perhaps between gay youth and their families.

The film eschews aggressive and explicit representations of gay love for a romantic and “joyful falling in love which… straight kids get to experience in movies all the time.” Indeed, Leading Ladies treats its same-sex couple as any movie musicals’ heterosexual pairing: they meet, they dance, they fall in love. The romance is beautifully articulated through an artful juxtaposition of two dance sequences. Toni and Mona’s meeting is shot like a typical dance movie sequence—bright lights, loud music, and overhead shots looking down on the dancers. This film could be Dirty Dancing, if it weren’t for the same-sex couples dancing on stage and in the audience. Indeed, this is the goal of the film: to illustrate that dance (and by extension, romance and love) is the same for same-sex couples as it is for heterosexual partners. Toni leads Mona through a raucous, enthusiastic dance, and as convention dictates, the two find love while dancing. In a beautiful inversion of this sequence, we next find Toni in Mona’s lush apartment, where the more romantically experienced Mona takes the lead in the dance of romance. The lovers’ embrace is gorgeously shot in sensual blush tones and shadow.

For choreographer and dancer Beahm and youth musical programmer Bechtel, dance served as an obvious choice of backdrop for the love story. Beahm choreographed the film’s dances with Melanie LaPatin and Benji Schwimmer, the former So You Think You Can Dance! winner who also plays Toni’s best friend in the film. For Beahm, dance has an inherently transformative power: “There’s this kind of kinesthesia with dance that gets people to literally be moved on a physical level, and I believe also on an emotional and intellectual level.” The love scene between Mona and Toni, for example, is highly choreographed to match the non-diegetic music; Beahm suggests that this emphasis on “energy shifts… and the musicality” of the scene helps the spectator “lose sight of this being a gendered duet, and it just becomes two people moving together, falling in love.”

By emphasizing the movement and musicality of the scene, then, Beahm hopes to ease the fear of spectators who are uncomfortable with same-sex coupling and perhaps open a space for internal dialogue within the spectator: “For people who might have a hard time seeing two women… make out, it becomes this kind of transference of two bodies going through these really emotional and tender but also choreographed spaces, and so gender becomes less important.” By shifting the spectator’s focus from gender distinction to the movement of the body the film illustrates how little gender matters and how love—like dance—is a universal language. Thus the film utilizes dance to open up a space for shifting “people out of the fear they may feel if they’re watching from an outside perspective.”

Though the idea of dance as a catalyst to ideological and personal transformation may seem unusual, Beahm is quick to point out that dance has often added a “queer element” to the movie musical. In West Side Story, for example, the spectator sees groups of men “snapping and skipping” and yet the dance isn’t “sexualized, it’s charged and it’s activated.” Dancing is particularly subversive in moments of unison dancing, she suggests, when members of both sexes dance the same movements, suggesting a unity of the sexes and the democratization of the body. Leading Ladies takes this democratization one step further, rejecting the hetero-normative ballroom dance structure of male lead and female follow and replacing it with same-sex couplings. In doing so, Beahm simultaneously feeds off of the democratizing nature of dance while rejecting the rules of a dance form that reinforces gendered performance.

It is the inherent queerness in dance that Beahm finds so appealing and in tune with her views on feminism. For her, dance and feminism are “compatible” because they are both “hard to pin down” terms; their “slipperiness” as terms allows them to create spaces for dialogue and questioning. She likes her feminism to work “from the inside out,” enjoying the notion of becoming part of a system, and breaking it down from within. This is why her personal mantra is the cheeky suggestion to “wear pearls to the country club and then talk dirty.” Ultimately, Leading Ladies represents a filmic expression of this mantra—by placing non-conventional characters within a conventional generic structure, the film wears its pearls but then lets out a glorious, enthusiastic expletive as it sits down to dinner. Swearing has never been so much fun.

* My thanks to the editorial collective, particularly Mandy Van Deven, for allowing me to re-post this review, and for providing a space for constructive and instructive discussions of difference.

“Hail to the V”: A Second Look

Last week I posted a response to the Summer’s Eve ad campaign “Hail to the V,” focusing on the television spot “The V.”  This week I take a longer look at the full campaign, including magazine and web ads, and the Summer’s Eve website. While my post last week centered on “The V,” news outlets, blogs, and even comedy television shows (thank you, Stephen Colbert) have been abuzz with their distaste for the campaign’s other ads.  These ads have since been pulled from rotation after complaints of sexism and racism.  Thanks to Adweek.com, you can watch them here.

The ads feature hands acting as virtual, ahem, vagina puppets speaking to their owners(?) about vaginal care. The most offensive ads feature a black and Hispanic character; the Hispanic character says “Ay-yi-yi” and breaks into Spanish partway through the commercial, while the black character talks about hair maintenance and says things like “Lady Wowza.”  I’m pretty sure the racist elements speak for themselves–I can’t imagine someone watching these ads and not being offended.  The ad agency responsible for the campaign, The Richards Group, responded to inquiries from Adweek.com saying, “We are surprised that some have found the online videos racially stereotypical. We never intended anything other than to make the videos relatable, and our in house multi-cutural experts confirmed the approach.”  I’ll give the ad agency a little bit of credit here–they tried to inject a taboo subject with a little whimsy and cheeky humor–but vagina puppetry is something that, as Stephen Colbert put it, “you can’t unsee”, and I can’t believe that The Richards Group saw nothing wrong with a black vagina sporting an Afro and talking about “my boo.”

The racist ads have since been pulled from the Summer’s Eve website, though a white talking vagina still welcomes visitors to the page while referring to itself as “the wonder from down under.”  The website itself has some actually helpful and redeeming aspects, including segments that provide information about vaginal health.  The “ID the V” section allows the user to test their knowledge of the female genitalia by naming its parts, while the “Get Educated” section has a fun (albeit horribly named) “Vagina Owner’s Manual” that explains how best to keep your vagina healthy, what happens during pregnancy, and even encourages women to see their gynecologist for a yearly exam.  The website also includes an article called “The Vagina–Shifting the Conversation From Taboo to Celebrated,” by Dr. Carla Stokes, who runs a non-profit focused on empowering young girls. (According to this press release, Dr. Stokes is a “partner” in the brand.) Perhaps the Summer’s Eve people should have taken their own quiz, however, since the products they advertise are meant for use on the vulva, and not in the vagina.  As this fantastic article articulates, “Regardless of what one might think about the value of or necessity for these femcare products, an advertising campaign for such products must convey accurate information. Like where to use them.”

Unfortunately, the website does all the (vagina) talking but none of the walking.  It reinforces the taboo it pretends to reject by disembodying and mystifying the female sex organ, and placing its power squarely within its ability to arouse the opposite sex.  It’s not particularly empowering to praise the vagina for its ability to “make men drop to their knees.”  Statements like these imbue women with value only through their relationship to–and indeed, the denigration of–the opposite sex, and in relation to the sex act itself.  (Statements like this also negate or, at the very least, ignore alternative sexualities.  The website does not mention lesbian or bisexual health or sexual activity.) Advertisements like the one here, featuring Helen of Troy, suggest that her impact in mythology is due to her genitals–that not simply her beauty (or god forbid, something like her intelligence or sense of humor) would be enough to earn her a place in mythology.  Furthermore, the tone of the ad suggests that women should be proud of the vagina’s ability to yield violence among men (an idea furthered in the “The V” advertisement discussed previously.)  The equation of sexuality and violence is troubling, to say the least.

Ultimately, Summer’s Eve is trying to pull a fast one on consumers, using pseudo-feminist rhetoric to imply that being a woman is simultaneously awesome and also requires a regular dose of ‘freshening up.’  Your vagina may help launch a thousand ships, but it’s still damn dirty.  And that’s the real shame in the “Hail to the V” campaign.

An Examination of the “Hail to the V” Campaign

*This post is the first in a series on the new ad campaign from Summer’s Eve.

Recently I was made aware of the newest ad campaign for the Summer’s Eve feminine products line, entitled “Hail to the V.” I learned about this campaign after a female family member called me to tell me about the “offensive” ad she had just seen with her husband; she asked if I, the “resident feminist” of the family, also found the campaign offensive.  (I do.)

The commercial shows us a series of supposedly powerful women through time–a Cro-Magnon woman holding a baby, a Cleopatra figure standing before a cheering crowd, an Asian woman watching two men fighting for her, and a Medeival-era princess character overseeing a joust.  The Carmina Burana-esque music tells the viewer this is an epic–a tale of events that have occurred throughout history.  The following is the full text:

“It’s the cradle of life.  It’s the center of civilization.  Over the ages, and throughout the world, men have fought for it, battled for it, even died for it.  One might say it’s the most powerful thing on Earth.  So come ladies, show it a little love!  Cleansing washing cloths from Summer’s Eve: Hail to the V.”

What is this thing that men are willing to kill for? Vagina.

According to a statement by Angela Bryant, the director of feminine care for Summer’s Eve, the campaign is about “empowerment, changing the way women may think of the brand, and removing longstanding stigmas: Summer’s Eve is not a means to confidence, rather it’s a celebration of confidence, of being a woman, and taking care of their bodies.” Bryant is speaking here of the full campaign, which includes print ads, this television spot, and a website accessible here.  (I should note that some of the problems discussed regarding the television ad are handled more satisfyingly by the website; I will discuss this in my next blog post.) Bryant is right to identify the stigmas associated with female genitalia–in many cultures it is considered taboo to talk about female genitalia, sexual pleasure, and menstruation. The silence surrounding the vagina leads to its mystification–it is foreign, unknown, unthinkable.

In theory, speaking about the pleasure and power of the vagina can mitigate its taboo-ness. Simply speaking about the taboo is not helpful, however, when the words spoken are not chosen carefully.  Though you could argue that the obvious confidence of the women depicted represents a rejection of “longstanding stigmas,” the message of “empowerment” is depleted by the commercials obvious reinforcement of the mystification of the woman and female genitalia.  The tagline “Hail to the V” asks the viewer to essentially worship the vagina, an idea that is certainly prevalent in popular culture (I’m reminded of a scene in The 40 Year Old Virgin when the title character is told he is “putting the pussy on a pedestal.”)  While I’m certainly not offended by the idea of appreciating a woman, I do take offense to the ideas that 1) she should be appreciated for her genitalia, specifically, and 2) her genitalia should be worshiped as this unknowable “it”. By centering on the vagina itself, the sense of the whole woman is lost; it is not the woman who is “the most powerful thing on Earth,” but merely her sexual organ. The women depicted are devoid of strength, personality–indeed, personhood–and are represented merely as bearers of powerful sex organs.

There’s something inherently, well, icky about the whole thing.  The women in this commercial are celebrating the fact that their vaginas are apparently so incredible that men will kill each other for…what exactly? The beauty of the vagina? Its ability to create life? Or, more likely, the chance to have sex with it?  After all, the commercial isn’t really selling the power of “it,” but of what “it” can do.  What Summer’s Eve is really saying is that men have been fighting over the chance to have sex with pretty women’s vaginas for centuries.  The vagina–and therefore the woman it represents–derives its power from the woman’s refusal or acceptance of a male sexual partner.  Not a particularly empowering sentiment, is it?

And can we talk about the fact that all of the men in this commercial are trying to prove their right to access our vaginas by attacking each other with giant phalluses?  Or the implication that women will grant access to their vaginas to men who successfully kill the other men vying for access rights?  Is this, as Summer’s Eve wants us to believe, woman power?

No thanks, Summer’s Eve–I prefer using my vagina for good.