I first wrote this at the beginning of August 2014. For various reasons, I’ve sat on it until now.
So let me just drop it into the Friday night news hole…
Imagine that you dearly love, absolutely crave, a particular kind of food. There are some places in town that do this particular cuisine just amazingly. Lots of people who are into this kind of food hold these restaurants in high regard. But let’s say, at every single one of these places, every now and then throughout the meal, at random moments, the waiter comes over and punches any women at the table right in the face. And people of color and/or LGBT folks as well!– Ann Leckie, 21 October 2013
It is good to once again be among friends. You, Quill, are my friend. This dumb tree is also my friend. And this green whore is also —
– Drax the Destroyer, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
So what I learned from Guardians of the Galaxy is that space is full of white people and blue people and green people and red people and red-blue people, but apart from cyborg Djimon Hounsou and one or two minor extras, space has no black people.*
*This is not okay. Seriously. Not okay.
I also learned that women will be called “whore” regardless of their behaviour. There’s nothing wrong with sex work, or with sleeping around. But when Drax, a character who (we’re told) doesn’t understand metaphor, refers to Gamora (a character who’s refused the only sexual advances she’s been offered, and whose characterisation is heavy on the badass killing-people skills and light on sex) as a whore, it performs a neat subliminal perceptual trick: it renders invisible any distinction between woman and whore as categories. This is, mind you, a perceptual trick that the sexist cultures we’re all swimming in have been trying to pull on you your whole life: women are, as a default position, assumed to be both sexually available to straight men and using sex for personal gain. In Guardians of the Galaxy, Drax (and thus Guardians’ director and writers) just makes it explicit. Gamora’s a woman (albeit a green one); therefore she’s a whore.*
This was the point in the film at which I stopped enjoying it. Don’t get me wrong: up to this point, I was perfectly prepared to trade a background nagging dissatisfaction with the film’s narrative (and costume, and casting) choices in exchange for a fun piece of nonsense spectacle filled with explosions, good CGI, and decent comedy.
And then whore punched me in the face.
It’s rather hard to get back into the swing of enjoying fun spectacle after that. The film’s just hit you over the head with the fact that you don’t matter, except as part of the sex class: that no matter what you do, you exist to be sexually available. Whore.
And all my nagging dissatisfactions marched up to the forefront, banners trailing and bayonets fixed, and I sat through Guardians’ conclusion in tooth-gritted silence, so as not to spoil the cinema experience for my mother.
Because I’ve seen two films in the cinema this summer, Edge of Tomorrow and Guardians of the Galaxy. Both of them expensive pieces of fun explosive entertainment, but both of them place a bland, boring, pallid Everyman in the central narrative role, and focus on him over female characters who are, quite frankly, more interesting – and whose stories would make for less blandly predictable movie-going experiences. (Although Edge of Tomorrow, at least, avoided the face-punch of whore, and had a stronger narrative edge than Guardians.) Because let’s be honest: Gamora, the racoon, and Groot, are the most interesting characters in Guardians, and Gamora is shamefully underemployed.
Quill is blandface Everyboy with a tragic childhood, decent fashion sense, and complete sexual incontinence, who stumbles accidentally into Matters Of Galaxy-Destroying Import, while Drax’s character basically boils down to WOMEN IN REFRIDGERATORS MUST BE AVENGED – but in Gamora and her sister Nebula and their relationship with each other, with Ronan, and with their father-creator Thanos, there’s the essence of a really juicy story, one that arises from character and situation and could maybe make something of a thematic argument about abusive families.
Instead we’re supposed to believe in some sort of romance between Quill and Gamora The Badass Assassin, and substitute a couple of brief fight-scene encounters between Gamora and Nebula for any development or resolution of that character arc. I wasn’t all too keen on this as a narrative decision before WHORE.
After… Well, I’m pissed. I’m really, inexpressibly pissed. Because okay, half a loaf is better than no bread, and I’ll take a film with an underutilised Only Girl over no female characters at all – but I am so goddamned tired of going to Films With Explosions in them knowing in advance they will always be about the same type of person, and having to go braced for the reminder that hey, the people who made this film don’t give a shit for anyone who’s not the White Male Audience.
That reminder – the moment of WHORE – is always the moment where it’s brought home that not only will this never be your story, that not only will you never get to see yourself in the hero/wish-fulfillment role, but also that the most important thing about you is how guys see your body: something available, something to be used. Something – though Guardians of the Galaxy only goes here in mentions of Drax’s family and by implication with Carina, the Collector’s barely-named servant – to be destroyed or to be rendered abject to serve the purposes of the men around them.
Fuck that, guys. It’s boring.