Saturday, August 11, 2012

Today in Misogyny: Killer Joe

[Content note: rape]

So Killer Joe. I hadn't heard of it until I saw it the other day. Holy crap, is it one of the most misogynistic things I've ever seen! I honestly can't stop this movie from flying through my head...and yet, I don't have the energy to write a full review of it. As a film, it might have accomplished the goals it set out to do. I mean, it sure created a super villain in Matthew McConaughey's character so...kudos...?

But what I can't stop fixating on is how little the writer, Tracy Letts, clearly thinks of women. I mean, I have never in my life, seen a more hyperbolic depiction of the virgin/whore dichotomy in a film. Add to that the literal ownership of a woman, the fact that we see every female character naked at least once, and a rape scene involving fried chicken, and you have the utter piece of garbage that is this movie.

The movie--all around--is full of horrible people, but the women get the shit end of the deal. At the end of the day, it was a sexist, classist nightmare that panders to shock value without any real substance to back it up. I just don't even know what else to say.


  1. Agreed. I rarely google issues to find someone who understands any strong feelings that I may have on an issue at any given moment. But here I had to find someone else, and yours was the first. I just googled "Killer Joe" & "misogyny" and yours popped up. Thank you so much-- I will be subscribing to your blogs in the future. I may even be moving to Austin where I have a sister-- I live in Atlanta now and absolutely hate it here!

    1. Hi there! Thanks for stopping by and the kind words.

      When I first saw the movie, I was really disturbed and I had planned to just post links to other feminists writing about it, but somehow I couldn't find any! I have no idea why more people aren't outraged.

      Austin is great :)

  2. I just saw the film yesterday, and I think you may be missing part of the point. The entire film is about the idea of women as property and essentially the notion that women hold a certain place in society, or in a "proper family" or that men can be dominant over women or own them as property. All of these idea are disgusting, and that's why the men in the film are all depicted as disgusting, cowardly psychopaths. You should note that there is not "good guy" here. We're not supposed to root for Joe, we're supposed to be appalled by him.
    I admit that I had the same thoughts regarding misogyny when (SPOILERS AHEAD) all of the blame for the entire issue is placed on the "matriarch" of the family. But at the same time, she's no worse of a person than any other character. She and Dottie are opposite sides of the Virgin/Whore complex that exists in contemporary society. When Joe has Sharla on her knees fellating a chicken leg, it's not sexy or empowering, it's supposed to point out how sickening it is that she's being demeaned like that, and how women in general are demeaned by small-town, "proper family" mentality. There's a reason that scene takes place in a kitchen. It's showing what Joe thinks of women, that they should be in the kitchen or on their knees. This is disgusting, and that's why the film paints it as such.
    Please keep an open mind here, but you may not be finding many feminists outraged about this film because many critics are finding it to be a feminist work, or at least a "Men and male-dominated society are savage psychopaths" film. As a man, I found the film incredibly hard to watch, and if any man doesn't, you should avoid them.
    Here's a review that makes my point a little better than I can. (Bias reveal: I write for this site as well, and the author of this article is my friend, but you should consider his perspective anyway:)

    Please believe me when I say the man who made "The Exorcist" is far, far from being anti-feminist.

    1. You aren't the first person to put forth this argument to me, and I still disagree. (My husband views the film through this lens too. We've talked about it a lot and I just don't see it.)

      I mean, maybe Killer Joe was intended to point out how disgusting all this is--but does it *really* accomplish that? Do most men walk away from the film thinking, "Oh wow, the hyperbolic construction of gender here sure makes me want to treat women better!"...?

      I'd wager not. It's entertainment--entertainment that is gross and uncomfortable for them, but not really sending a counter message. So in that, it is a failure.

      Let me ask you this: how do you reconcile the fact that while the men are as bad as the women in the movie, it is the step mom who gets, by far, the absolute worst comeuppance? To me, it just reeks of misogyny. There's a long history of disproportionate punishments for "bad girls" in our story telling, because women are held to higher moral standards than men. This feels like that.

      And while people might not root for Joe necessarily, I think there sure is a thin line between showing something as disgusting to send a message and exploiting it for shock value. To me, this film falls on the exploitation side of things.

    2. I can certainly see your argument that it doesn't accomplish that which it sets out to do. While "most men" may not walk away understanding that its purpose is to make you want treat women better, some will. I did, the critic in the review I posted did, and your husband did. The problem, where I can see the film failing, is that the men who will understand this are the men most likely to be thinking about these points anyway. A lot of people, unfortunately, don't think about their entertainment,(though I don't think Killer Joe can be called "entertaining") but I don't think it's the films fault if the audience doesn't think about it. It's unlikely that the Men's Rights Crowd will view this as feminist, they will probably view Joe as a hero. That's disgusting, an so are they.

      As far as why the stepmother gets the most comeuppance, there you've got me. (Though I would argue that it's Chris who gets it the worst.) I'd say it's probably because, well, it was her fault, she was the one who set everyone else up to get screwed, but like I said, the fact that it was her fault set off misogynist bells in my head, too. I still don't think the film is as exploitative as you do, I feel that at the very worst it just tries and fails at feminism.

    3. I was already disgruntled with the gender situation overall, but watching the chicken leg scene was so visceral for me that my brain was screaming MISOGYNY and it's hard to work past that. What happened to the step mom just seemed like flat out gender based violence while Chris just got the shit beat out of him.

      I think this is one of those cases where art, a film, a book, what have you--means different things to different people. So neither of us are "wrong." I'm glad the discussion is being had at all.

    4. Agreed.

      If I may be self-promotional for a second, the column I linked to earlier, which I also write for, has developed a sort of reputation for pointing out feminist/gay rights subtexts in contemporary film, and I was wondering what your opinion was of Ruby Sparks?

      Here's my take:

  3. Ah, crap, I accidentally skipped your second paragraph, where you mention the virgin/whore complex. Oh well, I still hold that this film does not paint any of these as being remotely positive or good things.

  4. I don't see this movie as specifically act of violence against a woman, while as tragic as any act of violence against anyone, is not always an act of violence against all women. In the movie, Joe punished Sharla not because he hated her or had a hatred of all women, but because she was part of a plan that cost him his fee. Yes he humiliated her with the chicken leg scene (which was disturbing) but I think that was more for Ansel's benefit since she had just been outed for not only betraying the Ansel and Chris to certain murder (by Joe or the drug dealers) but was also unfaithful to Ansel).


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