I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts (…or the Patriarchy)


During Kate McKinnon’s performance as Dr. Jillian Holtzmann– exactly at the moment where she is double-fisting guns and blowing up zombie pilgrims -I realized it’s truly an amazing time to be a woman.

I can explain.

I know that I am an American, and I’ve been educated, and given opportunities that are not afforded to millions of women around the world. In other places girls are abused, murdered, raped, put in chains, enslaved. They disappear into the clutches of Boko Haram, they are chained up in child labor factories, they suffer in silence in painful marriages or disgusting living situations. I’m not trying to make light of these facts.

But, the truth is, the reality of the dominance of male dominance, has not really changed in, let’s be generous- 1,000 years. No, not long enough. 5,000 years? No, okay, maybe we have to go back 7,589 years, but the point is, this patriarchal bullshit has been going on for awhile. I just like to think films like this are a symptom, heralding a global change, even if it takes another 100 years.

In America, in 2016, we have a woman running for president, and hell yes folks, she is very probably going to win. We have parents who are outraged when Gap runs campaigns highlighting “your little (boy) Einstein” and “your little (girl) social butterfly”. They are outraged because they want their daughters to be just as supported and encouraged to wear Spiderman makeup, as well as princess makeup. And we have a major blockbuster movie, a remake of a beloved franchise, that’s fun and entertaining with all-female leads, that spend 95% of their time covered up. Not one bikini makes an appearance. #spoilers

Is the Ghostbusters reboot 100% as fun as the original? I don’t know if you can make a straight comparison. I never saw Ghostbusters 1.0 in theaters, just on VHS. I know I loved it then, and there was a kookiness to the camaraderie of the cast that carried the film, along with its cheesy special effects. But from the standpoint of the moviegoer experience (maybe not from the view of the continuity fetishist), Ghostbusters 2.0 didn’t disappoint.

And maybe it’s me, but it’s rare to go to an action film where I sit on the edge of my seat with my eyes wide and think “Oh, yeah, totally, I want to be her.” By her, I mean Kate McKinnon.

Of course there are other female leads in other movies that get the audience’s attention. That’s because the Black Widow is Scarlett Johannson and come on, as much as it would be great to have her figure, I don’t. She plays femme fatales, women with superpowers…she made a cell phone seem sultry and seductive.

But Kate McKinnon plays a kooky, somewhat-unhinged genius whose hair can’t figure out what to do, who stomps around in jumpsuits and boots and the weirdest set of glasses I’ve ever seen (those can’t be comfortable!) and struggles to genuinely, honestly speak to other people and YES YES I CAN RELATE TO ALL OF THAT, SIGN ME UP AND TAKE MY MONEY.

…Ahem. I guess I can’t really relate to being a genius, but, I don’t always know how to express femininity the way society seems to expect me to. Sometimes my hair is its own entity. Sometimes I dance inappropriately with combustibles. Sometimes I struggle to say what I mean. Sometimes, I am not perfect, and it was such a great moment to have a female character who wasn’t perfect- and at no point do any of the women get a makeover to “fix” themselves, or have to apologize for being exactly who they are*.

I love watching classic films. His Girl Friday is my current favorite, and by no means is it a feminist triumph. A woman who has divorced her ex because he dominated her career and made too many decisions for her (treating her like his manservant Friday, which the film title references), and #spoilers, she ends up remarrying that same douchey ex just as the credits roll over him falling back into the exact same behaviors.

But what I like about His Girl Friday is that the movie opens with the premise that she tried to assert herself. She did leave him, and she did go and create a life for herself. Considering the era in which it was made, it was forgivable that the ending was what it was, but for it to even begin in such a way was, I think, a major step for women in the media. Look! An example of a woman who didn’t need a man!

And now we have a movie about four women who, at no point, ever needed a man and only sort-of deign to rescue one. (Yes, that one is Chris Hemsworth, and yes, he gets more uninterrupted screen time in the film credits than he does in the entirety of the movie.) It’s a movie that makes me, a thirty-year old woman, feel like she has people to admire on screen.

Diversity (both ethnic and gendered) was a short-lived fad in the 90’s; I remember it in cartoons. I remember the Ghostbusters cartoon, and then its sequel, the Extreme Ghostbusters, which included a girl, and a guy in a wheelchair. Sadly, these efforts were ahead of their time, and also skewed to an older, more teen-edgy-punk-horror audience. But those ill-fated experiments in 1997 are such obvious choices today.

It’s not really that Ghostbusters is that groundbreaking of a movie. It wasn’t the most perfect film I had ever seen; there were continuity errors out the wazoo, and it drove me crazy. But while watching it I realized in the future, girls can grow up to be women and be programmers and astronauts and President and professional soccer players and it will not be a big deal.

When I was very young, we were visiting my grandmother in a nursing home. There was a black man, and a black woman, in their uniforms behind the counter. My parents left me with them while they went to speak to a doctor about my grandmother. There was a second of awkwardness while they stared at me (about 7 decades younger than their usual patients) and I stared at them.

“You’re the doctor,” I pointed to the man. He shook his head. “I’m a nurse,” he responded.

“Nope!” I corrected him, with every bit of authority a six year old has. I pointed at the woman for emphasis. “You’re the nurse,” and then back at him, “and you’re the doctor.”

Looking back on it, that woman looked pissed. And rightfully so. I was an irritating little brat sitting in her work space, promoting the guy right next to her for no reason other than in my extremely conditioned little brain, men = doctors and women = nurses.

But I don’t think kids make that mistake anymore…and they don’t have to be afraid of no ghosts.

Yes. So much yes.


*You can argue that the character of Abby has to defend her beliefs to the dean at Princeton, but, that’s more of a plot point than I want to divulge, so I’ll leave it alone.


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