Since Harvey Weinstein has been exposed for the alleged monster Hollywood had long suspected him to be, women from all walks of life have bravely come forward to tell their stories. As more come forward with their experiences, I’ve found it hard to ignore the fact that the glass ceiling has started to crack. Perhaps it because it’s been steadily buckling under the weight of male oppressors, but it could also be because women have slowly been absorbing the innate messages the media has always sent to men: Fight for what you want!
There is a subtle undertone of this in fourth wave feminism. The definition of fourth wave feminism is really up for debate. In a 2009 New York Times interview, Feministing founder Jessica Valenti suggested, “maybe the fourth wave is online.” In 2015, NOW Toronto, published a story called, “Feminism’s fourth wave is the shitlist” which points to women using the internet to call-out predators by connecting with other victims. In this attacking and calling out of sexism and misogyny, there’s a greater chance of change. Moreover, call-out culture has afforded victims the ability to gain power over their assailants, thereby reversing the power dynamic.
Although, Bustle says fourth wave feminism is generally perceived as anti-misandrist women are slaying men who are serial abusers of women. Still, there remains a shift in the collective mindset that’s willing to put everything on the line – their reputation, their job, even the safety of themselves, if not their loved ones – to call-out someone guilty of sexual assault or harassment. Even though call-out culture is based on interconnectedness for support, what is driving this need for women to literally switch roles with their oppressors?
Films like Joel Schumacher’s 1993 release Falling Down, Oliver Stone’s 1994 film Natural Born Killers, and David Fincher’s 1999 film Fight Club all have similar storylines that exemplify this. The protagonist(s) in each film are dejected, uninspired, and fed up with their circumstances. Their journeys all differ in their versions of extreme violence, but not in how it’s expressed. These men target anyone who impedes the sanctity and privilege of their whiteness.
The main character in Falling Down, William Foster (Michael Douglas), has a shit day, abandons his car after it stops working, and then has a series of altercations that make me wonder if white men don’t suffer from a special form of PMS. There’s a special sort of disconnect that occurs when William abandons his car, as though he is receding into a primitive state of mind. At the time, it was posited as the story of a man on the edge, but if you look at the film from the vantage point of the people Foster attacks, he’s just a privileged white dude.
Likewise, Oliver Stone’s 1994 film, Natural Born Killers is the love story of Mick and Mallory Knox, a couple who happen to be madly in love with each other and killing. Mick and Mallory’s killing spree kicks off when Mallory is sexually harassed in a diner. The result is a murder scene that glorifies killing and their dedication to each other. This love story of violence is sensationalized by the media and truly nails what the 24-hour news cycle will become with the advent of the internet. The savagery in NBK is depicted in what I can only describe as what became the standard. Stone’s foresight into the glorification of violence became standard both in the normalization of mass shootings and how the media uses it for ratings.
David Fincher’s 1999 movie Fight Club is perhaps my favorite out of these films. I felt a sort of connection to the Narrator. I loved how enslaved he was by his desire for freedom. I related to the shame spiral over the lust he could not control for Marla Singer and his need to split his realities to survive. Being a woman is a lot like this. Pretending to be everything for everyone.
However, I did not like that it was created to isolate the only woman he could ever love, which is sad for me. But this dynamic is something that women relate to. The Narrator created Tyler Durden. Tyler created a club where women were unwanted so that he could isolate the Narrator’s desires while being able to exercise them himself. There’s a special brand of misogyny there that I am not even sure has a name, but the first real shift towards the hatred of women seen online is depicted here. FC is simultaneously a cry for help for men and a wakeup call for women who love those men. It ends with Marla Singer and her psychopath, abusive boyfriend holding hands and being in love.
Like Natural Born Killers, Baise Moi (2000) is a movie that exemplified the bloodthirsty savagery indicative of this time. The film is co-directed by third wave feminist and the author of the book the film is based on, Virginie Despentes, and French porn star, Coralie Trinh Thi. “Baise Moi” shifts from the other films in the fact that it’s protagonists are women: Manu (Raffaela Anderson), an abuse victim, and Nadine (Karen Bach). However, their kill spree is set off by the actions of men.
After suffering through a horrific rape and repeated abuses from men, Manu unites with Nadine as soulmates who express their suffering through violence and sex. Their bizarre multiple day massacres in France starts with targeting men (some they seduce and some they don’t) and branched out to killing anyone or anything. Unlike Natural Born Killers the sex scenes aren’t romanticized. They’re sad and distant, if not cold. Here, the love story is between two fed up friends who decided to approach things like the men in most of these films. Of course, the film in French, so it lacks the American sheen that prohibits women from being depicted in this way.
A precursor to Baise Moi is Ridley Scott’s iconic 1991 film, Thelma & Louise which was a game changer in terms of films that seemed to personify an awakening of women who are done being victims. While Thelma is being sexually assaulted Louise walks up and shoots the assailant dead and the two go on the run from the law. It’s a literal journey of Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) confronting third wave feminism and how it does not work. They have to drive off a cliff at the end because being caught would ultimately be a much more catastrophic ending for the women.
Another film that helped to build the strong female character is Wes Craven’s Scream (1996). The screenplay was penned by Kevin Williamson and began a popular pivot away from female characters and the victim archetype. It also launched a redesign of the horror genre while being one of the most popular film franchises of the mid-to-late ‘90s. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) isn’t your run of the mill, small-town high school students, as she must live with the pain of her mother being murdered a year ago. On the anniversary of Sydney’s mother’s death, someone begins killing people Sydney knows. Instead of hiding, Sydney runs and fights off the attacker as she is carefully stalked.
By the end of the film, it’s revealed Sydney’s boyfriend Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) and his BFF Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard) killed Sydney’s mother because of an affair she was having with Billy’s father that broke up Billy’s family. (Insert eye roll emoji here.) The two are privileged, psychopaths who wanted vengeance for being disappointed by their circumstances.
In terms of sex and violence, Harmony Korine’s 1995 Kids explores the relationship of sex as a violent weapon of destruction. In the early ‘90s, when AIDS was a silent killer and an epidemic hitting the gay community, it became clear that not only gay men were affected by the virus. It also curiously explored the sexuality of young women in a way that I had never before seen on film. It was relatable in the way that the boys were entitled jerks who had almost zero regard for women and in how the female characters tried to do the right thing, even though they were consistently victimized.
As this development of women willing to fight in films, fight like men, and/or against them began trending in film in the ‘90s, there was also a similar development happening on TV. The themes on the big screen had trickled down to television where they could find a wider audience, as can be seen in X-Files which depicted a complete gender character shift. FBI agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) is intuitive, emotional and empathic, characteristics typically attributed to women. In the same way, Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) is stoic, scientific, and emotionally closed off. This role reversal forces the partners to rely on each other to help them balance out what is seen as deficiencies. It’s not that Scully doesn’t have emotions, it’s that as a woman in a position of power, she can’t afford to have them. Working with Mulder allows her to explore this part of herself, helping to make her a believer in not only the X-Files themselves but in the nature of human beings.
Similarly, Joss Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer is probably the defining series of the ‘90s in terms of a gender switch where the female characters are continually empowered by characteristics that are typically seen as flaws. Buffy (Sarah Michelle Geller) consistently fights for what is good and right, no matter the cost. She never gives up. She never backs down. For a lot of women, this character is really their first foray into the world of a woman who calls the shots, doing so to help all oppressed women and really usher in this idea of equality for all that’s defined fourth wave feminism.
I vividly remember watching these films as a preteen and wondered why women are never allowed to get fed up and express themselves. Luckily, the internet allowed women who felt the same to connect, giving us support to evolve and come forward. However, women today have evolved, their violence is one of rebelling against the status quo. It’s in coming together under the umbrella of everyone and anyone anywhere who does not feel accepted by the norm. There’s the determination of the protagonists of these films, willing to fight and even die, for whatever they believe in.
What’s different about women is that call-out culture isn’t about isolation like many of the main characters in this film. It’s about the interconnectedness that is necessary for their complaints to become loud enough to be heard. Of course, being fed up enough to react is really that jumping off point where you can see that until this particular generation, women did not have access to the
Unlike the protagonists in Baise Moi, we don’t have to exhibit the behaviors of men. Not exactly at least. These films helped us, even if it was simply to tell our subconscious that it’s ok to feel dissatisfied and want change. We don’t have to kill to get what we want. We have to dedicate ourselves to the craft of being a rebel, standing against injustice, with the hopes of eventual equality.
Sabrina Cognata is an award-winning writer, producer and storyteller. During a decade long meltdown, she burned her life to the ground and revamped it as often as Madonna. Sabrina has written or produced for HuffPost Live, CBS Radio, TMZ and XO Jane, and she’s currently producing a syndicated news show for FOX television while tirelessly fighting the patriarchy Every. Damn. Day.