Because both I and the guy are former political staffers and current young professionals living in our nation’s capital, I wasn’t surprised at all when his idea for a first date was to go see a political movie. And so off we trekked to check out Ides of March, the story of a young staffer – Ryan Gossling – who makes his way to power and prestige on the campaign trail.
How does he do it? By stepping all over young women of course. It only took me about five minutes – if that, really – to determine that this movie had a snowball’s chance in hell of being safe for feminists. The story is laid out in some very simple steps (spoiler-alert):
1. Presidential candidate gets an intern pregnant.
2. High level, ambitious campaign staffer – who is also sleeping with this intern – finds out, gets her the money for an abortion, and basically shoves her through the clinic doors. He also tells her in no uncertain terms that she’ll need to leave the campaign as soon as the deed is done. He needs to protect his boss.
3. Intern finds out that high-level, ambitious campaign staffer potentially plans to out the pregnancy once his job is put on the line. When she can’t reach him via phone, she overdoses on drugs.
4. High level, ambitious campaign staffer threatens to out the pregnancy and affair to the media, and gets promoted to campaign manager in exchange for his silence.
If you’re wondering when I stopped eating my popcorn because I was afraid I would throw up, it was somewhere after step 1. Politics is a man’s game, much like business,medicine, law, advertising, sports . . . well, I could go on. And so I was prepared to not relate even remotely to 90% of the characters in this movie – all white men – who were playing their game of political theater.
I wasn’t prepared for the completely unapologetic objectification of the one major female character – the pathetic, tragic, victimized young girl who has no agency of her own and who is not a person in this movie. Let’s just be clear about that point – this intern is not a person. She is a prop. She is the object around which the entire movie takes place while actually having no power of her own.
In addition to egregiously misrepresenting the vast majority of interns – and women – involved in politics, the question of abortion is dealt with in such a flippant way that one has to wonder whether the writers, directors, producers, or really anyone involved in the making of this movie at all have ever known anyone who’s needed an abortion. Heck I wondered if any of them have even ever read the story of a woman who’s needed an abortion. The demands that are placed on this young girl, the lack of interest in her pregnancy as a medical condition, and the oversimplification of her tears display a truly bizarre lack of interest in accurately portraying this experience.
What’s even more astounding about the portrayal of this young intern is how absurdly considerate she is of the men in this film. Sure, she knows her pregnancy is a problem and she needs money for an abortion, but her big concern is staying on the campaign and not causing trouble for anybody else. She’s not a person – she’s a cliche built up by the media. A myth, if you will. This intern is interested in casual sex just like any other flirtatious, attractive political intern – note that you know she’s slept with at least two men on the campaign, but no word about the men’s sexual activities beyond her.
And she isn’t angry or hurt at all at these men who have used her as a prop to live the story of their own sexual misconduct, egregious abuse of power, and exploitation for political gain. No, instead, she wants to protect them. “All I care about is these poor men and their political ambitions,” or “I just don’t want to hurt them. I am willing to sacrifice myself for their careers.”
Her suicide was the last straw for me. I don’t know whether the writers assumed that having an abortion is the absolute worst thing that can happen to a woman and nothing but tragedy and death can come from such a decision. Or perhaps it was the abortion combined with her guilt over what sorts of problems her condition was about to cause for her boss and his campaign. Personally, I think she probably was just tired of being treated like shit and playing the background noise to the ego and shortsightedness of the film’s writer, director, and producer.
And lastly, in case her suicide wasn’t enough to convince you that she is an expendable character in this drama, she is replaced. By another pretty and flirty and blonde and sexy and damn cute intern, who, if I recall correctly, does nothing but giggle. The way a phone rings in the background, her giggle sets her up to be the next intern who is used as a prop in the backdrop of this drama that is perhaps too much like the dirty, ambitious, backstabbing political world we all imagine.
Or perhaps the makers of this film were just too lazy to acknowledge that women are more than props. Yes, even in the world of politics.