Blade Runner Leaves Women in the Dust of Misogyny

 

If there ever was a slice of dialogue that hooked me, it was spoken in the final scene of the original Bladerunner (1984) when lead replicant Roy Batty said to Deckard, “Quite an experience to live in fear, that’s what it means to be a slave.” Saving Deckard, Batty ultimately frees himself from the slavery he speaks of—the slavery of being a replicant, of the inability to feel and becomes “whole” or what the film calls “human,” meaning he earns the experience of empathy, and his final, famous words: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain. Time to die.”

It is a breathtaking scene, and yet, for the original film and the recent remake’s profound grapplings with what it means to be human and whole to experience all the shades of life in the context of a dystopian future, it makes one wonder why women in both of the Bladerunner films are regulated to positions of one-dimensional stereotypical tropes, distinctly created for and by man—without much room for any real sense of wholeness or humanity.

Focusing specifically on the new Bladerunner (2049), it is pretty clear that while the creators of this film tried really hard–too hard–to ask the larger questions of what it means to be human, they leave women in the dust of misogynistic ideals, dust kicked around from the heels of white men. Yes, aside from the film’s obvious sexism, it was also pretty racist, having only a few minor character roles for people of color.

Let’s start off with the main character (Ryan Gosling or Officer K in the film), a replicant who also serves as a Bladerunner, chasing down his own kind, employed by the Los Angeles Police Department. Joe is simply not complete enough a character without his own female hologram sex toy, who wants nothing more from life than to please him. She is the ideal woman from the lens of a male-dominated culture, too: A woman who never talks back, walks around in cocktail skirts, and pouty lips that constantly tell her male owner how “special” he is. Feeling that he is so special, she even gives him a name—calling him “Joe.” She could have more appropriately named him John—her John. She conveniently remains unnamed for much of the film—and ultimately voiceless, eventually killed off almost as quickly as she disrobes for his pleasure. But what really makes her the perfect female is a bit more insidious and it is a message we women are tired of hearing: A sexually experienced women is a spoiled woman.

Let me explain. Despite her character basically being a hologram prostitute, that is just the beginning. Her being fuckable is just the start. In order for her to be the truly “perfect” sex toy, she also has to be pure from the perspective of a patriarchal culture. So, she is portrayed as such: perfectly innocent, dependent and yes, a virgin until of course, the climax. No pun intended. So, the story goes: boy meets virgin hologram/prostitute, who finds herself desperate to please him with her body. This is tricky given that she is just a hologram. So, imitating—and perverting— the love scene from the film, “Ghost,” she hires a prostitute and for several disgusting minutes in the film, we see the main male character finally reach the arc of lust with two nameless women pleasuring him. Shortly after this, the hologram is killed off in the film. In the morning, after sex, the prostitute is paid off after searching for her clothes, nude, and discarded. To top it off with a sexist cherry on top, the prostitute makes a bitter comment to the female hologram, “I’ve been inside you and there is not much there.”

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The backdrop to Joi and his unnamed sex toy are countless chopped up bodies of women—like random posters in the background (much like our everyday image-saturated society) At one scene in the film, these images take the form of giant statues of naked women, two of which the camera cannot help but focus on. The focused image is two lesbian female statues facing each other with pursed lips and oversized breasts, and, of course, erect nipples. These statues rest in what would be considered a dystopian Las Vegas and in this pleasure town I suppose it is only heterosexual men who needed pleasure because there are not any representations of giant naked men pandering to the female gaze. Driving this message further, there is an unrelated scene in the film that portrays one of the female characters in the film (Luietenant Joshi) wanting sex from Officer K, or Joe (a replicant) who does not oblige her. One has to wonder why Joshi’s human status did not give her access to a treasure-trove of pleasure model replicants for her sexual pleasure as it did the male characters–human or otherwise.

To add to this poster show of female bodies are several scenes depicting female prostitutes in titillating clothing wandering the street, and in one scene surrounding our Joe…John. Doing a freeze frame on this particular scene and we get the classic, tired, overplayed image: A clothed male sits in the midst of a sea of sexed up women. This is where we women yawn.

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Another troubling scene depicts a female replicant being born in the nude and then killed. After her robotic birth, she is forced to stand as her creator (of course, a man) inspects her body, and then within minutes, she is brutally murdered because she does not meet the criteria he is looking for in a woman; in this case, the ability to procreate. This is not a new message for women; woman have been told for centuries that their inherent worth is in their ability to produce children.

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The most troubling aspect of the scene of the stripped replicant was that she was killed off within minutes of her disrobing. I think the creators of this film could have been a little more sensitive in the depiction of this scene by either not showing the murder explicitly (knife wound to the abdomen) or not revealing in her flesh for several minutes before the murder. This scene only served to perpetuate the films—and ultimately society’s message that women’s bodies are disposable objects. Sadly, this is not the only female replicant who shows up for the purpose of a male character in the film and quickly killed within minutes after she, too, just doesn’t make the cut.

Thankfully, there is some redemption for women in the film that made the sexism a bit bearable—but not bearable enough, as the film depicts two main female characters who hold some significant power. However,  one of the two does not have own agency–being an extension of the more powerful male character she works for, and ultimately both of these women are killed off, and both in gruesome ways while the two main male characters walk away to save the day, throwing dust on the erect nipples of the many female bodies, discarded along the way. Aside from these two women, there are a few other positive depictions of female characters that I also found to offer the movie some redemption. However, not enough for me to excuse the movie’s depiction of several throw-away female bodies. If the movie’s plot was dependent on some of the shady depictions of the degraded female characters, I could be more forgiving. However, many of this sexist scenes were almost forced in the film with the sole purpose of arousing the male audience, scenes so helter-skelter that they distracted from the message in the film rather than adding anything to it. The intentional splicing of women’s bodies haphazardly into the script with the pure aim of appetizing the male viewer is just disgusting—and quite frankly, a broken record women are tired of, and also unforgivable at this point.

I find all the sexism in this film pretty unfortunate given that it was a film not devoid of credible elements. The film portrayed some very powerful scenes, especially the impressive ending. It also had many very visually stunning and eccentric scenes that were enjoyable, too, despite many of them wallowing too long in eccentricity, and honestly trading style for substance. In sum, the film did not live up to the original Bladerunner, and that was not for a lack of trying. This film tried pretty damn hard— and still failed. The only thing the film did to eclipse the original Bladerunner successfully was upping the sexism. In that respect, it transcended the last film.

Ultimately this film’s knack to take powerful questions, concepts and ideas about humanity and making them one-dimensional in flashy scenes parallels its ability to take whole female characters, fully rounded with thoughts, ideas, wants and desires and radically reducing them to one dimensional holograms poised with erect nipples, as advertisements for men, thus rendered  to an existence of slavery; slaves for men, much like Roy Batty.

And yes, quite an experience to live in fear, as women to live in a society that portrays the perfect female as a submissive, sexed-up hologram or a woman to be inspected for perfection—or face death and women reduced to the male perspective and gaze; sounds a lot like slavery to me.

Shedding light on the sexism in film, media and the larger culture via the written word is me—a woman—attempting a chance at freedom from sexism.

 

Please share any thoughts, ideas or concerns in the comment section.

 

 

17 thoughts on “Blade Runner Leaves Women in the Dust of Misogyny

      1. I don’t think it’s a reach so much as making you feel uncomfortable about how women were depicted and treated was one of the points of the movie. Remember that the overarching plot was that humans (specifically men) were trying to replicate natural birth in perfectly controllable androids. If that is not the pinnacle of patriarchal oppression then I don’t know what is. Basically, if you feel uncomfortable about how misogynistic “Blade Runner 2049” was, that’s the point.

        Also, to quibble on a factual note. The blade runner K is given the name Joe by Joi the hologram. This is important because the film drives home the emptiness of that relationship a couple times. They drive the point home a couple times that Joi isn’t even an AI with some semblance of agency (compared to the replicates), Joi is intended to be “Everything you want to see. Everything you want to hear.” Also, the name “Joe” is stock and not uniquely given to K, as shown towards the end when a marketing hologram version of Joi says to K (paraphrasing), “You look like a good joe.”

        Some of this might require a much longer write-up though. There was some really good philosophical points to the movie that require some time to think through.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I agree, Panda. I think the movie was trying to ask the larger question of what it means, not only to be human but to be truly alive. One of the principal traits of a living thing is that it can procreate and replicate itself.

    Thanks for the feedback on the name confusion, too. I updated the blog to reflect those changes.

    I get that the movie was trying to show us the hollowness of the hologram relationship between Joe and Joi when he saw the advertisement shortly after Joi was wiped out of his life. However, I am not sure the film had to use female bodies to drive this point home. In my humble opinion, you can pull scenes from different movies, and justify them and explain the why and what of them but when you have image upon image and scene upon scene all reflecting a concise message, you have to look at that message for what it is. Unfortunately, that message for women is pretty messed up. Women are objects, first and foremost to be looked at by men. Their inherent worth is in their fuckability. That is one of the messages women receive almost daily via the larger culture. So, when I watch a movie that uses a female body, sexed up for men to portray the emptiness in digitized relationships, I nod. It is just so standard at this point. And what about the female officer in the film who was the boss of replicant K, or Joe? She was clearly wanting some sort of sexual contact and was shut down. Why did the movie not offer her a hollow sex toy? I think the reason is simple. Oftentimes films and such are written by men for the male gaze. Men dominate the film industry. Women are just not represented, nor the things they desire or may want to see on screen.

    So, I do appreciate your point, and honestly, I even agree with it and thank you for sharing it–honestly, however, I just cannot ignore the obvious sexism intertwined with any points the movie may or may not have been trying to make. It is just too distracting to me.

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    1. I’m not arguing that the movie wasn’t sexist, but I still feel like the misogyny and sexism was front and center on purpose. The underlying plot reminded me a lot of the 1995 anime “Armitage III” and I’m hard pressed to believe that you can do a movie about androids having natural reproduction without taking a stance on misogyny and sexism. Only Armitage III didn’t handle it nearly as well.

      The Joi hologram is an odd aspect to the movie since there are a lot of layers to it that need to be deconstructed. For example, Joi could have been a male hologram and all the points as they related to the main plot would still be unchanged. However, I also kind of suspect that – and this may require a second viewing – that they were implying that Wallace wanted to replace human women with agency with Nexus models designed to comply with male wishes. Perhaps a bit of a stretch, but it seemed to me like Wallace Corporation was intended to be a penultimate patriarchal institution in a dying world.

      I’m kind of hoping that the point of it being 2049 is because they are hoping to do a “Blade Runner 2050” that shows the replicate uprising against Wallace Corporation. The movie did put all of the pieces in place for a sequel and also did a good job of pushing legacy characters to the side at the end.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That is an interesting take on the film’s trajectory towards a sequel where patriarchy dies. And I hope you are right…and perhaps you are right. The plot you suggest would definitely make for a more palatable plot and fun film!

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  3. Hi, I’m just some random internet guy who enjoyed your article, which I found to be clearly written and thought-provoking. I also really enjoyed BR2049 in that I felt that it does everything a movie sequel is supposed to do, elaborating on the themes of first film, while standing on its own legs, as its own distinct creation.

    Some of the points brought up in your comment section made me think about this mashable article that I think is worth reading:
    http://mashable.com/2017/10/14/blade-runner-2049-feminist-environment-patriarchy/

    For me, personally, I think that some of the scenes mentioned use sexist imagery for the explicit purpose of being off-putting and emotionally provoking, sort of like the director is performing a Voight-Kampff test on the audience. I think the intention is to unsettle the viewer in to a frame of mind where they start asking existential questions, and that this is different then the kind on inane sexism present, in say, a James Bond film. This is a dying world where nudity is used as a weapon to dehumanize and oppress. One should not be titillated, but instead disturbed by the scenes in question. So on the whole I personally would not qualify the film on a whole as being sexist, especially since I found all the major female characters to be portrayed as less emotionally needy than their male counterparts.

    That being said, I think that some scenes could have been made less gratuitous with cleverer camera angles and visual choices. The movie already has enough things going against it that make it difficult to market to a mainstream audience, why make it more off-putting to a non-negligible number of female viewers? Alternatively, I think using actors with different body types might have also balanced things out, as well as some equal opportunity male nudity.

    Finally, I think an interesting thought experiment would be to flip the genders of any of the major characters to see if this would change the overall story and recurring themes of the movie. What if, for example, Wallace was portrayed as a woman, or if Lieutenant Joshi was a man? Does film noir carry with it inherently sexist elements? Is this movie even classifiable as neo noir?

    Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for that article link! What a great article! 5 stars! I love it!!! It does provide a really unique perspective on the film. I agree with some of the article, too. I do think that underneath the film’s intentional sexism, it had some feminist hues. I think that is evident in some of the more powerful female characters, such as Luv or Lt.Joshi. Some have found issue with these characters, though because they both die pretty brutal deaths in the movie. In fact, a lot of female characters are killed off. However, as one heterosexual male pointed out to me, perhaps their fate (death) is not a sign of sexism, but yet equality among the sexes. He went on to say that men often find themselves on screen in power positions, and due to the nature of the power struggle they exist within–often meet a bloody demise. I can kind of go with that. The phrase that comes to my attention is, “all is fair in love and war.” In Bladerunner (2049) there were only two survivors. The female child and her father. And our main character sacrifices his life for his sister–a woman. So, from that angle (mentioned in the article link you sent) Bladerunner (2049) really does appear to be a bit feminist–if packaged in raunchy sexism.

    With that said–as you stated–I am still confused why we needed that message packaged in one-dimensional female bodies? I honestly think the answer to that is really simple: Men wrote, produced, directed and starred in this film. This movie is written from the male gaze and for the male appetite. I hope as women become a bigger force in the media industry this will change. It doesn’t feel good constantly seeing your gender objectified. It causes real, observable problems emotionally, psychologically, and such for women. When women walk away from the media, they look at their bodies in shame, they think their worth in their fuckability….especially younger girls who are not media literate. Men and young boys also walk away from the media with some really upsetting messages, such as guns and violence is masculinity.

    I think it is worth pointing out that the female in the film that is considered “worthy” enough to survive until the end is a woman who reproduces, one who has a womb. This is seen in the scene where a fully functioning female replicate is murdered because she has an “empty womb.” This is the old card from the playbook of patriarchy. Many women in ancient time were killed by their more powerful husbands–or jailed if they did not produce children. In many parts of the world today, a woman’s main role is to create children and if she does not comply–either because she is barren or simply does not want children–she is shamed. From that angle we get the message that women can find worth in one of two ways: They are sex objects or baby making machines. If they do not serve one or the other, then they are killed off.

    I think it is fun to almost twist the film around–almost like an octagon and find different ways of looking at it. That is what makes art so beautiful to me. Different people see different things and from that, conversations are sparked! FUN:)

    Thanks for sharing! I enjoyed your perspective very much as well as Panda’s above. FUN:)

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    1. Quibbling again, but K wasn’t Dr. Stelline’s sister, he was just a standard replicate that happened to have one of Stelline’s memories implanted in him (illegally). Another commentator pointed out that K is kind of interesting as a protagonist because by the end of the movie it is clear he is just a footnote in someone else’s story.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Really, I thought K was Dr. Stelline’s brother… but then again, I do remember one scene in the movie where it shows how the little girl (Dr. Stelline) was hidden by scrambling her DNA with that of a boy. You know this movie just has so many complex layers, that it may just be worth re-watching. Some of the best movies require a few re-watches to really get the whole picture. One of my very favorite scenes in the movie was when Dr. Stelline was watching the memory K brought her and she made the statement that a piece of every artist is in their work. That was a powerful scene.

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    1. Well, I would have thought that he was her brother, too, except that woman with only one eye said, “You imagined it was you…Oh, you did…” Also, Deckard scrambled the records. Also, when did this movie even blatantly say, “A sexually experienced woman is a spoiled woman?” When? Really! I’m really searching hard, and not finding it! If anything, if you just took off some social justice blinders, I think people could enjoy a movie even with some stuff in it. I found it heartbreaking that she died, because I was really liking everything about her, and was actually a pretty cool companion. Even hearing that theory about, “She may have not actually loved K, and it was all just programming, as indicated by the ad…”, that hurt, too, and in the best way! I have no idea in what way people’s first thought is, “Well, that’s sexist, she’s pleasuring him,…” which, even if that was her programming, he actually thought she did feel love, which, even if I don’t want to go towards that theory, and maybe she did, he had that kind of vibe placed by his character Lars in “Lars and the Real Girl”, where he falls for a sex doll. He didn’t see her as just another machine made by programming. I really am puzzled as to how anyone would think that at first glance, even with the nudity.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The movie did not directly state that a sexually experienced woman was a spoiled woman. However this is a common message in American society and one that the film restricted itself too. In the film, Joi is the “perfect” woman. She is submissive, sweet, yet sexy and fuckable. She is also a virgin. A woman who is fuckable and who is also experienced is called a “Slut.” And “sluts, hoes, whores” are to be used and discarded. They are not the ideal woman in our society, but one to be degraded. However, a woman who is fuckable, and ALSO innocent is the PERFECT WOMAN and this is what Joi was in the film.

        As for “her pleasuring him..” You answered the question in your description of her behavior when you said “HER PLEASURING HIM.” It is sadly, very entrenched in our society (via porn and lag mags) that sex is all about HIS PLEASURE. That is very sexist. Sex should be about two people pleasing each other. And society should promote messages where sex is about two people pleasing one another, not the woman as object while man does. Sadly it is not, and nor was it a message in this film. Female pleasure was completely forgotten about in this film as it is in much of the sexual material/messages of our society.

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  6. I am a sexually experienced woman and also a spoiled woman. I do not get the connect. I watched the movie without a hint of perceived sexism. Joi was a product, and performed as was labeled on the tin but she also seemed to bring more depth to the character. The males in the film also performed as expected by dying after being thrown through walls or some such. Can we please walk away from the toxic males in our lives and quit blaming it on society?

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    1. Hi, Karen,

      I get what you are saying. And I agree with much of it. However, I do have some dissenting thoughts.

      People in the USA are very individualistic in their thinking–even to point of assuming they are free agents without any influence except for the influence of their very own willpower to do, think or not. Yet, the truth remains that society (the larger culture) is very influential in our everyday lives. So, why not put society on trial? Why not hold society to the standards we hope to live by?

      I do agree men are often portrayed as throw-aways in society such as combat fighters in wars. However, this is not an example of sexism in my opinion. It is more a result of classism. Going back to the example of men as combat soldiers, we see that it was not a result of sexism/female power that put men on the frontlines of war, but rather other wealthy men in suits creating and stirring up wars that–for the most part–furthered their own agendas. An example of this would be the Civil War where poor whites were hurled to the frontlines while wealthy white elites stayed home. These poor whites fought and died for the institution of slavery. And ironically, an institution that perpetuated their poverty. This was not a result of hot-blooded women in power but rather wealthy white males who had a stake in the plantation life continuing on.

      Referring to the statement, “A sexually experienced woman is a spoiled woman,” is simply commentary on the treatment of women in American society. Women who engage in a lot of sexual activity are described in this society with words like “slut, whore'” or phrases like “dirty cunt.” In Bladerunner, the perfect woman–despite being a hologram prostitute–was also conveniently sexually pure, making her the tired stereotypical female trope often written into the Hollywood script. Women deserve sexual freedom without negative labels.

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