In Praise of Ghostbusters

The following post contains no spoilers. Please enjoy.

I have a confession to make:

I’ve never seen the original Ghostbusters.

That’s right — I went to see the reboot knowing nothing but the theme song. For some of you, that’s like seeing the movie before you’ve read the book. But I didn’t go to Ghostbusters because I’m a die-hard fan. I went because I was curious. I went because I wanted to know how a movie about four women in jumpsuits made it past the writers’ table.

I’m no stranger to female protagonists. My dad raised me on Star Trek. I cut my teeth on Captain Janeway. I wrote fanfiction for B’Elanna Torres. I worshiped the ground Jadzia Dax walked on. Alias‘s Sydney Bristow convinced me to take up running. Irina Derevko sparked my interest in Russian novels. The X-Files and Dana Scully pulled me through a faith crisis. Marvel’s Peggy Carter kindled my passion for gender equality. Fictional women have shaped my life.

But even Peggy Carter had to have a love interest. Even Sydney Bristow had to look sexy. Even Star Trek couldn’t cure itself of the need to create female characters that were pretty first and alien second.

What am I saying? I’m saying that no matter how important a woman is, she’s almost always sexualized, paired off, or outnumbered (or most times, all three at once). You want badass? You better be beautiful. Competence? That requires fighting with your hair down while wearing a catsuit and three-inch heels. And what’s that? You’re single? God, your life is sad.

While there have been promising advances in the past (I’m thinking specifically of Rey in The Force Awakens), these victories remain the exception to the rule. If you don’t believe me, just study the previews for upcoming films; in the six shown before my screening of Star Trek: Beyond, none featured female protagonists.

So look out, Hollywood, because your sexism is showing, and if you think your token female character is fooling anyone, think again. You’re only perpetuating the Smurfette Principle.

Originally coined by Katha Pollett in 1991, the Smurfette Principle claims that TV and movies’ tendency to present large groups of men and only one woman teaches children that “males are individuals who have adventures, while females are a type of deviation who exist only in relation to males.” Furthermore, sticking one woman in the middle of a pack of guys often results in her gender becoming “the most important and interesting thing about her, often to [the] exclusion of all else” (1, 2).

Or, as women all over America are saying about an all-female Ghostbusters, this is kind of a big deal. 

If you don’t believe me, take a look at these costumes:

Everyone’s in jumpsuits. No one’s boobs are showing. And they’re all in leather combat boots. Are you beginning to catch on?

Kate McKinnon put best during her speech at the Athena Film Festival: “It sounds like a small thing that I got to wear pants and have my hair up, but it’s actually a really big thing because we were playing scientists, women scientists wearing jumpsuits . . . kind of ugly jumpsuits . . . and they made dolls of this. That has never happened before — action figures of women scientists in jumpsuits. First time. No cleavage. Dolls of this.”

With the exception of several incarnations of Star Trek, I’d say she’s right. For the first time in what feels like forever, women on the silver screen were allowed to be smart, happy, and completely un-objectified.

My favorite thing about Ghostbusters, though, isn’t the female ensemble, the jumpsuits, the ponytails, or even the lack of cleavage. My favorite thing about Ghostbusters is that it’s gender neutral.

You see, Ghostbusters isn’t like all the other female-centric films. It doesn’t focus on motherhood or romance, which, while important, are basically the only two plots you’ll find when dealing with a female cast. Ghostbusters isn’t about that. Ghostbusters is about busting ghosts, and at no point does its plot hinge on the characters’ gender. It doesn’t matter that the protagonists are women; what matters is that they’re scientists, and they’re hunting ghosts. 

In that same speech, as she introduced the writer and director of Ghostbusters, Paul Feig, Kate McKinnon said, “[Feig’s] most revolutionary act has not been just in casting women as scientists and badasses . . . No. His true subversion lies in creating female protagonists who are striving for the universal goals of friendship, connectedness, justice, and personal growth. These golden fleeces have always been the sole province of male protagonists . . . and by building stories around female protagonists who are striving not for romance but simply to become their best selves, he has permanently changed the game for us all.”

So no, Ghostbusters isn’t a cinematic masterpiece. But it’s fun. It’s funny. It’s important. And if you don’t believe me, just ask the little girls dressed in jumpsuits when they knock on your door come Halloween.

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