Last night’s Academy Awards ceremony was quite possibly the greatest display of heroism since D-Day. I may, in fact, be underselling it. After all, the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy were wearing gauche, cliched uniforms. At least the actor Billy Porter had the courage and fashion sense to step out in a flowing dress. Sure, the dress was ugly and he looked ridiculous, but nonetheless he is, the media tell us, a “hero“.
Joaquin Phoenix engaged in some heroics of his own. After winning the Academy Award for Best Actor, he launched into a lengthy discourse that included a sermon on the ethics of dairy products. “We feel entitled to inseminate a cow,” he said, though to be honest I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so much as the desire to inseminate a cow, much less the entitlement. I do, however, like milk for my coffee and cereal, and that is a grave evil in itself, Phoenix explained. He covered many other topics in his acceptance speech, which finally concluded around 8:30 a.m. this morning.
But of all the feats of bravery last night, none came close to the gestures of female empowerment offered by some of the celebrity women in attendance. For example, actress Natalie Portman graced the red carpet wearing a custom Dior cape embroidered with the names of female directors who weren’t nominated for an award. In the night’s most “empowering” speech, Sigourney Weaver, Gal Gadot, and Brie Larson declared that “all women are superheroes.” This seems an odd way to describe Eva Braun and Andrea Yates, but who am I to judge?
On second thought, perhaps there is a better word than “courageous” to describe all of this. Perhaps terms like “patronizing,” “stupid,” “hypocritical,” “vapid,” “vacuous,” and “irritating,” may get closer to the mark.
What exactly is Portman’s point? Never mind that she made her point by decorating her $20,000 cape. Is she suggesting that all of the female directors on her list should have been nominated simply because they’re female? Does she want women in the arts to be awarded for having vaginas rather than for the quality of their work? One of the “snubbed” female directors is Marielle Heller, who directed the perfectly nice and unobjectionable Mr. Rogers biopic, “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood.” Does anyone really think that this was a master class in film direction? Which male director should have been kicked to the curb for Heller’s sake?
I would think that the way to empower a woman is to treat her like an individual human person, not an avatar for her entire gender, and to recognize her art on its merits rather than by chromosomal makeup. As it happens, this appears to be what Natalie Portman does when selecting projects. A look at her IMDB page shows that nearly all of her starring roles have been with films directed by men. The last female-directed movie she headlined was back in 2015, and she was the director herself. It seems that the courageous Portman is a huge supporter of female directors named Natalie Portman. Otherwise, she chooses the projects that seem interesting to her — not the projects that have the most estrogen. Yet Portman, like most feminists, expects the rest of the world to operate exactly as she herself does not operate.
The same can be said for the “all women are superheroes” declaration. To understand how utterly childish and nonsensical this statement is, just imagine how it would sound if you said it about men. There are good men and bad men and men in between. Likewise with women. And once again, the Hollywood celebrities who pretend to think all women are universally admirable do not remotely come close to living by that belief. Just imagine what Hollywood’s reaction is going to be when Donald Trump nominates Amy Coney Barrett with his next Supreme Court pick. The girl power schtick will get chucked out the window fast enough to give you whiplash. Recall how Hollywood treated Sarah Palin — now amplify it by a factor of 10.
Of course, I realize that my criticisms of the never-ending “You go, girl!” pep rally must be taken with a grain of salt because they are coming from a man. Then again, the fact that I’m a man by no means excludes me from being a woman. That’s the other major problem with Hollywood’s woman empowerment crusade: None of the people engaging in it actually know what a woman is. Or if they know, they won’t say. Ask any single one of those actresses to provide a workable definition of the word “woman,” and they’ll stammer and stutter before disappearing into the bushes like Homer Simpson. They are trying to empower a group of people that, according to their own theories of gender, doesn’t actually exist. That should be reason enough to cut it out.