We went to see ‘Monsters vs. Aliens’ tonight, killing time more than anything else but I was struck by the feminist themes apparent in the film. And this was old school – no third wave apparent here! *Contains spoilers!*
To summarise, the story begins with Susan Murphy on her wedding day, about to be married to Derek, the local weatherman and something of a heartthrob. Their plans are disrupted, however, when Susan is unexpectedly transformed by an alien substance into ‘Ginormica’, a super big, super strong version of herself. She’s taken into custody by the US government, shattered that she will never see Derek again but is given a chance to return to normal life if she can defeat the threat of an evil alien. She does, but Derek prefers his ladies to live in his shadow, not the other way around and dumps her. Susan realises that there’s more to her than this relationship and continues saving the world with her (all male) monster posse. After she’s become a hero and Derek has come grovelling back, she publicly rejects him and flies off into the sunset with her friends.
Obviously at the end of the movie, Susan is in a very different position from the beginning. At the start, she is passive. Although she is disappointed when Derek relocates their honeymoon from Paris, France to Fresno, California, so that he can go to a job interview, she makes no complaint. After all, this is for ‘their’ future as a team. By the end of the movie, though, she’s active, and has the opportunity to go to France, not on a honeymoon, but rather, on a mission to save the world. That’s empowerment! Indeed, the film is about Susan discovering her strength – both physical and emotional. That’s an important message for girls to hear!
However, there are some subtle but nevertheless insidious elements. For a start, all men in this film are presented negatively. From the slimeball Derek to the wimpy side character Gym Nasty to the buffoon of an American President to the over-macho General Monger, no guy is worth it in this film. While the monster posse is all male, none of them are a worthy mate for Susan either (after all, they’re weird looking monsters!) In fact, as she flies off into the sunset to save the world, it is quite clear that Susan is much better off without a man in her life. And the only options are (1) Get married to a jerk or (2) Go off and kick some alien butt. While the film is obviously trying to make a point, its caricature fails to offer option (3) Get married to a man who will empower and free you. In fact, since Derek initially speaks in these kinds of terms, the film even suggests that ultimately this is unachievable.
I was surprised to find such a strong feminist message in this film. Perhaps it’s oversimplified because it’s a children’s movie (although much of the humour is adult) but this is much more extreme than the third wave feminists who rescue the world and then fall into the arms of the hottest guy in the movie. But then again, why does it matter? After all, aren’t children’s movies harmless, a bit of fun, just a story? Surely children don’t pick up on those underlying values, do they?!
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.