Crazy, Rich, “Hegemonically Masculine” Asians?

crazy rich asians

By Jane Hatfield

Although attempting to be progressive as the first Hollywood film with an all Asian cast in over 25 years, Crazy Rich Asians perpetuates traditional gender norms of hegemonic masculinity and femininity. The texts Everyday Women and Gender Studies and Gender Inequality help display the implications of the movie’s differing portrayal of both genders.

The bachelor and bachelorette party scenes in the film define typical gender roles as the men party, drink, and shoot guns while the women shop, gossip, and tan on the beach. At the bachelor party, the men are constantly surrounded by beautiful female models, all of whom sit around them or on their laps in tiny bikinis. This portrayal of women reinforces the belief that women exist only in order to appeal to men, to be seen as sexual, beautiful objects for the taking. As Judith Lorber explains in Gender Inequality, “one of the manifestations of men’s objectification of women is the male gaze, the cultural creation of women as the objects of men’s sexual fantasies” (174). The scene further supports traditional masculinity when one bachelor takes a bazooka gun and fires it off of the ship. Since this act of aggression and the use of guns is seen as stereotypically male, Crazy Rich Asians supports traditional gender norms. In “Racializing the Glass Escalator,” Adia Wingfield concludes, “contemporary hegemonic masculine ideals emphasize toughness, strength, aggressiveness, heterosexuality, and a clear sense of femininity as different from and subordinate to masculinity” (266). Through its bachelor party scene, Crazy Rich Asians perpetuates hegemonic qualities of masculinity and depictions of women as subordinate to men.

On the flip side, the Asian women in the bachelorette party spend most of their time on a shopping spree, squealing with joy at the thought of buying new clothes and products. The portrayal of characters Araminta, Amanda, and Francesca as product-crazy consumerists redefines the stereotype that femininity is defined by an interest and dedication to beauty. In “The Muslim Women,” Lila Abu-Luhgod states that America is “a nation that exploits women like consumer products or advertising tools, calling upon customers to purchase them”  (31). While reinforcing the idea that women are the primary consumer of beauty products, the film also suggests that women themselves are a product to be consumed, as evident in the sexualization and objectification in Crazy Rich Asians’ bachelor party scene. Further, when Amanda and some of the other girls leave a dead fish on Rachel’s bed with the words “gold-digging bitch” written on the mirror, Crazy Rich Asians perpetuates the stereotype that women are inherently bitchy and love to gossip, especially when it comes to their boyfriends.

Overall, whether overt or not, the differing portrayal of females and males in Crazy Rich Asians reinforces hegemonic masculinity, As Braithwaite and Orr state in Everyday Women and Gender Studies, “these are the characteristics of real men constantly              re-presented around us, in everything from popular culture (film, TV, music videos) to the workplace; indeed there is a long history of such representations of what has been called hegemonic masculinity” (311). Since the film constantly switches back between shots from the bachelor and bachelorette parties, Crazy Rich Asians helps to contrast and define what it means to be feminine and masculine.


Note: This essay was written by a student in Dr. Heidi R. Lewis’ First-Year Experience (FYE) course FG110 Introduction to Feminist and Gender Studies. FG110 teaches students how to examine, power, inequality, and privilege along the lines of gender, sexuality, race, socioeconomic status, age, physicality, and other social, cultural, and political markers using multi-, inter-, and transdisciplinary approaches. The students visited a local theatre to screen Crazy Rich Asians, and this essay was written in response.

Complicated Positionalities of Asian Women in Crazy Rich Asians

crazy rich asians

By Avia Hailey

This film is categorized as a romantic comedy, but as it delves deeper into societal and cultural issues it becomes so much more. The film begins with a flash back to an “old-timey” 1995 London. Eleanor Young arrives with her children, all soaked from the rain, to the hotel where she reserved a suite. They are turned down their suite by an all white, condescending male hotel staff. From the body language and speech that the staff give, the watcher is eluded to the fact that Mrs. Young and her family’s presentation, is the reason they are denied service (that being both their race, gender, and appearances). After watching that part of the movie I immediately thought about Judith Lorber’s definition of male hegemony in Gender Inequality. She defined it as “men’s dominance in values, knowledge, culture, and politics”. By denying the Young’s service, the male staff at the hotel were asserting their idea of the “ideal” customer for the hotel and then projecting it on the Young’s to make them feel lesser than. The irony of that moment is that the Youngs own the hotel (unbeknown to the hotel staff) so they are the ones that “truly” belong there.

As the film continues you are introduced to the main character Rachel Chu. She is an economic professor at New York University (NYU). Through a game theory demonstration she is able to show both her intelligence as well as cunning manner. Later on in the film the watcher finds out, she is a self-made women from a single mother household, that worked hard to get where she currently is. The character of Rachel is a prime example of feminist theories in action. For example, Liberal Feminism’s focus on deconstructing the “glass ceiling”. The “glass ceiling” can be described as “an intangible barrier that prevents the advancement in a profession, especially affecting women and members of minoritized groups.” Rachel becoming an economics professor at a prestigious institution such as New York University is a direct result of feminist theory. Her story is a testimony to change and the deconstruction of corrupt structures and narratives.

Let’s take a look at another strong female character in the movie, Mrs. Young. She also went to a prestigious university, but instead of finishing her degree and becoming lawyer, she dropped out to put her family first. This was expected of her because of her culture and the family she married into. It was required of her to be a “dutiful” wife, and even at her best she was never seen as enough by the matriarch of the family. This idea of Asian women being dutiful and subservient to their husbands in not new. In “Interracial Romance” Kumiko Nemoto explains that Asian women are seen as “good wives,” because of the dominant narratives saying they are “submissive, subservient, passive, and/or hypersexual”. These characteristic in a women supposedly help reinforce masculinity, which is why Asian women are popular to marry. It is interesting how even after all these year males dominance over women and the pressure to be a “good” wife is deeply ingrained not just into Asian cultures, but in cultures worldwide. In the essay “Disability, Embodiment and the Meaning of the Home” Rob Imrie talks about the home being a potential place of repression and confinement for women. If we hold onto the hundred year old idea of women solely being fit to serve their husbands and their “homes”, then that is exactly what it will become. We need more Rachel Chu stories in the spotlight to help propel change. Stories that deconstruct structures within society that keep women below men.


Note: This essay was written by a student in Dr. Heidi R. Lewis’ First-Year Experience (FYE) course FG110 Introduction to Feminist and Gender Studies. FG110 teaches students how to examine, power, inequality, and privilege along the lines of gender, sexuality, race, socioeconomic status, age, physicality, and other social, cultural, and political markers using multi-, inter-, and transdisciplinary approaches. The students visited a local theatre to screen Crazy Rich Asians, and this essay was written in response.

Who Knew Flesh-Eating Kids Could Be So Radical?

By Alethea Tyler

Upon first viewing The Girl with All the Gifts, I was overwhelmed by the premise of the movie: a unique zombie film featuring Melanie, a young child who possesses both zombie and human qualities. While the movie presents a dystopian storyline utilizing gratuitous violence, it also contains radical representations of complex inequalities and confronts stereotypes. Through examining the portrayal of age, gender, and race, the confrontational narrative and radical alternative representations within The Girl with all the Gifts become apparent.

Melanie is a young girl, an identity commonly associated with weakness. The theme of youth and incompetence is disputed as Melanie is not only the central character, but by the far the most powerful character in the film. As a “second-generation hungry,” the zombies do not see her as prey as she too, is prone to consuming flesh. And unlike other “hungries,” she possesses the ability to resist zombie cravings. This defies ageist assumptions by making her a superhuman who exists as an immune, omnipotent leader.

Melanie’s identity as a girl is not particularly emphasized in the film, but it nonetheless serves to challenge gendered stereotypes. Melanie’s clothes and haircut remain uniform, replicating a traditionally male or gender neutral presentation. If it weren’t for her feminine name, she could easily pass as one of the boys. This ambiguity, combined with Melanie’s insatiable curiosity and superior intelligence, confronts the common correlation of intelligence and masculinity. According to Judith Lorber, “The social construction of gender not only produces the differences between men’s and women’s characteristics and behavior, it also produces gender inequality” (2012). As a result of remaining outwardly gender neutral, Melanie challenges assumptions pertaining to gender. Her character is many things at once: fierce, intelligent, selfish and selfless. She is an independent protagonist who remains fearlessly female.

The most important stance this film takes is on race. The cast is predominantly white, marginalizing the few characters of color. The film uses this marginalization to radicalize the plot. The end of the film illustrates Melanie not only as a hero, but also as the destroyer of the old world. Intentionally, Melanie sets the zombie pods on fire, causing the virus to become air-borne and infect all living people. This act of defiance positions Melanie as a savior to the zombies and a destroyer of white culture. This racialization of the main character serves as an emphasis on the shocking ending: white people do not always win. As Lorber (2012) writes, “The subordinate group is always less influential unless it can turn the dominant values upside down” (pg. 233). Through Melanie’s act of defiance, she turns the “dominant values upside down,” addressing the question of why someone else’s life is more important than her own. Through this provocative narrative, Melanie directly confronts the idea of valuing White over Black.

Due to the provocative nature of The Girl with All the Gifts, the film presents a truly radical narrative. The film seeks to confront traditional narratives by diverging from stereotypical roles regarding age, gender, and race. As claimed by Lorber (2012), “Change does not come easily, because many of the foundational assumptions of the gendered social order and its ubiquitous processes are legitimated by religion, taught by education, repeated by the mass media, and enforced by systems of social control.” When media is used to present radical narratives, the perpetuation of social control is directly challenged. Through the presentation of empowering, intersectional identities, the foundation of racism, sexism, and ageism are questioned, therefore invalidating the very existence of inequalities.

“A Woman’s Place is in the White House!”

By Jess Keniston

clintonThe moment one opens a computer or switches on the TV, they are bombarded by the face of Hillary Clinton. Many campaigns in Clinton’s favor scream, “A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE WHITE HOUSE,” implying that in nominating a female president, America has emerged victorious in the battle for women’s rights. Clinton’s feminism, as analyzed through a liberal feminist framework, is effective because she subverts male domination and works for women’s rights. However, many do not agree with her feminist standing.

On Clinton’s official campaign website, a quote emblazons the top of a page titled “Women’s rights and opportunity.” It reads: “I am a proud lifelong fighter for women’s issues, because I firmly believe what’s good for women is good for America.” In claiming this, Hillary implies that electing her as president will induce radical change in women’s rights. This statement is bought by some. For example, Clare Foran writes, “Clinton can claim a feminist victory by virtue of winning the nomination,” and quotes television producer Shonda Rhimes when she calls Clinton “a one-woman feminist revolution,” claiming that Hillary is creating real change for women. Judith Lorber claims, “The presence of a woman head of state does not necessarily represent a triumph of feminism, as most women politicians do not represent themselves as champions of women but as leaders of everyone. Feminist political and legal changes are much more likely to come from grassroots political movements and feminist organizations.” In fighting for women’s rights, Hillary may claim that she is a feminist, but will be unable to induce radical change for women while attempting to appeal to everyone.

However, many do not buy the argument that Hilary’s victory in securing the Democratic nomination is a feminist triumph or that she has the right to call herself a feminist at all. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani scoffs at Hillary’s “feminist” standing, accusing that she and her husband take “millions of dollars in speaking fees from dictators, oppressors; from people who discriminate against women to people who run countries where women can’t drive cars,” referring to the millions of dollars Clinton received from Saudi Arabia (Schow). Furthermore, Rex Murphy refutes any claim that Clinton has shattered the “glass ceiling”—a concept that Lorber defines as assuming “that women have the motivation, ambition, and capacity for positions of power and prestige, but hidden barriers keep them from reaching the top” (35). Murphy argues that Clinton has simply ridden on the coattails of her powerful husband and that “real” feminists gain success by themselves, without help from men. Based on these arguments, Clinton cannot be a true feminist while failing to embody feminist ideals. As Radical feminist theory states, women must “unite…in struggle,” and that no real change can happen until men “give up their male privileges and support women’s liberation in the interest of our humanity and their own” (Redstockings 131). Although nominating a woman as president is a great leap from the days where women were denied even the ability to vote, I believe that nominating a woman means the same thing for feminist triumph as electing a Black president did for African American triumph. This victory does not mean that the fight for women’s rights is won, or that it is remotely close to over. Hillary may address some feminist issues, but it is crucial to keep fighting for equity. Full disclose: I do feel a sense of empowerment hearing that a woman’s place is in the White House.

Sausage Party: A Lazy Portrayal of the Israel-Palestine Conflict

lavash-and-bagelBy Maitreyi A. Menon

Sausage Party capitalized on the humor of stereotypes, and some critics hailed the movie for “making fun of everybody.” However, the damages of these supposedly equal actions are definitely not equal. As such, I shall examine the pantomime of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that was created by the characterization of the Bagel and the Lavash through a transnational feminist lens. Bagel was armored with racial stereotypes of Jews, particularly his nature of always whining or complaining and having a noticeably large nose. Lavash, too, met us with an exaggerated accent, thick, bushy eyebrows, a supposedly iconic beard, an obsession with “extra-virgin” olive oil, and über-conservative, oppressive values about women. The primary source of their mutual hatred stemmed from having to “share the isle” – an obvious allusion to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The conflict itself is extremely complex, however, and any attempts to simplify it will render it inaccurate. As Aili Mari Tripp argues in “Challenges in Transnational Feminist Mobilization,” “When outsiders do not take the time to learn about or attend to the particulars of a situation, their efforts can backfire” (107). When Frank the sausage tells Bagel and Lavash that he can’t understand their dispute because the isle seems big enough for the both of them, audiences are intended find humor in such a simple idea not occurring to them earlier, whereas the real humor lies in these audiences often failing to understand how these conflict came about, as well as their crucial involvement in it.

When the U.N. (arguably orchestrated by the U.S. and other Western superpowers) decided to intervene and “save” by diving up the land, a majority of the land went to the Jews, despite being the under-represented population. Since Sausage Party caters largely to American and other English-speaking audiences, a space rampant with Islamophobia, it is more damaging to Palestine by offering a space to legitimize their occupation and oppression. The stereotype of the oppressive Muslim Palestinian (Lavash) only re-emphasized existing essentialisms such as oppression of women by Muslim men, which serves to legitimize the detrimental interventions of the US or others. As Lila Abu-Lughod writes in “The Muslim Woman: The Power of Images and the Danger of Pity,” “One of the most dangerous functions of these [stereotypical] images of Middle Eastern or Muslim women is to enable many of us to imagine that these women need rescuing by us or by our governments” (50). Moreover, the U.S. has funded Israel more than any other country in the world, a tool very important in Israel’s violent repression of the Palestinians. As Judith Lorber claims in Gender Inequality: Feminist Theories and Politics, so-called western ideals “are also the source of universal human rights, which can be used to fight subordinating cultural practices” (113). These rights are very often not universal and are also tailored to fit individualistic societies; hence, they too provide a justification for Western powers to intervene to suit their benefit. Hence, the portrayal of an over-simplified fight over the isle fails to take into consideration the involvement of many other factors of the source of conflict and the role other parties (such as the US) had to play in it.

NOTE: This essay was written by a First-Year Experience (FYE) student in FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies taught by Professor Heidi R. Lewis. FG110 teaches students how to examine power, inequality, and privilege along the lines of gender, sexuality, race, socioeconomic status, age, physicality, and other social, cultural, and political markers using multi-, inter-, and transdisciplinary approaches. Near the end of the block, the students visited a local theater to screen Sausage Party, and this essay was written in response.