Sunday, March 12, 2017

Women Empowerment in "Kong: Skull Island"

Today's post was supposed to be about the lessons that we can all learn from the numerous "mythological" stories of different Goddesses in Hinduism. I was writing the post in context of the recently concluded International Women's Day. However, as I started deliberating on the topic and writing my post, I realized that the topic is too important and complex to be relegated to one or two blog posts. So I decided to write a full-length academic article on the topic. Of course, that will take a little while to materialize, so I decided to take the relatively easier task of finding lessons related to women empowerment from a movie I watched last night: Kong: Skull Island. Yes, for better or worse, even guilty pleasures like monster movies can teach us some interesting lessons about leadership and management. We just need to be on look out for those lessons.


Now if you haven't watched the movie and are planning to watch it, don't worry, there are no major spoilers in this article. And to put things in context, here's my one-paragraph synopsis of the movie:

John Goodman plays the character of a US government official determined to collect evidence about the existence of large monster-like creatures on earth. For this purpose, he puts together a team consisting of soldiers headed by a colonel (played by Samuel Jackson), scientists, a retired special-forces guy turned tracker (played by Tom Hiddleston) and a journalist-photographer (played by Brie Larson). They set out to explore an unexplored island in the Pacific ocean called the Skull Island, where of course, King Kong lives. The rest of the movie is about the adventures and misadventures of this group on this island.

The Lessons:

1) Follow your passion, not the position: Early in the movie, we learn that the character played by Brie Larson, journalist Mason Weaver got the job of being on the expedition team perhaps because she was mistaken to be a guy from her male-sounding first name. We also learn that she forsook the job opportunity of being the cover photographer for the prestigious Time magazine so she could be on the expedition team to the Skull Island. I thought these are tidbits in the story provide important lessons related to career success and satisfaction.

When we are striving to make a name for ourselves in this competitive and sometimes unfair world, the temptation is to grab the first prestigious job that comes our way. Even people in later career stages find it difficult to let go the lure of big brand names. And this is partly understandable, because such jobs are often more lucrative than their non-glamorous counterparts. However, more name and money may not be the things that give us meaning and happiness. So if we can afford it, we should choose jobs that are going to aid in the flourishing of our passions. We might feel more successful through association to a big-brand name. However, to make a lasting difference to our professions and live a joyful life, we have to follow our passions, not positions.

2) Dress as per the demands of your work, and not based on societal expectations for your gender: One of the things I liked about Kong: Skull Island was that the female characters in the movie were all appropriately dressed. When a movie is about trekking through tropical jungles, then the women should not be wearing short and skimpy dresses with high-heels. And thankfully, Kong doesn't stoop to such objectification of women.

Now, I am not a prude. In fact, I am okay with even complete nudity in movies, as long as the scene legitimately demands it. What I am against is the typical sexual-objectification of women in movies, where you see female characters always half-naked even when they are dancing on top of snow-capped mountains (as happens often in Bollywood, though it wasn't always the case) or fighting off villains (as in Hollywood). In fact, before starting the movie, the theater showed the preview of Ghost in a Shell, a movie where Scarlett Johansson is seen jumping out of skyscrapers and killing dozens of "bad" people all the while being in flesh-colored tights that makes her appear completely nude.

The point is just this that women should dress to the demands of the occasion. You don't trek through tropical jungles and/or fight wars in clothing that makes even the models trip on flat fashion ramps. Many people in the movie business have the delusion that they are the most liberated human beings on this planet, but reality is that they are worst offenders (and perhaps promoters) of sexism and racism.

In context of the workplace, this means that women may have to resist the implicit and explicit pressures to dress in ways that continue to objectify them. Instead, they should wear clothing that is comfortable and shows that you mean business. You may ask what is the problem with objectification. It is simply this that it equates a woman’s worth with her body’s appearance and sexual functions, which in turn has lot of negative psychological consequences on women (e.g., appearance anxiety, reduced experiences of psychological flow, body shaming, lower self-awareness, and even anxiety about personal safety).

3) Avoid Workplace Hook-Ups: Another common feature in most Hollywood movies is that the male and female protagonists working together inevitably develop a romantic/sexual relationship. So I liked that the main protagonists in Kong: Skull Island did not end up sleep with each other or develop a love affair.

You may ask what's wrong with love affairs? Aren't they natural part of human life? Yes, love and sex are natural parts of life? When we spend large amounts of time together at work, it is indeed natural that some romantic relationships may develop. However, movies tend to glamorize workplace romances, whereas the reality of workplace romances is that they are complicated and often create some major problems, especially for women. Studies show that people engaged in romantic relationships are often perceived as less credible and trustworthy, and such perceptions are especially harsher against women. Sure studies also report some advantages of workplace romances (e.g., dating somebody at work may be safer than trying to look for romantic interests at bars and clubs), but workplace crushes and romances--especially when extra-marital or between people of unequal power--can have lead to accusations of ethical breaches, favoritism and sexual harassment, and can literally spell disaster for the workplace.

5 comments:

  1. Worth reading!!!!. Well written and You have proved that it doesn't need a women based movies to prove the empowerment of women rather children movies are all time teaching and changing the trend n mindset. All lessons are well drawn and highly acceptable.
    I am expecting...more... keep expressing

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Mousumi! I agree, children's movies tend to have much more learning moments than the typical movies meant only for adults. Of course, they are not perfect, and often suffer from several biases, but generally they are much more wholesome entertainment than the movies made for the adult audience.

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