I loved Gone Girl as soon as I started it. I remember reading it at my moms house and running into her office and shouting “I can’t tell you what just happened in the book because you have to read it, but I need you to know that SHIT JUST GOT REAL!” and then running back out again to keep reading. I couldn’t devour it fast enough. And ever since then people have been asking whether I think the book is feminist, am I excited about the movie, did I notice how jacked Ben Affleck looks?
I was scared to see the movie. Scared they might ruin what was such a precious experience for me. It’s such a wild mystery ride of a story. But I loved it.
I’ve heard the argument that it is a feminist story because women are so rarely given the opportunity to be villains. And it’s true. Going by the definition of the word Objectified. Women are more often the acted-upon character. Rarely is an actress given so much opportunity, so much depth in a role, something so central as The Villain. And in this instance it’s a brilliant villain. Amy might make bad choices but everything she does is in reaction to something real. Amy gets to be a female character who logics her way through every choice. While being the title character of a story that isn’t a rom com. That is very uncommon.
[SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD, seriously. Put this down and go read the book if you haven't already] The counter argument is that Amy embodies things that men accuse women of every day. She intentionally falsely accuses men of rape (big no no), she uses her sexuality and good looks to get ahead, any Men’s Rights Activist looking for some examples of women ruling the world can find plenty in Amy.
And, valid as that argument is, I go with the first one.
Amy might be a central figure, she might be spinning the tale, laying the traps, but she is reacting. Reacting to the marriage she is now trapped in, the parents she’s been handed, the body she’s been given, and the ways that people’s reactions to those things have shaped her.
Amy is a pretty enough, slim enough girl, pressured to be Amazing Amy by her parents, to be even prettier and even slimmer by society. In the later half of the book when she goes to seek shelter with her ex, he takes her in and almost immediately comments that he wants his “old Amy” back, buying her hair dye, scanty nighties and reminding her of her weight gain. He shows us how much pressure the people close to her have been putting on her for however many years already.
This week I also saw a show called The Money Shot. There’s a character in the show, an actress trying to make it big in hollywood, and her boyfriend is also on stage, reminding her of her diet the whole time shrimp appetizers are sitting in front of her. She gets his permission before taking one. She savours it and reaches for another just in time for him to say “of course you can have another, if you like cottage cheese thighs and don’t care about your career.” She ends up sneaking the appetizers into her purse and he discovers them later. She snapped under the pressure. He told and told and told, and never listened, so she lied, and snuck, and disobeyed.
And he blew up at her. “This is why we cheat on you people! This is why we leave for the younger, newer model, because you guys are crazy and do crazy things like put pastry in your purse so you can eat it in the bathroom!”
But both Amy and Missy are just reacting to the pressure they’ve been put under. Amy, smarter and more sociopathic than Missy, has been feeling this undercurrent pushing her towards perfection since the day she arrived on this planet. “I quit the cello, the next year Amazing Amy became a child prodigy,” she retorts about her literary alter ego. While Missy has surely been given the needling “You’re so pretty and tall, you know that if you lost a little weight you could probably be a model,” her entire life.
And so they crack, because who can live under that? Missy stuffs her face with pastries and hides and lies, eventually becoming unfaithful to her husband as part of her revenge. Amy, well she explodes her entire world to exact hers.
Both women are catalyzed by the patriarchal forces that suffocate them, husbands, nosy media journalists, fashion and diet ads.
And then, when the inevitable change has been made, the acting out has been done, it’s our fault. What do you mean you were under pressure, Amazing Amy is just a book? What do you mean you felt like you had no control, it was just a diet? But those pressures are catalysts, and to expect there will be no substantive change from them is blind and thoughtless.
And the thing to remember is that those pressures to be thin and beautiful at all times are carried out by both men and women in a patriarchy. By a boyfriend, threatening to leave if your thighs get any bigger just as much as by a mother or grandmother telling you that you’ll be an old maid all your life if you don’t lose that weight or get that nose job.
And lastly, I have an example of a woman who never did snap, who spent all her life doing the things that everyone else told her to do. Not a character in any media but my own life. A true, perfect product of the society she’s grown in. At age 89 she’s skinny, made up, hair dyed, there is food ready for you at her table. She kept the diet and the kitchen and the children that her mother told her to have.
And her prize? One could argue that she has never known true love or friendship a day in her entire life. And that she never will.
No cracks, a complete success story.