Fight Club: a dude movie?

Since this is LiveJournal, some of you might not know that I’m female. I also love the movie Fight Club. Love it a lot, actually. It’s on a short list of my favorites from the 1990s. I think of it as a generation-defining film, and it seems to me that most of my cohort likes it too.

So, I bristle a bit when a reviewer on the AV Club suggests that “Women may respond to it, too, much as an anthropologist might study a foreign species, but its raw appeal is strictly for the XY set”

The article is followed by a long comment thread where people argue about whether that’s a fair statement. There is no doubt that Fight Club addresses modern angst through a male point of view, but how significant is that?

It seems to me that reducing it to a “dude flick” is missing the point — missing how fighting serves as a metaphor, for example. Or missing that most of the violence in the movie is actually violence against self, which is something that women completely understand.

If you’re interested in the topic, please weigh in. Do you think there’s a special dimension to Fight Club that women just can’t get? Why or why not?


  1. I feel the same way when women suggest there is a special dimension to women’s perspective that no man can ever get.

    There’s really no point to making a statement like that, but to deny understanding and set yourself above others. It might be a truth, but if we are truly striving for a society where there is greater understanding between people and more empathy and by result more equality, then shouldn’t we also strive say things like, “This movie comes from a typically male perspective, but…” rather than “Women might get this, but…”

    1. while speaking entirely in generalizations…

      White men who do not want to understand other perspectives have an easier time of it in the current culture, due to the fact that if you want to, you can read/watch/listen to a LOT of stuff that is exclusively white and male in content and perspective without running out.

      It also seems to be unfortunately encouraged – especially by the peer groups for a lot of guys.

      I think that it is easier to be a white male who has difficulty understanding female perspectives (god, whatever that even means, I’m starting to have a mental trans-rebellion just thinking in these terms) than it is to be a member of another group and have difficulty understanding the perspective of a white dude.

      This is not an innate difference, obviously. It’s just a matter of experience. A guy who avoids anything that has a woman on the cover is going to have more trouble with women’s stories than a guy who reads more widely.

      But it is a very sad sad and doomed world if people can’t understand the ideas of people unlike themselves. Ugh.

      1. Re: while speaking entirely in generalizations…

        Which all just beautifully illustrates my point!

        I like to think that, since writers are educated and taught in a community environment (school), and they operate in a community environment (work) alongside and in competition with other writers, as fellow writers we have a moral obligation to point out when someone is doing a disservice to those communities and society itself by writing divisive stuff.

        I just thought I was being smart by noticing that if he reversed the phrase order of his sentence he could change the meaning to be more in line with our progressive views. ;p

        But yeah, there are huge swaths of men out there that won’t ever see things remotely the way women do. But I’ve had female friends who’ve basically lumped me in with those men, and denied me the opportunity for growth in their eyes. It is an… enlightening… experience to have someone do that to you.

  2. Well, women aren’t allowed or supposed to be angry. Especially not violently angry, oh dear no, how unlady-like.

    There are a couple of thematic levels in the movie. I think the more universal themes are the stronger ones, anyway. Those are (to me): Violence against self. Feeling trapped by your job, life, belongings. Feeling constrained by the difference between the person you wish you were and the person you think that you are. Claiming that the ownership or lack of a penis/male perspective somehow makes it hard to understand those ideas or appreciate the movie is ridiculous.

    I do think there are some male-centric ideas, most of which come out in the direct Tyler/Narrator conversations. For example, Tyler’s viewpoint does have a very “men go out and hunt the food grunt grunt grunt” sense to it, and there is the whole rant about being a generation of “men raised by women”. This theme of “men losing their manhood” through cultural emasculation is probably less appealing to women, but it’s also not a) the only theme in the movie or b) essential to understanding the movie as a whole. Besides which, I don’t think that women would have a hard time *understanding* that idea, whether they care about it or agree is going to be up to the individual.

    If your favorite movies are “chick-flicks” and you prefer romantic comedies, then yeah, you might not like the movie. That’s not necessarily because you didn’t get it, that might be just not liking the plot, character, writing, etc.

    I don’t like this thinking, because it’s just the flip side of the thinking that means we get mostly Straight White Male main characters in, well, everything. Because if you pick somebody in a group that isn’t the “norm”, people can’t relate! Oh god! And you wouldn’t want somebody trying to relate to someone who isn’t of the same sex/race/gender/orientation/age! THAT’S JUST CRAZY TALK.

    Of course, trying to talk about these sorts of things always makes me go “sooo… do I understand it in spite of not being quite male, or do I understand it because I identify as male?”

    Finally, okay. When it comes to fictional stories, women, ESPECIALLY women who like watching movies with explosions and violence, are perfectly capable of understanding the perspectives of the male characters within. In fact, women who like those kinds of stories have to develop an understanding of these perspectives from a young age because that’s what you GET. These stories are always about men. Men buck the system. Women can buck the system, but only if they look sexy while doing it, and they really are only supposed to rebel against cultural views of fashion. Rebelling against consumerism on a higher level? Nonono. Not allowed.

    How many action/darker films have women as the main characters. Okay, now cross off any of those movies where the main character is female specifically to look hot in spandex.

    Yeah, that’s what I thought.

    1. Well, if women rebel against consumerism, how will commercials work? I mean, the whole economy would blow up!


    2. Well, I can see what you mean about women being portrayed as rebelling against consumerist views and philosophies, but then again look at TV shows like Sex and The City and Desperate Housewives, where women base a large part of their identity on the brands of clothes they wear or their social status (Well, maybe not Desperate Housewives so much). Try and create the same shows except from a male perspective, and while the results would be interesting, I’m sure that the shows popularity would be as big as men as the original show was popular among women. I’m not saying that women are more consumerist then men, but against this backdrop, how convincing can it be without alienating people (For example, if Susie Everygirl rebelled against consumerism, the audience might not buy it. If Siouxsie Gothgirl did it, she would probably turn a lot of people off based on her looks and beliefs of death before the word go).

      But then again, how many mainstream films do you have where protagonists, regardless of genre, bucking the system as a whole? And instead of fighting Mr. Badguy and Evilco., they are fighting against the views and standards of Western Society? Not a hell of a lot, that’s for sure.

      Anyways, while the story was originally written by a man and the narrorator is male, he is completely honest and frank, and doesn’t hide anything. He is written as an ordinary guy in an extraordinary situation, and that helps make the story believable. It shouldn’t turn off women in that regard.

      As for themes and issues, while a lot of them are male related, it doesn’t mean that women would be more oblivious to these themes to any real degree. While the fact that men usually need senseless violence in some form to feel important (Be it in sport, illegal fighting rings, computer games) is an obvious theme to both men and women of the film, other, more subtler themes can be glazed over. One of them is the emasculation of men in society, as shown by the testicular cancer help group. It was something I didn’t pick up on when I first saw the film.

      To be honest, it all boils down to empathy, openness to ideas, and intelligence of the viewer. And in the case of Fight Club, the ability to see through the gritty angst and violence. If gender is a factor in how the film is appreciated, it’s probably a very small one.

    3. Author

      As a female viewer/reader I can be fatally alienated by certain misogynist points of view, but it’s almost always because it takes the form of “women are always this certain way.” I really hate people smugly trying to tell me what I’m like, especially if they’re wrong. But I hate it even if they’re not wrong.

      1. Generalizations

        “…but it’s almost always because it takes the form of “women are always this certain way.””

        IMHO, Kinsey’s Comment almost always directly addresses that. They don’t have enough samples to generalize.

        “I really hate people smugly trying to tell me what I’m like, especially if they’re wrong. But I hate it even if they’re not wrong.”

        We are the chorus and we agree. I don’t know what percentage of my blog comments take the form of, “Thanks for trying to tell me I don’t exist. I’m reasonably sure I’m still here, though,” — but it’s high.

    4. Ultraviolence

      “Well, women aren’t allowed or supposed to be angry. Especially not violently angry, oh dear no, how unlady-like.”

      Hence, I suspect, a big chunk of why Tank Girl is underrated.

  3. speaking as an anthropologist…

    I have trouble respecting the opinion of the reviewer because right away we are tossed into an analogy that shows a lack of critical discernment: studying foreign species has nothing to do with anthropology.

    I would venture the word that should replace ‘species’ for the sentence to make sense is probably ‘cultures’ but considering the rest of the thesis I hesitate to provide benefit of the doubt.

    Sloppy thinking, or sloppy writing. I sense an effort to stir up drama than an interest in actually examining the issue.

    [NB: inclusive or]

  4. Well, of course everyone knows women can’t possibly understand anything about guys. That’s why no women like Star Wars. Or Lord of the Rings.

  5. No,

    Not unless you were brought up bass ackwards in a mormon, old timey religion cult.

    I think its a damn powerful film that speaks to the violent revolutionary soul in Americans. It also is very F*(*& the establishment which also rocks hardcore.

  6. For the record, I believe Fight Club could have been written by a woman and directed by a woman and still be the same movie. The reviewer is not correct.

  7. Not that *I* agree with the idea stated in the review, but maybe this is a non-intellectual’s way of saying that Fight Club, like Hamlet, is a film that specifically interrogates masculinity or maleness? It may also be projection, since a lot of men can’t imagine enjoying films that interrogate femininity or femaleness (except in the XXX sense).

    I had an odd experience showing this to a classroom of (80% female) Korean students. A lot of them were quite happy to discuss it intellectually — how it revolts against consumerism, how it exploits the gap between instinct and “civilization,” and all kinds of other interesting stuff. But a fair number of them — at least half — said they didn’t really enjoy the movie. (And said the same thing of Kill Bill on some of the same grounds, I might add.) They said it was weird, there was too much violence, that these people were bad people…

    … but, and this may be because we discussed Bechdel’s Rule, but it wqas interested, many of them said the main female character — Marla, right? — just was too weird and they couldn’t identify with her at all.

    I think it’s not just the very, er, pre-feminist social atmosphere here, either; flankleft’s point about the “revolutionary soul” also makes it jarring for people here, as Koreans have much less of that in their history and there are, after so many years of dictatorship, very few cultural memes of “take down an evil system” left floating around. It’s sort of like the kind of reaction you’d expect if you showed a film about the French Revolution to people from the Middle Ages: puzzlement, discomfort, and a nasty aftertaste in their mouths.

    1. Author

      but maybe this is a non-intellectual’s way of saying that Fight Club, like Hamlet, is a film that specifically interrogates masculinity or maleness?

      Possibly. But I have never seen anyone suggest that chicks don’t “get” Hamlet. Although maybe that’s just the veneer of respectability that all sufficiently old art gets, and of course respectability is coded feminine, so…

      But here’s a thought. Although the default movie is from a male point of view, most of them don’t actually interrogate masculinity in any meaningful way. They aren’t about masculinity, they simply take a certain construct of it for granted. Which, ironically per the reviewer’s opinion, is why I think Fight Club has more meaning for women than a lot of movies that simply assume a male point of view.

      But maybe most guys, even most movie reviewers, find the masculinity of the default point of view invisible — they simply don’t notice, so it doesn’t occur to them how alien a normal average everyday movie can be to the female viewing audience. And it doesn’t occur to them that most of us enjoy movies anyway, in part because we have developed a kind of “masculine viewpoint simulation module,” and in part because men and women aren’t actually all that different from each other.

      Which I guess helps me put my finger on why his assertion bugged me so much. It smacks of male privilege, that is, the privilege to not have noticed that nearly every movie made is a dude movie.

      1. I’d be willing to buy that. I suspect most non-intellectual men fail to grasp the fact that, through holding up different models of masculinity, Hamlet interrogates what it means to be male.

        But yeah, what you arrived at by the end of that response is something I can buy. Though weirdly, I’ll add that my own students had a very surprising reaction to this question of male privilege in the majority of films. (I thought I’d posted about it somewhere but I can’t find the post.) Most of them essentially said movies about women are boring because women talk and date, where movies about men are interesting because men *do* stuff. To which a few students (and I) responded, “Okay, but in real life, most men and women are boring. Most men and women both just work and talk and date. So why, in most movies, do men get adventures while women just do the boring stuff?” There was never much of a good answer to that, except, “Because they’re WOMEN!”

        The fact that most of these students were women speaks either to the degree that film can brainwash, or to the degree that traditional gender roles remains dominant here, or both… though, then again, a number of them argued that this was much worse in Korean film than in Hollywood, and didn’t therefore see what the fuss was about wrt Hollywood.


        I will say that I personally do see the default masculine viewpoint as invisible; I notice it sometimes, but I can sort of ignore it and just, you know, relax into the film a lot of the time. But I suspect many women do this too. (My own students, well, many of them, said they’d never really thought about it until hearing about Bechdel’s Rule and discussing it in class.)

        Then again, some of them actually saw Bechdel’s Rule as some kind of feminist plot against Hollywood to make all movies boring. I was just sort of, “Huh?” Institutional resistance, I’m forced to suppose.

        1. Author

          movies about women are boring because women talk and date, where movies about men are interesting because men *do* stuff.

          It’s funny, I went and looked at the source comic for Bechdel’s Rule and noticed that the last movie she could watch was Alien, a horror/SF movie. Because I was just thinking about how one reason I like horror and SF is that they are somewhat more inclined to break out of that mold, and have women who do stuff.

          The odd thing is that until just now it hadn’t occurred to me that this is possibly why I am more interested in the average SF thriller than in the average “real world” thriller.

          Also, horror — more than any other genre, I think — interrogates gender itself, but that’s a big long essay of its own.

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