Yesterday I translated this Han Han post for ChinaSMACK. In the process, I came across this passage, which I found rather interesting. Han Han is saying that he is willing to give Confucius (the recent Chow Yun-fat film) only two “points”, the second of which is thusly explained:
Also, because the director is female, I will encourage her with a point. But it must be said, that whether it’s this female director’s Confucius or another female director’s I am Liu Yuejin, their grasp of non-emotional films, especially the more complex/intricate ones, is rather weak. I don’t understand why they don’t make films about love or life [instead], which is what female directors are good at. Zhang Aijia’s Heartbeat or Xu Anhua’s Day and Night in Tianshui are good movies by female directors. Why should women embarrass themselves?
This passage hasn’t, as yet, jumped out at many of the ChinaSMACK commenters, and neither did it appear to leave a deep impression on Han Han’s commenters from what I can tell (though I confess a deep disinterest in wading very far into the thousands of comments, which are 90-95% just “Han Han I love you”, “I will always support Han Han”, “Wow, first page!”, etc.).
Nevertheless, the passage bothers me. What Han Han seems to be suggesting is that women are inherently better at making one type of movie than another; that they’re not fully capable of creating a complex dramatic epic like a man can. Furthermore, the sentence “why should women embarrass themselves?” suggests that the failure of one female director, is, somehow, reflected on all other female directors.
Granted, there is a great disproportion in the ratio of male to female film directors. But does that justify judging female directors collectively, or deciding based on the works of a few what they can or can’t do? When Zhang Yimou makes a mess of a complex martial arts/”historical”/character drama (as he has repeatedly in the past decade), I haven’t seen anyone calling that an embarrassment to male directors. So why the special treatment for women? Are they really less capable of making films than men because of their gender?
In fact, Chinese female directors can and have made films every bit as complex and character-driven as men. Huang Shuqin‘s Woman Demon Human [人鬼情] springs to mind immediately as a cinematic work by a female director that is moving, emotional, and quite complex in its meditations on the nature of gender and performance. It is not about “love” or “life” (at least, not any more than any film is about “life”), and yet a female director managed to pull it off. Of course, I doubt Han Han has seen this film as it came out in 1987. But there are other examples.
Do Han Han’s comments constitute sexism? Furthermore, how do Chinese people define sexism? There seem to be two terms, 性别主义 (“sexism”) and 性别歧视 (“sexual discrimination”), with the former just being a sort of ideology and the latter often implying some kind of discriminatory action. If we take Han Han’s words at face value, it seems to be a clear cut case of 性别主义 (“sexism”), as Han Han implies that men are inherently better at making certain kinds of films than women.
Whether or not Han Han’s comments constitute 性别歧视 (“sexual discrimination”) is probably more controversial. On the one hand, these are his own thoughts posted on a blog. On the other hand, by expressing them in a place where literally thousands of women are going to read them, his words are bound to leave some kind of impression on his many adoring followers, male and female both.
Is it the same as beating a woman, or paying her less than a man? Certainly not. But this kind of mindset is exactly what leads to those more extreme behaviors. After all, if women are inherently worse at making certain types of movies, they must also be inherently worse at other things too, right? Unless there’s some kind of adverse reaction that happens between film cameras and the female gender, we can assume Han Han also believes women are less capable of writing great works of dramatic literature, for example. The supposed existence of these shortcomings in the female gender suggests to readers that there might be more ways in which women are incapable of measuring up to men.
I do not mean to suggest that Han Han is a male chauvinist. I’ve never met the man, and though I read his blog fairly frequently this is the first time I can remember running across something like this, so I am not attacking Han Han as a person. But I do believe that what he suggested in this essay was fundamentally sexist. Confucius may have sucked, but that doesn’t mean no women are capable of making that kind of film, it just means that one woman wasn’t. To paraphrase a favorite line from the film Gettysburg, ‘anyone who judges by the group is a pee-wit. You take people one at a time.’
What do you think? Was Han Han being a bit sexist or are we making mountains out of molehills?