Recently I decided to break my standing rule about going to see movie adaptations blind, and I went to see the Gone Girl move without having read the book. I had a vague idea of the plot from the book’s reputation, but for the most part, I didn’t know the story going in. Ever since then, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the way that people in my circles (both online and off) have been reacting to it.
(Ed. note: Contains Gone Girl spoilers, obviously.)
It struck me as telling that nearly all the men I know have come away from the movie with a conclusion somewhere in the range of “ZOMG BITCHES BE CRAZY.” And yes, Amy is “crazy” and manipulative and narcissistic and pathological, but it occurred to me that she is also just the inverse of all the men that women fear in real life.
In the movie, after discovering that Nick is cheating on her, Amy frames Nick for her murder. But on a deeper level, Amy sets him up for failing. For not living up to her expectations for him. For no longer being the bright young guy that she agreed to marry. She punishes him for being a disappointment and for daring not to meet her at her level. In real life, women actually get murdered for much less. And to me, that’s what makes Amy’s fabricated story so believable to the people around her. The situation is not just totally plausible, but likely, because we hear about the repercussions of stories like the one that Amy concocted every day.
On the face of it, Gone Girl is a misogynist’s wet dream. It validates every bullshit MRA fear that women are out to destroy men. After all, Amy frames ex-boyfriends for rape as a matter of course, meticulously frames her husband for murder, murders a different ex-boyfriend during sex, for the crime of helping her escape her “abusive husband” and being a little too possessive, and then traps her husband in their loveless marriage by stealing his sperm to become pregnant. It is a literal laundry list of things that convince men that feminism at its core is simply a “misandrist revenge fantasy.”
But in truth, Amy simply took her frustrations to the same “logical” conclusion that men get to every day in the real world. Instead of just leaving Nick, she transposes all her frustrations onto him and then punishes him for them. But how is that any different from the men who beat their wives because they’re frustrated with their own unemployment? Or hide their assets so they can run off with the new girlfriend and leave their wife destitute? Or the ones who kill their wives for cheating, or God forbid, “dressing too sexy” or even looking at another man? In Gone Girl, Amy and Nick’s positions are simply reversed from the traditional roles of aggressor and victim.
I honestly think that for most men, the real discomfort is that a woman can be just as ruthless and diabolical, and yes, even as evil as the men in our real lives. We’ve accepted the script that men are dangerous and women are damsels. That’s how the world works. The “evil woman” is a terrifying fiction from whom all men cower. It’s honestly bullshit that this is a precept we just accept in contemporary culture.
In that vein, I understand what people mean when they say that Gone Girl is feminist body of work. Amy the character isn’t feminist; she’s a psychopath. (Let’s get that straight.) But the movie (and I assume the book) in my opinion does join a legion of feminist representation in the vein of Claire Underwood on House of Cards. As I wrote back in June about Claire:
“[Her] existence is a yardstick against which we can measure how far our understanding of the representation of women has progressed, and our ability as a society to see women not as impenetrable, mythical creatures, but as fully actualized people with elaborate inner lives, personal motivations and entire existences (both good and bad) outside the considerations of the men who happen to be in close proximity.”
So no, Amy is not a feminist. Not even close. But I do think that maybe Gillian Flynn is, for daring to write a woman so baldly psychopathic and then asking us to sympathize with her. Because there’s no part of feminism I can find that says we have to ignore that sometimes, women are terrible too. We do feminism no favours by pretending otherwise, and Amy is a prime example.
Flynn herself has talked about her desire to write compelling female villains, and expressed many of the same sentiments. In an essay penned in defense of her novel Sharp Objects, she writes:
“Isn’t it time to acknowledge the ugly side? I’ve grown quite weary of the spunky heroines, brave rape victims, soul-searching fashionistas that stock so many books. I particularly mourn the lack of female villains — good, potent female villains. Not ill-tempered women who scheme about landing good men and better shoes (as if we didn’t have more interesting things to war over), not chilly WASP mothers (emotionally distant isn’t necessarily evil), not soapy vixens (merely bitchy doesn’t qualify either). I’m talking violent, wicked women. Scary women. Don’t tell me you don’t know some. The point is, women have spent so many years girl-powering ourselves — to the point of almost parodic encouragement — we’ve left no room to acknowledge our dark side. Dark sides are important. They should be nurtured like nasty black orchids. So Sharp Objects is my creepy little bouquet.”
And truthfully I’m inclined to agree with this assessment. As Amanda Dobbins over at Vulture puts it:
“Women can be antiheroes and villains, too, and the portrayal of such women and their actions does not automatically constitute contempt. There is also a difference between misogyny and stories about misogyny, or about women and men who hate each other, or simply about “unlikable” characters.”
And this is what I think makes people so uncomfortable. No one questions Dexter Morgan’s ability to be evil. No one questions the motivations of Walter White. In fact, we actively find reasons to sympathize with them both. But Amy Elliott Dunn’s psychotic rage at her husband and her resulting actions become a statement on all women everywhere, and proof of the “secret misandrist cabal” working to #killallmen. If a woman says she’s afraid of Norman Bates, she’s irrational, but men’s fear of Amy is completely normalized, even though everything we know about the society we live in proves that those fears should be reversed.
Amy is simply a character who shows that even women have a dark side, and even women can be evil. She illuminates that women are not all feeble, or to be pitied. Sometimes, they are to be feared.
When we talk about men who hurt women, we’re talking about men who are angry that women failed them. Even when you get to the most extreme kinds of misogyny à la Elliott Rodgers, it’s all about the perceived failures of women and the men who were “wronged”. All Amy did is exactly what men do in real life. She took it into her own hands to “make him pay” and it’s a little silly that this one, imperfect, fictional character is being used as an avatar to substantiate the irrational fears of men who would harm us as soon as help us. There’s no reason to expect that you might encounter an Amy in real life, so all of the exaggerated concern is really just a display of misplaced misogyny.