I Care a Lot’s feminist undertones are misplaced; a psychopath does not make a great face of feminism.
There are many misconceptions of feminism. The true aim of this movement is to “define and establish the political, economic, personal, and social equality of the sexes.” However, the media generally portrays a caricature of what a feminist really is. This type of person is supposedly gay or lesbian, refuses to shave their armpits, and (most importantly) hates men. As a result of this, a common misconception of feminism is that it aims to achieve the subjugation of men and the supremacy of women, as a means of making up for women’s oppression throughout history.
It is because of this misconception that feminism is so often portrayed dubiously in film. For instance, in I Care a Lot (2020), ‘feminism’ is presented through the character of Marla Grayson. Grayson wears suits. She runs her own legal business. She takes down men and spits on the patriarchy. She is always the one in control. But Grayson is also a psychopath. The plot of the film revolves around her sick scheme, in which she takes advantage of the elderly for her own financial gain. And yet, the visual language and other elements of the film code this character as empowering. Is she really a desirable candidate for a feminist film character?
She is certainly presented as such. She is coded as a modern ‘strong female character.’ There are many requirements such a character must meet, but these characteristics are not definitive; they are illusive, as not all women are the same. This results in the creators of such characters becoming perplexed: what does make a strong woman? One method that is often relied on is to make them masculine. Our media is dominated by male characters, whilst female characters are often reduced to the role of Love Interest, Sex Object, Weak Girl and Bitchy Woman. With men historically being the stronger sex, women have been forced into the inferior position. So, it can seem that the only way to make a woman strong is for her to embody the “superior” sex.
Yet, a female character does not have to be physically strong, emotionally cut off, or masculine, in order to be a strong female character. Toughness doesn’t equal masculinity, and masculinity doesn’t equal strength. Female characters can be strong and feminine: why can’t a female character take on the world and wear a dress while doing it? Of course, this route of incorporating femininity and strength can result in female characters being over-sexualised in the name of empowerment. Most female superheroes are clad in figure-hugging costumes whilst fighting to save the world. Yet, strength of character derives from personality, development, motivation, and relatability, not just how badly they can beat another character up, or how they command a room with their sexual appeal.
I Care a Lot’s protagonist sadly falls into the category of a poorly crafted, strong female character. Marla Grayson’s “strength” derives from her hatred of men, her wearing of masculine suits, and her sociopathy. She may be strong, but is she worthy of the label of feminist? The fact that a human trafficker is marketed as worthy of the audience’s idolisation makes this idea unlikely.
The film’s dubious presentation of feminism is most apparent in the opening scene. Marla is insulted and spat on by the son of a woman whom she is manipulating. In response, she spits back, “Does it sting more because I’m a woman? That you got so soundly beaten in there by someone who has a vagina?” Here, Marla makes the assumption that the man hates her because of the fact that she – a woman – has defeated him, rather than the awful things she has done to his mother. There are many more instances such as these that make the film almost come across as parodical.
So, in conclusion: feminism does not mean hating men, strength of character does not equal masculinity, and Hollywood has a long way to go before it understands what a true strong woman really is.