Coyote Ugly is the quintessential Grrl Power movie about a sweet young girl who can’t find a job and make ends meet as a singer until she meets a woman who runs a bar that capitalizes on the male gaze by featuring slim, long glossy haired, mostly white (except for a white-featured black woman who has, like, hardly any role at all) women in sexy clothes doing sexy dances. I like that the women keep control of the audience by being aggressive, humorous and so full of attitude that one of their rules is: if you order water, they make fun of you through a loudspeaker, then spray the water on you. And in theory, I don’t have a problem with anyone manipulating spoiled children in adult-sized bodies into giving up that stuff in their wallets. And I like that one of the women gets violent with customers who get out of line, because some women do.
What I do have a problem with is that our little innocent, Violet, learns through the course of the movie that not only can one present a sexy show in which one retains control and rakes in a lot of money: the lesson translates to all of real life, apparently, and being sexy turns out to be a woman’s way to control everything. Well, if she’s slim, white (or close enough to be fetishized), glossy-haired and meets a narrow beauty standard involving fat lips and a perky nose and delicate bones without a shred of muscle to back up that Grrl Power attitude with some tangible strength.
Things get out of control one night – because a bunch of Navy guys are there, natch, you know the “sailor on leave” stereotype. They get hold of one of the servers and the bouncer can’t get to her through the crowd, which starts brawling. Violet has to save the day by singing and dancing on the bar (which she’s been scared of doing until now), because it would seem appealing to the male gaze is the way to control even drunken brawling men. To her credit, Violet does first try throwing a bucket of ice on the crowd, but it doesn’t work and is dismissed by the boss as Violet’s attempt to get out of doing what she knows must be done: sexually entice the men to keep them from gang raping her friend.
Um… wtf? That’s one I’ve never seen on the “How Not to Get Yourself Raped” lists. For good reason, I think.
Later, there’s some completely unexplained montage involving the Coyote women playing softball against some heavy, sweaty middle-aged men (you know, just the kind whose wallets we want to pry open, girlfriendz!). Not only are the Coyotes wearing short shorts (guess no sliding into base today?), but one of them takes off her top and bats in her bra to distract the pitcher. Because you could just play an awesome game of softball to beat the men, but appealing to the male gaze is the sure way to beat men at athletic games. And very sporting! (It’s possible this montage had some context in the full cut of the movie – I was watching it on cable. I doubt, however, there’s a context that would make me like it.)
Wow, this appealing to the male gaze thing is really powerful and all-purpose, like baking soda! Even her overprotective dad and boyfriend eventually realize how great this is for her.
Or… wait. Could it be the movie’s just using it as an excuse to appeal to the male gaze?
Axe Deoderant thought so: they bought a spot and aired their commercial in which some gawky guy’s “extra sexual perception” radar goes off because he’s wearing Axe, and he walks into a bar just in time to be the “next guy who walks through that door” immediately after two women have decided the next guy who walks through the door they’re going to go home with or something. Somehow I’m thinking that’s the real message of the movie: “don’t be afraid of Grrl Power, guys. We rigged it to work for us.”
You’ll notice we haven’t had a movie about women who use sexiness to take over a major government and solve a country’s problems. We never see a movie about a woman who strips to her bra in the boardroom in order to get the board to do what she knows is best for the company. Because no one would buy it. Because when you get down to it, we all know men only relinquish control when they feel like it. Sometimes it’s fun to get taken for a ride when you’ve got plenty to lose – and that’s one thing white guys in our target market always seem to have. Money, dignity and respect to spare.
Grrl Power is just transferring some of the money to women. None of the dignity, and not really any of the respect. Not the kind of respect that puts you in Congress or at the head of a major company or in the history books, anyway.
Grrl Power is a marketing concept designed to get girls to spend their money on the things Hollywood is already making for the boys: to get girls to pay money for the male gaze. The “power” part is just an illusion men let women have to distract us from the fact we still really don’t have any significant power. We’re still barely represented in world government, particularly in the US. We’re just as poorly represented in film and many industries. Whether a woman has paid sex to get money from men, marries or dates to get financial support from a man, or does something she enjoys to get a man’s money, the fact is she’s still relying on the paradigm in which men control the money, and women must appeal to them to get it. Nothing has really changed. Women have a few more options, but none of them are helping us gain an equal voice in the running of the world.