On Friday, Paul and I rented The Host, the 2013 movie based on Stephanie Meyer’s novel of the same name. I have no good explanation for what compelled us to make this choice. I wish I could say we were drunk, but no; although watching the movie drove us to drinking, we were perfectly sober when we picked it out. All I can say in our defense was that we knew it would be bad, but we didn’t realize how bad.
The Host is set on futuristic Earth, where people’s bodies are now inhabited by parasitic alien life-forms called Souls. There is a small group of human resisters, and one of them, the head-strong and beautiful Melanie, is captured. A Soul known as “Wanderer” is transplanted into her body, but Melanie resists, and she and Wanderer fight for control of body and mind.
Melanie/Wanderer runs away to the human rebel compound where Melanie’s hunky boyfriend, Jared, is staying. Even though the aliens have the technology to travel around space and take over worlds, they are unable to find Melanie/Wanderer, which leaves the rest of the movie free for teen angst…
Melanie is in love with Jared, but Wanderer falls in love with Ian, another young hunk living at the compound. Things get complicated.
“I love you,” Ian tells Wanderer.
“No you don’t,” she says. “You love this body.”
They kiss, while Melanie, inside the head, is yelling at Wanderer to stop.
And that’s pretty much the movie. Lots of scenes in which Melanie/Wanderer is kissing either Ian or Jared and everyone is feeling conflicted about it. It was ridiculous, and at times pretty painful to watch.
Another thing I watched this weekend was “Defined Lines,” the feminist spoof of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” video. In case you’ve been living under a rock without Internet access, the original “Blurred Lines” is a song that says even though a girl might act “good,” men should know she secretly “wants it.” Coupled with the video, in which perfect-bodied girls walk around topless wearing flesh-colored thongs, it seems to suggest the “blurred line” between consensual and non-consensual sex. It reminds me of a sleazy man I once knew who said, “if I stopped every time a girl said no, I’d never get laid.”
Thicke claims that the song is about the blurred lines between being a good girl and a bad girl, but this isn’t much better because it insinuates that good girls are virgins and bad girls have sex, and that men want girls to be both, which is, by the very laws of logic, impossible.
And all this made me think of the recent “letter from Mrs. Hall” blog post in which a mother tells teenage girls to stop posting “sexy selfies” on facebook because now her sons are going to think of them in “only this sexual way.” Although her letter came out of genuine concern for her sons and their female friends, it was just another conflicting media message slopped on to the pile of crap teenage girls have to slog through in their attempts to figure out sex, love, self-esteem, and their own bodies.
Writer Angi Becker Stevens had a really good response to Mrs. Hall. She addressed the idea of conflicting messages in the media:
You are pressured to be sexy and desirable, made to feel that your very worth depends on your sexiness, and yet if you wear sexy clothing or take pictures of yourself in a sexy pose, you are shamed for being a slut and told that you are responsible for making boys view you as a sexual object. In other words, you can’t win.
It’s no wonder that most girls, when faced with a sexual experience, have competing voices in their heads: No, I shouldn’t. Well, maybe I should. I sort of want to. But I sort of don’t. It’s kind of like what Christina Aguilera sang back in 1999: “my body’s saying let’s go, but my heart is saying no.”And that’s why I started to think that maybe The Host wasn’t total rubbish after all. Because at least it emphasizes a very real phenomenon that teenage girls experience: being of two minds about sex.
Yes, there’s a part of them that might “want it,” but there might be other parts that don’t. And that’s what makes the idea behind “Blurred Lines” so troublesome. When you take a girl who is already feeling conflicted – who already has yeses and nos fighting for control of her body and mind – and you add pressure, the result is going to be a girl who ends up saying yes and feels bad about it later.
If I had a nickel for every time a teenage girl had sex and regretted it later, I’d, unfortunately, be a millionaire.
So you might think that I applaud the New Zealand law students who created the video “Defined Lines.” And I do, mostly. I think the video is clever and powerful and necessary as a counterbalance to Robin Thicke’s video….but it doesn’t solve anything.
In “Blurred Lines,” the men are clothed and in charge. In “Defined Lines,” the women are in control and it’s the men who prance around in their underwear. In both videos, there’s a lack of respect — people are being objectified.
Being objectified means that someone thinks of you, as Mrs. Hall would say, in “only this sexual way”: as a body, and not as a person with thoughts and feelings (as conflicted as they may be). Even though the video is clever to turn the tables and objectify the men, it serves as a call to war. It turns what could have been an opportunity for honest discussion into “us” versus “them,” where one sex is “in control” and the other is not.
Last night, my boyfriend and I had a very passionate and exhausting discussion about The Host, “Blurred Lines”, and Mrs. Hall. Paul was feeling pretty emotional about the whole thing. (Because, men, it turns out, have thoughts and feelings, too.) He thinks males receive a lot of conflicting messages, both from the media and from girls themselves, and that over the years he’s often been confused about how to act and how to feel when it comes to women and sex.
Even poor Robin Thicke, growing up in Hollywood, trying to become a pop star under the shadow of his famous father, probably internalized media messages about how to treat women and how to be sexy and cool, and unfortunately, he turned into a misogynistic greaseball and is now creating his messages of his own.
And so, even though “Defined Lines” acted as a neutralizer to “Blurred Lines,” what we need now is a new message. And, I hate to say it, the message could comes from the movie, The Host… We are more than just our bodies.
Yes, our bodies have urges. Yes, men have testosterone that can cause them to think with their penises sometimes. But we also have minds. Minds that are often conflicted, sure, but these thoughts and feelings are important, and they are especially important when it comes to sex.
Instead of engaging in a battle of men against women, we need to work on understanding each other and learning how to have sex with each other in respectful, communicative ways.
As Becker Stevens says, “I wish that, rather than blaming you for corrupting her sons’ innocent minds, Mrs. Hall was more concerned with teaching her sons that women are human beings worthy of respect and value no matter what they’re wearing in their Facebook profile shots.”
And it’s like what Stephanie Meyer writes in her incredibly cheesy, book, The Host, “it’s not how you look in that body, but the thing you do with it.”
The Host. abcnews.go.com