Five More on Kick-Ass, Part 2

This is the second post in a series that began with Part 1. I recommend beginning there, and following the links at the end of each section to work through the following posts in the series (of which there will be five).

In my last post, I showed how the claim that Kick-Ass, in its presentation of Mindy/Hit-Girl in a schoolgirl uniform, doesn’t constitute sexualization of children as much as the critic’s claim therein constituted the revelation of a desire to desexualize, infantilize, and otherwise impose degrading and confusing controls both on the depiction of children in media, but also (and more distressingly) on children in the real world.

Now, to assess objection number 2 from the criticism quoted in Part 1:

  1. The absence of mothers from Kick-Ass is problematic and somehow linked to child pornography because of a lack of tenderness this absence guarantees.

The absence of mothers in this film is, in fact, a very interesting issue. It remains to be seen (in sequels) whether Big Daddy was actually honest with Mindy/Hit-Girl: apparently in the original comics, Mindy’s mother is simply divorced from Mindy’s father and living elsewhere, her suicide a fantastical invention of Big Daddy concocted to give him a reason to play superhero. The only mother in the film is basically a standoffish, supportive wife of the worst gangster in town, and has about two minutes of onscreen time (as a peripheral presence) at the most.

Either way, one must give pause and consider why it is that the absence of mothers must necessarily guarantee an absence of tenderness. Surely, the critic realizes that he or she is asserting that tenderness is the domain of the female or feminine — particularly of the maternal figure.

Little needs to be said once one has recognized this fact. Just as the critic seeks to impose a stylized, fantastical childhood notion of childhood upon Mindy and on children in our real world, so too does our critic seek to essentialize femininity as tender and kind, and masculinity or non-maternal femininity as absent of these qualities.

So that Katie’s tenderness towards Dave is, well, something else. (Lust?) Hit-Girl’s tenderness toward her father is, well, something else, and his tenderness toward her — bizarre and distorted as it is — apparently for our critic was nonexistent. I wonder if the critic watched the same film I did: Big Daddy’s love and tenderness towards his daughter manages to be wrenching and moving as he shouts his instructions to her in the hope of keeping her alive, and as they say their farewells before he dies.

No mother = no tenderness? This argument is sexist, a bigot’s argument.

It is, in addition, rather wrongheaded. One feels as if one ought to invite the critic out into the real world for a jaunt, to experience the shock of encountering mothers who are far from tender, far from the gentle angelic figures suggested in this critic’s ideal media. Whoever said mothers were necessarily tender anyway?

More tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Series Navigation<< Five More on Kick-Ass, Part 1.Five more on Kick-Ass, Part 3 >>

4 thoughts on “Five More on Kick-Ass, Part 2

  1. Frankly, I wouldn’t hesitate to call the critic’s willingness to characterize the lack of a mother character as a lack of tenderness as sexist, the same sort of refusal to see that results in “New Moms’ Group” and women getting maternity leave while men are denied paternity leave, of diaper change tables being put in women’s rooms’ only: the sort of gender stereotyping that leaves women to deal with all the heartbreak and effort of childrearing and locks men out.

  2. Val,

    Yeah, it’s sexist in a number of ways. Besides what I mention above (the putting moms on a pedestal) and you mention (locking dads out of tender parenting ideologically) it’s also, I’d say, more disturbingly, tied up with that whole hidden discourse where women not only ought to be saddled with the majority of the duties of childrearing, but also the hidden implication that this is their primary purpose for existing.

    (This came up in a classroom discussion on women smoking in Korea today, weirdly enough.)

  3. I think the whole “no tenderness” thing also omits the relationship between Dave and and his Dad. If anything it seems to have been the death of Dave’s mother that catalyzes his need to find meaning by being a superhero. And Dave’s father seems to have enormous tenderness for his son, but he’s also gutted by grief and doesn’t know quite how to express it. Still, the viewer knows it’s there.

    I also remember the scene where Dave has been beaten half to death while trying to protect another guy, finally successfully, and he says he’d rather die than stand by and do nothing. That’s a powerful scene precisely because it’s the product of an intensely tender heart, even if it is a heart deluded by dreams of being a superhero.

    (It’s tempting the argue that one theme of the movie is how male tenderness, suppressed and discredited, seeks an outlet in fantasies of heroism. How many adolescent guys dream of being a superhero and saving the world because that’s the only way to earn the right to even have feelings for some girl?)

    1. Marvin,

      Excellent insights — especially the last one, which I think is probably spot on. (And apparently, as I say, the comic book slaps that fantasy of “being a hero = earning the right to like a girl and be liked back” in the face…)

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