Gone Girl’s Amy: Feminist Champion or Cruel Killer?

LET’S BE REAL. If you haven’t seen Gone Girl by now, are you ever going to? Not rhetorical; serious question — I’m wondering how much I can spoil and maintain my status as just a semi-asshole. It’s a twisted flick, alright. So if you’re the sort of person who complains vehemently about spoilers, please stop reading and go do what I imagine people who complain vehemently about spoilers do in their spare time (Get mad when coffee is too hot, kick puppies, etc). With its mostly outstanding reviews — Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers even went so far as to creepily dub it “the date-night movie of the decade” (Note to self: swipe left if you ever encounter Pete on Tinder) — as well as its top-grossing status, critics and pleb movie-goers are unanimous—Gone Girl is pretty great, and why shouldn’t it be? With acclaimed director David Fincher’s deft touches as well as an author-penned script that saved the story from would-be Hollywood cliches (BUT THAT’S NONE OF MY BUSINESS, THE GIVER!) it was never exactly a dark horse. Add box office boo thang Ben Afflek, the flawless Rosamund Pike, and appearances from Neil Patrick Harris and the bouncy Blurred Lines chick best known for making us collectively glare down at our boobs like, “Get it together, you floppy freeloaders!” and BAM. Instant classic. Perusing the glowing reviews, initially I was a veritable bobble-head, nodding along with ass-kissing adverb-adjectives combos like “wickedly funny” (Yup. Definitely squirted Diet Coke out of my nose on a few different occasions) and “shrewdly sexy” (well…it probably would have been had I not gone with my dad who munched M&M-infused popcorn with grim determination through a bevy of steamy scenes no non-pervy man wants to witness alongside his daughter.) One moniker, though, supplied by Vox.com gave me pause. “The most feminist mainstream movie in years”… Um, what?

Accomplished career woman, adored daughter, brilliant schemer. “Amazing” Amy Elliott Dunne is many things. Feminist isn’t one of them. Sure, she’s whip-smart, steel-nerved, and staggeringly determined. She has the kind of follow-through and confidence we’d all wish on our sisters and daughters. But she uses these gifts for the sole purpose of destruction. Not theoretical destruction of the patriarchy or preconceived notions or any of the daily injustices women are forced to confront. But of human lives. At its core, feminism is an affirmation that all people, regardless of gender identification, matter. Amy regards people as pawns at best, and as evidence to dispose of when they get in the way of her ruthless engineering of revenge. Not only does she disdain anyone who doesn’t conform to her narrow world views and tunnel=vision strategizing, but she actively and unabashedly uses them, which is far worse than simply holding them in contempt. It is more than demeaning, it is dehumanizing.

So why is she misconstrued as a feminist hero? Personally, I think that line of reasoning can be attributed to a troubling trend in the movement, a shift towards misandry (hatred of men and boys, the opposite of misogyny) that does far more harm than good. While I’m a firm believer that men shouldn’t be pandered to in feminist discourse, they should, indeed, must, be included. While it’s not our job to make them feel comfortable — because really, what decent person is going to feel comfortable upon learning how his inborn privilege inadvertently casts him as an oppressor? — we as women must make them feel welcome. When Emma Watson’s UN speech was maligned by some as being too men-focused, I wished I’d taken some preemptive Advil to prep for my inevitable head-desking. Yes, the speech could have used some improvement (Emma! Acknowledge that you’re speaking as a rich white woman! And a Gryffindor). But it’s male-friendly sentiments in no way compromised her stance. Man-bashing makes you a feminist in the same way that hating Big Macs (do such people exist?) makes you an animal rights activist. Amy’s plan to ruin her — admittedly sort of sleazy — husband’s life wasn’t empowered, it was just plain cruel. And while we could all relate to Amy’s annoyance when her cloying ex-boyfriend took her second helping of pudding away from her and suggested she bleach her hair, anyone who viewed the following sequence, where she viciously (and eww, kind of orgasmically!) slit his throat with a box cutter and rolled around in his blood as some sick celebration of girl power, is seriously messed up. (And should also possibly hit up Peter Travers for coffee?)

To her credit, Amy is an equal-opportunities sociopath. She uses the women in her life just as callously, if not as violently, as their male counterparts, referring to a neighbor who genuinely values her friendship as a “local idiot” and abusing their alleged bond to plant evidence on her husband. And one only has to listen to the now-famous “cool girl” speech without the blinders of “This is so relatable!” on, to realize that Amy holds her fellow women in such low esteem that she willingly mocks and maligns them for their insecurity, instead of responding with compassion and understanding. She dismisses single girls as desperate liars and married mothers as dumb cows, reducing them to archetypes that are as unfleshed out as her callous evaluations of men. Oh, and she repeatedly fakes rape, which is a bucketful of salt rubbed in the wounds of women who are survivors of actual sexual trauma, not to mention the kind of ploy that sets sexual politics back several decades. It’s so easy to see Amy, with her cold eyes, bad-bitch one-liners and seemingly bottomless supply of meticulous vengeance as the kind of razor-sharp icon of liberation that feminism lives for — and because of. But feminism isn’t easy. Feminism is strength and sass and backbone. But it is also patience and outstretched hands and kindness. Feminism demands more of its champions. And Amazing Amy simply falls short.

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