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Why women are getting a bum deal on film posters

Film posters are addicted to showing a faceless woman from behind, with her legs framing the real hero.

Don’t panic, ladies and gentlemen. Colin Firth hasn’t shrunk. His latest film is not about a tiny besuited man and his struggle to survive in a world terrorised by gargantuan women. If you look closely you’ll see that our old friend perspective is at work, and that Firth has been pushed to the back of the picture so that in the foreground a shapely female arse and pair of legs can frame him.

In a conscious aping of the poster for the 1981 Bond film For Your Eyes Only (complete with gun held downward in right hand), the publicity department for Kingsman have solidified the towering wall of posters using this curiously popular trope: man looks on at faceless woman’s legs in tight outfit; audience is lured into cinema by promise of pert buttocks; woman straddles and opens herself up to the real hero of the film.

In one trailer, Sofia Boutella, who is the woman in question and plays a character called Gazelle, has no lines. In another she has one line. You could be forgiven for thinking her character is not crucial to the film. You could also be forgiven for thinking that a poster in which Firth faced down the film’s actual villain – Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) – with Jackson’s arse similarly photoshopped, would not have drawn in quite as many teenage males. Proving exactly this, and that the technique is one of cynical cosmetics, there is another poster in which Jackson replaces Firth and looks menacingly at Boutella’s crotch. But their characters are in allegiance; she has no need to threaten him with a gun. The publicity department seem to have written “lady’s arse in tight trousers” on a whiteboard, and decided that, once they went ahead with that, nothing else would need to make much sense.

In a great deal of posters guilty of the same cynical tactics, the woman is not only cut off at the waist but is also wearing virtually nothing. To give Kingsman’s publicity department minimal credit, they have kept Boutella comparatively covered; but, realising that doing so probably wasn’t sufficiently arousing, they have made her trousers almost obscenely tight. Marvel at the effort that has gone into artificially enhancing the curvature of Boutella’s buttocks. That is someone’s job. Someone was paid to do that.

A famously dependable way of sniffing out sexism is simply to test whether or not a situation is as applicable to one sex as it is to the other. When was the last time, in other words, you saw a film poster on which the legs and shapely arse of a faceless man loomed over the heroine of the story? Answers on the back of a postcard, please. On the rare occasions that the technique is approximately reversed, something interesting happens: rather than being relative equals, both holding guns, it is the man who wields the power – generally with a phallic weapon – over terrified, scantily-clad women.

And, when a roughly comparable film like Tomb Raider comes along, a film in which the lead character is a no-nonsense action heroine, is Angelina Jolie a serious figure in the distance, framed by a titillatingly tight male tush? No. Her breasts are artificially pronounced and she is wearing tiny shorts. If you want an action film, in other words, you’d better just get on board with the fact that women’s bodies are its currency.

Especially in light of the paucity of women in the Oscar nominations this year, it is difficult to shrug the feeling that cinema caters primarily to heterosexual men. Posters like this reinforce the impression, however accurate it may be, and give women increasing reason to think that they are better off turning their back on the industry.

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In the name of the father: Patricia Lockwood on sex, centaurs and Catholicism

The author of the viral poem “Rape Joke” talks about growing up with her gun-toting Catholic “priestdaddy”.

“Oh my fricking God. It’s a centaur.” The American poet Patricia Lockwood and I are in the lobby of a Whitehall hotel and she is finding the quantity of equine art distracting. I have already been skipped along a corridor to examine the bizarrely detailed rendering of a horse’s anus in a Napoleonic painting (“They made a point of doing him straight up the butt”) that turns out to be a copy of Théodore Géricault’s Charging Chasseur. Now a statue on the mantelpiece has caught her eye, prompting a reverie on what she saw at the British Museum a couple of days ago: “A wonderful statue of a man kneeing a centaur in the balls. It’s the most important thing to me there. It’s so beautiful.”

The confluence of violence, sex, orifices, animals and mythology runs throughout Lockwood’s work in wild and witty poems such as “The Whole World Gets Together and Gangbangs a Deer” (inspired by the realisation that “Bambi is a puberty movie”) and “Revealing Nature Photographs” (pastoral verse meets porn spam) – and it also colours her new book, Priestdaddy, a deeply idiosyncratic family memoir in which copulation is a go-to metaphor. Her dad’s frenzied, tuneless playing raises the prospect that he might be “having sex with the guitar”; during Lockwood’s teenage depression, she writes, the only thing she was having sex with “was the intolerable sadness of the human condition, which sucked so much in bed”.

Lockwood (pictured at her First Holy Communion) has dark, cropped hair and elfin features, pearly white nails and sleeping cats on her knees (an effect achieved with decorated tights – “Let this be for the stocking boys,” she says). Her voice is deadpan, frequently dipping into laughter without losing her poise. She is one day off her 35th birthday and has been married since she was 21. Her father, Greg, is a priest and, along with her four siblings in a succession of rectories across the Midwest, she was raised a Catholic – thus ensuring, she says, the permanent sexual warping of her mind.

“We Catholics become perverts because of the way sex is discussed in strictly negative terms. I saw pictures of aborted foetuses before I knew what basic anatomy was.”

As a devout teenager, she attended a youth group called God’s Gang and was given a virginity pledge in the form of a business card. The group leaders had a “very hip and young” approach: “We’re going to tell you every single thing you can do, in explicit terms, and just be like, ‘But don’t do it.’”

The ribald humour of her writing – Lockwood is renowned on Twitter for her surreal “sexts” – often contains a darkness. The poem that made her name, “Rape Joke”, takes her experience of being raped at 19 by a boyfriend and metes it out in discrete, increasingly devastating soundbites and images. It was posted online in 2013 and went viral, leading to a publishing deal for her collection Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals.

After the rape, Lockwood was “absolutely insane” for about five years, but it’s not as if she was entirely happy before: at 16, she had attempted suicide by taking a hundred Tylenol tablets. Her memoir recounts, too, being embedded in a church mired in scandal, a claustrophobic situation that hit home when a priest close to her was arrested for having sex with a 14-year-old boy. Such events led to Lockwood abandoning her faith and escaping with Jason, her future husband, whom she met on an online poetry messageboard.

When Patricia was 30, she and Jason ran out of money and moved back to the rectory, allowing her to observe her parents afresh. The resulting portraits in Priestdaddy are larger than life: her mother, Karen, is a hyperactive generator of mad puns and proverbs; her ex-navy father is a self-mythologising, right-wing whirlwind of talk radio, guns and Tom Clancy novels. Married Catholic priests are rare but Greg, previously a Lutheran minister, got the pope’s permission to convert. Usually to be found in his underwear, he wants for no new expensive gadget or guitar, though the family is expected to make sacrifices. In 2001, two weeks before Patricia – who learned to read at three and was writing poetry at seven – was supposed to leave for college, he told her that they couldn’t afford it. He later “changed the story in his mind so that I had said I don’t need to go”.

“Growing up in my household,” she says, “all of these far-right, retrograde ideas of gender roles and the man as patriarch existed from the very beginning. But I didn’t think of my house as a bellwether of what was going to happen.” It came as no surprise to her that Greg and many like him voted for Trump. When she reported on a Trump rally in February 2016, she “moved like a ghost through the crowd. They saw me as one of their own.”

Anger at her father’s selfishness “would be useless”, and Lockwood respects his sense of vocation, which she feels she has inherited. She has believed in her own genius ever since she was writing “mermaids-having-sex-with-Jesus poems” at the age of 19. Jason is her support staff, licking her envelopes and buying her clothes. His offering the previous day was a T-shirt emblazoned with Justin Bieber’s face: it revealed how much she resembles the singer – “a full 90 per cent overlap” – and is definitely not ironic.

“Do you think we only got irony after Christ was crucified?” she wonders, and then spots two black-clad priests in dog collars who have sat down across the room from us. “Ooh,” she exclaims, awed and delighted, and then, in a whisper, ever confident in her powers of creation: “I manifested them.”

“Priestdaddy: A Memoir” is published by Allen Lane. “Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals” is published by Penguin

Tom Gatti is Culture Editor of the New Statesman. He previously edited the Saturday Review section of the Times, and can be found on Twitter as @tom_gatti.

 

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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