New X-Men Movie, Same Old Sexism


Sexism blinds us to the logic of our own stories. X-Men: Days of Future Past is a perfect example. 

Here be spoilers. 

In 1973, in the world of this story, Charles Xavier is no longer Professor X. He's been hiding in his mansion for ten years, taking a serum developed by Hank McCoy that lets him walk but takes away his mutant powers.

xavier-give-me-the-drugs

Junkie Prof X: "Give me the drugs, Hank!"


Meanwhile, Erik Lehnsherr, aka Magneto, has spent the past ten years as a prisoner, locked up in solitary confinement in a glass-roofed prison cell.

magneto-prison-cell

"I don't care if you watch me masturbate, but the betting pool 
on how long it takes me is cruel and unusual."


During these ten years, when neither Prof X or Magneto are using their powers or pursuing any worthwhile goals, Mystique is traveling all over the world at great personal risk to rescue mutants and serve mutant-kind. Our first glimpse of her is in Vietnam.

mystique-vietnam

"And this is how we give thanks to Mutant Jesus
after scoring a touchdown."


As soon as she rescues her own team of mutants, she flies off to Paris to infiltrate the international peace accords. 

mystique-paris

"My other mutant ability is break-dancing."


In fact, the whole premise of the movie is that Mystique is so awesome and effective at identifying her targets and following through on her plans that she literally changes the course of human history

Of course, it's a terrible future. Because she created it and she's a woman. Or maybe I'm reading too much into that. Nevermind, the important thing is that Wolverine is sent back in time to get the band back together and change her mind. 

the-band-gets-back-together

Wolverine: "Yoko Ono must be stopped, if you get my meaning."


So the gang tracks this strong, hyper-competent, independent woman down, and the first thing they try to do is reason with her.

Haha! No! Magneto shoots her.

magneto-shoots-mystique

"I read a lot of MRA blogs while I was locked up,
but that's completely unrelated to what I'm doing now."


But, okay, we get that, he's a bad guy. And hey, Mystique talks to him the next day and forgives him, so why can't we?

x-men-days-of-future-past-photo-mystique-magneto-70s

"Were you seriously going to ask me if I'm 'Charles' Raven or your Mystique'?
Because I'll cut you and then hunt down the screenwriter and cut them."


Wait, she does what?

At least we know that Charles will step up and do the right thing and treat her like an adult. 

Oh, no, wait, when his chance comes he goes inside her head and physically controls her, at least long enough to make a speech about how important it is for her to make up her own mind.

xavier-listen-to-me

"LISTEN TO ME! WHY WON'T YOU LISTEN TO ME, RAVEN? GOD!!!"


Never mind that, in the world of the story, Mystique has been making cold, rational choices based on information all along.

Here's the point where, in the world of the story, Mystique could have gotten her own speech. "Charles, your way alone is whack. Erik, your way is kinda whack too. Here's a third way... that I've been working on for ten years. From a dialectical perspective, Charles, you're thesis, Erik is antithesis, and I'm synthesis, bringing the two viewpoints together into a new way of looking at things. A little simplistic, but, hey, this is Hollywood, and that's the oversimplified way that stories are usually written... when the characters are treated as equals." 

"So here's my own team of mutants... that I've been leading for ten years. While the two of you were doing jack-all for the past decade, I've been busy gladwelling my ten thousand hours of experience as a field operative and leader. I have more experience than either one of you now, in both tactics and strategy, and since I've saved the lives of all these mutants, some of them are loyal to me. Remind me why anyone follows either one of you again?"

"Oh, and by the way, during the ten years you were locked up, there was a thing called the women's liberation movement and the development of a whole body of feminist theory. So if either of you assume you have the right to make decisions about my life or my body ever again, I'll kill you in your sleep. Are we clear?" 

"And don't blame me. This is the backstory that the writers wrote into the movie!"

Meanwhile, back in the future, during the big third act battle, the first mutant to die is... 

storm

"I'm safe as long as Bishop is alive. Everyone
knows the black guy dies first."


Let's be clear about the internal logic of the story, one last time.

Bad future happens when Mystique kills Bolivar Trask -- the first person she ever kills!

Good future happens and the world is restored when she decides not to kill Trask.

bolivar-trask

"I like living."


So the world is a better place because Mystique grows and changes as a person. And when we snap back to the future, we'll get to see a glimpse of her and how she's changed.

Hahaha! Sorry.

Just like Mystique only functions earlier in the story as a foil for Charles' man-pain vs. Magneto's man-pain, she's completely absent from the denouement. Because her growth as a character is irrelevant to the rewards that the men-folks get for a job well done. 

kitty-pryde

"Hello! What about my job well done?"


When Wolverine wakes up in the good future, he gets the happy ending and the reward. And what do the screenwriters give him? 

A woman. Jean Grey is still alive. He immediately goes to touch her, to put a hand on her possessively... and then Scott Summers steps in. "Oh oh oh! She's not yours, Logan. She's mine."

But the look that Jean gives Logan as she walks away is the face that launched a thousand fics.  

By all rights, based on the internal logic of the story, Mystique should have been the hero at the end of this movie. But sexism makes us marginalize her story. As the men show up, she loses agency. She must choose Erik's way or Charles's way, and she can only do so after Charles gives her permission. 

Never mind the great performance by Jennifer Fucking Lawrence. It's not like she's won Oscars or is one of the biggest box office draws in the world. There's no way she could carry that kind of role. Oh, wait, she is and she can.

We're so used to this kind of sexism that most reviews and reactions to the movie never question why it has to be that way, or stop to ask if it makes any sense. 

Mystique, you're awesome. You deserved better than this hackneyed old sexist crap.

© C.C. Finlay 2017