Bad women you want to be

12/09/2011

I found Bad Teacher enjoyable and funny, but also suprisingly personally inspiring, which was unexpected. I think the title character sets a refreshingly good example, in her attitude, if not so much her actions themselves. In trying to get a rich husband and a comfortable life for herself, she is driven to steal, cheat, get plastic surgery, poison her rival, and even try old-fashioned hard work. She also drinks, smokes weed, and sleeps on the job just because she can. She literally does whatever she wants, legal or otherwise. Without actively setting out to hurt anyone, she recognises that looking after her own needs should be her top priority, since it’s no one else’s. Unremorseful self-interest is not traditionally a quality celebrated or rewarded in women. But sometimes that attitude can be very helpful. The film’s tagline is “She Doesn’t Give an F”, and learning to not give a fuck can be advice a lot of us need to hear.

Weeds‘ Nancy Botwin is, on the surface, a bad role model. This is not because she provides for her family with crime (if you look at Breaking Bad, that can be thought of as kind of noble), but the consistent trait that’s emerging as the show goes on is her using sex to solve every problem she has. To survive and keep her business running she’s slept with a DEA agent, a Mexican crime lord, a lesbian pyromaniac, and multiple crooked bosses, fellow dealers, and other people’s husbands. She never does this as a tragic necessity or desperate last resort, she enjoys it, gleefully revelling in her badness. She often initiates these encounters by being as irritating and inconvenient as possible for the men, daring them to discipline her: “I’m bad, punish me”. She’s resourceful, her commitment to her children is never in question, and she even gets to have a good time.

In defense of Morvern Callar: Working at a cinema where this was screening to virtually empty sessions, I would recommend it to everyone who came in, as it remains one of my favourite films (and books) of all time. On coming out of the film, male customers would then approach me, furious about the main character’s actions in the movie – probably people the film wasn’t intended for and in restrospect I shouldn’t have advised to see it (I’m not sorry). In the film Morvern, a supermarket worker in a small Scottish town, finds her boyfriend dead on Christmas morning. She opens her presents, chops up his body, changes the name on his unpublished novel to her own, and uses the money he’s left for his funeral to take her best friend to Ibiza for a holiday. This may seem immoral, but her nameless partner is the only person she ever betrays – a man who, despite the couple not even being able to afford a phone, had thousands of pounds in the bank in preparation for his death by his own hand. Suicide being the most selfish action possible, ending the person’s pain by transferring it onto those who loved them the most, it’s possible to argue that he had no right to the proper burial and posthumous fame as an author that he expected her to deliver in his absense. Morvern is emotionless and pragmatic, and she uses the situation to free herself from stifling small-town poverty, experience the world and enrich the lives of those around her.

If looking up to these woman is unhealthy or wrong, I don’t want to be right. There’s an argument that strong female characters are bad for women, since they lead to unrealistic expectations of perfection which are no fun for anyone. It’s easy to relate to and cheer on someone whose flaws you recognise in yourself, and who succeeds, at least some of the time, despite them. And morally bankrupt ladies are definitely more fun to watch (and be) than well-behaved ones, at least in my opinion.

Bad Teacher (Unrated)

Morvern Callar

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