Women are quick to judge other women, and feminists are no exception. Although there have long been feminist analyses of the seemingly self-sabotaging behavior of women under patriarchy (see: Dworkin’s “Right-Wing Women” and Graham’s “Loving to Survive”), these analyses have failed to seep into mainstream feminist consciousness.
While every woman is forced to make compromises to survive under patriarchy, certain compromises are judged more harshly by the feminist mobs — ready to call out any woman who betrays the sacred pact of sisterhood. These are the women who are apparently happy to play along with oppressive gender roles, use their sexuality to get ahead, and throw women under the bus with their support for harmful policies, politics, and politicians. These are the women we write off as “too far gone,” “self-serving,” or, sometimes, “evil bitch.”
These are the women with which “Bombshell” forces viewers to empathize.
Telling the fictionalized story of the women of Fox News who survived a decades-long culture of sexual harassment and eventually toppled Fox CEO Roger Ailes, “Bombshell” is a powerful portrayal of workplace harassment. But while the tear-jerking performances of A-level actresses like Margot Robbie, Charlize Theron, and Nicole Kidman do an excellent job demonstrating the pain and trauma women experience, their performances also force the viewer to empathize with women we may not typically see as victims.
“Bombshell” struggled to find its audience. Those progressive enough to care about sexual harassment didn’t want to watch a movie where Megyn Kelly was the heroine. Those who are conservative enough to like Kelly didn’t want to watch their favorite propaganda machine taken to task. According to The Hill, the movie didn’t even make back half of its budget during its box office release.
But the very fact that both sides of the political spectrum avoided the film demonstrates exactly why it should be watched by all. Feminists, in particular, have something to gain in understanding the motivations of the women we have labeled our enemies for occupying seats across the aisle.
Rachel McKinnon’s character, Jess, provides an excellent example of this without being involved in the sexual harassment herself. Jess, a Democrat and a lesbian who has a poster of Hilary Clinton on her bedroom wall, hides both her politics and her sexuality to keep her job at Fox. Why does she work there if she hates it so much? Like pretty much everyone else in the country, she needs a job. She applied everywhere, and Fox is where she got an offer. Now, she regularly applies to other media outlets in an attempt to get out — but none of them want her because she worked at Fox. They judge her without knowing anything about her life just like we do at first. But Jess, like everyone else, is just trying to survive in a capitalist patriarchy. Ideological purity isn’t a relevant framework with which to analyze her experiences.
By providing Jess to the viewer, a pure liberal hiding out in the heart of darkness, “Bombshell” primes us to start to empathize with why the women of Fox make the choices they do, including choices that put other women at risk.
It’s later revealed that Megyn Kelly was victimized by Ailes when she was just starting out as a young reporter. She admits that she used Ailes’ attention to get ahead at the network and to succeed. Margot Robbie’s Kayla, the latest victim of Ailes, challenges Megyn, saying that if Megyn had come forward at the time, maybe the rest of them would be spared. “Did you think what your silence would mean for us?” she asks while choking back tears. Megyn coldly replies, “Look around, snowflake, how do you think I succeeded? How do you think a woman gets a prime-time Fox show?”
In a reaction to the movie, the real-life victims of Ailes, including Kelly, pointed out that this is a form of victim-blaming. “The scenes portrayed of me in the movie are of when I did have power. But when I went through it with Ailes, I was a second-year reporter,” Kelly says. She also points out that in 2006 she did complain to a supervisor, and her complaints were shut down.
In the feminist movement, right-wing women are often seen as the enemy. To be fair, right-wing policies do actively harm women in a way that progressive policies usually don’t (with some exceptions). Anti-choice legislation that is put in place by the GOP lawmakers who are propped up by Fox News puts women’s lives at risk. Yet, Kelly herself, despite being a stalwart defender of the conservative machine, has defended many of the same policies feminists support (all while denying the “feminist” label). According to The Cut, she has become infamous for her “Megyn Moments,” which include, “defending maternity leave, advocating for working women, and eviscerating misogynists on air.” Gretchen Carlson (portrayed by Kidman), the former Fox and Friends anchor whose lawsuit against Fox and Ailes preceded the #MeToo movement and opened the gates for other women at Fox, has also come out in support of Roe v Wade.
These women, who fail to conform to the feminist mold and seem comfortable enough working for the patriarchal establishment, are blurring the line between feminist and not. But one thing is as clear as ever: feminism isn’t a right or left issue. It’s a sex-class issue, faced by all female people regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum. Serving the patriarchy, in some ways, helped women like Kelly and Carlson get ahead. Yet, they were victimized along the way. “Bombshell” is a wakeup call to left-wing feminists to recognize the pain that conservative women face, and to incorporate their experiences into our feminist analysis.
This isn’t to say that we should stop internal political struggle with our sisters across the aisle. The racism, for example, that underlies much of conservative politics should not be ignored or excused in the name of sisterhood — that only serves to further exclude another group of women. Many of these women also, still, advocate for anti-feminist ideas — like when Kelly argued that consent on college campuses eliminated the rights of men. But anti-woman policies are not an exclusively right-wing problem. The liberal arm of feminism is currently fighting to legalize the buying and selling of women for sex in Vermont (and across the country). The Vermont bill is co-sponsored by four women, all Progressives or Democrats.
Still, finding a way to engage in discussion and consciousness-raising with conservative women will be necessary to the movement’s long term success. Whether or not we agree on policy, race and class issues, or even women’s issues, we must acknowledge that even the women who appear to be upholding the patriarchy are victims of it, too. The line between victim and perpetrator becomes blurred when women are supporting the very structures that feminists aim to tear down, but we can’t allow these blurred lines, so to speak, to cloud our mission: abolishing patriarchy. “Bombshell,” and the real-life stories of women like Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly, demonstrate that this is not a one-sided issue.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0, M. K. Fain
Cover photo: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and Margot Robbie in “Bombshell”, Lionsgate (source)