What men in Hollywood get wrong about girlhood

What men in Hollywood get wrong about girlhood

We open on a beach. The roar of the conch shell echoes through the scene as the camera pans and we see her — a slender, young girl with sandy blonde hair and an air of authority. She’s just signalled the first of many assemblies to be held by the deserted girls who start to gather here. Some tattered, others robed and walking in unison, it's clear these groups of girls were not meant to be together. That's one possible way to begin the new all-female iteration of Lord of the Flies.

Lord of the Flies explores themes of individualism versus collectivism and creates a dialogue with readers about human nature. It demonstrates a cycle of violence society deems masculine.

For anyone who didn’t read the book in high school or middle school, here’s the book’s premise: two groups of prepubescent English boys are stranded on an island by themselves and forced to survive. At first, they attempt to form a group and govern themselves, but things go awry when some of the boys descend into barbarism and create an environment of violence and chaos.

It conveys some powerful messages, which makes it the type of story Hollywood loves to sink its teeth into. But when I heard that a male writer and director have a plan to develop an all-female remake of Lord of the Flies, the news gave me pause.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for unexpected gender bending and diversity in Hollywood — the new Ghostbusters was awesome, don’t @ me — but when the gender dynamics of the characters play into most of a story’s significant plot points, let’s leave well enough alone.

Twitter responded as one would predict, with users claiming none of the events in Lord of the Flies would have happened if all of the characters were girls.

It's a fictional story. We don’t know what would happen if a group of girls got marooned on an island together for an undisclosed amount of time. Perhaps they would turn physically violent against one another, but as a woman who spent the last four years studying anthropology with a focus on sex and gender studies, I’m going to go ahead and call BS.

It’s not that girls don’t have the capacity to be violent. But female violence tends to stray more towards the mental and emotional, while male violence tends to be physical. This is rooted in the way we are socialized from birth. Society exposes boys to the problematic dung heap that is toxic masculinity and teaches girls the mixed messages of needing to stay quiet and out of the way while still somehow being better than other girls.

Gendered socialization has its problems. A story about a group of all female-or male-identified kids stranded on a desert island would make for a good case study — were it well thought out. Gender is a spectrum, not a binary. A whole realm of traits and behaviors is possible, regardless of a person’s categorization.

But there’s the rub. This so-called “remake” does not appear to be well thought out. If it were a reimagining that kept the general premise of being stranded and having to survive, but ditched the current character development and plot points in favor of a new story? I could get into that. But to call it a remake suggests parallels to the original story, so character development is likely to be similar.

I don’t put a lot of faith in a couple of men’s efforts to translate Ralph, Jack, Piggy and the gang into complete three dimensional female characters. I suspect we'll get watered down versions of the same characters in girls’ bodies. With new names.

Go ahead. Call me picky if you want. As far as I’m concerned, Lord of the Flies demonstrates patterns of male violence that have no direct translation into girlhood. While I haven’t thought a lot about what would happen if a group of girls got stranded together, somehow I feel like they wouldn’t go murdering each other because of a few disagreements. I could be wrong on that, but everything I know about girlhood from both experience and study points to a less violent situation. Would it look like Themyscira? Probably not. But it probably wouldn’t end with Piggy’s brains all over the rocks because she was shoved 40 feet down for speaking the truth either.

What all of this boils down to is lazy storytelling, Hollywood pandering to a public that clamors for more stories about women and girls (even if those stories don’t make sense), a group of men who think they can make a quick buck by cashing in on the increase in female-led movies, and perhaps a lengthy, film-based piss baby, MRA-type cry of, “Look, girls can be mean too,” even though the basis for the story is completely implausible.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. We have to wait and see. But I can’t be the only one fed up with women not getting to have or tell their own stories. How about we get a group of women filmmakers some funding to work on an original project about girl/womanhood? Or is that too much to ask? Somebody get Hollywood on the line. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Kelly Livingston is a freelance writer with a passion for intersectional feminism. After four years studying English and Anthropology at the University of Florida, she remains fascinated by the ways we can use writing to comment on and change our culture.