Ghostbusters point their proton packs at the patriarchy

“Ain’t no bitches gonna bust no ghosts,” Dr Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) reads online, in the comments section of a video of said ‘bitches’ doing exactly that. It’s one of a number of wonderfully knowing moments served up by Paul Feig’s joyful, goofy reboot of Ghostbusters, which this time, charges four women with saving Manhattan from paranormal disturbances. Since well before the casting of McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones, Feig’s film has been up against comments as nuanced and poetic as this.

For better or worse, the pre-release outrage has set the tone for much of the post-release conversation about Ghostbusters. As a result, Ghostbusters is not just a film. It’s also a significant cultural moment.

Heading inside the cinema to see the film earlier this week, I wondered what all the pre-release fuss was even about. Was the original 1984 film, scripted by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, directed by Ivan Reitman, even that good? What was the perceived sacrilege being committed on what is, arguably, only an average work of cinema? After all, it’s not as if Feig had announced he was remaking Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. As with most online outrage, which loses all sense of perspective and any sense of what is truly important in life, I’ve done my best to remain detached. I’ve tried to do this despite knowing that images matter, that mainstream film is an important barometer for testing the pulse of social and cultural issues, and that this was all just good, old-fashioned, filthy misogyny at work, a truth it always distresses me to acknowledge.

proton packs
Ghostbusters 2.0 (from left to right): Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig, and Leslie Jones
ghostbusters 1984
The original team (from left to right): Ernie Hudson, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Harold Ramis

Maybe I just don’t get it. My childhood attachments are more of the Mary Poppins/Charlotte’s Web/Roald Dahl variety – mostly bookish. And I wonder if the so-called ‘ghostbros’ realise how good they had it growing up in the 1980s. Watching Ghostbusters 2016 turned me to a consideration of my own childhood viewing. I was ten-years-old when the original film was released. I don’t have any memory of seeing it at the cinema, although I know I watched it several times as a young teen. Ghostbusters sits alongside a series of films that were constantly replayed on our family VCR – The Goonies (1985), Stand By Me (1986), Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). There were others, but what they all have in common are boys or men having cool adventures, doing the seemingly extraordinary, and proving themselves heroic.

Watching Ghostbusters 2016, I felt genuine elation when the four women – McCarthy’s Abby, Wiig’s Dr Erin Gilbert, McKinnon’s Dr Jillian Holtzmann, and Jones’ Patty Tolan – stepped from the hearse, ‘Ecto-1’, in their jumpsuits with proton packs at the ready, working as a super-competent team, for the first time. It was like a reverse nostalgia – it had me thinking, how great it would be to be a young girl right now, with the chance to see a big, bombastic film like this, with four funny, smart females at the helm. Whining fan boys feel they’ve lost something profound (perspective again, please), but have they ever stopped to consider the many females they know – their mothers, sisters, cousins, friends, maybe even girlfriends – who never found a significant place in that narrative back in 1984? Have they ever paused to celebrate what these women might have now gained from this reboot?

Ultimately, this conversation seems like a waste of oxygen to me. Like most women, I look forward to a day when female-centric narratives, especially ‘blockbusters’, are neither cause for celebration nor hailed as political statements. I’m sure female actors in Hollywood and beyond just want to get on with their jobs, without every performance they commit themselves to being greeted with misogynist bile and cries of collective male trauma.

Proton packs were designed to weaken ghosts. Now, they’re also being used to weaken the patriarchy. Live with it.


50 thoughts on “Ghostbusters point their proton packs at the patriarchy

  1. The backlash at the new Ghostbusters Movie is gross misogyny at it’s absolutes finest. How dare hollywood recast an all female cast in a Hollywood remake?! It’s not like there are any Hollywood films with an ALL MALE cast or anything is it?! How dumb would that be?!

    But all the unpleasant stuff aside I am super pumped for this movie. Can’t wait.

  2. I’m with you, the criticism of this film has lost all perspective, if it had any to begin with. I liked this film, and I pointed out all the reasons why during my own review of the movie. And a lot of other people I’ve talked to have said they liked it or that they really want to see it. Despite all the backlash, this movie’s going to stay, and I think there are plenty of people who will be glad of that. Including me.

  3. I love this post- I have had my male friends say that female heroes are supposed to be sexy, not in ghostbuster suits. I love sexy female heroes just as much as females heroes wearing whatever else, because what they are wearing should not be the point!!!

    1. Yep, that’s it, isn’t it, and a point I didn’t really go into, about wondering whether the ‘outrage’ would have been so intense if the four women were more conventionally attractive. Sadly, I doubt it.

  4. Love reading such a thoughtful review of a movie that would be easy to ignore. As for me, am happy for the very idea that a girl-buddy movie is made.

  5. Great article, basically read my mind completely when it comes to this film. I love the last sentence, weakening the patriarchy. Because that is what is happening, women are stepping out certain stereotypical roles and into ones that are empowering to others around them. I LOVE this, and so glad to be apart of this time in our lives.

  6. Yes I love watching Wonder Woman. I watch ed when I was a kid (yes repeats but who is asking)
    I used to turned around and think oh yeah girls can quick butt too and save the day!

  7. Not a single over-sexualized woman in the entire movie? PRAISE. I’m so sick of guys getting surprised when they realize a girl has a great sense of humor. I hope more movies like this are made. 🙂

  8. I hope that one day we can watch movies such as this and not even be remotely bothered what gender the characters of any movie actually are. I loved the original and I thoroughly enjoyed this iteration of the Ghostbusters too. Male, female or both – I wished that we lived in a society where it simply did not matter who portrays whom.

    I listened to a podcast recently spoke of small girls dressed as Ghostbusters as they watched the film with their parents in the cinema and how this film can mean so much to a new generation. This is brilliant. We now live in a world with two very good films representing the same material and that is not bad by any means.

    Great post.

  9. I enjoyed the original ghostbusters. Most people my generation did.

    Like you, I loved Charlotte’s Web and Roald Dahl, didn’t care for the PL Travers books. I loved and still love, anything that entertains and informs. I never loved and still don’t love playing those ‘filthy misogynist’ or even ‘filthy’ misandrist games. Now there’s a term that doesn’t often get an airing.

    ‘Was the original 1984 film, scripted by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, directed by Ivan Reitman, even that good?’ you ask
    In order to praise one thing, some reviewers have the need to begin by denigrating the other thing. To quote Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune, ‘Ghostbusters is a hoot. It’s Murray’s picture, and in a triumph of mind over matter, he blows away the film’s boring special effects with his one-liners.’

    Haul out the term misogynist as often as you like, but the film making business, like any other, is in the business of making profits. It will offer its constantly changing audience what it wants. The patriarchy is dead. They recognize it. I’ve heard a good report about this newest version from a male commentator I respect so I’ll spend my hard earned and decide for myself if I like it. I won’t like it or dislike it based on the sex of the protagonists.

    1. By all means, do make up your own mind. Simply me expressing my point of view, I’m not for a minute suggesting you shouldn’t.

  10. Great article and great movie. I did however find the reverse sexism with Chris Helmsworth uncomfortable. After sexism is still offensive for either sex. I’m afraid it let the movie down for me.

  11. I love this and even though I do believe that it is awesome that they reboot this with women, I am not impressed. They can put anyone in this film, but in the end it’s still Ghostbusters and the people involved in the movie shouldn’t be praised at all because it literally still Ghostbusters. I’d be more impressed by films that are original and make women the most important roles.

  12. I think the remake has a great stamp on the time we are living in. Women need to step up and be about something for long term. Yes the remake could have had guys but who could have played them? —-crickets—Exactly, let women take over sometime. The graphics are up to speed on today’s technology. Any remake is gonna have changes but it should be better changes then some from the early 80s.

  13. Thanks for your post, I really liked it. I really enjoyed the film, but some of my friends didn’t like it and they seem to be disgruntled that not liking might make them seem misogynist. At the same time I have to wonder: Do they think I am saying I like it because I simply want a female headlined blockbuster to succeed? Its just silly. I enjoyed it for being fun. If my ten year old self saw this movie, I would have thought it kicked butt. But then again, my ten year old self was still watching Jem because basically that’s what I had to work with.

    1. I wondered the same thing – I’m a female film critic, will people think I’m only saying it’s a good film to counter all this outrage. But the truth is, as I point out in my piece, that the fact we even have to have this conversation is the real problem.

  14. I loved the old Ghostbusters and I loved the new one. The old I loved because it was one of the key memories of my childhood in cinematic terms. The new one, I went with the expectation that they would rehash the story (kind of like Star Wars), but give it a new context. And that it has. I L-O-V-E-D the total role reversal including Chris Hemsworth as the airheaded secretary. I have to say though that I still was annoyed with the portrayal of the women. There was a lot of silly screaming and doofiness. Yes, it’s a comedy, but the only really funny and cool character in the female line-up was Holtzmann. The others were very much built on stereotypes. But overall, I loved it and it’s time there is more of this.

  15. I love that this film has started an intelligent discussion with my daughter about why people wouldn’t like this film. It ended with her emphatically saying “girls can do anything boys can”. I love this film!

  16. Good for the young girls growing up to teen. It must boost their confidence one way or the other. As it did to us.

  17. Your take on Ghostbusters 2016 was spot on. It is not like the 4 women are deliberately setting out to be Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis and Hudson. People should view this film as a modern twist on an old “classic” (shuddering at how using that word makes me feel old) and just go along for the ride. It’s a comedy, not a life changing event. Great site!

  18. Wonderful post. I loved the movie and loved the fact that these four women were smart and didn’t leave the day saving to the men. And it was hilarious, I was probably one of the few in the theater who were struggling to catchy my breath amidst the quiet cackles, but anything that has SNL and Groundlings stars has to be rolling on floor funny. And who knew that Chris Hemsworth could be funny?

  19. Do you think if the original was cast with women and the reboot was with men, would there be this much or any backslash? I think not, instead it would have been heralded as a masterpiece. Sexism at it’s worst. Hollywood is still the old boys network and until that changes these reactions will be common place.

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