Last week, the Austin branch of the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater chain announced a women-only screening of “Wonder Woman,” and online, men responded with unprecedented outrage.
My article about Alamo’s screening activated a wild amount of anger among men ― I was trolled on Facebook, in my inbox, in a series of random and bizarre Instagram mentions. I write about patriarchy and toxic masculinity regularly, and yet it was this seemingly innocuous “Wonder Woman” screening piece that garnered the most trolling I’ve had to endure in over a year. Other women who covered the Alamo situation, or even made comments about it on Twitter, were treated similarly.
Many angry men on the internet claimed that excluding them from a film screening is gender-based discrimination and is therefore illegal. Many were also quick to ask how angry women would be about a men-only screening had the tables been turned. (This scenario is entirely unfounded, by the way ― the Alamo will offer dozens of other screenings that are open to the public, and the women-only screening is but one screening option of many at that very same theater.)
The overall idea that this is an illegal act of gender discrimination is both a monumental overreaction to a harmless event, and hugely flawed ideology ― because most public spaces already do belong to men, whether the sign on the door says so or not.
Take Congress, for example. As the institution that grants us our basic rights and bodily autonomy, it’s outrageous that women make up only 20 percent of elected officials when we are 50 percent of the population. Of course, women are allowed to hold office ― but the system is set up in a way that gives men more advantage in the pursuit for political power. Systemic sexism and outdated gender roles allow the government to largely remain a boy’s cub, with seriously damaging results.
Perhaps the most striking reminder of this is a photo from March that shows a room full of men deciding on legislation about women’s health care ― something that has far more serious implications than a just-for-fun screening of a superhero movie where women can gather to celebrate the rarely-portrayed female heroine on the big screen.
Other public spaces of importance also favor men ― and women who have managed to scramble their way into academia, medicine, law and tech are not treated with the fairness that their positions should grant them. They must continue to prove they belong while men are are given the benefit of the doubt.
Official men-only spaces exist in plenty, too. From fraternities and elite clubs on college campuses to other exclusive clubs across the country like the Adventurers’ Club. And in a most basic sense of existing in public space, 87 percent of young women have reported being sexually harassed ― when we walk down the street or walk into Starbucks, for example, we are reminded by catcalling, groping, leering, and verbal harassment that public space does not truly belong to us.
And while the vitriol was spurred from Alamo’s “Wonder Woman” screening, much of response seems to be less about the actual movie and more about the perceived hypocrisy of women and feminists. As one of our esteemed readers emailed us to say, “females whine, moan, complain, beitch [sic] about Everything under the sun.” Apparently, women can’t both point out systemic sexism that excludes us from the public discourse and celebrate a women-only space ― the idea is that it’s “reverse sexism.” But, much like the concept of “reverse racism,” that’s a completely flawed equation. Women and people of color don’t have the power to discriminate against men and white people in a way that would affect them systemically. So, when we do create our own spaces, men are not perpetually disadvantaged because of them.
Women are confronted with the jarring feeling of exclusion on a regular, day-to-day basis. But what women don’t do in the face of this exclusion is harass, humiliate, violate, stalk, threaten or assault men in response.
What we do, or at least try to do, instead, is find joy and camaraderie in safe and celebratory spaces. Like a girl’s night screening of a movie about a powerful woman superhero.