“Gone Girl” and Feminism (Part 1)

With March being Women’s History Month, the library at the University put up a display with several different books to commemorate the month. There were biographies of many different great women from history, a few books on feminism, and the novel Gone Girl by Gilliam Flynn. I was familiar with the film adaptation but had never read the novel. Curious to see why it would be listed as a recommended novel for Women’s History Month, I picked up Gone Girl and an unrelated book of feminist essays. The girl at the research desk who checked the books out for me was pleased with my decisions, letting me know that these two books were the ones she selected for the display. I thanked her for the recommendations and anticipated a critical reading of Gone Girl with an eye towards what it had to say about women’s history and feminism.

When I posted about my library selections on Facebook, there was a strong and bitter backlash in the comments over the inclusion of Gone Girl as being representative of feminism. Most of, if not all of those commenting With current social arguments over gender, those livid comments claimed the book was “anti-man” and therefore represented everything wrong with feminism. To quote one of those comments: “Oh, a crazy woman destroys a man’s life. Screw the patriarchy I guess? Yeah, I can see why this would be a model of feminism and it disgust me.”

Much criticism against “Gone Girl” asks if the character is misogynist or creates ideals for Men’s Rights Advocates.

Gone Girl is the tale of a marriage told from the varying perspectives of a husband and wife, Nick and Amy Dunne. The history of this marriage is told through a plot where Amy, upon discovering her husband’s infidelity, plots revenge by faking her in own murder and framing her husband for the crime. With the novel’s popularity and the acclaimed film adaptation in 2014, the phrase “gone girl” has earned a place in the contemporary lexicon as noted by Urban Dictionary:

Gone girl

v.tr. To frame someone for a very serious crime (esp. rape or murder) using elaborate, carefully falsified evidence, while presenting oneself as a victim.

Throughout the course of the story, Amy Elliot Dunne Gone girls quite a few guys.

The popular culture surrounding “Gone Girl” as well as the criticisms of how it either doesn’t represent women at all or only represents the very worst parts of feminism are all focused on Amy and her actions. This woman tried to frame a man for murder? She is terrible – therefore feminism must be terrible. So easy to defend a man who cheated on his wife. Is that some sort of commentary about society? Was it simply the word “feminism” that triggered people to go on the offensive towards this novel’s inclusion in a women’s history event? Knowing that all the people commenting had not read the novel (nor had I initially), I came up with a way to test some ideas. As I read the novel, I posted quotes (and in one case a paraphrased idea) from the novel as status updates on Facebook. I posted these quotes without context or attribution; as far as my followers knew they were just random thoughts. These quotes were liked, commented on, and shared by the same people that were so critical about the novel being considered exemplary of feminism and women’s history. Some of the quotes (and idea) I posted from Gone Girl were:

  • “Love makes you want to be a better man—right,right. But maybe love, real love, also gives you permission to be just the man you are” (150).
  • [Paraphrased idea] For those that can afford medical care, they are treated with plasma harvested from the bodies of desperate poor people (156).
  • “Tampon commercial, detergent commercial, maxipad commercial, Windex commercial. You’d think all women do is clean and bleed” (245).
  • “The musical Oliver!… ‘As Long as He Needs Me’ is basically a lilting paean to domestic violence” (262).

These were only a tiny sample of how Gone Girl comments on gender role expectations, social class, and feminism; these were the very things commenters believed a novel like Good Girl addressed in a way that represented “all the bad parts of feminism.” It was not only clear that they hadn’t read the novel, but that they didn’t recognize its statements as being the exact same ideas they eschewed earlier. In addition to this, there are many articles available about the film, arguing that it is either misogynistic or displaying an uncharacteristically extremist view of feminism. However, these are discussing the film by itself, absent of its source material.

While the novel has a lot of insightful things to say about contemporary gender relations? Is that what other critics have found using the film?

Dana Schwartz, writing for Observer, a news and popular culture blog, in September of 2016, argued that Amy Dunne, the eponymous “Gone Girl,” is not a feminist. She places the film in conversation with contemporary anti-feminist issues such as the rhetoric of trending hashtags such as #FeminismIsCancer and the issues presented by Donald Trump’s misogynist statements. She describes these them as: “people with other strange notions of feminism: that if we’re not immoral sexpots out to sabotage the justice system, then we’re all fat and desperate for male attention and turned towards adorable and unnecessary ideas of ‘empowerment’ because we haven’t been able to get any dick” (Schwartz 1). She argues that Amy Dunne, while a strong character, is not a feminist; to categorize her violent and antisocial action (such as framing men for rape) gives credence to sexist viewpoints and provides the rhetoric necessary for people to defend criminals like Stanford Rapist Brock Turner. It should be again noted that her discussion is focused on the film, does the film support or work against feminism? In Ms. Schwartz’s opinion, it does not. This view is also shared by David Cox of The Guardian who writes, “the endless promotion of the female cause seems to be creating its own backlash. Women, some seem to believe, are self-serving, venomous and deceitful but can get away with whatever they want. It’s this outlook that Amy’s adventures could foster” (Cox 1). On the outspoken feminist blog The Mary Sue, Lesley Coffin says of the film: “it certainly supports a disturbing depiction of women as a threat to the male domain… Could Gone Girl appeal to and feed a growing tendency in society to justify the idea of women as threat? Absolutely” (Coffin 1).

Upon the film’s initial release in October of 2012, Alyssa Rosenberg, writing for Washington Post asked “Is ‘Gone Girl’s Amy a misogynist? A misandrist? Or both” (Rosenberg 1). Rosenberg states that while she wasn’t convinced by the novel upon her first reading, going over it again in conjunction with the film, she concludes that Amy Dunne is both a misogynist and a misandrist. Using both the film and examples from the novel, she analyzes the character of Amy Dunne to exemplify character traits: “she pretty much hates everyone else on the planet” (1). This, however, is an analysis of the character, and a fine analysis at that. It does now, however, discuss larger themes of the novel. Amy Dunne may be a hateful woman, but where does this sociopath fit into Flynn’s novel, what statements are made by the use of examining such a character?

Of course all critics do agree that “Gone Girl” does say some important things about the media.

Perhaps the most ludicrous article about Gone Girl I came across was from Ms. Magazine, where Natalie Wilson, a professor of women’s studies, glazes over the gender relations or any of the argument or elements in the film or book to only focus on issues of privilege. “If she ‘cried rape’… would she be as readily believed if she were a woman of color? What if she were a prostitute? Would she be believed if she were, say, a young black man” (Wilson 1). These aren’t even issues brought up by the novel or the film—The film is not about race, not in the slightest, so why ask these questions in the first place? “However, had Amy been a pregnant Latina, or working class, or a single woman, would she still be framed this way” (1). No, no she wouldn’t—but none of that is at all what the book or film is about. Instead of actually analyzing anything that is actually in the film or the book, Wilson completely negates any commentary offered by those works and instead dwells on things that are not present. It is a rather poor analysis, and lousy criticism to discuss things that weren’t in the work up for discussion.

Criticisms and analysis of Gone Girl have largely been centered on the film or have tentatively viewed the book using the film adaptation to inform their reading. Fincher’s film is an enjoyable, dark, suspense movie that utilizes plot points from Flynn’s novel, but is constrained by its medium—it cannot fully present all the commentary and arguments about feminism, the media, and gender relations. Most of the criticism leveled at Gone Girl, calling it an anti-feminist work, are examining the film, examining the plot without ever taking a look at the text where Flynn’s argument lies.

Very little literature exists examining the novel itself as a feminist work. Contemporary criticism of Flynn’s novel has been focused on the film, negating any argument present in the novel itself. The next part of this article will be an examination of Gone Girl through feminist literature (prior to the novel’s publication in 2012), as well as looking at what other works and events Flynn’s novel was in conversation with. The film is a separate entity, a different person’s interpretation of a work—that interpretation should not be used on its own to discredit the novel. Whether the novel Gone Girl is a feminist statement, contributes to the history of women, or comments on social issues of its time is solely up to the novel.

Works Cited

Coffin, Lesley. “Review: ‘Gone Girl’ is a Solid Noir Marred By Sloppy Storytelling and Sexism.” The Mary Sue. 6 Oct. 2014. http://www.themarysue.com/gone-girl-review/ Web 11 Mar. 2017.

Cox, David. “’Gone Girl’ Revamps Gender Stereotypes – For the Worse.” The Guardian. 6 Oct. 2014. https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2014/oct/06/gone-girl-female-stereotype-women Web 11 Mar. 2017.

Flynn, Gillman. Gone Girl. Random House LLC. New York. 2012.

“Gone Girl.” Urban Dictionary. n.d. Web http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=gone%20girl Web 11 Mar. 2017

Schwartz, Dana. “Amy Dunne from ‘Gone Girl’ is Not a Feminist” Observer. 9 Sep. 2016. http://observer.com/2016/09/amy-dunne-from-gone-girl-is-not-a-feminist/ Web 11 Mar. 2017.

Wilson, Natalie. “What’s Missing From the ‘Gone Girl’ Debate? Privilege!” Ms. Magazine. 3 Oct. 2014. http://msmagazine.com/blog/2014/10/03/whats-missing-from-the-gone-girl-debate-privilege/ Web 11 Mar. 2017.

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