“Is Gone Girl worth watching?” My friend asks me, to which I respond with the most enthusiastic “Yes!” imaginable. “And I’m not just saying yes because Ben Affleck gets naked.” She goes on to tell me that she recently finished the book and of course I want to know her opinion on it because the book is one of my favorites. “I felt almost sad at the ending,” she says. “Amy won in the most fucked up way. Nick was an idiot but I felt so bad for him.” Wait, what? “I would want to murder Amy too.” Stop right now. Seriously?
As disappointed as I am to hear her say that, I’m not surprised. Most people I talk to about Gone Girl say similar things—“Nick didn’t deserve that,” “Amy was crazy,” “Amy was a bitch.” “Bitch” and “Amy” are two words that I always hear in the same sentence. Why is she a bitch? Because she decided to get revenge on her husband? How many male villains commit equally wrong crimes but are praised for it? Walter White, Frank Underwood, and Don Draper are considered antiheroes but Amy is considered a bitch. We’re so used to seeing female characters portrayed as eerily good or mean just for the sake of being mean that when a complex character like Amy Dunne comes along, we call her a bitch because she refuses to be a loving housewife to her cheating husband.
We never take into account why she’s the way she is, if her background or upbringing had anything to do with it, if society’s ridiculous standards towards women caused her to break down. I remember a few months ago I went to GameStop to preorder a video game and the cashier asked me, “Getting this for your boyfriend?” Keep in mind that I was in a pretty good mood before he asked that question but it was enough to wipe the smile off my face. I tell him, “No.” and make sure I sound just as pissed off as I was feeling. He starts backpedaling and saying that he’s really happy that I play video games because “not a lot of girls do” and “it’s always cool to see a girl play.” So I’m suddenly interesting because I play video games? Because video games are only for guys, right?
And of course, this isn’t the first time this has happened. Some guy in another GameStop actually asked me, “Are you a real person?” in response to me telling him that I play video games and that I was a film major. He thought it was a compliment but I thought it was creepy so that’s why I stopped talking to him as soon as he said it. If my life were a movie would I be considered unlikable for dismissing these “compliments?” Or better yet, would people just call me a bitch and completely dismiss the fact that I’m tired of proving to boys that I like to play video games?
Critics have accused author Gillian Flynn of misogyny because of her unlikable depictions of women in her books. Along with Gone Girl, she’s also written Sharp Objects and Dark Places, both of which have “unlikable” female characters. In Sharp Objects, Camille Preaker is emotionally unstable because her mother rejected her throughout childhood and in Dark Places, Libby Day is the sole survivor of a family massacre that her older brother may or may not have committed.
If I were in either of these characters, I would be far from the giddy smiling girl people expect me to be simply because of my gender. They’re not unlikable and they definitely aren’t bitches; they’re people with real problems that constantly affect them throughout the book. The same goes for Amy Dunne—her husband Nick is cheating on her with his student. Do you expect her to just sit back and accept that?
Instead of divorcing him (that wouldn’t be a fun book to read) she decides to get revenge because throughout her life, she’s been nothing but perfect versions of what people expect her to be. Her parents are authors who wrote the Amazing Amy series, a collection of stories about the various achievements of a fictional Amy from childhood to marriage. While book Amy succeeded, actual Amy had to constantly try to be just as good. There’s some emotional trauma for you! Her parents love book Amy more than actual Amy and people think that book Amy is actually Amy.
Amy constantly talks about being the “Cool Girl,” an unrealistic image that her husband has of her (as most men in general have of women). In the beginning, she strives to be the Cool Girl because she wants him to like her, but she can only take so much of pretending to be someone she’s not:
“Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.”
No girl should want to be the Cool Girl but society keeps telling us that we have to be that way for people to like us—for men to love us. I could’ve accepted the compliment that boy made about me being unreal but he’s going end up disappointed because I’m more than just a girl who plays video games all day. Just like Amy, I would be tired of pretending to be someone I’m not for the sake of a few compliments.
So back to that conversation with my friend—I bring up a quote that Flynn said in response to people thinking she’s a misogynist: “…What Amy does is to weaponize female stereotypes. She embodies them to get what she wants and then she detonates them. Men do bad things in films all the time and they’re called antiheroes. Amy may not be admirable, but neither are the men on ‘The Sopranos.’” My friend says, “Okay, but you have to admit that Amy was a level of fucked up that not other male villains meet. She was calculating and soulless.”
Calculating and soulless? Just like Frank Underwood, right? House of Cards is entertaining to watch because you’re always wondering what ruthless move Frank is going to pull next. Yes, he’s a horrible person but there’s something just so fun about watching him be horrible. Why isn’t it the same for Amy? Frank killed someone by pushing them in front of a moving train to make sure his illegal crimes weren’t exposed and people still root for him. But Amy deciding to ruin her cheating husband’s life suddenly classifies as another level of “fucked up that not other male villains meet?”
Claire Underwood is Frank’s wife on the show; they’re both calculating villains who’ll do anything to make sure they succeed. I’ve never once heard someone call Claire a bitch, but the same can’t be said for Amy. What makes these two characters different from each other? Is it because Amy is seeking revenge on her husband while Claire and Frank are a villainous duo? If Claire decided to betray her husband, would people turn their backs on her and hope that Frank pushes her in front of a train too? Is Claire only valid because she’s just as bad as Frank?
What if she wasn’t a villain, what if she wanted to stop Frank instead? People would call her a bitch, just like they do with Skyler White. Skyler is wrong for wanting to protect her family from her drug lord husband but the drug lord himself is hailed as a great antihero. Just Google Skyler White and you’ll see a Facebook group entitled “I hate Skyler White” with over 30,000 likes along with articles detailing why she was so hated throughout Breaking Bad. But if she were on her husband’s side, that group and those articles wouldn’t even exist. Society is so quick to demean women because they don’t agree with their husbands—even when the husband is in the wrong.
When I tell people that I see Amy as a feminist character, they look at me like I’m just as “crazy” as Amy herself. How can this unstable, ruthless character be seen as a role model for women? Well, that’s the thing—she’s not a role model but she challenges female stereotypes. Todd VanDerWerff wrote an article about the film titled “Gone Girl is the most feminist mainstream movie in years” and he makes a great point in discussing how Amy is a product of her environment: “Amy Dunne might be a monster, but she’s no sui generis psychopath. No, she’s Frankenstein’s monster, stitched together by a husband, parents, and a social order that demanded she be certain things, rather than who she really was. And in destroying her husband’s life, she’s symbolically taking back power for women everywhere.”
But people aren’t going to pay attention to that. They’re going to focus on how wrong she is for falsely claiming that her ex-boyfriend raped her and now how she irreversibly damaged Nick’s life. She is wrong for those things but no one stops to ask why she did it. We can take the time to analyze and understand why Frank Underwood killed a person but when we find out Amy lied about being raped, we dismiss her as crazy.
People dismiss the fact that she’s finally standing up for herself while also ignoring her entire monologue about being the Cool Girl, which is the most important scene in both the book and movie. Not only is it revealed to the audience that she faked her death, but she explains why she had to. She refused to continue being the Cool Girl; she just wanted to be herself. And people translate that to her being a bitch.
From childhood we’re told how little girls should act, when we’re teenagers we embarrass ourselves trying to impress the boys and as adults we’re bombarded through the media of how the ideal woman should look like. Amy got sick of it, and I know I’m sick of it as well. Too many times I’ve been told how I should look and dress—and from the opposite sex of all people! “Your makeup is too heavy,” “Why don’t you ever smile?” “Can’t you take a compliment?”
I don’t exist to cater to society’s unrealistic standards, and that’s something Amy realized in the book. I’m not going to go to the extremes of faking my death and ruining my future husband’s life, but I can understand why Amy made that decision. She’s a villain, but years of emotional damage from her parents, her husband and society are to blame.