Ari Aster and “Womanhood”

A mini-essay.

Photo from Midsommar (2019)

I will say three things: I loved Midsommar, I loved Hereditary, and Ari Aster should not be seen as some all-powerful feminist icon.

I think people (specifically film Tumblr) like to paint this picture that Ari Aster is this great, understanding feminist that fully understands the experience of womanhood and anger.

Well, this just isn’t true.

He’s a man. He can try and try, he can sympathize and nod along, but he will never understand the inherent struggle of being a woman.

Now that I’ve said this, let’s dig a little deeper into why people say he’s this passionate feminist that can somehow “get it.”

Ari Aster does well with showing emotion. I’ll give him that. And this is all going to sound like one big hate letter to the man himself, but I can guarantee you that isn’t true, and I genuinely love his films, as well as what he tries to get at within them.

However!

While Aster portrays anger and grief the most, this cannot be described as him understanding the feminine experience.

Let’s take the, dare I say, iconic, scene in Midsommar where Dani screams with a group of other women. This scene has been praised, even by me, as being an iconic and relatable moment, showcasing the feminine experience as it is often layered over extreme amounts of emotion like pain and guilt and anger and sadness.

Dani and these women portray this incredibly well, and having this emotion let out with a group of women could be seen as a portrayal of the female experience, but, really, is this something we can give Ari Aster credit for?

I highly doubt that when writing that scene, he sat down and said, “Ah, yes, let’s make this all about womanhood and the female experience as well as the inherent anger and grief that comes with it!”

I think what happened is that he was writing a scene where Dani let out her grief and she just happened to be with a group of women because they were doing all sorts of “womanly” things after having crowned Dani the may queen, which the men in the community were not allowed to be a part of.

Besides, it wasn’t like this was the only group of women around at the time. There was an entire other group of women in the room with Christian and Maya who were also all making noises in unison.

Can we call that a representation of the female experience? Not concretely.

Those raised in the female experience can decide what is or what isn’t an accurate representation of the situation, since all situations are different, but you know who can’t? Ari Aster.

Let’s switch gears and head over to Aster’s movie Hereditary.

The whole reason (from what I’ve seen) Aster got started off as this “feminist icon” is for the way he allowed Toni Collette, AKA Annie, to have emotions.

But here’s something fun: it’s not “feminist” of him to let a female character be a complex person. It’s showing a woman as a person with feelings, which is not something that should be celebrated for Aster in particular because it should just be the norm.

Of course, we can celebrate that we get a good, well done, complex female character, but it’s ridiculous that there aren’t more like her, which is an entirely separate essay in itself.

So, I guess we can say thank you to Ari Aster for recognizing women are human, but the bar is so low that it’s frankly rather silly that a “thank you” would even cross our minds.

Although, we can definitely appreciate what we’re given in terms of female characters when it comes to Hereditary and Midsommar.

But, what I’m trying to say here, ultimately, is that the theme of “womanhood” is so complex and people’s experience of womanhood itself can be so varied that we really just cannot give credit for its portrayal, intentional or not, to a male filmmaker.

Can we appreciate what we’re given? Sure.

But this form of congratulatory feminism is complicated, and we have to be careful who we’re cheering for, and we have to know why exactly we’re cheering in the first place.

Novelist/student. 20 years old. I write about writing and mental health. Check me out on Amazon or Barnes and Noble!

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