Feminist Sunday: Ruby Sparks (2012) by Zoe Kazan and The Myth of Romantic Love

feministsundays2Feminist Sundays is a weekly meme created at Books and Reviews. The aim is simply to have a place and a time to talk about feminism and women’s issues. This is a place of tolerance, creativity, discussion, criticism and praise. Remember to keep in mind that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, although healthy discussion is encouraged.

You know I am a TV junkie: if it is a TV show and has crimes on it, I’m in. I can easily watch five forty-minutes long episodes a day and do not feel really bad about it or myself. But, every once in a while, I do watch a movie, and occasionally, it is also a good movie. Ruby Sparks (2012) by Zoe Kazan had been on my radar for a long time. Mr.B&R who is a movie-junkie really enjoyed it, and even though we have very different tastes – I am more a binge-TV-consumer while he is more delicatessen – but he is a feminist as well, so that dissipated my original doubts on the movie. Also, I recently came across this comment by Zoe Kazan who wrote the script and starred as Ruby in the movie:

“I think that the [negativity associated with the] label discourages some women from calling themselves that. I think saying that “you’re a feminist” is a little bit like saying that you’re a humanist, because what it’s really about is equal opportunities and equal thinking about genders being only a part of your identity rather than something that would define you and define your character.. I had a hard time when I was younger sort of reconciling my feminism and my femininity.”

Kazan told Wakeman an anecdote about a time she wore a Hello Kitty Band-Aid at a press event for “Ruby Sparks” and received some criticism. “I felt like, ‘Who are you to tell me what my feminism means to me?'” Kazan told Wakeman. “Just because I wear a skirt doesn’t mean that I am inviting rape and just because I wear a Band-Aid that has a cartoon character on it doesn’t mean that I’m infantilizing myself.”

Source

So, I decided it was right time to watch Ruby Sparks. Here is the trailer:

Can you guess my initial doubts about the story? A young male writer that creates a female character, a muse, that he brings into life. But Kazan is way cleverer than that. Much more. The writing is just a metaphor of how we create identities in real life, because not only do we construct ourselves – and I think my generation has turned self-crafting into an art thanks to the supposedly public images offered in Facebook and Instagram – but also how we construct others. And especially in a relationship. And especially how men constructed women and these had to adapt to that image. This is what is called “the myth of romantic love.”

The myth of romantic love is still very present in contemporary fictional productions and it can basically be defined as the “and they lived happily ever after”. Love stories in movies, books, ads, are highly constructed and even though they can work on-screen or on paper, they are not similar at all with real life, so they should never be taken as examples. Problem is, they are. In this myth of romantic love, “love will make you suffer” is still a rule, but one that applies mainly to the women in the relationship. As a consequence, violence, both physical and psychological, is justified and a whole set of patriarchal rules come into action. This myth has consequences in everyday life, with examples such as “My boyfriend doesn’t like me to do X, because he is very protective” or “I have to send him a picture before I go out so that he sees how cute I am dressed.” This myth also perpetuates high standards for women, who are seen as perfect and flawless creatures who are totally invested in the relationship. However, as time goes by, and women are seen for what they are – human beings with flaws and virtues like anybody else –  violence emerges in many and varied forms. So, to sum it up, the myth of romantic love is very much related to violence against women and traditional gender constructions.

And what does this have to do with the movie? In Ruby Sparks, young writer Calvin Weir-Fields  (Paul Dano) makes a character he dreams of and considers a muse come to life. Her name is Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) and she is completely Calvin’s creation: everything he wrote about her has materialized in front of his eyes. But, he is so in love with her that he decides not to type her up anymore, to leave Ruby for what she already is: perfect. However, as the honey-moon phase ends (those first dates, those first adrenaline-filled encounters), Ruby wants to do things outside the relationship: she wants to join a class, she goes out with her classmates, and this means, she escapes Calvin’s reign. She has her own individuality and she no longer is the perfect woman he thought. How will Calvin react to this? And, how will Ruby? This is where Kazan’s imagination is at its best, because presenting the story as fictional or magical she is able to address deep gender issues such as controlling partners, jealousy, subjection and autonomy.

Now, Ruby Sparks is a Hollywood movie, written by a young woman and with a real-life couple starring as the two main characters. But it only made $140.822 on its opening weekend in the USA according to IMDB. It makes me sad that movies that could change the way young people view love and relationships are not widely accepted while the famous and upcoming G – and no, I won’t even mention the books here – with its perpetuation of traditional gender roles where women are subjected will surely make at least 10 times better.

Meanwhile, I think you should all watch Ruby Sparks because is the perfect movie. Kazan did a great job with the story, creating a feminist comedy that addresses contemporary heterosexual relationships and she proved that there can be feminist and empowering love stories.

UPDATE:

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13 thoughts on “Feminist Sunday: Ruby Sparks (2012) by Zoe Kazan and The Myth of Romantic Love

  1. Such a thoughtful review – thanks! I remember when the film came out but the Pygmalion aspect put me off. Now you’ve explained it so well I’ll definitely seek it out.

    1. Thanks for reading! I know, I was quite put off at first, but Mr.B&R said it was a really good and feminist movie, so I gave it a try. So happy I did 😀

  2. Thanks for this. I think I kind of wrote it off as another one of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl films when it first came out, but this definitely puts it in another perspective.

    1. Thank you for letting me know about the MPDG, Shannon, because I had never heard of it! I don’t think Ruby Sparks falls into that category, but let me know if you watch it. Also, I hate MPDG SO much now that I know those female characters fall into an already labelled category!

  3. It seems like if movies aren’t somehow action packed, or come with a pre-built in audience, they don’t even show them widely here. Based on my lack of previous knowledge of Ruby Sparks, I’m guessing it never even played at any of the cinemas closest to me. (And I don’t like to drive an hour just to see a movie!) that said, based on the trailer, I don’t think I would be that interested, as it appears at first glance to be just a “man meets dream girl” story. But your review is making me think it might be one to look for…

    1. I think they tried to sell the movie that way and it didn’t work out, but it is not a “man meets dream girl” production, I promise! Please let me know if you watch it.

      Oh don’t get me started on movies. In Spain they dub EVERYTHING and if they are not mainstream, some movies arrive here two years after it was released as a DVD in their original countries (USA or UK mostly). It’s a shame, really.

      1. Does anyone actually like dubbing? It makes sense for a kid’s movie when the kids aren’t old enough to read, but it hate it for anything else.

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