Is Blade Runner 2049 Misogynist? (Spoilers)

Since the cinema release of Blade Runner 2049 last week there have been a number of very well considered articles accusing the film of being misogynist. While this is an objection I can understand, I think it demonstrates only a surface reading of what is on screen. The movie certainly depicts chauvinism and men thinking they can control and even construct women in a similar way to Alex Garland’s Ex Machina but like that film I don’t think this makes it chauvinist itself. Some have taken against the nudity too, or to be precise in the context of the film, the images of nudity but as I have argued before showing the female form is not necessarily sexist. Of course I’d say that wouldn’t I? I’m a man. Well like Jack Lemmon, I am a man and nobody’s perfect but with this acknowledged I will attempt to argue the point. If I’m wrong then there’s a comment box with plenty of room for everyone at the bottom.
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One of the issues is with Joi, Ryan Gosling’s virtual girlfriend. Feminist critics have talked about this as the ultimate dominant male fantasy; a woman that adapts to a man’s needs with no requirement for him to do the same and who can be turned off whenever her ‘owner’ chooses. The software in question is even sold with the strap line “experience Joi – everything you want to hear, everything you want to see”. For Gosling’s Agent K, (spoilers) himself a replicant, this is the only female companion he is able to have though and he is far more interested in her as a ‘person’ than as a thing to tell him and show him what he wants. Through their relationship Joi has become more than the object of desire she has been set up as, she has broken away from the constrictions placed on her by some patriarchal institution and in turn allows K to become more than he was as well. There is an equality to their relationship and he genuinely loves her. She does advocate him sleeping with another woman but he really was thinking of her the whole time and this might just be the most touching prostitute scene the movies have ever given us, Julia Roberts or no Julia Roberts. I know none of this is the best picture of female empowerment but neither is it as black and white as the opposing view suggests.

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Another thing that has upset people is the notion that female replicants are real women now because they can reproduce and become mothers. Some have read this to be saying that you are not a real woman if you are not a mother but actually the true matriarch in the film, the head of the android resistance has not had children of her own. She is presumably a replicant so presumably infertile but is leading the way in this new Eden of robots with a soul. Women are more than a little marginalised in the film (the most important woman is dead before it even starts) but their importance to the story cannot be underestimated. In 2049 the present is orange but the future is female. 

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There is some violence against women in the film and this needs to be considered. Two females in particular are callously slaughtered in a way more brutal than the murder of any men in the movie. These moments are shocking (as violence in films should be) but only serve to make the male perpetrator seem small and weak. Jared Leto’s Niander(thal) Wallace has sought to create humans but is suddenly impotent in the face of the new life giving power. He wants to own it and control it but he can’t so he lashes out, albeit with a cold calmness. Also his arrogance has caused him to miss the fact that the person he wants is right under his nose the whole time. He’s hardly a paragon of patriarchy.

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What then of all of the giant boobs all over the place? What of the towering holographic ladies and sandy statues? These three dimensional images of women, be they made of fibreglass or light, are sometimes naked but so was Botticelli’s Venus and the Aphrodite of Milos (and Michelangelo’s David and Rodin’s Thinker). It’s arty not tarty, curvy not pervy. I can’t justify it 100%, it may not have been necessary but I don’t believe it is designed to titillate either. In fact when you think about it the men are dwarfed by these shrines to femininity, they are literally in the shadow of women. Ultimately rather than it being misogynist, I think that is one of the themes of the film. 

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Blade Runner 2049 is certainly not the most progressive film of the year then. Some of the females are tropes and they are not always as front and centre as they should be but I do not believe there is anything here to offend. There isn’t anything as discomforting as the hero Deckard forcing himself on Rachel in the first film for example. I accept that maybe I am just choosing to read it all in a certain way but I would respectfully suggest that the same is true of those who have decried it for its treatment of women. 

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