Two years ago, I posted a long ass diatribe attacking James Cameron’s detractors after they came after him for comments about Wonder Woman. I thought I was done with this topic, but then recently stumbled across this: Motherhood in Film & Television: Is Terminator’s Sarah Connor an Allegory for Single Mothers? It’s an old essay, yes, and it’s not even really negative. However, it seems that in trying to provide balance towards Sarah Connor in the form of criticism, it did it by using fauxminist talking points. Before I explain why this was a huge problem for me, I have to explain what fauxminism is in the first place.
I go into greater detail in this essay, James Cameron is Robbing Hollywood Fauxminists of their Fake Feminist Icon and They Hate It, but to keep things sweet and simple in this essay, “Fauxminism” is a phony and in some cases a cynical version of feminism. For example, fauxminism may argue that it’s “feminist” to become a stripper or porn star, because feminism is about “choosing what to do with your body”. Or, in the case of The Spice Girls, it might giggle that feminism is all about “girl power”, while at the same time teaching preteen girls how to dress and act like sleazy bimbos and eye candy.
If all fauxminists did was keep to themselves, it would be no big deal. But now they’re beginning to use pop cultural icons to prop up their views. Unfortunately, one of those icons is Sarah Connor, who became fauxminist fodder, especially after James Cameron ticked them off in an interview with the Guardian about why he felt there was nothing particularly feminist about Wonder Woman.
If you love Sarah Connor as much as I do, you may be wondering what specifically about the iconic Terminator character has all the fauxminists in a tizzy. After all, as far as female movie heroines go, she’s pretty damned near perfect. So, what is there to find fault in? Below are the most common arguments I’ve heard so far–all of them stupid, all of them completely off-base and none with any merit.
ZOMG! Sarah Connor was in a Tank Top!
The most ridiculous fauxminist talking point I started seeing in the wake of the James Cameron vs Patty Jenkins feud is that he sexualized Sarah Connor in Terminator 2 by having her run around in a tank top. Because of this, he had no right to criticize Wonder Woman as a sexualized character.
I’m going to completely shoot down this stupid talking point by posting the following screen shots:
Now, going by these screen shots, can you guess why Sarah Connor was put in a tank top in Terminator 2? Ding, ding, ding! Yes, that’s right, class! It was because this is what all movie action heroes were wearing back then.
She wasn’t even shown in that tank top the entire time, anyway. It was part of a larger military style outfit that included a hat and combat vest, which she wore through most of the movie. The fauxminist trolls who ranted, “She was running around with her tits jiggling around in a tank top!” clearly didn’t see Terminator 2 at all and were just going by photos of the movie they’d dug up on Google Images. Not that it matters because there was nothing remotely revealing or sexual about the tank top, anyway. From the way fauxminist trolls were talking, you’d think Sarah Connor was Lara Croft.
“Motherhood as Antithesis to Feminism” Fallacy
One of the bones of contention that fauxminists have with Sarah Connor as a feminist character is that she’s a mother. They will argue that her being a mother somehow diminishes her as a feminist icon in some way.
Is this really true? To answer that, we have to ask why Sarah Connor is a mother. Believe it or not, the answer to this question is a lot more interesting than, “Because it says so in the script.” This is especially true when you consider that the relationship between John and Sarah completely defied Hollywood convention at the time. In an action thriller, the male protagonist’s female companion is always a love interest. Yet in Terminator 2, John Connor’s female companion is his mother. So, there had to be a specific reason why James Cameron bucked convention.
To get a clue what this reason might be, let’s look at an episode of Family Guy, I am Peter, Hear Me Roar. In this one, Lois encounters a fauxminist who looks down on her for being a housewife and having reared children. The two women eventually duke it out in a knock down, drag out cat fight that would make Jerry Springer proud, with Lois appearing as the victor. This encounter sounds like a mindless Family Guy gag, but it was a reflection of a real world problem that began to dog feminism over the years.
Initially, modern day feminism was the movement of housewives like Alice Kramden, who were fed up with their roles as domestic servants and child bearers not taken seriously. However, as single women began entering the mix, feminism shifted from, “The role that women have to play in society as mothers and housewives needs to be respected,” to, “Any woman who becomes a housewife and mother is a huge sellout and anti-feminist.” In short, fauxminists declared that to become a wife and mother was to turn in your “feminist card” and become a Stepford wife. Worse yet, it meant that you chose to become weak and helpless, since becoming a wife and mother meant putting yourself in a subservient and submissive role.
Because fauxminists are still hung up on this idea that motherhood can’t exist in the same plane as being a feminist and a strong woman, it’s offensive to them when a feminist character is not only a mother but has motherhood be central to her identity. They will start bleating like sheep in a slaughterhouse that a female character was made into a mother out of sexism, in that she was “reduced to” nothing but her uterus or forced to be thrust into a gender stereotypical role as child bearer:
“Succumbing to the Mystical Pregnancy Trope (which usually reduces women to their reproductive organs) with the father of her baby coming from the future, Sarah’s pregnancy and birth of her son eerily parallels the Virgin Mary and the birth of Christ.”
Going back to the question again of why Sarah Connor is a mother, the reason was to fly in the face of this ludicrous idea that motherhood was incompatible with feminism or being strong. So, it’s not that Sarah was reduced to her reproductive organs. She is a mother to make the point that becoming one doesn’t turn you into Donna Reed, June Cleaver or a Stepford Wife; you can be a mother, breastfeed like the best of them and still kick major ass.
Not only was Terminator 2 saying that motherhood didn’t mean becoming weak, it was also saying that it could make a woman stronger. This was the whole point behind the “Mama Bear” archetype that Sarah Connor embodied in Terminator 2. A woman can ordinarily be a complete and total wimp, but mess with her kids and like a mama bear protecting her cubs, she will be a force to contend with.
This is something that I’ve witnessed in my own life. My mother is the living embodiment of Edith Bunker, totally mild-mannered and sweet. She has never, ever in her life been involved in any type of verbal or physical altercation, has never laid a finger on anyone no matter how rude or aggressive the person…well, except for that one day in 1978. From what I was told, that day, my mother stormed my day care center threatening to slap a worker. Why? Because this employee had slapped me.
After having to be held back by both my father and the manager, the worker confessed to hitting me and was subsequently fired. When I recently asked her myself about it and why she had gone so crazy, she told me that there’s something about a stranger putting a hand on your kid that makes your blood boil. It’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull. This is what becoming a mother can do to a woman. Lay one finger on her children and no matter how mild-mannered she may be, she’ll go from Bruce Banner into The Incredible Hulk in no time flat.
I’m sure there are some dopes who’ll cynically spin this to mean, “Hurr, durr, so what you’re saying is that women can only be strong if they pop out kids,” but then again, that’s the difference between feminism and fauxminism. A feminist understands that feminism can include motherhood; the fauxminist sees motherhood as an undermining of and even the antithesis of feminism.
On top of countering the fauxminist notion that “motherhood=weakness”, there is a far more important reason why James Cameron made Sarah Connor a mother. This reason was best captured in this classic exchange on The Honeymooners episode, Head of the House:
RALPH: Men! They’ve done it all! Done it all! All the great inventions–men. Men have done all the great things since the beginning of time. I’ll give you a great example. There’d be no America if it wasn’t for Christopher Columbus.
ALICE: There’d be no Christopher Columbus if it weren’t for his mother.
Now initially, this seems like all Alice was saying was that Christopher Columbus wouldn’t have been here had his mother not given birth to him. That much is true, but she was saying something more, that had his mother also not nurtured him, he wouldn’t have become the great explorer that he became.
Going back to the Terminator franchise, when you think about it, you could accuse it of being totally sexist and racist, right? After all, John Connor is the very embodiment of the “white male savior” trope. Cameron himself really plays it up in the Terminator franchise, emphasizing again and again that without the existence of John Connor, there will be no human race.
Ironically, as much as Cameron plays up this trope, he also subverts it. How? By owing John’s entire existence to his mother, Sarah (and no–not just for the simple fact that she gave birth to him). It’s her tough-as-nails resolve that teaches him how to not back down in the face of adversity. It’s her bad assery that teaches John how to become a bad ass himself. But most importantly, it’s her fierce maternal instinct–which plays out in her protectiveness of him– that teaches him how to become fiercely protective of others, no matter the cost.
Let me reiterate this last point in case those of you in the back didn’t get it:
John Connor becomes protective and defends the human race with every fiber of his being, because of Sarah’s maternal instinct.
This aspect, more than anything, is why Sarah Connor is a mother. Her maternal instinct instilled in him the very characteristic that would make any person–man or woman–want to protect others. Without this maternal instinct, John would have been little more than a foot soldier in the war against the machines and not the great leader whose entire purpose in life is to save the human race from extinction.
Refusing to Recognize Sarah’s Dual Role as Mentor and Mother
There’s a popular saying: “When you’re a hammer, the whole world is a nail.”
Case in point:
“As kickass as she is, Sarah possesses no other identity beyond motherhood. She exists solely to protect her John from assassination or humanity will be wiped out. Every decision, every choice she makes, is to protect her son. In Sarah Connor Chronicles, Cameron tells Sarah that “Without John, your life has no purpose.” Sarah tells her ex-fiancé that she’s not trying to change her fate but change John’s. Even before she becomes a mother in Terminator, her identity is tied to her uterus and her capacity for motherhood.
Now, I realize she’s saving the world, trying to keep her son alive and stop a cyborg onslaught. But the underlying theme — motherhood must consume women — is troublesome. Mothers don’t have to squelch their desires and sacrifice their identity and entire lives in order to be a “good” mother.”
What is wrong with this observation? The problem is that the author was so hung up on Sarah Connor being a “mother” that she didn’t understand that Sarah’s personal sacrifice had nothing to do with being a mother. It had to do with being something else.
To explain further, to become a great leader, you have to have an insane level of commitment and passion, to the point of subjugating your entire identity and existence to whatever cause you are fighting for. This is not only true in the case of fictional leaders like John Connor, but real life leaders like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Makes sense, right? Freeing India from colonialism and overturning decades of civil rights oppression were such incredibly huge undertakings that they required each leader’s full and undivided attention, even if it meant sacrificing their identity and whatever personal goals they might had for themselves initially.
People who are able to achieve this level of personal sacrifice aren’t just born with the ability; they have to learn it from somewhere or someone. In John’s case, he learns it from Sarah Connor. This is why she’s written the way she is. She has to squelch her desires and sacrifice her identity and life to protect him, so that he learns to do the same when the time comes for him to rise up against the machines. So, this personal sacrifice we see in Sarah has nothing to do with her as a “mother.” It has to do with her being a mentor.
This is what’s so ironic about the criticism that Sarah’s self sacrifice is Hollywood sending the message that the only way a woman can be a good mother is to sacrifice herself. So much of that essay complains about how Terminator “reduces” Sarah to her uterus. Yet the author reduces her to being a mother to such an extent that she doesn’t even realize that Sarah isn’t always acting in the capacity of mother in Terminator 2; she is also acting the Obi Wan Kenobi to John’s Luke Skywalker. She is, in other words, acting as spiritual mentor to teach John how to subjugate himself for the sake of mankind.
The YJCW Paradox, and “Damaged” Fauxminist Buzzword
One of the most insidious expressions of any -ism (sexism, racism, etc.) is the YJCW Paradox, or the You Just Can’t Win Paradox. This issue was brilliantly captured in a classic issue of Mad Magazine. In it, it showed how–via cognitive dissonance–bigots will use evidence that contradicts their bigoted viewpoints as further evidence of that demographic’s inferiority. For example [to paraphrase, because I can’t find the original piece]:
“Women are not fit to be leaders of great nations.”
“What about Margaret Thatcher, Queen Elizabeth and Catherine the Great?”
“They were all bull dykes. I’m talking about real women.”
“None of those women were gay.”
“Okay, so they slept their way to the top.”
In attacking movies with strong female characters, both Incels and Fauxminists have got the YJCW Paradox down pat. While Incels like to rant that any strong female character is no good because she is too perfect (and hence, a Mary Sue like Rey from Star Wars: A Force Awakens), fauxminists will rant the opposite. They will rant that she is no good because she is not perfect enough. She is too flawed, she cries too much, she rages too much, she has “issues”, etc.
In terms of Sarah Connor, the favorite soup du jour–or mindless buzzword–among fauxminists is that she’s “damaged”. To this day, I don’t know what the hell this word means when they use it (damaged, as in damaged goods?), especially in the context of the movie. Remember her story arc, for f*ck’s sake. In Terminator, she was nothing more than a weak, blubbering damsel in distress whose only purpose in the movie was to look pretty, cry a lot, get rescued and later knocked up by her knight and shining armor (Kyle Reese). Until that very last scene of Terminator when she has on those bad ass sunglasses, wields a silver pistol and acknowledges that, “There’s a storm coming,” Sarah is the very archetype of a fairy tale Disney princess. The only thing that differentiates her from Ariel the Mermaid, Belle and Cinderella is that Prince Charming actually dies in the end and she has to face a future without him.
When we learn in Terminator 2 that she’s been locked up for so many years, the audience is set up to imagine that the damsel in distress that we saw in Terminator was going to be even more of an emotional wreck, a kind of Rapunzel locked away in a cell helplessly waiting for another Prince Charming to rescue her. But no–like a phoenix rising from the ashes, she becomes all the stronger for her traumatic experiences. She goes, “F*ck this. There’s gonna be a nuclear holocaust. The human race is at stake. I’ve got to buck up and do my part to help save it. Time to put my big girl panties on.”
In case the slower members didn’t get the hint of how much Sarah Connor had gone from Ariel the Mermaid to Boudicca, James Cameron dropped an Acme anvil the size of Wisconsin on everyone’s head in the infamous nuclear war playground scene. Yes, that scene was there to scare the living bejeezus out of everyone and cement in everyone’s heads just what was at stake in Terminator 2. But it was a clever as hell and a not-so-subtle-reminder from Cameron of what the old Sarah Connor was like, so everyone could go, “Oh, my God–that’s the same woman who was chased down by an evil cyborg and cried the entire time! She not only survived, she can fight two evil cyborgs with one arm tied behind her back now! Awesome!”
How in the hell could anyone, given this tremendous story arc, write Sarah Connor off as “damaged”? If something is damaged, then it’s in disrepair and needs to be fixed. Sarah Connor is anything but damaged; she grows from being a wimp into a Goddamned warrior who helps secure the human race’s future by fighting off a killer cyborg. And unlike so many vapid action heroes, she earned that warrior status through adversity, pain and struggle.
That is what her mental and emotional state is all about in Terminator 2. Not “damage”–as in the feeble minds of fauxminists–but mental and emotional battle scars she endured to become the female warrior we have come to know and love her as. And why does she have these scars? Not just for the sake of realism, but to instill awe and respect in the audience, much in the same way soldiers from the past might’ve gasped with awe and respect when seeing the battle-scarred body of someone like Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan.
The scars weren’t just added to engender respect, either. They were important from a storytelling perspective. Sarah Connor from Terminator becoming a badass in Terminator 2 was a tall order to fill. Her transformation had to play out in a way that was credible to audiences who remember the blubbering, emotional and helpless damsel she was in Terminator; otherwise, her newfound heroism would’ve come across as cheap and hollow. So, Sarah had her go through hell and back–and suffer the scars to prove it–to eliminate all doubt in the audience’s mind that she had paid her dues.
Not only does Sarah’s battle scars earn her the right to be seen and respected as a warrior, they mark her as a survivor. I must be getting super old, because when I was younger, that’s what we used to call people who experienced and overcame trauma. We didn’t hold their PTSD, depression, mood swings or whatever personal idiosyncrasies resulting from their traumas against them with a slur like “damaged”. We called them survivors.
In the feminist movement particularly, The Survivor was not only embraced but became an important archetype in the feminist narrative. You see, so much of feminism arose as a response to female victimization, whether we’re talking about stuff like inequality in the workplace or more egregious things like rape and domestic abuse. Because of this, it was very easy for feminism to lapse into a movement that was all about teaching women to think they were nothing but victims. To keep it from being about victimhood, feminism focused on The Survivors–i.e., women who’d been through the absolute wringer mentally, emotionally and physically but, like Sarah Connor, found the inner warrior within and survived their horrible ordeal.
This Survivor archetype is what Sarah Connor was meant to embody in Terminator 2–not damagehood, but survivorhood. Referring to her as “damaged” is not only grossly inaccurate, it’s someone resorting to the YCJW Paradox. Because people can’t write off Sarah Connor as a Mary Sue (since her heroism played out realistically), they have to write her off as “damaged”.
Hollywood’s Greatest Feminist Has a Penis
So, in case you didn’t read this entry yet, Patty Jenkins launched an attack against James Cameron with the b.s., “He’s a man, so he wouldn’t understand” canard. I think this statement, more than anything, pretty much exposed why so many fauxminists are working so hard to undermine Sarah Connor.
Their hatred makes sense in an I-just-got-sucker-punched-by-Mike-Tyson-and-am-seeing-double sort of way: feminism is a movement to advance the rights of women in a society in which they’re seen and treated as second class citizens. In a perfect world, it would’ve been a female director who broke barriers for female characters in Hollywood movies. Instead, it wound up being a man. And to date, this man did such a good job that no one has been able to come close to touching his creations or matching the cultural impact he had when it came to strong female roles.
Oh, the irony, right? Feminism being all about “sisters doin’ it for themselves” and not having rely on men to elevate themselves, and yet it was a man–and not a woman–who did more for women in the movies than any “sister”. Because of this conundrum (if you could call it that), some idiots have decided that we need a do-over. We need to wipe the slate clean, pretend James Cameron never happened, and pioneer female roles onscreen the right way, by having a female–and not a male–take the credit.
Before you snark about how this is a perfect example of how stupid, petty and illogical women are in general, just know that this type of shortsighted stupidity plays out in every other movement. For example, in the black community, you’ve always had these militant types who’ll start frothing at the mouth about needing to reject certain pioneers because they were either white or not the “right kind of black”. For example: “Obama isn’t the first black president; he’s from Kenya, so he’s not really African-American. Besides, he’s half white, anyway, so he never experienced the struggle of a black person living in America.” (Yeah. I know. Don’t even try to wrap your brain around this one.)
If you’re even remotely intelligent when it comes to civil rights, you will understand why this line of thinking is stupid and in many cases, counter-productive. In the end, if the end goal is more rights and better representation, what in the hell does it matter who helped the movement achieve some of those goals?
In the case of feminism and film, it doesn’t matter one iota that the person who created the two greatest cinematic feminist icons of all time was a man. What matters is he not only got mainstream audiences to accept a strong kick ass female character, he created the perfect template for one so that anyone–either man or woman–could pick up where he left off. There’s no reason to destroy his legacy out of this stupid idea that it’s making a mockery of feminism to have a man be a feminist pioneer, or to start attacking him because insecure female directors like Patty Jenkins want to snatch his legacy and cultural impact from him and be “The One” who pioneered female characters.
Leave Sarah Alone!
If this entire entry sounded like some heavily political, feminist screed, that wasn’t my intention. This whole issue regarding Sarah Connor is less a feminist thing than it is a preserving-a-cultural-legacy thing. One of my biggest pet peeves right now is this trend of tearing down legacies, whether we’re talking about career legacies (such as George Lucas’s) or an iconic pop cultural figure like Sarah Connor.
People can be critical all they like, can even hate something all they want, but as soon as they start trying to downplay and even negate the tremendous impact that someone or something had, that’s when I see red. If a bunch of fauxminists want to worship at the feet of Superhero Barbie and set her up as a new benchmark of female figures in movies, they have every right to do so. All I ask is that they keep their grubby little Kylie Cosmetics-stained hands off Sarah Connor, so that another generation of young women are allowed to watch her without being tainted by their fauxminist talking points.