So Thor: The Dark World made its global premiere in London on Tuesday, and, for me at least, has already created quite a stir. Not the sexy stir in the nethers that one would usually associate with Hemsworth’s flowing locks and biceps (yeah feel my objectification), but rather that kind of angry stir you get in the pit of your stomach and surging bile ducts when you read the Daily Fail. In the film, both Asgardian brothers feel the wrath of Jane Foster’s (Natalie Portman) tiny fists of fury as she gives each of them a taste of her sweaty palms (I’m assuming they’re sweaty, I mean Asgard looks warm, non?); a move that has been interpreted in various articles as ‘empowering’ with one US site describing it as ‘one small step for Womankind’.
Now obviously I can’t blame the character for this portrayal – we all know that Hollywood is a massive patriarchal monolith- but it’s the fact that Natalie Portman herself seems to condone the slapping is what stings the most. Considering she is such a well-educated ladybro and usually extremely erudite when it comes to feminist issues, I think she has missed the mark on this occasion. Discussing her on-screen smack-down Natalie (yeah we’re on a first name basis) told E! Online: ‘I found it very satisfying. I think it’s on behalf of all my girlfriends who had guys that didn’t call them back or disappeared or just fell off the face of the earth.’ Look Jane, I’m sorry Thor couldn’t text you while he was away SAVING MULTIPLE WORLDS but I’m pretty sure EE’s transdimensional call rates would have bankrupted Asgard. I mean come the fuck on, Natalie. I fell in love with you for your Saturday Night Live Rap which hilariously mocked the sexism and violence of (the majority of) rap music, asking various people to ‘suck your dick’ and culminating in you smashing a chair over someone’s head – don’t fail me now.
To understand my unease with the slap, let me take you on a journey through time. The year is Nineteen Eighty Something, picture the scene…you’ve just had your perm touched up, you’re wearing your favourite disco leggings/big shoulder pad shirt combo, you’ve got Prince on your cassette player, and Michael Jackson is still black. This is the decade of the power-slap.
Amongst many others we see Cher slap Nic Cage telling him to ‘Snap out of it!!’ when he declares his love for her in Moonstruck; Meg Ryan slaps Billy Crystal with an affirming ‘FUCK YOU HARRY’ after he insinuates their sleeping together was merely a pity fuck in When Harry met Sally; Karen Allen decks Harrison Ford in Raiders after Indy comes waltzing back into her life after ten years; and skipping into the early ‘90s Andie MacDowell repeatedly slaps Billy Murray for his pestering sexual advances in Groundhog Day. In all of these situations, the slap is sexualised. The five-finger-fuck-you is always doled out by the woman in compensation for that phone-call they never received, that promise that was broken, that insult/insinuation they had to bear, and that orgasm they had to fake. The slap is all that is left unsaid in a ridiculous uncommunicative relationship, and the worst part is that the slap doesn’t change anything!! It is simply a facial high-five, a stinging caress (on the wrong cheek) that actually condones atrocious behaviour because – well now YOU’RE the irrational bad guy. Your inexcusable behaviour in effect absolves the man of his supposed sins. The slap is the embodiment of the irrational crazy-woman, having to resort to violence to express herself because she’s too mental/hormonal/stupid/emotional to do anything else. I mean for God’s sake, Jane, you’re an ASTROPHYSICIST you could probably build an Einstein-Rosen Bridge OUT OF LEGO and yet your words fail you…twice??
The second and perhaps more disturbing side of the slap is its interpretation as a challenge. The Thor trailer distinctly shows Portman smacking Loki in the face, with Hiddleston wickedly replying ‘Oh I like her’ read subtext: ‘She slapped me! That saucy wench! Gosh she’s feisty, what a strong female figure…I must possess her sexually’. In the same interview with E! Hemsworth states that luckily Natalie has ‘little hands so it wasn’t too painful and it actually became kinda hilarious’, the slap isn’t taken seriously, it merely confirms the female character’s position as a tiny, adorable, inferior being whose desperate violent actions could never penetrate a tough masculine breast plate.
The slap doesn’t turn the tables on power imbalances, if anything it just reinforces it. Take for instance, man on man slapping (not as dirty as it sounds). The broslap is usually posited in a patronising and belittling way . For instance the ‘Archie Slap’ scene from Rock’n’Rolla informs us that the administration of a good slap transports the slapee ‘back to their childhood’, back to a world of prepubescent bullying or parental chastisement. Same thing with Marlon Brando in the Godfather slapping the character Johnny and telling him to ‘ACT LIKE A MAN’. The broslap is emasculating, it is not ‘strong violence’, and thus feminizes the receiver – and we all know feminizing someone is tantamount to cutting off their dick. And that’s the problem. In all of these films, the slap does not magically transport the woman into a higher position of power – instead it’s used as a tool of bullying disempowerment, or a reinforcement of their apparent physiological inferiority (breasts+vagina=irrational slapper). You can slap a man, because they can’t slap you back. If a man slaps a woman, that’s abuse. If a woman slaps a man, its adorable/sexy/challenging/strong/feisty/I SLAP YOU BECAUSE I LOVE YOU. The whole concept of feminism lies in the idea of equality: the ladyslap being lorded as a form of empowerment via female on male violence is equitable to misandry, and that my chums is totally bollocks.
In summary, slapping is not ok. Unless you are challenging someone to a duel. And then only if you have a leather glove…or a gauntlet.