Why “Horrible Bosses” is a Step Forward for Masculists

Just a note on comedy before I begin – although I love to laugh as much as the next person, I hesitate to say that I enjoy “comedies” when describing my taste in movies, because so many of them lately are, to put it bluntly, god-awful.  Cheap laughs aimed at a junior-high mentality have become ubiquitous, and truly intelligent, quality comedies are a vanishing breed. After sitting through enough Adam Sandler and Kevin James flicks, I reach the point where I hesitate to bother giving any comedy a chance.  The odds highly favor that it will end with lamentations that I will never get those two hours back again.

But I’m glad that I put my hesitations aside this weekend to go see “Horrible Bosses”.  It was delightful and genuinely funny without relying on too many stupid gags and cheap shots.  And rather than focusing on just one or two funny roles, they crafted an entire cast full of hilarious, offbeat, and uniquely funny characters.

However, there was one aspect of the movie which absolutely blew me away.  And that was, their portrayal of an employee dealing with rape and sexual harassment in the workplace.

For those who aren’t familiar, the movie is about three friends whose bosses are so vile and despicable that they decide to murder their bosses.  The movie merges these three plotlines involving each of their three bosses, as the friends work together to plan a triple murder.

And, one of those three scenarios is that of a boss who rapes her employee while he is sedated by anasthesia, then attempts to blackmail him into sleeping with her again.

That’s right – her employee while he is unconscious.  I didn’t mix up my pronouns.

There are so many stereotypes and fallacies which this movie could have perpetuated through its handling of this situation.  And, it deftly dodges every one of these traps.  Although this is a comedy, and it deals with a man raped by a woman, this female-attacker-male-victim rape is never treated as a joke.  Rather, it is treated as so serious, and so terrible, that it justifies murder.  The joke is the hilarious and outrageous situations that they get themselves into as they try to carry out the murders.

The simple fact that it is a woman who abuses her position of power to rape and sexually assault her male employee, in and of itself is fairly groundbreaking.  In fact, I’m not sure I can remember any other mainstream portrayal of a male rape victim which takes the topic seriously.

But even more than that, his boss is attractive.  Rather than casting an overweight, aging, or ugly woman in the role and going for cheap laughs at how revolting her sexuality is, or implying that sexual desperation is the only reason a woman would rape, they instead cast Jennifer Aniston for the part.  And although Jennifer Aniston is typically very attractive, she looked especially appealing in this role.  They played up her attractiveness rather than playing it down.

Of course, this creates another likely trap – they could have treated him dismissively, “congratulating” him on his supposed “good-fortune” to be assaulted by an attractive woman.  As South Park would have said, “Niceeeee, niceeeee.”  Yet they avoided that one as well, and instead they vividly portrayed exactly how humiliated, frightened, infuriated, and powerless he felt as her victim – in fact, to such an extreme level that the audience is guided into believing that this is, in fact, a justifiable reason for murder.  Now of course I am not endorsing vigilante justice, and without revealing any spoilers I will say that the movie also avoids being too controversial in this regard, but his pain and suffering is fully expressed and taken seriously.  And it is taken seriously even when the rapist is attractive.

Of course, the opposite side of the “Unattractive Boss” trap, is the “Attractive Employee” trap.  They could have made him especially attractive and charismatic, and they could have suggested that a man with fewer options might be grateful for the sex.  They sidestepped this one as well.  Charlie Day plays the assaulted employee, and although his character is frequently mocked for being bumbling and clueless, they never once crack a joke that he should be pleased or grateful for the attentions of a woman as hot as his boss, and they never once laugh at him for getting raped.

Another moment in the movie which had me inwardly cheering, was the point where they called it for what it is – rape. (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) When Charlie Day’s boss shows him photos depicting her sexually assaulting him while under, he sputters out, “You’re a raper, you raped me, that’s a rape!”  And when she repeats that oft-heard rationalization than men can’t be raped without getting “hard”, he calls her out that this doesn’t make it any better.  Then towards the end, and I will repeat this line without context so that it doesn’t spoil anything, Charlie Day’s character demands a “rape-free workplace”.  So often, we hear of victims who hesitate to use a strong word like rape, and we see a public reaction where nobody will believe it was truly rape.  This movie helped to empower victims by fully acknowledging the reality that men can be victims, and yes this is actual rape, not some softer form of “inappropriate” behavior.

Of course, there were ways they could have done better. (ANOTHER MINOR SPOILER ALERT)  I wish we could have seen his boss brought to justice, and made to stand before a court of law to be convicted of her crime.  It’s really sad that this didn’t happen.  In addition, there is a scene where two other characters talk about going to jail, and argue about which one of them would be more likely to get raped.  The joke isn’t that rape itself is funny, instead the joke was about the implication that one of them is less attractive.  However, this still implies that being “rape-able” has something to do with being attractive, which is a very harmful stereotype.  And I’m still not sure what to make of the (I am being as vague as possible) consensual sex that was depicted between Jennifer Aniston’s character and another character during a different part of the movie.

But overall, the strengths of this movie far outshine any weaknesses.  Although it is a comedy, rape is not the joke.  Quite to the contrary, rape is set up as something so horrible and so vile that it justifies murder.  The joke instead, is all the trouble they get into trying to carry out those murders.  Not once did the victim’s buddies ever crack a joke about how he’s lucky that she wants him, and not once did they urge him to give in to the blackmail and have sex with her.  And not once did they laugh about how he got raped, or the repeated harassment he’s enduring at work.  Rape is treated as a problem that is always deeply damaging and worth taking seriously, no matter the genders of the attacker or the victim, and no matter how attractive each of them might be.

On any level, this is highly praiseworthy.  For a comedy, it is absolutely outstanding.  Comedy has long been a field which perpetuates hurtful stereotypes for cheap laughs, but with this movie, not only did they treat a serious subject with sensitivity and awareness, but they did it in a way which didn’t feel heavyhanded or preachy, and it didn’t detract even slightly from how hilarious and very funny the whole movie succeeded at being.

*Author’s Note = I wrote this entry before I even realized that others on this blog have already posted about this movie.  Obviously, my interpretation and opinion is quite the opposite of theirs.  However, that’s the beauty of this blog – we welcome a diversity of opinions and feelings on the issues, and I am glad that the editors have chosen to publish my opposing argument.

About godlessaltruist

GodlessAltruist betrays one of his favorite causes in the name alone - he is an atheist who dreams of the day that this is no longer considered a bad thing. But his social activist dreams and passions carry beyond the realm of religion, for he also dreams of a day when masculism is seen as a legitimate cause worthy of advocacy just like feminism. However, the label he likes best is gender egalitarian, and as such he dreams of the day when men's rights groups and feminist groups view each other as allies and not enemies, and recognize that they are fighting the same cause - to get society to realize that gender is nothing but a fluid, personally defined construct. Yeah, he spends a lot of time dreaming. That might explain his last semester's grades.
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18 Responses to Why “Horrible Bosses” is a Step Forward for Masculists

  1. noahbrand says:

    Hmmmm. I gotta say, you make a very strong case.

    I think what we may be looking at here is the difference between the trailer, which did treat the female-on-male rape as a joke, and the movie, where apparently it’s quite different. The previous post was based on the trailer, which really was kinda appalling. That makes sense to me; I think we’ve all seen trailers that made a movie’s tone look VERY different from the actual story.

    If I understand your argument, you’re saying that, in a culture where female-on-male rape is always treated as a joke or nonexistent, this movie is handling it better and more honestly than anything else on the market, even if it’s not perfect. I could believe that, certainly. The road to Better tends to run through Less Bad and Surprisingly Okay, with scenic views of the At Least They Tried crater.

    Prison rape jokes, though, are still horrible pro-torture bullshit, we’re definitely in agreement there.

  2. elementary_watson says:

    I started listening to an audio review of Horrible Bosses from spill.com, but turned it off after they declared that sex with Jennifer Aniston never could be bad, unlike sex with someone like Roseanne Barr …

    I don’t think I will watch this movie, as I’m afraid of the audience reaction to the employee’s shocked exclamations of having been raped. On tvtropes, it is stated that there’s a lot of misaimed fandom wrt this point of the movie.

  3. Godless, I think you might have the whole picture here: and it’s a sight for sore eyes.

    Regarding the trailer, there is an entire collection of movies with misleading trailers.
    The reality is that the people who do trailers for movies are almost never the same people who worked on the actual movie. They read a brief description and pull some recommended “one-liners” that are fed to them by people in ADVERTISING. That is SO dumb.

  4. kaija24 says:

    I don’t know…I saw the movie with my sweetie and was appalled by the audience around me laughing like crazy and making jeering comments at the idea that a hot female boss who came onto an employee would be “problem”. And I thought Charlie Day’s character was written and portrayed as the slacker weirdo, the guy who always fucks up the simplest thing, and who doesn’t live up to being “all man”, right down to his admission that “I never wanted to be a firefighter or an astronaut…all my life I dreamed about being a husband” and everyone in the theater laughs AT the whipped guy while he and his fiancee have a sugar-coated moment in the car. I honestly felt angry that sexually harassed guy was being played as such a patsy. And then his friend who is good with the ladies of course volunteers to gather info on Hot Boss Lady and of course, ends up hitting that. It was was not even subtle. It wasn’t like “OMG…she is doing something so bad that we have to kill her” its “all of our bosses are horrible people who do evil things, except for Charlie’s boss who I’d totally LOVE to be sexually harassed by, but hey, if you say it’s ruining your life and you hate her, I guess we’ll kill her too for symmetry…three guys, three bosses, three murders.”

    If the genders were reversed in this movie, people would be screaming bloody murder, but as the idea of a smoking hot boss lady who wants it from an employee is so laughable and clearly unrealistic in the real world, it makes SUCH a great joke and setup for the guy who can never get anything right. My sweetie said he thought I was overanalyzing it and that the situation was funny because it’s a male fantasy that will never actually happen (being harassed by the hot boss)…and he’s usually a very astute and egalitarian thinker, so I don’t think the “one step forward for masculists” is being picked up on by the viewing audiences.

    I appreciate your alternative interpretation, but I don’t think turning a terrible trope around makes everything equal.

  5. Emmeline says:

    “On tvtropes, it is stated that there’s a lot of misaimed fandom wrt this point of the movie.”

    I think that’s the thing that angers me the most and I even had to delete someone calling every scene with Jennifer Aniston “fetish fuel”. I hesitate to make the comparison, but it’s like “Deliverance”. No matter how sick and terrifying they make a male-rape scene, there are people who’ll find it utter hilarity.

  6. Feckless says:

    About other movies with male rape victims, it has been eternities since I have seen that one, but wasn’t “Disclosure” a good example?

  7. Sara says:

    I’m heartened to hear that the movie did in fact handle the rape/harassment issue respectfully, since I was leery of the trailer. I do feel that, sometimes, we have to settle for “better” or “good enough”, because “perfect” just doesn’t tend to happen overnight, and we have to go through a few “not perfect, but better than usual” things before we can get to something that truly would be close to perfect. Of course, I do think the prison rape joke was just gross and uncalled for but I think everyone agrees there.

  8. elementary_watson says:

    Feckless: IIRC it was sexual harassment, not rape (and one German reviewer of the movie Obsessed noted that that movie was based on the same “questionable premise that a woman can sexually harass a man” as Disclosure …).

    The movie quite violent (or so I have heard) movie Thursday has a woman raping a man who is bound to a chair, telling him she will kill him after he ejaculated, and this is acknowledged as rape and as horrible and traumatising (spoilers: he survives). 40 Days And 40 Nights also has a man who gets mounted by his ex while he is bound helpless on his bed, but that treatment of the issue is more problematic (it is treated as a prank by the woman, and the man has to apologize to his current girlfriend for having had sex with another woman ……)

  9. senae says:

    “The joke isn’t that rape itself is funny, instead the joke was about the implication that one of them is less attractive. However, this still implies that being “rape-able” has something to do with being attractive, which is a very harmful stereotype”

    That you discuss this scene without talking about the scene a few minutes later where they ask the third friend (the one with the rapey boss) who he thinks would get raped more, and he points to the smaller, less attractive guy, pointing out that it’s not about attractiveness, it’s about “power and control”.

  10. Miriam says:

    I agree with what you’ve written here, but am I the only one who finds it more than a bit problematic that the plot of this movie is the characters plotting to MURDER their bosses? That’s just not something that should be considered funny.

  11. Miriam,
    Your question asks an important question: and it’s one that I come down on firmly: all jokes at the expense of a group of people (by race, sex, orientation, class, etc.) are harmful – but there’s no stopping them.

    The only thing we can do is allow all sides an equal opportunity to be made fun of.

    A big part of that is the agency that someone had in arriving in that group – cancer patients and rape victims? Not cool.

    Born again Christians and Warren Buffet? Very cool.

  12. I need to clarify my above statement:
    I don’t think it’s OK to make fun of young adults with trust funds for driving nice cars (tempting as it may be – they didn’t chose to have that money.)

    Nor do I think it’s automatically OK to make fun of young adults who grew up enveloped in fundamentalist christianity – they don’t know another world, nor did they chose to grow up that way.

  13. Emmeline says:

    @EasilyEnthused Speaking as a rape victim and someone who’s tried suicide a few times, I find jokes of that nature actually comforting – like punching this terrifying monster in the face and making it cry. But I do have a couple of conditions; if the joke is based on malice or ignorance (like s/he deserved it, lol men can’t get raped) then that’s awful. “Why not push her down the stairs and hope for the best” by a sweet woman who’s had an abortion, treated it with respect in a documentary (obligatory rec: http://www.facebook.com/theaword. Seriously, it’s amazing) and is playing a nasty character gets a giggle from me.

  14. Sean says:

    For more on hot female bosses raping male employees, watch Disclosure (1994) where a striking Demi Moore assaults Michael Douglas and threatens his job if he doesn’t have sex with her.

  15. FlawInTheSystem says:

    As I recall Demi attempts to force oral, Michael is saying no all the way along, seems unable to lay hands on her (possibly incase she blames him, which she does). He manages to stop it, and due to him calling someone just before/ as it happened, there is a recording of the event he uses to clear himself of a rape accusation.


  16. K-Lined says:

    Do you remember which reviewer that was and for which paper/magazine?

  17. @Emmeline, You referenced the Nostalgia Chick’s Documentary? I been meaning to get a copy, but I don’t know if she ships overseas…

  18. Emmeline says:

    @Simon Wow, someone knew what I was talking about. XD And you can, the link with all the information and the paypal link is here: http://wegotclass.wordpress.com/2011/01/28/and-now-the-real-work-begins/

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