This past weekend I went to see Insurgent at my local cinema. I was surrounded by teen girls chatting about the hotness factor of Theo James as the previews played (‘he’s hot even though he’s, like, old. Like, he’s thirty or something’). There were groups of boys in the cinema too, which I was so pleased to see because girl’s stories are so often dismissed as uninteresting or unimportant to the male demographic. The film itself was fabulous. I particularly enjoyed the sequence where Tris fights a simulated version of herself, not just because it was technically brilliant and beautifully rendered onscreen, but also because it felt like a powerful dream image that we’ve all imagined about ourselves. But this blog post is not about what I saw onscreen. It’s about what happened in the cinema.
There was a group of boys sitting in the middle section of the cinema who were clearly not really there to see the film. They persistently used their mobile phones to shine flashing lights into girl viewers’ eyes; they played snapchat videos at full volume; they raucously and insincerely clapped and whooped during quiet moments in the film. And nobody did a thing about it. Girls murmured ‘ugh, fuck off’ under their breath but didn’t shout it to these boys. I nearly got up to tell them off – I was seated in another section of the cinema – but the thing is that I didn’t. I was thinking: ‘don’t be difficult, don’t make a scene, don’t be embarrassing, maybe they’ll stop soon.’ This is so ironic in hindsight because they were the ones being difficult, making a scene, being embarrassing. And they had no intention of stopping their display of contempt for the film and the girls who had come to see it.
So why did these boys come to see Insurgent? Why would they pay for tickets, and waste their Saturday afternoon on ruining other people’s – pretty much exclusively girls’ – experience of this film? Was it that they were so incensed at the thought of a space and a narrative that was not about them? Were they so threatened by a story about a girl with supreme physical, emotional, and mental power, strength and authority that they had to disrupt it? Was it that they couldn’t stand the idea of girls claiming this tiny sliver of a territory for themselves? I think in a culture that tells boys that everything is theirs for the taking, that their voices and opinions belong everywhere, that they can forcefully interject their presence anywhere without reprimand, that their desires and agendas come first, this kind of behaviour is not uncommon. If I were to take a guess, I would think that these boys at the Insurgent screening probably weren’t totally sure why they were doing this. They probably thought it was terribly funny. They probably felt like they had exhibited a lot of power and control over all these girls and the narrative space they had claimed as theirs.
And what about these silent girls, and myself, the silent woman who said and did nothing in the face of it? The fact that the boys felt like they had the right to ruin the film, but that the girls felt they had no right to fight back, is a sticking point for me as I reflect on the experience. My impulse to not be difficult, to wait out this gross attempt to exercise masculine power, overrode my desire to assert myself and tell them off. It takes a lot of guts to fight back even in small ways, to overcome the impulse to be as small and inconsequential as possible, and often it doesn’t even feel worth the effort because it’s just everywhere. I probably should have said something then, though, and so I’m saying it now.