The positive reaction to the new J. Lo-helmed Hustler movie, about strippers-cum-grifters who fleece men for avarice and profit, speaks to a desire for female empowerment at any cost. It turns out that criminal behaviour that victimizes men is super empowering. Just ask co-star Cardi B, who had a real-life stint as a stripper that turned into a brief career of drugging and robbing men. She admitted to this a few years ago and has since apologized, but to date, there have been no criminal charges brought. Also she still, inexplicably, has her career.
This speaks to what can only be called a double standard in contemporary culture, where when women do the same bad thing men have done, it’s a net good, but when men do it, it’s rapey and evil. I’ll go out on a limb and say that drugging men and robbing them while under the guise of offering sexy fun times is just as much a part of rape culture as any misplaced masturbation story.
The film is based on a true-life account, as reported in New York Magazine’s The Cut back in 2015, which details how this team of hustlers would prey on men, drug them to the point of blacking out, sometimes provide prostitutes, and run up their credit card to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. Cardi B is perfect for her role since she has the real-life experience already.
If men and women are truly meant to be considered equal, then their crimes must be considered equally as well. The fact that women tend to drug men and then take their money while men drug women and fuck them speaks to the gendered priorities, but each action is a crime and should be treated as such. Rape and theft are not equivalent crimes, but drugging someone in order to get what they don’t want to give you is not isolated to male criminals.
Audiences and readers who hear about the story are in love with the premise so far. They are rooting for the women to take whatever they can. Now, it’s not unusual for people to root for the bad guy, we do it all the time. But what is odd is that in this Me Too age, where men are taken down for, well, things like drugging a woman to get what they want from her, women who do the same thing are cheered on. Ten years ago, this sort of thing would not be surprising, but now, when everyone is so extra super sensitive, it’s odd to see the role reversal carry with it an alleviation of the responsibility for the perpetuation of “rape culture.”
The idea in Hustlers is not that the men have wronged the women in any specific way, more that the guys are total jerks and deserve to be fleeced. After all, they’re full of themselves, cheating on their wives or girlfriends, probably hate women, given that they’re out there in the world trying to buy them. What pricks, goes the logic, they deserve what they get.
This made me think of another female-empowering movie. It was called I Spit on Your Grave, and was released in 1978.
I started a new school in my junior year of high school. It was a private prep school and I’d talked my way in with a well-written and compelling essay about listening to alt music, but I barely belonged there. The kids I encountered were all super smart and intimidating.
I was introduced to my sponsor, a kind, curly-haired, confident girl, who invited me over one Friday night to watch movies with her group of friends. Being the new girl, they let me pick the movie at the video store, and as I scanned the shelves of VHS tapes, one cover caught my eye. A woman stood in a wilderness, wearing ragged clothes, a knife in her hand. I Spit on Your Grave was about a woman who took violent and brutal revenge on her rapists. I suggested we watch it.
We hunkered down in the cozy living room to watch it, with a fresh bag of microwaved Orville Redenbacher. All I remember about the film was that I tried to hide my shock at how violent it was, feigning a “no big deal” attitude, and they never invited me to watch movies with them again.
Seeing a woman take brutal revenge on the men who had wronged her was more than our teen psyches’ could handle. We figured that no matter what crime the guys had committed, that didn’t justify the commission of even more crimes. This was back when we thought conditions of equality were getting better in society, and not veering straight into an iceberg of offensiveness.
But now, men who drug women go to prison, and women who drug men get movie roles. Men who mistreat women are publicly shamed, women who mistreat men are publicly heralded. No doubt there are lots of shitty men out there, but there are lots of shitty women, too. What equality means is that neither sex is better than the other, that neither sex innately has the upper hand simply on account of their sex, and that neither sex is above the law when it comes to abuse of power, even and especially if that power is sexual in nature.
Seeing women kick ass in film, with a lade-led production team, is pretty cool, and is a long time in coming. But claiming that women are empowered through victimizing others does nothing to help the cause of equality. In fact, it does quite the opposite.