There is No Feminist Agenda; Only Zuul

You may have heard the news this week that the much-talked about Ghostbusters reboot finally has its all-female cast. I love this cast. Love, love, love this cast!

Of course, there are differing opinions about this movie.

Since the Internet is full of terrible people, I’ve seen some Men’s Rights Activists’ tweets about how this movie is going to dismantle the sanctity of their childhood memories and why do feminists have to ruin society all the time?

Since the Internet is also full of wonderful people, I’ve seen several supportive tweets already hailing the movie as a feminist achievement and waving the Girl Power flag proudly. This is where I needed to pause.

I will admit, I do not like reboots in general. They usually mean that instead of producing an original screenplay, Hollywood opted to dip into the same well because it’s easier money. But! If they were going to do this at all, I’m happy they went with an all-female cast. I’ll end up seeing it because it’ll probably be good, but it won’t be Ghostbusters. You can’t recreate that no matter how good the new cast is. So why not just make a new comedy about women fighting paranormal elements? Men In Black meets Ghostbusters, but with women. You’re welcome, Hollywood.


Hating this movie because it stars women makes you an asshole, and I have no time for that nonsense. Praising the movie as “feminist” feels misguided though. It reminded me of the issues I had with Bridesmaids being hailed as the best movie ever even though it was just a regular comedy (I elaborated on that here: Never A Bride.) It’s great that Hollywood green-lit an all-female reboot, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking this counts as feminism.

Asking women to fill the shoes of beloved, iconic figures stacks the odds against them right from the start. If the all-female reboot is successful, it will be a huge step forward. My fear, however, is that it will create a surge in remakes, not necessarily new roles created for women. And, again, let’s not fool ourselves. We shouldn’t have to accept sloppy seconds as an “achievement” in feminism. Much like the recent remake of Annie being designated Black Annie, “Female Ghostbusters” doesn’t exactly make me feel like an equal, let alone someone’s first choice. It’s a lazy approach to diversity. Give me a character that wasn’t established by a man first.

As always, everything relates to writing, which is why the Ghostbusters talk has made me think a lot about my own slush pile. Many queries I receive begin with lines like, “Because you’re seeking strong female characters…,” which I think is great. I also love a good re-imagining of a classic or fairy-tale, but I end up rejecting 99% of the ones I receive. That’s because their “strong female character” isn’t really as dynamic or three-dimensional as they think they are, and their “re-imagining” is just a retelling.

[Digression: When agents and editors say “strong female character,” we mean strongly written. If she also happens to literally kick ass, that’s cool, as long as there’s more to her than that.]

Like a Hollywood reboot (a good one, anyway), re-tellings should be more than simply rearranging scenes in the same story we already know. There should be a reason this story needs to retold for a modern audience. Why are you writing it? What’s your approach? What makes it unique and relevant?

Gender-swapping is fun and can add a different perspective to a familiar story, but I see too many “re-imaginings” that rely on gender-swapping as its only twist. This holds very little appeal to me. The most common I see are Beauty and the Beast, but the female character is the beast; or a typical paranormal romance set-up, but the girl is the vampire who gets a shy boy to love her. Nothing about the stories themselves have been updated or changed. I need more than that to impress me. And I definitely need more than that to convince me the novel is somehow feminist just because it’s not not feminist.

And don’t get me wrong. I love a good gender-swap. Just make sure that’s not all you’re relying on. Feminism is not using the Find & Replace feature and changing Jim to Jane. It’s about creating roles for women, making us in control of our own narratives, and acknowledging that women’s stories have just as much merit as a man’s.

10 thoughts on “There is No Feminist Agenda; Only Zuul

  1. Great post, especially in connection to your “trope police” post where you talk about the “strong woman” trope.

    I appreciated your digression, “When agents and editors say ‘strong female character,’ we mean strongly written. If she also happens to literally kick ass, that’s cool, as long as there’s more to her than that.” Such a mature approach. Thanks for sharing!


  2. It’s not that they’ve “re-imagined” the characters as female. What bothers me is that I can plainly see the hand of the crass marketing machine behind the decision to do so.

    The ‘girl power’, the ‘ruined childhoods’, the ‘nostalgia’ and even the hilarious controversy is as obviously manufactured and choreographed as a professional wrestling show.

    This movie wasn’t made to balance the scale in any measure. Feminism is simply a hot and profitable brand these days.

    I suppose that is a kind of progress, but it strikes me as the narrowest definition of the word that feminism is now seen as a viable avenue of commercial exploitation.

    What’s worse is that it will work.


  3. Not to be contrary but I think it is possible to be male, not like this and not be sexist, an asshole or a terrible person.

    It comes down to what different audiences want from Ghostbusters. Some audiences want a nostalgia piece when they are getting a reboot. I don’t think their disappointment means they are sexist.

    Personally, I reserve judgment until I see how this is done. If they create new characters who happen to be females, then I’m happy. If they turn the existing characters female, then I will be less thrilled (I find that to be a lazy way to establish diversity…in most cases).

    Either way, I don’t think this decision is motivated by feminism. The all-female cast will bring this movie to the attention of a huge demographic that would be mostly an unknown with an all male cast. That should translate to millions in ticket sales (and merchandizing). It also signals that they are trying something new with the old material, which will help relieve the reservations of people who don’t like remakes for the reasons you mentioned.

    I (respectfully) disagree with your assertion that this won’t be Ghostbusters, though (assuming I understand your perspective). That’s a bit like saying a female police officer isn’t a police officer or a female soldier isn’t a soldier. The world is full of women thriving in roles established by males. I don’t think we should take anything away from a woman who does the same thing in the movies.

    Anyways, thanks for the post. It gave me a lot to think about.


    1. Hi John. I don’t think you understood what my post was actually about. Part of my own critique of the movie *is* that it has very little to do with feminism, and my reason for saying the movie won’t be Ghostbusters is not because the cast is female, but because (as stated in the post) I’m just not a fan of reboots. They’re lazy. I want new female characters with material that was written for them, not recycled material that was already made famous by a beloved cast 30 years ago. I also resent the “Not All Men” response to your comment since I specifically say that the criticism was from Men’s Rights Activists and not men in general.

      Thank you for reading and, I hope, continuing to think about it.


      1. I read a couple of your other posts and I’m certain we share nearly identical philosophies on these topics. I think I understand your perspective, so there is nothing to debate (Too bad. A healthy debate between two willing partners can be a heck of a lot of fun if things aren’t taken things too seriously).

        I don’t think remakes have to be lazy. They can be for sure (how many times do we need to see Uncle Ben die?). In this context, Ghostbusters is a concept not a story. There should be a ton of stories that can be told within that concept. If you try to recreate the original magic, you are doomed from the start, but there is no reason you can’t create new magic. That’s why I’m hopeful for this new movie with this new cast.

        I’ve often thought this was an opportunity for someone who’s managed to build a world people enjoy. You could tell different stories within the same story in subsequent books. For example, you could have a story about kings and queens and their war games, then you could have a story about a single soldier within a specific battle, then you could have a story about a village caught between two armies. Different stories within the same world each with its own magic.

        They sort of did this in an episode of Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. where they told the same story from multiple perspectives. Each story explained coincidences in the previous thread. I thought it was clever. There was too much redundancy for this to work exactly like that in books, but the principles were sound.

        As an aside, are you sure you meant “resent” as in “to feel aggrieved about something or toward somebody, often because of a perceived wrong or injustice”? Seems like an odd choice of words given the context.

        Anyways, thanks for taking the time to replying to my reply!


  4. If you don't like the new version, the old one will never go away and you can always re-watch them.

    Sometimes remakes can be warranted. Some older movies simply don't have the special effects that we have today, and storytelling has changed over the years, making it difficult for most new audiences to connect to older movies. That said, Hollywood seems to be excessive with remakes and sequels these days. Spider-Man's origin story was told twice in 10 years, and the new Die Hard sequels simply don't compare to the original.

    As for this new Ghostbusters series, I'd be lying if I said I'm not skeptical, but I'll wait and see what happens. I'm all for more action/comedy movies featuring female characters because at the very least, it'll give us more variety.


  5. I don't think people are upset about the female cast. I think they're upset about the fact that the government has ordered us to return all extant copies of the original movie to be burned, and that we are banned from ever enjoying it or discussing it ever again.

    …That is what's happening, right?


  6. Great article. That's exactly how I feel about it. I'd much rather see an original movie and not a remake of something that was good on the first place, but I have absolutely nothing against the casting and will go see it in theaters, when it comes out.


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