I had wanted to do a post on Horrible Bosses, but conveniently, Kate at Feministing wrote it for me. She does a great job dissecting the movie’s execrable treatment of male rape and demonstrating the stereotypes it mobilizes for laughs, so I’m not going to bother doing that again. There’s a few points, though, where Kate and I diverge in our readings of the film, and I think they’re pretty important in understanding the degree to which both Horrible Bosses and the culture in which it’s embedded are fucked up about male rape, and the fact that the movie captures that fucked-up-ness really well.
Very briefly, Horrible Bosses is a comedy starring Jason Bateman (Michael Bluth of the late lamented Arrested Development), Charlie Day (Charlie of the not-late, totally hilarious It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), and a third guy I don’t care about who I think is from The Hangover as Nick, Dale, and Kurt, three guys with really shitty bosses who decide to get together and kill said shitty bosses. Important to us is Dale, who works for a dentist named Julia (Jennifer Aniston) who sexually harasses him horribly and frequently. Weirdly, Kate’s analysis of Horrible Bosses is totally unsympathetic to Dale:
The movie plays the reason for this man’s hatred for his boss as this: he does not despise her because of her sexual harassment, he despises her because her sexual harassment might jeopardise his relationship with his fiancée. Because, of course, he couldn’t be upset that he was being sexually harassed. Because he is man. And men don’t get sexually harassed. He is upset that his fiancée will find out that he is being sexually harassed and break up with him because being sexually harassed is the same as willingly cheating on someone amirite?
The fact is, Dale does despise Julia for her sexual harassment, but he feels powerless to alter the situation. When he tries to talk to his friends about it, they blow off his comments and make fun of him (the conversation about “rape-ability” that Kate refers to in her piece) – even when he tells them that Julia drugged him into unconsciousness, raped him, and took incriminating photos of them together. He thinks he can’t get another job because he’s a registered sex offender for urinating in a closed public park while drunk one night. (There’s some great commentary embedded in there about the absurdity of sex offender registries, but that’s a little too deep for a movie like this.) Like so many victims of sexual harassment and rape – and, I’m willing to bet, the vast majority of male victims – Dale has been disempowered by a society that doubts rape victims as a first principle and refuses to believe in the very existence of men who’ve been raped or harassed by women. As to Dale’s final spur into motion being Julia’s potential blackmail, it doesn’t seem unbelievable to me that what someone can endure being done to them personally is very different from what someone is willing to bring others into. While I was upset by the cavalier vibe Horrible Bosses laid around Dale’s feelings, the film unwittingly depicted his situation very realistically.
Regarding Julia’s punishment at the film’s “triumphant” conclusion, Kate has this to say:
Rapist boss, though? She is blackmailed into stopping her sexually harassment. And that is it. The movie considers her punishment to be adequate. The boss who is sent to jail murdered someone, fair enough, comeuppance earned. The boss who is murdered was a cokehead who hired prostitutes and fired people because he didn’t like the look of them, comeuppance not really earned, but who are we kidding, this is Hollywood, comeuppance earned. The only significant change to the life of the boss who constantly molested her inferior is that she has to stop molesting her inferior. No restrictions on her life or liberty. Comeuppance earned, apparently.
Let’s leave aside for a moment the fact that this is a movie about murdering your boss for being a douche, so expecting punishments to fit crimes is perhaps unrealistic. In fact, I think Charlie’s reaction to Julia is totally reasonable. RAINN estimates that only 6% of rapists are ever incarcerated for their rapes, and I would bet good money that virtually none of them are women accused of raping men. Given the current legal climate, it seems a fair outcome for Dale to empower himself to stop his harassment. It certainly isn’t ideal, but it’s more than many victims of harassment are ever able to do.