Maggie McMuffin examines the online misandry movement in her breakdown of David Slade’s Hard Candy.
Let me talk to you about the word misandry.
The modern misandry movement began on tumblr about, oh, four or five years ago. While it is now being bandied about as fact, as the opposite of feminism, it was actually started by Men’s Rights Activists. They were screaming at politically correct “tumblr social justice warriors” (a phrase now used exclusively to insult people) and calling them misandrists; they hate men, they want them all to die, female superiority reigns supreme!
At first there was pushback. No, that’s not what feminism is. No, that’s not what womanism is either.
And MRAs, they just kept fighting. Saying any request a woman made for safety or any criticism of harassment or rape culture was proof the dawn of man had ended long ago.
The response was to go “Actually yeah, fine,” and to fucking brand that shit. Misandrist art, bright and sparkling. “Fashionable misandry” became a popular tag, consisting largely of mermaids and hot pink self-defense items. We took those accusations and parodied them, creating male tears coffee mugs and “Fuck you, pay me” cross-stitches.
Which of course led the MRAs to point more fingers and yell that this was proof of them being correct!
So we pushed harder. “Dead Men Can’t Cat Call.” “Kill All Rapists.” “Valar Morghulis: Yes ALL Men.”
Fine, we said. You want to say we call death to all men. We’ll say that now. We’ll be the biggest worst thing ever and we’ll do it in six-inch heels!
But of course that just made the MRAs more convinced of our blood lust.
And we gave up, tired of the joke, and said “Actually…we do sort of hate men.”
Not All Men.
We never said that.
(There’s actually an interesting time in the misandry movement where intersectionality was called in and white women were told by POC not to say kill all men because white women still have the ability to enact violence on black men and also where do trans men fit into misandry and what about non-binary people who present as masculine and could butch women be misandrists too because is this about men or about masculinity and it’s actually a very fascinating online movement I hope gets studied one day.)
By being strawmanned, many of us were pushed to the point where we did just openly admit that, yes, we hate men as a concept. Not every man. Not each individual. But in terms of the patriarchy? In terms of gripping keys because a man is following you at night? In terms of not knowing if some guy will roofie you? In terms of “Oh, he’s just picking on you because he likes you”? In terms of having multiple stories of relatives, teachers, strangers, boyfriends, friends, classmates, bus drivers, cops, whatever doing anything from whistling at to raping us and being told that was our fault because of whatever arbitrary rule we managed to break that day?
Well, yeah. We kind of hate men.
But what that meant was we just don’t trust you. Trusting men can’t be the default because men have victimized so many of us and gotten away with it. We are told to fight one another, that girls can’t get along, that Mean Girls is so true to life, but most of us have never been systematically attacked by women the way we have been by men. Sure. Women can assist in that. Women can bully. Women can physically and sexually assault. Again, we never said that wasn’t true.
All we said was that we reached a point where we’ve got to parody the idea of hating men or we’re never going to make it in this world. We need to laugh so we don’t cry. We need to actually empower ourselves to call shit out even though it’ll get us called a bitch.
And unfortunately, that’s lost. Misandry is held up as being a real thing on par with misogyny and it just isn’t. Not in a world where a man’s worst fear is that women will laugh at them and a woman’s worst fear is that a man will kill her.
As the old (I mean four years is old in internet time) adage goes, “Misandry irritates; misogyny kills.”
And that’s where I’m coming from in thinking about Hard Candy.
Because I remember being 15 and watching that with my dad (who is legitimately “kill more rapists” than I am, or at least more “kill my rapist” than I am) and us talking about how overblown the film was. Like, we both kind of thought it was cool. A film about a 14-year-old girl who seeks revenge on a child rapist/possible murderer. But, wow, does that film not make it clear she’s a hero. I still run into people who claim that the movie was good and they totally agree with her, “But is she any better for pretending to castrate him and making him kill himself?”
Which echoes what I have been told, if I express fantasies of bad things happening to my abusers. Bad things I would never actually make happen or do myself. That if you fight hate with hate or violence with violence then, obviously, you’re just as bad. If you strike back against someone who struck you first, well, you’re just as evil.
And that’s really not a good mentality when discussing things like pedophilia.
Like, no. There are not two sides to that issue. We have a man raping a child, and we have a child being raped. If you play devil’s advocate to any degree in that, you are a horrible person and I hope your mother shames you in her will.
But that’s the thing! People are totally allowed to play devil’s advocate on topics like this and get upset if people call them out for their hypothetical little argument (seriously, men do this all the time when rape culture comes up on Facebook), but if a member of an oppressed or marginalized group has a revenge fantasy, suddenly they are the person in the wrong and should be ashamed of themselves.
So I am going into this film hoping, really hoping, that it’s a more balanced narrative than I remember. That people were just misreading it. That it will be a great escapist fantasy where Ellen Page is gonna decimate online predators with her freckles and wit.
First off, I want to say that I don’t see how anyone can come out of this movie thinking it’s being presented equally. Because while Hayley’s methods of getting information from Jeff go from harsh to deadly, Jeff’s creep level does the same.
We open with an online chat between thonggrrrl14 and Lensman319. There’s flirtation, sexual innuendo, and then a decision to meet in an hour that’s prompted by thonggrrrl who insists she is NOT a baby because she reads Zadie Smith. But when we fade to a diner, we find someone who is very much a child, chowing down on tiramisu and chocolate that Jeff is more than happy to wipe off of her lips before offering to buy her more.
I mean that. Scene one and dude is offering to buy her candy. Also a T-shirt if she promises to model it for him.
The scene was triggering, if I’m being honest. About a 2 on my scale. Maybe it’s because there were too many similarities between Jeff and my older abusive ex (including a similar online handle, as my ex’s was and is photoj99), or maybe it’s because I came of age during AOL chatroom scares, or maybe it’s because there is no reason a 32-year-old should be meeting a 14-year-old to hang privately, but for whatever reason I went into the rest of the movie with my mind made up about Jeff being a bonafide creep.
He pulls out all the classic lines: He tells Hayley she’s so mature, she acts older than her age, he can’t believe she’s so interested in reading, yadda yadda NOPE. And the thing is, while Ellen Page was 19 during filming and while I know my father and I agreed ten years ago that this character didn’t read as a real 14-year-old, she totally reads as one in this scene. Ellen Page has super-cropped hair. Not an attractive pixie cut, but a really boyish chop that highlights her freckles and her nervous laughter. While we later learn Hayley is duping Jeff so she can seek some vigilante justice for a missing girl named Donna Mauer (whose poster hangs over Jeff and Hayley’s first meeting) you would never know it here. Hayley may read, she may like Goldfrapp, she may have a big vocabulary, but she’s not confident. She’s unsure, timid, not smooth at flirting, and Jeff is just eating it up and being charming as hell without crossing any huge lines. Patrick Wilson plays Jeff as someone so assured of their own goodness that clearly there is nothing wrong with him taking Hayley home and offering her a screwdriver.
After a tour and Hayley saying she won’t accept a drink not mixed herself, the film shifts to the revenge fantasy we’ve been warned about. Over the course of the next hour, Hayley trusses Jeff up, reveals she’s basically stalked him, and tortures him for info about his pedophilia.
Jeff maintains he can’t be a pedophile or someone who hurts children, because he’s never slept with them. But as a photographer, he is able to photograph half-naked minors and then hang those blown up pictures in his house “as part of my portfolio.” Never the “poignant” and “important” nature shots for conservation agencies, just the “half-naked nymphs,” as Hayley puts it.
In fact, Hayley picks through all of Jeff’s arguments that he’s not a monster until eventually he is left with the one argument that still somehow serves as a legitimate argument in courtrooms:
“Come on. You were coming onto me.”
And while we have half a movie to go, Hayley launches into a monologue that hits home why that’s not an excuse.
“That’s what they always say, Jeff. Who? The pedophiles. ‘She was so sexy,’ ‘She was asking for it,’ or ‘She was only technically a girl; she acted like a woman.’ It’s just so easy to blame a kid isn’t it? Just because a girl knows how to imitate a woman does not mean she is ready to do what a woman does. I mean, you’re the grown up here. If a kid is experimenting and says something flirtatious, you ignore it. You don’t encourage it. If a kid says ‘Hey, let’s make screwdrivers,’ you take the alcohol away and you don’t race them to the next drink!”
But here’s the thing. Rape culture extends to children. A girl going through puberty early and growing breasts makes it easier to say her clothing is provocative even though it’s the only clothing being sold in her size. Children pole dance in beauty contests and people talk about how sad they are before they think to blame the parents who selected and choreographed those routines. A story comes out about David Bowie (and so many other rock stars) sleeping with 14-year-old groupies, and anyone who calls that statutory rape is branded as someone forcibly removing the agency of those girls. Lolita is sold with a pull quote on the cover proclaiming it “The only convincing love story of our time.”
It is easy to blame a child.
And here’s the thing: HAYLEY ISN’T WRONG ABOUT JEFF.
Because here the movie gets more personal, where Hayley begins to ask about the missing Donna. Even through a highly believable but ultimately fabricated castration, Jeff insists he knows nothing about Donna’s disappearance. He just…has a photo of her. And has met her. Because Jeff has a history of going online and specifically meeting 14-year-old girls and impressing them with wit and also lies. No, seriously. Hayley calls him on Googling every band she mentions and pulling quotes from Amazon reviews. He has a system.
Hayley taunts him and mocks him, calling him lonely, threatening harm but never murder. Mostly, she focuses on a woman named Janelle who Jeff used to have a thing with and is still in love with. Like, he saved all her letters. The date of their “first time” (whether a photography shoot or having sex) is the code to Jeff’s child porn safe.
None of Hayley’s threats work. Not ruining his life, his career (which Hayley argues is a false argument anyway because Polanski), calling the cops, throwing him in prison. Through all of that, Jeff might cry and beg, but mostly he shouts he’s innocent or calmly offers Hayley help. That he’ll hold her, that her parents must not care about her but he sure does and understand everything…
All of that crumbles when Hayley threatens to tell Janelle and ruin any chance Jeff ever has of getting her back.
So he admits to Hayley that he didn’t kill Donna.
But he watched.
That doesn’t make him so bad does it? It’s not like he killed her or raped her.
“I just wanted to take pictures.”
But after this, Jeff is ready to go. He manages to get free, but with Janelle on the way and Hayley packing proof, he’s ready to just kill her. Instead, she convinces him to hang himself after he gives up the name of Donna’s murderer, thinking that by siding with Hayley’s vigilantism he’ll be safe.
“I know who he is. It’s funny. Aaron said you were the one who did it right before he killed himself.”
Here’s what this movie is. While, yes, Hayley is extreme, she’s constantly making good points. Jeff’s only argument is that he never actually raped anyone. He’s just been highly inappropriate and used his career to take photos of naked kids. He was even abused as a child because his aunt thought he molested her daughter! But he didn’t! He just did nothing to stop his much younger cousin from jumping naked all over him!
And people like him exist.
Hayley is a strawman in deeds, not words, but Jeff isn’t. Jeff is real. Guys like Jeff, who skirt the line and trade on charm and handsomeness to not be questioned, totally exist in our world.
And one of the best things about Jeff’s character is that he knows this. “I’m a decent guy,” he constantly says. He’s very careful to never hit on the models he shoots, going online for that. He’s well-liked by his neighbors and does work that’s very admirable.
Throughout the entire movie, he thinks he can have power over Hayley. Even at the end when he turns to force, he thinks he can take her down because he’s a larger man. But Hayley is always ahead of him. During their final confrontation on the roof, he says he’ll get out and find her, her dad is a professor at a famous school, and she’s from a smaller suburb. She throws out that none of that is true. Her name isn’t even Hayley.
And it’s clear that up until this point it had never dawned on him. Jeff legitimately had no idea that a 14-year-old on the internet was just as capable of lying to him.
In the end, even we never learn anything about Hayley beyond she’s got a therapist and also a friend she’s seeing after this. Because teenage girls are screens to be projected on. Society feeds them images of what they should be, things they should do. Jeff and other predators mentally dress them up into the people they need to feel good. Hayley played on this and it was probably the easiest part of her plan.
And THAT is when he gives up and kills himself.
As long as Jeff has his male power to rest on, he thinks he’s good. He thinks he can get out. The only other time he comes close to bending is when he thinks he’s being castrated. And once he learns that didn’t happen, he gets a second wind and is ready to kill, not caring about the consequences. Because he can just say that “she was all over me” when the cops show up.
This is a film about a 14-year-old taking power from a man. This is not a film about a bloody rampage; it is a film about a young woman methodically taking apart a man’s power and ability to defend his bullshit. About her destroying not just his will to live but also his entire concept of how safe he is.
Is it overdramatized? Yes. But no more than a Tarantino film. Is it problematic that Hayley repeatedly mentions she’s crazy, especially since it’s framed as possibly being her one honest moment? Yeah. It’s also just a weird choice. Are the lighting shifts really heavy-handed? YES.
But the film is good and it makes its arguments. And because if people can watch this and still think Hayley was as much a villain as Jeff, then maybe we need extreme films. Maybe we, as an audience, need to be beaten and electrocuted before we can admit that being inappropriate with children is usually far more subversive than violent rape.
Because all of Hayley’s methods only led to Jeff saying she was right while he stabs out the crotch of one of his portfolio portraits. Because even before Hayley made the switch, Jeff was still trolling the internet looking for teenagers to hit on. There is no good and bad spectrum for pedophilia. There is only a spectrum of “pedophile” and “actually raped and killed a child.” There are not two equal sides to child rape and abuse.
So just remember that even if a guy is as charming as Patrick Wilson was before Watchmen nearly killed his career, he’s still capable of shitty behavior even if he’s not capable of the absolute shittiest behavior.
– This movie was the first time I had ever heard of Goldfrapp and to this day I can’t listen to them or hear about them without associating them with online predators.
– Goddamn I love Patrick Wilson and want to live in the timeline where he hit it big and got to be in a truly interesting adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera.
– Speaking of which, did you know Emmy Rossum was 16 during filming of that and Patrick Wilson was 32? It’s like this film sort of called that out along with all the other shout-outs to Hollywood kind of supporting this sort of thing.
– Ellen Page is RIPPED in this movie. I swear, she’s all muscle in this and they have her running around in a tank top for most of the film.
– An unintentionally humorous thing: During the “That’s what pedophiles say” speech, Hayley puts on Jeff’s glasses and a few lines later she tears them off dramatically while making a point about him.
– This film had a “production dog” and I don’t know why. I figure it probably did about as much work as Sandra Oh and the other two cast members did (about four minutes of collective screen time).
– If you think this sounds like a weird companion piece to Juno, you would be correct! In the ten years since this came out I still have not seen much a difference between Jeff in this and Mark in that. One is just wrapped up in comedy and Sonic Youth instead of drama and Goldfrapp.