One of the dozens of things I keep track of in feature films is the language used in reference to female characters. Part of the reason for this is that language is very revealing about filmmakers. It tells us a lot about how well or poorly they think of women. Reservoir Dogs (1992), a crime drama written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, who also stars in it, contains no named female characters and no women with lines. This, too, is telling. In one scene a woman screams as Steve Buscemi pulls her out of her car by her hair. This is all the voice women are afforded in this movie that runs over one and a half hours. So all the language relating to women is not spoken to them but rather about them—to other men.
So what do men say about women or to women in Reservoir Dogs? This merits attention and is illuminating. Women are referred to as a cooze, chicks, b*tches, broads and a “f*ck machine.” Men, including Tarantino, say “motherf*cker” three times. He says of a woman, “[…] she’s getting the serious dick action. […] It hurts. It hurts her. […] when this cat f*cks her, it hurts.” Eddie Bunker says of waitresses being special, “What’s special? Takin’ you in the back and suck your dick?” Buscemi yells at a woman as he smashes her window, “Get the f*ck outta the car!” He tells other men, “What a white b*tch will put up with a black b*tch wouldn’t put up with for a minute, man.” Michael Madsen says to Chris Penn, “Eddie, you keep talkin’ like a b*tch I’m gonna slap you like a b*tch.” Penn tells other men, “Lady E, I mean, she was a man-eater-upper. Un-f*ckin’ believable. Every guy that ever, ever laid his eyes on her had to jack off to her at least once.” Tim Roth says of a woman, “I’m makin’ this b*tch rich. She didn’t have to do jack shit. […] I was doing all the work.” When Harvey Keitel asks him about a woman crossing the street in front of their car, “That girl’s ass?” Roth replies, “It’s sittin’ right here on my dick.” Keitel tells him, about their planned store robbery, “You might get some b*tch talk shit to you but give her a look like you’re gonna smash her in the face next—watch her shut the f*ck up.” Randy Brooks refers to a woman as “that invisible b*tch.” And finally, a policeman refers to a woman as “this real sexy Oriental b*tch.”
I shone a spotlight on the language used by Tarantino's male characters in reference to women because it is evidence of his comfort with misogynist attitudes towards women. In Reservoir Dogs women are disrespected and sexualized in speech from beginning to end. This is not negligible and should not be ignored by those who are concerned about the fact that we live in misogynist societies. I look forward to sharing my findings about the language used in mainstream movies of the 20th and 21st centuries in my upcoming film guide for women.
© 2019 Alline Cormier
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