I’ve been interested in the reaction to a trailer for Hitman: Absolution, which I tend to think is sexist, but not because it sexualizes violence against women:
I don’t think depictions of violence being done to women are inherently misogynistic, and as part of the reason why, it might be useful to break down violence into two categories. There is violence that is committed against women as a way of diminishing and repressing them, whether it’s a man beating his female partner, or a female character being raped as a way to illustrate her weakness. These sorts of portrayals can be a way of communicating the ugliness of the people committing it, as is the case with Game of Thrones.
Then, there’s violence involving women. Women can be instigators of violence, particularly as action heroines: there aren’t rules of gentlemanliness or feminism that require male characters not to fight back against female antagonists. Fights between men and women can be excitingly choreographed, communicating information about character and innovation with balanced styles. The contrast in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon between Jen Yu’s franticness and Master Li Mu Bai is a perfect confrontation between both their ways of fighting and of living.
The violence in this trailer seems to fall in the second category: the women who are fighting against the main character strike first, and with lethal force. I don’t think he’s obliged to just disarm them—it’s not sexist for him to respond in kind. And I don’t actually think that the stupid sexy-nun characters his attackers are wearing makes his violence against them sexual. Instead, it diminishes them as combatants. The shoes are unstable, the PVC totally inappropriate for heat or rain and it doesn’t protect their bodies, the corsets limit mobility. Their victim, by contrast, is wounded when they attack him, but he’s dressed in a sensible suit. He looks like a serious person, and he makes short work of them, doing one the courtesy of closing her eyes after he kills her. This scene isn’t sexist because the target gets sexual satisfaction out of murdering women. It’s sexist because it creates a setup where we aren’t supposed to take the women in question seriously, and expect to see them killed. The costuming reduces them to meat before a man ever gets his hands on them.