This essay will explore how gender can be represented in Fight Club, it will go into depth on the comparison between femininity and masculinity and the constraints that come with it. It will also consider the specific traits that are established with each gender and how our characters mask them.
Males used to have a clearly defined role as ‘hunter / provider’ but in modern society are not sure of their status or how they should behave. In Fight Club the men the narrator meets at the “Remaining Men Together” support group are a representation of cultural loss of masculinity. Bob is a former fitness guru who has, literally, lost his testicles and in their place developed “bitch-tits”. The narrator feels emasculated because of his consumer driven and IKEA furnished life, but the men in the support group represent the physical manifestation of emasculation. When Tyler arrives this feminine “group hug” idea is replaced by raw and uncensored masculine violence.
Fight Club shows a social and symbolic battle between hyper-masculine anarchism / fascism and feminine ‘group hug’ consumerism; Tyler sneers “How do we know what a duvet is?”
The film is about men. Women are largely absent, or are figures of hatred. The first representation of women is at the first Remaining Men Together meeting. A weeping man laments that his ex-wife just had a baby with her new husband; the subtext is that she is a ‘bitch’ who had dumped him for her own selfish wishes. This is extended to all the women as the group nod sympathetically. We learn Bob’s wife left him when his business collapsed and that he does not see his children. Women have the power in relationships and discard men.
The feminised support group are represented as pathetic as they cry and hug. Bob is a comic figure, a gross caricature of an emasculated man with no balls or and bitch tits, although we will grow to like him as he returns to being a ‘real’ man with fight club. The groups masculinity is literally or symbolic castrated; in opposition to Tyler’s phallic power we see their (basket) balls removed and stacked in the gym.
This scene signifies the crisis of masculinity in America. In later shots the soft lighting in the foreground of the support group contrasts to the hard lighting focused on the USA flag hanging prominently in the back of the room, an image of emasculated male and the decline of the American way.
Chloe is a skeletal victim, pleading to ‘get laid’. The fact she is a women makes her seem particularly desperate and pitiful. Very few other women are even seen. We briefly see, and laugh at, a shop buyer who fawns over a manipulative Tyler as he cooly sells her soap. Tyler is selling women “their fat asses back to themselves”, making women an object of ridicule. A female TV reporter, judged as “hot” as she is unable to comprehend the actions of Project Mayhem as a smiley face blazes from a building symbolising the men fighting back. Tyler humiliates Marla, rages against women, and attributes the emasculation the men in fight club feel in their lives to the fact that they are “a generation of men raised by women”.
In Fight Club a ‘real’ man rejects femininity, consumerism, social rules, and women unless they’re used as sexual objects. Instead violent aggression, sadism and masochism are seen as ways to liberate males from emasculation and be a ‘real man’. Tyler is the ideal male; men want to be him and women want to be with him. However, as the narrative develops Tyler’s philosophy and desire to destroy society is seen as dangerous; as we question this does mean that his gender politics are also unsound?
Marla & Misogyny The one developed female character is initially a ‘faker’ and a ‘tumour’. She is introduced by ominous clicking heels and a cloud of smoke, then as a dark and dangerous femme fatale, wearing a black dress, hat, and sunglasses, smoking a phallic cigarette, and possessing voluptuous red lips. She intrudes on the narrator’s peace causing his insomnia to return. Marla’s presence can therefore be seen as the source of all the problems for the narrator and Tyler finally full appears in response to the intrusion of this female object of desire. Tyler dominates her, ‘sport fucking’ the ‘polecat’ and asserting that maybe a woman is not what ‘we’ need. Marla, certainly on a first viewing, is characterised as a chain-smoking, suicidal thief and whore. She is ‘fucked up’ and the antithesis of traditional femininity.
Marla as Saviour However, Marla and in a minor way the feminised Bob and Chloe allow the narrator to ‘care’ and break free from his domineering alter ego. She is the main catalyst in the reveal; he phones her questioning her about their sexual relationship. Marla confirms that she and the narrator have ‘made love’ and confirms his name is Tyler Durden. He now performs the traditional role of rescuing the girl which helps him defeat his fascistic id. This leads to an ironic romantic Hollywood ending. Marla and the narrator stand together holding hands as his face streams with blood symbolically defeating the id and in front of ‘fireworks’ of exploding skyscrapers symbolically destroying the excesses of super-ego as his ego for this first time takes control and he tells her, “I’m really ok. Trust me. Everything’s going to be fine”. It was him who was ‘fucked up’ all along.
One reading Fight Club is that it is more of a critique of id driven violence than a celebration of it. Although acknowledging male frustration, by accepting responsibility for his actions and finding true heterosexual love the narrator matures and recognises the limits of Tyler’s philosophy. It is time for men to grow up and take charge of their individuality / ego instead of blaming women and society for making them feel like they have lost it.