Ocean’s 8 is noteworthy for a number of things. It’s noteworthy for having a cast of brilliant, funny, powerful women. It’s noteworthy for its beautiful outfits and celebrity-filled list of cameos. It’s noteworthy because, even though it gave a fairly sizeable role to James Corden, I still left the cinema feeling positive about it. And, as Eater pointed out, it’s noteworthy because it lets the women in the film eat.
Women – and I’m sorry if this comes as a shock – eat all the time. I’m actually eating as I write this, taking bites of a chocolate croissant in between flurries of typing. Later, I’m going to sit with a book and eat my lunch, and later still I’m going to eat dinner with my friends, while we talk about our lives. It’s a normal part of life, but you don’t really see women eating on-screen unless it’s to make a point of some sort: sad women diving into tubs of ice cream; Sally rattling off a long, precise order while Harry looks on in bemusement; Caroline Quentin dipping a banana in her coffee in Jonathan Creek to show just how kerrazy and quirky her character is.
In Ocean’s 8, however, the women eat all the time. They eat in Subways and diners and snack while they get on with their work. One of the most memorable scenes of the whole film is Bullock’s Debbie taking Blanchett’s Lou through her plan, while eating placidly, yet determinedly, from several plates of food and feeding Lou a bite to tempt her onboard. Eater mused that this was because Ocean’s 8 sees the women as humans and that it’s taken “the banality of eating” that seems to “primarily be the dominion of men in the movies” and given it to the women instead: “It’s rare to see scenes where women eat thoughtlessly, in a way that is just a basic statement of a woman as human.”
These are women with deep, complex lives who just don’t have room to care about what society thinks of how they feed themselves. There’s a heist to plan, so who cares if they’re eating hot dogs and chips, rather than getting their five-a-day?
I entirely agree with this, but I think it’s doing more than that. Food is more of a loaded topic with women than men; society has been telling women for years that they should be dieting – restricting their food to make themselves smaller – and films reflected this by either showing women as nervous salad-eaters or treating greedy and overweight women as punchlines. Sometimes, they tried to combat the idea that women should diet and be thin, but in doing so just made fun of fat women even further – I’m looking at you, Shallow Hal.
So, to see the women of Ocean’s 8 eating onscreen, not to try and lose weight and not to make a point but just because that’s what people do, made them feel oddly powerful. In the article, Eater pointed out a few other instances of women eating casually on screen: they include Holly Golightly picking at a pastry and Viola Davis as Amanda Waller in Suicide Squad eating a steak, while telling others about her devious plans. These are women with deep, complex lives who just don’t have room to care about what society thinks of how they feed themselves. The women of Ocean’s 8 are the same – there’s a heist to plan, so who cares if they’re eating hot dogs and chips, rather than getting their five-a-day?
Obviously, to really dig into this topic there are a number of other things to look at – the cast is still mostly very slim and conventionally attractive, despite eating their junk food, for example. And we can’t ignore the fact that it’s incredibly disheartening and faintly ridiculous to still be at a point where scenes of women meeting their basic human needs are so noteworthy that we get excited about them and describe them as “radical”. We deserve female characters who are just as deep and complex as male characters, and the positive reaction to Eater’s article is a sign of how far we still have to go to get there. Give us female anti-heroes. Give us female adventurers. Give us women who cry and bleed and scream and rage, who behave badly but are still loveable. And if you can’t do that, for God’s sake at least give us female characters who eat.