It’s not a surprise that Halt and Catch Fire is one of my favorite shows of all time. It takes place during a very vivid period in my life, and in my opinion, very much captures the spirit of that era when it came to exploring this new frontier of computers and the world wide web, as it was called in those days. Mackenzie Davis plays the show’s software genius, Cameron Howe, struggling to have her ideas heard in a world focused more on a hardware arms race and, more oppressively, a landscape of sexism and male egotism to which she’s largely oblivious.
In August 2017, Davis did an interview on Vulture where she discusses her victories and experiences while working on the show and various films.
In the final season of Halt and Catch Fire the two female leads were paid the same as their male co-stars, something which should feel rather trivial but instead exists as an outlier, even today. The fact that it didn’t even require renegotiation, and that the network had done that through watching the show’s story progress and decided what was correct, is even more surprising.
When discussing how she views her character with respect to feminism, Davis shares a really sharp observation:
“Because she doesn’t broadcast as, like, a super-female person, I think she doesn’t get treated in a super-female way. So she’s been able to not recognize the experiences and the work that somebody like Donna and her generation have had to claw their way towards, and just takes a huge bite out of life and thinks she deserves it. Through their experiences as partners in Mutiny, I remember the first meeting they have with a sexist VC who asked Donna and Cameron, what if one of them got pregnant? I think that was one of her first true moments when she realized that people looked at her differently for being a girl. It wasn’t just that people looked at her differently for being a genius. She identified as a mind before a body, and then recognized in that moment that some people recognized her as a body before a mind.”
That last line — I wish every male on this planet could understand that concept.
I do not fault many people for falling into the trap of generalizing the life experience as they have experienced it themselves, however I do fault those who refuse to acknowledge the validity or possibility of an alternate perspective, or refuse to admit the possibility of just being wrong. To err is human, right?
I think it’s very easy to go about the world as mind-first, body-second, however expecting the world to do the same in return is simply a luxury. We can take the simplified stance that both sexes (and all gender or non-gender identities) share the burden of racism, classism, and most other -isms that apply to a people, however there doesn’t exist such simplification when it comes to sexism.
That problem is a human problem. If we might take a moment to consider that scene with Davis’s character, and then observe the world as we go about our day, we’d all see a lot more. It’s not always blatant, and it’s not always villainous. Sometimes it’s just “the way I was brought up…” or some other anecdote. That comfort though, in the way we were brought up or how things used to be, is the enemy of empathy, thoughtfulness, and progress. It’s easy to disown a previous generation’s racial slurs and outward antagonism, but can you shake those unsaid moments where they paused a bit too long to consider or worse, didn’t consider at all? Where previous generations saw many things body-first, mind-second? Who insisted on that backbone of decision making even after proven wrong? How would you feel if someone said, “What happens if you get erectile dysfunction? We’re not covering those little blue pills.” At some point, you have to push yourself to actively observe and listen, rather than trust what you believe to be a capable, progressive, and open mind. You may have been brought up by outstanding people, but this world raised you too, and it gets a lot of things wrong.
“She identified as a mind before a body, and then recognized in that moment that some people recognized her as a body before a mind.”