Some potential reactions to The Hurt Locker:
A. "This movie is metal, bro."
B. "This movie is about how soldiers experience contemporary warfare as metal, bro."
C. "This movie is metal, bro, and it was directed by a woman."
D. "This movie is about how soldiers experience contemporary warfare as metal, bro, and it was directed by a woman."
E. "This movie is about how soldiers experience contemporary warfare as metal, bro, and it was directed by a woman, and I am vaguely cognizant that there are, like, kickass gender implications at play."
Obviously there are additional, and different potential reactions to The Hurt Locker, but I'd be lying if I said that I didn't pick up some of these vibes from hearing about the film, which I recently caught up with on DVD. (Eh, it's so-so.) But why is it that so many people feel compelled to express their affection for Bigelow primarily through the prism of her being, essentially, a tomboy, and then relating this 'praise' as though patting oneself on the back for it? (As one piece of evidence: Rob Nelson's comments in the current issue of Film Comment, where he writes, "Note to Marc Webb, Todd Phillips, and Oren Peli: Kathryn Bigelow is a more muscular director than all of you combined." One might as well be saying: Yeah! Let's make fun of them nancy-boys! It's OK to do so because we've snuck in under the umbrella of gender equality!)
Isn't this really just a symptom of the sorts of thinking we should be moving beyond? Yes, Bigelow is a quite talented director. Some people consider her one of the preeminent directors in Hollywood today. She is also a woman, and there are not so many of those directing films (and doing a lot of other empowered jobs) as one would think there should be. And one could count on one hand the number of women filmmakers in Hollywood who might be granted, in public and critical discourse, the status of "authorship" and, what's more, a respected authorship, over her films. So indeed it's important to discuss gender, like genre, with respect to a lot of Bigelow's movies. Including The Hurt Locker. At the same time, hasn't she been around, doing her thing, long enough for people to have come up with better ways of understanding her than (implicitly) by strict analogy to one of the tough female action heroes in one of the films helmed by either her or her infamous ex-husband!?