Who doesn’t love a film with a strong female lead?
While there is still a long way for cinema to go in its quest for gender equality, it’s not all bad news. Compared to times past, an increasing number of movies are passing the Bechdel test*, reflecting the increasing demand for female characters to transcend the traditionally held roles of ‘passive recipient to male characters’ whims’, or ‘damsel in distress’, or both. Female characters are doing lots of things that they would never have done before, and we have even had some female superheroes. Woohoo!
But as a cystitis-prone woman, I can’t help but notice that none of these women--even the ones wearing tight clothes made of inorganic materials, or the ones having lots of sex-- ever seem to get a UTI. Statistically, this is very unlikely; 50-60% of women will experience the horror of a UTI in their lifetime, and 2 out of 5 women experience recurrent UTIs throughout their life. The closest movies seem to get to plights of the vagina are period ‘dramas’, and this is usually only mentioned in the context of mood swings, or fertility stuff. So how is it that these female protagonists who are always on the go, or having sex, or in extreme locations with minimal or no access to a clean toilet and a bottle of D-Mannose, staying cystitis-free? What’s their secret??!
...Well, the sad truth is they probably don’t have one, it’s just that we are not getting to see the cystitisy parts of their adventures. What’s up with that, Hollywood?
If I had to hazard a guess, I would say this cystitis radio silence is related to a few things:
- Cystitis is amongst the least “sexy” of the maladies out there, in that it’s horribly painful but not going to kill you (I promise!), so it doesn’t lend itself to epic, gut wrenching romantic tragedies. The extent of the romantic tragedy will be the protagonist having to cancel a date. Boohoo.
- Cystitis doesn’t really progress the story in any way- just creates a pointless sort of pause (pretty much how I experience it in my own life, really).
- It takes sex off the table. And for many films, even if a character isn’t having sex, it’s very important that she could be.
- To state that a character has cystitis very much puts their vagina centre stage. In films, vaginas are generally only meant to have sex or push babies out, and are never given much prominence in and of themselves. Because let’s face it, no one wants to hear about a sick foof.
- If a woman is sobbing on the toilet gulping cranberry juice, she can’t really be useful. By which I mean she can’t be sexy, cute, clever or sell a movie franchise.
- For Bechdel-aware film makers, there might be a need to overcompensate for the past by making women ‘strong’ in the male sense of the word. So, much in the same way as we don’t discuss James Bond’s prostate pain, we also don’t discuss Lara Croft’s burning urethra.
I don’t know about you, but I think that with the exception of non-human female characters who might not have urethras (such as Arwen in LOTR- do elves pee?), there is no excuse to leave this very real, very common problem out of the (talking) picture. I often find myself watching films and thinking, “if that was me, I’d DEFINITELY have got cystitis by now”. Hell, just looking at Anne Hathaway in her Cat Woman suit gives me cystitis! And this got me thinking… what if some of our favourite female protagonists did get cystitis half way through their 90 minutes in the limelight? And what impact would this have on the plot?
With this in mind, here is a selection of some of my favourite UTI-alternative movie endings… SPOILERS AHEAD!
The Hunger Games
More specifically, Hunger Games Catching Fire.
Katniss and co run around the boiling jungle for days, in sexy tight lycra suits with zero ventilation, until they discover that they can get a dribble of water out of a tree. I definitely understand the movie title now- my urethra would definitely be catching fire in that situation. I reckon any cystitis-prone tributes would have topped themselves at the first mention of a lycra suit before the countdown had even started; a very boring death indeed for the game makers! If Katniss had got cystitis in the jungle arena, her sole focus would be on getting a Capitol sponsor to send her a little parachute with D-Mannose or antibiotics. She’d be far too distracted to pay any attention to Beetee’s plan and to realise that she had to shoot an electrified arrow into the arena dome. The revolution would not have happened, and the Mockingjay would have almost certainly been murdered in some dramatic fashion. Although watching 90 minutes of Katniss crouched by a tree screaming in pain before begging some Career tribute to mercifully chop her head (or vagina) off might have been more realistic, it probably would not have made the Hunger Games the box office hit that it was.
Okay, so she’s not technically human, but who am I to say whether Goddesses have urethrae? If we assume that Wonder Woman did have a urethra, and that the little superhero pants she wears are not made of cotton, then we can also assume that she might have been prone to the odd bout of cystitis. And if you had cystitis and were given the option of a) staying on an island full of warrior chicks (50% of whom would’ve statistically experienced cystitis as well at some point) or b) getting on a boat with a random guy, what would you pick? Exactly. Wonder Woman with cystitis would have remained Diana, Princess of the Amazons. Still bad ass, but not global super-heroine bad ass. Glass ceilings and all that.
Hermione is the real resident bad ass of Hogwarts, and she saves the day. A lot. Let’s face it, if Hermione was glued to a toilet at any point during the story, then Voldemort would have won, for sure. Though, knowing Hermione, she would probably have just “Accio E.coli’d” her urethra and been done with it. Maybe that’s why JK Rowling didn’t bother to include any UTI side stories. Also, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Cranberry Juice just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Life was hard enough for poor Mulan, having to hide her boobs and fanny and periods and weak arms from all the men. But can you imagine having to go to target practice, climbing a big wooden pole, or flirting with your hunky commander (#animatedcrush) with a UTI? If Mulan had had cystitis on the day her dad was drafted to the army, she wouldn't have even made it there because she'd have been glued to the toilet and missed the opportunity to go in his place. He would have died in battle, and the family would have starved. The end. Disney fairy tale it ain’t.
There is no way that Trinity, queen of black latex, stayed cystitis-free in the Matrix. Can you imagine how hot and sweaty your nether regions would get in that suit?! If Trinity had got cystitis she would not have been able to steer the ship to the Machine City meaning blind Neo wouldn’t have been able to save all of humanity. Though maybe they could’ve popped into The Matrix before the trip and he could’ve scooped out the bacteria in the same way he got her heart beating again in the second film (“you can’t stay on the toilet all day Trinity. I love you too damn much!”)
The question is, if you get cystitis in the Matrix do you get cystitis in the real world…?
Romeo and Juliet
Things go from bad to worse very quickly for poor Juliet. She falls in love with the son of her family’s mortal enemy, marries him the next day (somehow organising a dress in just one night), loses her virginity to him, learns that he has somehow managed to murder her cousin AND be permanently exiled from the city a few hours later, and then finds out that she is being forcibly married off to Paris and that her only hope of seeing Romeo again is to pretend to be dead. Then she wakes up from her nap to find that Romeo has just poisoned himself. It’s all very tragic. But also, there are many cystitis risk factors: high levels of anxiety, and first time sex. Maybe she killed herself because she couldn’t live without Romeo, or maybe, she couldn’t face living in a pre-antibiotic world. Either way, if Juliet had had cystitis she would have skipped the ball and never met Romeo, and no one would have died. Actually, a UTI might have been preferable in this case, Shakespeare.
Firstly, how totally crap would it be to be a nun with cystitis? It’s embarrassing enough when you tell people you have cystitis and they assume it’s from sex, but if you were a nun, that assumption could easily cost you a job. The only bright side of being a nun with cystitis is that you can easily ventilate your coochie with no one being any the wiser. Frolic free, nuns! That version would have to be called ‘Cyst-er Act’. I have no alternative ending to suggest, but this one just tickled me so it stays in. I’m here all night, ladies and gentleman.
Another case of first time sex (we assume)! Cystitis Rose would’ve been stuck on the toilet and drowned as the ship sank. I’m sure Jack would’ve easily survived a cold Atlantic night by climbing on that floating door in her place.
So there you have it folks, would love to hear some of your alternative endings so please do share!
*Films which pass the Bechdel test are films which 1) include two women (preferably named), 2) who talk to each other, 3)about something other than a man