What’s So Unsexy About “Asexual Chic”?

“Poor Ellen Page” seems like an odd way to open an article and, if we’re being honest, a strange thing to say in any context. Still, that’s how Emma Rosenblum begins her critique of Ellen Page’s character Ariadne’s style in Inception. The article is titled “The Ellen Page Inception Look: Asexual Chic”:

“While most everyone else in Inception looks ripped out of a fashion-magazine spread, she has to traipse around in Christopher Nolan’s version of graduate-student chic — ill-fitting corduroys, ratty jackets, and scuffed, oddly pointy motorcycle boots.”

…. that alternative aesthetic has followed Page from movie to movie (Juno to Smart People to Whip It ) and clearly informs her character’s costumes in Inception… Which would be fine, if they’d at least gotten her a pair of pants that fit. Since Page plays the asexual sidekick, it makes sense that Nolan wouldn’t dress her as he does Marion Cotillard’s character, decked out in gorgeous, lingerie-inspired couture. And yet, did he have to make her look like a little boy?… there are better ways to signify that Page is smart and not the female character whom DiCaprio wants to sleep with than sticking her in unattractive, earth-tone duds. Like, say, giving her a pair of glasses.

While my initial reaction–and maybe yours as well–was, “Really, Emma Rosenblum? You couldn’t just enjoy the movie for what it was? You’re going to pick on Ellen Page?” I remembered Moff’s Law and realized that I was being dense by not taking time to think about her comments.

She seems to be on the right track when she point out that, as a foil to Marion Cotillard’s glamorous character, Ellen Page shouldn’t have been dressed to the nines. But asexual? As Cinematical’s response piece points out:

“There are no hot designer fashions, feet-killing stilettos, or overtly sexualized pieces, and because of that, [in Rosenblum’s mind] she loses both her gendered identity and her sexuality. She’s labeled asexual because she’s not showing the curve of her breast or the exact form of her hips, and she’s not dressing for the male gaze.”

Calling her asexual assumes that there’s only one way to be sexy. Didn’t Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) steal a kiss from Ariadne in a dream? Maybe Rosenblum isn’t able to imagine an androgynous character as the subject of someone’s sexual attraction, but it seems like the creators of the movie can. And as loudly as lesbians might like to speculate about different actresses sexualities in real life, think before you cringe over seeing a boyish girl in a straight role. If it’s happening in mainstream movies, it’s helping broaden people’s minds about what gay and straight can look like–and that’s good for everyone.

While clothes signify many things in real life and especially in movies–social class, nationality, interests, sexuality, and gender–it’s narrow-minded to expect stereotypical markers of these attributes from a movie so intent on being mind-bending. I can get down with the idea that her suit from the hotel scene was bad, but to suggest that a pair of glasses would have been a better indicator of Ariadne’s intelligence is ridiculous.

Ellen Page might have been stuck with a lot of the movie’s exposition, but there’s more to her character’s significance than just being an “asexual sidekick.” Her age, her intelligence, and even the tiny nod to her sexuality–the brief kiss with Arthur–round Ariadne out as a character.


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Laura is a tiny girl who wishes she were a superhero. She likes talking to her grandma on the phone and making things with her hands. Strengths include an impressive knowledge of Harry Potter, the ability to apply sociology to everything under the sun, and a knack for haggling for groceries in Spanish. Weaknesses: Chick-fil-a, her triceps, girls in glasses, and the subjunctive mood. Follow the vagabond adventures of Laura and her bike on twitter [@laurrrrita].

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45 Comments

  1. 0

    Perhaps because it’s no longer accepted to call a girl who dresses like a boy “dyke”, asexual has become the new way to say it. But they’re still conflating sexuality with gender expression, in this case asexuality with androgyny.

    There’s another article I read like a couple weeks ago in which the author was trying to compliment Rachel Maddow by calling her asexual. I’ll just quote it:

    “But there is Rachel, sitting smartly in her square glasses and easily disproving the conventional wisdom. Maybe sex sells some things, but smart sells the news. And the two should not go together. In a masterful stroke of genius, she appears asexual by simply refusing to put sex on display.” https://www.truthout.org/rachel-takes-us-back-future61310

    Huh? Yeah…way to desexualize women just because they aren’t femme.

    The thing is, I know people who are actually asexual, as in that’s they’re sexual orientation. It’s not meant to be a description of who finds them attractive, but describes their own sexuality.

    • 0

      Yeah! I’m finding the use of “asexual” in articles like this to be inappropriate and inaccurately applied. Like, what if Ellen’s look had been described as “homosexual” or “bisexual”? Your sexual orientation is not about what you wear… lesbians look like women, women look like lesbians etc etc.. It’s about who you would like to kiss and touch naked, not whether you like to wear heels or not. And I mean, I know that obviously the author is not using the term “asexual” to talk about her sexual orientation, but that’s the actual root and meaning of the word, so, it’s only fair that I get to read it as such.

      I don’t like the assumption that Ellen is less of a woman, just because she isn’t adorned in anything particularly “femme”. Boys aren’t born wearing blue shorts, and girls aren’t born wearing pink dresses… clothes are clothes, gender is gender, sexual orientation is sexual orientation.

      Also, Ellen looks fricken’ adorable.

    • 0

      What I don’t understand is why she doesn’t use the word ‘desexualised’ which is the word that describes what she means, rather than asexual which is another thing entirely. Really. It’s called a dictionary!

  2. 0

    when reading the headliner, i thought the article was going to be about, actual asexuality, which i think is sexy. hehe, i like it when people don’t want anything from anyone, or need anyone. good stuff..

    on actual post:

    i’m glad ellen page doesn’t dress the “sexy” way, because really, it’s not. far from it. 🙂

  3. 0

    I think what Ms. Rosenblum forgot was that Page’s character was a college student. Last I checked, not many college students were able to afford the best designs; while the other characters have been “thieves” who we all can safely assume make a good bit of money.

  4. 0

    blargh, this article reminds me of that other one about angelina’s kid? like why do they have to pick on adorable people who don’t stick to society’s perception of gender norms?

  5. 0

    Also CAN SHE BE SERIOUS with this:

    “there are better ways to signify that Page is smart and not the female character whom DiCaprio wants to sleep with than sticking her in unattractive, earth-tone duds. Like, say, giving her a pair of glasses.”

    ?!?!?!

    I mean cause no WAY would a totes hottie like Leo want to kiss a girl with glasses I mean ewwwwwww FOUR-EYES ewwwww can you imagine!

      • 0

        Yeah, I considered that . . . it’s just that the whole rest of the article is so overwhelmingly stupid that I was unwilling to give her even that much credit. And I get the feeling that she really *would* have been much happier if EP had been wearing girly stuff plus glasses. Like no way would her post have existed if that had been the case, right?

  6. 0

    “She’s labeled asexual because she’s not showing the curve of her breast or the exact form of her hips, and she’s not dressing for the male gaze.”

    And what if she was doing all those things? Is it not possible she was either dressing like that because it makes her feel attractive and/or she dressed like that because she wanted women to look at her? Not every lesbian or bisexual woman wants to wear baggy t-shirts and cargos.

  7. 0

    So, I get glasses signifying intelligence… lots of reading is hard on the eyes and whatever.

    But signifying that someone wouldn’t want to sleep with her?!

    Why don’t you just go get your nails did with Taylor Swift, Emma Rosenblum. GLASSES ARE SEXY OMFG.

  8. 0

    I thought EP looked mighty fine in Inception.

    And, although the vision was only momentary, I did think that she was going to don her hot pants for LdC. (She wears them for me…in my dreams.)

    Does it matter what she wears? I doubt that her character’s fashion sense would detrimentally affect her attractiveness as, ya know, a human being.

  9. 0

    I’m not sure judging anyone on their aesthetic merits (or lack thereof) is ever healthy, perpetuating as it does the stereotypes, hang-ups and prejudices so prevalent and visible in our society as it is. Regardless: Ellen Page melted me like butter throughout ‘Inception’.

  10. 0

    Listen, I saw Inception last weekend and I am still really confused and maybe possibly dreaming right now at this moment, but whatever “phase” I’m in, here’s my humble opinion re: “Poor Ellen Page” in this particular movie:

    Ellen’s character, the “Architect” or whatever, is supposed to be helping us get through this mind-fuck with a lot of expository dialogue, but like I’m not going to be following along very well when all I can do is stare and her lips and think about how I’ve never wanted to be a bandana so badly in my entire life.

    A-sexual?? Ha! I call Shenanigans!

  11. 0

    Personally, I thought Ellen Page was ADORABLE in Inception. I ate up every one of her outfits every time she came on screen. I think the clothing helped to make her character unique from all the other overly sexualized female sidekicks/sex objects in most films… she wasn’t meant to be eye candy and that’s what made her so cute!

  12. 0

    seriously, i don’t know what this is about, ellen page was hot in this movie. as was the hotel suit. i will fall all over a tight bun (by which i mean, the way her hair was pulled back, pervs) any day.

  13. 0

    Haha! As soon as I read the Cinematical quotation I spun around on my chair, made upward-shooting texan hand gun gestures, and yelled “yeah bitches!”. That’s some good shit right there.
    Thanks for including that, and thanks for the insight, Laura, and commentors!

  14. 0

    “Grad students don’t generally spend their time in super fancy clothes” – kd15

    Totally true!! Former grad student here (thankfully finally finished) and I can confirm that’s totally true for me.

    My other half is currently a grad student – and she just about has time to eat some food, and sleep – nevermind shop for ‘fashionable’ clothes.

    I do kinda see what they mean about asexuality – I was convinced my other half was asexual before we got together (prior to her professing her love for me, hahaha) – she dressed very similar to Ellen Page in Inception, and gave absolutely no hint of a sexuality. That doesn’t mean she wasn’t sexy though..
    /drifts off in daydream

  15. 0

    I would love it when people would turn their own arguments on the head and then decide if it’s still what they want to say.

    What bothers me about this is of course how Ellen Pages look was critisized – seriously, students look like this. especially when attending classes/working. she didn’t even look that “asexual” to me (and it’s a stupid way to describe anyones look really).
    But if you try to look at this critique the other way around, it means that in order to attract men, and especially the men in this movie, Marion Cotillard had to be dressed the way she was. I found it a lot more irritating that she ALWAYS had to wear super sexy dresses or lingerie. and that is something that should be discussed – what our society is told to be attracted to, and that there’s only one kind of feminine beauty that’s acceptable.

    and then again, it’s not the female characters only purpose to attract men, thank you very much.

  16. 0

    Rosenblum’s comments are so bizarre. She’s creating an argument out of nothing to fit her ideas of what ‘femininity’ should be; like autostraddle said, what about the kiss in the dream? There are a lot of straight men who find Ellen Page very attractive.

  17. 0

    haven’t seen the movie, hoping to soon, but in the previews, to me, the movie looked really stylized with, like, lots of suits and a certain color palette with some serious greys and such. everybody I saw in the previews was wearing suits, kind of 40’s style, but ellen, who was bohemian-style. so, I thought maybe it meant something was different about her character in the story, that she wore a different ‘costume’ and it had significance of some sort mebbee… anyway, that was my first gut. my second was that she woulda looked badass in a 3-piece grey suit.

    the asexual chic thing is kind of a weird thing to assess about a person, but some people do view things in very narrow ways about sex and sexuality (lesbians do it too!).

  18. 0

    I think there’s more to it than just her way of dress – or perhaps reasons behind her way of dress. For one, Ariadne is significantly younger than most of the other characters – with the exception of Arthur, they seem to be well over thirty. But I also think it’s a matter of contrast – dream!Mal is so over-the-top, noiresquely sensual that anyone would seem desexualized in contrast (I doubt the real life Mal was like this, but of course we’ll never know). And of course they’re wrong. Ariadne is sexy in her own way, much as the male characters are, and I am glad some miniskirt or catsuit wasn’t added to her wardrobe in attempt to draw in some more teenage boys.

  19. 0

    related: ABC family just possibly introduced an asexual character on “Huge”- one of the camp counselors, Poppy- but it was a random one-line explanation sort of in the background while you were really supposed to be paying attention to/contrasting it with the boy counselor’s obvious angst about not being able to sleep with the hot girl camper.

  20. 0

    I totally thought this was about “a sexual chic”. A homosexy chic.

    Also, I love a gal with neckerchief as much as the next, but I actually noticed the neckerchief uniform while in the depths of cinematic absorbtion. Perhaps it helps distinguish the real from the crazy-amazing-shit-your-pants- fantabulous-ness of the dream world where anything is possible, even a pantsuit!

  21. 0

    Emma Rosenblum doesn’t seem to live in the real world. My world is peopled with endless versions of Ellen Page’s so-called “asexual chic”, and very lovely they are too!

  22. 0

    Okay, where I live in Wellington NZ, everyone dresses like Ellen in Inception! Has been like that for a couple of years now. I LOVED her look in this movie, and will definitely be on the look out for some more scarves!

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