Does everything always have to have to have a sexist message?

Take the movie Boyhood. That’s Richard Linklater’s admired—and also Academy Award-nominated movie about growing up in a Texas town. Linklater started shooting Boyhood in 2002 and didn’t finish up until 2014—so that he could use the same child actors: Ellar Coltrane as Mason, the young star of the film, and Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei Linklater, as his older sister, Samantha. Mason is 5 years old at the movie’s beginning, and we watch him grow up, literally, right in front of our eyes. In an interview with Texas Monthly, Linklater said the film was based at least in part on his own autobiography.

A charming concept, no?

Everyone thought so—until feminists started chewing on Boyhood.

In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal titled “What ‘Boyhood’ Shows Us About Girlhood,” Sharon Marcus, English professor and humanities dean at Columbia, and Ann Skomorowsky, psychiatry professor at the Columbia University Medical Center, argue that Boyhood isn’t really the gently paced, bittersweet narrative about a young boy’s becoming a young man that it seems to be. It’s actually a movie with a dangerous  message: that boys are subtly encouraged to gain self-confidence as they enter their teen years, while girls are subtly encouraged to lose self-confidence.

In other words, Boyhood is a cinematic version of Reviving Ophelia—that bestselling 2005 tract that claims that Western society dooms girls to failure as soon as they enter their teens.           

Here’s what Marcus and Skomorowsky write:

For the first half of the film, as Mason dreams, Samantha competes with him. She dominates, teases and outperforms her younger brother (in reality, the actors playing the brother and sister were born only months apart). When Samantha first appears, she whizzes by Mason on her bike, calling him home for dinner. She taunts him by singing a Britney Spears song, speaking pig Latin and reminding him that he flunked first grade. …

But in the film’s last hour, Samantha starts to fade. Her speech and voice start to disintegrate audibly: She speaks less, signals uncertainty with the constant use of the filler phrase “I mean” and punctuates many of her statements with a nervous laugh. At Mason’s high school graduation party, she makes a toast only after being prompted to do so.

By contrast, as Mason gets older, he speaks in a loud, deep voice and expresses himself in well-formed sentences, unhampered by nervous tics and distracting phrases. The teenage Mason is full of ideas and grows in confidence with every passing year.

Who is to blame for this? Why, the adults around them who encourage this behavior!

Pivotal scenes in which adults confront each of them offer a key. In one, Mason’s photography teacher accuses him of laziness and gutlessness. “Who do you want to be, Mason? What do you want to do?” When Mason responds vaguely that he wants to make art, his teacher demands, “What can you bring to it that nobody else can?”

In an earlier scene, the mother confronts Samantha with a similar existential question after she has failed to pick Mason up after school: “Do you want to be a cooperative person, who is compassionate and helps people out? Or do you want to be a self-centered narcissist?”

Mason’s teacher pressures him to think about how he can express his individuality; Samantha’s mother offers a false choice: either help others or be an unlikable person. The boy is asked to take himself way too seriously, while the girl is chastised for a single instance of having put herself first.

Well, maybe. Conservative blogger and film critic Steve Sailer offers an alternative explanation:

Linklater cast his daughter as the boy’s older sister. Not surprisingly, at a very young age, Miss Linklater is already quite an entertainer. Initially, she distractingly overshadows the handsome little boy cast as the title character. As the years go by, however, the boy matures as an actor and can carry more of Linklater’s autobiographical movie.

After all, the movie is supposed to be about Mason, not Samantha. That’s why it’s called Boyhood.

It would be nice if every single movie didn’t have to be about sexism and nothing but sexism. But that’s what you get when feminists go to the movies.