A few days ago in the #solidarityisforwhitewomen secondary thread, Gloria made a suggestion I really liked:
I would love to see Feministe do something akin to Slate Magazine’s TV club where each week feminists of all sorts get together to discuss their take on TV shows, movies, music, news, books and pop culture.
Everyone can have blind spots when it comes to oppression that doesn’t affect them. What a way to get a multi-faced picture of what is happening in the world?
So, welcome to the first edition of implementing Gloria’s idea!
This Last week, Sophia McDougall wrote an article in New Statesman that I’m linking to as a discussion kick-starter:
Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong.
The whole article is full of tempting quotable chunks (
She rolled her eyes. “All the princesses know kung-fu now.”), but I’m going to resist the temptation to fill this post with them, and recommend that you read the whole thing, and then please share your thoughts.
Oh, OK – a few more quotes then:
Is Sherlock Holmes strong? It’s not just that the answer is “of course”, it’s that it’s the wrong question.
What happens when one tries to fit other iconic male heroes into an imaginary “Strong Male Character” box? A few fit reasonably well, but many look cramped and bewildered in there. They’re not used to this kind of confinement, poor things. They’re used to being interesting across more than one axis and in more than two dimensions.
And all of this without taking into account the places where the Strong Female Character may overlap with the stereotype of the “strong black woman”, when myths of strength not only fail but cause real harm.
I wish she’d expanded on this quote above, and I’m keen to read the commentariat’s analysis on how that one-axis: two-dimensions supplementary-character confinement is especially restrictive for characters (both male and female) who bear the weight of being a fictional work’s token representations of non-hegemonic identities, and how the lack of characters in mainstream entertainment who look/sound like oneself (and portrayed as part of a realistically balanced community rather than stand-alone nods to diversity) feeds into externalised and internalised oppressions.
Mentally insert as necessary more intersectional descriptors where McDougall’s article only mentions “sexism” and “female” below:
We need get away from the idea that sexism in fiction can be tackled by reliance on depiction of a single personality type, that you just need to write one female character per story right and you’ve done enough.
Let us remind ourselves that the actual goal here is not the odd character who’s Strong or Effective or anything else. It’s really very simple, but it would represent a far more profound change than any amount of individual sassy kickassery can ever achieve, and would mean far fewer posters like those above.
What do I want instead of a Strong Female Character? I want a male:female character ratio of 1:1 instead of 3:1 on our screens. I want a wealth of complex female protagonists who can be either strong or weak or both or neither, because they are more than strength or weakness. Badass gunslingers and martial artists sure, but also interesting women who are shy and quiet and do, sometimes, put up with others’ shit because in real life there’s often no practical alternative. And besides heroines, I want to see women in as many and varied secondary and character roles as men: female sidekicks, mentors, comic relief, rivals, villains. I want not to be asked, when I try to sell a book about two girls, two boys and a genderless robot, if we couldn’t change one of those girls to a boy.
The comments at New Statesman (nearly 600 now) move into discussion of video games as well as films, and there’s a fair spattering of status-quo-hurt & this-is-just-how-the-industry-works ‘splaining popping up to derail what start out as interesting subthreads. In amongst that are some recommendations for alternatives full of win amongst the excoriating of the many examples of fail. What are your win/fail pop culture loves and hates for the portrayal of non-hegemonic characters?
P.S. Suggestions for discussion kickstarters for future Pop Goes The Culture editions are very welcome, pitching discussion-starter posts as Guest Posts is strongly encouraged!
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