I often say things like, “oh, I’ve got this BIG LIST of problems with the way women are portrayed in (insert form of media).” Every once in a while someone will say, “oh? I’d like to see the full list.”
So I’m working on compiling many various rants into an easy to read, distilled, bloggy form.
Here’s a start:
- Men get respect by default, women get questioned. Go visit any fictional world, be it the world of the X-Men or Buffy’s Sunnydale or Xena’s realm, and you’ll see men being respected while women are, well, um… how can I put this nicely? Women are accused of being female. When the man rides into town to save the day on his horse or car or private jet, no one is like, “oh, he’s going to save us? A MAN?” But when the woman shows up, inevitably someone is going to point out that she’s a woman. And they will do it with scorn. So why is this? Well, I’m sure many of my readers are thinking, “isn’t it obvious that people don’t expect the hero to be female and so she has to prove herself?”
That thought, right there, is the problem. The problem is there is no obvious reason why the woman should have to prove herself able to save the day, unless it is really true that women are not as capable as men. Also, how does the woman normally prove that she’s just as salty a sea-dog as any given man? Several examples come to mind and they all have something in common: she throws down physical violence. On the rare occasion she may just flay the doubting man with words, but more often than not she’s got to leave someone bleeding. If a MAN was walking into the room and throwing punches as an introduction, how would people feel about that? So there is a two-part problem: the first is that women are doubted as capable where men are greeted with respect, and the second is that respect for a woman generally evolves from acting out in violence, or otherwise taking on attributes that are seen as “masculine”. (Drinking a guy under the table, or smoking a cigar, or joining in the mocking or sexualization of other women.)
- Men confront danger, women find themselves in it. Take any bit of media where you have both a male and female protagonist in a traditionally “male” role, like police officer or lawyer or spy or superhero, and count the amount of times that the male and female get into trouble. I can guarantee you that the woman is going to inevitably end up in a lot more conflict that she didn’t choose, and also that it is almost inevitable that she will face the threat of rape, whereas the man does not.
Maybe the idea is that women can’t handle themselves as well. Maybe it’s simply more titillating to see women trembling in fear or blundering into bad situations. Maybe, as one friend once said, “the threat of physical violence against women is simply assumed.” But why? One prime example of this is Law and Order: SVU. The main characters of that enterprise in the first several seasons were equals. They were partners. But while the man was greeted with respect and ability, the woman was greeted with endless questions and danger and yes, the threat of rape (or the reality of rape in her backstory.) Why? Well, one might say it’s because he was the more seasoned officer and she was the new one on the squad. Wait… why is that? Why couldn’t the more seasoned female been rescuing the newbie male from his own incompetence?
- Unequal relationships. If a male superhero dates a girl, brace yourself for the tears. She’s going to get into trouble. She’ll be a victim. She’ll probably die. And if a female superhero dates, you can bet that it’s only a matter of time before her exposure to violence becomes a problem in their relationship. Wait, what? Why is it that you so rarely see a girl going to extreme lengths to protect a man, as Katniss does with Peeta in the Hunger Games? Why is the central theme of all relationships where danger is an issue, the danger that the woman faces? Spiderman may lose his love to violence, but then Jean Grey is exposed to violence as a way to demonstrate the relationship between her and her superhero heart throb… despite the fact that she herself is powerful?
Take Buffy the Vampire Slayer as an example- she’s the One, right? The most powerful. She kills more demons than she can count, and still if she’s dating anyone, you can bet they aren’t going to like her getting her pretty little hands dirty.
“Oh,” one guy-friend once told me, “that’s because she has to fight for respect.”
- The Problem with Rape. I’ll keep this short. Yes, I get that the reason almost every major comic book, movie, and TV show that has a female character in a position of strength brings rape into the discussion is that rape is such a reality for women. But the way in which it is done too often glamorizes the pain instead of dealing with it honestly.
And do we really want to just throw our hands up and say, “it’s such a reality?”
Is that where we want to live?
- Getting Beat Up By Men You Respect, and Having To Like It. Buffy. Xena. Nikita. Starbuck. Sidney Bristow. ANY FEMALE SUPERHERO EVER. Getting punched in the face by a male mentor is par for the course, and if you’re a real woman you will understand that he’s kicking your ass just to make you stronger and you will ask for more.
Eff. That. Shit.
And this is just the beginning.