Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Why Are Fictional Females So Boring?

This is an old blog that I wrote a year or two ago and just never got around to posting, but I figured, in light of the I Hate Strong Female Characters blog going around, I wanted to share a few similar thoughts on the matter.

As a woman, I generally am really, really bored by female characters in movies and TV.

There are two kinds of women in these stories:

1) The traditionally feminine woman who spends most of her time in pursuit of girly things (shopping, boys, fashion), or

2) The butt-kicking woman who spends most of her time fighting against the stereotypes! She argues back with the men in her life and shocks them because she is a WOMAN! She kills vampires better than anyone else and this shocks everyone because she is a WOMAN! She runs a television show and all the problems she deals with are because she is a WOMAN!

And neither of those have anything to do with me, because for both of those characters, their defining characteristic is still the fact that they are a woman.

In reality, very little of my time is spent being either actively feminine or actively unfeminine. Most of the time, my womanness is actually pretty far from my mind. When I'm dealing with a problem, the fact that I'm dealing with it as a female hardly EVER comes up. It's not because gender stereotyping doesn't happen - of course it does. But my life is made up of so much more than traditionally feminine or traditionally masculine activities.

A friend once pointed out to me that a mutual acquaintance always related everything she said to her major, especially when she was making a serious point. She'd start off every sentence with, "As a [whatever] major..." It was like she felt she had to pull those credentials and filter everything she said through them to make it more valid.

I feel like all these Strong Female Characters are doing just that. "As a woman, I think..." The ending of that sentence may be different from the beginning of it, but both they and the traditional "non-strong" female characters view absolutely everything through that single filter.

But honestly, as a woman myself, my thoughts and opinions aren't run through that filter very often. It varies depending on my circumstances and the people around me, but generally, it's far more likely that I'll have cause to say, "As a Christian..." or "As an introvert..." These days, my "woman" filter becomes important about as often as my "homeschooler" filter, my "theater lover" filter, and my "I have arthritis" filter. (Actually, probably less often than the last two.)

Media women don't seem to have these other filters. They seem to view everything through the "woman" filter - and, conveniently, only deal with issues that SHOULD be dealt with through that filter. They're constantly encountering openly, blatantly sexist people, or fighting with themselves about whether or not they want babies, or fighting to claim authority.

Compare this to male characters, who nearly always have more than one filter. "As a man" is joined by "as a jock," "as a teacher," "as a Republican," "as someone who may or may not have Asperger's." This makes them much more relatable. Someone who has introvert, nerd, AND nice person filters is much more similar to me than someone who only has the woman filter in place. So most of the characters I identify with in movies and television are male.

My all-time favorite fictional female is Daria Morgendorfer. She defied female stereotypes by... not really working that hard to defy female stereotypes. She threw off the societal demand that she be a typical female as she did with ALL other societal demands. In a lesser comedy, ALL the jokes would revolve around the fact that she didn't wear makeup or fashionable clothes. In this show, Daria's sister does make a big deal out of it... but Daria hardly ever fights back with a giant rant about women being brainwashed by the fashion industry. She just shrugs and ignores it, because she knows it really isn't a big deal what people expect of her. She's going to do her own thing, whether they want her to or not.

Over the series, all sorts of things happen. Daria gets lectured for not having plans for after high school. Daria works to be the peacekeeper between her fighting parents. Daria sits with her best friend and makes fun of both the shallow guys and shallow girls at her school. Daria resists the need to make friends. Daria develops hopeless crushes. (Or, well, at least one.)

And, guess what? None of that really has much to do with whether she's a woman or not. She doesn't deal with it in a particularly feminine OR unfeminine way. She deals with it like a person with multiple layers.
She deals with it like *I* would.

I connect very much to Daria. But I would never say, "I connect to Daria because we're very similar as women." Technically, we are, but it's so much more than that. We're similar as snarkers (is that a word? It is now), as students, as friends, as sisters (my dynamic with my sister Elizabeth has sometimes been more similar to Daria and Quinn than either of us are proud of), as introverts, as quiet people, as cynics, as writers. Even if she wasn't female at all, s/he would still be my favorite fictional character of all time. (Well... Cyrano de Bergerac might actually win that title, but it'd be close.)

And that is why I am bored of female characters and female-centric movies and TV shows, whether they are chick flicks or action thrillers. I have nothing in common with those women, other than the fact that we happened to be born with the same body parts. And I feel like a friendship, even with a fictional character, should be built on a LITTLE bit more than that.

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