mysticalchild_isis: (xena rawr)
[personal profile] mysticalchild_isis
At my book club last night, we got off topic a bit (as we so often do), and one of the librarians who works in a high school was mentioning that she's been reading The Odyssey with a class. She was rather disturbed to find that all the girls disliked Penelope, and thought that she was useless, weak, and did nothing.

This led to a discussion about how it's unfortunate that a lot of girls only see Strong Female CharactersTM as having their own agency, and how very problematic that is.

Don't get me wrong; I love BAMFy women who kick ass (Buffy and Xena being two of my favorites), especially if the actress playing them is even halfway decent at martial arts. I savor a well-executed roundhouse kick like a glass of fine wine. However, too often, Xenafication stands in for actual character development... and makes it so that people like the girls mentioned above think that the only defining characteristic of a strong woman is her ability to kick ass. With a corollary of the fact that many people then think that if a woman is bad-ass, she must be strong, and don't see the problems (and sexism) that so often pop up in these types of characters.

I'm reminded of the version of Irene Adler that popped up in this season of Sherlock. I found her extremely problematic for a number of reasons. But because she was smart, beautiful, and had a certain amount of power (largely sexual) and control, the underlying issues were slightly masked. I'm not trying to dictate which characters one should or should not like, or identify with. We like who we like, and we see characters in different ways. But when there is a widespread epidemic of characters who on the surface seem strong, but underneath are teeming with poisonous ideas (you know, like "oh look, this woman's backstory is rape and torture porn, but since she is a BAMF, it is totally fine that her only character development is rape-as-backstory"), I feel like it is an issue that needs to be addressed and discussed.

Especially because characters who might not be able to swing a sword or shoot a gun are no longer seen as "strong", no matter how well-rounded they are or how much agency they have.

Date: 2012-03-15 04:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taiyou_to_tsuki.livejournal.com
... I actually had to Google Penelope to make sure it was the same character I was thinking about. And The Odyssey was my favourite thing when I was eight so the risk of me forgetting it is pretty damn low, which should say something about how puzzled I was.

Even if you ignore the cultural context of a Greek epic (ancient Greece wasn't exactly fertile ground for Strong Female Characters for obvious reasons) how can you dislike a character for 1. being stuck in an unfortunate situation because the narrative demands it and 2. doing the best they can despite the obvious disadvantages in that situation (palace full of arrogant young men constantly feasting and emptying the wine cellar? I'll be damned if the threat of rape wasn't at least implied in the actual epic, but it was some time ago I read it myself)? What was she supposed to do?

But yeah, all of this. The idea that for a woman to be strong she has to act like a man is at least as problematic as the alternative. Also I really enjoyed your entry about Irene Adler, though I didn't comment because I had a guest over that week; you know you have some problems when the character in the original 19th century novel is more progressive than a modern portrayal.

Then again, that's not really a new thing with Moffat... (I do so wish I could look forward to the next season of Doctor Who. And then I think of everything Moffat could do wrong. Argh.)

Date: 2012-03-15 07:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taiyou_to_tsuki.livejournal.com
If she hadn't used her brain to trick all her suitors, she... Would've ended up married to another man and Odysseus wouldn't have much of a kingdom to come home to. And then she would've got shit for not being smart or loyal enough to not end up married. *Sigh*

See, I spent all of season six and some parts of season five with this nagging feeling that there was something distinctly uncomfortable and sort of sexist about the way he wrote Who... But it wasn't really until I watched "A Scandal in Belgravia" when it all somehow clicked. It's just... His way of writing female characters with no life or agency outside of their relationship with the main male character. How they somehow "imprint" on them and apparently that's romantic? "The Girl in the Fireplace" squicked me the first time I watched it, but even more so when I rewatched it and could so clearly see traits of Amy, River and Irene's relationships to the male leads there as well.

When it comes to Doctor Who, the thing is... I really loved season five. And season six would've been amazing if not for the episodes that Moffat wrote. Even if you ignore his sexism there's a lot of iffy continuity and needless convolution that could've been used on actually developing the characters and showing their emotional life. :/

/Rant.

Date: 2012-03-15 10:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taiyou_to_tsuki.livejournal.com
And yet I've stumbled upon several people who refuse to watch the classic series because of their allegedly bad treatment of female characters, lolwut. New Who doesn't escape the Damsel in Distress syndrome, or other negative stereotypes, thank you very much. *Shakes head*

Date: 2012-03-15 10:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taiyou_to_tsuki.livejournal.com
(Obviously not, it started airing in 1963 for goodness sake. But when I started watching I thought it'd be a lot worse tbh, so I've kept going quite cheerfully. XD)

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