Can we please have some actual gender equality in fiction?
I am really sick and tired of how so many stories elevate one gender at the expense of the other and call that empowerment.
I don’t want to spend too much time tackling the well known and obvious issue with male centric stories featuring one dimensional female characters–but real quick, I want to introduce you to a famous idea called the Bechdel test.
Acing the Bechdel Test
It’s basically a test to see if female characters have any more importance in a story other than being a man’s love interest or the friend of said love interest. If you’ve got two women talking about anything but a man, then you’ve got yourself some potentially multi-dimensional female characters.
And that’s great! All the power to them!
A lot of the stories I choose to experience often feature strong female leads and I love them. Being Erica and Age of Youth, just to name a couple, serve as perfect examples of women that ACE the Bechdel test. Being a man who will never truly understand the plight of women, I love seeing their experiences depicted as realistically and empathically as possible.
Faux Femme Fatales
Now with that said, here’s the true crux of this post: I am sick and tired of Faux Femme Fatales.
Now first the obvious case; over powered female characters like Scarlett Johannson’s Lucy and the even more popular Rey from the new Star Wars films. They both have unearned skills that make them overpowered in dessimating the hordes of men they fight in their respective films. They face little to no challenge leading up to their mastery, yet Rey is meant to serve as a positive role model for girls to get into Star Wars. Simply put, it’s a bad message to send to young girls.
Yes, girls can do anything. Anything boys can do, too!
But it requires hard work and dedication. Especially in the realm of martial arts. Take a look at the women’s division of the UFC. They are not muscular and skilled in mixed martial arts just because they are women, or take some drug (Lucy), or touch some weapon (Rey). They dedicate themselves to eating right, working out, and training in the various fighting styles they need to know to survive in the octagon.
The way Lucy and Rey were written insults these real life women who not only train to develop skill and competence, but also face actual challenges. And worst of all, the men who surround Lucy and Rey from their respective films all happen to be incredibly incompetent and serve as no match to their strength and intellect.
Now let’s plunge deeper into a more subtle way in which men are kicked to the curb all for the sake of “girl power.”
How to Discourage Women From Getting into STEM
A little while ago I watched Project MC² on Netflix and thought the idea was pretty cool. It’s about a team of teenage spies who share their scientific skills to “covertly” protect the world. Cool! Love the idea! It reminds me of Totally Spies, which I loved watching as a kid.
Furthermore, there’s this huge issue these days about the shortage of women getting into the STEM field in college and university, and apparently this show aims to inspire girls to garner an interest in science. More power to that as well! Science is awesome. Girls are awesome, too. Why not have more girls into science?
Well I hate to say that this show, in the end, does not at all seem like it can accomplish that goal. I mean if you are a young girl, or a parent of a young girl who has gained interest in science thanks to Project MC², then please let me know if it actually has had the intended effect. Otherwise I personally would not let my God daughter anywhere near this god awful show.
First of all, the girls are portrayed as walking talking Tumblr memes. They talk in the most stereotypically annoying teen style that no actual teen talks like. Then second of all, there always tends to be some typical douche guy character who undermines the girls because they’re girls, and then gets showed up by her within the same scene.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, so forgive me if I get the details wrong, though even if I am inaccurate in my remembering of the following scenes, the core principle of how anti-male they are still holds.
In the first season there’s a scene where these four pre-teen girls have little to no problem infiltrating a government facility. The security is a joke. You’re supposed to believe that pre-teen girls–half the size of fully grown middle aged men, who have been trained to serve as security officers at a classified facility–easily beat these guys up by way of a foot stomping, purse bashing, and for some stupid reason, kicking a fire alarm that easily opens a sealed door they need to get through.
All the while, adrenaline pumping rock music plays as the girl kicks the fire alarm in slow motion as if it’s so cool and bad ass. It’s so bad ass that she somehow ran past a pudgy security officer who made the laziest attempt to stop her, right?
What could have been better is if these girls actually acted like spies who would use their supposed intelligence to outsmart government security. And I’m talking security of not only the middle aged type, but technological kind as well. They could have hacked into their systems to bypass them and show a montage of these girls cracking complex computer codes. That actually would have been way more believable and logical given the premise of the show. Not to metion, way more entertaining than this poorly choreographed travesty of an action scene.
I mean look at this shit! Try not to cringe.
Then I believe in the first episode of the second season, it opens up with the girls hanging out at the front of their high school when a soccer ball happens to stumble into their presence. It’s from the boys playing in the distance and they’re asking for the ball back. One of the girls asks “hey can I play, too?” And one of the boys in full childish douche mode says something along the lines of “but you’re a giiiirl. Girls can’t play soccer.”
His equally half brained friends start laughing like it’s the funniest thing they’ve ever heard. I’m pretty sure you know where this is going, but in case you didn’t, what happens next is that the girl kicks the ball so hard that it bashes the boy’s head in, and all the girls jump and cheer. Like, “yay violence! And no consequences because we’re girls!” She should have been suspended or sent to detention for that, dude could suffer even more brain damage than he already has.
Boys: 0 – Schoolyard Violence: 1
Girls rule! Boys drool!
How to Shatter the Glass Ceiling For Real, For Once
I can probably write a whole series taking the infinite examples where men need to be “put in their place” in Faux Femme Fatale stories, but I’m going to stop right there before my piss is brought to a boil.
The point is this: I am all for gender equality in fiction and in real life (like, no shit, of course I am). Many of my favourite stories feature equally equipped characters of both genders. Again, Being Erica and Age of Youth come to mind. What made them powerful characters were their individuality, not how much they can prove the other sex wrong.
So for the love of god, established writers and new writers alike, please avoid this trope. It’s old, dead, and tired, and it sets our progress back by several centuries.
If you want strong female leads, then have them actually face hardship and get them to earn their mastery, whether that mastery is in super powers and/or the strength to navigate their existential and relational crises.
Show young girls some Being Erica to learn from Erica’s adventures in time traveling therapy. She gets to relive her regrets in attempt to change them, only to complicate her past in other ways, and then ultimately learn a lesson that helps her with a relevant issue in her present life.
Hooray for self-knowledge!
Show young girls some Age of Youth to learn the value of sisterhood from the Belle Epoque crew. It’s one of the best ensembles I’ve seen in a long time featuring young Korean women who go to college and share a house together–often also sharing their personal problems with each other. Whether it’s problems from their individual lives or personal issues they have with their fellow roommates, they all get to learn how to live with each other and understand each other through their shared experiences.
Hooray for healthy female relationships!
If more stories followed in their example, we would have many more female leads that could actually serve as positive role models for young girls. Show women overcoming realistic and relatable struggles. Show them getting knocked down and then getting back up. Now that’s true empowerment.
If more stories incorporated these writing techniques, maybe then female audiences both young and seasoned can feel empowered to take on all of life’s challenges. Be it in a fantasy setting, sci-fi setting, or a contemporary setting, it would be nice to see female characters get their due diligence.
And all of this can be achieved without having to castrate men in the process. Especially men who are written to represent the most unrealistic and stereotypical mysogonists. Because much like their over powered and flawless female counterparts, they simply do not exist, and do nothing but create a false sense of gender inequality.