The Rare Quality Female Protagonist

A long time ago in a recently-post-college world far far away, my friend Jessica and I endeavored to write a body-image blog. We didn’t have time to keep it up, so it’s been closed, but I realized a lot of good material got hidden away when we did that. Here’s one of those pieces, with some updates.

Director Elena Rossini had an interesting guest post over at The Beheld about women in movies and how their characters so often relate to their relationships instead of their individual accomplishments.  She challenged herself and her readers to find a character who met all of these criteria:

  • Protagonist of the TV show/film
  • Over the age of 30
  • Holds an important job and is successful at it
  • Liked/likeable
  • Her physical appearance is peripheral to the story (and she can’t use her sex appeal to get what she wants)
  • Her romantic/personal relationships are peripheral to the story
  • The TV show/film takes place in “the real world” (not a sci-fi universe)
  • She has to be alive by the end of the film

It was, sadly, a difficult challenge.  Some great characters, like Captain Janeway from “Voyager” and Rita Vrataski from “Edge of Tomorrow,” don’t count because their shows/movies are sci-fi. There’s “Alphas,” which has two well-developed female characters whose relationships are side plots, but neither of them are over 30 and their jobs are not very clearly defined. And there’s Donna Noble – over 30, likeable (usually), with minimal romance and an unconventional physical appearance – but who doesn’t have an important job, isn’t the protagonist, and (spoilers?) basically dies. Oh, and sci-fi.

I fully support her inclusion of CJ from “The West Wing,” though, for obvious reasons:

Commenters brought up lots of interesting ideas, like which formats allow for more rounded female protagonists (ie. plot-driven shows like “Fringe”) and the subjectivity over the role a female character’s relationship plays in her life.  Some viewers may think a character values a relationship more highly that other viewers do, and it all depends on their own personal experience.

Also? I have a major problem with her exclusion of sci-fi. Science fiction has always served as a commentary on our culture, whether it’s to criticize it or show it where it could go. Does that make Uhura, Zoe from “Firefly,” Ripley, or Sarah-Jane Smith from all eras of “Doctor Who” any less valid or inspiring?

With that in mind, I’m adding Ellie Sattler from “Jurassic Park.”  She’s a talented grad student personally invited to give her scientific opinion on the very science-fictiony park. By the third movie (did anyone else even see that? because I kind of love it), she’s reduced to the background, married with a child and presumably through with her archaeology career. But she talks to Sam Neill about dinosaurs, not boys, so at least that holds up.

The gals at Beauty Redefined have a related post in which Geena Davis talks about research she’s supporting regarding the way women are portrayed in G-rated films and its impact on young girls.  Some of the figures are pretty scary, like the fact that for every female character, there are three male characters. There’s been progress, like Pixar’s first female-led movie (“Brave”), groundbreaking comedies like “Bridesmaids,” and the upcoming all-female remake of “Ghostbusters,” but all it takes is a quick scan of upcoming trailers to know that there’s still much work to be done.

Who else can you guys think of to meet Rossini’s criteria? And what’s the deal with women in kid’s movies/shows? Is their portrayal as damaging as everyone says, and if so, how do we reverse it?


10 Things Feminists Hate

You might have seen a blog a couple weeks ago full of women holding up lists of reasons why they don’t need feminism. You may have also heard of actresses like Shailene Woodley claiming reluctance to call themselves feminists.

The funny (and by “funny” I mean “kind of heartbreaking”) part is that these statements tend to follow a pattern:

“I’m not a feminist, but I believe in X, Y, and Z feminist beliefs.”

“I don’t need feminism because (results of decades of feminist activism).”

I think people are afraid to refer to themselves as feminists because of the widespread misunderstanding of what feminism really is. Feminists don’t hate men. Feminist women don’t want to be better than men. If you say you don’t need feminism because you’re your husband’s equal, congratulations! You’re a feminist. If you think you don’t need feminism because you can vote, well, you have previous generations of feminists thank for that.

Men seem to be particularly afraid to identify as feminists, again forming their opinion on an untrue belief: that feminism is only for women. It isn’t, just like the civil rights movement wasn’t only for racial minorities. (And while women usually like having the platform to ourselves for once, we do appreciate it when someone else stands up for us.) If you are a man and you believe women deserve equal pay, the ability to choose what they want to do with their lives, and freedom from street harassment, congratulations! You, too, are a feminist.

So if feminists don’t hate men, what do we hate? Here’s my list – you might be surprised at what you have in common with a feminist.

1. Sexual inequality. We hate that women still earn less than men. We hate gender double standards. We hate that one parent is viewed as more skilled or better at parenting than the other. We hate being bullied into embracing unwanted gender roles. It’s a long list – feel free to add to it.

2. Paper cuts. They’re the worst, right?!

3. Racial inequality. When the book “Lean in” came out, it stirred up a lot of controversy because of its portrayal of one white, cis-gendered, upper-middle-class woman’s experiences. There is no one-size-fits-all feminism, and when we try to act like there is, many women get shut out. This is where intersectional feminism comes into play, taking into account the varying experiences of women from different races.

4. All other kinds of inequality. Intersectional feminism also addresses the experiences of women from different classes, gender identities, ages, and levels of ability. Feminists don’t want any woman to feel shut out.

5. Having food go bad. You’re finally going to eat healthy and have salad for dinner, only to discover that the lettuce has turned into brown goo. And that fancy cheese left over from that party? Yeah, you should have finished that by now. And don’t even get me started on that last half-inch of milk with a five-day-old best-by date that everyone is too afraid to test.

6. People who don’t pick up after their dogs. We went to the beach on Saturday and twice I saw people leave their dogs’ poop right there in the sand. You know people are walking barefoot in that sand, right? And kids are playing in it? Just checking.

7. Having our words disregarded or ignored. Whether it’s a long-hidden story of abuse that someone was afraid to share out of fear of not being believed, or an instance of street harassment that someone just wants to vent about, nothing riles up a feminist more than wanting her (or his) words to be heard and not having the space or freedom to say them and have them be taken seriously.

8. Being sick. Especially when that space between your nose and your upper lip gets all chapped. Not fun.

9. When something goes wrong with your laundry. I just tried to wash our pillows and mine came out looking distinctly un-pillow-like. Sigh.

10. Trolls, apologists, deniers, devil’s advocates, derailers, etc. The events in Ferguson have been widely discussed this week – but I’ve kept my opinions to myself, because as a white girl from the Pacific Northwest, it’s not my place to weigh in. If you’ve ever made an issue somehow about you when it wasn’t; if you’ve ever played devil’s advocate simply to have something to say; if you’ve ever made excuses for someone’s behavior even when it was pretty definitely wrong; if you’ve made a joke to “lighten the mood” or to get a rise out of someone, you probably made a feminist angry at some point.

Sometimes, like Ferguson is not about me, the issue is not about you. Please leave the floor open for someone directly affected by it to share what’s on their mind, without being interrupted by jokes or explanations, no matter how well-meaning they might be, because that person may not get much opportunity to do so otherwise. Just sit back, take your hands off the keyboard, and listen for a while. You might be surprised at what you learn.

Links Lundi

A day in the life of an empowered female character: “Now she was wearing a pretty dress but combat boots underneath it, and she also had a gun, to fight sexism.”

By contrast:

National Geographic recruited a team of PhD-holding, spelunking paleontologists – who all happen to be women – to retrieve prehistoric bones from a cave in South Africa. AWESOME. (And apparently they’re all size 0, because one of the requirements for the job was being able to fit into 18-cm spaces. That’s 7 inches! Gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it!)

The first women have graduated from Marines infantry training. Yay! Meanwhile, the Army is concerned that the women in its advertising need to look more “average.” Boo!

The first female Marines!

The Beheld has a great interview with Kate Fridkis of “Eat The Damn Cake” about her new book addressing her pregnancy and evolving body image, “Growing Eden.”

Om nom, breakfast around the world!

This article generated some discussion on Facebook: it argues that the “Hunger Games” movies – and all forthcoming female-led franchises – owe their success to “Twilight.” What do you think?

Hey, are you on Goodreads? Let’s be friends!

Tauriel refuses to get into ‘butt pose’ on ‘Hobbit’ poster, makes Legolas do it instead.” Glorious.

Speaking of nerdy things, who all saw “The Day of the Doctor” yesterday? What did you think?? I got sweet TARDIS knee socks and an awesome commemorative mug, which is already more than enough to make me happy.


Links Lundi

Hey, folks. I’m still on a limited-typing regimen while waiting for my tendonitis to go away. Hopefully once my seven-pound, 1TB, i7 processor, 17.3″ beast of a refurbished HP arrives and I can get speech-to-text software set up, my mojo and my writing abilities will return in full force, along with actual posts.

(I can also finally find out what this Steam business is all about but that’s much further down the road.)

In the meantime, check out Black Milk’s Halloween line (this dress! these tights!), and the Mass Effect bathing suit that I would seriously consider buying…if I lived in Australia.

Natalie Portman has words for Hollywood: “The fallacy in Hollywood is that if you’re making a ‘feminist’ story, the woman kicks ass and wins. That’s not feminist, that’s macho.”

Natalie Portman is also the face of a contest designed to get more girls involved in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and medicine).  It’s open to girls grades 9-12, so if you know anyone who fits the bill, send them the link! (And if you’re a grown-up in those fields and want to be a mentor, email them!)

Related: why are there still so few women in science?

The Beheld has a lovely interview with an 80-year-old military wife and homemaker, with some nice affirmations that it’s okay to want to look good and not always follow fads.

Links Lundi

Male characters rarely fit in the “strong character” box, so why do we consider it the highest honor for a female character to be considered “strong?”

Speaking of strong characters: “Pacific Rim” inspired a new Bechdel Test, dubbed the Mako Mori Test.  It works if the movie has:

a) at least one female character;
b) who gets her own narrative arc;
c) that is not about supporting a man’s story.

It’s interesting to think about which movies would pass this test, but fail the Bechdel, and vice versa.  The movie mentions “Avengers” for Black Widow’s storyline; I’d also add “The Wolverine,” because even though Mariko needs to get rescued every other scene, most of the story concerns her taking on her grandfather’s company, and I’d say she drives the plot more than Wolverine does.

I love this for so many reasons: Art is useless, so let’s put it everywhere.

Ashton Kutcher gives surprisingly good advice, makes me eat my words since I’ve never been a fan of his.

Nadine shares her story of going back to her natural hair and how it influenced her perception of her own beauty.

Also from Already Pretty, reverse photoshopping makes unhealthy thinness look better. Yikes.

In honor of PAX next week: There’s no sexism in gaming. “To anyone getting their boxers in a bunch over this, I say: buy the games with the male protagonists. There are at least four of them.”

New Picture (9)

A preview of my PAX costume!