So I don’t know how many of you may have noticed, but most fictional women seem to be motivated by one thing: makeup.
Okay, and men.
Obviously I may very well launch into a post on why that’s not true. But instead, let’s also talk about why it’s a damaging idea. So let me start this off with a quick backstory on myself. I’m a nerd. I’m an asexual nerd who never felt the need to seek out a man. I only got a partner eventually because Lady Geek Girl all but super-glued my current boyfriend and I together. But as you can all imagine, it was quite a rough ride for a while. And though the two of us have been dating for almost six years now, I had never been keen on seeking a partner out beforehand.
I just wasn’t interested in it, but I felt as though I would never be happy without a guy, because according to every movie I’ve watched ever, a guy is what I needed. Lord knows, as a woman, I can’t take care of myself, so I need a man to make me happy and to provide for me.
Furthermore, believing that not wanting a partner made me the odd one out and having a skewed frame of reference from the media, I simply didn’t understand other girls growing up. Sure, I had my geeky friends and they all had the occasional crush, but I honestly believed that every other female our age talked about nothing but boys and makeup, which also made me feel as though being a non-nerd girl was very dull.
The idea that women all secretly want men as their main motivation in life is so offensively everywhere that it’s even commonplace to insult girls based on whether or not they have dates. Movie writers purposefully make women talk about just men as opposed to other things, because they believe that will make the movie more interesting. Other times, women are simply side characters supporting their love interest from the background and having no driving motivation outside that.
It’s always bothered me that Arwen’s driving motivation was Aragorn and that she seemed as though she had nothing else in her life. It’s always bothered me that all the girls at Hogwarts would turn into twittering dolts the moment a hot guy would walk by. It’s always bothered me that female protagonists more often than not have to have a love interest.
And my question is: why?
Why are female characters motivated by men far more often than male characters are motivated by women?
Certainly, we could name a few stories that feature women who are not background decorations, and we could name a few stories where women don’t find their lovers at the end and are happy with their decisions. Brave is a good example of that.
But I sadly find all too often that that is not the case. And regardless of whether or not that is true for whatever story you happen to find yourself following, fan reactions make it true. I remember when we had all the Pirate of the Caribbean rage going on, and the fans went nuts and wanted Elizabeth to hook up with Jack, because that would be a good romance, despite the fact that PotC is not a romance. Even when Harry hooked up with Ginny, a lot of fans got mad and said that J. K. Rowling didn’t know good romance, because Harry didn’t partner with Hermione, despite the fact that Harry Potter is not a romance novel.
But it does seem that romance is what a lot of people want regardless of genre, or that romance would even make said story better. I also feel as though a lot of these people who push for it so hard don’t understand that not everyone is into romance. But even more recently, you’ll find people fighting over who they want Katniss to get with. People finished those books or walked out of the theatre wondering who she was going to choose—I left the theatre wondering how she was politely going to tell both Peeta and Gale no. Reading the first book, not having a partner is one of her goals, and it’s a shame that she doesn’t really stick by it.
And I can go on about Twilight, but I found the most enjoyable part of that series during New Moon, when Edward had vanished and Bella was engaging in an otherwise platonic friendship with Jacob.
And Twilight aside, I’m not saying that all romance involving a woman is bad. I’m sure there are a lot of well-written romance stories out there—they’re just not my thing. My issue is that romance seems to be, as a whole, women’s driving motivation in the literary world. And though we could make the argument that what happens in fiction is just what it is—fiction—in some ways this widespread belief can be damaging.
Often girls, specifically teenagers and young adults, may feel pressured into finding a partner, because that’s not only what’s expected of them, but what it’s expected that they want. And if they don’t get a guy, that’s a bad thing. Girls face a lot of pressure for a lot of things—a lot of shallow things—and needing a partner is just one of them. And sometimes, it’s even possible for these girls to be treated as lesser if they don’t have guys.
I already talked about my childhood, but much more recently, last month, Tsunderin and I received a comment that encompasses this trend perfectly:
i bet you can’t even get a date- hence why you are causing shit on the internet for fun!
Let’s really look at what this commenter is saying. She’s not saying that she thinks we’ll never get laid. She’s not saying that we aren’t attractive—though she might think that for all I know. And she’s not saying anything that I never heard in middle school.
What she is saying is that she doesn’t believe Tsunderin and I could possibly be in long-term relationships, based off the fact that she hates us. She is using our dating-status as a means to insult us.
This idea that women need men is instilled in us early on in our childhood. For those of you who are my age, you may remember growing up with classics like Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. Think of all the Disney and Don Bluth movies from that time that starred a female protagonist. While we have some leeway with movies like Anastasia and Beauty and the Beast, where the protagonists weren’t actively seeking a male counterpart, they were still rewarded with a guy in the end. And if that’s not the case, we have movies like Thumbelina and The Little Mermaid, in which Ariel is so enraptured by a guy that she runs away from home and abandons her whole family. And in Thumbelina, Thumbelina wants to get married to the fairy prince after one night of knowing him. Even after Thumbelina is kidnapped, her motivation isn’t so much as to get home but to find her man.
We, as a society, are so set on this idea that the default state a woman needs to be in is a relationship and that anything less is something to mock her for. I’m not trying to say that men shouldn’t be behind any driving motivation a woman has, but that they shouldn’t be behind all of it.
Yeah, okay, we’ve got guys who virgin-shame each other, but as a whole, at least I can say that men in fiction have much more diversity in their motivations than what women in fiction do. I really just wish there were more female characters out there that had enough personality for me to relate to.
Good observation, I’ve noticed this quite a bit in literature and cinema as well; authors and producers trying to squeeze in an often unneeded love interest/romance in the attempt of deepening their work, and/or appealing to their audience, especially when there is a primary female protagonist.
While there still is some diversity among female characters… I find it not as evenly spread as it is for male characters. You either have your dominant female role such as Ellen Ripley who is seemingly void of romantic interest and prone to general bad-assery, or, as you stated, your falsely-stereotypical Bella Swan character and your character who is overly interested in the opposing gender. In the middle of the two extremes you have your very minuscule group of “everything in-between”.
It’s really the middle of two extremes that you find the best female characters. I think part of the problem is that female characters are characters who, more often than not, consist of nothing but female stereotypes, instead of as people who have some traditional female traits.
Thank you for commenting. I’m glad that other people have noticed this as well.
This is one of the reasons that Black Widow is such a kickass character in Marvel’s The Avengers movie. One senses that there might be something between Natasha and Hawkeye, but I think that it is a fierce friendship. Her actions have to do with saving a friend, and she even uses Loki’s supposition that she is in love with Hawkeye against Loki (to get information from him). One never gets the feeling that she acts like she does because she’s pining for a man.
I agree. Natasha’s such a badass.
Boom-chaka-laka. Agreed with EVERYTHING on this post! I’m a proud geek who doesn’t need a man, and I’m quite positive I would surprise a lot of people if I did end up with a boyfriend. It’s good to see that SOMEONE on the Internet shares my viewpoint on relationships in both reality and fiction. And while it would be nice to have someone, I don’t exactly feel the need to go looking for one/moping about why I haven’t got one. The Female Protagonist with Lover as Motivation trend is getting old, and I’m doing my best to break that trend in my own writing. Amazing post as ever. This blog is a real good reality check despite dealing with fiction.
Hey, thanks for commenting. Personally, I am glad that I found someone myself, but it wasn’t as though I went out looking for him. It is always nice that there are other people who agree with me. I’m also sick and tired of this trend in movies. Good luck with your own writing, though! I wish you the best!
All of this, man, so true.
I’m so tired of hearing about relationships and constantly being pressured, by the media and especially by my mother (although she doesn’t see it that way) and that there’s something wrong with me if I don’t have any interest in dating. I find it extremely insulting when people say ‘oh, you’ll change your mind one day.’ As if I cannot possibly fulfill my role as a woman if I don’t attach myself to a man and make babies.
As an asexual with aspergers who’s always strongly identified with men, I’m happy being the tomboy hanging around with a group of guys and feeling like I’m one of them.
I have had men interested in me, but I’ve only ever really been on dates with two guys and it was more like running an experiment or simulation into what dating is like. After all, because of the aspergers, I consciously learned all other forms of social interaction through imitating appropriated behaviour and responses, surely this would be the same,
It’s not, they acted like excited puppies and treated me like a porcelain doll or a baby, not like the tough girl they used to see me as.
Ugh, it was too weird and not something I hope to repeat again, but at least I collected valuable data.
And hey, maybe I will find someone that inspires in me those ‘feelings’ every one’s always going on about. But until then, why am I not allowed to be happy the way I am?
This is a great article! However, in The Little Mermaid Ariel didn’t want to become human because of Prince Eric; she wanted to become human/see the human world loooooooong before Eric even entered her life. Eric was just another part of why she wanted to become human/see the human world, but he is NOT the sole reason that Ariel wanted that.