I often notice a disturbing trend among fans when it comes female characters and male characters. I mean when you think about it there are a lot of disturbing trends, really, but the thing that bothers me in particular is when fans hate on a female character for something they love about a male character. And sometimes fans seem to just ignore a flaw that a male character has, but then they crucify a female character for having that same flaw. It’s incredibly aggravating to me to watch this constantly play out again and again. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s take a look at some examples.
I just started watching Rick and Morty, and I must say that I adore it. Rick and Morty is the story of an elderly, eccentric, alcoholic scientist who moves in with his daughter and her family after years of being apart from them. Rick spends most of his time with his grandson Morty, who helps Rick out as they travel through space, alternate universes, and other crazy adventures.
I was recently rewatching Season 2 of Rick and Morty—in particular, I was watching the episode “Auto Erotic Assimilation”, where we meet the Hivemind being Unity, a former lover of Rick’s. In the episode, Unity appears to Rick in a variety of genders and while Rick seems to be primarily interested in Unity’s female avatars, he doesn’t seem averse to the male ones, who are also incorporated into their lovemaking in various ways. Furthermore, though Unity appears in a variety of forms to Rick, they seem to primarily be identified in the show as female.
We here at Lady Geek Girl and Friends have analyzed fanfiction in a number of ways. We have discussed in particular how, despite what some people may believe, fanfiction is not just porn for women. And let me start off by saying I completely and utterly believe that; fanfiction is not just porn for girls. That’s not to say that erotic fanfic, or smutfic, doesn’t exist. And many fanfic readers enjoy reading them (myself included). However, many feminists have praised erotic fanfiction but talk about how evil or wrong live-action porn starring real people is. This attitude often seems to come off as people attacking porn but praising something that is almost exactly the same when it comes to fanfiction. I cannot speak for all women or all feminists, but I can at least talk about my own reasons for preferring erotic fanfiction over pornography. And this YouTube video in particular sums up many of the reasons I prefer fanfiction.
Trigger warning for rape below the jump.
Power comes in many different forms, and there’s no one right way to be a strong female character. That said, however, there’s a clear dearth of female characters whose strength is, well, strength. We’re moving forward in media in terms of representing women in STEM professions and many other male-dominated fields, but one spot that remains lacking is the sort of woman who can bench-press a truck.
The superhuman guy + regular-human girl = love trope is a tale as old as time, and it’s one that’s getting kind of boring to me, to be honest. How many pairings of this nature can you name off the top of your head? Thor and Jane Foster; Bruce Banner and Betty Ross, Superman and Lois Lane—hell, might as well mention Belle and the Beast since I made that tale as old as time reference. And it’s not even limited to Western media—add Abel and Esther of Trinity Blood, and Tsuna and Kyoko from Reborn, among others.
Even in cases where the guy is not powered, per se, like Carol Danvers and James Rhodes, the guy is still a superhero of similar caliber. He isn’t, like, a brilliant scientist, or a librarian—he’s a fighter just like her. When both are equal, whether powered or not, our best bet is that they’ll have equivalent combat skills as well (think Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask, or Hawkeye and Mockingbird/Spider-Woman/Black Widow/whoever he’s dating these days).
Meanwhile, there are very few pairings in which the woman is the super-strong punchy one, and the man is just a regular dude with non-combat skills that’s occasionally in awe of his lady’s powers. This is a representational problem on two levels: one, it perpetuates the idea that it’s weird for women to be physically stronger than men, and two, that men who aren’t their girlfriend’s equal in strength are somehow lesser than men who are.
I’ve been sitting on this post for a while, and after years of thinking of how to write it I still have no conclusive plan but to jump in and finally do it. Now, my enjoyment of the Mass Effect series isn’t a new or surprising thing, and not really having ever jumped on the Star Trek/Star Wars bandwagon, the series could very well have been my first serious venture into the sci-fi genre. However, as this blog has discussed before, sci-fi is full of some pretty shitty tropes, and Mass Effect isn’t as much of as an exception as one would hope. I think where this is clearest is concerning matters of the asari—one of the main alien races in the game, and the one that presents as wholly female. As a culture, the asari are complex and compelling; however, a lot of their biology and presentation leave me wondering if Bioware didn’t know what to do with them outside of a very narrow label.
Sexism affects people of all genders, but it affects us all differently. Women, whether virgins or sexually active, tend to be demonized and ridiculed. But for men, virginity is the ultimate crime. Whether the guy just hasn’t had the opportunity for sex or has chosen to wait, it doesn’t matter. According to our society, men who have not had sex, particularly with a woman, are somehow lacking. So when a prominent male figure is revealed or even implied to be a virgin (for whatever reason), there tends to be something of an uproar. In our media, there is almost never a virgin male character, and when there is, they are either portrayed as having something wrong with them or almost their entire plotline is dedicated to them losing their virginity. For our pop culture to have a character who doesn’t follow these rules is rare and frankly revolutionary. That’s why I am so happy that Steve Rogers, Captain America himself, is a virgin.
Baby-having. It’s traditionally one of the societal markers of womanhood—women are supposed to have uteruses, and men aren’t, and if you’re a woman and fail to successfully grow a baby, for whatever reason, that makes you a failure at your gender.
I’m a cis woman, and society has told me from the get-go that one day I’ll be giving birth to the next generation. I spent the first eighteen or so years of my life plotting out elaborate (and often fandom-based) names for my future kids, and now today, when I tell people I don’t really know that I want children after all, I have to qualify it with a reassurance that I might change my mind—before they assure me that I will.
What this boils down to is gender essentialism. This method of thinking boils women down to what thousands of years of society says is woman’s defining trait, and sets that above everything else. Women who can’t have children are referred to as “barren”, a negatively connotated word which calls up desolate fields in which nothing living grows. (There’s no equally negatively connotated word for men—“sterile” just suggests cleanliness.)
It also moralizes the existence of women without uteruses or without the ability to bear children, making sterility into an issue of good and bad rather than just an apolitical medical condition. Trans women exist; they can’t bear children. Cis women who have had hysterectomies for personal or health reasons, or who are infertile for other reasons, can’t bear children. They are not any less worthwhile, or any less women, for this. Unfortunately, pop culture seems to disagree.
Spoilers for Avengers: Age of Ultron, Orphan Black, and Series 7 of Doctor Who below the jump.