Our society has a poor relationship with gender, which is bad for reality, but gets interesting in fiction. This dynamic is pushed to some possible conclusion in works such as The Handmaid’s Tale, Bitch Planet, or Stepford Wives. In these stories, the degrading treatment of women in the present day becomes far more explicit and sinister. We aren’t just looking at microaggressions and lower pay, but being forced into servitude or stripped of all agency. Stories like these are both good cautionary tales and thought experiments, and they can more easily highlight some of the harder-to-see marginalizations women face. But sometimes, an author wants to shock the audience by flipping the gendered treatment of the characters. In some stories, we get to see matriarchal societies and how they tend to operate, which is useful for examining our own biases. But whenever I see these, I wonder if this is how things would actually go.
A month or so ago, we saw some of the drafts for a Wonder Woman movie penned by Joss Whedon. To put it lightly, it caught some flak. Within the droves of criticism, some commenters pointed out that Diana would most likely not resort to insulting someone by telling them to “be man enough.” First off, she was previously unfamiliar with the concept of men in general. Second, as an Amazon her frame of what is strong would include only women. So if anything, she would say to “woman up,” but again, the gender thing wouldn’t come up the same way, because she doesn’t even know men existed. Third, would a society completely comprised of women still value strength as one of its key tenets and judge someone’s value on their bravery and toughness? For a warrior society, maybe, but not necessarily. Would their values be roughly the same as our more patriarchal society, just with a gender flip? I started thinking about it, and then I got to thinking about other times this theme caught my attention.
My friend and I came out of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 convinced that the Infinity Wars movies, and the big Avengers/Guardians crossover therein, were mostly going to consist of Tony Stark and Peter Quill trying to out-Daddy-Issue each other. As well as both having facial hair and a penchant for roguish one-liners, the two heroes have a few things in common, most notably their parental situation: like Tony, Peter Quill has a complicated and at times antagonistic relationship with his father that forms the emotional core of a whole movie, and a sense of wistful mourning for his mother, who was sweet, kind, and only shows up in a few scenes. She’s also dead due to circumstances that were in no way her fault, so they can bond over that as well. At this point, maybe Thor can chime in too, perhaps initiating a group hug, since he also has a complicated relationship with his main-character dad and grieves over his good and nurturing dead mum. Jeez, is Infinity Wars just going to be one big session of father-related angst and mother-related mourning?
Fridge a kind mother and elevate a father to main character status once, Marvel, and that’s shame on you. Fridge a kind mother and elevate a father twice, still shame on you. Do this three times for three different superheroes and it’s officially a pattern. What exactly is going on here, and why does it annoy me so much?
Recently I began watching all the movies from the Nightmare on Elm Street series with one of our former authors, Fiyero, whohas writtena wholeseries offantastic posts on these movies. While watching the final movie of the series, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, I noticed that director Wes Craven seemed to be pointing out one issue with the series: fan obsession with the villain Freddy Krueger over female protagonists who have fought Freddy, especially Nancy, who is arguably the heroine of the whole series. This favoritism of a monstrous child killer over a strong, well-rounded female protagonist says a lot about both our antipathy toward women and our glorification of violence toward women.
The movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit is probably one of my all time favorite movies and Jessica Rabbit is definitely one of my favorite characters. In the movie, Eddie Valiant suspects Jessica of being somehow involved in a murder that Roger Rabbit, her husband, was framed for. During the movie, she is accused of being everything from a seductress, to a gold digger, to an adulteress, to a murderer, but is proven to be nothing but a loyal wife as the movie progresses. She even tells Eddie that she’s “not bad, [she’s] just drawn that way” and in that regard Jessica has a point. Throughout the movie Jessica is viewed as a bad person largely because of how she looks. It seems in animation the more sexualized a woman is or the more she engages in stereotypical feminine things like wearing makeup and sexy outfits, the more likely she is to be portrayed as evil.
Disney is probably one of the biggest perpetrators of this negative trope. While their female heroines dress mostly modestly and appear to wear little to no makeup, female villains are usually portrayed as very sexual, wearing lots of makeup and are often drawn with seductive, heavy-lidded eyes. It doesn’t take much to see what female qualities are being demonized and which lauded as virtuous.
I went on a musical binge recently and realized I clearly haven’t watched Oklahoma in a long time, because I didn’t realize how sexist the musical actually was until I watched it again as an adult. None of the women have any agency and the few that do are pretty well shamed for it. You could perhaps argue it’s a product of its time, but I hardly think that is an excuse. Just because some form of sexism was considered acceptable in its time doesn’t make it any less sexist.
Trigger warning for attempted rape after the jump.
I always loved Gambit. The smooth talking Cajun, desperately in love with Rogue despite not being able to touch her, was certainly one of my favorite characters growing up. He was a little bit of an arrogant asshole, but he had a good heart. Gambit was also a big fanservice character. He was one of the few male characters drawn more for female comic readers, and furthermore, there was always the hint that Gambit’s sexuality might be more fluid than the comics led us to believe. However, despite everything that could be inferred from the comic, Gambit was never explicitly stated to be a queer character. That seems to be a big trend in comics right now. Despite the fact that Marvel in particular has been doing a lot better with having more diversity in their comics, there is still a significant lack of queer characters.
I am willing to bet that you have been in a fandom and listened to people debate about which characters are doms or subs. Basically, they are asking who, in a BDSM relationship, would be the dominant one and who would be the submissive one. You may have heard people also argue about who is a top and who is a bottom in m/m queer relationships, and while that is not the same as being a dom or a sub, the argument is usually similar. People tend to claim that the more dominant character would be a top and the more submissive or at least less sexually aggressive one would be on the bottom. While that is not necessarily the case, this is an argument I see in fandom a lot. It’s clear from my own experience in fandom that many people are at least kind of interested in the power dynamics of BDSM, even if they aren’t fully into the lifestyle or certain aspects of the BDSM community. However, many of the ideas about BDSM tend to be extremely stereotypical or riddled with misinformation.