Saturday, June 20th, 2015 01:57 pm
There are certain sexist narratives media present to us. It's good to try to subvert them. But it is usually impossible to subvert all of them at once.

One of the narratives we're fed is that there is a single path of Good Womanhood. This path is inconsistent and impossible for any real woman to follow, and because it's so inconsistent parts of it show up in all sorts of attempted subversions.

One of the other narratives we're fed is that women should sacrifice our own enjoyment for The Greater Good. Thus letting ourselves enjoy the narratives we enjoy, no matter how "problematic", is itself in some ways subversive. (This doesn't mean we shouldn't try to avoid being actively sexist. Or for that matter racist etc)

Saying that there is a single Feminist Narrative all female characters should fit into supports this idea that there is a single Good Way To Be A Woman. Also, chances are there is some way this "feminist" narrative ends up supporting part of the typical Sexist Narrative, or is just not to everyone's tastes. Telling women that they are unfeminist if they don't like The One Feminist Narrative buys into the idea that women should sacrifice their own enjoyment for the greater good.

[nb this post is about conflicts between feminist women about depictions of female characters. I haven't talked much about non binary people or the responsibilities of male creators etc but that's also important]

For example, part of the sexist narrative is that the men are active, violent, traditionally masculine, wise, and important, while women are non violent, passive, traditionally feminine, frivolous, and unimportant.

One subversion is simply to flip it: women are active, violent, traditionally masculine, wise, and important, while men are non violent, passive, traditionally feminine, frivolous, and unimportant.

The problem with this is that it implies that women are only important if we act like men, and that traditionally female things are still bad. This is hurtful to women who are traditionally feminine, and in general supports the issues our society has with valorising violence etc.

But if we subvert the sexist narrative by, say, having men be active, violent, traditionally masculine, wise, and unimportant, while women are non violent, passive, traditionally feminine, frivolous, and important we can end up implying that men and women HAVE to be all those steroetypically gendered things.

Similar issues come up with any other combination. And any given combination will feel empowering and subversive and happy making to some women, and disempowering and oppressive and sadmaking to others. Even when those women are equally feminist and equally well educated on feminist issues etc. Not that you need to be either of things for your fictional preferences to be valid.

Another example is the constant "slash is misogynistic, het is homophobic, femslash is male gazey, gen is anti-sex" etc arguments in fandom.

As I see it, the best approach is to avoid stories where men and women are always any one thing, and instead have a variety of kinds of characters (including non binary characters!). This means that a story with one female character can only subvert so much. And since it's impossible for any one story to subvert everything at once we need a wide variety of types of stories too.

Which means we shouldn't hold up any one story as The Best Feminist Story, but instead encourage a variety of stories which together work against the sexist media landscape, and compare notes about where we feel they succeed and fail in this respect. And we should definitely avoid attacking other women for disagreeing with us about which story is The Best Feminist Story. Because in real life as in fiction, there is more than one way to be a woman, and more than one way to react to depictions of women.

I have completely ignored the question of how we "encourage" a variety of stories without shaming those who prefer the types of stories we think there's "too much of", because it's hard! But the first step is acknowledging that that should be the goal.

This post was inspired by discussions of Mad Max and watching this vid full of violent women and thinking about how I really enjoyed it but some people wouldn't for various reasons. Also I wrote this in one sitting, I'm sure there's ways it could be more nuanced and carefully worded, but hopefully the basic jist gets across.


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