girls who like girls but only if they like other girls RIGHT

Jul 29, 2013 20:38

So this started out as a quick response to a meme way back when. And then it turned into a ~thing. And then it collected stray thoughts from everywhere. And now it's at least three posts of me being increasingly contrary about the Doing FanFeminism Right consensus.

I do and don't but mostly do agree with this post that says focusing on internalized misogyny is counterproductive. I think it can be. I think that bringing up the idea of internalized misogyny is an important derail avoidance technique - you don't want to do the whole sexism 101 thing just to get off into a discussion about I'M A LADY SO I CAN'T BE SEXIST. That said, I think it's a really important point: it IS counterproductive to use "internalized misogyny" as an excuse for, well, displaying internalized misogyny in a big show of policing other women (particularly young women) for having the NERVE to be affected by patriarchal conditioning - or just to have an opinion/experience which doesn't comport with indefatigable feel-good Girl Power-ing. Basically: if someone mentions internalized misogyny as a means to discussing another end, I'm unlikely to have a problem; however, if someone goes on a tear specifically about internalized misogyny for the sake of taking a stand against internalized misogyny, that forces me to consider the possibility that the person's actual end is simply to make themselves feel good by putting other women down and misusing feminism in order to do it.

So, okay. Getting in people's faces and hectoring them about how their false consciousness makes them morally deficient is unhelpful. But sometimes people do make a good-faith effort to offer constructive analysis of how we can do better by female characters, and therefore indirectly pressure our shows to do better. And sometimes those efforts miss the mark. And that's my problem with this post that went around a few months back. This post, I believe, was made in good faith, by a person with whom I think I would probably agree on a lot of things. And yet, it did not leave the best taste in my mouth. The post starts with a call to arms for women who are "dragged through the mud" - to the eco-friendly fanfeministmobile, AWAY! - and then spends most of the post telling readers to look in themselves and figure out what THEY are doing to create this seething toxic environment, which seems to consist in large part of insufficiently loving TOO FEW women, and indecently over-loving TOO MANY men.

IMO, the argument against character "hate," similar to that against internalized misogyny, is frustrating because it's such a vague, personal term that it makes for great strawmanning. I'm not saying people don't disingenuously hide behind "valid" reasons to hate a character - they really, really do- but that fandom is embarrassingly eager to bring the Social Justice hammer down on good-faith conversation. And that's garbage because it's invasive opinion-auditing, and because it implicitly reflects sexist expectations for viewers and characters - viewers because we're supposed to Be Nice Girls and validate and like everyone, and characters due to the assumption that they (like real women) must be all things to all people, inoffensive and universally admired. A well-crafted character is going to rub some people the wrong way. If you've been exploited by a lover you're not real likely to warm up to Six, if you've been bullied you've every right not to like Cordelia Chase, if you've had someone close to you mess with your head "for your own good" you might well never latch on to Elena Gilbert. Sometimes the best way to respect a character is to acknowledge that you don't like them, as long as you are willing to be intellectually honest with yourself about why. Which I acknowledge is dicey, because I think we're all far too familiar with "I just don't like her" being the excuse for assholery in the first degree, but presumption of good faith has to start somewhere; if people do explain their opinions, I at least try to go with it.

I think it's fair enough to say that character hate and character erasure, like their counterparts that play out in our interactions with real people, exist on a spectrum which reaches at one end to culturally-ingrained misogyny. But they're different enough in expression and impact that it's not self-evident there's a reason why it's a good idea to roll those things together. And no, crusading against Bad People who Do Social Justice Fandom Wrong is not a valuable reason, not least because rooting internalized misogyny out of your thought processes is a PROCESS, and "people who don't sufficiently LURRRVE female characters" is going to include a lot of people who really are intermediate-level blamers. And even without all that, I'm always going to be uncomfortable with the binary between "hate" and "consciously work to vocally adore," which seems to me to be like the real  issue behind this sentiment.

Method of argument matters to me, way more than checking off fandom's good person shibboleths. And so this post (see also this smart reblog comment), although it came to a conclusion that doesn't quite speak to my experience, struck a strong chord with me. I'm mostly sick of being told to like female characters because I obviously really do, and I feel all kinds of second-hand embarrassment for people who can't even build a decent straw-argument. I am, however, starting to feel less and less patience with how I sometimes feel expected to be apologetic for how much male characters resonate with me.

At the risk of protesting too much, there are reasons which, while they might be indirectly caused by The Patriarchy, are important to recognize, including but not limited to:
  1. There are still, in gross numbers, fewer female characters than male characters, and this problem gets more pronounced within some specific genres. Those female characters are far more likely than their real-world counterparts to conform with physical and social femininity expectations, standards which socially function to be exclusive and alienating for many if not most women. Ergo: the pool of female characters available for many if not most female viewers to see themselves in is disproportionately small.
  2. Many people consume media in part for escapism, to live through characters or at least to get their heads out of their own problems. Sexism, including gender expectations is a big problem women and girls might want to escape. Ergo: male characters.

I say "resonate" because there's a difference between liking, relating, and identifying. All are helpful in trying to find a way into a narrative (though I don't even think that's necessary). And I've found that of characters I like quickly and easily, the majority tend to be women. Makes sense with my life, as I've always liked and admired other women. And I haven't noticed a pattern in characters I find a way into by relating in one or two aspects. But of those few characters I identify with, the ones I feel I understand deeply enough to spend thousands and thousands of words picking them apart trying to figure out what makes me tick? They are overwhelmingly men.

I went a long, long time where characters I really connected to were extremely few and far-between, and I think a lot of that was down to this gender policing - for most of my life I was trying to make myself ~prove my femininity by liking Smurfette the best/finding female characters who reflected me which was damn well impossible, and then when I finally got the tools to articulate a part of why that was the problem, I transferred all of that into trying to ~prove my feminism by liking Olivia Bensen the best/finding female characters who reflected me which was still damn near impossible. People talk about how long they spent in the ~unenlightened wilderness failing to appreciate female characters; I spent years and years as a media consumer before I could feel entitled to see myself at all.

A huge part of that is that female characters are expected to perform femininity and I just. cannot. And that's been a huge part of my life, and how I struggle to navigate The Patriarchy. The best I've been able to explain it to myself is that most folks are probably more adaptable than I am in certain ways, and that's a particularly advantageous trait for women, and so the femininity level on-screen is out of my reach on a lot of levels. That's FINE. But I am tired of being told that I deserve to be excluded from some human experience because I fail at femininity, and it chaps my ass to experience that and have it rationalized by FEMINISM!!

And I can brush this crap off 99% of the time. I have been around the block for a while, I am completely comfortable in my Feminist Cred (as if that's even a thing we should need), and I have thick skin and a hard-ass head. But it happens so often that I end up simmering with resentment over the fact that I feel like all of this needs saying.

(I'm also boiling over with aggravation over feeling policed over which performances of masculinity are or aren't acceptable for me to sympathize with/despise, and at least some of the reasons I think are behind that, but in the words of a character I'm a Bad Horrible Fake Feminist for loving, that's a long story for another day.)

This entry was originally posted at Leave a comment here, or there using OpenID.

spn: sammay!, meta-fantastica, feminism, losing friends & alienating people, btvs/ats: wwp is my boy, leemoveridentification

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