Sunday, March 12, 2006

It Wasn't the Storm That Did the Damage, it Was the Water

So I was rummaging through the archives of When Fangirls Attack and this post by kalinara caught my eye.

She makes a very good point...and yet not.

Her post is about the whole Women in Refrigerators phenomenom and how it's really just a consequence of the fact that (nearly) all the heros are male and so women are generally written as love interests, which tends to put them in serious danger from both evil villians and any writer with half a brain. She also rightly points out that when the hero is a woman, as in the case of Sydney Bristow, men tend to find themselves in refrigerators as well. Er, well, in bloody bathtubs anyway.

Kalinara concludes that the problem is not misogyny, but the lack of female heros.

Which, to me, is like saying the problem wasn't the was the flooding.

Misogyny and sexism may not be synonyms, but they're pretty damn close, and like floods and hurricaines, they tend to go together.

Now, I'm not an expert on comics; part of the reason I like Ragnell and kalinara's blogs so much is because I think that I would be a huge comics fan if I could find more comic books with characters and stories that appeal to me. However, much of what they complain about can be seen to a lesser extent in more mainstream entertainment. So I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that comics are often guilty of type casting women as either objects of affection or token representatives of their entire gender, which is something slightly different from love interests usually being female because the heros are often male. Women, after all, are also rarely villians*, annoying bosses, protoges, co-workers, and just plain friends.** They must nearly always be mothers, daughters, girlfriends, and occasionally sisters - or else Smurfettes. Quite often both. Unlike men, their most identifying characteristic is either their relationship to a man, often the hero*** - or the simple fact that they are "the other" as if no other character development is needed. The default for every character is "male" unless there is some overriding reason to make the character female. Since this reason is usually the need to put another character through the emotional wringer or create a foil for a male character, the male default alone greatly increases women's chances of finding themselves in a refrigerator, above and beyond the fact that this also means most heros are male.

After all, men may be dropping like flies around Sydney Bristow, but the women aren't faring much better. This isn't to say that male loved ones don't get killed off as well, just that a smaller percentage of non-evil male characters are stuffed in refrigerators because they are statistically less likely to be emotionally close to the hero irregardless of the hero's gender. A female hero may cause an increases in the number of bloody bathtubs, but doesn't mean that the refrigerators are empty as a result.

So what is the point of this rant? That when the root of the problem is not just that the industry doesn't care to market to women, but also that society has difficulty seeing women as people in their own right, there is a fine line between misogyny and sexism. After all, how far is it really from "seperate but equal" to "not quite human"? Women may not get stuffed in refrigerators because the writers' get off on doing so, but they are more likely to be put in harm's way because they are not seen as people in their own right, not because they have more value in the hero's eyes.

Sometimes it's easy to tell if it was the floodwaters that did the damage or if it was the hurricane itself. Sometimes it's not.

But it seems pretty clear to me that misogyny and sexism both wreak havoc in the comic book industry - and just about everywhere else.

*Actually, to my inexperienced eye, comics seem to do a better job with this than even movies do. However, the female villians also seem to usually be the love interests of the male villians, so....not all that all that much different after all.

**The quickest way to tell if this is what's happening? Checking to see if the women have relationships amongst themselves, and thus have conversations that develop the story in some way without these conversation always being about their personal relationships to men. Otherwise known as the Mo Movie Measure.

***This rule is slightly bent when the hero is female. In such cases female secondary characters are more likely to be two-dimensional, but they are often just more likely to be important simply because of their relationship to the hero. Note that this is different from being in the story because of their proximity to her (as a co-worker, rival, etc.). After all, how many of Sydney's bosses, co-workers, and adversaries have been female? And the three adversaries that were? One was supposed to set up some silly "rivalry" - as if either character would really care beyond getting the job done - another was somone pretending to be her friend, and the other was her own mother.


Ragnell said...

Hmm.. Thanks for referencing the Mo Movie Measure, I'm going to have to start applying it. Unfortunately, there's so few books with two women in them, a fact which supports your point.

Birds of Prey passes, and Batgirl. Even Green Lantern in the 80s, since Katma and Arisia discussed Kat's health and Arisia's hesitance in battle. But I'm rambling.

Anyway, excellent point and I appreciate the links. :)

Mickle said...

Right back at you and thanks for the suggestions as well. I'll have to check out Birds of Prey - as soon as I have money again - that one sounds especially interesting.