Saturday, May 25, 2013

About Heroines

Whenever I see it being said that we need less bitchy heroines, less heroines who reject traditional femininity, so that we can uplift the reputation of femininity (not femaleness) in western culture, it stinks like gender essentialism.
Apparently it's not enough to want society to value the feminine: the feminine must also be the strict concern of female characters, even though female and feminine are not the same thing. Nobody ever asks whether male heroes should be more feminine, whether they should be more than just "badass" and have their soft side. We only ask this in relation to female characters.
This  ignores the heavy prices still paid in stepping out of one's gendered role, and the fact that femininity is still the norm, still an obligation for women. To disparage a female character for not being "womanly" enough, we forget that everyone else does that to real people, real women, every day.
It's similar to the way discussions of female stereotypes in media are derailed by posters asking, "but why do you hate feminine things?" They miss the point, maybe to troll, maybe deliberately. It’s not that femininity is hated, just that it’s not a choice for many women. When a way of being and acting is not framed as a choice but a duty, then it's touchier to defend, and you can't act like it's all a choice.
All of this wouldn't be an issue if the strict equation wasn't between feminine and female. If we asked to value feminine traits in male and female characters, it would sound less like fandom is trying to push women back into the box that society made.
Calling a heroine a "bitch" or a "man with breasts" is still about the idea that there is a way to be a "good woman", or an essential femaleness that can be overridden by a female character acting "wrong" way. It's policing female characters as much as calling them "weak" for being feminine is.
I've also never really seen a female character as totally masculine as everyone seems to be describing. They always have some feminine traits, though one's view of what makes a character feminine or masculine changes with the person.
In a world where merely being assertive is still enough to get women called a "bitch", I'm suspicious of any claim that abrasive, unpleasant heroines are some kind of epidemic. Are they, or are our standards for female behaviour in characters still too high?
I am not comfortable with hating heroines for not being feminine enough, or considering positive and feminine female characters the only way to help femininity. Gender is not sex, and if calls for  positive representations of femininity are restricted to female characters, I won't get behind any of this.

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