Normally, I let my co-blogger Nelrond write stories about the problems that men face in our divided society, as I'm sure he's better able to pinpoint and articulate the problems that affect him than I am. A while back, he wrote an article on how men are often acceptable targets of violence, especially from women, because women often view men as a threat and are, as far as they can tell, acting preemptively.
We're all aware that it's much more socially acceptable for a woman to hit a man than for a man to hit a woman. The idea behind this logic is that women are generally weaker and will normally only slap someone to make a point, while men are generally stronger and will hit someone in an attempt to cause actual damage. It should go without saying that, even if this is normally how it is, that's not always how it is. Some women are stronger than some men, and some women mean to inflict real harm when being violent.
Not that symbolic slapping is much better, of course.
And I'll admit, right here and now, that I've not always been sensitive to the idea that men can be hurt. As a woman in the United States, I was taught that boys don't hit girls, because boys are stronger, but boys can hit other boys. By that logic, it must have been okay for me, as a girl, to hit boys. And I did. Often. Not to hospital-placing extents, but the bottom line is that I hit someone who was told, all his life, that he was not allowed to fight back. Let that sink in, if you've never thought about it.
I have a cousin who's always been bigger than me. He's two years younger, but he's always weighed more. As kids, I was brutal to him. And he couldn't hit me back. I always thought it was okay, because he was a boy and bigger than me, and he was completely capable of stopping me whenever he wanted-- Oh hey, victim-blaming. Looks like it happens to the gents, too.
It's amazing that, despite the fact that he was bigger than me and that he physically could have stopped me whenever he wanted, he never did. Because he was conditioned to believe that there was something wrong with defending yourself if the attacker is female. And that's wrong. Everyone, male, female, or otherwise, should be encouraged to protect him/her/zirself if the need ever arises, no matter what the attacker looks like.
And we can see this played out in media very often. On TV and in movies, a woman will be offended by a man and smack him out of retaliation. And, to any woman who's ever been harrassed by a man, that is awesome. Some guys can be jerks and probably deserve a slap for it.
But wait, let's switch the genders on that. Let's say a woman walks up to a man who's minding his own business and starts making lewd remarks. He's clearly not interested; he's just at the bar having a drink with some friends or something. How would we feel if he hit her? Or if he even threw a drink in her face?
The most difficult part of recognizing sexism is recognizing that you've been raised with certain beliefs regarding it. In my mind, where everything can be thought out, of course I can see that this is unfair. But my instincts, from being raised the way I was, tell me that a woman harrassing a man can never happen. I've been conditioned to believe, somewhere deep in there, that women don't approach men and that men don't hit women.
(Which is incredibly confusing, since I approached my husband before he approached me. So clearly, somewhere in there, I know better.)
Back to media. TV and movies are obvious culprits. What about the musical world?
I know, I know. The music industry is terrible to women, especially to black women, who end up being overly sexualized to ridiculous standards. And that's very important and will probably be touched on in a different article, but this one's for the guys.
Have you ever listened to a song and liked it before learning the lyrics? That happened with me recently. I didn't realize that it was violent until a certain line got stuck in my head.
I'll burn your house down to the ground.
That line made me look up the rest of the lyrics. And, honestly, since it's easily compared to the end of a song by Eminem and Rihanna that bothered me, this one bothered me by association. The line in that song which was so similar was:
If she ever tries to fuckin' leave again, I'mma tie her to the bed and set this house on fire.
Let's look at more lyrics from X.O.:
I'm not a maniac, just love to control
You'll listen when I'm talking, shut your pie hole
Wow. Okay, so, we can conclude from this that the lady in the song is a jerk. Sorry, just, wow. If a guy said this, he'd probably get hurt.
And while you're in the restroom, while I'm on my own
You don't even know, I'm going through your phone
So we've already established that she "loves to control," and now she's actually snooping through his private items while he's in the other room. The song informs us that he is, in fact, cheating on her, but I would, too. This woman is clearly abusive, at least verbally. Surely it can't get too much worse--
In your home
...Wha... Does she literally have cameras in his house? I can't think of a figurative meaning for this, and even if I could, it couldn't be anything good. Again, if you can't see how horrifying this is, just switch the genders. This is stalking and an even clearer invasion of privacy than the phone-snooping. This would get a real person arrested in ten seconds flat.
The scary part is how lines about how independent and empowered she is are sprinkled thoughout the song. The very next lines are:
I'm not a criminal, more like the government
I'm not the first lady, I'm the president
Anyone who's studied the U.S. knows that we've never had a female president. It's every little girl's dream to grow up to be the first one. This is, as sad as I am to phrase it this way, an empowerment-related fantasy. The beginning of the song also starts out in a very self-assured fashion:
Why does it have to go from this woman feeling good about herself straight into controlling, abusive girlfriend territory? Can women only be positive about themselves when they're holding men down? The thought is scary and incredibly offensive. I am perfectly happy with my level of power in my own marriage, and we treat each other as equals. If you have to hurt someone to feel empowered, you're not actually empowered. Being empowered includes being secure, and abusers are rarely, if ever, secure.
The major difference in these songs, I think, is that at least the Eminem and Rihanna one, where the man is more abusive, is played out as a bad thing. The song by Kerli (who I otherwise love, so smearing her name here is hard for me) plays the violence against the man as though it's making her independent and empowered.
Being independent and empowered is not about hurting people. It's about having the ability to hurt someone and not doing it, because you know better. A large part of being independent and empowered is acquiring knowledge and learning from the past. Women and minorities have always had a hard time. We've been sent to different schools or not allowed to attend school at all. We've been told to do the work that the ones in power didn't want to do. We've been the victims of abuse of every kind. We still have problems now.
The problem, I think, is that we're used to this idea that someone has to be dominant, someone has to be in charge. And that, if we don't want to be on bottom, we have to fight our way to the top and hold others down. That is not what equality is about, and it is not what empowerment should be about.
I read a lot of webcomics.
I've always seen the majority of TV shows as sort of inane, at best. Will I watch a few of them? Sure. I'll plop down next to my husband and watch Futurama, The Simpsons, or Fraiser. But there aren't any shows I really go out of my way to watch. (Well, okay, there is one.)
Plus I just really don't care to watch a show about a couple with nineteen kids attempting to push out more when there are perfectly adoptable children available.
So what kind of entertainment do I consider good enough? I like reading; always have. But (maybe more than reading?) I love drawings. They don't even have to be good drawings most of the time.
It's probably not surprising that I've picked up a lot of manga over the years. I'd never cared for superheroes in the past, and that seemed to be what the vast majority of western comics were, so I skipped them altogether. Why would someone like me, who can spot unfortunate implications a mile away, want to read stories where some big, muscley and/or rich white man or alien who is somehow a white man zooms around saving damsels in distress? Don't get me started on Wonder Woman. Just don't.
Superhero comics tend to be less than nice to the ladies, is what I'm saying.
But honestly? Manga's not perfect, either. Probably has something to do with Japan lagging in the area of women's rights.
For the most part, the women on TV, in western comics, and in eastern comics are all... useless, essentially. Female authors are still less read than male authors, so any book with a strong female main character is almost impossible to come by. What's a girl to do?
Well, she could try turning to webcomics.
The thing with TV and published books/comics is that they have to be approved by someone. Publishers and such will look over your script and ask themselves, "Does this appeal to the 18-to-35 straight white male demographic?" And hey, you know, of course. They need to make money, so they want to make sure their shows/books sell.
Surprise! Women have money, too now! I know, I know, isn't it a kooky world we live in? We make up half the workforce (still don't get half the pay, but that's a different story for a different article) and we could also be buying half of the entertainment if it even tried to appeal to us.
That's what makes webcomics so refreshing. The internet gives us a place where we can say whatever we want whenever we want. No one is ignoring female-based stories in favor of male-based stories. No one is in charge of which webcomics will and won't publish based on how much of that magical demographic they'll snatch up. Women have just as much of a voice as men here (though we still often need to pretend to be men to be taken seriously, but that's also a different story for a different article).
According to Top Web Comics, we've got a decent mix of male and female main characters, or at a least a much better one than other forms of media will give us.
In fact, just a quick look at the current top ten comics tells me we have...
- TwoKinds: Two main characters, one male, one female
- Slightly Damned: Female
- Goblins: Five main characters, all appear to be male
- Not a Villian: Female
- Ballerina Mafia: Appears to have two main characters, both male
- Too Much Information: Male
- Bear Nuts: Ten main characters, all male
- Sandra and Woo: One female, one male (racoon)
- dream*scar: Five main characters, three female, two male
- Pictures of You: Male
So that's five male-only main casts, two female-only main casts, and three mixed-gender main casts. There are even some anthropomorphized characters and non-straight characters mixed in there! Much better than what TV and printed books have prepared me to expect. Still lacking a bit in racial diversity, it seems, but that was only the top ten, so still an overall success.
The internet is very important to women's ability to be heard in much more important ways than this, of course, but it's telling how relieved I am just to have some gender-relevent entertainment. It's not like I refuse to read about men, but I was starting to wonder how the world of media would work with such a female shortage. Do main characters reproduce asexually?
And, since this is as good a place as any, I may as well end this with a few links to comics that I feel are diverse and fair as far as male and female representation go. These comics also deal with LGBT issues.
Penny and Aggie and its spin-off Quiltbag are good if you're into down-to-earth types of comics. El Goonish Shive is better if you like fantasy/sci-fi elements thrown into an otherwise realistic setting. The guys of EGS start out a little objectifying, but it gets better, I promise. There's also Dead Winter, which is the story of four people (two men and two women) trying to survive what is effectively a zombie apocalypse.
I'm a brony. (Or a pegasister. Your choice.) A lot of people appreciate "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" because of its ability to entertain different age groups without crossing lines and while still keeping the child-friendly messages about friendship, and that's all well and good. But what really keeps me interested is how the show provides a decent model for girls' television.
My cousin, who is also interested in the show, asked me what exactly it was about the show that I felt made it so important to gender equality. In response, I pieced together this list for him.
1) Varied Female Characters
This is the most obvious one, I think. The vast majority of shows with female characters will have two or three ladies in the main cast, at most. There will never be more women than men, and the main character will always be male. The idea behind this is that men and women will watch shows about men, but only women will watch shows about women. The typical thought is that women's entertainment is too "girly" or "boring" for men to watch.
When we ladies do get on-screen representation, expect two extremes: There will be the docile, feminine housewife who does everything her husband/father says, and there will be the rough, rowdy, type who hates men. I hope this doesn't need to be mentioned, but hating men is not what makes someone a feminist. A feminist is a person (male or female) who wants gender equality. It's safe to say that some of us may resent men for the things we have to deal with, but it's not a requirement, and we're not going to be jerks about it. The correct term for that is a misandrist. Moving right along...
"Friendship is Magic" is a very different case from the above. We have six main characters, and all are female. The thing that makes these girls different from girls in other shows is that these are ladies with fully developed personalities who are not on the outer extremes.
Of the six main characters, we have:
Twilight Sparkle: A nerd, in short. She's obviously the leader of the group. She's smart, she's organized, and she's focused. She is not overly girly or overly tomboyish. Finally, those of us in the middle can get a little screen time.
Pinkie Pie: Pinkie is essentially Twilight's opposite. She loves having fun and is always organizing parties for her friends. She's girly, but not in the "docile housewife" way. It is possible to be girly and still not be a pushover, though Rarity shows this trait more.
Rarity: The fashionista. "Oh God," you're thinking. "Another Barbie/Bratz wannabe. This bitch is just gonna shop the whole time and giggle about boys or something." Rarity is a very good subversion of this character type. She's pretty, she puts pride in being pretty, and she's very interested in fashionable clothes. But! She doesn't buy the clothes, she makes the clothes. She isn't another brainless fashion zombie. She's a creator. She's an artist. And she runs her own clothing store, to boot. She's a successful businesswoman.
Fluttershy: This is our other girly character. She is docile. She admits in one episode to knowing that she's weak and defenseless, and says she's just happy to have friends who understand and try to help her be the best she can be. This one is important. Fluttershy is feminine. She's quiet. She's pretty. She's shy. She's the traditional ideal of what women "should" be. The main difference between her and the "housewife" type I mentioned before is... she's her own person. Fluttershy is weak and quiet and pretty, but she's that way of her own accord. Daddy isn't standing there telling her to be quiet and let the men talk. There isn't a husband or boyfriend there treating her like a servant. She is quiet and shy and feminine in a perfectly healthy way.
Rainbow Dash: Oh God, here we go, right? This is our brash, rude, tomboy type right here. The thing that makes Rainbow Dash different from the tomboy type we're used to seeing is that she doesn't hate men. She has some male bullies from flying school, and we can see them clearly taunting her in some episodes, but never does she rely on their gender as being the reason they're jerks. Rainbow Dash is an accomplished athlete for her age, and she's always pushing herself to be better. She doesn't cry about the boys being mean or how the races are unfair to have boys against girls: She just wins.
Applejack: This is our other tomboy. Applejack lives on a farm with her family and runs the place with her brother, Big Macintosh. She works hard and is always honest. When she gets a chance to go to the biggest party in the country, she doesn't think about dancing or making small talk; she wants to use it as a chance to sell some of her family farm's goods. She has a great relationship with her siblings. Applejack is basically everything a big sister should be.
2. The Only Acceptable Female Flaw: Clumsiness
This is a big one, too. Name any movie you can where a female is the main character. (It'll be a romance/chick flick.) Now, tell me about her. She's pretty, right? And thin but thinks she's fat? And at least partially successful in what she does? Oh, but falls down a lot, usually right in front of the guy she likes. But that's okay, because being clumsy is totally adorable since it makes you need help, and needing a man around to hold your clumsy ass up is something all men want in a woman.
Hollywood is still tiptoeing around the edges of what is and isn't acceptable for female characters. It's a halfway legitimate concern, on their part: they don't want to make the women ugly or mean or stupid, since that might make a few women stand up and say, "Hey, we're not like that!" Buuut the problem here is that they took it too far in the other direction. All women on screen are going to be beautiful, thin, polite, decently smart, and modest. But she'll be so boring if she's completely perfect! Oh, I know: Let's make her trip a lot. That's technically a flaw, but it's cute, so no one will be offended!
"Friendship is Magic" subverts this.
Of the six main characters, their flaws are:
Twilight Sparkle: Being a perfectionist and being a bit socially awkward. Especially in the earlier episodes, she's a little snarky to the others because she's not used to socializing.
Pinkie Pie: Being a little too weird and hyper. Generally, she's good company and her friends enjoy her, but there are times that they're clearly annoyed by her antics.
Rarity: Being a little conceited, for one. She's pretty and talented, and she'll let you know that she knows that. She also has a habit of taking on a little more work than she can handle now and then, so there are times that she's swamped with dress orders.
Fluttershy: Fluttershy is a little bit of a pushover. She can overcome this in dire enough circumstances, but usually, she's too polite to ever correct someone. She once apologized for going in the door of a shop when the sign clearly was flipped to say they were open.
Rainbow Dash: Rainbow Dash is a sore loser, plain and simple. She cannot stand to lose and has been known to cheat here and there in order to win. For the most part, this isn't a problem, but it does show its head and now and again.
Applejack: Like Rarity but worse. Applejack isn't conceited, but she's very hard-working, and she takes on much more than she should. She doesn't like letting people down, so she'll accept all kinds of work and then exhaust herself getting it done.
3. No Romance
Romance is a legitimate plot point. Falling in love (or lust) is a natural thing that happens all the time in real life, but it's incredible how much more it happens on TV, especially when the character in question is female.
Male characters have dreams and goals. They want to make partner at the law firm or open their own movie theater, etc. A female character, however, wants to get married and/or have children. If the female character is already working, she'll eventually have to choose between her career or her man. Male characters are never given this problem. Male characters can keep their job even after getting married. A female character, however, will very rarely continue working once she's married, even if that marriage doesn't involve children. The ultimate female goal in TV and movies is "Find a man, maybe have some kids."
If you don't see the problem with this kind of thinking, you should probably hop back into your time machine. Women have been a large part of the working force in this country since at least WW2. As of 2010, women made up 49.7% of the U.S. workforce and were still making less than men. And we are still encouraged by our parents, grandparents, and any other older individuals (including anyone who writes TV scripts) to get married so that we can stay home and raise some kids.
The point here is that female characters will have one ultimate goal in life: find a husband. Male characters are not limited to finding a wife. However, "Friendship is Magic" defies yet another typical female character rule. Of the main six characters, so far, only one has been shown to even have a crush on someone, and it ends up being short-lived. It is not her goal in life. There's nothing to indicate that she would have quit working to stay with him and have some children. This show gives girls female characters that care about their own lives.
Again, romance is a big part of life. That is fine and understandable. But it is not all that life is, and we finally have a show for girls that teaches them that.
4. "Little Girls Will Listen to Little Boys, but Little Boys Won't Listen to Little Girls."
The above is actually a rule that toy sellers go by. If a toy is for a boy, show a boy playing with it. If a toy is for a girl, show a girl playing with it. If a toy can be for either a boy or a girl... show a boy playing with it.
This is an old leftover from back when women were to be seen and not heard, and you can still see it around if you look. Think back to kindergarten. Did the boys and girls play together? Were the girls' suggestions even considered by the boys? No! Girls are dumb, they like, have cooties and play with dolls and stuff.
This one is less about the show and more about the fanbase. For once, we have a show featuring a nearly all-female cast, and a sizable portion of the audience is male. Why is that? Well, let's look at what we know about typical female TV characters, particularly for girls' cartoons.
"Bratz" has four main characters who are all identical to each other. Cloe, Yazmin, Jade, and Sasha. They have the same hair (hip-length and straight), the same eye shape, the same face shape-- everything. The only difference is color/race. If you have ever heard them talk, it's nearly impossible to tell them apart by personality.
I could go through all kinds of "girl shows," but the results would be the same. The vast majority of these characters are all exactly the same and perfect. They're boring, quite simply. Maybe this is why little boys won't watch girls' shows, because girls' shows are stupid and boring.
The biggest conflict you'll get with most girls' shows is one character not sharing her makeup tips with another character. Then that character will cry and her friends will comfort her. Maybe the "bad guy" will learn her lesson and be nice and share her makeup tips by the end of the show, but for no reason.
Aside from that, it's all tea parties and giggling about cute boys and oh my God can you even believe that Janice wore those shoes with that dress and ugh. No. Freaking. Wonder.
"Friendship is Magic" has actual characters as characters instead of cookie-cutter cuties. None of them are perfect, none of them look exactly alike, and none of them are on a constant quest to get Joey from math class to notice them.
These aren't "girls" the way that TV has defined girls. These are real girls. These ponies are what women in the real world actually are. We're nerds, we're artists, we're hard workers, we're athletes, we're animal lovers, and we're partiers. We are everything men are. We are people. And we are different from each other.