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woman as image

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a two-panel comic; the first panel has two nondescript stick figures, one of them writing an incorrect mathematical equation on the board, while the other one says "wow, you suck at math." in the second panel, the stick figure writing the equation has been given long hair, and the other is saying "wow, girls suck at math."

A few days ago, Sociological Images* had a post about the evolution of the Dungeons & Dragons player handbooks. I mentioned that it would be interesting to see a cover with a monster woman and a sexy man, the reverse of the current cover, and Leigh mentioned that “[t]here is also a risk of putting a strong, non-human female on the cover and being accused of making strong women monstrous,” which is an interesting point.
Then today, J posted a link to this article about Bayonetta.
Having never played either Dungeons & Dragons or Bayonetta, I can only comment on the content of the articles, and I feel like the XKCD strip sums it up for me. We have this problem because women in the media haven’t been individuals; all women are symbolic of Woman. (Laura Mulvey might mention something about this in Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, look under “III Woman as Image, Man as Bearer of the Look.”)
This is not the fault of individual artists (note: see edit), but rather, of a systemic, cultural problem. If men are A, women are not-A. (I can’t find the article that I got that from, since I don’t remember the title or the author; you try Goolging “men a women not-a” and tell me if you find anything relevant.) Since women are not-A, they are the Other, and all Others are interchangeable; thus, if Bayonetta’s super sexualized, all women are (or should be) super sexualized; if Kairi’s useless, whiny and annoying, all girls are useless, whiny and annoying.
Now, a big part of the problem in media is that, for a long time, female characters were few and far between. The token girl was usually a sidekick, and a helpless one, at that. Moreover, even when she was awesome, she was a stand-in for all girls; boys could chose between being the Blue Ranger or the Green Ranger or the Red Ranger or the Black Ranger or the White Ranger, whereas girls got to be the Pink Ranger or the Yellow Ranger, and even that’s an improvement because there were two, instead of just one. (Maybe a better example is that boys could be Brock or Ash, whereas girls had to be Misty. This example repeats: Harry, Ron & Hermione, Morpheus, Neo & Trinity, etc.)
… ’cause as we know, all girls(women) are the same; they aren’t individual girls(women) they’re Girl(Woman).
I think that as we see more female (lead) characters of varying types and personalities, these issues will begin to ease up, but until we, as a society, move away from the idea that women are Woman, we’ll keep running into it over and over and over again. Female characters should be free to be as sexy, girly, chaste, tomboyish, weak, strong, badass, helpless and varied as male characters without those traits being applied to all female people. I shouldn’t freak out with joy when a series has not one but multiple awesome female characters and no female characters I want to punch in the face; I shouldn’t have to. I mean, it’s not like I throw a mini fangirl party every time a series has strong, interesting, varied, deep male characters.

tl;dr » xkcd makes you smart, SocImages is awesome, I want to be Riza Hawkeye when I grow up.

edit: this is not to say that artists don’t have any responsibility, here


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Written by Fangirl

January 14, 2010 at 1:46 pm