If feminists feel pressure to be accepted as "one of the guys," imagine how geek women feel, particularly early in their lives, when they often feel isolated from one another.
This tendency to dislike female character reminds me of another "being one of the guys" strategy: I often meet women who tell me proudly, "I just don't get along with women.* All of my best friends have been guys." These women also often think that this fact actually makes them progressive (because nothing's more radical than failing to create female-centric relationships!). And most of the women I've known who say this are geeks. It's actually one of the reasons it took so long for me to become friends with geeks, because "I don't get along with women" is dealbreaker for me. Any woman who says this is either a) telling me that I can never expect more than perfunctory friendship with them or b) inviting me to denigrate women as well, as the basis of our friendship. And no thank you.
Which is not, of course, to say that these ladies are horrible people. Women who refuse to connect with other women, fictional or real, are not causing the problem, but perpetuating it, because they've bought patriarchal narratives about women hook, line, and sinker. They seek connections with men, because men are the rational, smarter set, and by doing so they feel required to malign their own genders, because, as smith points out, "bashing on women" is just what dudes do. But loving other women, connecting with other women, is one of the most radical feminist act one can perform. And I think that goes for fictional characters, too, especially since I know that my personal path to feminism would have been greatly hindered if it weren't for Xena and Buffy.
So it hurts my heart when geeks inexplicably "hate" female characters on geek shows. Indeed, the two examples smith uses are actually from geeky/fantasy/SF shows: True Blood and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It seems like misogynist write-offs of female characters are disturbingly prevalent in allegedly progressive fan cultures (like the overtly feminist Buffy), and the ones that have been pissing me off lately are, of course, Doctor Who-related. A sizeable part of DW and Torchwood fandoms has a lot of ire for female characters from these series. The two I want to focus on, in part because hatred of these characters is well-represented in both fan communitities, are Gwen Cooper (from Torchwood) and River Song (from Doctor Who).
[Spoilers for season 5 of Doctor Who and Torchwood: Children of Earth (season 3) below the fold.]
[Trigger warning for imagined violence against female characters, slut-shaming, and other misogynistic language.]
She's whiny. From smith:
People who claim not to like female characters often have difficulty explaining why exactly. Take a character like Buffy, who is called 'whiny' for having opinions and not being shy about them, for occasionally being vulnerable and frightened and sad. It couldn't possibly be because her friends repeatedly fuck her over, she was yanked out of heaven to save her friends' butts, she's been burdened with huge responsibility, and she's constantly taken for granted, right? She couldn't possibly have any reason to be angry and to speak up about it, just like Tara has no reason to be angry either. Nope, they're both just whiny women. Write off, move on.
THIS. People who call Gwen whiny don't feel the need to explain why. And if they do, they hate Gwen because she acts like a woman (because, ew, who would want that?). From a Facebook thread about hating Gwen:
Yeah, I don't really watch Dr. Who, but I got the impression that Rose was a lot like Gwen, and I can't for the life of me understand why the writers like characters like this. I just find them so irritating. I don't get why women have to be all sappy in shows. Why can't there be more women like Xena or Ellen from Supernatural, strong without the sappy. I tend to like women characters better when writers don't feel like they have to make them all soft and whiney, because I just don't think that's really embracing feminism. It's keeping girls in the whiney category and keeping guys as the strong ones who don't whine a lot.
In other words, if producers would make female characters MORE LIKE MEN, then they would be less annoying. That, apparently, is feminism. Women who have feelings and express them are "all sappy" and "soft." Because, gross, right? smith again:
Much of this baseless hatred of women characters seems to be a reflection of internalized self-hatred. Being 'emotional,' for example, is a trait that society says is not acceptable for women, and thus expressions of emotion on the part of women characters are condemned. People will sometimes hide behind claims of 'stereotyping' to criticize women characters, arguing that the characters reinforce problematic ideas about women while little realizing that they themselves are reinforcing those ideas; people who claim that characters like Tara [from Buffy] are 'too emotional' and that this feeds ideas about 'hysteria' and women don't seem to recognize that they are reflecting a commonly held social attitude, that women should not be emotional. They ignore the very real reasons for Tara to be upset; seeing your lover shot and lying in a pool of his own blood, for example, is a very emotional experience.
Calling women who express their emotions sappy and whiny doesn't make you a feminist. Capitulating to sexist stereotypes about proper behavior, painting everything "feminine," like having emotions, as "soft" and "sappy," as not legitimate, is exactly the opposite of feminism, and doesn't do women any favors.
I already REALLY don't like River Song (and just why that is I still haven't figured out) but she has been the closest thing, personality-wise, to a female "Doctor" I've seen thus far, and she makes me want to punch her in the neck.
Because only a dude can get away with acting like the Doctor. It's violence-inducing when a woman does it. Like Gwen and Jack, River and the Doctor are judged differently for having the same characteristics. Acting like the leading men is not okay for female characters, but neither is it okay for them to "act like women," because then they're whiny and girly. They simply can't win, which is sort of the point. Hating female characters doesn't have anything to do with some magical combination of characteristics that make female characters likeable. Rather, it has to do with misogyny and capitulating to a sexist culture, in order to show one's credibility in that culture.
You may have noted the excessive imaginative violence in the hatred of these two characters. Fans often imagine the deaths of these characters (preferably painful) or imagine inflicting violence on them ("she makes me want to punch her in the neck"). This is disturbing, and can be explained by the ways in which geeks feel more pressure to over-act hypermasculinity. Geek boys are often picked on or bullied in school for being beta males, and geek men usually continue to feel undervalued because of their perceived lack of "manliness." Their reaction to this bullying is very often not to subvert the patriarchal masculinity standards that they fail to meet, but to overcompensate for this lack by participating more enthusiastically in misogynistic and homophobic behaviors and language. And women who exist in this culture, and want to be accepted by these geek men, will also often capitulate with misogyny as well, and show their credibility in part by refusing to connect with female characters in television.
smith asks us:
What is so frightening about women characters who display emotions? What is so terrifying about storylines that center women?
Indeed. So let's, as geeks, start to value women, in all their complexity and variety, instead of deciding prematurely that any woman is only worthy of our contempt. There's nothing scary about accepting that women, fictional and real, are human beings.
*Actually, they usually say "girls."
**I don't approve of the judgmental connotations the word "slut" carries with it. By using it, I'm just mimicking the language used by haters, not agreeing with the slut-shaming.
***Fuck, what is wrong with people? Are we really okay with the idea that women are just utterly unfuckable past the age of 30 or 40 or 50? I mean, really?