I am a feminist. Many people are. Some talk about it. Some deny it. But the fact of the matter is, if you believe that someone who identifies as a woman has the same rights and opportunities as someone who identifies as a man (the same, not more) you are a feminist. It’s not a rude word or something to be ashamed of, it just is what it is.
I am also privileged. Everything that I write, say or think comes from a privileged perspective. I was born with white skin in a developed country to middle class, well educated parents. So I completely understand that some of the strides forward in equality look great from where I stand, but not so much for other people.
But does the cause move any further forward when we knock each other down?
“I completely understand that some of the strides forward in equality look great from where I stand, but not so much for other people. “
So, Marvel Studios has come under fire in recent years for its treatment of female characters – Black Widow almost non-existent from merchandise (her big ol’ motorbike scene from Age of Ultron given to Cap in toy form); Gamora ditched from Guardians of the Galaxy tshirt because “young boys don’t find her relatable” (but a psychotic talking racoon and a giant, seemingly immortal, tree-man* are ok); and no solo films for any female characters just yet (though Captain Marvel is definitely in the works).
But what they have done is dedicated one of their awesome Netflix series to flawed, angry, bitter heroine Jessica Jones. The show is absolutely about Jessica – her experience with Killgrave, her friendship with Trish, her confusing relationship with Luke, her alcoholism. She doesn’t serve to move other people’s stories along, they move her story along. And I eagerly awaited the reviews – this was something good for geeky girls to own! It was funny, dry, feminine, brutal, emotional, and incredibly violent. It depicted a survivor.
And the first thing I read said: “It was a real disappointment it only featured white women in it.”
And that was it.
Now, as I say, I know I have a privileged voice, so seeing these women being given meaty roles was an exciting thing for me, because normally the women are there to be kidnapped or raped. But these women were fighting and surviving on their own, and it saddened me that because the show hadn’t fixed everything that is wrong with female representation in the media, it wasn’t good enough.
“because the show hadn’t fixed everything that is wrong with female representation in the media, it wasn’t good enough. “
When Transparent was first shown on Amazon Prime it was hailed as groundbreaking. The creator of the show, Jill Soloway, has a trans parent – so understandably a portion of the show focused on the reactions and feelings of the children when their father tells them he identifies as a woman. I love Jeffrey Tambor anyway, and in the few episodes I watched (personally, I couldn’t get in to it) I found his portrayal as honest and sensitive. But the show was always going to be about the kids, because that’s the perspective the writer was coming from. And again, the Internet went nuts because the trans character was not the focus, and a cis man was playing a trans woman (the same argument was thrown about when Eddie Redmayne was cast in the Danish Girl. I would argue that in both cases, when the character is “a man” no one is supposed to know they are a woman – but I see where the argument comes from).
But what annoys me is, one time Mindy Kaling did everything that everyone wanted and the Internet remained silent.
“Sheena was just Sheena. She wasn’t the black friend. She wasn’t the trans friend. No mention was given to her skin colour or her gender”
In season 3 of The Mindy Project, Mindy cast the awesome Laverne Cox as Sheena, a wise friend with questionable fashion sense. Sheena was just Sheena. She wasn’t the black friend. She wasn’t the trans friend. No mention was given to her skin colour or her gender, just like when I’m described, I assume no one says “Rosie was actually born a woman and is white” (these things are usually not commented on due to my previously acknowledged privilege). And when I saw it I thought ‘that’s surely what we’re going for, right? This woman is just cracking on being a woman and no one is batting an eyelash.’
I waited for the praise for Kaling.
I’m still waiting.
On the internet it’s a lot easier to make noise about things that make you angry than about things to celebrate. But if no one points out when someone gets it right, how will they know that those behaviours are good and should be repeated? They may just think they didn’t work, and move along.
“On the internet it’s a lot easier to make noise about things that make you angry than about things to celebrate.”
We still have a long way to go, so can we not celebrate each step we take, rather than berating those who try for not making it to the finish line yet?