Monday, May 17, 2010

The Power of Woman

So, I'm catching up on my blogroll and stumble upon this post about misogyny in fiction, which was a response to an article on the Ms. Magazine blog.

I will add this to my mental notebook of the numerous posts over the past six months about the roles of females in fiction stories, in that, they are poorly misrepresented by male authors.

Aside, you will find that I review as many female authors as men, as I am interested in the strengths and weaknesses of both sexes. Makes for better storytelling.

Where to begin?

Everyone is Hollywood is attractive. Their job is to make money by entertaining, not to be a societal barometer (we used to have the news for that, alas). Likewise, fiction by its nature, is escapist, which means, yes, they employ exaggerated visually appealing themes, etc.

It comes down to choices.

Feminists suggest that Playboy is misogynistic, because it features naked women. Those poor beautiful women, having no choice ... but to be paid lots of money and live in Hefner's mansion and frolick and play at the pool and wear a swimsuit...

Bar Refaeli, from the cover of Esquire magazine.

This is the thing. Who really has the power here? Is it Hefner with his millions? No, it's the random hot girl who knows that men cannot resist the perfection of her form, and she gets to say, "give me what I want." (money, security, glamorous life, etc).

Hefner's just smart enough to understand the balances involved. Ironically - or suitably, because he is so clever - women of all ages flock to him. Many live and breathe just to get him to take their picture.

NO ONE is being forced. All of those in that situation are happy making other people happy. Escapist entertainment. Everyone wins.

It is not a crime to enjoy visual beauty.

Is modern society to blame for the resurrections of the old fables of the past, where the doomed female must indeed be rescued by the HANDSOME, ROYAL PRINCE Charming? Pretty Woman syndrome. She was a PROSTITUTE (EWWWW)! And he could have had anyone (though I find R Gere a little fruity, chicks like him).

It's about choices.

Women choose. Those ancient stories about rescuing princesses - modern feminists see those tales as making women look weak and frail and incapable.

Wrong. Those stories are about the reality of what is desirable (the perfect woman, a princess) and what lengths a man must be prepared to go to win her (kill Dragons, swim moats, face death). That the woman was captured is subtext on the desirability of a female to begin with.

If a man was captured, would women go rescue him? Heck no. Not unless he was the father of her children (or her child), or somehow could provide for her a parallel to home/nest security; otherwise, he's buggered. Men must face death just for the chance of being chosen.

Where did those come from?

Ancient biological imperatives. The women choose the man who is best suited to give her a strong child and protect the home.

Helen of Troy? Anthony and Cleopatra? History is full of stories displaying to what incredible lengths a man must go in order to win a woman's heart, in order to be chosen. All women had to do was be there.

Like the avians, a male's life is spent achieving and portraying, so that we are chosen by a mate for our brightly colored plumes. Do we want to strut like a peacock? No. We have to.

"Well, women don't wanna be barefoot and pregnant!"

Fine. Don't. The species could go extinct, because men can't get pregnant, can't give birth and (in most cases) cannot breastfeed. There's nothing men could do about it, if women say no. (Don't bring up criminal acts, most people aren't criminals - you don't govern rules by the exceptions.) That is the very gist of our species survival, that women have always decided what is in their best interest to persevere, and men, by biological imperative, must abide.

There's no objectification here. There's women going, "I can make a living by looking hot and sexy and men will give me money and security and so forth."

Because, why, we're basically predictable idiots who are biological slaves to the power of a woman.

Feminists seem to forget that part.

Fables and stories are not essays in the weakness of a woman. They are "how to" lessons for being a man. The knight in shining armor is what a man must, according to biological imperative, rise to, if he ever wants to have a princess.

Ms. Magazine rags on Iron Man. He's a narcissistic womanizer. Men see him and go "Wow, look at all the choices he has."

Ms. says that the lesson is, "It is acceptable to treat women as objects."

That's laughable. The lesson is, "If you want to have more choices of women by which to bear your children, you must be mega rich, mega smart, wear a battle suit made of metal and fight evil - and have enough time in the day to be socially graceful."

Women, stop being offended by the portrayal of a weak heroine who needs a man to rescue her. Those stories are written for men, so that they will become strong, honorable and intelligent in order to be worthy of you making the choice of them over another suitor.

The power of your choices perseveres to this very day. Fiction dramatizes, exaggerates and encapsulates the ideology, but the core values are a biological imperative that are hardwired into the human brain.

You can emasculate men and overempower women in fiction, but it would not sell, because it would not connect to the reader. Why deny the imperatives? Centuries of story telling have successfully carried forward the core truths of human relationships.

Does that mean there should be no extraordinary female characters? Absolutely not. It does mean, however, that somewhere, somehow, there will be a similarly extraordinary male for her to choose when she faces biological imperatives. There'd still be a story to tell.


  1. Feminism, as it has been defined in my lifetime, drives me nuts. I was working as a teacher during the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal and I saw most supposed "feminists" throwing Lewinsky under the bus while defending Clinton. I even remember reading an article that said women should get out their "presidential kneepads" to thank Clinton for keeping abortion legal. All I could think was WTF? So, what they're really saying is that they don't care about women per se, it's really about the political agenda.

    So I don't really trust most feminist ramblings. There seems to be this culture of victim-hood where men are bad and women who don't share their (feminist) politics are expendable. There seems to be very little accountability expected of women either. How is any of that good for women?

    But like you say, there's nothing wrong with a man wanting to rescue a woman. And I think women, whether they'll admit it or not, like strong men. Movies aren't reflecting anything back at us that we're not generally embracing. Feminism, to me, seems to be more about grievance mongering than making any real points.

  2. I'm so glad you came by. :-)

    That's funny about Clinton. During that whole spiel, I was ranting and raving about how "The POTUS should be a role model for my children, the best example of what an American can be when he/she grows up" and that a man who cheats on his wife with some random girl is not that.

    The inherent power of the woman should be embraced, taught and culturally accepted - and that would be SO much better for women, in general. Women don't make good men, I'm sorry. Men make even worse women, as current societal trends are starting to show.

    That article on Iron Man just stunned me in its failure to recognize the relationship between being powerful, secure and confident and the women who sought that out.

    It is perhaps an exaggeration to call it "rescuing", but the model for desirable women is inexorably linked to a model for what is required of a man to be chosen by her. Yes, women absolutely want the security, and there's nothing wrong with accepting that.

    Thanks again for stopping by, and commenting; I really enjoy your blog and it's nice to have you swing by here.

  3. Ohhhhhhh.

    Does it not also make sense that women have to be beautiful and sexy and nurturing and present themselves as a good mother AND woman (whore in the bedroom, goddess in the kitchen or whatever it is?) in order to not only entice but to *keep* the man to protect and rear the children etc?

    Don't forget the princess has to make herself 'worth' saving, not all princesses get a knight in shining armour.

    If someone wants to make their living on their looks then that is up to them, what I dislike is when women feel that is one of their only choices because other choices..say politics for example are not seen as valid or something women are capable of, still.

    I do not think Playboy models are in some way anti-feminist, what I dislike about advertising in general is people's reactions to it. Naturally an ad agency is going to use whatever we deem attractive in the current day to sell their product. The issue then comes when people believe that the image used is representative of people in general. It's not. People need to understand that and stop comparing themselves to a computer generated image.

    I really really dislike militant feminism because apart from all the man-bashing (omg BE original ladies, just putting the other gender down is not going to empower you) they are sooooo judgemental with one another. I saw one thread where some people were crucified for having reasonable opinions which did not involve wanting to chop a mans balls off.

    I think feminism has a point, I think women need more power and to be freer in their choices, but I also think it is not working right now, because it is not celebrating differences, just reinforces them / denying them. Most uber feminists come across as scared and shrill and less powerful than ever. In addition the empowering of women often seems to come down to the disempowerment of men. Theres more than that to go around IMO, you don't need to take someone elses power to feel your own. A lot of feminists don't get that I believe.

    Still I don't like the 'rescuing' concept, but that goes both ways. I am a great believer that no-one can rescue anyone else, you can help sure, you can't 'fix' someone who doesn't want to be fixed.

  4. Hahahahaha. I knew this would turn your head, Raine. I wish I would have remembered to mention that in the OP.

    I don't agree with you that women HAVE to be "lady on the streets, freak in the sheets".

    Women live longer than men, and they are a larger part of the population; hence they are competing amongst one another for the men of choice.

    This becomes about economy, then, supply and demand. Is the "Princess Slut" phenomenon...
    a) A result of women's competitiveness with each other in such an economy, or
    b) What happens when the power is given to the man to choose amongst several desirable candidates?

    I don't think either view would be wrong, per se.

    Otherwise as you know, my mantra is about teaching people how to think, rather than what to think. Feminism is a clear nod of where it could be a great success for empowering women towards self awareness of the power that is inherently theirs, versus the current emasculation of men approach.

    Proper education and adherence to social conscientiousness would eradicate the concerns of "keeping a man" once he has been chosen, as well as concerns of objectification (which go both ways, thank you very much)(Do you think it's coincidence that Brad Pitt is often shown in states of partial nudity? You think *I* want to see that?).

    Princesses that don't get a knight, I guarantee, are because they have not yet realized it is in their power to have one.

    I don't want to digress too much. Successful stories connect to the reader, and traditional roles reflect core truths about human gender ideologies, the biological imperatives.

    No amount of feminist spinning is going to change the hard wiring, and I also guarantee that for every instance it does appear to do so, there will be women who complain about the results (see: emasculation of men rants).

  5. Bill-- I worked with a woman who interned at the Clinton White House prior to the Lewinsky scandal. In fact, I worked with her before the scandal broke and she told me all kinds of interesting things. Like the fact that the Secret Service had tried to move the attractive interns out of the West Wing because Clinton would get so distracted he'd be unable to work. I don't know if Lewinsky missed the purge or if she came in later-- either way, she proved to be distracting enough. Clinton was a well known adulterer and letch, but the larger feminist groups were more than willing to give him a pass because he was supposedly on their side.

    This is the thing about feminism that drives me mad. It seems that like most "isms" it's agenda driven and has very little to do with the group its supposed to represent. In the end, it appears to be doing more harm than good...

  6. How unsurprising about Clinton. Heh.

    But, before we digress too much, I just wanted to share this link with you, about a book written on the subject of the emasculation of men.

  7. What I find absolutely mind boggling is the fact that feminism and Playboy actually share a lot of the same libertarian views when it comes to human sexuality, yet they are so intent on being the teeth at the other's neck. Is the depiction of the nude human form really that terrible of a thing? Maybe we should step back through history and let the Roman Catholic Church reinstate a "fig-leaf" campaign for all modern depictions of nudity? I see that being a real crowd pleaser. The portrayal of women who pose as models in Playboy as being victims is absurd. What they victims of? Good genetics and access to personal trainers who ensure they fall within social definitions of what is considered "attractive"?

    If anything, I feel that it shows how empowered women are when it comes to their sexuality, which again deferring to history, owes a tremendous debt to the advent of oral contraception (a.k.a. "The Pill"). Well, just as much as our modern definitions of female sexuality owes a debt to the landmark decision of Eisenstadt v. Baird (a U.S. Supreme Court case that ultimately established the right of unmarried people to possess contraception on the same basis as married people, and by implication, the right of unmarried couples to engage in potentially nonprocreative sexual intercourse). Which is not to say that a woman could not be empowered in sexual matters prior to these events, but the limits to what she could do as an unmarried person would be far more rigid. Sex and the City could not exist as a premise, let alone a successful TV / Movie intellectual property if these important events had not occurred.

    I agree with a lot of your thoughts, Bill. Militant feminism that uses a pink curtain to encapsulate anything male as bad ipso facto is just as destructive to the idea of openness and communication as male chauvinism and misogyny. As SQT noted earlier, it becomes less about the individuals represented than about propagation of a certain ideology. Which just strikes me as sad.

    Raine, I also think that what you mentioned about it not being necessary to emasculate men for women to achieve empowerment is especially true. Men and women are biologically and fundamentally different. We have unique strengths and weaknesses that vary from individual to individual, but are clear reaffirmations of the beauty of those differences. It's not a balance where a male being extraordinary removes the ability of the female to be extraordinary as well. A princess should strive to be worth saving as much as her knight should strive to not get eaten by the dragon obstructing his path to said princess.

    I'll admit guiltily that reading your comment made me think of this:

    "Thank you, Mario. But our princess is in another castle!"

  8. Brian - I think your comments are very well thought out and make a lot of sense to me.
    I think we have much to thank the 'Pill' for, as well as the ability for women AND men to be able to enjoy their sexuality without it necessarily leading to conception. How many people have been trapped into unhappy marriages because of a lack on contraception and societies views that you must be married in order to have children?

    Unfortunately historically speaking the moral criticism has generally fallen on women for having babies out of wedlock, which is a little unfair, after all takes two to make a baby, and in some cases we do still have a bit of a split when it comes to attitudes about promiscuity for example. I.E. Man is a 'stud' for bedding a lot of women, the girl is seen as a 'slut' or even damaged goods.

    I think in some ways women have tried to counter this by adopting an extremely aggressive sexuality and a sort of 'anything goes' attitude..which often works against them. Because the same women cry misogyny if a man reacts to their overt sexuality. I've seen women dressed in a bra top and hotpants and heels, gyrating up against men, then turn around and accuse said man of being a pervert or similar because they have taken it 'too far' with the girl. It's like you can do everything in your power to appear sexually up for it, but god help the man who responds to that. This does not help in my opinion. Women should be free to explore their sexuality but they also need to take resposibility for their actions. Feminism shouldn't be about women winding men up and then shouting abuse because they have woken sexual feelings in the man.

    Equally men need to respect the fact that women are not 'asking for it' just because they are out clubbing and have say kissed them or something. It is a fine line.

    I agree with your take on Playboy models, although I believe modelling and such like is a million miles away from other forms of selling your body (for men and women) such as street prostitution, from a safety pov, naturally.

    Lol on the Mario comment! But I think there are pressures on men AND women to be worthy of each other, even if it is in a rescuer/ rescuee sort of sense. As you say the man has to be able to do the rescuing, but the woman has to prove she is worth the effort!

    Great comment, be interested to see what Bill makes of it.


  9. P.s One of my total pet hates? A man who sleeps with a women and then calls her a slut.

    WTF? You SLEPT with her too! What does that make you?

  10. Welcome back, Brian. :-)

    You make a lot of interesting points.

    This has been an interesting discussion, and gives me some thoughts about how I might portray the everlasting 'battle of the sexes' in the creative world.

    Societally, though, I just can't help but think that we've empowered individuals, sexes, races, and all without the very core teachings and understandings of embracing differences, strengths and proclivities.

    Everyone wants a freedom and a choice without a responsibility and an accountability. Feminism has made some notable strides, but along the way they have forgotten to look at their end game.

    In writing fiction, do I have a responsibility to address this observation? The more I think about it, and read other opinions on this topic, the less I think I have a choice - it becomes a moral imperative to at least point it out.

  11. I think that your responsibility as an author is the pursuit of verisimilitude as observed by your characters. The idea of equity among empowered individuals who accept existential responsibility for their choices and actions is an ideal to strive for, not necessarily reflective of the reality at large. Power and economic imbalances abound in the everyday, driven by very real human motivations. This remains a subject in fiction because it is a compelling one. In fact, probably part of the reason that conflicts in literature remain relevant to us as readers is that a good story may not just be fantastic escapism, but may also subtly inform our own sense of ethics and world view.

    I'm rather fond of this quote by Kurt Vonnegut on the subject of social responsibility as a creator of fiction:

    "I sometimes wondered what the use of any of the arts was. The best thing I could come up with was what I call the canary in the coal mine theory of the arts. This theory says that artists are useful to society because they are so sensitive. They are super-sensitive. They keel over like canaries in poison coal mines long before more robust types realize that there is any danger whatsoever."

    o "Physicist, Purge Thyself" in the Chicago Tribune Magazine (22 June 1969)

    So, anyways, before I digressed on the subject of responsibility in fiction, there is still the question of how you address the observation. I think that you would do so best by being true to your narrative voice and the reality of the world as you perceive it and the way your characters do. If it is genuine historical fiction, then you try to strive for verisimilitude of the time period of your setting. I would venture that some women have been intelligent and capable for as long as some men have (again, addressing the fact that there is a vast plethora of aptitudes in physical and mental capacities in all humans), but the civil rights movement is relatively recent and the choices that a woman would have in such a world before this are limited by society and social cues.

    By the way, I did like your blog's reference to the idea of biological imperatives. In fact, I'm inclined to agree with the idea of biological / genetic imperatives driving humanity and culture quite a bit. They reminded me of these webcomics and the respective commentaries by the artist.

  12. I still like the Vonnegut quote in my earlier comment, but this one is probably quite a bit more palatable. Considerably less dying. Which, being as huge a fan of living as I am (I assume you are too), always a perk:

    "Well, I've worried some about, you know, why write books ... why are we teaching people to write books when presidents and senators do not read them, and generals do not read them. And it's been the university experience that taught me that there is a very good reason, that you catch people before they become generals and presidents and so forth and you poison their minds with ... humanity, and however you want to poison their minds, it's presumably to encourage them to make a better world.
    o "A Talk with Kurt Vonnegut. Jr." by Robert Scholes in The Vonnegut Statement (1973) edited by Jerome Klinkowitz and John Somer October 1966), later published in Conversations With Kurt Vonnegut (1988), p. 123

  13. Brian,

    I added questionable content to my RSS - pretty clever stuff there.

    I have to say, while I'm still being vague about the WIP, that I thought I was being a bit too "idealistic" about my approach to the process - your Vonnegut quotes are in agreement with my own philsophies.

    Where regards women/men/society/cultures, I'm not doing historical fiction. I'm ... not clever enough. lol.

    What I am doing, that duplicates human history, is making people and cultures a result of their local geography and geology; there will be echoes of history in the recognition of certain tropes (vikings, for instance).

    The rules of the world are different, as are the religious motivations. My protagonist(s) have the benefit of long life and are able to travel, thus giving them the opportunity to see cultures evolve and adapt and change - which allows commentary/conversation on the roles of governments, beliefs, sexism, and the such.

    Conversationally, of course. It is in that context, that I want to poke a little at the established belief systems and offer the views that might be expected of the characters and the things that they have seen over their lengthy lifetimes.

    If that made any sense. It's hard to be vague and do so.

    FWIW, that's not the focus of the current WIP, which is essentially a standalone prequel to the first series of arcs; a coming-of-age for the protagonist and a culture-shifting global event for the world as a character.


Thank you for your comment.