So, it’s pet peeve time.
I’ve recently been reading a series where the female protagonist is a strong female protagonist. Make that Strong, STRONG female protagonist. Because it’s so well written and has lots of humor and the protagonist matures and grows over the series, I don’t really mind this, but it does bring to mind something that bugs me in general:
I don’t think people quite understand what gender equality means, nor what our gender equality ideals should be. (Understandable, since until we can imagine what society should look like, we can’t build it.) I think this is also tied with our inability to recognize that when it comes to relationships,
Dependence < Independence < Interdependence
Let’s begin the discussion by talking about the Passive/Dependent Woman Archetype. This is the “Woman In Her Rightful Place” syndrome, “Damsel in Distress: Must Rescue” syndrome or “A Woman Must Submit To A Man” syndrome that we see a lot in fiction and stories from decades ago. Women are dainty, bendable delicate flowers, in other words. Pretty, pluckable, protectable on a pedestal, eye-candy, worthless to your enterprise besides as token mascot.
Since then, there’s been a feminist movement that has swung us the complete other direction. Now it’s a different kind of spotlight, the added reminder of “he–or she”, “be nice to your fellow man–oh and woman”, when “man plural” is short for “mankind” so we’ve already been included and don’t need a belated footnote. Also,Miss Strong Female Protagonist takes over the man’s job, being both masculine and feminine, headstrong, witty, resourceful, and then she single-handedly saves the day. It still is the pedestal that we tried to get her off, but now it’s a “one woman show” syndrome, “Miss Independent” syndrome, “I can beat up all my brothers” syndrome–and I’m running out of witty names–but it feels like we are making too much of an effort sometimes. We haven’t broken an archetype, we’ve just created a new one.
We rarely talk about creating strong male protagonists, just strong female ones; we rarely talk about making deep, believable protagonists in general–at least, not without starting with the female first and then branching to the generality. She’s still on that pedestal, being carefully looked after.
We also rarely talk about character relationships.
I think we need to start talking about interdependence: why a man needs a woman–who she is, what her worth is, how she adds to his enterprise more than just by being pretty, (we seemed to have dropped the perk of how she can give him children since most of our protagonists are 17 these days).
I think we need to start talking–without fear of falling into the Dependent Female Syndrome–about why a woman needs a man, and why it’s okay to be his equal and not his dog and not his boss. We need to talk about why it’s so hard for women to be leaders over men, and how so many women get it wrong; (personally I think it’s fear and all the unsteady ground she walks to do it, but I still think most of that is in her head as much as in society, a sort of self-perpetuating cycle).
Frankly, I’m tired of the books with the “strong female protagonists”, because most of them swing too far the other way and miss out on the richness and depth I long to see in a woman who is truly confident and comfortable in her skin and in her world and doesn’t need to prove herself to a man–on or off the bookshelf. I want to see her comfortable enough to be interdependent. I want to see a man who respects a woman enough to not set her above him on a pedestal, but not set her below him, either.
Of course, the fact that this post is primarily about women adds to the feminist talk. From now on I will focus on relationships, so that I won’t have to focus all my attention on the women who apparently still need the spotlight/pedestal/special treatment. *sigh*
My summary comment will be this: So, if women were dependent before–like children–now we are independent, a sort of adolescent, rebellious stage in our society. Now let’s get ourselves to an interdependent one. Here’s hoping!
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Continue the discussion: