Women on Pedestals, Women in Footnotes

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!

– – –

Continue the discussion:

The Relationship Montage and Examples in Games and Movies.

3 responses to “Women on Pedestals, Women in Footnotes

  • Joe Vasicek

    Interesting. I think it’s good to point out that men typically value independence over interdependence and measure strength in terms of how much they can accomplish alone–which has its place, but doesn’t always work with every problem. This is why us guys will comfort each other by saying: “it’s no big deal,” or “you’ll get over it,” or “you can handle it.” However, I can see how networking and interdependence can give women a lot of strength, and appreciate that kind of approach to problems. But still, every time I hear women comforting or encouraging each other, I have to choke back an automatic gag reflex.

    • Laura

      I think our society in general values independence over dependence, and I think that is perfectly all right. Independence and self-reliance IS better than being completely dependent on others for all our mental, emotional, social and physical needs. Just like adolescence is a perfectly agreeable step to take after childhood.

      What I’m advocating is for men and women’s relationships to reach the point where we can trust and rely on each other. It’s kind of like our relationship with God, actually. He wants us to rely on him (dependence) but he also wants us to do many things of our own free will and choice (independence) and the combination of the two is the balance we seek with Him.

      So what we need is a balance within our society of give and take, or interdependence. We need to learn how to rely on each other better.

      The problem with the way guys comfort each other is that they don’t take the time to actually wonder at what’s going on inside. Sometimes something IS a big deal (such as abuse), and sometimes things just end up getting buried or shoved to the side so that they don’t have to be talked about or faced. (I wonder how many turn to addictions because they have no relief for the incomprehensible troubles they’re facing inside). Ignoring the emotional truths of the moment, how someone feels, is also greatly damaging.

      The problem with the way women comfort each other is that often times they perpetuate the problems that they see and don’t know how to be strong and overcome them. They comfort each other by inadvertantly adding blame to parties who don’t deserve it, by dwelling too much on the emotions felt and not how to resolve them, and so on.

      Both problems are damaging and wrong. Actually they could both be fixed if men and women were more open and reliant on each other. If men used their strengths to help women and women used their strengths to help men, so many of our problems could be fixed, if not made easier to bear–at least.

      But in order to be interdependent, you have to be able to trust each other enough to open up those doors to your soul, so to speak. That takes great courage and you need a whole lot of steady ground to walk on. But in order to get there, you have to build a relationship. And I think society just doesn’t know how to do that very well.

      Wednesday’s post deals with that more. Anyway, I talk too much.

  • One Thousand And One Parsecs » Tag and such

    […] from an LDS mission in Armenia.  Has a lot of interesting and insightful things to say, such as her last post on the difference between strong female characters who are independent vs. strong female characters […]

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