Whether we recognize it or not, we all know about The Girl. Sometimes the Love Interest, or the Sidekick, or the Little Sister, or what have you, she has existed in literature and popular culture from time immemorial. Those of you who are of my generation may be thinking of Smurfette, who was literally defined in both name and action as being the (only) female smurf while all the male smurfs were defined by their actions. Later on, some female smurf kids were added, but kids tend to fit more into a “gender neutral” category than adults in our society.
Enter And Then There’s the Girl: “Women Characters” vs. “Characters that are Women”, a Blog Against Sexism post from a couple days ago that I missed highlighting. The author, kalinara, uses Cheetara (do you notice a trend in taking a word and “feminizing” it for the token women?) to represent the phenomenon of The Girl.
After her introduciton, she illustrates exactly what it means to be The Girl (or, in this case, Woman) instead of simply a woman:
You have one old ghost guy who’s the elderly mentor/grandfather figure in Jaga. You have one architect/intellectual/wise older brother figure in Tygra. You have one young, brash, heroic but kind of dim main character in Lion-O. You have the token black guy as the strong gruff mechanic in Panthro. And you have the two cheerful “Thunderkittens” in the kids, Wiley-Kit and Wiley-Kat.
And then you have Cheetara. What the hell was Cheetara’s purpose? To be the woman and look hot in the leotard while being vaguely maternal? She could run fast and was dimly, conveniently psychic. But where the male characters at least had some stereotypical, shallow quality to serve as their personality (grandpa/big brother/brash hero/gruff strongman/playful kids), she had *nothing* but feminity to define her.
“Today is not the 80’s,” you may say. “We’re much more enlightened now.” In some ways, that is true. Today isn’t the 80’s and shows have evolved to give women more active roles (some of which come with their own sets of problems). However, the attitude that kalinara describes is not dead, nor limited to cartoons of my childhood.
In fact, what she says puts into better words a complaint I made in my open letter to geeky guys. It was regarding a recent publication of the gaming magazine The Escapist (which consistently puts out subpar, and often sexist, articles about women). In it, the author was trying to discuss why he preferred playing “a girl” in online games.
He gives his potential male characters a wide variety of personalities: â€œAm I the noble hero?â€ he asks himself, â€œA backstabbing thief? An insecure wisecracker?â€¦ [A]n alpha maleâ€¦?â€ So, what does he say of his female characters? â€œ[P]laying a girl puts me in far more neutral territory.â€ As the default for human, the man gets to choose from a range of archetypes that come easily to Dahlenâ€™s mind. The woman, as Other, doesnâ€™t get to do any of that â€œnormalâ€ stuff; she gets to be â€œneutral territory.â€ Iâ€™d also like to point out that it falls into mandatory gender roles: the active male versus the passive (neutral) female.
When I talk about women as the Other in this context, it is the same kind of tokenization/relegation of woman to The Woman. Men are normal; they are not defined by their gender but rather the roles in which they are placed – whether it be elderly mentor or noble hero. Sometimes women get these roles, too, but even then their “femininity” is often seen as a paramount feature of their character.
How, then, do we move away from this tokenization? Well, I suggest reading kalinara’s post and the comments on it for starters. Only when we understand why an issue occurs can we truly begin to correct it. So, go, read, and think about the women you see portrayed in the media you engage in – whether it be cartoons, video games, books, or anything else.
Via When Fangirls Attack.