This evening I was perusing my Facebook only to discover a brilliant article shared by a former professor of mine. I say ‘former professor’, but the truth of the matter is she is still constantly teaching about gender within media and the proper way to format smarm, even if she doesn’t realize it. Whatever the case may be, I always latch on to any links she posts out of curiosity, if not out of a desire to continue my lessons into Gender in Media studies (even if my education has certainly directed me away from it in the last year.)
Take a look for yourselves…
You’ll have to excuse me if my summary lacks the penache of the article (It is nearly 1 a.m. after all.) Essentially, Hurley brilliantly illustrates how gender within our narratives erases women, unsees them, places them on the back-burner while male characters take the lead (which is a bit screwy when the narrative itself is driven by the woman’s conflict.) The point that really struck me was when she began to discuss women being used as tropes to guide the man’s story. I’ve heard this before, and I’m certainly guilty of it myself, but Hurley’s ‘Cannabalistic Llama’ metaphor really struck home. Probably because I always suspected such things about llamas myself.
We can dither around topics about gender and media. Person A can throw out the term ‘feminazi’ while Person B drops the Red Pill bomb. The fact of the matter is that becoming accusatory about gender inequality within media does not solve the problem. There is a stubbornness that acts as a sort of shield around gender studies, so those within it may continue to converse and try to make changes while the rest of the world holds up their SWAT issued riot shields and hums very loudly to themselves. Can’t we all agree gender misrepresentation exists?
Sure it does. Men are misrepresented. Women are misrepresented. LGBT, Blacks, Asians, Hispanics. There is a dirty word for everyone and everything out there. And Hurley was right, what is really needed is someone to act. Someone to stand up and not necessarily announce, in a self-righteous tone, ‘Hey! This is wrong! It needs to be fixed!’ But instead quietly act and hope that that demure, humble action strikes a chord with another person. How does that old saying go? Be the person you want to see? Something like that. It’s almost 1 a.m.
I’m dithering. Hurley’s article didn’t perhaps act as an epiphany to me, but reinvigorated some of that passion that I felt back at the college where I gleefully watched my professor cut down some of the more… let’s say, ignorant members of the class. Okay, maybe not cut down. The woman is a master of sarcasm. I’m sure most of the class wouldn’t have realized they were being cut down.
Dithering again, right. Where was I? Oh yes, reinvigoration. Hurley’s article forced me to stop and look back at my own work (which, by the way, I was so close to being done editing until this came a long). There’s no doubt I use women as devices. Even thinking about it now I can say ‘I used this trope, this trope and this one here for the ladies’. For the men? Hell, I don’t know if I can even name a single male-orientated trope. I guess Papa Wolf? That’s one, right?
What’s wrong with this picture? I grew up surrounded by strong women, and in some way I think that’s reflective in my story. Natalia Artison is, if nothing else, meant to be a ‘Strong Woman Seed’ who is meant to blossom over the course of the series. But what about the others? What about Amy, her mother? What about Kate Delarno? She died, and the only reason she died was to encourage Steven Delarno to be a badass. She’s a tool, a trope, and nothing more. For shame, Kathleen.
So I started rethinking it. Hurley made a good point. Why does a woman have to die? Why does it have to be a woman? A lover? Why not a friend? Why can’t they simply leave?
‘Oh, I can jump on that train,’ I thought, somewhat foolishly. ‘I’ll make Kate leave. Or maybe she never existed or…’
Hold on. Hold the phone. Changing it simply to fulfill some half-assed desire to show a more rounded gender dynamic is crass. No, worse than crass, it’s giving those morons who claim there is no gender misrepresentation exactly what they’re looking for. A change simply for a change. Not a change because it shakes up the reader, not a change because it isn’t expected, and certainly not a change because it would be better.
So I had to stop thinking. It started to become very meta. ‘If I know that I am making this change to fulfill a desire to show more equal gender representation, then I’m not really making the change for the right reasons. But if I don’t make the change then I will continue having gender misrepresentation which is exactly what I don’t want to do.’
I then proceeded to go eats some grapes and consider the situation I had once again gotten myself into by overthinking things. I do it quite often, you see.
After several handfuls of grapes and a few minutes of petting the cat (purring cats are very soothing after all) I realized that I need to look at my various gender misrepresentation crimes in the same way I have always looked at my writing. Everything is connected to something else. Each action takes place because it impacts the final agenda. If X Trope can’t be linked to B Outcome, then it would be irresponsible of me to not consider how I might change it. If X Trope is linked to B Outcome then it might just have to stay where it is.
Off-hand I can think of 3 gender orientated tropes that diminish women in the first book, 2 of which I know I can change. There is a certain hesitation with the third because I can see the final picture. I know where and when the trope is turned on its head and where expectations are subverted. That is a luxury only I have, however. I admit a certain level of fear that I will self-publish and not long after a reader will come, read a couple blog entries, and immediately start accusing me of gender misrepresentation. Of negating the female narrative in favor of the male, even when my protagonist is a very much a girl.
Like I said, I overthink things, and it starts to get meta pretty quickly. I think I need some more 1 a.m. grapes. At the very least Hurley’s article gave me a lot to think about, and I’m excited to approach these particular tropes in a different way.
Here’s to subverting gender representation in narratives.
Mm, fermented grapes.