So today -- November 4th, for those of you who wonder how far in advance I write these things -- is the best day of my life. Not because it's a Friday, although that's part of it. But because I woke up this morning and realized that in addition to being behind schedule in NaNoWriMo, I also needed to come up with a Thursday one-off deconstruction for next week (and yes, that is "behind schedule" in Ana's mind).
You know what? Let's talk about NaNoWriMo. This is hard. Seriously hard. I mean, you people who do this every year, how do you do this? And November?? November I-have-to-get-a-turkey-on-the-table-or-my-year-is-ruined-and-oh-yeah-I've-got-to-embroider-the-Christmas-presents-that-I've-been-putting-off-since-May that November are you kidding me? And you are going to say, "But, Ana, NaNo is only 1,700 words a day and your blog posts are longer than that," to which I will laugh bitterly and say, "Kind Reader, you are kind to say so, but I feel compelled to point out that my blog posts would make crap books." Seriously, this right here is stream of consciousness stuff. This is not book stuff. Book stuff is hard.
NaNoWriMo Novelists: My personal heroes. Seriously, just... wow.
So anyway, today is an awesome day because do you know why? I will tell you why. I am now so famous on the internet that my readers are doing my job for me. This is the happiest day of my life.
A reader named Justin (a.k.a. The Mad Latinist) was awesome enough to send me this Cracked.com article: 6 Obnoxious Assumptions Hollywood Makes About Women. It's awesome, go read it.
Okay, Thursday post done! See you in the comments!
No, wait. Sorry. I promised myself I wouldn't be a talentless hack about this. I'm instead going to be a semi-talentless hack and talk about the awesome article that is awesome in the hopes that I might add more awesome to it. And since I'm running entirely on caffeine and NaNo-related guilt, this is going to be largely stream of consciousness gibberish. So let's look at the Cracked run-down:
#6. Worrying About Being Fat When You're Not
#5. Getting Angry For No Reason
#4. Conflicts Between Family And Six-Figure Job
#2. A Token Weakness
#1. Women Be Shopping
Now let's take the awesome Cracked article that Justin was kind enough to email to me and talk about it in more depth because if there's anything I like more than trying to eke out 1,700 words a day for a novel, it's hearing myself talk about other artists' fictional people, because I am living the English major dream, folks.
6. Body Acceptance and Associated Struggles With.
Body acceptance is hard. I've been a proud member of the Health At Every Size community for over a year now, I fully understand the pitfalls of the Fantasy Of Being Thin and why it's fallacious and damaging, and I completely 100% understand that beauty is not dependent on dress size.
Do I still think I would look prettier as a smaller woman? Unfortunately, yes. My intellectual embracing of body acceptance in the last almost-two-years has not yet undone cultural training that bombards me constantly with the message that Thinner Is Better. Heck, even the Cracked.com article is guilty -- it says at least twice that nobody wants to go see fat people in movies. Hey, Cracked? I do.
I freaking loved Hairspray for having a fat protagonist who doesn't "learn a valuable lesson" or otherwise have a big deal made out of her weight. She starts the movie loving herself and nothing in the movie changes her mind from being 100% "I love my sexy self" love-fest. That is freaking awesome. More, please.
So the problem here to me is not so much that we need less "OMG FAT" in movies (although we do need less, because the aggregate effect normalizes the idea that all women do and should worry about this all the time) but more that if a character is going to worry about her weight then in addition to the "you're beautiful as yourself" message, she also needs to hear a "the cultural standards of beauty are deliberately unreachable because otherwise the diet and beauty industries would dry up entirely, so why spend your life miserably chasing an unattainable fantasy" message. Well, I'd like to hear more of that in movies, anyway.
Also, we need more women (and men) of all sizes enjoying food in movies without being demonized for it. Enjoying food is a good thing.
5. Violent People Should Not Be Idolized.
Thank you Cracked, for taking on a film scene that made me want to scream -- the Jennifer-Garner-attacks-a-blind-man-because-she's-a-Strong-Woman-natch scene in Daredevil. This, thank you, this. This is not something that I idolize. This is not something that makes feminists pump their fist in the air and go yeeaaaaahhhhhhwwwwOOOOooooohhh! This is something that makes me cringe because are you kidding me Jennifer Garner is attacking a blind man.
And then the next time the subject of domestic violence comes up, someone will say, "Oh, but no one complains when women hit men for no reason, like in Daredevil." DO YOU HEAR ME, INTERNET? I AM COMPLAINING. I do not like it when women hit men for no reason. I do not like it when anyone hits anyone for no reason. I do not like the glorification of violence-for-violence's-sake in our culture.
I do like a beautifully choreographed fight scene, but for goodness sake, let it have some kind of justified meaning behind it besides Strong Wimmins Kick Peoples. The Matrix had Carrie-Anne Moss kicking butt and taking names and I don't think I ever once thought my god this woman is a danger to society someone stop her. I'm pretty sure I've thought that about every Jennifer Garner character ever. (No, wait, I just looked her up on IMDB to refresh my memory and I liked her in Juno. So really, I just think that about her Elektra character. Phew.)
4. Competing Cultural Expectations a.k.a. Heads-I-Win-Tails-You-Lose.
Sweet googly-moogly, has Cracked.com always been progressive and I just never noticed? They're bringing up the taboo topic of the working poor and how hard it is to make a living wage in an article about female stereotypes? THANK YOU. In addition to the women who need to learn how to Find A Man in spite of their six-figure dream job, there's the flip side of the single working mom who is tired and impoverished... and it's a tragedy for her children.
I don't want to be insensitive here. It probably is hard on a child to grow up in an environment where their parents aren't around as much as they need them to be. (I say "probably" because I do believe this, but I don't have any studies handy, so I don't want to present this as Unvarnished Fact when it's really just my unsupported opinion, but now I'm worried that the "probably" will water it down and make me sound like a terrible person.) I fully support high-income, low-hour weeks for everyone so that parents of all genders can spend more time with their families and can nurture and emotionally support themselves and their loved ones. This seems like a hallmark of a healthy society, and I continue to be surprised that anyone would find this view controversial in any way.
However, there's that aggregate effect we're always talking about in terms of women and how their lives are portrayed in the media. If a woman's crappy, demanding, wearisome job keeps being shown solely in terms of how it's taking a toll on her child, and we only ever see the situation from the child's point of view, we run the risk of obscuring the woman's pain from the equation. And every time she manages to drag herself through a sleepless night to miraculously sew that Halloween costume or bake those classroom cupcakes or help on that important science fair project, we're seeing the child's happiness and triumph without considering that oh my god that woman needs a rest break and society has failed her. And the unfortunate implication is that women need to be superhuman or their children will suffer. Bootstraps!
And god forbid that a loving, caring mother might not see the Vital Importance of staying up all night sewing the magic Halloween costume.
3. Women Fighting Women.
Dear Hollywood: I really don't want to go back to the classic days when James Bond beat up girls on his own while grinning like it was the funnest thing since they invented water slides, but there must be a better solution than having the Bond Good Girl and the Bond Bad Girl tear each other's hair out. Please hire Jessica Valenti and Melissa McEwan to solve this problem.
1. Materialism, see also Diet and and Beauty Industries above.
Yes! We just skipped out of order!
I really wanted to like "Sex in the City" but I couldn't get on board with all the shopping. I love that the Cracked article makes the Playstation comparison and in doing so eschews the children starving in China argument, because as much as I'm sympathetic to the argument I also recognize that it tends to be pulled out to justify why women can't have nice things far more often than it's used to justify why men can't have them. So avoiding the obvious charity high horse, I'll say that I can totally get behind a story with a woman who loves brand names and enjoys shopping and has a lovely time lavishing gifts on herself... but I had a hard time when it seemed like all the characters were that way.
I don't know if the stereotype was that all women should and do love those expensive designer shoes and handbags or just that all women in The City should and do love those expensive designer shoes and handbags, but it just wasn't doing it for me. I hate shopping and my purse brand is eBags because they have a nice pouch for my eReader. So, long story short, if we must talk about shopping in a movie, TV show, or other forms of entertainment, let's have more diverse interests represented than just Shoes and Handbags. How about a gal who shops for video games or likes imported cheeses?
2. They Tip Over.
This is the best one, and it's the reason Justin-who-is-awesome sent me this awesome article.
But if you make your lady character too perfect, nobody in the audience can identify with her. You can't compromise on the looks or the weight, obviously. You can't compromise by giving her a realistic job. She can't be a jerk, or the audience won't root for her. If you're doing one of those career vs. personal life plots, then her flaw is that she loves her career too much, so you got that cut out for you. Any other plot, the only option you've got left is to make her clumsy.
That's why pretty much all romantic comedy women are clumsy. Like Jessica Alba in Good Luck Chuck, Amy Adams in Leap Year, Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality... oh hell here's a montage.
I had never realized this before, but it's not just Bella Swan.
The clumsy thing? The she-falls-over-and-it's-hilarious thing? The informed flaw that lets Edward and Co. pick Bella up and carry her around like a toy doggie and additionally acts up to put her in implausible danger as needed? This thing is a trope.
It's a perfect-pretty-women-need-something-wrong-with-them trope. It's a trope to make them less perfect, more flawed, more accessible. It's a trope to make them more likeable by the women in the audience and more attainable by the men. It's a trope to make them less competent, less frightening, less intimidating.
Let me just repeat that. In order for a woman to be more likeable and less intimidating, she has to hurt herself a lot. She has to nearly die because of her clumsiness, as with Jennifer Lopez and the shoe and Random Actress I Don't Recognize in the tree. The on-screen shorthand for "approachable woman" is someone who falls over frequently to the point of seriously injuring herself or even dying.
Stephenie Meyer didn't come up with this. Society did.
I don't know what else to add to this. I'm not sure I can. I really can't believe I hadn't noticed this before, that all the times I was railing against ableism and Unfortunate Implications and everything else in Twilight over Bella's chronic clumsiness, I never realized that I've seen this a hundred times before. I was just noticing it in Twilight because it's taken up to 11, like so much else that is problematic in that series. I'm not sure what else to say except to thank Justin for pointing this out to me.
Wait. I can think of something else. Cracked.com missed something. There's a seventh obnoxious assumption that Hollywood keeps making about women, and you can see it in the montage above in addition to all the falling over: we're not all white, thin, cis-gendered, and white. You might want to work on that, Hollywood.