Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Female Characters

A while back, I overheard someone in one of my classes talking about how Frankenstein has a very "feminine" feel to it, despite that Mary Shelley was writing from a male character's perspective. It sounded like he was complaining about it, but that might just be the way I interpreted it.

I kind of froze for a second. What does that even mean?

Here's the thing. I've heard variations of that complaint about a lot of things. I was playing Just Dance at my friend's house once, and she had some of her other friends over. So her friends, these two twin guys, are trying to play, but one of them would have to be a female character for that particular song. And he threw a minor tantrum over it, as though having a female icon for, like, three minutes of a game would completely emasculate him.

I think at that point, I shouted out at him,"Seriously? Because if I want to play a video game, I have to play as a dude all the time."

And it's true. I wouldn't call myself an avid gamer, but most of the games I play-- and all of the games I grew up on-- featured male protagonists. And when games do have female characters, it's still from a "male" perspective, being that game creators are usually straight men. Meaning they're either a) hypersexualized, b) useless/helpless/boring/whatever else within the context of the game, and/or c) a one-dimensional plot device. I've linked to her before, but Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency does a great job of breaking down a lot of the stereotypes of women in video games and in pop culture in general.

But back to Frankenstein. What I wanted to ask my classmate was: "Have you read a book about women written by a man?"

He would say yes. We all would say yes. And maybe you have to very socially-conscious to notice, but books about women written by men are generally horrifying. At best, many of them are cliched and stereotypical; at worst, the reader gets a very distinct sense of just how much the author hates women, which can be incredibly damaging on both an individual and a societal level (as is the case with the Beat Poets and Charles Bukowski-- in my experience, anyway).

I'm not the best judge of whether or not Frankenstein is a convincingly "masculine" character, but I think at worst, it's just not believable. It's not damaging; it won't make male readers hate themselves, or female readers see men as inferior. It's just unrealistic.
Junot Diaz, a Dominican-born writer and activist, actually has a great quote on the subject:

If you’re a boy writer, it’s a simple rule: you’ve gotta get used to the fact that you suck at writing women and that the worst woman writer can write a better man than the best male writer can write a good woman. And it’s just the minimum. Because the thing about the sort of heteronormative masculine privilege, whether it’s in Santo Domingo, or the United States, is you grow up your entire life being told that women aren’t human beings, and that women have no independent subjectivity.
And I think the first step is to admit that you, because of your privilege, have a very distorted sense of women’s subjectivity. And without an enormous amount of assistance, you’re not even going to get a D. I think with male writers the most that you can hope for is a D with an occasional C thrown in. Where the average women writer, when she writes men, she gets a B right off the bat, because they spent their whole life being taught that men have a subjectivity. In fact, part of the whole feminism revolution was saying, “Me too, motherf--.” So women come with it built in because of the society.
The full quote is slightly inappropriate for this blog, but you can google it-- I think it's much more impactful.

Just something to think about.

Stay classy,

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