Friday, October 17, 2014

Feminist Quandary

Since she's been a big deal in the news recently, I've become aware of Anita Sarkeesian, and started watching her YouTube videos.

I have a wife and daughters, and I want to do right by them, hopefully being a part in creating a world that's more hospitable to them to succeed and be happy. As a writer, that means I need to try to avoid tropes and stereotypes in my writing, I assume.

She does a whole series of videos about the tropes used in storytelling that are reinforcing negative gender stereotypes called Tropes vs. Women. Watching these videos makes me feel a little bit afraid to do anything creatively, though. Some of the tropes I don't think I'll have any problem avoiding, such as the Straw Feminist or the Mystical Pregnancy (Simi's pregnancy in Fireflies isn't a mystical pregnancy, right? Crap, maybe I haven't avoided it). But others I'm afraid I'll probably fall into even though I'm trying not to.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is something that I'm afraid I might be doing in the story I'm writing right now. I'm not even sure I understand that one 100% yet. I get the idea that the problem is that these MPDGs don't have any life of their own, and are there purely to forward the story of the male protagonist. And, from what I understand, the way to avoid this is to make the MPDGs have a fully rounded character that has dreams and goals of its own that aren't dependent on the male character at all. But, if these characters are young slacker-types that don't really have any idea about what they want to do with their lives yet, and then the female performs MPDG-type services for the male character, does that make her an MPDG? And if they get married and make a life together, therefore, in a way, combining their goals and dreams into one, does she remain an MPDG? I don't want to perpetuate tropes and stereotypes, but I'm not even sure if I am or not.

Then there's the Evil Demon Seductress. I have a story that Rish and I have talked about or at least made reference to dozens of times on the show. We usually call it the Alien Love Story. I'm going to just summarize the whole story here, and then we can discuss it after.

It's a story about a guy who's a real nerd. He's never had a girlfriend, and he is very despondent about it. He works in Washington at the Pentagon as a secretary for some bigshot general or another. One day, he's going home at night, and he hears a big crash, and sees that someone has fallen in the alley beside his building. He runs to help, and finds that it's a woman, and a very beautiful woman at that. He takes her to the hospital, where they patch her up, but she can't remember anything about herself or anything else. She doesn't know where she lives, who she is, and so on. She asks the guy to take care of her, and he agrees. After all, she's gorgeous, and he's really lonely. In no time flat, he has fallen in love with this woman. She returns his affection. They get married. After the honeyglow has worn off, he starts to notice weird things about her. Eventually, he comes to the conclusion that his wife has been possessed by an alien. He confronts her, she admits that he's right. He says he's going to turn her in, she says he won't, and here's why, because if he does, he won't get to have her body anymore. Basically, she uses her sexuality to keep him in line, and, because he's lonely and vulnerable, he is defeated in that manner.

Now, there's more to the story, including a bit of a twist ending that really makes the story work for me, but after seeing the Evil Demon Seductress video, I'm not sure if I should ever write this story at all. It's just a sexist story, right? It teaches people that women are only powerful because of men's desire for their lady parts, and nothing else, right? Like Anita was saying in that video. Should I bother? Am I wrong with my analysis? Is there a way to save the story, and still write it without making it a degrading trope? Please, comment and tell me your thoughts on the matter.


  1. Hmmm The story as you summarized it does sound a bit like "women are bodies for us to enjoy". I'm sure there are more layers to what you stated here, though.

    This made me think about the article by Maureen Dowd about the feminist uprising around Gone Girl. She makes some good points:

  2. Hey, Big. First of all, congratulations on making yourself aware of these tropes. You’re already half way to resolving your conflict just by being aware. Secondly, it is nearly impossible to write a story without tropes. Probably easier in short stories, but still really hard. And if you do succeed, you may find your audience isn’t happy. A complex, round, multi-faceted character requires a certain amount of work from the audience—just like getting to know a real person is work. On the other hand, a flat, simple, instantly-knowable trope or archetype requires very little effort or attention from the audience. “The obnoxious mother-in-law” is instantly unknowable, right off the shelf. That’s one of the many reasons that stories usually contain a host of flat characters and only a few round ones.

    Unfortunately, a disproportionately large number of the stock female characters are insulting and sexist. If you use those characters, you should, at the very least, be aware of what you’re playing into. You may still choose to play that card, but make it a conscious choice, not an accident.

    If you see a trope you don’t want to perpetuate, there are often a million ways to subvert it. Seriously. Subverting tropes is one of the chief joys of story-telling. For the story you’ve described, you can side-step the whole issue by writing gay characters. Two guys or two girls. Boom. Now their behavior and dynamics can no longer be attributed to their gender differences. It’s all about their individual personalities. Alternatively, you can do a gender swap—have the alien be a male hottie and the lonely lady just can’t get off his dick. Frankly, it’s still a bit insulting to everyone involved, but that’s a much less common dynamic and more interesting. If you want something more subtle, you could stick with your original gender dynamics, but give the alien lady real power – social, political, economic, physical – something besides her lovely lady lumps. This the kind of power that men generally wield in these types of stories – actual coercive force.