A Must-Read Article on Female Characters in Popular Culture
The supposed shallowness of pop culture is deceptive: It is a realm where brilliant and talented people go to try to shape minds at their most unguarded and impressionable. It is on the ground of entertainment media that the so-called culture wars have largely been lost.
On more recent Disney princesses:
Despite their likeableness and roundedness as characters, these new princesses betray some concerning anxieties about women’s place and agency within the world. Within the kickass princess trope lurks the implication that, to prove equality of dignity, worth, agency, and significance as a character, all of a woman’s resolve, wisdom, courage, love, kindness, self-sacrifice, and other traits simply aren’t enough—she must be capable of putting men in their place by outmatching them in endeavors and strengths that naturally favor them, or otherwise making them look weak or foolish.
What happens to women when you deny creational gender norms:
Were such characters rare or occasional exceptions, it could fairly be claimed that they serve to resist the closure of certain possibilities to women—a worthwhile end indeed. However, when they increasingly represent a norm among the most prominent female characters in popular culture, they cease to be a message of empowerment and become something closer to an indictment upon the natural strengths and tendencies of women relative to men as a sex.
What happens to women and men when you deny creational gender norms:
The recurring characterization problems with such Strong Female Characters arise in no small measure from the struggle to show that men and women are interchangeable and can compete and cooperate with each other on the same terms. As I have already noted, this falsehood serves no one. It sets women up for frustration and failure as they have to justify their agency on men’s terms and it produces an embarrassment about male strengths that should be celebrated rather than stifled.
What our fiction says about our impoverished vision for the sexes:
Fictional worlds are places in which we can explore possibilities for identity and agency. The fact that women’s stature as full agents is so consistently treated as contingent upon such things as their physical strength and combat skills, or upon the exaggerated weakness or their one-upping of the men that surround them, is a sign that, even though men may be increasingly stifled within it, women are operating in a realm that plays by men’s rules. The possibility of a world in which women are the weaker sex, yet can still attain to the stature and dignity of full agents and persons—the true counterparts and equals of men—seems to be, for the most part, beyond people’s imaginative grasp. This is a limitation of imagination with painful consequences for the real world, and is one of the causes of the high degree of ressentiment within the feminist movement.
Roberts ends his piece with a constructive vision of femininity and its rules and domain taken from Proverbs 31.