Female Heroines and Sexual Harassment

Female Heroines and Sexual Harassment August 18, 2013

Sadly, the title of this post may be a little misleading. Namely, I’ve found some interesting links/drawings regarding female heroines and sexual harassment, separately, and because I found some of them from the same source I thought I’d share them together in one place. However, if someone wants to write a guest post about female heroines and sexual harassment, let me know, because that sounds like an awesome post. 😛

First I want to start with a cartoon drawn by Jim C. Hines:

The man who created the above cartoon is perhaps most famous for images he has posted of himself in the poses that grace the covers of fantasy novels. He discussed the female poses here and the male poses here. He also has a roundup of all his posts on the topic here. His commentary is fascinating, especially his discussion of female poses versus male poses.

Next, a couple of months ago, Hines wrote a fascinating post on “sexism and kick-butt heroines.” Here is an excerpt:

Take the story of the kick-butt heroine, a trope that’s become incredibly popular over the past decade or two. Now, I appreciate this trope — I’m a huge Buffy fan — and I’ve written this kind of character myself on multiple occasions. But there are ways in which it’s problematic. Sure, it’s incredibly satisfying to see the heroine physically whoop the harasser/abuser/etc. But when that’s the dominant story we’re sharing, aren’t we basically suggesting that it’s the women’s job to physically overpower and defeat their aggressors? As opposed to men learning to move beyond such behaviors, or to challenge such things when we see them?

The kick-but heroine is certainly one solution, but it’s one that puts responsibility on the victims, and by implication, puts the blame on those victims if for any reason they were unable to physically stop what’s essentially an ongoing culture of systemic sexism.

There are other stories and other characters we need to share. Stories that show men and women as equals. That show relationships built on respect. Stories that give us more than one token example per book of a strong female character. Stories that move away from narrowly defined roles.

But what really made me think of this was another article, this one from the New Statesmen. It is provocatively titled “I Hate Strong Female Characters.”

Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong.

I hate Strong Female Characters.

As someone spends a fair amount of time complaining on the internet that there aren’t enough female heroes out there, this may seem a strange and out of character thing to say.

And of course, I love all sorts of female characters who exhibit great resilience and courage. I love it when Angel asks Buffy what’s left when he takes away her weapons and her friends and she grabs his sword between her palms and says “Me.” In Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I love Zhang Ziyi’s Jen sneering “He is my defeated foe” when asked if she’s related to Chow Yun-Fat’s Li Mu Bai. I love Jane Eyre declaring “I care for myself” despite the world’s protracted assault on her self-esteem. My despair that the film industry believes the world is more ready for a film featuring a superhero who is a raccoon than it is for a film led by a superhero who is a woman is long and loud.

But the phrase “Strong Female Character” has always set my teeth on edge, and so have many of characters who have so plainly been written to fit the bill.

I don’t feel like I really have anything to add, but this conversation about strong female characters is a good one. It makes me think of female pioneers, too—it is right to praise women who shatter glass ceilings, but we also have to remember that there shouldn’t be glass ceilings to shatter, and that for every woman who shatters one there are thousands of others who don’t make it.

You know what? Maybe these things connect after all. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if all of these expectations that women have to be “kick-ass” or “strong” play some role in shaping how people react to accusations of sexual harassment.

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