May 3, 2010

The Token Feminists are Missing

A few months ago, I saw the-little-remix-video-that-could Buffy vs. Edward , and I subsequently fell back in love with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” (No kidding – I’ve watched the first three seasons on Netflix in the last 4 weeks). I started watching Buffy when I was 13, in the prime of my uncomfortable adolescence – we’re talking the braces, puffy hair, nose is too big for my face, but I’ve only just realized that….yeeeah. But it wasn’t all bad, and I’ve certainly heard worse junior high/high school horror stories. And, of course, I had Buffy….

One of my favorite aspects of the way that Buffy was written is the fact that she was not continually made into a victim before she had to opportunity to protect/defend herself or others. And, the vast majority of female characters are given power to protect themselves (whether it was physical [e.g. Faith] or supernatural [e.g. Anya and Willow]). I’m not going to waste too much time singing the praises of how Buffy (though sadly not Gellar herself), as well as her creator Joss Whedon, are feminist. That has been written. Many, many times. There are some valid complaints, but overall Buffy was, and continues to be, a great example of what we’re capable of. However, if you’re still not convinced and want to fight about I’ll definitely take you on *note sarcasm.*

Feeling a little drunken 90’s nostalgia, I realized that it wasn’t just Buffy. Through all of my phases and changes, I had many strong female characters to model my confused, dorky, adolescent self after. In retrospect the 90’s seem to be the era of fabulous feminist characters: Roseanne, Jesse Spano (Saved by the Bell), Murphy Brown, Rory Gilmore, The Powerpuff Girls, Dana Foster (Step-by-Step), Lisa Simpson, Andrea Zuckerman (90210), A Different World (several characters over the course), Dharma (Dharma and Greg), Marcy D’Arcy (Married with Children), Dark Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, BlossomJoey and Jen (Dawson’s Creek)….ok, I think you get the point.

So, now what I do want to know if where are all of the feminist characters? Why is it that all we see are these vapid, homogeneous, BORING female characters? Given the fact that the media that young women consume (everyone really, but I’ve never been an adolescent boy) serves as such an incredibly strong influence/unavoidable force on the creation of our self-identity and personal paradigm – I’m left wondering if Bella Swan, the girls from The Hills, Sookie oh-so-annoying Stackhouse, and Tina Fey  are the only examples that this generation of young women are growing up with? For the life of me I can’t find one female character on television that I would want my young daughter looking up to (sadly, not even my beloved Mad Men is stacking up).

What’s worse is that it isn’t just the characters. The actresses that are playing these less-than-role-model-worthy characters – or themselves (e.g. The Hills) – are not quick to pick up a feminist lifeline. Kristin Stewart has said that she doesn’t understand why feminists critique The Twilight Saga, and that “Bella wears the pants in the relationship. She’s the sure-footed, confident one…It takes a lot of power and strength to subject yourself to someone completely, to give up the power.” WHAT? Are we talking about the same story? The one where her boyfriends is a sexist stalker and she is powerless to defend herself?? She has also discussed how she grew up feeling like as a woman she could do anything.

And, there – in that statement – are our answers. The media has convinced this generation of young women that feminism is obsolete, that it’s outdated and outmoded, and that to align yourself with it is to be a pariah. They truly believe that we are living in a post-feminist world. I have heard the word “humanist” being substituted where “feminist” used to live comfortably in the mouth….and heart.

Seems a dangerous world to live in where we have to convince even the young women that the gender balances are unequal….they have finally convinced them that the lies are the truth. That we are powerful as long as we are sexy…and, so, this is what they strive for…..