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16 February 2004 @ 15:02
 
Okay: I have a meta-type question for y'all. It actually began as a thought I had on a thread in TWoP, but it's not exactly show-specific...

Do you think that, as women in fandom, we ever judge female characters (particularly the love interests of popular characters) differently or more harshly than we would their male counterparts?
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mood: curiouscurious
 
 
 
tatty bojangles: courtesy of purple_smurfapocalypsos on 16th February 2004 21:10 (UTC)
I have issues with characters the second they start being defined as "role models for women." Especially because as soon as that happens, the character inevitably is pushed to be independent and strong to the point of annoyance. *cough*buffy*cough*
Doctor Sciencemecurtin on 16th February 2004 21:11 (UTC)
we ever judge female characters (particularly the love interests of popular characters) more harshly than we would their male counterparts?

Yes, but -- shows hardly ever have a "Guy of the Week" syndrome. Generally speaking, female characters on TV are not as well-written as male characters, especially in the genre shows we love.
ljctaraljc on 16th February 2004 21:17 (UTC)
I was thinking more along the liens or regulars than guest stars. And I just edited the post to say "difierently or more harshly" to clarify...

basically, the discussion started about "Firefly" (specifically Kaylee in teh Simon/Kaylee relationship) and where I saw gender issues, no one else did--so now I'm curious as to everybody else's thoughts on the subject, in whichever fandom(s) they're in...
Re: - wemblee on 18th February 2004 02:58 (UTC) (Expand)
I have a mitten and a chicken puppet!: pray for good writerstzikeh on 16th February 2004 21:15 (UTC)
Do you think that, as women in fandom, we ever judge female characters (particularly the love interests of popular characters) more harshly than we would their male counterparts?

I think this is a very complex question that you've asked in a rather broad fashion, and it can't be answered simply or easily. There are too many factors to take into account to give a glib response - because it isn't just judging female characters that we're talking about here, but how women are written for screen, who is cast in the roles and why, and the part female characters play in modern storytelling. To even begin to talk about judging any example of a female character on a television show, you'd have to give specifics as to which character, compared to whom, etc.
ljc: eddietaraljc on 16th February 2004 21:26 (UTC)
Re:
Okay, to give specific examples from fandoms I've been in/observed from afar:

Chloe and/or Lana, versus Clark and/or Lex, on SV

Kaylee and/or Inara, vs Mal and/or Simon, on Firefly

Nat and/or Janette, vs Nick and/or LaCroix, on FK

Hermione & Ginny, vs Harry & Ron

Buffy vs Angel

for that matter, Willow and Cordy, vs Xander and Wes or really any combo in the Whedonverse...

and I edited the post to clarify "different or harshly" because I think that's part of what I mean. That we as women approach the female characters differently simply because we are women...

What interests me is that I've seen in various forums markedly different reactions to character's behaviour, depending on the gender of the character in question. Like how Lex's investigation of Clark is treated differently than Chloe's investigation of Clark--and how that plays out in all three seasons in fandom as well as in canon.

Or how much more sensitive we might be to the way women are portrayed, versus the guys...
Re: - meril on 17th February 2004 01:15 (UTC) (Expand)
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Re: Also found this from metablog - taraljc on 17th February 2004 04:14 (UTC) (Expand)
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Re: - wemblee on 18th February 2004 19:23 (UTC) (Expand)
Molly's come and gonenitasee on 16th February 2004 21:21 (UTC)
Not sure about that. Yes, I think so, though generally women in fandom tend to ignore the female characters more than anything else. Unless their the centre of the series like, say, Buffy.

I have seen the extreme of outright hostility to female characters. There's one person I know who will hate any major female character in a show and think they should be killed off immediately. No matter what show, no matter how intergral. For example, she vehemently hated Scully in the X-Files and was consantly saying they should just kill her off and be done with it. I don't even think she realizes it's a pattern with her.

I think for a lot of female fans, they want to project themselves into the female lead (unconsciously or not). Unfortunately, since they didn't write the character, the character can never be a good enough simulation to themselves (i.e. "I would never have done that", "that's stupid. I would have done it differently"). Since the character can't live up to their fantasy selves, they critize it. They don't do that with the male characters so much, because that's usually the one they want to interact with.

Of course, I could be full of crap.
Dances With Vampires: Java Java Javayahtzee63 on 16th February 2004 21:22 (UTC)
IMHO, we do one of two things: We either tend to judge the women really harshly OR the men really harshly. Truly equal-opportunity bashers are rare in fandom, and I include myself. Personally, I tend to affiliate most strongly with male characters (Angel, Jack Bristow, Wolverine), though this is not 100% true (anytime it was Mulder vs. Scully, I was on Scully's team.)

I honestly think we tend to work out a lot of old-relationship grudges or sexual politics through fandom. Sometimes I have joked to myself that female fans either think the male romantic leads are their NEXT boyfriend (in which case he can do no wrong, and no woman ever affiliated with him is quite good enough), or think the male romantic leads are their LAST boyfriend (in which case the guy is completely no good, and any woman ever affiliated with him is his victim and entitled to wreak vengeance once day, hopefully soon.)

Even in purely slash contexts, I think people tend to strongly identify with types of characters that probably correlate to this in some sense.
ljc: heighttaraljc on 16th February 2004 21:42 (UTC)
Re:
What's getting me is the idea that we don't bring gender into it--when I can't see how we can't, if that makes sense. I mean, I know based on 15 years of fannish behaviour that most of the time, I identify with the girls. There are rare instances where I identify with the guys (I admit that I actually really do identify more with Simon than Kaylee, and Doyle much mroe than Cordy). And sometimes, it's equal (I think Jake and Diane is a 50-50 split).

But gender is tied up in that for me. It's easier for me to have context where the girls are concerned becasue, well, I'm a girl. So I judge them from my own experiences. Having never been a guy, I'm aware that there are blind spots in how I regard male characters, and their actions. God knows I want to whap Clark Kent upside the head with a kryptonite brick 99% of the time, whereas Jake Foley just charms me to pieces, and I love Mal to bits even when he's being an ass... And I am more willing to cut a character slack (more slack than they deserve, at times) when they're my fave.

But I think you're dead on correct about the last/next boyfriend analogy. I remember in FK fandom specifically an interesting split between folks for whom Nick Knight can never, ever never be forgiven for the way he treated Nat, and the opposite side who looked at Nick and though the hung the moon and could do no wrong and what a bitch Nat could be, etc....
Re: - yahtzee63 on 16th February 2004 21:58 (UTC) (Expand)
Re: - amilyn on 16th February 2004 22:50 (UTC) (Expand)
Re: - djinanna on 17th February 2004 06:54 (UTC) (Expand)
Sullivizzle fo' shizzle!: devil inside-sullivanlanesullivanlane on 16th February 2004 21:25 (UTC)
As some others before me have touched upon, it has a lot to do with how women are written for the screen compared to their male counterparts. First of all, there is about a 60-40 ratio of men-women characters. So there's already a bias toward males. Usually, as well, it is white men who are writing the characters, so they don't necessarily "know" how to write realistic women. (This is of course just a generalized comment and in no means does it encompass all writers.)

Usually, women are defined by OTHER male characters, as opposed to male characters (love interest, best friend, etc.), who are often defined by their jobs/roles (superhero, police officer). This is why characters like Chloe Sullivan appeal to me -- yes, she was initially introduced as Clark's pining best friend, but they flipped the switch pretty quickly by establishing her as the journalist -- she was defined by her own interests instead of the male characters around her. She has a primary purpose that doesn't consist solely of being the Love Interest. It puts her on par with the male characters, who are arguably more fleshed out than female characters in general are. Her storylines are as meaty as, say, Lex's or Clark's.

I hope I've answered your question at least with some clarity. Sometimes I get muddy. :-p
Neva Toad: Tokenmice on 16th February 2004 21:30 (UTC)
Interesting.

Very few shows - of the action/adventure variety - have a wide ensemble cast of females. When you have the token female, you need to make her appealing to male audiences, but make ehr smart to appeal to the female audience. This combination of a buxom lass with a genius IQ and sense of confidence in herself and all those other perfect traits are annoying.

Jake 2.0 has a wonderful female cast we have the one we can identify with - Diane, and we have one who has a gun and cool moves - ...uhm, other woman who's name I forget. Sarah has all the features of what a token female character should have, so she's aggravating to most.

Smallville - you have Chloe, who is, in my opinion, a good character and you have Lana, who is, in my opinion, laundry lint. One character has believable faults and the other is the show trying to stress how to identify her as someone people should want to emulate.

I feel that judgement is put on a female character more if the show wants to focus how perfect she is. The reason why Buffy worked (for a good five seasons) was that each of the characters wasn't meant to be the most perfect (though Buffy was at times and that annoyed me). Everyone of them had things they struggled with - personality flaws that got them into trouble.

In comparison, there's Fred on Angel who someone just has to breathe on her and she's tied up and gagged.

I feel that when you try to create a female character, most shows focus on how to make her appealing across the board instead of believable. It all comes down to characterization - if Chloe is attacked in the woods and no one is around to hear it, it's drama. If Lana is attacked in the woods and no one is around to hear it, it's just another Wednesday night.
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peeps wanna see peeps boink: importantmusesfool on 16th February 2004 22:18 (UTC)
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Yeah, Sarah's pretty much said what I was going to. I have my issues with Buffy (and Willow), but I've never understood the sheer vitriol she attracts from so many female fans.

I also admit to the same sort of bias - my loathing for Lana Lang and Jean Grey knows no bounds but generally speaking, this is because I see them as taking something the character with whom I identify most wants (i.e., Chloe wants Clark but Lana has him. Therefore, I hate Lana).

I think for many of us in fandom, when we say "our boys" we mean it viscerally, and how dare that bitch treat him badly etc.

There's a huge vein of misogyny in fandom, in both slash and het (and I can see it in myself as well, much as I try to not give into it, so I'm not saying I'm immune), and I'm always surprised when people claim there isn't.
Re: - musesfool on 16th February 2004 22:25 (UTC) (Expand)
Re: - thepouncer on 17th February 2004 01:07 (UTC) (Expand)
octopedingenue on 16th February 2004 21:48 (UTC)
I've wondered this myself in light of my Raging Buffy (the character) Issues circa/post season 6 of "Buffy".

Though I'm pretty damned sure that if it'd been a male character treating the people around him the way that Buffy did--especially the opposite-gender person she/he was sexually involved with--I'd have been screaming my HEAD off in outrage long before I even actually stopped cutting female-Buffy the slack did. And NOW would stil be shrieking its collective head off over the alley-beating in "Dead Things".
Minim Calibreminim_calibre on 16th February 2004 22:35 (UTC)
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Out of curiousity, where do you stand on how Wesley acted with Lilah?

Because they were effectively using the same storyline as Buffy/Spike, only with better writing and more clarity of purpose, and from a reversed gender perspective. (I think that the difference in the stock genre tropes for Angel vs. those for Buffy helped the former tell that particular story better, but that's tied up in my issues with how in S6 and S7, BtVS muddled their use of them in such a way as to completely muck up what they were trying to say.)
Re: - djinanna on 17th February 2004 07:07 (UTC) (Expand)
Re: - minim_calibre on 17th February 2004 08:02 (UTC) (Expand)
Katta: BIB Melissakattahj on 16th February 2004 22:08 (UTC)
Well... I think it could be argued that I do.

Mostly because my initial reaction was "What, are you kidding me? They're not judged harshly enough!" and then I went "hang on..." because I'd just become your case in point. :-)

I think female characters are more polarized - both for me and for many others. They're adored to pieces or they're vilified. I can think of very few female characters who are given a "yeah, whatever, she's okay..." Obviously, strong emotions can meet male characters as well, but I think indifference is a more common response to them than to the girls.

Personally, my dislike is mostly directed towards main characters of both sexes, but among the secondary characters, I do tend to like the guys better than the girls.
Merlin Missymtgat on 16th February 2004 22:33 (UTC)
Short answer: yes, and often.

Long answer: it depends. Yahtzee and nitasee are right on the money with it being what we bring to the table as fans. Who do you see yourself as in relation to these characters? Do you identify with the female character, or do you see the male lead as standing in for a guy in your life? Is the character in question in the way of your OTP? Or is she only there because someone on the writing staff wants to date someone just like her? As was already said, female characters written entirely by male writers generally get defined by whom they're dating, or whom they're related to. (Not that female writers always get it better -- look at Marti.)

As a trend, yes, we do judge the actions of female characters at a different level than the actions of males. The trick is to identify the difference in ourselves when we're doing it, and figure out why. Is it the writing, the acting, or is it us?
The Reconfigurable Mind: let me thinktanacawyr on 16th February 2004 22:39 (UTC)
Random observations ...

Female characters so often ... stink ... that I feel myself expressing extremes of frustration towards the whole idea when I see them. In my current fandom, there was ONE good female character, and one that was basically a tongue depressor with hair. When the women are often nothing but denial bimbos or the upcoming dead girlfriend of the week, my teeth are on edge the second I see a woman's name in the "guest starring" credits at the opening of the show because I know what's coming. (Whoever invented to concept of the "Actress-Model" need sto be staked out on an anthill and covered in molasses.)

So for me, I think I judge female characters more harshly simply because I'm used to feeling nothing but frustration and insult when I see one. Especially in genre television, it's about as horrific as it can get; I've ranted about the character I call Captain Bambi Fellatio before. "Her firm yet impossibly enormous breasts gyrated mesmerizingly as she slinked forward to receive her medal of honor." *puke*

That said, I have noticed a weird behavior in me as a slash fan (almost exclusively a slash fan). I slash the guys, but I watch for the women. This means that the number of fandoms I've had has been extremely low compared to most slashfans. If the female characters are harpies, bimbos, denial chicks, or just crappily written and cast, I wil not watch or like the show, no matter how good the slash potential is. If the women are interesting and fun (if there are even women present), I'll watch -- and then if there's slash potential, I'll cue in on that.

Of course, this narrows down the number of shows I've watched and enjoyed to nearly nothing. Barring that, I've stuck safely to shows with all-male casts, as it's less painful to see a total absence of women than to see us portrayed so piss-poorly.

And I think that most viewers are also going to identify with the hero in a show, most often male. His emotional struggles define the theme of the movie, events in his life drive the plot forward. He is meant to be the person every viewer identifies with. The twist comes because Hollyweird insists that all viewers are male, and as a result, the asterisk demographic of women viewers are also taught to identify with the male lead. Thus, when the girlfriend trips and falls while running from the monster, we don't offer her any sympathy; we just get annoyed and ticked off on the hero's behalf. We're taught to view the world as if we were a member of that 18-34 year old white straight male demographic.

I'm not interested in identifying with some teenaged boy's sexual fantasy. I'm almost 40, I'm a professional educated woman with a hard science background, and I'm queer. The only female character I've ever felt I could identify with in genre TV was Sam Carter in "Stargate." And I think a lot of slash fans disliked her because they were so used to hating the denial bimbos on every other show that they cranked up the hate machine before realizing that she didn't fit that mold.

Random thoughts on a Monday morning ...
Brassy Hagmiggy on 16th February 2004 22:44 (UTC)
I do indeed judge female characters harshly. I do this because they're typically written by men who create stereotypes, rather than fully-realized characters like the male characters are. Most of the women on scripted television are not people I would want to know, or even find particuarly interesting.

Susan Lewis on ER is a wonderful, wonderful character, but most of the other women could be easily labeled with some archetype and the writers never tried to break them out of that. Weaver's the shrill, bossy lesbian; Abby's the depressed girl with an abortion; Jing-Mei's the bitchy ethnic girlfriend; Elizabeth's the bitchy divorcee. Some of them have seen better characterizations this season, but for the most part, it was like John Wells decided that the women would fill preconceived gender notions, while the men would actually have believable personalities and then react appropriately to the storyline of the week.

When a show is supposed to be all super-feminist, yay, that's when I really know to be on my guard. My mother is an accomplished, strong women in a position of power, and she would call just about every single women on BtVS a worthless, whiny bitch. She's a real feminist, because she's a level-headed person with a lot of talent and power who happens to be XX instead of XY. That's impressive, and that's what you hardly ever see on TV. Buffy being a hateful, abusive bitch without any useful skills, who is actively anti-intellectual, who demands respect from others but never gives it back, would drive her up the wall.

Someone like Susan Lewis? Yeah, she'd be a good female character to look up to. (Unfortunately, she's the exception rather than the rule.) Buffy Summers or Monica Gellar? I have to wonder if the writers have actually ever known a sane, capable woman, or if they've just read about them in comic books.
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Re: - miggy on 17th February 2004 03:45 (UTC) (Expand)
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Re: - miggy on 17th February 2004 03:52 (UTC) (Expand)
Re: - yahtzee63 on 17th February 2004 03:53 (UTC) (Expand)
imation23 on 16th February 2004 22:57 (UTC)
Ack, I'll probably get flamed for this, but who cares:

My answer to that would be a no. One of my biggest pet peeves if 'perfect' characters. Characters who have faults, sure, but faults that are only there as a concession to the audience/readers so we won't get too annoyed. And I think that such characters are more often women than men. For some reason, I think writers find it easier to write genuinely complex male characters who have both unlikeable and likeable characteristics, and take the easy way out with heroines who are much more unrealistic. Of course, there are exceptions to this - Buffy, Faith, Old School Cordy. But for every Buffy there are 10 Pollyannas. Just my 2 cents.
Minim Calibreminim_calibre on 16th February 2004 23:08 (UTC)
In my fandom corner, at least, yes.

I'm bewildered by reaction to say, Buffy's actions vs. the same or similar actions on the part of a male character (most frequently, in the BtVS/AtS universe, Wesley or Angel). The male character, for the most part, doesn't get near the heapings of scorn that the female character does, and it's a lot more likely that I'll see the actions considered in context rather than taken out of context. (See: Angel and Darla and Wesley and Lilah vs. Buffy and Spike.)
Dances With Vampires: Syd Big Fanyahtzee63 on 16th February 2004 23:14 (UTC)
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This is sort of at a tangent, but I think it's worth noting; in the early days of Buffy/Angel, sympathy was very strongly with Buffy, not with Angel. I don't think that's an aberration in fandom; I think it's yet more evidence for my file on "How Buffy was the boy and Angel was the girl in their relationship."

Uh, we now return you to your regularly scheduled program.
Re: - minim_calibre on 16th February 2004 23:32 (UTC) (Expand)
Re: - yahtzee63 on 16th February 2004 23:44 (UTC) (Expand)
Re: - minim_calibre on 17th February 2004 00:00 (UTC) (Expand)
Re: - yahtzee63 on 17th February 2004 00:04 (UTC) (Expand)