Monday, July 4, 2011

Must "Strong Women" be Masculine?

"A good man's work is effected by doing what he does, a woman's by being what she is."
--G.K. Chesterton

In film, if one is to be a "strong woman", one must generally be armed and wearing a very tightly-fitting outfit, or a highly successful career woman with a figure-flattering suit.  Or both, if possible.  Entertainment media and society in general define strength, success, and power solely in masculine terms (position, wealth, aggression, and command of others). This is often done without attention to reality, genuine human nature, and real differences between men and women.

In a recent New York Times article, Carina Chocano, who is fed to the teeth with what she calls "A Plague of Strong Female Characters" in film writes:

“Strength,” in the parlance, is the 21st-century equivalent of “virtue.” And what we think of as “virtuous,” or culturally sanctioned, socially acceptable behavior now, in women as in men, is the ability to play down qualities that have been traditionally considered feminine and play up the qualities that have traditionally been considered masculine. “Strong female characters,” in other words, are often just female characters with the gendered behavior taken out.

(Read her entire article. It's worth it. Really.)

Instead of a movie universe populated by heroines "who are tough, cold, terse, taciturn and prone to scowling and not saying goodbye when they hang up the phone", she suggests a greater emphasis on female leads who actually have to struggle with a few human (and even distinctly feminine) weaknesses. Hmmm. Less spandex and more substance. Now, there's a thought.

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