Last Wednesday, Kat gave us a post titled “Why I Decided to Stop Being a ‘Tough Girl’ and Just Be Me“, a thought-provoking piece on femininity.
I passionately disagree with it.
Let me break it down here.
In her post, Kat referenced this quote by actress Zoey Deschanel:
This idea- that women were or are pressured to be “men”- isn’t a new one. Plenty of folks have made the same observation and there is absolutely truth to that. In fact, we’ve even managed to turn it into a trope at this point, the “warrior-princess”.
Even if you haven’t heard that term, you’re probably familiar with what I’m talking about. Rebellious young women, typically of royal blood (though that’s not always the case), more fond of fighting, riding, hunting, and adventure than arranged marriages and sewing. Competent, independent, intelligent, and fearsome (often to the point of savage). While you’ve got your real-life equivalents like Boadicea, Hua Mulan, Zenobia, or Anne Bonny, the trope has been most heavily influenced by the pulp fantasy and science-fiction of the mid-20th century.
Now again, the argument typically lodged against these characters is that they’re just “male fantasy”, and while that’s not entirely wrong…
…there’s more in those criticisms than arguments against chain-mail bikinis. There seems to be this move, however unintentional or subconscious, to brush these characters (and by proxy, qualities) aside. Folks might begrudgingly nod to the role of these characters as stepping-stones away from a wholly male-dominated culture, but at the end of the day, they’re viewed as being “women-trying-to-be-men”. It’s argued that these women are only given value through their participation in “manly” activities (battle, sport, cut-throat business negotiations, etc.). As Deschanel states in that quote, “We don’t need to look like men or dress like men or talk like men to be powerful.”
Here’s the thing, though- stoicism, toughness, will, ambition, aggression- these are not things women should aspire to because they are “manly” traits. They are things which everyone should aspire to because they’re good traits.
It’s how we get our strongest female characters in literature and film. I’m talking about your Laura Roslins, your Dana Scullys, your Elizabeth Jennings, your Lana Kanes, your Gemma Tellers, your Claire Underwoods-
-you get the idea.
Frankly, this is how **** gets done in life.
While there’s absolutely a place for sensitivity, sentimentalism, and whatever other so-called “feminine” traits get thrown around. But these typically aren’t the traits that are associated with humanity’s greatest accomplishments. Civil rights weren’t won with meekness. Polio wasn’t cured by passivity. Great novels aren’t created through submissiveness.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that supposedly “masculine” traits don’t have their downsides or that they can’t be taken to extremes. I’m certainly not calling women to imitate all male behavior or attitudes, because not all male behavior and attitudes are commendable (guiltless promiscuity, I’m looking at you).
I don’t think it’s the craziest thing in the world to hold certain qualities above others. Brains beats brawn, integrity trumps charm, and passion beats apathy. These traits aren’t inherent to either sex- they’re designed and assigned by culture (and we’ve got the matriarchal societies to prove it). Overwhelmingly in history, women were controlled by being labeled as “weak”. The point of feminism should be to eliminate that weakness- not to label it as a good quality on equal standing with strength. Deschanel claims that “we can be powerful in our own way, our own feminine way.” Only I’ve seen the characters Deschanel plays. Ditzy, emotional, pathologically neurotic people who don’t need no man to help them be… whatever this is:
I’m not trying to argue for everyone learning how to sword fight, wrestle gators, or punch through a wall (as cool as that would be). But the characters Deschanel so often plays simply don’t strike me as the kind of folks who’d be out discovering radium, inventing kevlar, or ending the Peloponnesian War. You don’t have to be a blackbelt, but you do have to be tough. You don’t have to be a CEO but you do have to be self-reliant. You don’t have to be a secret agent but you do have to be resourceful.
Deschanel states that “we can be powerful in our own way, our own feminine way” [emphasis added].
No you ****ing can’t.
There’s no separate-but-equal clause attached to character. There’s no “masculine powerful” and no “feminine powerful”- there’s just plain powerful. Likewise, there’s no “male intelligent” and “female intelligent”- there’s just plain intelligent. Honesty, integrity, honor, will, decency, dignity, strength- these don’t change with your gender.
What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.