Yesterday a Facebook friend posted a site featuring pictures of what I guess I might call Steampunk Pinups: attractive women in fantastical dress, featuring (in most cases) a large, hand held matter disrupter of some kind- what was usually called a “blaster”, in my pulp, sci-fi days. A little later my eye was drawn to the cover of last Sunday’s Chronicle Datebook, which featured a determined looking, young, red headed woman, arrow notched to the string of a very substantial looking bow. The cover and the article within talked about women “stepping up”, and a “change for women”. I wonder what kind of change we’re talking about.
It could be that the change has to do with women achieving creative positions of power in the media, as well as the business end of the entertainment business as a whole. I can only applaud such a change, if it is, indeed, underway. Any system which systematically excludes a significant part of its potential participants can be honestly called dysfunctional, unless those excluded have proven themselves to be disruptive or incompetent, as a group. This is not the case with women.
So, let us conclude that the change about which we are being informed involves women assuming long-denied and richly deserved positions of power. What I wonder is, when do we start seeing more change depicted in the media over which they now have control?
Because, let’s face it, we’ve had for years the image of the bad-assed woman. There’s the perpetually underestimated gal who, when push comes to shove, reveals that she knows how to use a gun (the bigger the better), to wipe the sneers off the faces of the men (or occasional alien creatures) who thought they could abuse her without consequence. More recently, we’ve had the emergence of the woman whom no one in their right mind would underestimate- the multiple martial arts expert, (usually dressed in some kind of skin tight black outfit), who ices you before you even think of doing anything disrespectful, much less rude. These stories fit the endlessly popular genre of the Revenge Fantasy, beloved by so many men. What I find myself wondering is, why are we still seeing the same, tired stories, if a change has taken place?
It may have to do with the old, journalistic saying “If it bleeds, it leads”, which is to say that we all seem to like a violent, action filled story, perhaps because it didn’t happen to us. Perhaps the women who are running things are constrained by the need to make features that will draw a crowd that would probably come to a bear-baiting, if it were legal and “everybody did it”. Maybe what we’re seeing is simply the need to give the people what they want, no matter what the tastes and desires of the people in the executive suites might be. (This, of course, threatens to lead us into the old argument- going back to Plato- about whether the arts reflect or manufacture taste; we’re not going there.)
In any case, the change I’d like to see is a change from the old, endlessly told, story of the protagonist who (reluctantly, finally) picks up a weapon and visits carnage upon his, or her, tormentors. The story I’d like to see more of is that of the person who refuses to escalate violence, the person who does her, or his, best to make the world a better, more peaceful place. Would a movie or a television series like that sell tickets (or deodorant)? Not at first. Maybe not for a long time, but this I’m sure of: as long as we continue to glamorize and romaticize violent response to conflict, whether performed by men or women, we continue to condone and teach violence.
If women are moving into positions of control in greater numbers, what difference will it make, beyond greater buying power for the few who make it? What’s the point, if all we see is more ass-kicking women acting like ass-kicking guys? How about more women acting like the women I know and love? For that matter, how about more guys acting like the women I know and love? That, I’d pay to see.