Are we jealous?

This was originally posted by Nialla at a Stargate forum, and I’m reposting it here with her permission. I’ve edited some Stargate-specific bits from it, because it’s very relevant to the issue of how females are portrayed in sci-fi, generally.

In another forum (general Sci Fi, not SG only) a few months back, I complained about the focus on Sam’s love life, and how Teyla wasn’t being written as much more than a “chesty vest” with no personality.

One of the male posters went off on a rant about how women are so much harder on each other than men are to women or men to other men. We’re more likely to knock down a beautiful woman for no other reason that she’s *is* beautiful. Is he right?

Personally, I don’t think so. It might seem that way to a guy, but I think many of the complaints about Sam aren’t anything to do with her physical appearance, but her professional one. Women have struggled for a long time to be treated equally, especially in the workplace, and it’s still not a reality for most women, so we’re a bit touchy about it when a woman is shown as being (in our opinion) unprofessional and/or stupid, and not getting called on it.

Whenever Sam does something stupid, I try to put one of the male characters in the same situation to see if I have a similar reaction. Most of the time I don’t, simply because I can’t picture them doing it in the first place. Honestly, I can’t imagine *Sam* doing some of the things shown in recent seasons, but they have done it to her anyway.

For those of you who don’t watch Stargate, the issue is simply this: are female fans being more critical of this female character than they are of the male, and if so, is it because she’s good-looking and we’re jealous?

My answer is: no. There are mistakes Sam made in early seasons that are not a bit dumber than mistakes made by her male counterparts. That sat just fine with me – nobody’s perfect, and if they were, I wouldn’t watch their show. But in recent seasons, her mistakes are more about clouded judgment. As Nialla says, she’s slipping up in ways we can’t even believe, given her earlier characterization, and we sure can’t see the boys doing the same thing.

To get totally shallow, there’s another reason I don’t think I’m jealous of her: I don’t think I’m less attractive than she is. To me, Amanda Tapping is pretty, but a lot of her charm comes from personality, not beauty. I would describe myself the same way. I also can’t think of anything she has that I want. Well, her job, but that’s true with all the male characters as well.

Comments

  1. says

    *One of the male posters went off on a rant about how women are so much harder on each other than men are to women or men to other men. We’re more likely to knock down a beautiful woman for no other reason that she’s is beautiful.*

    I think it’s very interesting that when a woman has a problem with another woman’s *behavior*, she is so often accused of being jealous of that other woman’s *appearance*. I’ve never heard a female fan criticize a female character for being too intelligent, resourceful, talented, capable *and* beautiful. Only for being *only* beautiful. I can think of lots of female characters in film and television who are quite lovely that I’m very fond of (Emma Watson’s Hermione Granger, Nana Visitor’s Kira Nerys, and so on). These women are not only attractive, but also interesting and dynamic. If I were to praise Jadzia Dax’s physical prowess and ability to handle Klingon weaponry, would it make any sense for someone to claim that my opinion of her was based purely on sexual attraction? How then does it make more sense for my negative opinions of other female characters to be based on sexually motivated jealousy?

  2. Xochiquetzl says

    Are women more critical of the female character than the male characters? Yes.

    Is it because they’re jealous? No.

    It has to do with the patriarchy.

    Anger is permitted to be expressed down, but not up. The boss chews out his secretary. The employer chews out her maid. The maid does not chew out her employer. Anger, like power, flows from top to bottom. It’s okay to harshly criticize the janitor, but be careful about what you say to the CEO.

    This pattern becomes internalized to the degree that people don’t notice until someone points it out.

    Sam is a woman. She’s a minority, and therefore, yes, people are more critical of her, because criticizing women is more allowed. If Jack does something dumb, people say, “Wow, the writers screwed up that time.” If Sam does something dumb, people say, “Sam is dumb.”

    Sam also has a double whammy, in that she’s written by male writers who sometimes screw up on gender-related writing (IMHO). Most of the Sam stuff that makes me groan involve her romantic choices; choices that would be presented as “Damn, he’s messed up!” if Daniel made them. Think about it; give Daniel an abusive, dangerous ex like Sam’s in “The First Commandment.” It would have been presented completely differently, because Daniel is a guy; it would have been a data point in his characterization. In Sam’s case, it was, “She’s attracted to dangerous and unstable men, like Jack! (????) Ooh, shippy!”

    Women can write men, because they have to. Men are considered the default human being; women are considered a variant on the norm. I think the best woman character in SF is Ripley in Aliens, and she was originally written as male. Not a single line was changed other than pronouns.

    So Sam does dumb things that male counterparts wouldn’t do BECAUSE she is a woman being written by men; and viewers are more critical of those dumb things because she’s a woman. Particularly if they have her behave in traditionally coded-as-female dumb ways.

    IMHO, YMMV, etc.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    Xochiquetzl, excellent points. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I think a lot of our criticism comes from our awareness that even if *we* attribute Sam’s romantic neuroses to bad writing, the majority of the audience will be thinking, “Yep, that’s chicks for ya.”

    To be fair, in my opinion, we’ve seen the guys make some icky and even disturbing relationship choices. But it’s always been part of a larger story (except in “Affinity”, which offended me as much as any bad Sam episode). We can accept bad relationship choices where someone is distraught from grief, stranded presumably for life, etc.

    Sam’s “thing” for Jack is a choice she makes every day, knowing exactly why there are rules against it. And to the writers, I suspect it’s nothing more than the myth that “men and women can’t remain friends forever”. And as even recent episodes show, she really doesn’t know or understand Jack – which makes her look even more foolish. She has no more basis for being “in love with” him than does a teenage girl planning her eventual wedding to Mick Jagger.

  4. Beta Candy says

    Maybe the guy who made the comment to Nialla was projecting his own fears – after all, why is it guys so often seem to hate male characters their girlfriends find attractive? ;) Where *are* all those male Daniel Jackson fans, anyway? You know, the ones who appreciate his survival instincts, his constant growth, and his refusal to compromise his integrity?

    Yes, I’m being tongue-in-cheek, but I think the very emotion of jealousy has been unfairly stereotyped as a female behavior when it’s simply a human emotion that rules some individuals in both genders, and not others. To be perfectly frank, I suspect jealousy of your own gender is more common among men than women. Sure, women are encouraged to think they need to be attractive to score a man, but men need to attract women in order to impress the men who dominate their lives. They know this requires a level of sexual charisma. And in my experience, both first and second hand, when guys see a girl reacting to an attractive guy on screen, their first instinct is often to tell her the man on screen is gay or wimpy – anything that might destroy his masculinity in her eyes.

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