Noah Brand has guest-blogged on Inside Out about Etta Candy, one of Wonder Woman’s past sidekicks who was unapologetically short and fat (because she loved to eat candy). She led a group of college girls who liked to help Wonder Woman when she got into trouble because it was just so damn fun going on adventures and stuff. The article contains a lot more detail (and some great scanned panels) about how she never seems to be embarrassed about her body, how the text actually contained messages about true empowerment, and so on. Very good read, even if you couldn’t care less about comics.
Because it’s just what we’ve been talking about: we’re moving backwards, not forwards. Etta Candy must’ve been long gone by the time I read Wonder Woman comics as a kid. I utterly failed to appreciate how revolutionary shows like Cagney & Lacey – hell, even Kate & Allie and Who’s the Boss – were, until I saw what came later.
Currently, there’s little chance of getting a female lead that doesn’t look like a model. If you’re really lucky, maybe she won’t push every female stereotype button in existence. And when she doesn’t, we tend to think there’s progress here. There’s not. And some days, I just want to write up about 100 posts, each titled with a TV show’s name, each containing only the following sentence:
“Same shit, different day.”
But why? What is it that drives this desire to make every fiction all about men, and include women only for decoration? We got enlightened about this in the late 70’s and 80’s, but then the suits made the startling discovery that young white men control the world economy (still going “WTF?” about that), and white men just want to watch other men, and occasionally see a little T&A.
Is that even true? I mean, yeah, I’ve known my share of men who are threatened by any suggestion that women are people. They exist. But are they really so numerous as to control the market? I grew up in Redneckland Central, people, and even I don’t think most men are so offended by women that a clearly non-decorative one will make them switch channels in disgust. From what I can tell, most viewers are somewhat indifferent to gender. The problem is more that actresses are less able to deliver compelling, believable performances because the network is more concerned about them looking like models. Because that’s what the networks think they’re for. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle: the networks neglect to offer female characters who can believably engage in an active storyline (but damn, don’t they look pretty sitting still), and so people naturally don’t like women characters so much.
The myths continue despite the fact that shows (conveniently dismissed as anomalies, every time) keep proving all this stuff wrong. 24 features a lot of women who don’t look like models, and a lot who aren’t white – I’d rate the male and female cast on there as equally good-looking. And men watch, don’t they? You can’t have a discussion about this without bringing up Aeryn Sun, who single-handedly proves even the sci-fi world contains plenty of men who can find a woman sexy for what she does more than for how she looks. (Claudia Black is easy on the eyes, but from what men have told me, it’s her convincing delivery of a badass character that made them crazy.)
But the dominant voice is the one claiming men just don’t like women who do stuff. And the second most prominent voice is the one that shames women for thinking men could possibly reject them for their less than exciting looks or their too-exciting successes (like they do on TV all da time) by yelling, “But not all men are like that!” Yeah, well, not all men are making their voices heard.
(Feel free to use the comment section to make your voice heard.)