Maybe guys want to be super women

I was watching an episode of Stargate SG-1 over the weekend – one back when Sam was still self-sufficient instead of a walking bag of neediness. In my head, I was contrasting it with how she becomes later, constantly needing someone to prop her up and hold her while she sobs. And I was also thinking about the post I wrote the other day, on women relating to male leads. And an idea struck me:

What if Sam’s neediness doesn’t represent the writers’ warped idea of womanhood? What if she is a projection – conscious or unconscious – of a male writer? Think about it:

Sam is really super amazing perfect (the dialog keeps telling us this, lest we get confused by her loudly-speaking actions), and yet she wants nothing more at the end of a rough adventure than to fall into her commanding officer’s arms and sob. Does this sound like any woman you know? Me, neither.

But does it sound like any man you know?

The burden our society puts on men is crazy. While women were being “held down” by the notion that they shouldn’t go to school, get a job, do “men’s work”, or even like sports, men were being “held down” by the responsibility of paying upkeep on the entire family. If he couldn’t support his family or keep them from harm, he ceased to be a man, losing the respect of everyone around him. (As an aside, this is why feminism was never about women and what women wanted: it was about creating a balanced society in which every individual had the maximum amount of opportunities along with a healthy dose of responsibilities.)

After the end of a long, pressure-filled day of trying to be all things to all people – the perfect boss, the perfect subordinate, no food on your necktie, play golf, do something to put yourself ahead of the pack – I can imagine a man wanting nothing more than to come home to a loving wife and collapse into her arms in as dignified a manner as possible.

Maybe Sam doesn’t represent a fantasy of what women should be (yet another burden on men?) but a projection of what the writers feel they’re trying to be. Perhaps they’re even – consciously or unconsciously – trying to tell us what it’s going to be like if we ladies insist on doing “men’s work”. But I think it’s possible that at least some of the all-male writing staff relate to Sam above all other characters. I doubt they’re aware of it. I know I’m often surprised to realize how much of me is in some of my characters.

If anyone else thinks this theory holds water – I’m really not sure, that’s why I’m putting it out there – then maybe we should look at some other similarly deconstructed female characters and see if we can find similar patterns.

Comments

  1. Mecha says

    Heya. I just started reading this blog yesterday after being told about it by Ifritah and having gotten to this point finally have something to note for you. As I’ve been reading this whole time, I’ve been thinking about how I work with my female characters in writing or roleplaying or whatnot, and this entry has given me the perfect chance to contribuite slightly.

    It wasn’t a shocking realization to me that most of the female characters I make end up somewhat needy (it is worth noting that I also make needy men.) In the context of most of this journal’s conversation, that would be me enforcing of a stereotype of women. But upon thinking about it, I have to blame myself for that emotion whenever it shows up in my characters, because it’s in myself (an old boyfriend loves to describe me as codependant.) Usually it’s character construction that justifies it (sometimes, when I screw up badly, it’s not), but I think your comment about self-identification is spot on, although not, perhaps, for the exact reasons you comment.

    I tend to think (and design) the characters such that it’s usually some sort of abandoment or ‘hole’ in their life (which hearkens forward in your blog to the analysis of Fight Club), whether it be male or female, that creates this semi-dependance. I also feel that few people are whole people, strongly satisfied with who they are and what they do. The characters I make that are satisfied tend to lack the neediness.

    The leap from your thought train here is that, due to demographics and social stereotyping in the male writers’ minds, they cannot easily and explicitly express this sentiment with male characters (outside of ‘chick flicks’), so their first, easy outlet becomes female characters. More complex constructions, such as Fight Club, can convey it, but not explicitly or directly. In my mind the tones are often there, of strong men also feeling a need for companionship, but I can’t really point you at any examples at the moment except in straight romance flicks, where such things are part of the stereotype so men can easily dismiss it. Not all that much of a media scholar. ;)

    Societally, I think that concept behind this feeling is there, however. Movies like Love Actually and shows like Annie show how love and caring cross the boundraries of money/power and, to a point, exactly how needy one can be about such things, whether sexual or non-sexual. And from a very young age, the concept of ‘teaching someone how to love’ is brought out in heartwarming movie after heartwarming movie. Cheesiness aside, perhaps there’s something to be said there about the kind of emotional frustration that writers feel many people (and themselves) are involved in.

    As a personal aside to add onto all my mental thought processes, due to numerous events in my father’s life, including my father crying when my (incredibly strong) mother decided to divorce him, I am certain that he, despite being a number of positive, strong male characteristics, is about as needy as I am. This concept of the damaged male who wants/needs a relationship to belong to (and the woman who wants/needs a relationship to belong to), I think, really has a place in reality and our cultural ethos. But as long as the demographic and social normative forms rule us and media, I’m not sure it’ll peek out in much more than ‘chick flicks’ (where women can dismiss it as catering to them and men can do the same, after all, men aren’t suppoed to cry at movies) and heartwarming children’s flicks (ditto).

    So I have to agree with the general thought that came to you on this point, but an important idea in it is that it is in the writers’ minds. I’m sure some of them keep an internal mental picture of their female characters which are justified and reasonable (and I do mean some, because clearly you have more experience here and express how some of them Just Don’t Get it.) But then they have to filter it through the ‘cross-cultural’ boundrary between men and women AND through the writing medium itself, and on the other end it just… doesn’t work. Not because they don’t want it to. But because they don’t know how to. It may be what writers are trained to do, but from a writing standpoint, that doesn’t make it easy, and when you smack on the pressure from the top, it probably gets about impossible. Especially in TV. After all, about anyone’s writing would be stilted and wonky if they had to come up with random justifications week after week after week for character interaction (so they can build up to the season ender of flying monkeys.)

    I hope that didn’t get too rambling at the end. Not all trains of thought stay on the rails. ;)

    -Mecha

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    I think I agree with everything you said. This particularly was the point I wanted to make:

    The leap from your thought train here is that, due to demographics and social stereotyping in the male writers’ minds, they cannot easily and explicitly express this sentiment with male characters (outside of ‘chick flicks’), so their first, easy outlet becomes female characters. More complex constructions, such as Fight Club, can convey it, but not explicitly or directly.

    For whatever reason, it’s probably close to impossible to get a needy male lead through the committee and onto screen. The female characters become the only ones through which the writers are allowed to express the very human sentiments of need, of not having it all together, etc. And that sucks on several levels.

  3. Mecha says

    Good! I was wanting to offer some support to your very lonely comment thread on this one where you asked if anyone agreed.

    For whatever reason, it’s probably close to impossible to get a needy male lead through the committee and onto screen. The female characters become the only ones through which the writers are allowed to express the very human sentiments of need, of not having it all together, etc. And that sucks on several levels.

    It does suck on several levels. And I think one of the important angles it sucks from, besides both the ‘creates and stereotypes weak women’ which your journal covers heavily and ‘subtly creates especially insecure men’ which you comment on a bit earlier in the journal, is the social effect it has on men. And that is that it reinforces the stereotype the marketing gurus believe societally, not just in terms of ‘having to enjoy crap’. Women get lousy female role models which they should and are fighting against… and men get lousy male role models in terms of emotion and the expectations that come with them… but how do they fight them? One wonders if a dialog of that sort exists or can be set up at all… somehow, I doubt that the people in charge want to listen to me much more than they want to listen to you, as neither of us are their intended audiences. There’s probably a better chance of it (due to the gender imbalance in the industry) but if standard social/marketing normal hold… it’s not a good picture for any of us.

    About the ‘whatever reason’… I wonder what the effect of a needy male lead would be on a show, at least in marketing interpretation. A poorly done female lead on the need scale at least seems to ‘pass’ in entertainment. Maybe, even if someone admitted that both sides’ roles were stereotyped, it’s pure risk factor to the people in charge. Due to the oft-commented on ‘everyone can identify with males but few people identify with females’ factor, a weak male lead could flat out kill a show for everyone, so they hedge against it completely instead of taking the risk? This is starting to smack of overanalysis, but I wonder if this hasn’t been noted by one of the marketers before. The short and ugly of this is probably the summary thought, ‘A weak woman is just a badly done woman, ah well. A weak guy is a pussy, and nobody wants to watch that.’ (The counterpoint, of course, being, ‘Nobody wants to see a badly done woman either.’)

    I think this has a strong tie-in to to your points about Casablanca, where love can be admitted (but no longer) and the ‘reclaiming’ of manhood as per Rush Limbaugh (Ugh), but my brain isn’t quite there on adding any content to it other than recognizing it, so I’ll just stop here for now.

    -Mecha

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    and men get lousy male role models in terms of emotion and the expectations that come with them… but how do they fight them? One wonders if a dialog of that sort exists or can be set up at all… somehow, I doubt that the people in charge want to listen to me much more than they want to listen to you, as neither of us are their intended audiences.

    No, our opinions don’t matter to the industry… but what if their “intended audience” agrees? Market research can only really tell you how people are reacting to what’s out there now, not what they’d like to see in the future.

    I think this has a strong tie-in to to your points about Casablanca, where love can be admitted (but no longer) and the ‘reclaiming’ of manhood as per Rush Limbaugh (Ugh), but my brain isn’t quite there on adding any content to it other than recognizing it, so I’ll just stop here for now.

    I’d like to hear where you were going with this sometime. Perception of gender roles has altered a lot – for the worse – over the years. We used to have “leading ladies” who were more sought after than the leading men, and there were more strong, complex roles for them, too. (I grit my teeth at the assumption we’re making slow “progress” just because time is passing, when even a cursory glance back shows quite the opposite.)

  5. says

    I hate to comment on such an old post, but I was linked from your newer one. I think you’re completely spot on with this theory.

    One thing I’ve noticed from my male partners and even my my friends — especially the ones who had felt the need to project a “strong” image in daily life — is that they looked to me to provide that emotional support. It wasn’t always falling into my arms and sobbing, but they felt I was their sole/main source of emotional support. This was especially true if I was the guy’s only female friend.

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    You’re always welcome to comment on old posts. :)

    What you’re saying here is really interesting. I’ve always had an impression that men more often rely on women for emotional support than vice versa. I guess I just chalked it up to the cultural taboos against men getting to know their own emotions – with women, in private, they could freely express themselves and their perfectly healthy human needs.

    Wonder if anyone else has noticed this, or anything like it?

  7. Rak Nay says

    Somebody her thought that maybe this”badly done woman” happen because the male writers are not good enough and follow the “formula” that everybody is doing in another works?

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