Misogyny disguised as Grrl Power?

When filmmakers put together a woman who seems realistic on the surface, but careful probing reveals all the same old stereotypes and perpetuated myths, is it a sinister plot to show women badly, or are the filmmakers just that confused about writing for women?

Revena gave an excellent analysis of G.I. Jane, in which she believes the filmmakers intended to show a woman succeeding in the role of a man, but inadvertently showed a woman turning into a man in order to succeed in his role. That means it still takes a man to succeed in a man’s role, and the only way women can compete is by no longer being women. This, I can buy as a “whoops”. I can imagine the filmmakers thinking they conveyed that a woman can do anything a man can do. Maybe the irrelevant transition from femininity to masculinity was something they added in to provide visual cues as to the process, not quite realizing the message it really sent. But even so, does that indicate their idea of equality is for women to become men? Or that they thought they catering to women who wanted to be men? Or are we reading too much into it?

Contrast Demi Moore’s character with Samantha Carter in Stargate SG-1. She’s in a top secret military unit that sees combat regularly. She’s always been cute, kept her hair blond, and worn makeup. That sends the message that a female – not a man in a woman’s body – can serve in the military.

Unfortunately, that message has been slowly deconstructed in recent seasons, as the character was reduced to blatant mythical feminine stereotypes – pining after her boss, foolishly trusting people who obviously had ulterior motives, etc. Every time it seems as if some of the writers try to combat this image – having Carter take responsibility for mistakes, or indicate she’s learned something – other writers come along and make it very clear that it’s acceptable behavior – going so far as to put words into the mouths of other characters to let us know that when we look at Carter, we should see that “even [her] mistakes are perfect”. It feels like they’re telling us: accepting women means accepting weakness. Imagine if someone said, “Now we all know white people are the stupidest race, but our society is compassionate enough to find a place for these morons anyway, so let’s buck up and hire them and then we’ll try to work around their ignoramus mistakes”. That’s how it feels to me when I see a woman nearly getting her own team killed on a regular basis, and her commanding officer giving her high marks for bravery.

Another example: the deconstruction of Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), to the point where we learned the entire show is a delusion, and she’s really a young girl in a mental institution who had a breakdown because she just couldn’t hack life. In her delusions, she’s the heroic center of the universe – in real life, she’s completely dysfunctional and unaware of her true surroundings. Was this a clever twist? Was it in response to fans who felt – rightfully – that Buffy was narcissistic and immature (a point I never thought the show tried to gloss over)? Or, after the show had dared to create a true female “flawed hero”, were they correcting that vision back to something more appropriate for little girls?


  1. Graculus says


    Except that in her delusions Buffy is actually still flawed, because if her delusions of being the Slayer cover the entirety of the series, they include the times when she’s messed up (usually because of ‘girl stuff’, though occasionally because of assuming that she has to do everything and not listening to other people).

    I’m no expert on Buffy but I thought that the most interesting stuff coming out towards the end was all the mythos stuff to do with Buffy going back and meeting the first Slayer and the control exerted on her by the men who told her what to do. Obviously I need to find someone who’s more knowledgeable about the show to expound on that subject. 😉

  2. Beta Candy says

    Yes, her mistakes and flaws weren’t glossed over – they were acknowledged, and sometimes she took the blame for causing her friends serious pain and suffering. I watched the first 5 seasons and the first half of 6, and during that time, I never sensed any misogynystic undertones. And even though I’d quit watching, I saw ad for the episode in the mental institution, made a point to watch it, and loved it – I thought it was a fascinating twist on the whole series. But I wanted to open this one up to discussion *because* I’m not an expert, and it may be others have come to view it differently.

    Hopefully one of them will drop by and let us know – my Netflix queue is already 3 pages with all the other stuff I’m watching in order to write articles here. 😀

  3. SunlessNick says

    I don’t think the mental institution was meant to be the delusion – for one thing, I can’t remember any other patients, which fits with Buffy’s self-absorbtion, but not with a real mental facility – and while the hospital got the episode’s last shot, I think that was just trying to be all cool and gloomy.

    However, season six also has the sudden conversion of Willow’s magic into a drug, complete with crackhouse and sleazy dealer (and another witch snorting sage). They wanted Willow to go bad, but not too bad apparently. Thing is, Willow had the character flaws – arrogance, short-sightedness, belief in her incorruptibility – to go bad in all sorts of interesting ways without psychopathic, wide-scale destruction. My personal favourite being a mass mind-control spell to turn all the monsters of the town into fluffy Asimov monsters. But instead, they made her a victim of her power, better off without it, and effectively toggle-switched: evil if she’s powerful, good if she isn’t.

    Coupled with the dark turns they were taking with Buffy (which on their own, I could have been ok with), and the fact that the other two women who did stay in charge of themselves and try to be good wound up one dead, the other literally demonised. Oh yeah, and when crazy evil Willow raises a Satanic temple and tries to destroy the world, she charges it up with mystic beams shooting out of her breasts. I find it hard to see season six as anything but misogynistic (well, I can also see it as anti-pagan and homophobic, though I often get criticised when I say that last one).

  4. SunlessNick says

    I screwed up first sentence: I started off saying that I didn’t think the mental institution was meant to be the real world, changed real world to delusion but forgot to scratch the don’t. So I think the mental hospital was meant to be the delusion.

  5. Patrick says

    This was a big, big part of what turned me off from the show in season six, after having been a long-time fan. Whedon has an occasional problem with mistaking character abuse for good drama, but with that season he went way over the edge and simply heaped abuse on the characters ratehr than giving them actual problems based on their personalities.

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    It sounds pretty awful. I keep saying I’m going to watch the rest of 6 and 7 someday (I stopped midway through 6, with a really bad feeling where it was headed). But reading comments like these just make me want to run far away. 😉

  7. Patrick says

    From what I’ve read, and from speaking with other people, Buffy lost a LOT of viewers with season six. And it followed the same pattern with all of them. The season started off badly, got more depressing, gave us false hope with “Once More, With Feeling,” and then proceeded to be so relentlessy downbeat and cruel that we simply couldn’t bring ourselves to watch any more.

    I’ve got the rest of Season 6 and Season 7 on my Netflix queue, but I’m still not sure if they’ll stay there.

  8. Jennifer Kesler says

    Well, hey, if you do watch them and feel up to giving us a few quotes, I’ve always wanted to have an article on those last couple of seasons here.

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