Projected Flaws

I’ve written before about the possibility that male writers (ab)use female characters to project their own flaws and weaknesses into a story without violating the “Men Are Strong even when they’re Bad!” rule that seems to dominate film and TV making. The gist of my argument was: maybe badly drawn female characters don’t always represent a male writer’s fantasy woman. Maybe sometimes they’re projections of the male writer’s own insecurity.

The example I gave in the other article was how in season 8 of Stargate SG-1, the writers kept creating cheesy scenes in which poor exhausted Super!Sam got some comfort at the end of her long hard day – a luxury the male characters were never afforded. I took it as condescension to women, but getting comfort at the end of a long, heroic day sounds like a male fantasy to me. Maybe they felt they couldn’t show Jack, Daniel or Teal’c looking so human weak, so Sam was the only character through whom they could express their own desire for comfort.

There’s another example of this projection I’ve offered before, somewhere: that marriage is something primarily sought by women. Again: the patriarchy could dissolve marriage anytime, if they don’t like it. They haven’t. In fact, more men are married than are women. Clearly, marriage is something men crave for various reasons, but they don’t want to admit it for fear of giving us power over them (“Aha, you need us!”) so they project the desire for marriage onto women. Again, this happens both on and off the screen, from the time little girls are encouraged to dream about their weddings, and little boys… aren’t.

Today I’ve thought of another example of this male projection at work: the idea that a woman is nothing without a man. This is one of those unfortunate attitudes that was prevalent in the real world before TV, but when you find you have a culture entirely constructed to force women to depend on men (by depriving women of the right to vote, own property, get educations and jobs), it doesn’t seem far-fetched to assume the driving force behind this is a horrible fear in men’s minds that women don’t need them as much as they need us.

When we see a female character who is nothing without a man, who spends all her time worrying about getting a man, who is willing to sublimate and compromise herself to get a man… are we looking at a male fantasy of a woman, or are we looking at a man’s troubling view of himself, cleverly disguised with a gender reversal?

Are there more examples?


  1. scarlett says

    Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy come to mind. Grey’s in particular – she keeps mooning after a man who treats her like crap. A male fantasty, I suppose, to have a gorgeous, otherwise intelligent woman for a doormat…

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    Well, my point was not about women characters who may be male fantasies of women. It was about women characters who may be male projections of men’s own flaws. So if you think the women on Grey’s might represent a male writers’ pent-up feeling that he’s mooned after women who treat him like crap, and this is how he expresses his angst on paper, then that would be an example.

  3. SunlessNick says

    I wonder if the bizarre love triangle phenomenon might tie into that somehow. My brain’s too fried at the moment to articulate it very well, but maybe the woman-as-prize could be about the complete/incomplete-man.

  4. scarlett says

    I wonder if part of that is just human nature, projecting our flaws onto the opposite sex as a way of ‘dealing’ with them?

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    Makes sense to me. And not just the opposite sex, but the other religion, the other race, the other… well, just The Other.


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