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?