"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Sunday, July 21, 2013

speak now #25: feministish analysis

Now Playing: Les Miserables 10th Anniversary Concert (glad to do me friends a favour, doesn't cost me to be nice, but nothing gets you nothing, everything has got a little price)

What is feminist analysis? What is the point?

Feminist analysis is a discussion of the treatment of women in media, and whether or not the ideas reinforce or challenge ideas in society, and whether or not the depiction of women is degrading or empowering. Here are some things I consider when I'm reading a text from a feminist perspective:

1. Why is this character female?

The Smurfette Principle is a trope that dictates that characters are by default male, unless it is necessary for the plot for a character to be female. This has led to not only a distinct lack of representation of women in popular culture, but also the need to make very shallow, stereotypical representations of women that do not offer much by way of discussion or critique of how women are treated in society. Characters are normally female because they are a love interest or a mother of a male character; the hero, the brains, the nerd...they're all typically male by default.

2. Is this character a person or just a thing?

Characters in a text serve four purposes. Firstly, they are representations of a person or a group of people that exist in our society. Secondly, a character and his/her actions serve as social commentary or criticism. Thirdly, characters are plot devices - catalysts of action or drama, or the cause of some plot twist. And finally, characters are supposed to be representations of humanity, inspire empathy in us. We should empathise with their decisions, see the good in ourselves in them, and also the bad. Because characters are deliberately female or by default male they usually don't fulfill all of the above criteria. Usually they only fulfil the third, as plot devices - a woman is kidnapped and a man has to go rescue her, or a woman seduces a man into all sorts of fucked up shit.

3. The Bechdel Test

The Bechdel Test is a test of representation of women in a film, with three rules - there must be at least two female characters, they must have names, and they must talk to each other about something other than a man. This test doesn't even gauge if a film is feminist, or not misogynistic, or not dominated by men, yet so many films fail it.

Just a note:

A lot of people attempt to do feminist criticism and just end up nitpicking. Oh, she cried, she's so weak. Oh, she's wearing a pink dress, how anti-feminist. Oh, look at that, she's gone and kissed him. She's letting down the sisterhood.

We have got to get over our love affair with 'strong women' in popular culture. Often these 'strong women' get all their 'strength' from pretending to be men, and then immediately abandon the heroics when they stop the cross dressing thing. Vulnerable women, weak women, morally corrupt women...they all exist, in society, and popular culture is about reflecting society. If done right, a vulnerable female character can often be a very clever criticism of how women are victimized by patriarchy. What matters is the breadth and scope of representation, what's missing, why women are victimized or glorified and what that says about society.

Another thing to note is that feminist criticism doesn't take away from the quality or entertainment factor of a particular movie or TV series or book, and not every female character can be Germaine Greer reincarnated. But it is important to understand feminist criticism, and to acknowledge the feminist lens on popular culture, and to acknowledge that the way in which women are treated in popular culture can be stereotypical, degrading, harmful and, most importantly, hugely influential on our personal values and the psychology of our society.

Stay tuned and stay beautiful for some feministish analyses :)


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