There was a time, I know I was there, when men were men, women were women and sometimes a cigar was just a good smoke. But 40 years of feminism have taken their toll. The war against masculinity has been won. Everything has turned into its opposite, so that what was once flirting and smoking is now sexual harassment and criminal. And everyone is more lonely and miserable as a result. --Dirk Benedict
To some, there is no villain more evil, more destructive, and more unwanted than the female race. We're a scourge that needs to be stopped, having mutilated the business industry and now ravaging the hallowed halls of media. Yes, this is a criminally outdated mindset, but nevertheless, the idea thrives for many groups as Hollywood and television diversify the ranks. In essence, adding more women to the mix has evoked a territorial "Give me my man-tainment!" outcry -- just one step away from a "Girls have cooties!" defense.
I bring this up for two reasons. First, as I stated last week, we've got villains on the brain this month at Cinematical. Two, a little surfing over at io9 brought up this: "Is Science Fiction Feminized Or Is It Sexist? Both." That led to reading the original rant that inspired the post, and then something I can't believe I missed: Dirk Benedict -- the man who played the original Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica and Faceman in The A-Team -- ranting about the castration of manly entertainment.
Naturally, reading all that made me want to jump into the topic here and add my own .02.
As io9 stated: "Indeed there is nothing surprising about the fact that you can find hardcore sexist commentary on a site devoted to 'men's rights.'" It's a fish-in-the-barrel scenario. But the fact remains -- this notion pops up everywhere in varying degrees. Blaming women for the end of "manly" pursuits or science fiction, it's like blaming the farmer who mills the wheat for how crappy your bread tastes. So let's break some of the flawed bits of rationale down:
Girls are Feminine and Boys are Masculine
This is the biggie. As soon as a girl likes a Barbie or does something classically feminine, she's being a girl. As soon as a boy blows up his army men or does something classically masculine, he's being a boy. But just as much as a boy or girl could be raised in a vacuum and come out with traditional male or female inclinations, they can come out with their own mix of male and female interests. We learn by example, people. There's a difference between being a girl and having a vagina, and being a "girl" who likes pink, pretty dresses, dollies, and plays house. We're a product of what we're taught, and hopefully in later life we can come to find a balance between what has influenced us and what we would've loved without strict gender suggestion.
Using myself as an example, I started off having the "girlie" inclinations -- Barbies, pink, what-have-you. Yet while I never went fully army men, I remember how much I loved played with my uncle's toy cars, watching the WWF on television every weekend (intermingled with MTV and Victoria Jackson infomercials), and preferring retro Batman to My Little Pony. But I wasn't a tomboy -- while I adored jeans and hated the birthday parties where I had to watch Strawberry Shortcake, I never tried to make myself look like a boy, I wasn't about to wrassle in the mud and catch creepy crawlies, and I still enjoyed traditional gender-divided fare like Girls Just Want to Have Fun and having tea parties with my miniature Peter Rabbit tea set.
You want to blame girls for being girly? Then blame mom and dad for instilling that dichotomy, the media that enforces it. Stop teaching kids this strict system of labels.
Girls Are Ruining Everything with Wishy-Washiness and Relationships
This one always gets me, and was one of the defining parts of "The War of Science Fiction." Sci-Fi and other parts of media have been "feminized" with "softer" logos and relationship drama. I think a divide needs to be made between crappy decisions, blaming the whole for one's opinion, the desire for more interpersonal turmoil, and crappy writing.
Sometimes people make really ridiculous decisions like changing "Sci-Fi" to "SyFy." Often these are influenced not by a desire to cater to a certain sex, but good and bad business decisions. If one girl-centric film gets made and does well, and then the market gets flooded with them; it's not girls taking over, it's Hollywood milking every popular thing for all its worth. If women were truly taking over, the percentages of women in different roles in Hollywood would be vastly different than it currently is. The change to SyFy is no different than any other niche network that gives up its narrowed slant to try and be everything to everyone.
Bad decisions that cite women aren't the fault of the female sex. Whether a woman makes a terrible choice or a group of men make judgments on what they think women want, these decisions are not a fair reflection of the whole sex. If some studio execs tell Dirk Benedict not to be a smoking womanizer in the 1970s, that's not a reflection of women on the whole, and not a direct link to women now. The mere fact that Benedict could cite how popular his character was proves that the male execs who tried to change his characterizations were wrong, and that is something that shouldn't be blamed on women. When Benedict writes a post like he did, I don't think: "See? Men are evil." I think: "Wow he's got it wrong" -- the "he" being Benedict, not all of mankind.
Interpersonal relationships and turmoil are not girls-only territory. Let's keep in mind how masculine the business still is, and how many male-created pieces of relationship fare we get. Judd Apatow certainly isn't sitting down to write for women when he pens something like The 40-Year-Old Virgin. To respond directly to the Sci-Fi complaint, one can't ignore the interpersonal relationships in creations like Dune. Or add in the science of comic books -- Lois Lane is no modern inclusion by women to spoil a boyhood hero.
We cannot disregard crappy writing. The only way relationships ruin science fiction is if they REPLACE the science. And that's not a woman's fault, it's the writer's, the people in charge. Who cares if the dude in outer space is married to the dudette as long as it's still full of wonderful scientific musings and creations? Fiction is creating, and life and stories are more than just scientific formulas, so relationships are going to be included. It just shouldn't overshadow the science.
Women make up half the population. It might be infuriating that a male character can become female, but this is not a takeover, it's trying to recognize and serve the audience. No business man would suggest catering to a small sector if they can make more money broadening the scope. As long as a work isn't falling to the depths of crappy writing, throwing women into the mix just increases the chances for success by increasing the audience. If you loathe the fact that some characters get made into women, then loathe the world of remakes. If you hate that there are so many women in the world, I suggest you cut yourself off from everyone and live in the mountains.
Where Would Science Fiction Be Without Mary Shelley?
Frankenstein kicked off the mad scientist genre, and many consider Shelley to be the woman who birthed science fiction. How could mom ruin the form? The entire novel is about a scientific creation trying to foster interpersonal relationships and understand human life. Describe the novel like that, and it will automatically get labeled "CHICK LIT!" Nevertheless, the book is a classic. It's a staple on SciFi reading lists. All because it's good.
That's really the answer to everything, isn't it? Something being balanced and good. It's not that relationships are bad, that women are bad. It's just that many popular forms fail to live up to their potential. Women are not villains in this story. Relating to people, slices of real life -- these seem to go unnoticed when balance is in the air. But throw out something that's relationship-heavy, and all of a sudden relationships are bad, women are bad. That's not castration -- that's imbalanced storytelling and misplaced blame.