[TW: misogyny, rape culture]
We all know women can be strong. Us women can wield the big guns like the big boys. We can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan; we can do anything, everything, we can work and have babies and cut the cords with our teeth and then still get up and punch a motherfucker in the face with our brains –
– Yeahno. See, that’s the problem with stereotypes. They contain a grain of truth, sure, but the rest is all melodramatic bullshit.
The usual reaction whenever someone complains about the SFC stereotype is much like what I’m seeing in that io9 article thread: confusion, frustration, and lots of, “But what about [insert favorite badass woman character]? She’s a good character, isn’t she?” Followed by lots of “yeah, but what’s wrong with a woman being sexy and wielding a big phallic symbol?”. The answer is: there’s nothing wrong with it — as long as that’s not the only depiction of women that we’re given. When the grain of truth is all we see, any truth in it becomes a lie.
Thus people begin to believe that the SFC is the only way for a woman to be strong — and they simply stop noticing the many, many other examples of women’s strength around them. They praise Aeryn Sun in Farscape but not Zhaan. They cheer Ripley using a pulse rifle in Aliens, but not Ripley using her brain in Alien. Stereotypes work kind of like brain macros: if [circumstance A] occurs, then run [assumption 1], [assumption 2], and so on. The SFC has programmed us to think “strong” whenever we see a woman with a gun, but not when we see a weaponless woman enduring something that would break another human being. Or we see her, but rationalize away her strength — sometimes until we convince ourselves that it’s something completely different. Strong women would leave an abusive relationship; the ones who stay must be cowards, for example. Or we come up with some other excuse. Even as we’re hit in the face with examples of a woman’s strength across hundreds of different circumstances and in thousands of different expressions, they mean nothing to us. We can’t even see the real strength in real women once we’ve been blinded by the stereotypical strength of the fictional SFC.
And then we hesitate to vote for female politicians if they don’t wield a gun. We justify paying women less because they don’t fight for more — never mind that they shouldn’t have to. We tell women soldiers to suck it up if they’re raped. We expect mothers to be perfect, and career women to “have it all”, and gods help us if we want to be both. We put so much pressure on women in general to live up to so many unrealistic expectations that it’s killing us. And we put the blame for everything women endure because of sexism — differential pay, assault, harassment, the unrealistic expectations in and of themselves — on women, because strong women ought to be able to fix all these problems single-handedly. This absolves men of any responsibility for the system that benefits them.
And thus the Strong Female Character ends up supporting, not subverting, sexism.
N. K. Jemisin - There’s no such thing as a good stereotype
Stereotypes kill. Even the “good” ones. Stereotypes end careers, or prevent them from ever getting started. Stereotypes hide real discrimination, and excuse real violence. Stereotypes change the fate of nations, usually for the worse.
So hit “ESC” on the macro in your head and think, dammit. And the next time you find yourself trying to justify a stereotype, or downplaying a stereotype as “good” stereotype, recognize what it is you’re doing. You’re being a bigoted asshat. You’re killing people and helping to make the world even more fucked-up than it already is. You are the problem.
Now fix it.