Thursday, March 17, 2011

Grit & Feminism

Preface: I have not seen True Grit. (Yet! This inspires me to watch it sooner, though.) I have not watched any other video by this person. I am responding solely to the ideas invoked in this video and I apologize if anything I say doesn't quite mesh with the movie. As you'll see, for the most part I am not talking about the movie anyway...which fits just fine because as soon as the word "unfeminist" came up, neither was this person:



The assumption here seems to be that because in today's culture "feminine traits" (compassionate, affectionate, cooperative) are the underdogs to "masculine traits" (emotionally inexpressive, aggressive, individualist) that they are somehow better. That because women have been disenfranchised and associated with one set of traits, in order to bring women back from the margins we are obligated to justify and promote the very traits with which we have been trapped into association in the first place. Compassion and empathy are important to me (just read the other things I've written here and elsewhere), but they are important on their own merits, not because of their association with females or feminism. I strenuously object to compassion being identified as solely a "feminine" trait.

By doing that, you accept the mantle of the "feminine" stereotype. Being female should have nothing do to with those traits. A woman should be free to be emotional or inexpressive, passive or aggressive, timid or dominating. A woman should not be considered "unfeminist" if she displays one set of traits or the other. Rather, a woman's personality should be judged and described by her traits, not linking them to her sex OR her gender. By limiting a female character to one set of genderized traits, you actually undermine feminism. To me true feminism is mentally accepting the extant differences between males and females (bodies, hormones, etc.) while constantly affirming the right of every individual to choose their own personalities, traits, and approaches to life.

What this means in practical terms is that there will be movies with female characters who run the complete gamut of potential personalities, character flaws, and story arcs. And that's good! Diversify! I agree that there should be movies made about women who take stereotypical "feminine" traits and empower them...but I disagree that any character who does not do that is "unfeminist." I think that statement is itself unfeminist. It implies that any individual, woman or otherwise, cannot display traits from both "sides" of the coin. People are multifaceted and complicated, and will always exceed the expectations of stereotypes. That's what feminism is about: making women human, part of an ongoing process of self-awareness and -improvement.

The Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus says the following under "character":
2 a woman of character integrity, honour, moral strength/fibre, strength, backbone, resolve, grit, will power; informal guts

I think that says it all. The girl from True Grit seems (from the above-linked video anyway) to exemplify the trait of GRIT, which does not have to be masculine OR feminine to be an entertaining character study. And in response to the lack of "progression" in the girl's character, I assert that not all characters have to change dramatically within a story arc...especially if their behavior and temperament seem to suit them well in their environment. I argue that a character can serve as an anchor point around which a story turns, an inspiration for the rest of the characters, or perhaps for the audience.

Does this mean that grit, emotional unavailability, and aggression are the BEST character traits? Of course not, for women or anyone else! But instead of throwing around words like "unfeminist" why not make a video blog explaining why exactly it is that being cold or unfeeling is not the most ideal response to that situation. Talk about the psychology of the characters in the film. Don't throw all of that away by handwaving a potentially major source of discussion as merely "unfeminist."

Hell, it makes me want to write a whole new essay arguing for and against a character who remains consistent within a situation that suits their lifestyle but is perhaps not the ideal way to behave in a real-world setting. You could write books on that! Why limit yourself by calling this girl unfeminist and instead describe her something like:
unfeeling and coldly pragmatic, jealously pursuing a limited and violent perception of justice which may have made sense in the old west but in today's enlightened society we know to be ultimately short-sighted
To me, that may or may not accurately describe her character, but it certainly is a lot more thought-provoking and deep than "unfeminist." And sure, if the video blog is about feminism then you don't have to divorce it entirely from feminism. Instead you could argue back and forth about whether the girl is even relatable to women today, whether women behave like this in modern settings and if they do whether it's ultimately a beneficial outlook, and if not WHY.
SO MUCH DISCUSSION SO LITTLE TIME.

I do not mean to wholly lambaste the video I linked; I think it is still important to consider characters in terms of stereotypes, see if movies are diversely portraying women...but I hardly think it appropriate to judge characters by stereotypes. For example: I don't dislike movies like Twilight because I think they're unfeminist...I dislike them because I find the characters unrealistic, vapid, and self-serving to the point of complete illogic and therefore BORING.

We must somehow remove ourselves from the paradigm of relating everything back to gender, or else we won't ever reach the escape velocity needed to tackle the next big issues of existence. Same with race. It isn't about being blind to race and gender any more than an art critic is blind. It's about being able to express yourself in terms that are relevant and poignant, not divisive and artificial.

PS: I cannot seem to post a comment on the youtube video itself, I keep getting error messages. The creator of the video does seem to agree with what I'm saying but I still posit that she didn't do the best job expressing it in this video. What do you think?

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