“I say there is no darkness but ignorance.” William Shakespeare
It’s been a while since I’ve been actually upset for a Monday Fit, but I am today and I have been fuming for quite a bit. I posted only a quote from Ms. Virginia Woolf last week, because I hadn’t quite formed my thoughts into my brain, because all I could see was red. One of my goals with my blog is to write about a variety of subjects, ideas, and perspectives, but lately, I find my life experiences lead me to similar subjects in a new way. Someone has gotten me all fired up again about fairness when it comes to women, and why feminism is important. I know, you’ve heard me say this, but this story is a little different. Unfortunately it seems thay when we focus on a minority for too long, there is always that one person asking, “What about the majority group”, are we being unfair to them”:
As if the majority needs a helping hand, puh-lease. So I was out to eat with several people to celebrate the release of a fictional novel. During this celebration, a person, who was female ( unfortunately), began discussing that many of the stories nowadays involve only female heroines. If you look at the recent obsession with Katniss (from the Hunger Games series) or Veronica (from the Divergent series), among many others, that is correct. These novels are geared towards young girls, but have taken the nation by surprise and are international sellers. Even the beloved Vampire love story, Twilight, for most of the series was written through the eyes of Bella, the female teenager at the beginnging of the story. But as this lady was pointing out this fact, she said, “Where are all the stories for young boys, they need something to read”. My mouth dropped instantly, I kind of gave the “what the heck” face, and with my most controlled voice, I barked back with, “Are you kidding me, I mean a few recent stories, isn’t compared to the focus of young boys over the last, I don’t know, one hundred plus years…” then I paused looked at the table of 11, some were not in ear shot, but the few people who were listening in, I kind of got the sense that I was the crazy person at the table. So I ended with the, “maybe it’s just me, but there are plenty of stories about young boys, there’s no comparison”, and preceeded to drop the discussion. Cause the way my brain is set up, I just don’t do ignorance.
Now at the time, my statement was just as un-researched as hers, but I knew I would do my due diligence. But facts or no facts, I truly thought it was reasonable to think that her statement was absolutely ridiculous. As a woman, in my opinion, it was even more ridiculous. But the part that gets me most upset, is that I was the only person upset about it. Just off the top of your head, if you just think about the last 20 years, the most famous novel for kids has been none other than Harry stinking Potter, whose popularity is unmatched.
I promise that I don’t like to get passionate or angry, but you see what I have to deal with at a table full of educated people, especially in this information age. It amazes me what people don’t know, so I am going to show you the information that is out there but we’d rather be ignorant. In my little search, I found some interesting statistics involving children’s books, comics, and movies.
In 2011, results from a study published in “Gender & Society”, called Gender in Twentieth-Century Children’s Books. The study looked at Caldecott award-winning books, the well-known US book series Little Golden Books and extensive book listing the Children’s Catalog. (source) The study released stated that, “children’s books are dominated by male central character”, and the research has found the gender disparity was sending children a message that “women and girls occupy a less important role in society than men or boys”.(source) Looking at almost 6,000 children’s books published between 1900 and 2000, the study, led by Janice McCabe, a professor of sociology at Florida State University, found that males are central characters in 57% of children’s books published each year, with just 31% having female central characters.(source) Male animals are central characters in 23% of books per year, the study found, while female animals star in only 7.5%. (source)
The study goes on to say that the gender disparity came close to disappearing by the 1990s for human characters in children’s books, with a ratio of 0.9 to 1 for child characters and 1.2 to 1 for adult characters, it remained for animal characters, with a “significant disparity” of nearly two to one. So there has been progress, but guess where it was happening, “The study found that the 1930s to 1960s, the period between waves of feminist activism, exhibits greater disparities than earlier and later periods”. (source)
And you wonder why I say feminism matters….
Although I like comics, I rarely read them, but as I was looking into gender disparity in publications I happened upon this gem, called “Women in Refrigerators”. If you haven’t heard what this is specifically, feel free to look deeper. But it was “a website that was created in 1999 by a group of comic book fans that feature a list of female comic book characters that have been injured, killed, or depowered as a plot device within various superhero comic books, and seeks to analyze why these plot devices are used disproportionately on female characters. (source) Gail Simone, the named founder, was sick of seeing “superheroines who have been either depowered, raped, or cut up and stuck in the refrigerator.”
What’s interesting after Simone and the the group started women in refrigerators, of course, there was backlash. Now I am all for the critiquing of new ideas, so if their premise about women being disproportionately mistreated in comic books was wrong, let’s hear it. Well , much to the delight of Women in Refrigerators, “Dead Men Defrosting” was created to show that not only is it not true for men, it’s quite the opposite. Comic fan John Bartol explains, “In cases where males heroes have been altered or appear to die they usually come back even better than before, either power-wise or in terms of character development/relevancy to the reader.”
Simone also responded to this criticism by saying, “First, there’s [always been] a larger selection of male characters, so a handful killed made barely a ripple. Second, they didn’t seem to be killed in the same way—they tended to die heroically, to go down fighting. Whereas in many cases, the superLADIES were simply found on the kitchen table already carved up.” (source)
Now this interested me, because it opened my eyes a little about not just looking at the surface of who is being feature more, men or women, but also what content is being written about them. oh, there is more…
The Bechdel Test, coined in 1985, by American Cartoonist Alison Bechdel, asks if a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. In some tests, the requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added. Originally conceived for evaluating films, the Bechdel test is now used as an indicator of gender bias in all forms of fiction. Almost half (50%) of all contemporary films fail the test, and critics have noted that the test is most informative when applied in the aggregate, because individual works may pass or fail the test for reasons unrelated to sexism. In film, a study of gender portrayals in 855 of the most financially successful U.S. films from 1950 to 2006 showed that there were, on average, two male characters for each female character, a ratio that remained stable over time. Female characters were portrayed as being involved in sex twice as often as male characters, and their proportion of scenes with explicit sexual content increased over time. Violence increased over time in male and female characters alike. (Source)
So what’s the point?
I think we do ourselves a disservice that when a group of people are
disenfranchised and we choose to highlight, focus, or put all of our
energies on that group, those actions are criticized. I would agree
that focusing solely on any one population or subgroup is bad. If all
the ivy league schools started only accepting minorities and completing
shutting out every single white person who applied and did this for years, of
course it’s clear, this is wrong. But if the ivy leagues selected minorities in large amounts, say 50% of the selected applicants, there would be some unhappy people and the credentials of all the selected applicants would come into question. Because the reality is most people are uncomfortable with the majority
(by number or by power) being overshadowed by the minority.
I would go as far as to say that’s with males that are successful in
predominately female occupations or whites that are successful in hip
hop music, both of those examples are hugely discredited in relation to
the majority in the field. And I think we are even more uncomfortable with segments of the population that have been disenfranchised for longer periods of time such as women or African-Americans.
So as a few women put the “pen to the pad”, and created stories about heroic young ladies, there really is no need to even consider the increase in women in novels as it relates to men.
What it really speaks to is that even WOMEN are afraid to be focused
on, to take the focus off of men, to show how awesome and amazing women are, and that’s the real tradegy. That’s what this whole leaning in phenonmen is all about, even if we stop the men from “holding us” back (whatever that means), we
still choose to hold ourselves back. Let’s not be ignornat, cause this
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