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halloween

"There’s this issue you’re not allowed to discuss: that women are needy. Men can go for longer, more happily, without women. That’s the truth. We don’t, as little boys, play at being married - we try to avoid it for as long as possible. Meanwhile women are out there hunting for husbands. ... Well, the world is vastly counted in favour of men at every level - except if you live in a civilised country and you’re sort of educated and middle-class, because then you’re almost certainly junior in your relationship and in a state of permanent, crippled apology. Your preferences are routinely mocked. There’s a huge, unfortunate lack of respect for anything male."

--Steven Moffat, in The Scotsman, 2004.

Oh Steven Moffat, let me serenade you in the words of Alicia Keys. I keep fallin’ in and out of love with you. Sometimes I love ya. Sometimes you make me blue.

Because you said... that.  And not just that, but in interview after interview you go off on weird tangents about women crushing the proud male spirit under an avalanche of Freudian sofa cushions. But you’ve redeemed my Doctor from the ranting bloated cartoon Tinkerbell Jesus he had become, turning him into a subtle, dangerous, funny, vulnerable alien trickster he should have been all along. And yet, you’ve turned my beloved Sherlock Holmes into a sneering bully of women, more aggressively sexist than he was in the 1890s. And then you of all people are the one to give me a female, gay, alien Sherlock Holmes and dear Christ I love her please keep going. In Silence in the Library You presented me with River Song – a smarming, cardboard cut-out Mary Sue whom even you seemed to kind of hate – after all, you punished her for her pretensions to awesomeness by trapping her forever in an ersatz domesticity completely divorced from anything the character had ever seemed to want. And yet, then, later (and I really don’t know how you did this) you gave me River Song -- a complex, heroic,  brilliant, unstoppable, spacefaring  adventurer who is  not one whit less feared, admired or wanted for being well into her forties.   

You seem to be open to the idea of a female Doctor, but you’ve defined Amy Pond by her marriage, her uterus, and all too often her helplessness.  You’ve given me the amazing sight of a little girl regenerating, yet  every time you write a female character you seem to start by asking yourself, ‘what are her marriage plans?’

Sometimes I feel good. At times I feel used. Lovin' you, Steven, makes me so confused.

 

That Scotsman quote is just awful, of course. The world is run in men’s favour,  except for Western, middle-class, educated, probably white men, who are of course the most abused and underprivileged on the planet. Will we ever see a middle-class, educated man as Prime Minister? One can only dream. If only middle class men could overwhelmingly dominate business, media and the House of Commons. There might then at last be some justice, some respect.  

On the other hand,  it was seven years ago and I’d like to hope Mr Moffat has moved on, at least a bit. At any rate, there are a lot of things in that quote I don’t want to talk about – because it’s been years, because it’s all been said, because it makes me tired and sad. But there’s something I do want to talk about that I don’t think has been addressed.  It’s been brewing in the back of my mind for all these years and it came to the fore during that post last week about the lack of female heroes and the promise and disappointment of Lisbeth Salander.

We don’t, as little boys, play at being married.

 

I’d remembered that quote slightly wrong. I thought you’d said, getting married. And I still think that might be what you’re actually talking about because really – playing at being married? Playing at being a mother, well, some girls do that, and yes, there’s the fantasy of being grown-up and in charge...

We’ll get to that later.  Let’s stick to the weddings for now.

First, it needs to be said, of course, that not all women played at weddings when they were little. I know plenty who didn’t. But I want to talk about the ones that did. Let’s assume I was one of them – I can’t completely remember whether I ever went as far as acting out a wedding,  but  I know I thought and talked to my friends about how I wanted my wedding dress to be. Long, swishy and dramatic, of course, but not white, because that’s boring! Why wouldn’t I want to wear my favourite colour? My wedding dress, I promised myself, would be blue – a deep, rich, bright blue.

But you know what I didn’t daydream about? You know what never entered my mind?

The groom.

Never, when I thought about My Wedding, did I promise myself that on this day of days, at last my innate female loneliness would be over. I never even imagined how handsome he’d be or how much he’d love me.  Not even “He’ll be a kind, nice man.”  The poor fellow never got a look-in.  I knew he’d have to be there, vaguely, but that was a detail as negligible as the seating arrangements, and frankly, if I could have had the wedding without the husband that would have been just fine by me.

Yes, I am afraid, Steven, little girls’ wedding fantasies are not about you. You can relax; packs of little girls are not being reared from infancy to hunt you. It’s just the dress.  That’s the fantasy. It’s about wearing an awesome outfit and getting to be the centre of attention.

Boys and men, of course, never daydream about wearing an awesome outfit and being the centre of attention...

 

Hmm...

  

Ah.

Nice coats, there. Long. Swishy. Dramatic.

Of course  you never fantasised about Your Wedding when you were little! 1) The groom’s outfit is boring and  he doesn’t get to be the centre of attention!  And 2) You had Batman and the Doctor and James Bond and Indiana Jones! That’s also why you didn’t bother playing at being a husband or father. Why would you, when the power over a household and a child pales into inignificance next to power over a crime-ridden city, an ancient underground tomb or the whole fucking universe?

(I hope no one will argue that the fact the bride is typically the centre of attention at a wedding supports the idea of an “unfortunate lack of respect for anything male.” It’s one day. And it’s not our fault your wedding outfits are boring. If you don’t like it, don a cape.)

Now, find me six equivalent Awesome Female Outfits, readily available and visible in pop culture, which a little girl need merely sit down in front of the TV to see. And remember, the woman wearing the outfit has to be the centre of attention. Not part of a team, unless she’s the undisputed leader; not a sidekick, not a love interest, not an antagonist and not a feminised version of a male original. So no Batgirl or Supergirl,  don’t come to me with any X-Ma... well, you see the problem there already. She has to be the lead. And really I’d prefer it if the said awesome outfit was a bit more substantial than underwear anyway. Something long, swishy and dramatic would be nice – I get the feeling we might share a taste for that.

Well, I can think of Wonder Woman, though she clearly fails on the last count.  I wasn’t particularly conscious of her, growing up, and the lurid stars and stripes and the underwear would have made me feel that she was really aimed at somone else. Besides, she wasn’t on television much when I was a kid anyway.

I’m sure there were heroes you weren’t interested in either. Maybe you didn’t want to be Captain America, maybe he was a bit garish and goody-two-shoes and American for you, or maybe you weren’t exposed to him much, but that was okay because you could be the Doctor.

But if I wasn’t going to be Wonder Woman, what alternatives were left? Well, not nothing. There was Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast and Snow White – both the fairytales my parents read me and the Disney versions I saw -- and all those girls’ eventual triumph and vindication and happy ending involves getting married.

Now do you see why, for a little girl with that human desire to fantasise about being visibly, recognisably awesome, while clad in something long, swishy and dramatic, the wedding dress might be the most readily available option? Do you get why it’s something she might play games about, at least once or twice? Maybe when she’s older she’ll ask why marriage has always been presented to her in this way,  one day she might want to know why she’s been shown so little else to aspire to, but it’s a bit much to expect her to do that when she’s six.

Of course, we weren’t wholly limited to what we’re shown on television. There was also what we could make up ourselves.

And there’s a point. Perhaps at this point  you’re getting a bit fed up. “Why come whining to me”, you may be thinking  “A nice man like Steig Larsson tries to give you what you want and you still complain. You want women having adventures, whether in awesome outfits or not, then write them yourself.”

Well, I’m trying, and I’ll keep trying as long as I’ve got a keyboard in front of me. And of course I want to write fascinating male characters too! But I do have all these things to worry about that you don’t --  being warned not to mention so many authors of my gender as influences, being told that if there’s someone of my gender on the cover of my book, I can kiss the male market goodbye, Warner Bros openly deciding they’re not going to do films with characters of my gender in the lead. It makes me worry about what I can write, and still sell.  I’ll keep trying anyway, though.

Never mind about that. For now, as you’re writing for little girls as well as little boys, and as I believe you don’t have little girls yourself,  (though I must say I think you write them well) I would just like you to know what else they play at.

I liked swords and bows and arrows and treehouses as much as pink ribbons and unicorns (and oh yes, I liked those a lot).

I pretended to be a Knight of the Round Table  (the first female one!)

I liked fishing for sticklebacks in the river.

My best friend and I told and acted out stories of slaves on the run *cough*,  encountering flying boats and wizard cities.  

We also told the tale of Ben the Boring Boy who somehow entered a magical world where he had to stop being boring or he would die.

I wrote for said best friend the adventures of the very decisive Princess Dilemma and her quest to rescue her sisters, Rubella and Amnesia.

When I was about 11, I had this  shawl-wrap-cape thing–  when I wore it, I pretended I could fly.

It was deep blue.  I still love that colour. If I ever do get married, I might wear it. Rich, bright blue...

 


 

 

 

 

Other posts:

Girls, Heroes, and Boob Jobs.

On Slash
The Genre-Bashing Flowchart.

 


 

Comments

( 62 comments — Leave a comment )
anneth
Jul. 10th, 2011 03:14 pm (UTC)
OH my god, Sophia, this thing.

I could go on about how my experiences mirror yours, both personally and anecdotally; I wasn't obsessed with (or at all interested in) weddings or wedding dresses or anything of the sort as a kid, and my friends who were focused, as you note, on the event - not the groom or the, uh, post-wedding lifestyle.

Indeed, as a kid, the fact that all my favorite characters (in books and films) were male didn't register at all. So I pretended to be and drew pictures of wrote plays about cowboys and spies and pirates and dinosaur-riding time-traveling archeologists without thinking about the fact that I was basing all these fantasies on male characters. And by the time that started to become meaningful; when my gender became significant to my identity, I discovered that I wasn't supposed to want to be the adventurer, the rescuer, the smart one. I was supposed to want to be in an adventure, to be rescued, to let someone else be smarter and more educated and more powerful and more knowledgeable and, you know, better. I was supposed to want to shag James Bond and Indiana Jones, not be them. Well, marry them. Only bad girls shag without expectation of marriage.

I don't even know what I'm trying to say, other than that I wholeheartedly agree with you. Fuck that noise. Also write write write write write.
sophiamcdougall
Jul. 13th, 2011 10:21 am (UTC)
(I finished a chapter last night, so I'm now doing replies. Heroine #1 is not so much being awesome just now, as she is trapped in a classroom with a robot fish, but that is so Heroine #2 can rescue her.)


I wonder if the reason I got that “this is not really for you, this is just brushing past you on its way to someone with a penis” message earlier was that I had brothers – specifically, I’m the eldest, and my middle brother is two years younger and and in many quite gender-stereotypical ways my exact opposite. You know-- him: Maths. Me: English. Him: football. Me: unicorns. My littlest brother would never have fitted that pattern anything like so neatly and he and I have a lot more tastes in common. Maybe if we’d been closer in age things would have been different. As it was, it was gender wars in the McDougall househould from a very early point, and even when we played together it was rather... combative, (we do get on well now!) So I was in this weird double-consciousness thing where I knew I had my stuff that was by definition, not his stuff, and so my relationship with things like Indiana Jones was ... conflicted. I could enjoy it, but always with that “...but...?” in the background. I was fiercely loyal to my stuff, and I was also half-ashamed of it.

Culture: SMALL GIRLS! Here is this stuff for you. It’s just as good as the boys’ stuff we’re not letting you have. *stage whisper* It’s actually shit and you're suckers.

The impossible position that puts you in. What if you don’t like the stuff? What if you DO?

I would latch on to practically any female character in anything, no matter how underwritten or drippy or downright insulting. I was that desperate! I would in many circumstances refuse to play a male character.

And when I was 9 I wrote to Jim’ll Fix It asking if he could fix it for me to be Henry V. I used to stalk around the living room declaiming “We few, we happy few. We band of brothers.”

Bastard never replied.

(Actually, it’s interesting that I think I identified much more freely from a very early age with male heroes from media my brother wouldn’t have been interested in – Shakespeare and Sherlock Holmes, etc.)

I wanted a sword. I wanted to lead troops into battle, speechifyin’.

I also had a pink bedroom with rosy wallpaper and and even with all my ranty feminism it is only very recently that it has occurred to me that it is okay and not embarrassing that I liked unicorns so much-- not more embarrassing than a youthful taste for robots, anyway. Part of what I wanted to address with this post is the fact that even now, even where awesome heroines exist, there will often be this point where the narrative stops to assure you that she was never interested in things the other little girls did. Like a single sodding bow in your hair would define or undermine the entirety of your personality. Like a five-minute chat about wedding dresses (or sod it, even weeks of obsessive wedding re-enactment) would define whether or not you could handle a dragon.

Even Philip Pullman, who, if anything, over-reacted to how C.S Lewis treats Susan over her liking for lipsticks and nylons – even he still had it that Lyra had never had or wanted a doll and when, under Mrs Coulter’s influence, she starts getting interested in clothes and make-up, it’s a bad sign.
dolorosa_12
Jul. 10th, 2011 03:50 pm (UTC)
THANK YOU!

I've already written a link-post and response to this, but the gist of it is that I agree, totally. It made me think about the kind of games that I played as a child, and the kinds of stories that inspired them, and I guess because I didn't watch many movies or much TV, all of my inspirations were books, mainly books with all-female casts. And the kind of stories these books told was never about girls saving the world, but rather about small groups of girls and women saving themselves. And so I grew up thinking that these kinds of girls and women - people who used bargaining and compromise and played the system and when they couldn't just endured - were heroic, and that they were the sort of people I should be emulating.

Cape-swishing didn't come into it at all. Neither did men. They just didn't capture my imagination.
sophiamcdougall
Jul. 13th, 2011 10:58 am (UTC)
Thank you for the link post. I'm really touched at how this piece seems to have resonated with people. I love your account of the things you played --- particularly the boarding school for oppressed vegetarian dinosaurs! That's amazing.

(I loved dinosaurs, too. I had a patchwork quilt -- a partly pink patchwork quilt, when I was three. It was a security blanket and also a pterodactyl. I used to whirl it round my head so it could fly.)

You made me remember some of my own games that I'd forgotten -- orphans with an Evil Governess was definitely one, I think inspired by The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

You make an interesting point about how male and female heroes often start from a place of victimisation or trauma, but whereas the male heroes' path goes "Overcome the victimisation. Use the strength and insight this gives me to go and Right Wrongs in the wider world" the female ones are often stuck at "Overcome the victimisation." That pinpoints what's so disappointing about Lisbeth Salander's regression -- she starts out along the former pattern, then shrinks back to the latter.

(Of course, "Overcome the victimisation" can be a great and inspiring story in itself, but we need more).

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annelyle
Jul. 10th, 2011 04:49 pm (UTC)
Brilliant post, Sophia!

I never played at "girls' stuff" when I was little. I wanted to be Robin Hood, or maybe I wanted to be Maid Marian rescuing Robin Hood - it was a bit blurry in my head, perhaps because of that lack of awesome female role models that you mention. Although, having been exposed at a young age to the wonderfully gender-bending phenomenon that is the English pantomime, I grew up with the idea that girls could dress as boys* and be the hero :)

Funnily enough, the cover of my forthcoming book shows my male protagonist in a swirly cloak. I'd really like his female sidekick to appear on the cover of Book Two, but I guess we'll have to see...

* Albeit rather camp boys in thigh-length boots - but no camper than the average lycra-clad superhero, to be fair
sophiamcdougall
Jul. 13th, 2011 11:19 am (UTC)
Oh, I did like Maid Marian -- I was lucky that my first exposure to the Robin Hood stories was one of the versions in which she's a cross-dressing action-heroine rather than stuck moping in the castle waiting for rescue.

Pantomime principal boys confused (and still confuse me). There's still that message that though the boy is played by a woman, he's still actually a boy within the story: You can play at being fantastic, but you can't actually be it.

Still, women singing love songs at each other when I was little -- a good, if peculiar thing.
LouMorgan
Jul. 10th, 2011 04:57 pm (UTC)
I don't think I ever played at getting married... although it's hard to say, what with the pink-tinted mists of time, and all that. I do, however, distinctly remember playing being Asterix at one point. I ran round the garden hitting Romans (for which read: plant pots balanced on bamboo canes) with a plastic sword.

Maybe I was an odd child - in fact, I'm fairly sure I was - but I know my younger self much preferred playing with bows and arrows, or pretending to be your archetypal fantasy thief-figure to being a princess.

And my wedding dress, when I *did* get married? Bright green, and very, very swishy.
sophiamcdougall
Jul. 13th, 2011 11:25 am (UTC)
Bamboo canes also make excellent wizards' staffs. *nods* My friend and I had one whole one and a broken one and so I had this whole thing about how My Staff Was Broken and part of my quest was to get to the Wizard City where it would be made whole.

As I was saying above, I wonder if the reason I was conflicted about male heroes and desperate for female ones even when I was very little, was that I had a brother who was close to me in age and we were engaged in gender wars from the ages of two and four.

And my wedding dress, when I *did* get married? Bright green, and very, very swishy.

Excellent!
astudyinchuck
Jul. 10th, 2011 06:25 pm (UTC)
you are a HEROINE
sophiamcdougall
Jul. 13th, 2011 11:26 am (UTC)
Aww! Bless you! Thanks for reading.
aliettedb
Jul. 10th, 2011 09:36 pm (UTC)
Oooh yes. Thank you.
(I never played at getting married, but boy did I play at being the first female Knight or heroine--a proper one, not one that would scream and/or die when convenient for the narration).
sophiamcdougall
Jul. 13th, 2011 11:30 am (UTC)
I've just rememebered I also played at being Henry V. I really loved the Laurence Olivier and later the Kenneth Branagh film so I could enact Agincourt from memory alone in the living room. Oh, I did want a sword. And my liking for pink flowers and pretty dresses didn't diminish that desire at all!
(Deleted comment)
sophiamcdougall
Jul. 13th, 2011 11:34 am (UTC)
Thank you!
mind_the_tardis
Jul. 11th, 2011 03:09 pm (UTC)
plutokitty pointed me over here, and I clicked with reluctance, as I have strong feelings about Moffat's writing (you mention a lot of the reasons I have them in this post), but I'm glad I went ahead.

Like some of the other commenters here, I'd never thought about wedding dresses that way—I never fantasized about getting married when I was little—but your interpretation makes perfect sense to me. Instead of fantasizing about getting married, I fantasized about being all of those Swishy Coat or Fantastic Suit People (Neo, Agent Smith, Deckard, the Master, the Doctor, Darkwing Duck...) and felt confused as to why I identified with them and why the identification still never quite fit. It took until the past few years of being an adult for me to realize that I wanted to be those women in Swishy Coats and had never found any.

Also, I love the Boring Boy idea.
roisindubh211
Jul. 12th, 2011 02:03 am (UTC)
Here via FerretBrain.

"Ben the Boring Boy" really really needs to be written. I would give a copy to all my little girlcousins.
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larathia
Jul. 11th, 2011 05:13 pm (UTC)
hm. I can offer She-Ra. Growing up I think that's the only offering I can make, and I never could figure out why the heroines tended to run around in leotards.

Then again, He-Man ran around in furry underwear, so I guess I'm just glad it wasn't a bunch of bikinis.

They did wear leotards, but they were awesome leotards and often came with long swishy skirts or long sparkly or swishy capes. I seem to recall my favorite was Frosta.

It might be instructive for Moffat to note that if nothing else, ALL THE POWERFUL PEOPLE IN THAT WORLD WERE WOMEN. And the men existed to be pretty, and fairly bland, often-ignored love interests...or enemies to be tricked or defeated.
tainry
Jul. 12th, 2011 07:45 am (UTC)
Frosta! So that's her name! I have her action figure. She hangs out with Sparkle Princess Starscream and the small horde of other Seekers on one of the robot shelves. :D Her outfit's awesome!
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jinkamoo
Jul. 12th, 2011 03:33 am (UTC)
Thank you for saying that!
Hello! You don't know me, I know you through a mutual friend pal (Camille) but I think your statement is profound. As a fan of the shows mentioned, I am happy to know your voice exists. I wish I had more intelligent things to say besides "Bravo" but for now, I'll end on a solid thank you.

sophiamcdougall
Jul. 13th, 2011 12:55 pm (UTC)
Re: Thank you for saying that!
Hello! Camille has talked about you, and I think I did see you about in my Supernatural fan days. It's lovely how this post seems to have resonated with people. Thank you for dropping by.
(Anonymous)
Jul. 12th, 2011 08:34 am (UTC)
I got halfway down the quote at the start of the page thought that *maybe* Moffat was going to be making effectively the same point you were making in this article (boys get to be batman and the Doctor, girls don't, hence girls invest more in weddings 'n stuff) but no, he actually went down the "white middle class men are oppressed!" route.

Le sigh.

But umm, yeah, awesome post. Not a lot more to add.

(linked here via ferretbrain)

- Dan Hemmens
sophiamcdougall
Jul. 13th, 2011 01:12 pm (UTC)
Hey! Ferretbrain! Dan Hemmens! You wrote that hilarious review of Wise Man's Fear -- have you read this one, by my friend Jared of Pornokitsch? He shares your pain.

Nice to see you here and glad you liked the post. Moffat has tended to go on about marriage-hungry women oppressing men with cushions quite a lot, I'm afraid, though that quote is particularly bad. And then there's the way he writes them, which of course matters more. Yet he can be so good. Le sigh indeed.

cheriola
Jul. 13th, 2011 03:02 am (UTC)
Hi, I'm also here via Ferretbrain.

Damn, I knew Moffat was somewhat bad at writing women, but that's outright disturbing. (I stopped watching his series of Doctor Who after the third episode, partly because the stories were recycling plots from his earlier episodes, but partly because Amy just made me want to throw things at the TV. Though I actually kinda liked River in her first appearance - possibly simply because there finally was someone who wasn't all that impressed with the Tenth Doctor - but what I've heard about her since sounds to me like she's a worse Mary Sue / Relationship Sue than ever. Besides, the one good thing about Amy was that I thought Moffat had finally realised how creepy it is for the Doctor to fall in love/lust with someone he just met as a child and vice versa. Now it's someone who he probably baby-sitted a couple of times? Argh.)

cheriola
Jul. 13th, 2011 03:02 am (UTC)

The main part of your post opened my eyes to a cultural difference I never quite understood before. See, I'm German, but watch a lot of American TV, and always there's this cliché of girls dreaming about their wedding, and women getting into a tizzy planning the perfect party for their wedding day, and how it's the most important day in the life of a woman. I never understood where that was coming from, because it's much less important here (at least in Eastern Germany). Often people just live together without marrying, or they eventually marry for tax / inheritance reasons. I mean, yeah, most of the people over 35 I know are married, but the wedding doesn't have to be this big, perfect ceremony. When I was a little girl, of course there was a time when I drew princesses, and I may have sewn a wedding dress in the short phase when I was interested in playing with barbie dolls. But the wedding was just as much a fantasy as the princesses - nothing I actually planned to have in my real life. None of the girls I knew ever mentioned wedding dreams.

But I now realise that my childhood media intake may have been quite a lot different from what is normal in the anglosphere. Disney movies didn't run on TV, especially not in the former GDR, so I grew up with audio plays and eastern European productions of the lesser known fairytales, including quite a few that involved girls rescuing their brothers/boyfriends/princes. Stories like "The Snow Queen", "Hansel and Gretel" or "The Rain Maiden". I was too quiet a child to play with weapons myself (though I do want a bow now), but I read "Pippi Longstocking" and "Ronja Robber's Daughter", and I loved the Fantaghiro series in the same way that you anglophones seem to love "The Princess Bride", which I found rather disappointing when I finally watched it a while ago. (Oh god, and I just remembered that I had my first bad boy crush on Tarabas. In my defense, the series could lay on the female gaze fanservice pretty thick at times, for 90's kids movies.)
Oddly enough, I can't remember watching much Xena, even though I was into Greek mythology. Possibly because of the skimpy outfit that seemed so ridiculous for a warrior.

I've just spent some time comparing the cartoons that ran here while I was a kid - and nearly all those imported from the US have male protagonists or an ensemble cast with one or two token chicks. I mean, I still loved stuff like "Darkwing Duck" or "Gargoyles", but it is telling. Thankfully, just when I hit puberty, they started importing a lot of female-centered anime over here which tided me over until I was old enough for Buffy. "Sailor Moon" and similar shows, "Cat's Eye" (three sisters as art thieves), "Nadia The Secret of the Blue Water", a number of sports series about girls, and so on. And of course, that bastion of 70's nurture-over-nature feminism: "Lady Oscar" (The Rose of Versailles) - it had everything: a queen wearing pretty dresses, a sword-wielding heroine kicking ass and commanding armies, drama, romance, intrigue, civil war... (*) and a theme song that started with the line "Wild rose, proud and free, true first and only to yourself."

With heroes like that, why would I dream about binding myself to anyone?

Of course, most of these stories and shows still involved a wedding as a romantic ideal at the end or in the epilogue, but not for all of the female protagonists (for example in "Nadia" 2 of the 4 major female characters end up married, 1 becomes a single mother, and 1 stays happily single and promiscuous) and more in a "finally getting the guy and settling down" kind of way, not as a moment of particular awesomeness. And those protagonists that were about my own age never really thought much about boys, and even less about starting families, so why should I?

(*) Wikipedia tells me the series has never even been translated into English. Girls, you've been missing out!
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tsubaki_ny
Jul. 13th, 2011 02:32 pm (UTC)
I have a long comment. Do you mind? :-)
sophiamcdougall
Jul. 13th, 2011 03:38 pm (UTC)
Lord, no. Thanks for all the signal-boosting you've done!
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dolorosa_12
Jul. 13th, 2011 06:42 pm (UTC)
Oh, and I stumbled across this post on Tumblr the other day and it has some relevance, in terms of the stories little girls play, and the source material that they have to work with.

'Smurfs, right? Because there was Handy Smurf and Chef Smurf and Dopey Smurf and Painter Smurf and ninety-four other male Smurfs and Smurfette. Smurfette’s unique personality trait was femaleness. That was the thing she did better than anyone else. Be a girl. '
tsubaki_ny
Jul. 13th, 2011 08:24 pm (UTC)
long and rambly stream of consciousness thing
Been thinking this one over, because I was having a hell of a time even remembering what I played as a little kid, which was leading me to think (I was overtired, do not judge me) that I just suffered a horrific paucity of imagination as a child, or was thoroughly brainwashed by the Man, or something...

See, I played in my mother’s actual wedding dress.

There are layers to this. The situation, not the dress, the dress was fairly straightforward. And had gotten ruined slightly after my parents’ wedding, so it’s not odd that I got to trail around the house in it.

There were two things my six year old self was trying to achieve here, neither of which are entirely straightforward: I wanted to be a girly-girl, which did not seem to be something the world wanted to let me have as I was pretty much taller than all my peers, and I wanted long, flowing (read “not African”) hair. Sigh. But anyway. So I had the dress, and I had one of my mother’s old wigs (which my father had sort of put the kibosh on her wearing, as he liked her hair, which she had a very great deal of, and the wig sitting on top of all the lovely hair that she did have like some kind of hat was not cool, but the wig was purchased in the 60s when to be stylish, a swig was just what you HAD...). And I swished up and down the house in these items. (Not in the 60s; I didn’t show up until the 70s.) There are pictures of this. I am engulfed in a lacy white concoction and the wig does not quite cover the bubble-ties and plastic clips holding my pigtails in place.

But what I remembered this morning (I really did actually sleep on this question) was that a wedding, with a groom and a a cake and the whole shebang had absolutely nothing to do with what I was doing.

I was being QUEEN ESTHER. (We were a religious household.) I was Queen Esther and I with a wave of my hand I commanded that nasty Haman fellow to HANG FROM THE GALLOWS.

A lot.

“Who, my queen, has spoken this terrible threat against your people?”
“THAT MAN OVER THERE. He wants to MURDER THE JEWS.”
“Then he shall hang on the very gallows he has prepared for Mordecai!”

So, not so much with the innate female loneliness. Man, I loved Queen Esther.

I did want to be a princess, though. But it was all about the long skirts. I made my mother buy me skirts bigger than my size so they would be long. My dad used to wrap his nice rich maroon bathrobes around me (I had read that this was a Royal Color — royal enough, anyway. I did not like purple. I used to pretend Lydia from the Bible was actually a seller of Maroon) and fasten and and tie them into complicated knots of a different sort each time, so I could have a variety of princess dresses. I have no idea how he did this, but I admire it.

Long skirts also enabled me to be Laura Ingalls Wilder in an imaginary woods. I was Sara Crewe less often. I’d rather draw her stuff then wear it (until high school. My junior year “prom” dress was shockingly Sara Crewe like. That was not planned). I never drew wedding dresses, they weren’t as fancy, and I wanted to draw hairdos, not veils. Or draw countrysides. Those were fun. I wanted to be Tasha Tudor, or failing that, Garth Williams.

I wanted to be a little Native American girl (which also somehow seemed to involve a long skirt of some kind) and kill large animals with a bow and arrow, which I would drag home and then my village would roast the beast on a large spit in front of me. Sadly my bow and arrow was plastic and worked with suction cups. The suction cups had insufficient suckage.

I was partial to the Ojibwa. That meant I could more or less stay in my part of the world. I made moccasins by covering my feet with brown packing tape, then cutting the tape off with scissors and taping the pieces back together with more tape and lining the shoes with even more tape so they wouldn’t, um, stick to me. They came out more as ballet flats. I actually wore them to choir rehearsal once, and no one noticed anything odd. As I grew, I would cut the toes off and add more tape to make them longer, until they became utterly unsalvageable. They weren’t cute anymore by this time though, and I didn’t wear them except in the house — they were great to slide down the hallways in!
tsubaki_ny
Jul. 13th, 2011 08:25 pm (UTC)
Re: long and rambly stream of consciousness thing
I also learned how to climb up the hallway by bracing myself between the walls with hands and feet and shimmying to the ceiling. My mother didn’t find out where all those smudges came from until a couple of years ago.

I loved my dolls, especially my Kimberlies with all the hair to comb. I played Choir Director and Schoolteacher with them when they became too many to play mom to. My mother helped me sew them uniforms. Snoopy looked lovely in his plaid skirt. I also made dolls. Once I took all my body measurements and made a doll exactly half my size. She was brown and had black yarn hair braided like my mother’s. Another time my mother and I made puppets out of cardboard, glue, and paint and paper fasteners for joints. My little cousin and I cut out pictures from a magazine and tried to make a dictionary. I had lesson plans and inflicted them on another small cousin, who could say his alphabet backwards, so I wrote him a backwards-alphabet poem.

I climbed the tree in front of our house so much that my next-door-neighbor sawed all the lower branches off to save her front lawn. Some years later they built a park near my house, with no swings (I mean really!) but plenty of jungle gyms. I pretended to be a girl from a book I read, who was named Laura Linda Tucker. There was a picurtre of her in a particular pose, when she jumped off her swing and crouched down in the bushes to spy on her next door neighbors moving in. I practiced this pose when I was about four, and told strangers my name was Laura Linda, which they found confusing when my mother called me something entirely different.

I did gymnastics. We had cartwheel-turning battles. Races. Pre-puberty I would win a lot of arm wrestling due to that gymnastics, which did not help my girly girlitude at all but it was FAB. Freeze Tag was big.

I did a LOT of bike riding. I pretended I had sisters who would come bike riding with me. Some of my real life friends were boys, and we would ride with no hands, or we would turn the bikes upside down and crank the peddles and play “We are working in a factory.”

My most coveted, wished-for-on-dandelion-fluff-eyelashes-and-birthday-candles toy was a red wagon. These were to be used as vehicles to fly down inclined street with at top speed.

I loved my kite. There was a long stretch of not much used road that the power lines didn’t cross. My kite was royal blue and hawk-shaped. Sometimes we combined these activities, attaching someone’s wagon to a bike with a jump rope in a sort of makeshift death train and trailing a kite behind us. I have scars on my knees. That was not the best way to loft a kite, really.

And I wrote stories. Or, I tried to rewrite stories I liked and put girls and black people in them. :-) Or department store mannequins. I had a whole Judy-Blume-esque tale of several teenage girls based on department store mannequins despite the fact that I had no fucking clue what being a teenager was like AT ALL. I rewrote bits of Prince Caspian and made him a girl, gave her a rival who was a boy, and inserted them in scenes from “Ronia the Robber’s Daughter.”

I practiced jumping over crevasses, like Ronia. I did not actually have any crevasses, so I made do with segments of the front walk.

I wanted to be Mole and Water Rat and have my own cute boat on a river behind my house.

I stole matches from the kitchen and set small twigs on fire, pretending to “camp” in the empty lot behind my house. I, um, may have fried an ant or two. I was not remorseful at the time.

No small me’s were harmed in the burning of these objects.
mmoa
Jul. 19th, 2011 09:39 am (UTC)
I really love this post for so many reasons. You reappropriate something that's often seen as typically 'girly' for what it is - whatever that may be, it's not about the guy. To me, Moffat's statement encapsulates what the patriarchy and the male gaze and so on eactually mean. It's the appropriation of the female experience to exist solely in relation to - and possibly in subservience to - the male. If that makes any sense!

Something else struck me (or at least, the inner history geek in me) as ironic about Moffat's statement when he says 'We don’t, as little boys, play at being married - we try to avoid it for as long as possible' because that's actually a very modern view. 300 years ago, that's exactly what men were dreaming about and playing with, in their minds if not anywhere else. Professor Amanda Vickery made an excellent documentary on the domestic life of the Georgians and really drove home that this idea of marriage being a cage set up by women to entrap the virile man is a relatively modern concept. What he claims as a lack of respect for the male, I see as a welcome rejection of a flawed (corrupted?) model of the male.
sophiamcdougall
Jul. 24th, 2011 07:24 pm (UTC)
Thanks! (Sorry to be slow at getting back). And yes, what you say makes sense entirely.

Is that true about little pre-modern boys aspiring to marriage...? Hmm -- I suppose an apprentice's most obvious route to a business of his own WAS to marry his master's daughter, so there's that.
(no subject) - mmoa - Jul. 25th, 2011 08:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
queen_isa
Jul. 20th, 2011 03:40 pm (UTC)
Hello!
Hello!

Im here via dolorosa_12 (sorry i don't know how to make the lj symbols!).

I have to admit this: I haven't read your books! I have an...aversion to Ancient History due to having had a crappy teacher in high school (and the timeline confuses me, i don't know why. I'm more into Modern history). But upon hearing of your depiction of women, I would like to give them a go - which do you think is a good stepping stone??


Now:

THANK YOU for having written this. I think it is very very important. I had no real idea of Moffat's views (I have not yet seen S5 or s6 - i find David Tennant hard to let go of and I am scared that the writing will ruin Doctor Who for me and I would not be able to bare that) but I am very pleased to find someone on my wavelength!!!
Well, Moffatt should meet my ex-boyfriend then! The ex is a German-Spanish actor, who pressured ME to get married and start having children within two years (of having dated for about 2-3 months), where he would 'take care of me' and i would 'keep up my end of the deal by looking after the children'. I am far too young (21 at the time!) and did not want to be 'trapped'. Role reversal , much?! So it is not always the females who are 'on the prowl' for a husband!!

For MY childhood: I was very tomboy-ish. I am not at all 'girly' - i have lived in an all-man household since the age of 13, so they had no idea how to handle the 'girly-ness'; make-up etc etc. Though, I have no real 'idea' of how to speak to boys. Crazy, isn't it?!

As a result, I read lots of children's story; Enid Blyton was my English language choice, but I was always George. I disliked Anne, she was just soppy and couldn't take care of herself. And Madeleine has always stayed with me: "And to the tiger at the zoo, Madeleine only said pooh-pooh!".
I wanted to be TinTin - the fact that he was a boy didn't register - I had lived a gobally nomadic existence as a child, so why couldn't I continue to do so as an adult?


I would be very interested to hear your views on Jane Campion's "Bright Star" if you have seen it and would not mind letting me know please? It tells the story of Fanny Brawne's love affair with the poet John Keats.

I am very sorry to spamm your comment page like this!

sophiamcdougall
Jul. 24th, 2011 07:21 pm (UTC)
Sorry, late reply!
I seriously adore the Eleventh Doctor. I didn’t expect to at all, I was utterly crestfallen at the casting of Matt Smith, and went in with very low expectations, but I fell in love on his first showing and now I say quite sincerely BEST DOCTOR EVAR. Then again, I had major issues with Ten, so I can’t guarantee you’d feel the same.

Famous Five -- Out of sheer bloody-mindedness, I always kind of stuck to Anne. Only sort of, because those books were never very important to me and I used to read them as much to take the piss out of with my friends as for sincere fun. But anyway, I KNEW Anne was soppy, I KNEW she was an insult. It wasn’t that I actually admired her. But the one thing she had going for her was that she was a girl and she didn’t seem to think being born a girl was a disaster, and I would latch onto ANY character back then who had those characteristics. And God knows nobody else seemed to be on her side, so I was out of underdog solidarity. Anne likes pretty dresses – so did I. But that’s it for her – with that quirk of taste in clothing, comes a whole stack of things she has to do and even more she is barred from doing. Whereas though George was nominally the cool one, she was also a sodding traitor, who only got to be “as good as a boy” by repeatedly and venomously denouncing being a girl.

I can’t say it better than this, really -- http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2005/dec/22/booksforchildrenandteenagers.comment

(I skim-read one of those books again recently. I was amazed at the sheer arbitrariness of the things girls are said to be unable to do. They can’t sleep in stables, apparently. Not even George, not even with the house right there, not even with nice beds all made up for them. I’m sure they sleep in caravans, and tents and possibly caves – but stables? Physically cannot be done. Stables have a vagina-repellent force-field, or something.)

Yes -- SO many of my married friends got that way when the WOMAN finally got over her fear of commitment and agreed to her boyfriend’s persistent pleas to settle down. One couple of my acquaintance briefly split when he decided – and told her, in so many words “It seems like you’re never going to want to get married!” They got back together, and he got his wish in the end –but it took a few more years! While this fallacy about “women hunting for husband” primarily hurts women, it also invalidates men who really do want to get married sooner rather than later and shouldn’t be sneered at for it.

There are loads of “women are needy” stereotypes that are reversed in my own experience. Like “women are clingy and want so many cuddles in bed that you can’t sleep.” I swear, every man I’ve ever shared a bed with has been all “Oh my own lovely little woman, I shall hug her and squeeze her and call her George,” and I’m all “Cuddling over. Sleeping time now. Geroff.”

Of course I’d love it if you were to give my books a try. Not having a background in Ancient History shouldn't matter at all. What I’ve published so far is a trilogy, so it would be best to start at the beginning with Romanitas, where you might want to keep an eye on Una. More women join in with the Doing Important Things project as the books go on.

Thanks for commenting, sorry it took me a while to get back to you!
theotheradamford.wordpress.com
Aug. 1st, 2011 11:10 pm (UTC)
yay!
Thankyou for this. It's great. I am the dad of two daughters under five and they are pirates and dinosaurs and fairies and monsters and princesses and mummies and babies in equal measure.

(ps I wore a kilt at my wedding and I looked fabulous!)
sophiamcdougall
Aug. 21st, 2011 10:37 am (UTC)
Re: yay!
I am really late replying to this and am not sure you'll get this, not being an LJ member, but I did want to say what a lovely comment it is. Your daughtes sound awesome and so do you. Thank you.
rimuvxg
Sep. 2nd, 2011 03:14 pm (UTC)
I was linked here from The Hathor Legacy -- I hope you don't mind me commenting! I've been thinking about this issue a lot lately, especially since a lot of people see Moffat as the ultimate best writer ever who could do no wrong. I think he is a very strong writer of plots and humour, though I do wish fewer plots were resolved with "surprise! It's River again!", but that doesn't mean he can't have faults.

What I think is that he is basically your standard issue privileged guy who is a bit (okay, a lot) blind to that, and who writes the type of woman he is attracted to. The interesting thing is that said type of woman is usually strong and intelligent (I'm thinking of Susan from Coupling as well as Amy and River), which does make a refreshing change from TVs standard issue screaming victim. He's also willing to write male characters in not very traditional, macho roles (I love the pants off of Rory, for example -- and I think Jack Harkness was his invention as well). So I think these refreshing portrayals make it hard to see that in certain ways his writing of women is very stereotypical, especially in defining them by their wombs and weddings. I can see this as a reaction to the starry-eyed overuse of Rose, for example, but the funny thing that DW has historically had quite a lot of strong, intelligent women, so it isn't really like he's doing anything that new.

I love your argument about playing at weddings, by the way. I never did and never understood it, because I was always busy being the action heroine magical princess warrior of my childhood games, but it makes a lot of sense.

(Incidentally, I'm a bit bothered by the lack of diversity this season as well. RTD had a lot -- a *lot* -- of faults, but I think one of his biggest strengths was in at least including a whole ton of marginalized groups on the Who romp. Maybe not always |*well*, but it was still nice to see people in all walks of life portrayed as *normal* and *valuable*.)
nialla42
Sep. 2nd, 2011 03:56 pm (UTC)
Here via a signal boost from The Hathor Legacy.

I've watched Moffet's first season as showrunner, complete with new Doctor and companions, and came away sort of bored. It wasn't awful, I just didn't care all that much. When I heard about this season being split, I decided to wait and watch it all in one go via my DVR. I think I might have been tempted to give up before or during the split. I haven't started watching yet, but I don't worry about seeing spoilers.

I'm just not all that interested in this iteration of Doctor Who in general and this Doctor specifically. Oh well, gives me more time to catch up on episodes that aired before I was born.

I've always found it odd that men can wear "iconic" clothing in every episode of a TV show or movie series, but women are generally expected to have multiple costume changes. If they're going to be "kick ass" and fight, it usually entails a costume that wouldn't allow a person to breathe properly, much less move, with a foundation of stiletto heels so they can look sexy while fighting. The guys are fine in some form of combat fatigues and combat boots.

I want my own Captain Jack Harkess jacket, dammit. Saw a female cosplayer at a con a while back wearing one, and almost tackled her to find out where she got it, but I restrained myself so I wouldn't end up with a restraining order.

Nice summation of an issue that goes far beyond Doctor Who.
killiara
Sep. 7th, 2011 10:31 pm (UTC)
Here via Hathor Legacy as well. ^_^ I was lucky in that during a few formative years I lived in Germany, and watched the small handful of english speaking cartoons they showed on the for the us army tv channels. The princesses of my early childhood were Leia, and the one from Voltron that piloted a giant blue robot lion and would be DAMNED before she let some strange men save HER KINGDOM without her, and the girls in Robotech who managed to save the human race, have realistic friendships, AND have romance that wasn't One True Love but worked anyway. And She-Ra, can't forget her.

My barbies never 'dressed for a date with ken'. They went on elaborate adventures where Ken tried to fill the male hero lead, came off as a condescending jerk, and Barbie had to decide if he was worth the trouble of rescuing or not.
julaybib
Oct. 8th, 2011 06:58 pm (UTC)
My daughters
You know, I'm a dad, and the bookish parent, and I really didn't read my two daughters (now young adults) much of Snow White, etc. I read them Meg and Mog. And Princess Smartypants. And Isobelle's Tummy. And Where's My Potty. And lots of books with interesting, sometimes powerful, often funny females in. Plus, to make sure they got the message that I didn't want them to wilting before bullying boys in the playground, or life in general, I sent them to karate. And I hope that's one reason they're both strong happy women. The fact their mum is a strong lady might have helped, too!
annathepiper
Jan. 8th, 2012 08:46 pm (UTC)
Came in from feuervogel on DW, and just wanted to say this was excellent reading. Thank you!
crazytook
Jan. 12th, 2012 01:44 am (UTC)
thank you
You've said everything I've ever wanted or tried to say and a thing or two I didn't even know I wanted to say! Thanks so much for such a well written entry. huzah!
crazytook
( 62 comments — Leave a comment )

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