Last week James Cameron caused a million female eyeballs to roll skyward when he opined that contrary to what millions of women were proving with their dollars, Wonder Woman was not a strong female protagonist. Cameron then went on to list female characters he felt were better representations of strong women.
It should come as no surprise he listed his characters from his own movies. (See: Sarah Connor form The Terminator franchise)
It should come as no surprise I spent hours I will never get back spent arguing with strangers on the internet.
Fast forward and the word on the corner of Hollywood and Vine is a remake of Lord of the Flies. The catch? It’s going to be made with girls instead of boys! How very…
The entire premise of Lord of the Flies is a rebuke of the toxic masculinity endemic in English public-school mentality. Once you consider that it seems odd to try to remake it with..girls.
Come on, Hollywood! You can’t remake Lord of the Flies with girls without changing the entire plot. Because girls? Wait for it….
are not boys.
An island full of girls would not behave the same way an island full of boys would. They would organize themselves differently. That is not to say they would sit down and sing Kumbaya around a campfire braiding each other’s hair, but it would be a different story. You know why?
Because girls and boys, women and men are not interchangeable.
You can’t give a woman arm muscles and a giant gun and call her a strong protagonist. You can’t swap out girls for boys and say, “look how feminist we are!”.
I accept the blame for a lot of this confusion, and what I must assume are well-meant intentions. There seems to be a general misunderstanding regarding equality and equity. Perhaps it’s the framing of the feminist message itself.
Because in our strive for equality, what we sometimes neglect to mention is this: we are not trying to be interchangeable. We do not want to be swapped out for boys. We do not want to take the place of men. We don’t want or need male assigned characteristics simply transferred to us and slapped with a sticker proclaiming “equal”. We do not want to be judged on whether or not we can compete with, act like, govern like, or look like men.
Women don’t want to be men.
What we are looking for is equal value.
A woman with defined biceps is not necessarily strong, just as a man without them is not necessarily weak. What so many women right now are seeking is not apples for apples equality, but apples to oranges value.
Feminists are looking to reframe what is viewed as important, good, worthy, valued.
Men, on the whole and individually, have their own ideas of what strength is. Those ideas often differ from a woman’s idea of strength. And that is ok. What’s not ok is assuming one is better than the other, assigning one importance and the other half-off status.
This is what many feminists are talking about when they speak of assigning value.
I don’t want to be a man. I don’t want to look like a man, or act like a man, or pretend to be a man. Neither do any of the women I know. Writing or creating women with masculine characteristics does not automatically confer equality on women (I’m looking at you, Brienne of Tarth). Taking a story viewed through a masculine filter and merely swapping out the sexes does not make for a compelling story.
Because we have our own stories.
Male stories are often epic in scale. Physical journeys across ice caps and continents. Covered wagons and perilous ocean journeys. The drive to explore, conquer. Stories of courage in the trenches and theaters of war.
My disinterest in those stories does not take away from their value. It is merely to say this: there are other stories which are no less important simply because they may not be as grand in scope.
Often the stories of women are the stories in between the lines. The ones left behind to continuously mend the fabric of a society rent by constant war. The stories of the sometimes small, but excruciating choices women face to keep their families safe. When we watch movies about the horrors of war, it is often confined to the horrors of bloodshed and battle. Rarely are we exposed to the internal horrors faced by those left behind, the ones tasked with keeping not so much the home fires burning, but the will to continue.
How often do we hear the stories of the internal struggles of women to manage their own desires against the weight of motherhood? How often do we see movies about the quiet friendships of women which sustain them through the perils of their own lives? While male stories are told through the metaphor of chasing whales and galloping to poles, women’s stories are told in tea leaves and conversations.
It’s ok if men are not particularly interested in those stories. I get it. I’ve never been interested in Apocalypse Now or reading Hemingway because those stories, told through the filter of maleness, simply do not resonate with me.
What I resent is those male stories being the yardstick from which everything else is measured. What I resent is the implication there is something intrinsically wrong with me because I don’t enjoy David Foster Wallace or The Big Lebowski. That I am lacking the intelligence to appreciate these very masculine stories or that the stories I enjoy, watch, read, and yes, write, are merely a derivative. Less than.
When I speak of equality, it is this: I want our stories to count as much. Not more than. Not less than. Equal value.
What I want is to acknowledge that our stories are just as valuable to the human experience and deserve the same space. I don’t want my stories merely to be a copy of or a derivative of, the stories of men.
I want them to be valued in their own right.
Buy one, get one of equal value.