It’s time to give someone else the microphone.
The internet’s done a lot of great things, but one of the best has been its ability to unite and network people. Whatever obscure thing you’re into, you can find a community of people around the world who are just as excited about it as you are.
The internet has allowed social movements to organize in ways that weren’t possible before, introduced us to online dating, and made us more aware of the world and people around us. Terms like microaggressions, POC and cisgendered are entering our vocabulary with increased regularity.
We’re seeing this reflected in media, too. In a world where a show can be made or broken based on the online commentary that surfaces as soon as an episode ends, becoming more socially knowledgeable has been a turning point for many.
Joss Whedon is often heralded for his support of feminism, supposedly exemplified by the worlds he creates. The television series that made him a household name, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, boasts a lead female character who isn’t afraid to fight. She holds her own and performs significantly better than her male peers – and this is where we run into our first problem. Why is the barometer for a strong female character “as strong as guys?”
Buffy repeatedly fails in all of her relationships, breaking apart emotionally when each one ends. She’s punished for her sexuality – most notably when it literally turns her boyfriend Angel into a demon, and yet again by way of Riley, who spent a year doing his best to undermine her. Making out with Cordelia required that she be punished by way of a rebar through the chest. And I’m not even going to touch on the ‘nice guy,’ Xander, who I firmly believe would’ve been vaping and wearing a fedora if the show had been written ten years later.
Even assuming it was entirely unintentional, the message is easy enough to read by any woman who’s grown up being told that she needs to keep her legs closed. In Joss Whedon’s world, anytime a woman does something sexual, punishment is in order. All the while, boys are encouraged to play the field because “boys will be boys.”
The simple fact is, Joss Whedon is a man. And as a man, he can never write the female experience the way a woman can. He’ll never fully understand the nuances of being female in the world he’s creating, because he’s never lived in that universe.
In addition to quality, there’s a quantity issue. Studies repeatedly show that women make up 50 per cent of the writing staff on shows that are created by women, and an abysmal 15 per cent of the staff on shows created by men. Michelle Lovretta, current creator of Syfy hit Killjoys, reports that the shows she runs tend to have a majority of women, and she notes how rare that is. “I really crave well drawn female characters, so I most often respond to a writer who can bring that recipe. Many of those writers are women, so the gender balance thing kind of takes care of itself.”
And it shows in Killjoys, a science fiction show featuring a woman of color as the lead and two white men as her sidekicks. It’s a show written primarily by women, created by a woman, and as such it never comes across as fake or pandering. You never get the impression that the lead character, Dutch, is written to impress men or to appease a male ego. She exists wholly and entirely on her own terms – and having women at the helm is what makes that a reality.
There’s another issue with having a limited number of women represented in television and film: when there’s only one woman character on a show, she’s forced to represent every woman in the audience. Men don’t have this problem.
Take the Avengers cast, for example. The guy who thinks of himself as a kind-hearted hero may relate to Captain America, whereas the guy who thinks he’s a bit of a wiseass may pick up an Iron Man poster on his way home. If you’re a woman, you have Black Widow. That’s it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with relating to a character that isn’t your same gender, but it shouldn’t be the only option.
I’m finding myself less and less enchanted by shows written, produced and directed by men. I’ve heard their stories. I’ve been hearing their stories all my life. It’s time to give someone else the microphone.
Images via flickr.com and giphy.com.
Comment: Do you prefer to watch shows created by women?