Be young and shut up

A blog about student activism.

Adorable dependency

with 7 comments

There’s a particular phenomenon in contemporary popular culture regarding the depiction of women characters.

Very few women characters are allowed to be totally independent from men. There is nearly always something lacking, missing, or dysfunctional about women without men.

New Girl is one of the starkest examples of this, with the character Jess stumbling through life with the occasional help of her (male) flatmates and the odd boyfriend. She is also a manic pixie dreamgirl –  a particular specialism of Zooey Deschanel.

Penny from Big Bang Theory is another, living from month to month (in an apartment unrealistically expensive for a waitress, but TV magic) with the support of Leonard and cameos from sporty-but-thick boyfriends.

Bridget Jones is a classic example, with her oversized pants, blue soup and bunny ears, bumbling through life waiting for a man to save her.

Carrie Bradshaw – spending thousands on shoes, relying on rich friends to pick up the pieces, perpetually late and disorganised and ultra-neurotic is the ‘relatable’ character in Sex and the City. Despite being a capitalist, I much preferred the joke character of Samantha, who is presented basically as a woman with the same instincts and needs as a stereotypical man – meaningless sex, business and profit, control. But she’s the exception and Carrie is supposedly the everywoman.

And in Girls, too, Lena Dunham’s character is unable to cope by herself.

Caitlin Moran, who is also pretty fucking racist – and cissexist – makes hay out of this adorably-useless kind of womanhood, where obsessing about your thighs and getting chewing gum in your hair is somehow an inevitable part of How To Be A Woman.

And that’s just a few examples of this fucking endless phenomenon.

I’m a pretty dysfunctional woman who always spends a bit too long in bed, has spots and unbrushed hair; whose finances are in an absolute state. Who eats cheese until she feels sick. Men to save us though? No thanks, we’d be doomed.

Others have written good stuff about the childishness of these idealised feminine tropes, in which another whole subject area of analysis arises.

I don’t wish to fetishise ‘independence’ or ’empowerment’ in the sense of success under capitalism, which is anti-feminist and ablist in my view. It’s okay not to be able to cope, it’s okay to need help. It’s okay to not want to exploit people to gain your own so-called ’empowerment’. Instead, I wish to draw attention to the way heterosexual (monogamous) women characters are attractive to their ‘dream men’ when they are unthreatening, vulnerable and dependent.

The way many writers of different genders fetishise the dependency, vulnerability and neediness of women characters is deeply disturbing – keeping women down in order for them to need men.

Instead, we should be exploring worlds without men as saviours, worlds where gender relations are changed and stories involving women who will muddle through without men or, better still, find their place in struggles to improve their conditions. Or at least exploring gendered lives in a more interesting way.

And that’s why Christina Aguilera and the Pussycat Dolls have better gender politics than half of people in popular culture who profess to be feminist or “pro-equality”.

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Written by CakeCakeCakeCakeCake

October 7, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

7 Responses

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  1. And this is why I utterly loved CJ Cregg of The West Wing, who — although she’d occasionally have a bit of a ‘why can’t I find a man who gets me?’ moan — basically spent her eight years in the fictional White House married to her career because her job was The Best Job Ever and any bloke who tried to tie her down always got kicked to the kerb.

    Literally the only female character on a TV show I’ve ever seen not Need A Man To Help Them at some point.

    Claire

    October 7, 2012 at 4:10 pm

  2. I don’t think the situation is a biased as you are leading people to believe. I will admit I haven’t watched all these programs/films you list but for example in the big bang theory Penny is actually depicted as the unattached comitophobe where the guys are far more submissive than any of the women in that program. They are depicted as the dependant ones. Another prime example is the role Zooey Deschanel plays in 500 days of summer. I think the key point is that people depend on each other and vulnerability is a natural part of life. I think most people, men and women have that attitude of searching for a partner that you see in Bridget Jones. The depiction of men as cold and detached in such situations is not representative.

    PC

    October 7, 2012 at 5:05 pm

  3. Right I cannot stomach you any longer, in my opinion your a idiot. You are simply beyond repair, here are a few words of wisdom for. Not every man wants to rape you or indeed any female. A joke is a joke a compliment is a compliment not something cunningly designed to offend you or insult your womanhood you self opinionated twat. As for your political views seriously, are you that naive and stupid? You seem to think communism is a good idea, well it goes hand in hand with human rights abuse, seriously think about. In one of your blogs you mention being raped, did you report it? Probably not. It is an insult to any person that has suffered a rape seriously it’s a joke. These words are all my opinion so don’t get overly offended, but being a white middle class male that does not actually wish you any harm means you probably will.

    James

    October 7, 2012 at 6:15 pm

  4. @ PC —

    You’re right to an extent, but Kate isn’t talking necessarily about romantic attachments. She’s not talking about Penny from TBBT (a show I generally like) constantly needing to *have a boyfriend.* It’s more that she constantly falls back on Leonard (and sometimes the other guys) whenever she needs to do something even vaguely difficult. Examples off the top of my head: she lets Sheldon take over running her small business for her; when she’s feeling depressed she turns to Sheldon for help and ends up getting addicted to an online RPG; she calls on the guys when she needs to put together a flatpack bookcase (seriously, how many people does that take?!); she asks Leonard to buy comic books for her nephew’s birthday; when a new girl moves into the building they start competing over who can get the guys to do the most menial tasks for them (setting up their DVD players, stereos and so on); etc etc etc. There are constant examples of things she could totally have done herself that instead, she obviously feels like she has to ask a man to do. I like the show and I actually like her character, but I totally see what Kate means.

    You mention 500 Days of Summer, but there’s been a ton written about how that film totally goes against the standard rom com in every way — that’s kind of the point of it (that the man is the needy one and the woman is the independent one). If that needy woman trope didn’t exist, 500 Days wouldn’t exist!

    Claire

    October 8, 2012 at 7:13 am

    • Haha maybe that’s why i love 500 days of summer so much :)

      PC

      October 8, 2012 at 7:23 am


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