women should avoid trying to be versions of men

A news item caught my attention yesterday, about “the 12 strongest female characters in movies”. The list included:

#1 – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009, trilogy): Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander

#2 – The Color Purple: Whoopi Goldberg as Celie Johnson (1985)

#3 – Kill Bill, Vol. 1 & 2 (2003, 4): Uma Thurman as “The Bride”/Beatrix Kiddo

#4 – Alien(s) (1979, 1986, 1992): Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley

#5 – Silence of the Lambs (1991): Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling

#6 – Elizabeth (1998): Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth

#7 – Girlfight (2000): Michelle Rodriguez as Diana Guzman

#8 – House of Flying Daggers (2004): Ziyi Zhang as Jen Yu

#9 – Resident Evil (5 films: 2002-2012): Milla Jovovich as Alice

#10 – Columbiana (2011): Zoe Saldana as Cataleya

#11 – Aeon Flux (2005): Charlize Theron as Aeon Flux

#12 – The Matrix Revolutions (2003): Jada Pinkett Smith as Niobe

The problem with this list is that, with two exceptions (#2 and #6) all the other characters are basically “macho” types who fight, shoot, beatup and kick other guy’s asses… So it seems that the authors think that in order to be considered “strong”, a woman has to be violent.

Yes, a woman can do anything a man can do. So what? Being a strong woman should not be about being a better version of a man… it should be about being a better version of a woman.

The American culture tends to put a lot of emphasis on violence. This is so valued and idealised that it becomes desired behaviour for both men and women. In other cultures the feminist movement is about enhancing qualities like caring and quality of life, and criticizing men for being “macho”; in the US it seems that (at least some sectors of) the feminist movement focus on competing with men to see who can be more of a “macho”!

Women should realize that a cultural trick is being played on them… Instead of enhancing their character as women, they are trying to prove that they can be better versions of men. Rather, they should try to get both men and women out of the stereotyped roles, and seek a greater balance of roles.

It’s not about becoming the stereotype of a woman (frail and delicate, imprisoned in the home), nor about becoming the stereotype of a man (bold and violent, insensitive). A balanced list of “strong” female movie characters might have four of the above “shooters”, four “stereotypical female types” and four characters that transcend the stereotypes.

As it is, the list seems to glorify characters that are simply good at a) being more violent than men; b) showing that they don’t need men; and c) beating up men at every opportunity.

Just look at these quotes from the films:

From #7 — “I love you. I really do.” … And then Diana punches Adrian in the face

From #6 — “I am not your Elizabeth. I am no man’s Elizabeth. And if you think to rule, you are mistaken.”

The whole thing reeks of adolescent counter-dependence: teenagers (because they are immature) go through a long phase of speaking and behaving against anything their parents say or do, just to prove to themselves that they can be independent. When they finally become mature enough to be really independent (sometimes only when they reach their thirties…) they can be more serene; they are no longer counter-dependent. Perhaps these feminists (fortunately not all feminists think that way) are still going through that teenage phase of trying to prove to themselves that they can be independent from men.

All of this is kind of stupid: men and women should get along and make love, not war. Real love, not mindless sex.They are inter-dependent. They can be independent AND depend on each other, rather than be subordinate to either one or the other.

They are not equal: they are equivalent. That means they are, indeed, different. As the French say: “vive la difference!”. We should celebrate male and female differences. And realise that men and women are equivalent: that is to say, they have the same value. Neither is more worthy than the other.

We should stop this endless competition; the “sex wars” are silly, and they are actually an expression of a “macho” culture that turns everything into a contest. That’s a cultural trap that women should not fall into, and they should help men free themselves from that same trap.

This was part of the original philosophy of the feminist movement in the 70’s. We should not allow ourselves to be diverted from those original ideals.