Feminist Frequency at WAM! LA, and the Trait Spread

Dear Millicent,

Just got home from WAM! LA, which continues tomorrow, and broadly covers one of our favorite conversations: women and media. Anita Sarkeesian was the first speaker that I caught, and her presentation kind of bestilled my Millicent and Carla Fran heart. She said the phrase ” to see women as full and complete human beings” as much as we have typed “three-dimensional character” here. We have a shared quest: seeking the real woman on the screen.

Sarkeesian, who you might know from her Feminist Frequency videos (also now featured over at Bitch), presented an analysis of typically feminine and masculine traits as valued on TV.  We know these well (men are strong, women are intuitive, etc.), and she made an interesting point that onscreen, in the few instances where men have negative traits, they are usually an overabundance of of their positive traits. The example Sarkeesian used was a man with too much confidence becomes arrogant, etc. Meanwhile, with women, there were very few positive traits (ability to connect with others, focus on relationships, nurturing) while the motherload were negative (weak, passive, messy, out of control, materialistic).

And in an interesting extension of the conversation, she showed her ideal characters, men and women who have a balanced spread of negative and positive traits. In her definition of what a feminist character is, Sarkessian said “I want to to see her struggle with balancing these values…especially since the world is hostile to these values.”  An example was to see a character working cooperatively, and the difficulty of doing so since our society values independence.

The first example that jumped to mind was again Louie CK. His show is all about how he attempts to have both negative and positive traits in a world that does not reward a man for doing so (the scene where he refuses to get in a fistfight and is told that this choice made him instantly unattractive is a prime example of this). Sarkeesian’s theory explains some of what makes his work so compelling. Like I said before, both CK and the Munro are excellent at showing the struggle of being “a full and complete human being” in a world that only values specific traits for each gender. And I think what we love about literary protagonists like Harriet Vane is that they show the lack of give the world has for these other values.  It’s validating to see the complexity exist for somebody else, and very helpful to see that the confusion exists in another consciousness besides the one we are trapped in.

It would be grand if we convince Sarkeesian to stop by MCF for a chat…I’d love for us to talk Brit TV, quibble a bit about True Grit , and look at how comedy might rearrange the spread of traits (am hoping to get a copy of her charts to link to soon).