Saturday, March 27th, 2010 06:53 pm
This Jezebel article (thanks to [ profile] entwashian for the link) poses the question: Is geek culture female friendly? It focuses on Lord of the Rings and Eowyn to hypothesise that women will find their role models anywhere they can; many commenters sensibly point out that Tolkien is hardly the be-all-and-end-all of geek culture and there are many other geeky sources with far more interesting and rounded female characters.

Personally, I think the question is wrong. She is not comparing "female friendly" and "geek culture" at all. She is examining commercially produced geek media, which is not "geek culture" at all - Lord of the Rings is a common reference point and focus, but it's not our culture as such. Positing professional media (male-dominated and very, very white, as with most professional media productions) to *be* geek culture is a disservice in itself. Geek culture is made up of geeks, and a huge number of us are female and/or feminist. We take professional media as a starting point and create our own culture. Whether or not it's "female friendly" is a nonsensical question - the correct answer could be anything from "more female-friendly and feminist than anything else in the world" or "no, it's made of giant floating misogynist turds" just by clicking from one tab in your browser to the next. White male geek culture is getting to be something close to mainstream (many of the big movies are comic book movies, for example - they're big properties, even as the actual comics sales continue to decline), but what about the rest of us? Are most white male geeks too mainstream to be geeks any longer? Are women and people of colour and GLBT people (and all the rest of the excluded groups) the ones to keep the underground, creative, outsider part of geek culture alive?

The question I would ask - one that [ profile] lyssie addressed in a post today - is why does female geek culture find it hard to be female-friendly? I don't mean in the "liking female characters" way - I mean in the "only women doing masculine-coded stuff are awesome!" way. It's the idea of the strong woman gone horribly wrong - see my icon for a character who is always written as a "strong woman" but is almost never written as a woman with agency*. Being a tough bitch (and I do mean "bitch" in the patriarchal sense) with a sword or a gun or a supernatural power does not mean the character has agency; being a woman (or a man) who displays more feminine-coded characteristics does not mean the character is an appendage to the Big Damn Hero. This is not so hard to see in everyday life (though it certainly was when I was a girly-stuff-hating teenager!) but it really can be in the media we enjoy.

So I wonder: is it the fact that we're geeks that means we appreciate the actors and the doers, who are mostly male? Are we harnessing our feminism to our geekiness, so that we can say we love female characters, as long as they give us the exact kind of geeky joy to which we are accustomed? I really hope that baby geeks who have grown up being able to identify with Scully OR Xena OR Starbuck OR Wendy Watson (not to mention find all the other fangirls online!) may be able to be both female and geeky without feeling the contradiction that the Jezebel article seems to think is automatic. Those of us who grew up identifying with Spock and Data and Doctor Who - not because they are male but because of character types we appreciate being written male and girls mostly being "The Girl" - need to get our heads around liking women characters without them needing to be a Strong Woman, which is just another version of The Girl. Can Sue Storm, for example, come from being The Girl to being a Strong Woman to being a character with agency? Not very often, and almost always in geek culture, rather than in media productions.

I do think things are improving - an ensemble with only one female character looks strange now - and yet so often shortcuts are taken with female characters that are not taken with men. As [personal profile] paperhearts discusses here, having a lead female character in a professional role doesn't mean too much when she's just there as a prop for the lead male character. That's the classic Strong Woman - she carries the gun, she has the credentials, and yet she rarely accomplishes anything on her own or for herself, and I always wonder who she is, really, with all those reaction shots. This is why analysis like the Bechdel Test is so valuable - when there are two women who talk to each other about something other than a man, the odds are really good that at least one of them has agency in that plot. Geeks can see the specifics and the system, both. Geek culture - not mainstream, Hollywood-ised, geek culture - is one of resistance and nitpicking and rewriting, and I can't see that feminism is in any way opposed to that. I'd rather see it as something integral.

*If you want to see any particular female comic character written with agency, and Greg Rucka has written that character, you're in luck! His runs on Wonder Woman, Elektra and Detective Comics featuring Batwoman and the Question, plus Gotham Central are pretty much my ideal for writing *all* characters with full agency. His short run on Wolverine would be a disappointing exception. John Ostrander and Kim Yale (as co-writers) also did well, though Ostrander wasn't bad on his own, either; Tamora Pierce hasn't written many comics but White Tiger was of the standard you might expect from her. Feminist geeks are not necessarily female.
Saturday, March 27th, 2010 07:07 pm (UTC)
I think this is an excellent post! ♥ Do you mind if I link to it?

I didn't know Rucka wrote a Wolverine comic. Now, I kind of wish he'd write Wolverine First Class, since Kitty is as much a main character in that as Logan.
Monday, March 29th, 2010 08:55 pm (UTC)
(I found this from newredshoes's post)

I really like your dissection of the difference between a Strong Woman and a woman with agency. I actually find the George R.R. Martin's Song of Fire and Ice extremely problematic for this exact reason. While he has some female characters who are portrayed as strong in spirit or body, none of them have agency.

I'm currently in the middle of a mental re-hash of the evolution (or de-evolution) of the portrayal of Cortana in the Halo series, so I found your post very timely.
Monday, April 19th, 2010 01:18 pm (UTC)