s. e. smith wrote this amazing post a while backÂ at Bitch’s Push(back) at the Intersections: “I Just Don’t Like That Many Female Characters.” And I read it and was like, “OMG GEEK CULTURE.” Because, really:
‘I just don’t really like many female characters, you know?’
I see this coming up again and again in discussions about pop culture; this is an attitude I myself once embraced and espoused, like it was a badge of honor to dislike most female characters. I thought I was being oh-so-edgy and critiquing female characters when really I was engaging in an age-old form of misogyny, where people prove how progressive they are by saying they hate women.
I know, it sounds weird. But there is a thing that happens where some feminists declare themselves firmly to be ‘one of the guys.’ I’m not sure if it’s a defensive tactic, designed to flip some attitudes about feminism and feminists, or if there is a genuine belief that being feminist means ‘being one of the guys.’ Once you are ‘one of the guys,’ you of course need to prove it by bashing on women, because this is what ‘guys’ do, yes? So you say that you don’t really ‘connect with’ or ‘like’ female characters you encounter in pop culture.
If feminists feel pressure to be accepted as “one of the guys,” imagine how geek women feel, particularly early in their lives, when they often feel isolated from one another.
This tendency to dislike female character reminds me of anotherÂ “being one of the guys” strategy: I often meet women who tell me proudly, “I just don’t get along with women.* All of my best friends have been guys.” These womenÂ also oftenÂ think that this fact actually makes themÂ progressive (because nothing’s more radical than failing to create female-centric relationships!). And most of the women I’ve known whoÂ say this are geeks. It’s actually one of the reasons it took so long for me to become friends with geeks, because “I don’t get along with women” is dealbreaker for me. Any woman who says this is either a) telling me that I can never expect more than perfunctory friendship with them or b) inviting me to denigrate women as well, as the basis of our friendship. And no thank you.
Which is not, of course, to say that these ladies are horrible people. Women who refuse to connect with other women, fictional or real, are not causing the problem, but perpetuating it, because they’ve bought patriarchal narratives about women hook, line, and sinker. They seek connections with men, because men are the rational, smarter set, and by doing so they feel required toÂ malign their own genders, because, as smith points out, “bashing on women” is just what dudes do.Â But loving other women, connecting with other women, is one of the most radical feminist act one can perform. And I think that goes for fictional characters, too, especially since I know that my personal path to feminism would have been greatly hindered if it weren’t for Xena and Buffy.
So it hurts my heart when geeks inexplicably “hate” female characters on geek shows. Indeed, the two examples smith uses are actually from geeky/fantasy/SF shows: True Blood and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It seems likeÂ misogynist write-offs of female characters areÂ disturbingly prevalent inÂ allegedly progressive fan cultures (like the overtly feminist Buffy), and the ones that have been pissing me off lately are, of course, Doctor Who-related. A sizeable part of DW and TorchwoodÂ fandomsÂ has a lot of ire for female characters from these series. The two I want to focus on, in part becauseÂ hatred of these characters is well-represented in both fan communitities, areÂ Gwen Cooper (from Torchwood) and River Song (from Doctor Who).
[Spoilers for season 5 of Doctor Who and Torchwood: Children of Earth (season 3) below the fold.]
[Trigger warning for imagined violence against female characters, slut-shaming,Â and otherÂ misogynistic language.]