I am someone who performs a lot of image searches, hard as that would be to believe.
There’s something you notice about society when you do that – and it’s the disconnect between perceptions of men and women.
Example: Look up “Man with a sword.” What do you find?
Lots of men looking dangerous, badass, intimidating or noble.
Lot’s of these and then one picture of Jonathan Rhys Meyers falling more on the scale of titillating hotness as opposed to badassery.
Then look up “woman with a sword” and you will get a lot of…
Look, frankly most of them aren’t even swords. They’re just flashy penis metaphors. And even if the girls are looking a little more threatening than the above examples, most of them are dressed scantily for maximum visual effect.
Some people aim in life to be pious, some modest, caring, others successful, or desirable or powerful. My aim in life is to be a badass. When I walk past I want people to longingly clutch at their chest and turn to the person next to them and say, “There goes a true badass.”
When I die, I want the preacher to say, “We are gathered here today to bid farewell to Kat Kennedy – teaching people the meaning of badass one face-hammering at a time.”
When I meet interplanetary aliens (and personally broker peace between our two solar systems – either with my brilliance or my fists of fury) I want the name Kat Kennedy to translate into Badass in their alien language. Like, “You’re looking particularly Kat Kennedyish today!”
“Why, thank you! I always do when I’m simultaneously dropkicking black holes and calculating quantum theory.”
But that’s hard to do when a simple internet search for Badass comes up mostly with men. Because badass isn’t something people really associated with women. Until recently.
And things are changing in the YA world just like the rest of the world. Now for every two pretty prom dress covers with girls who wait for Vampire prince charming to change their worlds, there’s a female protagonist with stone ovaries the size of boulders.
There was a discussion on a Game of Thrones thread about the representation of women in the books. Mostly that it wasn’t great since they were all being oppressed and raped and the general response to that was, “Well, that’s history. Women got raped and oppressed.”
Don’t get me wrong. Women have consistently been in a position of vulnerability. But that does not mean they are weak and it doesn’t mean that they are not badass motherfuckers. Woman is not just synonymous for victim. Women are beyond awesome.
Boudicca, Tomoe Gozen, Rosa Parks, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, Sybil Ludington, Maya Angelou, Bessie Coleman, Abigail Adams, Joan of Arc, Cleopatra, Queen Kathrine, Queen Elizabeth I and II, Queen Victoria, Queen Mary, Florence Nightingale, Mary Seacole, Susan McKinney Steward, Madame Curie, The Trung Sisters, Septima Zenobia.
Look, I’ve left SO many off because I could keep going and going and going. These women are all famous for different kinds of badassery. And maybe some people will argue and say, “Cool. But often in YA it’s about ordinary girls – not legendary badasses.”
Okay, putting aside the fact that ordinary women, everywhere, are badasses without being legendary, the protagonist of a story isn’t very good when they’re passively waiting to be saved. That’s not a protagonist. That’s a piece of baggage in a pretty dress.
Case in point, there was one YA novel where the female protagonist is trapped with the antagonist and she is told to get on the stone altar so that she can be tied to it. I shouldn’t have to tell you this but NOTHING GOOD HAPPENS ON A STONE ALTAR.
It is a stone fucking altar. Nobody is tying me to that without a fight, is what I’m saying. Because once you ARE tied to a stone altar, you’re pretty much fucked. They’re not going to give you a perm, is what I’m saying. There’s a divide between people like Boudicca, Cleopatra, Tomoe, and The Trung sisters – and someone who would actually cooperate and get onto the stone altar that they’re going to be tied to. And maybe there’s nothing wrong with saying that I don’t ever want to read about a person who WOULD willingly climb onto a stone altar without a fight. Because I can not stress this enough: It is a STONE ALTAR OF DEATH. Anybody who would do that is not a protagonist. They’re cannon fodder. Because the only way they can survive is if someone stronger and smarter and more capable comes along to save them. And the only reason they’d do that is because Cannon Fodder is their pretty romantic interest. And the fact that people don’t write male protagonists as Cannon Fodder but will happily write women into that role is a massive insult to our entire sex.
And the “every day girl” shit is exactly that – shit. Because the Trung sisters were every day girls until somebody fucked with them and they fucked right back. Sampat Pal Devi was just an ordinary woman until she watched a man beat his wife in the street. Millions of women throughout history were ordinary women until somebody fucked with them and though most of their stories don’t make it into history – being an ordinary woman shouldn’t be an excuse to be a pathetic, cowardly sack of tears.
My Little Pony: Friendship is magic gets a lot of slack. It gets slack for being a cutesy children’s show. And whilst I absolutely ADORE Ms. Magazine because it’s awesome, it was also COMPLETELY wrong in its cursory examination of My Little Pony as Homophobic, Racist and Smart-Shaming. I would go into why they were wrong but I’m afraid it would take an entire article to point it all out.
Why are people so disgusted that adults, particularly men, love My Little Pony so much? Why does it offend them that men would like a TV show that seems to be targeted at little girls? And why do people look down their noses at it for being a stupid kids show?
The beginnings of My Little Pony reboot:
Faust said she was “extremely skeptical” about taking the job at first because she had always found shows based on girls’ toys to be boring and unrelatable.My Little Pony was one of her favorite childhood toys, but she was disappointed that her imagination at the time was nothing like the animated shows, in which the characters, according to Faust, had “endless tea parties, giggled over nothing and defeated villains by either sharing with them or crying”. With the chance to work on My Little Pony, she hoped to prove that “cartoons for girls don’t have to be a puddle of smooshy, cutesy-wootsy, goody-two-shoeness”.
And other people don’t get it but those adult men and women bronies do. You want your pretty girls in prom dresses? Fine, but take a leaf out of Faust’s page. YA doesn’t have to be just smooshy, romantic, virginal, out-cast, beautiful protagonists.
To keep having these so-called everyday, ordinary girls be passive and pathetically weak/stupid is a slap in the face to ordinary girls everywhere. Because there are ordinary girls, everywhere, who are complete badasses. Whether it’s because they refused to give up their seat on a bus or because they rode all night to save their country or because one day they led their people in a rebellion. Ordinary people everywhere, every day turn into heroes. The greatest thing that can happen to a girl is not that she falls in love with the best guy ever to eternally protect her from all the nasty bad guys. It’s the moment she realizes that, with or without him, she can be a complete badass. Whether that’s shooting a Kraken in the face or refusing to be put on a stone altar without one helluva a fight – maybe even deciding that she’ll be on a stone altar when she’s dead and cold first.
My Little Pony teaches us that people will assume because it’s a show aimed at little girls, that it’s stupid and pathetic. But it’s not. Those Ponies rock – each in their own way. Similarly, there’s nothing wrong with writing a pretty, ordinary, every day girl who falls in love with a paranormal hunk – but, please, don’t patronize us. Give her spirit, give her some kind of strength of character, realize what a badass she is. Because women are fucking badasses – whether they’re ordinary or not.