I hadn’t intended to address this one so soon. I’d planned to save it for a few posts down the road. But now and then a real-life incident burrows its way into my thoughts and forces me to change my creative direction. In this case, my Muse took the form of an uncomfortable Facebook experience.
Like many fans of fantasy and adventure, my friends and I have been discussing Avengers: Age of Ultron, and specifically breaking down the strengths and flaws in the character of Black Widow. A good friend posted an article on the subject, and the discussion was friendly at first. I pointed out that the root of the controversy surrounding Black Widow is the despicable Smurfette Principle, possibly my least favorite Trope in existence and one I’ve previously blogged about. I included a link to “I Hate Strong Female Characters” to emphasize my point.
Then one of my friend’s Facebook friends, reacting to the title of my link, posted that she hates almost every single female character and always finds a male character onto whom to latch in any story she reads or sees. While I found this sentiment a little disturbing, I took it as yet more commentary on the slipshod job too many writers do with their female characters, and how few are really worth identifying with. I was ready to shrug my shoulders and sigh, “Tell me something I don’t know, already,” when a braver soul than I replied to this poster directly, stating, “This is sad. You must hate women.” I had so not been ready to draw that conclusion.
Yet the poster’s response was swift and strong: she does hate women, because girls and women have treated her like crap, and this experience has shown her that only guys can be trusted, only guys make decent friends. I read her words and felt her hatred reach through the computer screen to slap me in the face. How should I have reacted to this? Should I beg forgiveness for the sin of having been born with two X chromosomes? I posted nothing, since I doubted strongly that such an attitude could be reasoned with. Very rarely can hatred be talked away.
A person who has been repeatedly bullied and betrayed deserves compassion. Perhaps that should have been my first response. This woman’s abusers probably internalized the cultural suggestion that women are each other’s natural enemies, and any “friendship” between two women — even relationships within families — will inevitably end with a knife in the back. Having swallowed this prescription, they passed it onto her, and thus the vicious circle spins on and on. Why are we women conditioned to hate and mistrust each other? Why do so many of us fall for that conditioning?
The Female Misogynist trope is a corollary of the Smurfette Principle. Such a woman belongs in a man’s world and surrounds herself exclusively with male mentors, friends, and lovers because she sees herself as having nothing in common with other women. Just like the male misogynist, she sees other women as a great big “They” who are All The Same, a hivemind with a single dark heart. This vast “They” is a threat because one of “Them” might just attract the attention of one of her worshipful male supporters. Competition is one of the things a Female Misogynist cannot tolerate. Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake is one of the best-known examples of the trope, as the TV Tropes entry points out. Because she’s the protagonist and we’re meant to see her as heroic, her stories depict her misogyny as justified.
If reason could reach her, I might tell this friend-of-a-Facebook-friend that her hatred is a snake that eats its own tail. If you expect the very worst of the women you meet, surprise! That’s exactly what you’ll get. No matter how badly others may hurt us, we hurt ourselves even worse when we allow our justifiable anger at those specific people who have injured us to broaden into an unjustifiable hatred of an entire group. I’m sorry for what you have suffered, by I am not going to apologize for my two X chromosomes. I am responsible for my actions alone, and those actions do not include hurting you. In the words of Depeche Mode, “I’ve never even met you, so what could I have done?”
In my own reading and writing, if the Female Misogynist appears, her contempt and mistrust would be clearly presented as a bad thing, a flaw that a decent character would sooner or later grow beyond. I enjoy stories in which characters learn to overcome and eventually abandon their prejudices. But if the prejudice is presented as something to which the character rightfully clings, I say, “No.”
Here is a Goodreads list for those seeking more positive depictions of relationships between women.