I have a confession. As much as I deplore the trope when it appears in fiction, I fear that I am “not like other girls.”
I don’t set myself disdainfully apart from the actual girls and women around me. Rather, I have a hard time connecting with the vast majority of movies, shows, and even books that a certain conservative strain in pop culture pigeonholes as “entertainment for women.” I have no plans to read the Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey series, as a pairing of a very ordinary heroine with an uber-powerful alpha-male hero, supernatural or otherwise, doesn’t appeal to me. I have never watched a single episode of Sex and the City. While I appreciate recent/current romantic comedies when they’re done well (e.g. Trainwreck), for the most part I can take or leave them. I loathed Mamma Mia (remind me to tell you that story one of these days). The new breed of raunchy “girl comedies” like Bridesmaids and Rough Night also holds no interest for me. Probably the “girliest” (as defined by the all-powerful Them) shows I watch are Orange is the New Black and GLOW — both of which my husband, who in fact got me into Orange, watches with me. (Matt read the book Orange is based on, which he told me stops being based on the book at the end of the first episode.) Yet that conservative pop culture strain still tells me, if not in so many words, “You’re a woman. This is what you get.”
This strain motivates the people who shout “SJW!” at those like me who hope to see women authors and characters better represented in other genres, such as SFF and action-adventure. These people cry foul when female characters are given prominent roles in franchises like Mad Max and Star Trek and when the Doctor regenerates from a man to a woman (an issue I’ll tackle in an upcoming post). Translation: “Get out of our Boys-Only clubhouse. Go watch Sex and the City or… something else!”
Bad news, gatekeepers: I’m not going anywhere. Neither are other women like me, and we are many. In the ways that count, I am “like other girls,” and we won’t be fobbed off any longer with the things you tell us we’re “supposed” to like. (Except pumpkin spice lattes. I love those, and Matt enjoys them too, on occasion.) We’re a colossal part of the reason why Wonder Woman is a bona-fide smash hit, and why we’re seeing more, and more diverse, female characters in the Star Wars franchise, and why BBC chose to take a chance on a thirteenth Doctor played by Jodie Whittaker. Fans who demand male heroes still have an abundance to choose from, but female heroes are now a part of the discussion, and fans like me will not see that progress rolled back.
Still, the wild popularity of “my-monster-boyfriend” books, as well as books like Fifty Shades, makes me wonder. My problem with these stories isn’t so much that they’re ineptly constructed (although I think they are) as that too many people see them as representative of “what women want.” This feeds the neolithic illusion that men are the true arbiters of good taste, that stories by and about women have nothing to offer male readers, and that the only ways to make a female character interesting to a broader audience are to put her in a traditionally “masculine” sphere of action and endow her with skills and traits commonly associated with masculinity. Yet while the monster-boyfriend stories and Fifty Shades thrive, far better stories by and about women, featuring elements that supposedly appeal to women, are waiting to be discovered. Somehow I don’t think these “arbiters of good taste” would find Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart quite as easy to attack as Fifty Shades.
Juliet Marillier, with her superb Sevenwaters Trilogy as well as her YA fantasies Wildwood Dancing and Cybele’s Secret, Patricia C. Wrede, with her funny, insightful rewrite of the usual “princess” narrative The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and Shannon Hale, with her lovely fairy-tale retelling The Goose Girl, deserve to be the household names that Stephenie Meyer is. I’m not sure why they aren’t. Less effective marketing, perhaps? I only know that the best girl-centric stories, whether they place their female heroes in presumably masculine spheres or focus on more traditionally feminine environments and concerns, show that girls’ and women’s lives are fascinating and complicated and encompass a lot more than fashion and adolescent crushes. “Girly” does not equal “lower quality,” however much the conservative pop-culture strain would like to convince us it does. The more we can challenge this notion, the better.
To those who may feel they’re “not like other girls” because they don’t see themselves reflected in pop culture’s notions of feminine tastes and preferences, have courage. Someone out there is taking notice, and it won’t stop with Rey or Diana or Art3mis. I say again, we are many.