Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Feminist By Any Other Name

I've just finished reading Veronica Mars and Philosophy: Investigating the Mysteries of Life (Which is a Bitch Until You Die), edited by George A. Dunn. (Part of the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture series.) This was published in 2014, before the Veronica Mars movie, for what that's worth.

One essay in particular, "'Grow a Sense of Humor, You Crazy Bitch' Veronica Mars as a Feminist Icon" by Kasey Butcher and Megan M. Peters, has got me thinking. At one point, the authors say:

 "Veronica can be seen as a representative of a new type of feminism, which remedies the limitations of the earlier waves. She doesn't dismiss femininity, she has a positive attitude toward sex, and she approaches most issues on a personal rather than just an outwardly political level."

Sounds pretty good.

Conversely, elsewhere in the essay, they talk about Lilith House:

"With Lilith House, we're treated to one of the most stereotypical and damaging portraits of feminists in recent years. All of the women are presented as unjustifiably angry, humorless, and militant, and, with the exception of Claire Nordhouse, all are women of color who don't conform to traditional norms of femininity."

Not so good.

Now, keep that in mind, as I bring in another player.

After reading the above mentioned essay, I attempted to find a copy online, to share with a friend of mine. I didn't find that essay, but I did find another interesting article on Bitchmedia, "Push(back) at the Intersections: Veronica Mars and the Straw Feminists" by S.E. Smith. (Published in 2010.)

What follow are a few pieces of the article, that are pertinent to what I want to talk about.

"While I don't think creator Rob Thomas set out to make a feminist show, there are definitely some feminist messages in the show. There are some shockingly anti-feminist ones too."

"...Veronica Mars is no shrinking violet. She's creative, she's tough as nails, she's aggressive, she's a good investigator, she has complex relationships with other people."

"Veronica herself never IDs as feminist and we don't see the F-word thrown around much at all until we meet an aggressive women's group [Lilith House] at the college that's like your worst stereotyping nightmare. They're man haters, they're willing to frame people for crimes they didn't commit while they themselves commit rape, and they ride roughshod over numerous characters."

These two articles have me asking a number of questions. Just to be clear, I don't have any answers.

First of all, does self-identifying yourself as part of a group actually make you a part of that group?

For some groups, it's pretty clear whether you belong. Let's look at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). Do you have a membership card? Do you pay dues? (Does SAG have dues?) Do you meet the requirements needed to actually join SAG? If you answered "yes" to these questions, I would say that you are indeed a member of the group SAG. Otherwise, even if you call yourself a member of SAG, I say that you, sir, are a liar.

I am a member of the group known as "heterosexuals." I'm a male, who is attracted to, and occasionally has sexual relations with, females. Pretty clear cut.

On the other hand, the group "feminists" is a little harder to pin down. It seems simple enough. A feminist is someone who supports equal rights and treatment for women, right? Apparently, not everyone believes that it is as easy as that. I have been told, but have never personally verified, that some women think that if you like men, you can't be a feminist.

(This seems to be a problem with any group that does not have very clear cut rules for "membership." Some members feel the need to define their group based on very personal feelings/agendas. Just look at political parties, religion, and Star Wars fans.)

So, if Veronica Mars "never IDs as a feminist," can she BE a feminist? Does one need to be labeled, or self-label, as something, in order to actually be that thing? To the second question, I say "Of course not." If someone runs into a burning building, and saves some orphans, they are a hero, whether or not someone (including themselves) actually calls them a hero.

Conversely, does calling themselves "feminists" actually make the women of Lilith House feminists? Again, I say "Of course not." I'm not saying that they aren't, just that self-labeling doesn't mean that they are. Because so many people seem to have different definitions of what a feminist is, it can be difficult to establish who is or isn't a part of that group.

Another question I have has to do with creativity and responsibility. Do creators have a responsibility to portray any or all groups (except Nazis), or members of any given group (except Nazis), in a positive way?

So often I hear people complain about the bad guy in a book, movie, or TV show, being an insulting representative of their group. Apparently, your bad guy can't be Catholic, Asian, gay, a motel owner (Really. There were protests, by motel owners, when the Psycho remake came out.), black, Muslim, or a feminist. Or anything else. Except a Nazi.

First of all, are people so, uhm, lacking in critical thinking skills, and insecure, that they believe that any creator is saying "My bad guy is gay, therefore, all gays are bad guys. My bad guy represents them all?" (And I'm not even going to get into people who think that having, say, a racist character in your story, makes your story racist.) Sure, there is propaganda out there, and some people may have an agenda, but I would say that they are in the minority. (I have no real evidence to support this, just years of watching movies and TV shows, and reading books, looking at the creators of those things, and drawing my own conclusions.)

Second, there really are some bad Catholics, Asians, gays, motel owners, blacks, Muslims, and feminists. And all Nazis. Creators shouldn't whitewash the world, unless, of course, that is the point of their story. If we can't have anyone, except Nazis, be our bad guys, then we are all just watching/reading Captain America stories. The best fiction (even science fiction, horror, and fantasy) reflects the real world, and the real world is full of diverse, complicated people.

( Please note that, while I continue to say "Nazis," I have not said "Germans," because, GASP, Nazis are not representative of all Germans.)

Neither Mother Teresa, nor the Westboro Baptist Church, are representative of ALL Christians.

If Veronica Mars, the show, spent two and a half seasons establishing a positive feminist message, did the introduction of Lilith House, and it's "negative" portrayal of feminists, undo everything that came before? No. That's ridiculous. You can have a "bad" feminist character, without being anti-feminist. Just as you can have a "bad" gay character, without being homophobic, or a "bad" black character, without being racist.

As I stated at the beginning, these are just some questions that came to mind, while reading about Veronica Mars and feminism. I don't claim to have all (or any) of the answers. I'm just hoping to open up a dialogue. What do you think? Am I right? Wrong? Talking out of my ass? Let me know.

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