Feminist Critiques Or Bound By Our Own Conceits?

There are few news outlets at the moment who aren’t filling countless column inches with opinions, reviews and essays on the cinematic and literary phenomenons that are Twilight & 50 Shades Of Grey. Hell, it’s hard not to.

Interestingly though, alongside claims that female stars front and centre equal a positive shift towards a more gender balanced entertainment industry, one or two voices have cited these role models as reductive, in part due to their stringent adherence to gender stereotypes.

This may or may not be valid, but if fictional storylines of women being elevated, protected and cherished are so broadly embraced by the audience, is it more useful to criticise the messenger or examine why they might be so appealing in the first place? I’m going to have a crack at the latter.

I’m feeling a bit awkward this morning.

Firstly, it might be pertinent to point out that human beings love roles. Consumerism, or the use of badges to denote personal preferences and therefore membership of a particular clique, is ubiquitous in Western society, and we all, on some level subscribe to it. To belong is important. And reasonable. While the The Lone Wolf might appear an exotic creature in fiction, his or her approach is not a successful one; at an evolutionary level, survival of the individual relies upon co-operation and mutual dependency. Admittedly this doesn’t generally involve exsanguination or straps, but you see the point.

The default role for the male errs towards the outward – hunter, gatherer, risk taker, battler. The female, as the child bearer/nurturer, tends to face inward and stays closer to home, often because hunting buffalo with a whining toddler in tow is pain in the arse.

We in Western society may no longer be living in ramshackle huts and fearing organised pillages from those guys one clearing over (most of us, anyway) but why should that mean that most of us are less inclined to continue fulfilling these roles? Let’s remember that only through human interpretation and convenience has this resulted in the female ‘nurturing’ role usually being perceived as ‘weaker’ or less relevant, or that because many people want to identify with those particular roles, any other approach to life must be deviant or weird.

Secondly, cultural diktats make it incredibly difficult to evaluate the true distribution of this apparent desire to be relieved of personal responsibility. While the bodies pressed against metal barriers across the world at Twilight premieres and avatars on forums espousing the virtues of 50 Shades are almost exclusively female, we are always going to assume it’s the women driving this phenomenon. Especially since it ties in so neatly with our preconceptions.

But there could be, and probably are, millions of guys out there, straight, gay and everything in between, who secretly find comfort in notion of safety provided by an all conquering hero, a sexually alluring ethereal beauty like Robert Pattinson. While it’s culturally acceptable, even defining, for gay guys to voice this, the very idea of your average heterosexual male confiding in his mate over a pint that just sometimes, he longs to feel the weight of expectation lifted from his shoulders and submit to the comforting whim of a dominant male, is quite frankly snort inducing.

It shouldn’t be. But it is.

As a feminist myself, I want, more than anything, to see strong, positive, non-compromised female role models all over popular movies, literature and other forms of entertainment. But my motivation is not to see a world where women dominate or dictate, but freedom for every single human being to express themselves however they see fit, without fear of censure, mockery or abuse.

The only way this is ever going to happen is if we stop criticising and start thinking.

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