Saturday, 3 October 2009

How feminism ruins everything

My own ‘Eeyore’ tendencies have been considerably reinforced today by the revelation that a new ‘Winnie the Pooh’ story written by one David Benedictus features a character called Lottie the Otter, described by the publishers as “a feisty character who is bound to cause a stir.”
There is a weary predictability about the introduction (dare one say ‘intrusion’) of a female character into what is an otherwise male-dominated environment. But what is even more wearisome is that she has to be something other than ‘girlie’.
In Milne’s day, feistiness amongst women was, of course, not unknown. I remember being very impressed, on viewing the Three Sisters peaks in Australia’s Blue Mountains region, to be told that at the turn of the 19th century a group including some young women in long Victorian dresses had hiked across from Katoomba and climbed all three in an afternoon. That is feisty indeed.
But not everyone is ‘feisty’, nor need they be. Personally, having absolutely no head for heights, that is a particular form of feistiness to which I will never aspire. Indeed, I am not sure I would ever qualify for the term under any circumstances. But then neither would Winnie-the-Pooh himself, nor Piglet, and certainly not Eeyore.
On the contrary, the only ‘feisty’ personality in Winnie-the-Pooh that I can recall is Tigger —a character whose ‘feistiness’ borders on the frankly irritating.
And this is what is truly depressing about ‘feisty’ female characters. The fact is that in real life, feistiness —a word which apparently derives from an obscene term for a ‘lap dog’ —is quite rare. Some people are feisty (in the sense of ‘spirited and exuberant’) most are not. But for the modern female heroine, feistiness is de rigeur, whether it be Rose Tyler in Doctor Who (indeed, the Doctor’s female companions passim), almost every character played by Sandra Bullock, that skinny woman in The Matrix, or Bridget Jones, etc.
Feminism, it seems, requires that where there are not ‘enough’ females they must be introduced, and where they are introduced, they must be at the forefront. They must stand out. They must be ‘feisty’.
Yet here, surely, is an irony. For the fictional women who are conjured up by such exercises in ‘correction’ are oddly unfeminine compared with the real thing. The very fact that they must be ‘feisty’ is an admission that merely being female is not good enough. Of course, fictional male characters are equally ‘unreal’, but today the fictional woman has to be able to compete with the fictional man. Jane may still be rescued by Tarzan, but Jane must be equally capable of carrying out a few rescues of her own. She must, in a word, be feisty.
And thus, paradoxically, we show how ‘unfeisty’ we have all become —or rather how we have been cowed by the other type of feistiness, for the word can also mean ‘touchy’, ‘aggressive’, ‘argumentative’. And that is surely something we find in feminism and its proponents.
The result is that we are afraid not merely of bucking the trend but admitting the reality. Feistiness in women is at once real and rare. Moreover, it is (surely) of no greater value than other personality types, such as demureness, or warmth. It is feminism which demands that fiction follows such doctrinaire lines. In the process, fiction suffers, and through the distortions it embraces and entails, so does our experience of reality.

Thus (in the ultimate unlikely plot-twist) Lottie, we are told, “turns out to be good at cricket.” And here is the greatest irony of all. For the female character introduced (one suspects) to satisfy the requirement for gender balance for the contemporary audience of boys and girls, is made out to be more like a fictional boy  —the boy that boy readers of fiction aspire to be  —than the typical, real, girl.
John P Richardson
3 October 2009
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17 comments:

  1. This post has had an amazing effect on the accompanying adverts - too many to do anything about!

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  2. In response to your somewhat dogmatic article, I beg to disagree with your assumptions and, I feel, prejudices. You evidently feel threatened by the introduction of a female character in what has hitherto been a 'male domain', and appear to dislike the word 'feisty'. However, would not 'Pooh' from the said classic book be seen as 'feisty'? ie dictionary definition, 'full of animation, energy or courage, spirited, plucky'? I feel you demonstrate an oversensitivity to the word and feel threatened when it evidently describes the female character. Certainly feistiness in real life is not 'rare' as you put it. On the contrary, some are 'feisty', some are not. Jane Eyre, that icon of female heroism could certainly be said to be 'feisty', and yet no one would question that quality in her, or criticise her integrity of character and moral fortitude. Women aspire to and should be treated as equal to men. Perhaps you have a problem with that? Furthermore would you want all females (and fictional heroines) to have qualities of 'demureness'. What is the merit in being demure? Pray tell! Furthermore many women enjoy the sport of cricket. Why should it be predominantly a male domain?!! Mr Richardson, please amend your prejudices!

    Alison Richardson

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  3. Well, at least Kanga was the motherly type.

    Jill

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  4. Ah, yes. Kanga and Roo, the one-parent family, but feistily managing to live without Roo's father!

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  5. Don't get him on the subject of one-parent families!...

    Alison

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  6. Could Alison Richardson please enlighten us as to when she will start her own blog?

    May I suggest she calls it:

    "The Ugley Vicar's wife"

    I for one, would be an avid reader.

    Beauty and the Beast....

    Chris Bishop
    Devon

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  7. Thanks for the recommendation Chris. I'll give it some thought... (although 'himself' might feel threatened.) the 'feisy' wife,
    Alison

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  8. Seriously, I really hope you will do this Alison.

    If he feels threatened by this then perhaps you could call your blog

    'Tales from the Crypt"...

    Chris Bishop
    Devon

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  9. Does this mean I have to show Alison how Blogger works?

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  10. " Does this mean I have to show Alison how Blogger works?"

    Yes.

    The New Testament states quite clearly that

    "Husbands be considerate as you blog with your wives and treat then with respect as the less technical partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your blogging"

    I Pet 3v7 NIV
    (New Internet Version)

    Chris Bishop
    Devon

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  11. Personally I can't see any parallel between women as portrayed on tv and in stories and what feminism really is.

    Malcolm Apps

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  12. Great. 'For God so loved the blogger....'John ch3 vs 16. Sorry, couldn't resist. (This could get quite irreverent).
    Alison

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  13. We're not quite sure what you meant, Malcolm! Sounded good though.

    Alison

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  14. Elizabeth Bennett was "feisty". Jo March was "feisty". Anne Shirley was "feisty". Shakespeare's "Katherine" the Shrew was certainly feisty as was the Wife of Bath. Let's go back, all the way to Eve---she certainly seemed to possess this character as well. Feminism didn't invent feistiness, but perhaps came about because of it.
    And isn't the author of this new character male?
    Personally I don't support with rewriting anything (fiction or history) to accomodate the politically correct thought-du-jour and erase the significance of the historical document. If an author has creativity and integrity let them create a new imaginative world reflecting whatever values the author likes. The trouble is, few authors are that talented or creative so it becomes easier to co-op the existing works of dead authors to their purposes. Shame on them!

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  15. Anonymous - I'm sorry you've chosen to be anon, btw - the problem is that, as I said, feistiness, whilst real, is not the only character type for women, and pushed to the (literary?) limit often produces, ironically, a kind of 'anti-woman' - hence the new character is Pooh is 'good at cricket'. Why would she not, for example, be 'good at netball'? The answer, I'll wager, is that the latter is a 'girl's game' and the former is a 'boy's game'.

    Fiction is a powerful thing, and indeed has the power to mould the mind.

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