Female Tropes by FeministFrequency: What Fun is Left for a Feminist?

This may not come as much of a shock for many of you, but being a feminist is hard. Naturally, those who identify themselves as a “feminist” can usually agree that the goal in mind is specifically women’s equality, with the occasional foray into equality for all. Then comes the tricky part. How in the world does a feminist manage to have any fun in a patriarchal world? This is especially relevant in media. What fiction books can you enjoy? What movies can you watch? Comic books? Video games? Forget it!

This is where FeministFrequency comes in. On YouTube, FeministFrequency, as part of a series for Bitch Magazine, has begun posting what is to be a six-part series entitled Tropes vs. Women. The focus of these videos is to point out tropes and stereotypes that women in media are placed into, producing extremely sexist and clichéd one-dimensional characters and lousy (bordering on non-existent) plots.

The series opens with “The Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” whose sole purpose in the movie is to assist the broody male lead in finding his way. This trope is usually white, sparkly, carefree, and clearly has nothing better to do with her life, as she is never off doing it, but is consistently available for whatever the pitiful mopey, angsty male lead should require. The movies identified as guilty of perpetuating “The Manic Pixie Dream Girl” stereotype include (500) Days of Summer, Elizabethtown, and Garden State.

This video is followed by the second segment, titled “Women in Refrigerators.” This video addresses the fate of women in comic books, namely that these “Superheroines” are often “depowered, raped, or cut up and stuck in the refrigerator.” Even with super powers, these powerful women are not only objectified in how they are portrayed, but often meet a terrible end in order to further the plot of a male counterpart. The reference to “Women in Refrigerators” comes from the Green Lantern comic book series, in which Green Lantern’s girlfriend, Alex DeWitt, is murdered and crammed into a refrigerator. Gail Simone identified this as an ongoing trend in comic books in which women are sacrificed for no other reason than as a convenient plot-twist to give the male lead more depth. To demonstrate this, Simone made a distressingly long list of female heroines in comic books that have met terrible ends. Some of the comic book heroines mentioned as part of the “Women in Refrigerators” trope are Gwen Stacy of the Spiderman series, Stephanie Brown of the Batman series, and Big Barda of the Female Furies, Birds of Prey, and The Justice League.

FeministFrequency calls out anti-feminist media, often pointing out harmful stereotypes in popular culture that many of us may be tempted to ignore. After first watching some of the videos posted, I must confess they made me uncomfortable, mostly because some of the movies, televisions shows, and other media outlets that FeministFrequency identifies as sexist are personal favorites of mine. But when I attempted to defend my media choices, I found I had no logical leg to stand on. Most of popular culture is so permeated by sexism, it is almost inescapable. So when attempting to find woman-friendly media, it’s easy to give up hope early on in the search and accept the things that are the least offensive. However, just because these things are not as overtly sexist as some others that could be mentioned, it does not mean that the sexism is not present. My immediate reaction to the FeministFrequency videos was to fall back on that old argument, “Seek and ye shall find,” implying that if you approach media looking for a problem, undoubtedly you will find it. Further, I was also very tempted to accuse FeministFrequency of being nitpicky, but this, like the former argument, was just an attempt to justify my media choices. That being said, what is left for a feminist to do? What media is devoid of offensive material? And if there is none, I ask you, what are feminists supposed to do when they’re not actively pursuing equal rights? Frankly, television passes the time and it is a pacifier for my brain.

My objection to FeministFrequency is not that it points out sexist messages that I would like to overlook so that I may continue watching my TV crack unimpeded by my own ideals. Rather, I would like to see these videos, instead of strictly pointing out what’s wrong with media, try to find something that people can happily enjoy without perpetuating vicious stereotypes. Is it a dream to think that this friendly media exists? Perhaps, but one that I fully intend to indulge. The one show that FeministFrequency does appear to endorse is Veronica Mars, which is absolutely incredible, but brought to an end after only three seasons. What else, FeministFrequency? Instead of solely offering criticism on what is wrong with media, why not offer solutions as well?

Aside from my desire to see more recommendations from the channel, FeministFrequency does point out those little sexist slights that we are eager to overlook for the sake of filling our TV void and honestly, though it may make us uncomfortable to admit that we are briefly entertaining sexism, it is better to be honest about the flaws in the media that we watch, even if we enjoy viewing it. Becoming more self-aware of our own flaws will only make us better able to circumvent them.

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