Recently, there's been a bit of controversy in the blogging world* ensuing from The Rejectionist's review of Maggie Stiefvater's latest book Shiver.** The Rejectionist's primary objection to Shiver is that she feels that the protagonist doesn't do anything but live for her man.*** The Rejectionist uses Shiver as a springboard to talk about the weak nature of female characters in YA fiction. Since I haven't read Maggie's book yet, I don't have an opinion about whether The Rejectionist is right or wrong on the issue of Shiver's protagonist.**** But I agree with her whole heartedly on being tired of what The Rejectionist calls "feeble and inept teenage-girl main characters."

And that's why I didn't like 2012. Because the women in it (no teenagers, actually, but grown women) were both feeble AND inept. One of them was more feeble and inept than a ten year old boy, in fact. For real.

Normally, I love disaster movies. I love the parts where stuff blows up, and the parts where people try to figure out what the hell is going on, and the parts where the hero***** escapes (along with anyone he likes and some people he doesn't) certain death by the narrowest of margins. I love good disaster movies and bad disaster movies (sometimes the bad ones even more the good ones, if the truth be told).

But the whole time that I was watching 2012, I was wondering why there were no good woman characters. NONE. Zero. Zip. Zilch.

Now, the disaster movie genre is, traditionally, a primarily male-dominated. That's fine. I accept that that's how disaster movies generally work.****** But there's a huge difference between "male-dominated" and "women as useful as a dishrag" in facing disaster. In Armageddon, for example, 99% of the cast is male, but one of the NASA astronauts who saves the world is a woman. She doesn't have a big part, but the part she has says "women can be astronauts."

Or in Volcano, even though the protagonist is played by Tommy Lee Jones, the second lead role is a scientist played by Anne Heche. And her scientific partner is also a woman. Or in Dante's Peak, Linda Hamilton plays the mayor of a small town. Or in Independence Day, one of the characters is a kick ass stripper (okay, not the most empowering role in and of itself), who, in the face of an alien attack, commandeers a fire truck and gets herself, her son, and a bunch of other people (including the First Lady) to safety.*******

But in 2012, there are only three women: (1) Amanda Peet, who plays a wife and mother with no discernible job or skills. She's the one who is less useful than the ten-year-old; (2) Thandie Newton, who is ostensibly some sort of art professor, although her main purpose is to look cute for the guys in the movie, and (3) a blond Russian golddigger character, who is actually a little cool but has such a small part that she doesn't really count.

No scientists. No politicians. No women who are useful or capable of more than crying and screaming.

So I didn't like it.

I guess what I'm saying is that I agree with The Rejectionist that I would like it if the female characters in movies and books were a little more there, if they're going to be there. I do not believe that all books or all characters have to conform to some sort of feminist agenda********. Every woman that appears in a book or a movie doesn't have to be smart and brave and capable and awesome; frankly, that would be a little boring and predictable.

But I would like them to have interests, and professions, and at least one skill, and one interest beyond a boy. In other words, I would like them to be three dimensional characters.


* In the fanfic world, we call these "kerfluffles." No, I'm not sure why.

** Full disclosure: I haven't read Shiver, yet, but I really enjoy Maggie Stiefvater's blog.

*** This is also an argument advanced by critics of the Twilight series protagonist Bella Swann.

**** And if I did have an opinion, I wouldn't put it in a blog entry. :)

***** And it's always a hero, never a heroine. sigh.

****** As opposed to horror movies, where women have really started to move from victim to protagonist over the last couple of years to surprising effect. See, e.g., The Descent, which was (a) AWESOME and (b) had an all-female cast.

******* One of the things that makes this character a little better than the typical stripper role because she's a take charge woman. So, for example, she saves a bunch of people, including a bunch of men, but she still ends up driving the fire truck and being the leader of the group.

******** Although there's nothing wrong with the feminist agenda, per se.


Are you trying to tell us that YOU would be useful in a disaster? Ha ha. My experience has been that women's usefulness in different situations varies with the woman and the situation. For example, if you have an emergency mathetmatics problems, Mrs. Anonymous is your strong female solution. If you have cut yourself practically to the bone (which, I dare say, is basically equivalent to needing to save the world from an exploding volcano), Mrs. Anonymous is actually less useful than a dishrag. At least a dishrag will sop up some of the blood while you try to revive Mrs. Anonymous from her fainting spell.

Then again, Mrs. Anonymous has not spent her life preparing for zombies and other disasters the way you have. Should I run into any zombies, I'll give you a call.

Today's word verification: IMPLESSE.

That's GOT to be a word in some language.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 12:10:00 PM EST  

Anonymous, are you somehow implying that a woman's usefulness in a situation varies, but a man's does not? Because, if so, then we're going to have it out, baby. There are several men I know who would be...less than useful in a disaster situation, and one of them is someone you and I have both worked for.

In my experience there are people who can handle disasters and people who can't, and that's true regardless of gender. I just would have liked 2012 to show one chick who could do something besides appraise art at the end of the world.

Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 1:49:00 PM EST  

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