- Represent Social Types instead of Stereotypes:
As highlighted in earlier posts, women are represented in media, movies and games with minimalistic features and thus reduced to paleo stereotypes. To restore back the complexity of representation there are certain tests and yardsticks that have been suggested by various feminine groups. These yardsticks if applied consistently have a potential to correct the media representative bias and thus can go a long way in representation of women as multi-dimensional human beings who cannot be reduced to some sexual or functional straight jackets. The question obviously remains as to who will enforce these benchmarks on the media industry. One way to get this done is regulation. Second is the formulation of activist pressure groups.
Now you cannot regulate women representation without someone rightfully crying foul in the creativity context. Art and its representative variations, first cannot be regulated for their infinite permutations and secondly its attempted regulation is a slippery slope which with a small gradient leads to censorship and other grotesque consequences.
Second channel of activists and pressure groups can definitely up the ante. As more movie critics, social commentators, bloggers, media analysts talk and analyze about representation of social types movie makers and media producers will not be able to ignore the rising tide.
Also there is a more potent force which can lead to adoption of these yardsticks of representation swiftly. It is the market itself. If market starts to accept media products where women representation is multidimensional and rewards it with money and profits, the biased representational game will get transformed in couple of years. Fortunately in Hollywood this has started to happen in last decade. There are multiple movies which have social types (life like or multidimensional) women characters and those movies have gone on to become certified hits.
So how does one benchmark the representation of women in media. Various measurements have been suggested however I want to point out two of them which I think provide adequate coverage and if widely adopted can help determine how gender is being represented in media.
The first measurement is the simplest and is bechdel test. It specifically applies to movies and it is a test with three ground rules: 1) does the movie has at least two women characters with names. 2) Do they talk to each other. 3) Do they talk to each other about anything other than men.
Now there are two good news on Bechdel front. First is that Bechdel tide is rising as can be seen from the accompanying diagram from Allison Maccann
Secondly most blockbusters in last decade though will fail this test however good news in that some regression testing has proved that investing in movies that pass bechdel test or represent woman as social types actually makes good business sense.
So as this awareness seeps into producers and movie makers you can be assured more people will be willing to finance projects which pass bechdel test or have complex women characters interacting with each other. In fact this is happening as in 2013 out of the top 50 movies released, the movies passing the bechdel test collected 4.22Billon dollars in box office receipt as opposed to 2.66 Billion collected by movies which failed the bechdel test.
In fact of late Television series have also become more complex (from Sex and the city genre) and women with varied motivations and backgrounds are being cast as main leads in many hit and popular series. Heres a brief run down on shows which pass the bechdel test with a wide margin.
The other representative test which can be used to benchmark social type representation is posited by the representation group. It is a more elaborate test and any movie scoring over 11 points on the representation test will be essaying life like characters and situations.
So as the gender representation bias gets increasingly normalized in Hollywood and more so in days to come, we are witnessing an automatic surge in complexity of narratives being weaved around the social types. From the simplistic and Paleolithic narratives of women as being driven by sexual or motherly urges , these narratives are talking about women pursuing career for career sake, fighting for territory and power, falling and redeeming themselves, getting old and coping with it, negotiating diseases and its consequences, resisting predators and more. The storytelling landscape opens up in width as cast of characters becomes more intricate. As more stories are narrated, more acceptance follows and market gets more choices to vote on the stories it likes. The virtuous circle of gender representation in the movie business seems to have started.
However let there be no mistaking that these are early days of reform. Hence it is limited to certain areas only and much more needs to be done in west around how non-fiction media, magazines, books, gamers and advertisers represent women. For rest of the world, paleo stereotype representation is still the norm and there the social type bandwagon is yet to make any stopovers.
3. Undo Patriarchy as a Cultural Type:
Nobody believes that racial inequality problem is just for black people to solve or that anti Semitism is only for Jews to address. Likewise gender inequality is not a women’s burden alone. This injustice is a problem for men and society as a whole.
In fact I want to turn this ongoing essay on its head now and say that any discussion on women representation and oppression is incomplete without talking of male pain. If we have to root out feminine inequality and subjugation we have to alleviate male brokenness that causes it. Gender equality can only flourish under the aegis of gender tranquility.
We will discuss archetypal masculinity crisis in a separate essay (as it is a deep crisis which merits a lengthy discussion) however socially and politically, patriarchy is the manifest cause of male brokenness. This might surprise most feminists as they believe that patriarchy is what empowers men socially to carry out their suppressive agendas however net net, patriarchy hurts men more than it hurts women.
Patriarchal system is where male is supposed to be the leader of the family/religious event/organization and be in absolute control over the situation. Others have to be in obedience or they face the penalty reserved for rebels as they can be ticked off, demoted or violently put down. This societal ordering system, demands and recommends, usage of hard power as an instrument of control.
The main protagonist of this system is the Alpha Male. Alpha Male Stereotype then is typically that over-powering male with rippling muscles and infinite capacity to put people and damsels, in and out of distress. It does not matter if he is as endowed as Rambo, as suave as James Bond or as skilled as Howard Roark, he has to be stubborn and his bullying is tempered only by his attachment to some just cause that humanizes him. Most action movies, romance novels and political discourse will experience a character crisis if Alpha Male stereotype was to take a psychotherapy break.
Now this system and its representative stereotype, creates an extremely brutal funnel for most males. They are expected to be strong always which colloquially translates to suppression of their feelings or their entire feminine side except for rage and fear.(no wonder owing to practice of suppressing their feminine they end up suppressing real women or external feminine embodiments too).
Rage is allowed to be expressed as it is deemed a proper male response as also fear because that has to be overcome by courage. All other feelings like caring, empathy, admiration, jealousy, envy etc are just not allowed to be part of male emotional oeuvre. If this emotional impoverishment does not lead to neurosis and pain, there is a fear of failure to complete the cocktail.
The Alpha male bar is set so high in terms of expectations of command and control that most males would just not have the capacity to jump over it. Recognition of this fact leads to either feelings of perpetual inadequacy which lead to shame or to institutionalization of fear of failure. Both of these states cause haunting pain. So as emphasis on paleo female stereotypes causes beauty sickness amongst women obsession with alpha male stereotype causes strength shame in men.
When you emotionally dissect an average patriarchal male, he is in total denial of his feelings and in mortal shame of his shortcomings to meet the prescribed standards. A direct consequence of this male benchmarking system is that sundry addictions and violent behavior are but a small psychological walk away. Hence Patriarchy should end not because it denies women her rights which it does but primaly it robs men of their being. It locks them in an ideological stance which equates manliness with being an alpha and thus being dominating to the extent of being violent. Being free from patriarchal yoke they can be at rest with themselves and consequently be more nurturing to people around them. Incidence of violence and gender subjugation will automatically taper down.
One question remains though that if patriarchy ends what do we replace it with. If men do not control the outcomes who does? Women?
The answer to that question is that in absence of cultural stereotype of patriarchy as a template of power distribution, No one gender will retain a power hegemony. In families/societies/business corporations and other social structures power will be negotiated and shared amongst its stakeholders. In public space power can be distributed based on representational equality while in private space ( like families and corporations) it can be based on proportional equity ( or who brings what to the table). In other words there is no preexisting template that any gender has to defend. Each case is negotiated based on behavioral and situational factors. When you aggregate these cases over communities, patriarchy would have ended and gender equality would load up as a power sharing mechanism.
So if you consistently pursue these three strategies together, spreading awareness at individual level, better representation at community level and altering the power share at ecology level the malaise of gender inequality and women oppression can we weeded out. It is then that being a women will not be the new curse where men will be scared of being perceived as one and women of being treated as one.
In conclusion, the current system where women are externally suppressed and men are internally broken needs to give way to a new gender regime which will be a win win for both the genders. It has to be an equal and just gender system which will not represent women in hackneyed stereotypes but as complex identities. This system where women would not have to face the oppression pyramid and their rights and opportunities are protected will also be good for males as it will free them from the patriarchal load they have been lugging for centuries. It will help them explore and find their wholeness. Thus what is just for one gender is also comforting for another.
I want this new regime of gender equality to arrive and thus I am a feminist as every man should be.
So if how women are treated depends on how they are perceived and how they are perceived depends on how they are represented, one part of the solution essentially has to start with better and more realistic representation of women. However there are more moving parts to this problem which will also need to be tackled alongside.
However I want to take one final detour before we consider candidate solutions to the gender oppression problem. I want to look at how feminists have been going about trying to solve the problem of gender oppression and how most of them get gist of the argument wrong.
Traditionally, if you look at the feminist argument, it is framed around the oppression matrix of women and how men mistreat women now as also how women have been traditionally oppressed. Most of the feminine vim and simmering outrage gets spent on making the victimization argument. It is presented everywhere in all its statistical and anecdotal detail, with each new episode of gender oppression serving as a corroborative proof of the ongoing suppression. It is the classical offtake on Victim-Villain narrative.
Now there are two main problems with making victimization argument as the lynchpin of gender equality campaign strategy:
It does represent facts however the objectivity of facts is lost because they are rounded up to serve a narrative and hence people who disagree with that narrative also discount these facts. So it does raise awareness about the women issues however also encounters maximum cognitive blockades. So instead of rallying up empathy, these facts elicit resistance from public at large and menfolk in general.
It is a negative argument since in here one party is in wrong and the other needs redemption. Now the problem of negative argument is that if you keep harping on negatives in a situation you end of having more of them. The psychological fact is that whatever you affirm repeatedly, more you attract of that to yourself as you train your mind to that mode of perception. So more feminists talk about gender oppression with men as inflictors, more is the likelihood that it will happen in the society around them.
So are there better ways of making the gender equality argument. Yes there are and in fact I believe there are three strategies that can be pursued and that they should be pursued as a combination. Each of them works at a different strategic level where the first is at individualistic, second at environmental and third impacts at ecological level. Taken together they have the capacity to bleed the societal mindset which creates the problem of women stereotyping and gender inequality with a thousand cuts. The three action levels are as under:
- Create awareness around the plight of women,
- Represent social types instead of stereotypes,
- Undo Patriarchy as a Cultural type.
Creating Awareness at Individual Level:
Inspite of being in rhetorical orbit for decades not many men and even women, are aware of the true extent of the gender problem. All the facts are out there in public space however they are not being meaningfully consumed by any society. Part of it is due to “emotional loading of facts” as I pointed out earlier by traditional feminists and part is due to lack of credible voices of public life, repeatedly articulating these facts. So inspite of awareness campaigns being active at individual as well as organizational level, their impact is limited as persistent cases of gender oppression will testify.
Here is how a typical campaign against gender oppression looks:
Inspite of its emotional tug, this campaign highlights what is typically wrong with such campaigns.
To raise awareness around lack of opportunities, glass ceilings and outright atrocities against women, we need to run a sustained awareness campaigns. This campaign can alternate between presenting facts and recounting stories of gender situations objectively. Bereft of any blame or accusations, the campaign/s should present oppression facts, as they are. The facts in themselves are dramatic enough and additionally can be presented viscerally to make their recall immediate. This will ensure the message virality and outreach.
However the campaign also has to have a narrative twist to make an impact. The twist in this case is that most of the voices in this campaign should be recognized male voices. In other words credible men should be recruited to articulate the awareness campaign. As any novice marketer will tell you that we are persuaded by people who are like us so the message of gender oppression coming from men will find traction with maximum number of men. The facts will not be discounted as some feminist yada yada and will have a chance to make an impact on psyche of people listening in.
So if the campaign as above had a male narrator saying boys don’t make girls cry, the impact would have been far deeper on the intended audience. Hence the awareness campaign will need hard facts, narrative heft and male brand ambassadors to have a sizeable impact. Here’s Jackson Katz sending a message to men on violence against women. We need more of such voices to come forward and address men and make them aware of this huge problem that pervades our environment.
Also heres a role flip interview done by Mark Ruffalo to highlight the sexist bias. While promoting Avengers 2, he answers flippant questions around dresses and occasions that are typically addressed to female protagonists while Scarlet Johansson answers all the serious question around role and its preparation that typically gets routed to male leads.
A good campaign should transcend from being instructional to being transformative and this is an example of how a good gender awareness campaign should run.